1 February 2007 (Ugbowo, evening)
It is the first of the month, the beginning of my third month here, and today I began getting somewhere with the research…well, a very small start anyway. Dr. I., the Chair of the History Department at UniBen made his research assistant (Frank) available to me to see if we could track down Benin municipal documents from the 1930s in the Edo State Archives. The last time we went, a woman security guard, who appeared to have just woken up, with a child on her hip (apparently she lives in the apartment below the offices), stopped us from entering the building. Apparently, the archive staff was not on duty, even though it was a weekday. She was unsure when the staff would be around: either eleven a.m. or one p.m. A two hour chunk of time is a big margin to work with when the heat is intense and there is nothing to do while you wait, so we had to come back another day.
There was also a big funeral procession taking place on the New Lagos Road that day. The owner of one of the major Benin-Lagos transport lines—Edegbe Line—had recently passed away. The roads would be impassable after noon. Frank and I had to get back to campus. We later found out that our President arbitrarily declared Monday a public holiday in order to encourage voter registration, which meant that we would also be on holiday on Tuesday. Whenever the Federal Government declares a holiday, the State Government follows up with one of its own. So, we could not return until Wednesday of the following week…four days of no work. I set my mind on what I could occupy myself with in the meantime. I always have the documents I collected in England to get through.
We returned to the Edo State Archives today. Again, the director was not around, and the sole staff member was unsure of when he would be in the office (this is a government office, mind you). She suggested I write him a note stating my purpose and giving some details of what I was looking for. I did. It was all we could do. I will return in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, I must get started at the National Archives in Ibadan. I still have to find a place to stay there. I’m getting nervous. I’ve been here for a solid two months, my money is getting thin, and I have nothing to show for it all.
On our way back to Ugbowo, I had to negotiate a tricky 5-way intersection. There are no traffic lights in this corner of the country. If you are lucky, a traffic warden is available at some point during the day. So, one has to dance with the other motorists when confronted with intersections. I followed suit with my fellow drivers in this situation, slowly inching my way into the intersection until the competing traffic became overwhelmed with our presence to finally allow us to pass. As I was doing so, I didn’t realize the madman behind me—a Túke Túke bus driver—had become impatient, and decided to jump out of the queue to cut me off in the intersection. He must have miscalculated because I was still inching forward when he turned sharply into my front fender. I heard some cracking, and Frank was as stunned as I was. We had to detach ourselves from his vehicle. And, instead of getting a barrage of cuss-words from the madman, he just sat staring at us. He must have known he was wrong, or he must have been calculating how he was going to get out of it…or both. I pulled up ahead and got out of the car. The Túke Túke driver parked his vehicle, packed with passengers, quite far ahead; I would have had to run to catch up to him. By the time I looked up from the damage to my car, he had already taken a quick look at his bus, hopped back into his vehicle and sped off…passengers in tow. I could see the expression on the passengers’ faces as they watched me recede behind them. Some were smirking; others were gawking in surprised entertainment. Two Okada motorists shouted out different things; the one I heard: “Oyibo, you no dey look road?” In my shock, I just watched the rickety bus get smaller and smaller down the road. In my mind, I cursed all of them: God would find them tonight (not tomorrow or the next day) and deal with them…TONIGHT!
I didn’t expect the man to offer to pay for the damage; after all, he makes a daily pittance. However, I did expect him to at least face what he had done and apologize. He was in the wrong, and there was no two-ways about it. The markings on my car prove it. I was informed later that I should not have taken the time to look at the damage before running up to him and holding him. People around would have been in support at that point, but since I didn’t do anything, no one was willing to stop and back me up. After all, I was entertainment at that point…an Oyibo assumed not to know her way around or through this place…and a woman moreover (women are always assumed to be bad drivers from the start).
Over the course of the afternoon, my heart became bitter. In this environment, it is the person that shows more strength or imposes more violence who is honored in this environment. It doesn’t matter whether that person is wrong in their action; they just have more power. If you are in any way new in this environment, people will take advantage of you to such an extent that you get to understand through the suffering of it. There is no accommodation; you must learn by force…sink or swim, Oyibo or not.
Thankfully, there is a “panel-beater” next to our compound. Within an hour of coming home, he reset the fender and smoothed it over well. He removed most of the paint from the Túke Túke, and only a couple of scratches remain. He did a wonderful job, and because he felt sorry for me, did it for a very small price. I was so grateful. My heart was soothed a bit. And Efe was kind. He said these types of run-ins are common, and it could have happened just as readily to him as to me. I continue to learn.