Monday, November 22, 2010

I Have Had a Horrible Day!

My old faithful,and usually reliable,car broke down in the middle of a busy intersection today! It chose the worst time and place.It was at noon, and the sun was at it's angriest! I had just won a bid to do a job somewhere; I was on a high,and exhilarated! 

I also had to dash somewhere to deliver another order. And the car brought me crashing down to earth!
I took this photograph in Kano last year during the Sallah
celebration. You can see how we care little for human life.

I saw a puff of smoke in my air intake vents, I slammed the brakes, quickly pulled the bonnet release lever,and grabbed my fire extinguisher! If you are familiar with Mercedes Benz cars,you will know about the plastic lever you have to pull, to pop the bonnet once you are outside the car. In my panic attack, I broke it. There I was at a busy intersection,under the intense sun,cars hooting around me,my precious faithful reliable possibly going up in flames! 

My life did not flash before my eyes,but other things did!

Fortunately,it was a false alarm. The smoke stopped,and I was able to roll the car well, and safely off the road with two wheels on the grass for good measure.

That was when my "dies horribilis" (Latin for bad day) really started! I scooted on to the sidewalk because the road was quite busy,traffic was building up.It was not the malevolent type of traffic we experience in Lagos. This was a simple case of a lot of cars caught between two traffic lights! After the light,the road was quite clear! 

Jumping to the sidewalk, was like jumping from the proverbial frying pan into the fire! 

I was standing on the sidewalk,and was in more danger of being run over by impatient cars. I saw other helpless,hapless,harassed pedestrians rushing for their lives too, on the sidewalk! 

Were these drivers mad? It was as if the pedestrians were not there at all! Why do Nigerians believe that once there is a little traffic,that it is perfectly normal to leave the civilization of the road, throw off all restraint, and descend to the lawlessness of driving either against traffic, or on the sidewalk? 

I have always seen this practice from the comfort of the car,and had always condemned it. Experiencing it first hand only deepened my resolve. 

So I stood on the sidewalk,and blocked them! It was like trying to use your finger to plug a leak in the dam. Some drove around me,and one even brushed me. I was shocked. They had no idea of what the Highway Code prescribed. 

In Nigeria,during rush hour,the pedestrian is fair game,and can be hunted down like a dog! In fact,the Highway Code is run over,too!

I crossed the road to the other side to inform the policemen sitting in a patrol vehicle that I was going to leave my car briefly to get an electrician. (Since the bomb blast, you have to be careful where you left your car unattended. And for someone like me,who is highly critical of the establishment,it might just be convenient to find bomb making equipment in my car!)

 I found out to my dismay,that it was also a mistake to cross the road! I tried to cross the road using the freshly painted zebra crossing,I had to jump like Jack Bauer in 24 hours to save myself! 

Some of the cars accelerated the more when they saw me crossing the road. They were trying to run me down! It was as if the Zebra Crossing was just a decoration! 

I remembered a story a taxi driver told me in Lagos some months ago. Apparently a group of German tourists were crossing the road somewhere in Victoria Island, Lagos. This was a few meters from Eko hotel, a five star hotel. A danfo driver,which is the equivalent of a matatu,the local unregulated buses they have in Kenya,saw them from afar. And because he was in a hurry, since the more passengers he could carry,equated to more money for him,he did not bother to slow down for them,but he had the "courtesy" of leaving his hand on the horn! . The naive,ignorant,but very civilized,Germans,who knew the meaning of a Zebra crossing in every language,except the Nigerian, trusted their lives to the Zebra Crossing! It was almost their last mistake in life!

They had to jump,not for joy,but literally for their lives! That was the warm Nigerian welcome we gave them,and their first lesson in Nigerian driving,the pedestrian has no right of way!

You may find my near mishaps,and the misadventure of the Germans, funny,but they are a very sad,sobering,and indicting commentary on the state of our society. It is the fact that we have not evolved,or developed, in a holistic fashion! We are probably the most incongruous nation on earth! We are a collection of anachronisms defying the laws of reason,and common sense! 

We produce crude oil,but import refined petroleum products! We have iron and steel plants,but still import flat sheets! We wear the best wristwatches in the world,but we are lousy at keeping appointments! We have added to all these ignoble distinctions, the fact that we buy the latest cars in the world,but do not know the elementary rules of driving! 

The criminals I saw today,were not our leaders,they were ordinary Nigerians like you,and I,our brothers,sisters,husbands,wives,fathers,and mothers! 

What is painful to see,is that the foreigners in our midst,are beginning to join them too! It is as if they are telling us "since this is how you drive here,we would like to enjoy it too,it is like driving bumper cars at an amusement park" In our own case,when we loose,we do not loose our ego for being bumped,we loose our lives!

I felt like a flailing fish floundering out of water today. I was like a stranger in my own country,and I felt trapped! 

I wanted out! My faith in Nigeria was shaken today. If I could just close my eyes,and wish myself somewhere peaceful,and normal,I would have taken the opportunity. 

It s nighttime now,and I am at home thinking over the events of the day. I am still in shock at it all.   

We need to build a decent country for our children,we have failed in building one for ourselves. It would truly be a monumental disaster if our children inherit this living hell we have created!


1 comment: