–by Mary Lou and Dave
Awo was our amiable and unflappable taxi driver and tour guide for two days of “sight-seeing” in Lagos. It was a slow-speed, road-trip through this densely populated city/state. Dave’s collage of “drive-by-shootings” by his camera shows the energy and life we experienced mediated by our windows-rolled-up-air-conditioned car.
Awo has transported MCC (and Menno) folk traveling through Lagos for years. He is well loved by us all for his timeliness, his understanding of the geography of Lagos and his connection to decent hotels of modest cost. Awo can find anything in this collage of islands, sandbars, and lagoons that sustains a jaw-dropping 21 m people in a space about the size of England.
The first part of our tour took us over one of the three major bridges of the city onto one of Lagos’ four islands — Victoria Island. After passing a security check-point we were nonplussed by glistening mansions, palm trees, and green garbage bins ready for pick-up by the truck that was making its way down the road. The wealthy of Nigeria have dwellings here as do international oil workers and diplomats.
In direct contrast to the tree-lined people-less streets of Victoria Island, Awo next threaded his vehicle into a narrow, muddy, pot-holed road of Makoko. Lined cheek-by-jowl with shops and street-vendors, we inched along as Awo skillfully avoided mud holes, shoppers, children, kike-ne-peps (three-wheeled motorcycle rickshaws) and mini-bus-taxis. Makoko is a lagoon community that we had seen featured in a CNN documentary that boasts a floating school. Dave wanted to get close to this “appropriate technology” structure which would have meant disembarking. However, “we” decided that a local guide would be necessary for a fruitful visit and didn’t get out of our air conditioned sanctuary!
Dave told Awo that we should send every MCC Nigeria worker to him for driving lessons. Awo was unfazed by the crazy traffic which have many of the rest of us western drivers needing blood pressure medication after a few weeks of being cut off or “horned” at.
Hankering after Indian food, we asked Awo to find such a restaurant for us. Not familiar with Indian food himself he headed to the Indian section of town, navigated paved but narrow, compound-lined streets and found an unmarked open gate where he knew the temple was. After asking advice and directions, we were soon ordering our favourite – naan and chicken tikka masala. It wasn’t Awo’s fault that the food was only mediocre!
We probably only drove about 75 kms to visit these three places but it took most of the day. According to Awo, Lagos’ main roads are bumper-to-bumper from 4am – 9am and from 4pm to at least 11pm with a couple of hours of heavy traffic thrown in over lunch. It is difficult to describe the push and shove congestion that requires a driver to aggressively take his place while simultaneously equally energetically holding it. Pedestrians, cars, motorcycles, taxi-vans can swoop into or across your path, or stealthily slide in from the side. At one point, Awo had to brake quickly to avoid hitting a car in front, and a motorcycle softly rear-ended us. Awo just laughed; not enough damage to even get out and look, risking being hit by the vehicles teaming around us.
Lagos’ energy is palpable – it seeped into our climate-controlled car. On the one hand, it felt like a “time bomb” ready to explode. On the other its frayed infrastructure made us feel it would soon cave under its own weight into some kind of black hole.
But because of Awo, our taxi-driver, we wonder. He was steadfast yet flexible; patient yet energetic. He served us with courtesy and attentiveness and dry humour. He dropped us off at our hotel in the evening, parked his car, took the 90-minute public transport ride to his home and was back at our doorstep the next day at the prescribed time.
Many Nigerians worry that Nigeria is on the cusp of disintegration. Some outsiders give it 15-20 more years. But there are also millions of Nigerians like Awo who navigate life with crazy resilient hope.
Perhaps another metaphor is more apt. It might be that Nigeria is in the terrible dark-hours of body-wracking, back labour. There are still huge risks – for both mother and child – but it just might be that a healthy, beautiful, baby will be born.