There is SO much razor wire in Abuja! It’s so much a part of daily life that people dry their clothes on it. Nigerians, foreigners, rich, middle class, compounds, markets, everyone hangs it everywhere. Like mistletoe at a Christmas party (dangerous, metallic mistletoe).
“There’s a lot of noise outside the gate.
“Must be some big Oga arriving,” Dad says. “If you’re really a big deal here you’ve got a motorcade and policemen to go in before you and clear all the ‘rif-raf’ out of the way.” I shrug off my uneasiness at the class-system for a moment to smile at the portraits of Barack and Hillary in the embassy lobby — right where the ones of Bush and Condy used to be. :)
Driving around with Housing supervisors Lance and Ngozi is a welcome chance to get out of the office. They and I spent many afternoons like this last summer, and they still have a photo of us at the entrance to their cubicle. On my return, they claimed me as their intern (back off, Travel section!) and I gave them more duty-free chocolate than everyone else.
I’m sweating, having dressed for the over-air-conditioned office not the mid-day sun, and relieved when we pull over at a kiosk not far from my house. It’s almost unnoticeable, stuffed into a hole in the wall and overhung by trees. A customer sips Mirinda — the local Fanta equivalent — on a bench out front. Our driver, Emmanuel, rolls down the window and he and Lance call back and forth with the proprietress. It’s a little like being at a drive-thru except you have to find out what’s in stock today before you order.
“Whatever’s cold,” Lance says. She has nothing cold in cans or plastic but eventually hands us glass bottles of coke, which we promise to return on our way back. She will turn them in to the bottling factory for a reimbursement. I chug mine gladly, despite having given soda up years ago. West Africa, East Africa, southern Africa — it makes no difference. No matter where or how far from everything else you go, there’s always someone sitting hopefully with a crate of coca-colas and a bottle opener. And the cost of these refreshing treasures? 40 cents.
While waiting for the others to finish an inspection, Emmanuel and I turn on the AC and talk. I ask him about the violence in Delta state. He nods knowingly and embarks on a long explanation of all things Nigerian. Touching on everything from the benefits of undocumented Ghanaian workers to government mistakes (with George Bush analogies), he concludes that “anyone who says to you that they know how this Delta thing began . . . they are not telling you the truth. Truly? No one knows.”
Traffic delays us on our way to an appointment. Nigerian roads are a major hazard, thanks to potholes and a combination of self-righteous laziness and anger, resulting in the absence of any kind of driving etiquette. (My dad has stopped signaling when he changes lanes, otherwise he’d get Carpel Tunnel or crash.) As our friend Bob said the other day,
“Sometimes the light works, sometimes not. Sometimes you have a policeman, sometimes you don’t. You constantly have to be on red alert.”
The windshield of a trundling Danfo (share-taxi) proclaims “God is My Safety,” which is good because those things don’t have seat-belts. Stretched out on one of the van’s bench-seats, camera off, I listen to the insistent honking and Ngozi’s funny stories about her nephew. On the way home I see a man bust a headlight on the car in front — the traffic moves forward and no one seems surprised.
In all this I find a strange, and persistent, peace.