…..'A sense of humour lends you poise, it gives you balance and it helps you to bend without breaking'…..

(HH Pujya Gurudev Swami Chinmayananda)

Menory Lane - Knowing Nigeria...lesson 1; roads

Just as one can never really know another person, no matter how close one thinks one is, equally it is so with countries and cultures.  (Even one's own, but that's a whooooollle different post right there...)  However, if one is being a responsible human, every effort ought to be made to integrate where at all possible.  One also learns, that this is not always appropriate or achievable.

I would like first to address comments from yesterday's post - and thanks for those questions ladies!  Merle  wondered about changes and Bertie's Gail asked if I had ever returned to Nigeria.  

No.  It is not a country one necessarily volunteers to visit.  There is very little 'tourist' trade as such, mostly there is an expatriate community which draws many visitors taking an opportunity to visit because they have a safe place to stay.  It is NOT a place to go back-packing...though that having been said, it triggers a memory of a caller we had in Benin who was doing exactly that (a hardy, wild man and I recall my brother and I making up our own story for him - in the secret of our bedrooms - that he was escaping the French Foreign Legion. We had been reading the Beau Geste stories around that time, mind you!)  Therefore, in response to Merle's enquiry, it would be difficult to guage 'change'.  That said, every day brings change everywhere; but new structures, new material things can change only the landscape.  The basic personality and philosophies are rarely affected.  Gail mentioned that those who lived and worked there rarely said anything good.  I would support that.  Saying anything good about Nigeria can be a challenge, but what we have to balance "good and bad" against is our own cultural world view, versus that of a culture to which it is nearly impossible to relate.  Now on with the story...

The first thing which hit one (having experienced our first ever aeroplane flight) was the humidity and a certain smell.  The airport was Lagos, then capital of the country.  The smell could not be said to be horrible.  It was certainly pungent.  Humidity does that; grabs the odour of the earth and the people living on it and wraps it into the molecules of its moisture. Then add smog.

We had a short stay in a hotel, as I recall, whilst the father was oriented at head office. Vast as it is one is inclined to think of the land of Nigeria, often forgetting that it has a coastline.  We went to the beach!

It was here that Mac3 and I got our first taste of fresh coconut and bananas pulled straight from the stem.  It took about a day for these to become very firm favourites and we became 'scrumpers' of the coconut!

Bananas were eaten any way they came.  They were a 'safe' food when out on the road, and if we stopped at roadside stalls for refreshments, the standard was a Fanta, bananas and a sweet, pull-apart bread (which was made with bananas), roasted groundnuts, jelly coconut and sometimes a roasted corn cob. To this day, I love these things (except Fanta has been replaced with Irn Bru...)

From Lagos we were driven to our new home of Benin City.  It was nearly a whole day of driving and was far more exciting/fear-inducing than that first jet liner experience.

First lesson in getting to know Nigeria; any rules which may or may not exist for traffic management are either not known or will not be observed.  It is a country of the 'free-for-all'. Traffic light?  Once in a while.  Keep to the right?  Not if you want to stay on the road.  But what about the oncoming truck?  We'll bend round it, preferably at the speed of light so as to get back onto the middle track.  Horn?  Yes please.  Policeman with whistle? Roadside entertainment.

Even in the 1970's the major trunk roads were at least tarred. This did not make them good. In patches, yes.  Mostly it was about dodging the potholes and staying away from very soft edges.  Then dodging all the other vehicles that were dodging the potholes and verges.

Other than in the towns, traffic was not all that bad...then again...

This photo was taken on the Okene road during Harmattan. There had been one of the many accidents which were inevitable given the conditions described above and it took a couple of hours plus every available hand, to shove the two trucks to the soft verges and get traffic moving again.

Wherein lies the second part of Lesson 1; life is cheap.   It applies in other lessons also.

Attitude to life and death are significantly different.  This is true of most of the African continent. Think Rwanda.

It is worth mentioning, then, that another hazard of the roads, particularly if no other traffic around, was bandits.  Do not stop where there are no witnesses.  On one occasion of a lengthy trip back from the Auchi camp (the very same road you see above), the windscreen of the car was destroyed by a flying rock, kicked up by a passing truck.  John the driver (a man of serious countenance, averse to deodorant and lax of style) kicked the remnants out with his right foot, having placed his left on the accelerator, losing not one kilometre of speed.  As empty as the place looked, he was not willing to stop to do this maintenance because folk can just appear out of said emptiness and be carrying machetes and other such accoutrements, with less than good deeds in their minds.

It was not a fun ride home.  The rains were beginning and we went through several showers - so the wind plus our speed made needles of those droplets.  It was freezing too.

(My body became tense just writing all that.  Cellular memory!!!)

Anything other than trunk roads tended to be of very poor (if any) construction.  During the rains of 1976, on a visit up to the mountains round Enugu (towards Cameroon in the area that was known as Biafra), we got bogged down more than once in knee-deep mud.

Keynote of today's lesson?  Nigerian travel - only if you have to.


  1. I believe your Africa chapter actually is a book. Good read.

  2. I'm with Joanne, an excellent post. I felt quite terrified just reading about your travel experiences in Nigeria…

    I appreciate your comment about balancing 'good' and 'bad' in the context of different world views. The one person I know who did quite enjoy Nigeria was a Nairobi-raised Indian colleague, who pointed out that the endemic corruption which most Westerners find so hard to deal with was actually no worse than Kenya and so she felt on familiar territory and it did not bother her.


  3. I'm no traveller, I like to be home, I'm a bit boring but Africa has alway been a place I would like to see but it's just to dicy according to people who I know who have been there.


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