Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Dispatch: Waking up in Lagos

Waking up in Lagos is sort of like waking up in New York City. You hear the horns honking and people yelling on the street. Then comes the cock-a-doodle-doo. And you realize where you are isn't the home of Wall Street, the Upper East Side, or the Brooklyn Bridge. It is, however, home to Broad Street, Victoria Island, and Third Mainland Bridge, the longest bridge on the African continent. It is the commercial heart of West Africa and spans the bewildering social and economic complexity of Nigeria.

Honking is a language of its own on the streets of Nigeria. The diversity of moving objects on the road ranges from coach buses to motorcycles to wheelbarrows. Drivers make three lanes out of two, with motorcyclists and pedestrians cutting in on all sides; their only aim to get where they're going as quickly as possible without hitting something. Honking helps facilitate the myriad activity on the roadways. Two short honks means something akin to "On your left!" whereas one long beep is a sign of anger or warning. Honking is the mediating interpreter when traditional driving laws are not the norm and allows what developed countries might consider unsafe driving to become de facto traffic law. In Nigeria, it appears the only law is that there is no law.

The thing to remember is to do what you can, when you can. Go to the bathroom when you can, because you might get stuck in infamous Lagos traffic. Buy what you like when you can, because the next time you visit the market the vendor may be out of business. Use the electricity when you can, because it might go out before your food is fully cooked. When resources are this scarce and undependable, the power of now is undeniable. The only moment that matters is this moment. Right now. So use your iron, buy what you need, and go to the bathroom. But please, not in the Lagos Island Lagoon!

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