On The Road in Nigeria

I met both Ed and Simon up a the bar over some beers.  I immediately had something in common with Ed because we had both lived in Colombia and enjoyed it very much. Simon was just fun.

We were living on a fenced-in agricultural research compound in Nigeria, West Africa.  In order to break the monotony we started going on Sunday expeditions out into the countryside.  I met Francis on our fist expedition.  That Sunday we didn’t get back on site until midnight.  By that time my mom and Francis’ wife were worried and were starting to get a search party together.  This was mainly because Nigerian roads were deadly anyway and at night they were even worse.  To give you an idea of what a Nigerian driver is like, a friend of mine, Tim,  who was 18 at the time, went in to get his driver’s license and he told me about his test:

Officer:  Tell me five times when you should not pass

Tim:  On a round about, on a hill, at a corner,

Officer:  Do you know where I could get a dog?

Tim:  Well, at the moment I don’t know of any, no

Officer:  Okay, drive straight on until I tell you otherwise

Tim drives

Officer:  STOP!

Tim stops

Ofice:  Back up to where we started

Tim backs up

Officer:  Okay, you passed

Now you can imagine what kind of drivers you would find on the road if that is all they had to go through to get a license.

So my mother imagined me sprawled out dead on the road someplace. The day we were going to climb Ado Rock, she told me I had better be home before dark!  Naturally this created a scene since I was 20 years old and resented being told to get home by dark for such a ridiculous reason.  Nothing was going to happen. I wandered over to Ed’s place and knocked on the door.  Simon was already there.

“Good morning, we were just going over to pick up Francis.”

As we were walking to the car I said, “I’ve got to be home before dark.”


“I don’t know! Pretty idiotic!”

We got into Ed’s car and rode over to Francis’ house where his wife let us in not looking too happy to see us.  The three half-dressed children were sprawled around the table eating breakfast.  Francis had been out until three a.m. carousing so he was still in bed.  Ed and I sank into the couch, mumbling to ourselves.  Simon fixed himself some tea.  Ed wanted some coffee and couldn’t believe it when he found there wasn’t any.  I think it was a cultural thing, him being American and the others being British.

Simon sat down at the table and had a second breakfast.  After a while Ed said, “Are we just going to sit around here and wait until Francis feels like getting up, or what?”  He was getting impatient and annoyed with the whole situation so, as I had discovered I had forgotten my camera, I asked him to take me home so I could get it.  That killed a little time and soon after we got back, Francis showed up popping pills and looking for something to eat.  Francis was a pale, thin person and this morning he looked more pale and fragile than usual but he stood up amazingly well throughout the expedition.

We were on our way to climb Ado Rock and none of us knew how to get there so we asked people on the way.

“Which way to Ado Rock?”


“It is this way?”


“We be for going Ado Rock. You know it dis way or dis way?”

“Oh no!  You mean Ado Rock?”

“Yes, Ado Rock”

“You go dis way for small small and den up dis way, eh heh!”

They were all pointing in different directions.  Francis was getting irate, “Oh, forget it!  I think I can find the way”  So with Francis’ ingenious naviational abilities we finally made our way out of town in the right direction.

Related Posts:  Ado Rock,  Travel

Learning to Drive

My father with car and dog


I am learning to ride in a car with a sixteen year old driver.  I am learning to quietly cringe and hold my tongue.  I am learning to resist slamming my leg down on the break that isn’t there.  I am learning to look out the window and observe things by the side of the road I have never had a chance to enjoy before.  I am learning to trust.  And to quietly guide.  And sometimes to shout out in a panic.  But not too often.

He is actually pretty good.  Baby steps.  He has time to learn.  And I have a built in designated driver!  There is always an up side!

I have been re-reading my father’s memoir and came across the following passage that seemed kind of relevant.  My father grew up on a farm in southern Iowa, the youngest of seven children.

“When I was about 7, I started driving teams of horses for some field work.  Dad, or someone, would harness and hitch up the horses to a wagon or a machine since I was not big enough to put on a horse’s harness.  Another of my chores in my early years was to walk to the pasture to herd the milk cows to the barn at milking time.  No one in our family drank much milk but we made our own butter and cottage cheese.  The only time I really remember drinking milk was on Sunday evenings.   I would fill a glass with popcorn and then pour in some milk.

When I was 11 or 12 (1931-32) the country went into the Great Depression.  Many neighbors gave up and sold out or were forced out because they had defaulted on their loans.  Livestock prices were very low and grain prices were the lowest on record. 

One of the things that helped my family survive the Depression was my parents started a small dairy and my brothers Bob and Floyd did the milking and delivered the milk door to door and to stores in town before school.  By the time they had finished high school, dad had purchased a heard of very good dairy cows.  I was the only boy left at home and had to take on this job.  My sister Margaret had recently been married and her new husband, Lee, helped with the chores and milking.  It was Lee’s and my responsibility to milk the cows twice each day by hand and to take care of the cows and the milk.  After Lee left, it became just my responsibility.  When I was 14, I was able to get a driver’s license and began to deliver the milk in bottles door to door in Shenandoah each morning as well as to two grocery stores before school.  Floyd had taught me to drive our Model T Ford when I was about 10 years old, so I had no trouble getting a driver’s license.  The dairy really saved us during the Depression.  When I left home to go to college, dad sold the dairy cows since it was too much for him and at that time larger dairy farms started up in our area, forcing out the small producers like us.”

When I was 16 I was in boarding school.  No driving there.

Between high school and college, I spent the summer with my parents in Ibadan, Nigeria.  Driving in Nigeria was kind of like playing Russian Roulette.  You never knew when somebody would come barreling around a blind corner straight at you.  I was not yet 18 so technically I couldn’t get a license anyway (although I doubt they checked).  An American guy I knew, Tim, turned 18 that summer and decided to get his license.  He went down to the Motor Vehicle department and an official actually got in the car with him:

Official:  Drive forward!

Tim drives

Official:  Stop!

Tim stops

Official:  Drive backwards!

Tim drives in reverse

Official:  Stop!

Tim stops

Official:  Would you be interested in a German Shepard puppy?

Tim pays his fee and gets his driver’s license and a dog.  Such a deal!

The following summer I went to live with my brother in Minneapolis, and his wife taught me to drive.  At 19, a college sophomore, I was a licensed driver!