When I decided to go to Grad school I had my heart set on Los Angeles. There was something nice about the idea of journalist-ing by night and surfing by day. But there was a snag in fantasy. I lacked the one skill essential to survive on the West Coast.
I had always thought of driving the way I thought of my spleen. Not often, and if at all in an abstract, distant kind of way. It was something I planned to learn eventually, somewhere between ‘get into Russian Literature’ and ‘visit Finland,’ both of which I plan to do…just not now. There were plenty of more pressing issues to take care of. Plus I had lived in London my whole life, the land of the Tube and buses, water taxi’s and Boris Bikes. Who needs to learn how to drive anyway?
Well in Lagos, I most certainly do.
Of course this was something I hadn’t realised until moving here. On every trip prior there was always a super generous aunt, or uncle who would graciously sacrifice their time or driver to chauffeur us around. Now, the “Yay you’re here” fanfare has died down, everyone has rightly (but irritatingly for me) resumed their normal lives, which means my inability to drive is now 100% my problem.
When I first moved to Lagos I took cabs everywhere, because the buses looked scary and I didn’t know my way around. Until it became glaringly obvious that I was spending a lot of money on getting to places, until my friend Funmi told me that a journey to my Nanna’s house cost N200 by bus as opposed to the N2,000 I’d been paying. Until it became unfeasible and ridiculous, because hello, cabs in Lagos are crazy expensive without A/C.
So what on earth was I meant to do? I couldn’t stay trapped in my house forever and even if I started driving lessons I’d need an interim solution. According to Funmi I’d have to learn to ‘enter bus.’
And so enter I did and have been doing. Turning the accent down, keeping a steady supply of change, yelling out ‘o wa’ at the appropriate bus stop, learning routes, keeping the voice low. Turning up the Ipod up when the street preachers start, looking out of the window when the weirdos start, keeping my eyes on the floor when the crazies start, crossing my fingers when the bloodied and injured start.
Deciphering the conductors, positioning my legs so the bench in front doesn’t dig into my knees, keeping an eye on my belongings, being crushed in between heavyweights.
Trying not to fall asleep, trying not to be slept on. Praying the driver isn’t a lunatic, praying the other drivers on the road aren’t lunatics, praying I get from A to B in one piece. Avoiding arguments, praying there are no arguments between the driver and the conductor, or the driver and the passengers, or the passengers and the conductor, or the passengers and… the passengers.
Praying there are no accidents, or encounters with LASTMA, or encounters with the police, or flat tires, or traffic, or rain, or windows that don’t open or doors that fall off on Ikorodu road. Praying the last passenger comes quickly so we can leave. Praying it isn’t ‘one chance’, Praying for a little bit of breeze or a little bit of space or a little bit of silence.
Like Lagos itself, the buses have character, you never know what kind of ride you’ll be taken on. What you’ll see and who you meet and there’s no better way but there is no better way to learn the city. Thanks to them I can navigate my way around quite confidently and all for less than a quarter of what I’d pay in a taxi, even if I am sweatier by the end of the journey. Every danfo has it’s own story, they’re entertaining and exhausting in equal measure.
That said, I am absolutely starting my driving lessons next week.