This is a post of an article I found while clearing out my house. It’s a true story I wrote for Wanderlust magazine in 1998 after returning from Nigeria. It’s a little rough around the edges though seems in spirit with my usual blog posts so sharing here, enjoy!
I was standing under a tree in the middle of a scrapyard in Nigeria. Well actually it was a motor park but scrapyard is a pretty accurate description. I wanted to travel from Makurdi to Kaduna and needed transport.
As I looked on amongst all the hustle and bustle, I managed to spot two vehicles with signs on saying Kaduna, so I set off towards them, this was not as easy as it may sound. I had to get past a mob of children selling things, numerous chances of getting pick pocketed, and the constant tugging on my clothes that came with both.
The drivers of each of the cars beckoned me their way, competing for my custom by trying to take my backpack and ushering me into their vehicle, it was quite the tug of war. The deciding factor for any journey I had taken in the last few months was the condition of the vehicle and this time was no different. Clinging onto my bag I assessed my options, neither taxi would be considered road worthy in the UK (where my MK II VW Golf sat in a barn on a farm in a Herefordshire, awaiting my return). I chose the better of the two, a standard 5 seater saloon, my choice came down to visibility, the better of the two had less cracks on the drivers side of the windscreen.
I then stood by my chosen chariot, waiting for it to fill up with other passengers. In Nigeria you pay for a space in a taxi, then it can take minutes or hours to fill up. When I say fill up, a 5 seater is often used as a 6 or 7 seater depending on the size of the occupants, so it really does get full.
It took an hour waiting for 6 others to choose the same taxi, we then squeezed in, me half perched on the handbrake, sharing the front seat with a smaller guy who seemed to think this was normal (it was). It definitely wasn’t going to be the most comfortable journey I’d taken in recent times.
We sped off, hitting the open road and quickly reaching what felt like 90mph (an estimate as none of the dials on the dashboard were working). I’m not embarrassed to admit I was a little frightened and holding onto anything that would stay in place.
Every now and then we’d come across a Police road block. This is where police asked for bribes, and in order for us to continue taxis would normally pass money out of the window as they passed through. However, with me as a passenger it was always different..It was assumed I was rich and so each time we hit a road block (5 in all) I was beckoned from the vehicle, interrogated and my bag searched. It was a lottery regarding how I was treated, sometimes with friendly jollity, sometimes told to put my hands on the car and a gun pointed at me while my wallet was taken and money stolen. Such is the life of a travelling volunteer in the most corrupt country in the world. The road blocks were supposed to be in place to catch criminals on the move, the police used them to increase their almost non existent salaries.
During the journey I talked with the person next to me, he talked of his dream to travel to America and enjoy the freedom of capitalism. Our conversation reminded me to keep my views in check, as whatever I thought of capitalism and my lack of freedom, it was actually a freedom and one of choices I enjoyed, unlike what was available to my new friend next to me.
At one point on our journey he was working hard at converting me from my agnostic attitude towards Christianity, when we heard some disturbing noises coming from somewhere at the front of the car. There was a loud crunch and I was thrown into his lap with my head smashing into the windscreen. The glass shattered, firing small blocks of it throughout the vehicle. Strangely no one screamed, and all I heard were murmurs coming from the back seat. The driver and passengers were worried I was hurt, though it turned out I was fine, just a small bump. The windscreen had given up easily due to the numerous cracks it had.
As we clambered out of the taxi one by one we could see the driver looking at the near side front wheel, where there was no longer a wheel. It had disappeared into a bush nearby, fallen off as we were racing down the sandy road to what looked like nowhere.
We were in the middle of the bush, on a bumpy track miles from the nearest town, in sweltering heat with little water and food. We needed that fourth wheel on pretty desperately.
There was a jack in the boot and I agreed to jack up the car while the driver and my new friend collected the wheel. The wheel was put back on and we quickly realised there were no longer any nuts to hold it in place. The driver shrugged and told us to wait while he went for help.
As I stared in disbelief at him walking away, I looked around at the rest of the passengers, hoping we could talk alternative solutions. They were settling in with blankets and making shade with their umbrellas, it was evident this wasn’t an unusual event.
As I continued to look at the driver walking further away, I began to think hard. I’m not great at quick thinking, though I was fresh out of an engineering education and job. One where I’d spent years learning how to problem solve with what was available to me (physically and mentally).
I ran after the driver, waving my arms like a lunatic. He stopped and I explained the idea I’d thought of. He smiled a big smile and hugged me so hard and unexpectedly I had the wind knocked out of me. What was my idea? Simple really, take a nut from each of the remaining wheels and tighten all the wheels on with just 3 nuts each, who needs 4? 3 was going to hold them enough for us to make it to the next town.
So that’s what we did, and you know what? It worked! The mood for the rest of our journey was one of exited conversation, laughing and the feeling we had been saved from a slow, boring demise in the middle of the desert.
At Kaduna, feeling a sense of comradeship, we said our farewells. I jumped on the back of a motor bike taxi (125cc Honda) with no helmet and my backpack on the handlebars out front with the driver. We weaved in and out of chaotic traffic, people and livestock and it was at that moment I realised I was living my dream. One filled with adventure, volunteering my time to help others and taking risks I wasn’t able to back home.
If you’re at a place where you can see your life ahead of you already mapped out, a life you haven’t planned and purposefully put in place, then maybe it’s time for you to leave your comfort zone and find adventure too?