"No obstacles are insurmountable when God commands and we obey"
- - Heber J. Grant
November 13, 2012
Hydroplaning: Metaphor for Instability
by Imo Eshiet

Arriving at this country, I heard much about hydroplaning. Back in Nigeria, nobody knew about hydroplaning, possibly because the roads are so cratered that it is impossible to have traction enough to build up whatever causes a car to skid. The gutted roads, rampant kidnappings and violent highway robbery force leaders to take to the skies even though our airports are just as dangerous.

Although the stories were wrenching, I had no clue how dangerous hydroplaning really is. Until I got a close shave, I may have naively wished to see things for myself. I am now wiser, having witnessed firsthand how unnerving an experience with hydroplaning could be.

It happened on my way to the Apex, Raleigh. My ward had planned a temple trip, and I welcomed the opportunity. With gas prices going up, I asked Daniel and Susan Zeller for a ride, and they graciously obliged. When we began the trip, it was drizzling but I thought nothing of it.

As we began this trip this trip, the never-ending terror of bomb explosions in churches in my country — especially on Sundays when faithful Christians gather for worship — weighed heavily on me. The carnage in my native country preys on my mind continually, which makes the temple a haven for me as a place to seek harmony and solace.

In addition, the day before, one of my students asked me to remember his father in prayers any time I visited the temple. The student, whose father lay dying in a hospital, had checked and found out I was Mormon. I had grown fond of the student ever since I learned he was an activist and had had brushes with the authorities a couple of times. It worried me that this student was missing classes.

Upon inquiring, I found out his father’s health was the culprit. The student had offered to let doctors take some bone marrow from one of his legs and transplant into his father but had been refused for fear of complications. I was touched by his love, because years back I had watched my own parents die of diseases that could have easily been cured if affairs weren’t so muddled and messy in my country.

I also had other pressing issues, and I thought a visit to the temple could help me find succor.

Although the road was congested and the weather condition outside stormy, the feeling inside the car was warm and graceful. Along the way we talked about the plight of suffering humanity. The Zellers, who had done some travel outside the U.S., recalled the agony the felt when the saw abject poverty in the Caribbean.

Having lived back home through some bone-chilling crises in a failed state, I had learned to cope with the degrading effects of poverty that the Zellers found so distasteful. I had to, because George Orwell had accurately described my nation when he wrote that, “The further a society drifts from the truth the more it will hate those that speak it.”

Though unwilling to deepen the anguish the Zellers felt at the human tragedy they saw, I shared with them my personal experience. Life in a failed state is like a living, fire-spitting nightmare. It is like being trapped in a pounding cycle of violence that viciously upturns logic and irately spins it into a nastily knotted vertigo.

As we conversed, our car suddenly hydroplaned. Instantly the peaceful atmosphere in the car was supplanted by sheer terror, so my eyes glazed like a cornered rat. Losing steering and control, the car careened in gross violation of all traffic rules. I saw in the erupting chaos an apt metaphor for the savage disposition of governments out of synch with the people, for governments that betray the trust and welfare of its people.

Seemingly apoplectic with rage, the car skidded on the wet surface; its tires losing contact with the road, it swerved and slammed us senseless. Luckily our seatbelts prevent us from the tragic drama and trauma of being thrown out and crushed on the asphalt.

Behaving as if it was in a tango dance with a crazy snake, the car violently fishtailed and spun so fast it was a miracle the punishing whiplash did not snap our necks. Not done with its bizarre nerve-racking tantrums, it surged over a ditch and assaulted an electric pole with such impact it immediately broke the pole, which returned the hostile gesture by hurling the vehicle hood-first into the ditch.

As the engine sputtered and shut down, gas and oil mixed with water belched an acrid smoke that stung our noses with venom. In that ghastly dance of scare, fright and panic, scenes in my life flashed rapidly through my mind like a reeling montage. I thought of my lovely wife and promising children and the dire challenges they would face if I had been fatally hurt. I also contemplated the wonderful people who had raised us on their shoulders as we walked the stormy paths of life and how I wouldn’t get an opportunity of returning their kindness if I passed so unexpectedly.

I recalled the malice and spite, the brutal hounding, cruel evictions under torrential rainstorms and the sadistic clobbering I got from agents of a self-serving dictatorship for counseling students on democracy and for having the nerve to participate in a teachers’ agitation for academic and social reforms. Perhaps if Shakespeare had known the ferocity and violence of a skidding car he would have recognized that there are other mishaps with more fury than hell or “a woman scorned”! The frenzied battering of bodies in a spinning car possibly could have given the English bard more succinct imagery to capture the experience of intense and destructive rage.

After surviving the crash, I remembered Elder David Bednar’s inspiring witness that, “The tender mercies of the Lord are available to all of us and … the Redeemer of Israel is eager to bestow such gifts upon us.” Though giddying, my encounter was a mere shadow of the crushed spirit and shattered molars I sustained while living under a thuggish government. It was significant that when next I talked with the Zellers or other Westerners unfamiliar with the disorders in states without the rule of law, I would no longer invoke Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan.

Hobbes notes that in derelict states or what he called the state of nature, “there is no place for industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain … and which is worst of all continued fear, and danger and violent death; and the life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”

Rather than look to an ancient book for ways to describe the withering and churning nightmare of living in a drifting nation, I could find handy imagery for disconcerting instability in the horrors of a hydroplaning car.

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About Imo Eshiet

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 Carolina Stake.

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