journey from Greensboro, North Carolina, to Atlanta, Georgia, began
at 4 a.m. We had gone to obtain traveling papers at the Nigerian
Consulate to enable us visit West Africa.
painfully disquieting and dubious struck home as soon as we wheeled
into the premises. A feeling of motion without movement was palpably
parking space was used up except one by the dumpster, so I went for
it. I soon realized why everyone avoided it like a patient struck
down by a full viral load of Ebola. The dumpster carried the sign:
Please Always Keep the Lids Closed.
had been two lids. One remained closed, held together by grime. The
other had caved in. It had become integrated with the garbage and
lost way back in time. So the sign on the dumpster reeked of
dissonance smacked of an awkward affront to dignity.
frolicked jauntily from the open half of the dumpster. An unyielding
noisome stench oozed steadily from it. The noxious odor explained why
the scavenging insects were furiously clawing themselves like a pack
of famished hyenas tearing at a decomposing carcass.
conceit was too poignant to miss, so I started taking stock of the
pretension to decency. It compared favorably to the diseased,
institution-less democracy parodied back home. Worse, the uninviting
sight evoked degraded environments that give Ebola and other grim
contagions license to flourish in West Africa.
The dumpster looks innocuous. Only if photographs could convey the smell could the reader understand the foulness of the situation. (All photos by Imo Eshiet.)
shock getting the better of my attention, I hit my toes on an uneven
pavement. I tripped but managed to arrest a ghastly fall. Before the
mother could hush her, my nutty eight-year-old Tina said a little too
loudly, “That’s what you get for not watching where you
remark aggravated my embarrassment as milling folks who had missed my
stumble now took interest. Some said “Sorry o!” Nigerians
traditionally say sorry whether or not they are responsible when
someone is in a situation. It’s our way of expressing sympathy
or simply urging caution.
the time we got inside, the uncanny logic of the dumpster made itself
fully felt. At the entrance to the two-story building is a drab,
dirt-whipped flower garden. The plants are parched, scrawny, stunted
and dismayed by neglect. No one cared what impression intending
visitors got from the shabby consulate. Apparently stagnation was
sacrosanct and compelled everything to its service.
The garden at the Nigerian Consulate is so parched one would almost think the Nigerians had to pay for rain.
I noticed to the left, a small waiting hall designed to hold twenty
five people. That day it probably held more than twice that number. I
gathered that though appointments were made online, applicants could,
however, do a walk-in. That explained the overcrowding.
was an innovation with doubtful value. The United States Immigrations
appointments for biometrics have no room for walk-ins. Perhaps that
is why business moves so swiftly that it fixes in fifteen minutes
what its Nigerian counterpart does in six hours.
the building, those who arrived early had taken up the few available
seats. Others leaned on the wall. Yet some queued while others, with
typical Nigerian improvisation, took up positions on the red-carpeted
staircases or simply sat on the floor.
there was no official to guide us on how to proceed, we asked the
folks who had arrived earlier. They directed us to take a number from
the wall and wait for an official in an adjoining cubicle to call us
to check our documents.
did. A sign hung on the cubicle read, “CLOSED,” even
though a pleasant mannered woman of indeterminate race was busy
attending to the boisterous crowd. Apparently someone had neglected
to flip over the sign to “OPEN.” I saw in the failure a
comment on a country with closed, drubbed institutions in yet in need
for openness, systemic reforms, transparency, consistency and
Is it closed or open? The simple sign could be a metaphor for a country.
sat all morning driving, I was hard-pressed to use a restroom and
asked for one. After relieving myself, I turned to where the toilet
roll was supposed to be. There was none! I panicked. Tina was right
about my lack of situational awareness. In my predicament, I realized
how stupid I was for not showing more presence of mind.
quickly as I sat on the toilet, I reached for my cellphone and called
my wife for help. Fortunately she had something in the car that saved
me from the painfully mortifying situation. Turning to wash my hands
I noticed the soap dispenser was long broken and worse, there was no
soap. I came out flaming. Seeing my family, I swallowed my fury and
faked a gentlemanly smile.
out an official, I reported the situation. He made a show of
apologizing to me and promised immediate action. Two hours after,
nothing had changed.
African-American lady married to a Yoruba Nigerian had escorted her
twin daughters to the women’s section of the restroom and was
just as unnerved finding that there was no toilet paper there too.
She came out storming. Her outburst changed nothing.
The restrooms in the Nigerian Consulate were all form, no function.
the reception room ached with anxiety, the room we waited for the
biometrics throbbed with maddening frustration. After dropping our
document at an open window marked for it, we sat for four long,
boring hours unattended to.
cooling system was in disrepair. People murmured but none confronted
the abuse. An infant tended by its grandmother protested the heat by
bawling its guts out. Having earlier overheard her speaking a tribal
Nigerian language I understand, I walked up to her and offered to
take the baby outside for fresh air. Relieved and surprised I spoke
her language, she thrust the agitated fellow into my arms and
straightaway started nursing her hurting knees.
I cooed some grandfatherly sweet nothing into the ears of the kid and
it rewarded me with a smile. While at it, I saw a clerk doing brisk
business with those desperate to be attended to ahead of others. An
hour later, the baby’s mother done with her biometrics, she got
back her child.
hours later it was our turn to be called in. The reason for the
unnecessarily exhausting wait soon dawned on us. Affairs appeared
under-resourced and the officials showed no sense of duty. Instead,
they took their time cracking lewd, tribal jokes and laughing at the
brilliance of their wit.
eventually, we sought a place to cool off. Mission Restaurant is a
few blocks from the Consulate. Mostly those who did business at the
consulate retired there. The food was so good and very home-like
people quickly forgot the needlessly long wait at the consulate.
now turned attention to politics back home. Their scapegoat was
President Jonathan and the quirky grammar of his wife, Patience. They
thought the president should resign because of his wife’s
penchant for grammatical curiosities.
I disagreed with the skewed analysis of my new friends, I joined in
their uproarious laughter. I needed it for the six-hour drive in the
night back to Greensboro.
Imo Ben Eshiet was born in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. Raised in his village, Uruk Enung, and at
several cities in his country including Nsukka, Enugu, Umuahia, Eket and Calabar, Eshiet is a
detribalized Nigerian. Although he was extensively exposed to Western education right from
childhood in his country where he obtained a PhD in English and Literary Studies from the
University of Calabar, he is well nurtured in African history, politics, culture and traditions.
Imo is currently a teacher in the high priests group in the Summit Ward of the Greensboro North