Midway through bellview Airlines Flight 204 from Abuja to Lagos, Nigeria--shortly after a delightful in-flight lunch of warm fish-paste sandwiches--our pilot made the following announcement: "Now is speaking Captain Popovich. Weather outside plane is nice. Weather in Lagos also nice. Soon we land Murtala Muhammed Airport." Captain Popovich was a Serb, and a Serb of few words. He was also, I would soon see, a Serb with bloodshot eyes, a three-day growth of beard, and a shirt held together by an inch of thread and a gallon of sweat. But neither his appearance nor his taciturnity could dampen my excitement as we approached what is possibly the worst airport in the world.
Millions of Americans who have never left the United States are familiar with Murtala Muhammed: until recently, the FAA required U.S. airports to post notices at all security checkpoints warning travelers that the airport was extremely unsafe. And, for a long time, it was: corruption was said to be universal--everyone from customs officers to desk agents was looking for shakedowns, and passengers risked being robbed outside, or even inside, the terminal.
Popovich brought us in low--disconcertingly low--over Lagos and wrestled his DC-9 to the ground. This was a moment of great joy, because our plane was by all appearances the oldest DC-9 in the world and, paradoxically, a virgin to mechanical inspection.
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