Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Lost in America
The day started rather normally. No fireworks. Nothing out of the ordinary.
I was running late, as usual and found myself tapping my right foot impatiently while the bus conductor 'shadowed' his passengers, cracking silly jokes at the expense of other passers-by.
The bus was taking too long to get filled and I could already see that traffic was beginning to build. It took a full 45 minutes before the bus finally pulled out of the motor park.
A woman with her fussy baby sat next to me on one side and a young man on the other who didn't have the decency of wearing a full shirt. He was wearing a sleeveless vest exposing his hairy arm-pits from which wafted a not so pleasant smell. Two weeks' worth of unwashed sweat I imagined. I looked down at his feet, they were tucked into a pair of well worn rubber slippers, dusty and smudged with a black greasy substance, might have been used engine oil. A cursory glance at his pants told a similar story. I concluded that the guy was a roadside mechanic off to work for the day.
I remember thinking, "Why in heaven's name would someone leave their house without taking a bath?"
I scooted as close as possible to the woman with the fussy and bawling child. The crying child and seemingly helpless mother were a better option compared to breathing in the dirtiness of the mechanic.
The bus was rickety, no surprise there but to add insult to injury, the fumes from the exhaust filled the entire bus! It wasn't so thick that it would kill us all but I just knew that I would get off that bus smelling of gasoline and carbon monoxide. Darn! I was beginning to get into a foul mood. Crappy danfo buses!
Halfway through the one hour trip to Lagos Island my phone rang. I usually didn't take calls while riding in a danfo bus. The passengers were usually so tightly packed that attempting to rummage through my bag to find my phone was not worth the effort. Also, since the danfo buses were so old and rickety, the engine as it labored along made so much noise that anyone who wanted to take a call would have to raise their voice. The entire conversation would the shared
by all the passengers, willing participants or not.
At the fifth ring, I knew it was probably a call I had to take.
After I pressed the 'end' button on my mobile phone, I could have hugged the mechanic, dirty or not! I was so excited! My smile was very wide and I just wanted to nudge the baby mama with a wink, like you would your best friend and ask mischieviously "guess what news I just got?". I didn't mind the fumes anymore, heck the exhaust pipe could have been re-routed into the bus for all I cared! I had just been nominated as part of the team of engineers that were to travel to America to work on a project! Whoopie!! Enkay was coming to America!
That flight in December several years ago was the longest flight I'd ever been on in my entire life. And that's no exaggeration! I slept through out the first leg of the flight to Paris and by the time we landed at Charles de Gaulle, it was to a beautiful crisp morning. We waited 6 hours to catch the connecting flight to Houston and we were in the air for 10 long hours! The funny thing is that the sun refused to go down. I couldn't sleep and my body was confused. By the time we
landed at the George Bush IAH, it was 5pm there but my wristwatch said it was 12 midnight! That was the first of many adjustments I had to learn to make.
I shall dedicate a separate post to my impressions of America.
Being the only lady on the team meant that I had to spend twice as much as the other guys on accommodation. They paired up and split their costs in two.
At the end of the first month, I had spent close to a thousand dollars staying in an extended stay hotel and I really needed to find something else a lot cheaper.
Help came in the form of a colleague at the office - Isabel.
Isabel* and her husband Steve** worked at the same company (the same one at which I went to work) but in different capacities and on different projects. Isabel had come to Nigeria a few months earlier to help the Nigerian team straighten out a few issues. That was the first time we met and we'd become quite good friends. She had offered me a room in their home when we first arrived but I had politely turned it down not wanting to seem too eager to take advantage of
a nice American lady. After the first month however, when she made the offer again, I jumped at it!
That was how I came to live with this awesome couple who helped give me a much more interesting and rounded view of that part of America.
One day, Isabel took me to a chocolate & ice cream shop where every single thing was home made. Everything displayed in the shop was edible and I'd never before seen such a large collection of chocolates and ice cream. Chocolates were formed into all manner of shapes and stuff. Chocolate dolls and toy men, pens, doll houses, cups, hearts....just about anything!
We tasted a few of the stuff they had and decided to buy some of the rarer flavors of their ice cream. I don't quite remember why but I didn't eat my Ice cream that evening.
I kept it in the fridge with the intention of probably taking it to the office the next day. Isabel dug into hers however as she settled in to watch some late night show. I remember her waving her reply to me with that spoon in her hand as I bade her goodnight on my way to my room.
Around 2.30am, I heard a knock on my door. I remember the time because the alarm clock was positioned in such a way that once I opened my eyes, I would see it and the luminous digits meant I could tell the time even in the dark.
It was Steve. The look on his face was so somber as he leaned into the room while holding on to the door jamb that I immediately knew something was up.
"Enkay, sorry to bother you. Isabel has been really sick all night, her blood pressure is dangerously low"
I had already climbed down from the bed and I was using my feet to search for my slippers without taking my eyes off Steve as he continued to speak.
"I've called 911 and there's an ambulance on the way. I just wanted to let you know so that you wouldn't be alarmed if you saw the lights flashing outside the house."
He didn't want me to be alarmed? I was already alarmed! Isabel had been sick? I had already found my slippers and slipped my feet into them. I was at the door even before Steve completed his statement. I had to go be with Isabel.
To my utter amazement, I hadn't been with Isabel but three minutes before the the ambulance arrived, blue and red lights flashing everywhere. So it was true what we watched in movies? Call 911 and they'll be there in a jiffy? I hardly had time to digest this as the paramedics came in and went to work on Isabel straight away. She was loaded onto a stretcher and taken away to the hospital. Steve went with them.
For the first time I was all alone in the house and I had no idea how I was going to get to work that morning.
Another testimony to a system that worked, I called the Metro and got clear directions on what bus to take and what bus-stops to get off at and miraculously, I made it to the office all on my own!
I guess I felt rather confident of my abilities to navigate my way around town so I ordered for some stuff online (again, I was amazed at how easy it was to buy stuff and spend your money at the click of a button!) and applied to go pick it up at the nearest store.
How was I to know that the nearest store was several bus rides away and in a part of town I knew absolutely nothing about?
That was the beginning of my problems that day. I should have just 'jejely' gone back home to await news about Isabel's status. Uh-uh, I had to go on this 'exciting' adventure!
I got the directions from Metro as usual and even left the office a bit early to give myself a head start. What I didn't count on was the bus rides taking so long and I had to change buses twice! At the last bus stop I was supposed to simply walk to the store but from where I stood there wasn't a single store in sight. I started off in one direction walking a long distance only to discover, after asking three people, that I was headed the wrong way. I did a U-turn and headed the other way, walking twice the initial distance I'd walked earlier and I heaved a huge sigh of relief when I saw the sign belonging to the store I was looking for. Phew! Thank God, now all I needed to do was walk in, collect my stuff and go home. Right? Wrong! Getting to the store and picking up the stuff was the easy part finding my way home? That was when the adventure started. I'll tell you about it in my next post.
Isabel* and Steve** - Not their real names.