Sunday, November 15, 2015

View from a Window

And whatever happened to that monorail project?
PH City
  Photo: Shayera
Getting stuck in mid-day traffic was to witness a kaleidoscope of chaotic activities: Car horns blaring maniacally; sick exhausts coughing up black fumes into the blue sky; pedestrians maneuvering roads and non-existent sidewalks simultaneously; speakers blasting loud music without mercy courtesy of road-side music stores. A little Chadian refugee plastered his dirt-stained face and hands on Napoleon’s window, performing a ritual that comprised patting the back of his hand on his palm and pointing to his mouth.

            “Should I give him this?” Napoleon held out a flat, rectangular silver-foil.

“Chewing gum?” I arched a brow. “No.” Gesturing the boy to my window I dug into my bag, handed him five hundred naira.”

            Napoleon goggled in disbelief. “Hmm. That’s a lot of money,” he cried.

            “Not for someone who hasn’t had a meal. Besides, I would have probably spent it on snacks.”

The traffic began moving and we sped off towards Trans-Amadi for our 1pm meeting at Violet Oil.

It did not feel like it had three years since I left Port-Harcourt, because almost nothing had changed. If anything, the city looked worse than before, or maybe my imagination was blurry. Ticky-tacky storey buildings with shops selling items no different from the next, littered every free space. Brash, gaudy signboards defaced as many store fronts as possible. Hawkers peddling everything from boiled groundnuts to cell phones, glided between cars with the agility of a skateboarder. Potholes brimming with tea-colored water spilled their contents generously on the asphalt with each tire dip. In fact, they had become so ubiquitous that one could not drive twenty feet without encountering any. Gutters teemed proudly with nylon bags, pure water sachets, banana peels and every imaginable filth. And just as in Lagos, commercial motorcycles had been replaced with yellow gnats in the form of motorized tricycles locally christened keke napep. However, unlike their predecessors, they were prohibited from plying expressways—a decision that must have won a collective sigh of relief from motorists.

Clearly, PH, unlike Lagos, was experiencing a decline, a regression on the scales of development. And while Lagos was Tokyo, compared to PH Lagos was Tokyo.

Every time I spoke with Uncle Gogo, he inveighed against the new democratic government, saying PH was worse off than when the military regime was in power.

“The governor builds a single lane contraption, calls it a bridge then rings the president to come open it. This isn’t the democracy I signed up for. We need leaders with working brains if we’re serious about conquering the twenty-first century.”

Looking around, it was easy sympathizing with him. The self-professed Garden City had become a grotesque assemblage of concrete, filth and disorder.