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lagos travelogue

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  • Guy Berliner
    The following is an excerpt from an account of a trip to Lagos, Nigeria, which, at 13 million inhabitants, is Africa s most populous city. Source:
    Message 1 of 1 , May 30, 2001
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      The following is an excerpt from an account of a
      trip to Lagos, Nigeria, which, at 13 million inhabitants,
      is Africa's most populous city.

      Source: http://www.struggle.ws/africa/accounts/chekov/lagos.html

      Electricity, water and communications in Lagos may pose
      problems but what really takes the biscuit, particularly
      to the newly arrived, is transport, the problem of getting
      from point A to point B in the city. If the places are
      close together, one can walk but even this is no simple
      matter. There are no footpaths. The driving surface often
      extends right to the edge of the roadside sewers, forcing
      pedestrians to walk among the traffic, dodging in and out
      of the narrow channels which temporarily open among the
      myriad flows of traffic. Where there is a raised verge
      between the driving surface and the roadside buildings,
      this gives no safety to pedestrians since, unless the
      terrain is so rough as to make it physically impossible,
      cars will swarm all over this area. It is not unusual to
      see a car, driving along the road's edge, tilted over at a
      steep angle, with two wheels high up on the verge and two
      wheels on the road. Driving on these unconventional spaces,
      reserved for pedestrians in most cities, has no effect
      on the drivers' speed, except that it is perhaps easier
      for them to go fast since there are fewer cars to get in
      their way - pedestrians are no reason to slow down. This
      all means that walking around Lagos, pushing through the
      crowds, dodging cars which can appear suddenly from any
      direction at great speeds, while rebuffing hawkers and
      beggars, feels like participating in a huge, deranged,
      futuristic game where the only aim is to survive.

      Even if one wanted to, it would be impractible to rely
      exclusively on one's feet to get around the city since
      it spreads over a large area and the different parts are
      connected only by elevated highways, particularly dangerous
      to walk along. Therefore it is often necessary to take
      some form of motorised transport to get around. Taxis
      are one possibility. However, they are expensive, often
      difficult to find and, due to the appalling traffic, they
      can be painfully slow. Even at the best of times, one can
      find oneself stuck in agonisingly slow jams, especially
      around major intersections. During the morning and evening
      'go-slows' this becomes almost certain. After heavy rains
      the situation is still worse. The city is built on low,
      swampy coastal land which floods easily. Heavy rains
      cause large pools to form on many roads, too deep to drive
      through, which cause traffic to be completely immobilised
      for hours. On a couple of occassions we saw huge ponds,
      2 or 3 feet deep, blocking traffic in the heart of Lagos
      island. The traffic blockages, whether caused by flooding
      or otherwise, are not helped by the behaviour of some
      of the motorists. In Lagos, although traffic police seem
      fairly numerous, there is effectively no enforcement of
      regulations, since they are all busy seeking oppurtunities
      for extortion. Therefore, whenever there is a blockage
      of traffic, although most of the drivers wait patiently
      in line for the cars to start moving again, invariably
      a few people decide to try their luck and pull out to
      recklessly drive down the wrong side of the road or
      up on the verge. This generally has the consequence of
      aggravating the situation since, with rogue drivers on
      either side of the blockage, total deadlock ensues, made
      ever worse as more and more drivers lose patience in the
      motionless queue.

      To get around the problem of the go-slows, motorbike
      taxis, known as 'ochadas' are the favoured means of
      transport. These motorbikes have the advantage of
      cheapness, about one fifth the price of a taxi ride,
      and availability, since they are never hard to find. On
      the negative side, they are extraordinarily dangerous
      and, consequently, terrifying. Unfortunately, due to
      budget restraints, this was our normal form of transport
      around the city. We had come across these motorbike taxis
      before, in Togo and Benin, but there, although a little
      nerve-wracking, they had been an exhilaratingly novel
      way to travel. Here they somewhat lost their charm.
      The bikes are normally 80 cc Yamahas, 100 cc Suzukis
      or 125 cc Hondas, all with long padded seats. Helmets
      are unknown and, in Lagos, the bikes routinely carry 3
      people. The driver sits on the fuel tank while the two
      passengers squeeze onto the seat, the foremost one using
      the footrests while the other holds their legs suspended
      in the air. We generally chose to travel 3 to a bike for
      security as well as to weigh down the bike and thus limit
      the speed. Nevertheless the drivers often still manage to
      coax terrifying speeds out of their small, heavily laden
      machines, weaving in and out of traffic, up and down onto
      the verges, switching back and forth between the two sides
      of the road, leaning into corners at acute angles like
      racing drivers, ploughing into dense crowds with their
      hand on the horn. They ochada makes any roller coaster look
      laughably tame. Any projecting limbs are liable to collide
      with cars and people; on one trip with a particularly
      reckless driver, I hit my knee against 3 different cars
      and our bike collided with two pedestrians. The stretches
      on the highways between the islands are the worst since
      the bikes have limitless room to accelerate and swerve
      across lanes. I will not miss this form of transport.
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