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Field visit – Port Harcourt #Part Ι

Port Harcourt, Nigeria, April 2018. Photo by Maro Verli

Port Harcourt, Nigeria, April 2018. Photo by Maro Verli

The car left Abuja around 7 in the morning. The trip is long and it takes almost 2 days to arrive in Port Harcourt, in southern Nigeria. I am in the MSF Land Rover jeep with a bottle of peanuts, the two drivers, and my colleague, Jacob. The weather is hot, you can feel the dust everywhere and the pollution is obvious from the old and rusty cars and trucks. The road in the south is not that safe; several cases of kidnappings and many accidents happen with overloaded trucks.

We did only some few minutes breaks, mainly for the driver to relax a little bit and then continue our trip in order to be on time. While we cross the villages people are looking at our car and when they realize that a ‘white’ person is in the car, they are laughing, they are smiling and they are calling ‘ọcha’ which means ‘white person’ in the Igbo language.

Around afternoon and while we are crossing a remote village, suddenly there is a long traffic queue. An overturned oil truck is blocking the flow and oil is all over the street. There is tension and some local people try to ease the flow of the cars.

When it’s our turn to pass through the only open way and move ahead, I see people staring through our windows and yelling at us.

‘What’s happening?’ I asked my colleague, Jacob.

‘It’s Ok… no worries’, he said.

I feel that the drivers are trying to negotiate, a guy who seems to be the one who leads the flow process seems not to be that happy…

‘Block them!’ he is shouting and he is giving the order to another guy who is putting a log in front of our car wheels.

Yeap… ok, let’s be honest… I was scared…

I mean, I am somewhere in Nigeria, the only white person (I am sorry to say that…) everybody is looking at me, people yelling and I don’t get why?

‘Jacob… what’s going on? I am a bit worried’ (actually I am scared but ok, breath, breath!).

‘No worries… guys, let’s move forward’, he said to the drivers.

After several minutes of strict negotiations and with the calm reaction of the drivers the way is open and we continue the driving.

“They were asking for money to clean the road …” Jacob explained to me.

After being in the car for almost 11 hours, with my face being full of black dust and smoke we arrived in a city which is almost in the middle of the distance. A big barbecued Catfish for dinner, a cold beer and nice Afropop music in the local restaurant is the perfect way to relax and prepare ourselves for the following day’s drive till we arrive in Port Harcourt.

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