|Boywe, Jos (by Ray-Daniels Okeugo)|
I regret that the inconvenience of travelling has hampered my intention to write daily; I am guilty of assumptions, thinking that as long as I have a computer, fingers, and a table, writing would be a continuous, even if tedious, affair. But, things change. I admit that it is difficult in the face of inconsistency to hold onto my rules. What we are seeing on this project is bound to tweak our subjectivities (even objectivities); we might emerge with big scars of seeing – those scars that result from injuries sustained while being enmeshed in the lives of others.
Let me begin from the end of Jos. We were soaked in Jos for about 30 hours. We decided, upon entering the town, that it would be great foolery (this might not have been the word), to pack our things and leave the next morning, to subdue Jos into a transit town. There was more beauty, we agreed, to be seen. And so, the morning after our arrival, we packed our cameras and headed off to see the town, to make photos, to engage in Jos’ reality. Of course, there were photos to be made; by going to the Terminus Market and the Museum, we became exposed to a photogenic town.
Yet there is the question of moreness, as I had noted previously. Is Jos more than what we saw? Is Jos more than what I perceived – a quiet, leave-me-to-myself town? Are there possibilities, other than the one that says something is about to happen? I find Jos very interesting, engaging; and I find that there are many wonderful people. The people we met, whose lives intersected with ours in many ways, were people who could have been met anywhere else. Jos did not have the attitudinal singularity that Lagos, for instance, has. There was a willingness for exchange – and it is very unfortunate that the openness of Jos has been breached, taken for granted, subdued so that it takes several minutes to see the open arms of its residents. As such, the openness is there to find, but hard to find.
I should mention how Tom and Jumoke were arrested by mobile Policemen and bailed by a soldier – how the soldier laughed with them and identified with their work. And then, how Nana and I walked around Terminus Market looking for Dictaphones – Ray had predicted that we would not find Dictaphones, that Abuja was more ‘developed’ than Jos. There was a general declaim against Ray’s declaration, given how eager we are to decry every attempt to generalize. But upon walking the market, even getting directions from Richard Ali, we found no store that sold tape recorders, not to speak of Dictaphones.
I should also mention how Tom and I walked around the town, back to the house where he had lived as a student in Jos. It seemed a spiritual journey for me; I seemed to become one with the town, drawn to the several existences of the people who did not seem in flight, who seemed at rest with what was on in their lives. We bought grilled stick-meat, as low as 20 naira (I bought three sticks).
Our driver, my namesake, used the opportunity that came from our decision to stay an additional day to do minor repairs on the bus. By dusk, he had not returned. Emeka and Ray called his phone several times without a response. And so, it was decided that we find another bus, so that we would not be stranded. At the moment when the new bus was arriving, Emmanuel was also driving in. Confused, Emma stuttered that he had been asleep, and that when he had tried to call Emeka, he had been told that he could not make the call, which was the ground on which he based his assumption that Emeka had ‘blocked’ his calls. It was hilarious, to say the least, and we laughed hard. Meanwhile, we were faced with a new dilemma (somehow we are always faced with dilemmas): there was a new bus, which had the bold lettering on its body – Donated by the Borno State Governor. The advantage the bus/driver had over Emma was his knowledge of the road to Gamboru; Emma had never been to Maiduguri.
Resolving the dilemma was quite difficult. We were concerned about the lettering on the new bus, given reports that buses with political letterings were often victims of attacks. But we chose the Borno-lettered bus because we became confident of the driver’s competence and expertise, and because, well, there is nothing like absolute security, or absolute risk.
Were we tense when we crossed the Boko Haram state? That would more likely be a no. Or is it wrong to call Maiduguri a ‘Boko Haram state?’ While we moved, I scanned the town for vestiges of bomb blasts, any detail that would typify the danger that the state had become. It was difficult, I confess, to find. Perhaps we were only moving superficially; we were lost in the transiency of driving on major roads – I wish we had crossed the minor roads. I wish (do I?) that we had travelled on roads where roadblocks did not appear every 100 metres. But this might have been dangerous, foolhardy, who knows.
Between Maiduguri and Gamboru Ngala there is a small desert. Small because it is not as sandy as otherwise, and our air-conditioned bus let in some dust through its vent. I have scarcely seen such vastness in my life; I had the feeling that we needed to grasp/grab that vastness, and that our exploration was incomplete otherwise. Even making photos did not suffice, for photos sometimes stops shot at reality, at the point where reality has a 3D flick.
When we arrived Gamboru Ngala (I had misspelled as ‘Gambaru’), Jumoke made a significant remark – how before now, the people we were seeing had not been part of our reality. I analyzed her comment, and it had the force of profundity. We, as humans, artists, whoever, must recognize that what we think as our reality is often one-sided, that our eyes only see what it sees, that our seeing cannot be over and above our capacity to see. And then, with this realization, it becomes necessary that we take on an ignorant humility, the longing to extend our capacity to see; and then, when we are humble to see new realities, and with our capacities for seeing extended, the world takes on new shapes, standing on our fingertips.
Gamboru Ngala reduced Nigeria into a borderline. I had the feeling that the town was declaring, with such confidence and shamelessly, “After the desert, yes, you'll always meet me.” For instance, a man, claiming to be a security man, approached us, flaring up very easily when he felt Emeka was misunderstanding him. And then there was the one-man Bureau de Change, who was keen on ripping off our cash, given his monopoly and our uncertainty that we would find a place to exchange when we got to the border.
We got two Peugeots to take us right into N’djamena. How could we know that this was not to be? That in the final analysis, it comes down to money – how much can be made, how much should be spent? One useful lesson I have learnt, looking back: things are not simply simple.