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Yenagoa….this is the capital city of the federal state of Bayelsa, which is only 12 years old. They have put me up in the bosom of the state, the Government House, a large compound for hosting guests and dignitaries. I have not been put in the VIP building. The furniture is broken, many of the lights don’t work, the TV is useless, there is no internet, the bed is a piece of foam on a piece of plywood, and it’s not clean. On the bright side, there is electricity, a functioning air conditioner and some lights. I have to focus on what I do have, not what I don’t, otherwise I’d go downhill fast.
This is so typical of Nigeria. I am in a grand compound, with a sense of decrepit grandeur on the surface. Yet inside so much is broken, unfinished or just done poorly. The irony is, being hosted by the government I have less than I would in one of the privately owned guest hotels in the town.
I went out in the afternoon with an engineer from the Dept. of Works to shoot road building. We went to a location where there was a giant Shell gas pipeline project about 30 yards away. I started to shoot innocuous activity: workers hanging out along the pipes, big machinery working in the muck of the swamps. All of a sudden, five Nigerian Shell workers in bright orange jump suits and hardhats start yelling and motioning me to come. I realized immediately I was in for it. Even though I had an official from the State Government and was not a journalist, they freaked and did the threatening, aggressive, and aggrieved trip on me. I didn’t get permission, etc, etc. Then they said I could not leave without erasing the tape.
Anytime this happens I get pissed and push back, which I did. I could see it was getting uglier and the fact I had a state official with me didn’t matter squat to them, so I called Von Kemedi, my main contact in the Delta since 1994. He threatened to send the MOPOLS, mobile police, to arrest them, and they let us go with further admonishment. What was upsetting and revealing was, when I said I was working for the State of Bayelsa, they said, “This isn’t the state of Bayelsa!” Shell owns the game down here and doesn’t have to answer to anyone.
Hitting a wall today of fatigue and burnout. So many appointments are changed or canceled last minute, Von continues to delay certain actions, Patterson Ogon (one of his deputies) is MIA, and I have to push everyone to get anything done. At least my core team is in place and seemingly responsible and loyal. If my assistant/videographer Sokari or my driver stop being responsible, I’ll truly lose it.
We started the day at a market by the river, next to a big new bridge. Then we went with a water commission official to a small village to show how potable water is brought to their community. It was raining the whole time, so I don’t know how the footage will look. Then we went back to the water commission HQ and did an interview with another Minister, of Agriculture. Then I hit the wall. I’ve been doing so good for the past days, but today something snapped. I have to get the rhythm back. I have no choice.
After our interview, we went to the Health Ministry to get details about an upcoming polio vaccine exercise, which is starting in a couple of days. We went to three offices, spoke to four different people, then went to a place where the vaccines are stored a few blocks away and spoke to someone there. He gave us a cell number and when Sokari called he basically was told we needed to come in and speak to this man. I hit a wall of frustration and lashed out at Sokari. I felt terrible afterwards and apologized a few times in the course of the day. I just get so frustrated with the hapless and clueless way so many people here work and think.
It was a whirlwind day with the Governor. First we started at the Govenment House Church, which is literally 100 yards from where I’m staying in the Government House compound. It’s incredible to think that this is exactly where that military helicopter dropped Elias (my fixer) and I off in June of 2006, handcuffed, after we were taken from the flow station out in Nembe creek. How life plays it’s tricks.
We finally got to Amassoma, which is almost an hour away on a mostly very rough road. We filmed the war canoe contest and got some good stuff, probably, although I was fried from all the pressures of the day and this trip. I realize I cannot control everything and, here, almost nothing, but sometimes it just becomes too much.