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Thursday, September 22, 2011

What can Roads Teach You?

Tonight when I just sat down to open up my email....I got about the third email from the U.S. State Department in the last two weeks telling all U.S. citizens living in Nigeria to have a heightened sense of security, and to be aware of surroundings or suspicious activity. I am not trying to downplay some of the real "facts of life" about living here...but I just don't like to dwell on the fact that there was a suicide bombing in Abuja a few weeks ago.  I really try to focus more on the funny and positive things that happen while I am here because I would be lying to everyone if I told you my friends and family were "thrilled" when I told them my family is moving to Nigeria.  For their peace of mind  (and my own), I tell about more about the quirky different things about living here rather than some of the dangerous parts.  This may not be one of my more upbeat posts...but it is a real picture of Nigeria.:)

I have been reading a book series which I mentioned in a previous post called The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency  by Alexander McCall Smith. For those of you who are not familiar with the series, it is a fictional account about a woman (Mma Ramotswe) who opens up her own detective agency in Gabarone, Botswana.  I am so glad I started reading this series after moving to Nigeria or Africa for that matter.  So much of what the author describes in this book rings so true for Nigeria as well.  If I would have read the books while I was living in the States, I wouldn't have understood or had a true appreciation of  the way the author describes Africa in general. 

One of the paragraphs which grabbed my attention today is:

"Roads, thought Mma Ramotswe, were a country's showcase. How people behaved on roads told you everything you needed to know about the national character.  So the Swazi roads, on which she had driven on one frightening occasion some years earlier, were fraught with danger, full of those who overtook on the wrong side and those who had complete disregard for speed limits.  Even the Swazi cattle were more foolhardy than the Botswana cattle.  They seemed to lurch in front of cars as if inviting collision, challenging drivers at the very last moment.  All of this was because the Swazis were an ebullient, devil -may-care people.  That was how they were, and that was how they drove.  Batswana were more careful; they did not boast, as the Swazis tended to do, and they drove more carefully."

I read this paragraph about five minutes after Fatai was "playing chicken" with an okada on Awolowo Road.  To get an idea about driving in Nigeria and what the roads are like...just substitute Nigeria everywhere you see Swazi in the above paragraph.   You really can tell alot about the character of Nigeria just by watching the people on the roads.  No one wants to wait...because they think they may miss an opportunity.  No one wants to "follow the rules" because there may be a better faster way.  I just didn't realize that I could be warned about the true character of a country by reading this book.  I don't even need to have any emails sent to me by the state department....I already know the dangers which are here...just by observing the roads...

(For those of you who may be thinking that I am in some way being rude or not telling the truth about driving on Nigerian roads...then, you must not have ever lived here.)
okada going the opposite direction of traffic

bumper to bumper traffic with okadas whipping in and out

"Conductor" hanging out of the bus calling out the route.  The bus never stops...people just have to literally hop on.

1 comment:

  1. Hi - I like your blog.

    I just spend a few weeks in India, Hyderabad. As far as I learned, that city has the highest rate of traffic fatalities in the world.

    Part of ourt assignment was a once weekly trip to Latur, somewhat North-West, ~ 300 km.
    This will take you on a highly dangerous trip: high speed, potholes, two lane road, with oncoming high speed traffic; trucks, taxis, pedestrians, cattle - and high officials in stately cars, that demand every right of way.
    5 hours going - 5 hours coming back. Coming back at night, in complete darkness; the road conditions worsened by rain, no way to see a larger pothole in time. And again, the headlights of the racing, oncoming traffic, taking over dimly lit trucks, on your lane until at the very last they weave back out of the way. This all is topped by defect trucks 'parked' right on the lane, without any warning signs at all.

    I am so dispositioned that I liked it - I don't know why. I laughed about it.

    So don't worry - it is not Lagos, it is not Nigeria. It is the huge amount of people, each and every one with their own dream, happening right now.