(Photo Nigerian Gems. Left, first mock up; right, the final product.)
To pick up from where I left off in Tales from Lagos, the publication of Nigerian Gems had stalled. Graphic designer Els Van Limberghen volunteered to do the layout and design; we printed a copy on our home computer and painstakingly glued it together to create a mock up; Judy Anderson, Sara Dobbs and Martha Peterson stepped forward to proofread the book; but we still didn’t have money to print it.
IBSF (Ishahayi Beach School Foundation) had limited—let’s be honest, zero—resources. Funding proposals had been presented to a number of companies, and we’d heard nothing back. Co-editor, Gail Collins, suggested that we pay for printing ourselves, but we needed corporate endorsement as much for public relations as for the financial means. They say it’s always darkest before dawn and certainly, on this occasion, good news waited until we felt doomed to failure. Gail was relocated to Houston and we said a sad farewell with the project still in limbo. She left, uncertain whether her hours and hours of unpaid labour would ever make it to print.
Shortly after, ExxonMobil and Chevron both donated funds.
Our local printer was located in a dodgy part of town, where, by company rules, I needed a security guard escort for my meetings. This added a logistical hurdle and dramatic flair to the proceedings. Six weeks after giving the go ahead, we received our first copies hot off the press. Our excitement was dampened when we saw that about 20 per cent of our 3000 copies had pages missing or out of order. IBSF committee members spent days flipping through every page of every book.
It was time for a book launch. Gail flew back to Lagos for the celebrations. Over the next weeks, we held a cocktail party for potential clients, a launch party for all the contributors and press interviews at a local bookstore—my first appearance on Nigerian television. Gail was interviewed on a popular local radio station.
We ran out of copies and did several reprints reaching a total of 6000 copies. Our biggest customers were the human resources department of international companies who used them to give employees considering a move to Lagos a picture of Nigerian expat life.
After this flurry of activity, IBSF members were ready for life to settle down. Gail returned to Houston. Around that time, I picked up a new hobby. It seemed innocuous enough, but this activity led to my next harebrained scheme and other time-demanding project. One thing we could say for sure—life in Lagos was never dull.
Next time: Get Ready to Salsa