Damned Mosquitoes, Damned Frailty

Ill again. After 2 and a half months I hadn’t been sick once, and now it’s twice in two weeks.

This time I think it’s a mixture of something I ate and the fact that I got eaten alive by a stray mosquito that had hidden away in my room the other night.  I counted 29 bites just on my shoulders and neck this morning.  I look like I’ve got some sort of plague or have been abducted by particularly needle happy aliens.

How much blood can one mosquito hold?  This one can definitely die happy now.

Between this, and other things, I’ve had my first couple of days of really not wanting to be in Nigeria.  I’ve been told by many people that you need to get out once every 3-4 months or you’ll go mad, and whilst I’m not a full loon yet, I did definitely feel like I was waxing gibbous towards the end of last week (©S. Beare).  Suddenly nothing is easy and every element of difficulty becomes harder to cope with.  Unfortunately it’s another 2 months before I get a break, but hey ho.

How much blood can one mosquito hold?  This one can definitely die happy now.

nigeria disease mosquitoesFor example – the police.  I don’t get stopped anywhere near as much as I used to, but the other day a policeman wandered over whilst I was waiting at some traffic lights and gestured at the set I’d just driven through.  “What happened, did you not see?”  It took me a couple of moments to realise what he was getting at, which was that I’d run a red light, but when I did I was pretty bullish that it had been green when I passed it.  This started off a circular conversation which was only ended when Tominyii, in the passenger seat, asked why he hadn’t stopped either of the two taxis who’d come through after me.  The answer, obviously, was because I was white and likely to pay a dash whereas they were taxi drivers, poor as dirt and therefore pointless to bully.  Oh, and none of us had done anything wrong anyway.

Realising defeat, he just walked away without saying a word.  Git. 

I got stopped in roughly the same place a few weeks ago, although on that occasion it was my fault.  I was trying to buy a paper at the traffic lights, and pulled away just as the traffic controller changed his signal to “stop”.  Ended up in the middle of a busy crossroads getting shouted at by a man in a hi-vis jacket and wondering how much it was going to cost me to get out of it.

Unless it’s immediately followed by pointing the arm straight at you and wiggling the fingers

The first thing to note about this is how ambiguous the signals these guys give are.  Firstly, none of them use the same set (there’s a particularly famous one who does it through the medium of dance – look him up on you tube), and secondly until you’ve been here a while they could all mean just about anything.  Flinging an arm upwards towards you, palm raised, for example, clearly means stop.  Unless it’s immediately followed by pointing the arm straight at you and wiggling the fingers, in which case it means come through.  Confusing.  And that’s just the beginning. 

None of these were the reason why I got stopped on that occasion though. It was totally my fault and so I was hoping that we could just have a bit of a civilised chat about how much he wanted in order to let me go.  But no, first I had to sit through a lecture on getting taken to the police station, how much they would charge me, the fact that it was a criminal offence, and basically that they wouldn’t let me off because I was white.  I sat pretty quietly through all this, and sure enough… “Or you could pay now.”  He wanted N10,000, which was ridiculous, but fortunately I only had N3,000 in my wallet so got away with giving him that.  I didn’t tell him about the N250,000 in the glove box.

Just as I was about to pull away a policeman on a motorcycle arrived and was pretty put out when the traffic controller basically said that I was very sorry and wouldn’t do it again.  He wanted his cut, but I gave a cheery wave to my bribee, who was positively avuncular by this stage, and pulled away. 

I was quite pleased with getting away with a third of what they wanted, but when I relate the anecdote to Tominyii after the traffic light incident she says “Man, that is much.”  Which makes me feel less like a conquering hero and more like an idiot.  Especially annoying is the fact that most of the other ex-pats I know have red plates because they work for the diplomatic services, and these basically offer complete immunity from being stopped, ever.  Bastards.

The point of all this, ie. the reason I’m telling you, is that there is fundamentally no functioning state here.  At the hash last Saturday a a story was doing the rounds that the Mexican ambassador had been in a car accident the night before and been set upon by a mob without the police intervening at all, even though they were present.  This might or might not be true, but it certainly wouldn’t be surprising.  To borrow from Bob Dylan, the police here don’t need you, and man, they expect the same.  It’s about getting money, nothing else.

And this makes you realise that we really don’t appreciate how much our society and state does to protect us on an everyday basis back home.  From all the “Big Society”, Pickles-esque rhetoric currently doing the rounds in the UK at the moment, you’d think that we lived in some sort of Stalinist dystopia where our every move was straightjacketed by the nanny state.  Or possibly immigrants.  But try and operate in a society where there are no safeguards (other than money) and it feels very different.  And I live in pampered luxury here, so I’m not claiming some sort of ghetto-cred. 

Which reminds me, I really should get the number of the British Embassy.  Comforting to have on hand when things get what Danny Dyer would call “pwopah naughty”.

***

nigeriaUniversity life has settled down a bit, and I do get the feeling that we’re making some progress.  Although much of this is in random directions and at wildly differing speeds, at least there’s movement.  We still have no proper photocopier, no clocks and no ceiling in the corridors.  The roof still leaks, and no one can yet tell me exactly how many students there are or what their names are.  New students are still arriving, even though we’re in week 5.  Which is absurd.  But we’ve got new jars for the tea bags in the staff lounge, and there’s some paving in the “quadrangle”.  It’s a whole new world.

The kids themselves I am pleased with.  There’s the usual mix of haughty, too cool for school, hard working and sweet, but they all look to be trying pretty hard, and I’m starting to get the impression that some of them appreciate what they’re getting here.  I didn’t quite tell them that I thought the world would be a better place if no one believed in god this week, but I got pretty close, and got some mature answers out of them despite the fact that they’re clearly not used to being asked questions like this. 

The seminar – on how countries should be ruled and organised – also revealed their incredible base level of cynicism.  Basically, 90% believe that the corruption here is inevitable and unalterable, and that there’s nothing they can do about it.  This puts me in a strange position, as I find myself moralising and generally lecturing them in an optimistic way that I would never do in the UK for fear of sounding mawkish.  But these kids have never been exposed to any sort of political education, beyond the Hobbesian state of nature they live in, and so even things that would be easy to pull apart as liberal-humanist platitudes (if you were so inclined) actually start to sound, if not profound, then at least significant.

I suppose I’ve always been quite evangelical about my political opinion, although, again, it has taken being in such a strange place to make me realise how hard I find it to bite my tongue.  I’ve always thought I was quite good at keeping out of arguments like this, but thinking about it, I now strongly suspect that most people who know me would disagree.  But either way, I do want to help these students to see the world another way, although I’m not quite sure how.  The other day I finished a class by telling them all to be nice to servants and waiters (it’s a long story) and I don’t think that’s going to happen.  Although I did get one of them to call me “Dave” instead or “sir” or “Doctor Dave” today. 

I was so pleased it almost made me blush.  Small victories, I suppose.  Cling to those, and ignore the rest.  On the good days that’s easy, but sometimes it’s harder than it sounds. 


image by freeimageslive.co.uk – baronsboyAnimal Image © Socrates | Dreamstime.com

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