Warri-Town: In the Dark Bus (Location: Warri, Delta State, Nigeria, Africa)

Just as it was with countries like Cambodia, India, and Nepal, Nigeria was real, it was raw, and it was dirty.  Asked why, a simplified answer spoke of how the people and their land were utterly besmeared by the hands of humanity.  Rounded up as slaves by an advancing world, sold, exploited, freed and once again colonized into a vicious cycle, it was their livelihoods and their land that received the brunt of destruction.  Today, the culprit is called oil:  The Blood of the Earth.  And a market of big leaguers stuffing their pockets with cash continues to fuel.

Twenty Seattleites found themselves in the epicenter of the Federal Republic of Nigeria where approximately 240 dialects throughout thirty-six states interacted within 357,000 square miles.  In the weeks we began familiarizing ourselves with one another and the culture pervading, each of us recognized a common bond.  We were here to experience Africa and we all came together, each independent persons with distinct perceptions, yet each harboring a unifying soul with similar intentions. Like threads in a blanket, we wove ourselves into a network of talent to design a new pattern.

Deemed grassroots diplomacy with Global Citizen Journey, we desired understanding and compassion, which emerged into a deeper awareness: People needed to know.  Our families and friends around the world.  Our neighbors and strangers back home.  Consumers and producers.  The people needed to become aware of the real Africa and the real conditions its citizens faced due to our hands.  This was our purpose, what brought us together—to become aware of our abilities as citizen diplomats, taking the reins of our life and society, and transforming them to meet their needs.

We were in Nigeria, an underdeveloped society striving for a chance, fighting to grow, sitting on a wealthy cache of resources.  We were in the Delta State about to embark on a journey down The Creeks to the village of Oporoza, where something slick and dark moved like a nighthawk.  It killed and pillaged.  It led clear minds astray and clean hands to dirt.  It was pushing Africa down.  Meet greed, the second culprit in this case, and greed and oil do not mix.

Nigeria, Nigeria, Nigeria.  I caught myself repeating this mantra beside Los Angeles-native, Eric Esplin.  We looked at one another and chanted as if in trance.  Nigeria, Nigeria, Nigeria.  Eric and I were finally there after the months of preparation and research.  I had sold my car.  Eric kissed his wife goodbye.  And we both left wanting this experience to permeate our being, infuse us with understanding that would transcribe into compassion and evolve into new lifestyles.  Together, along with a few others, we decided to act on our inhibitions and venture into the masses of Warri-town.

Warri was a significant metropolis of Nigeria’s Christian south.  It went by Warri-town, Wassi, the Oil City of Humanity, Wild West of Africa—and the atmosphere was riddled with the sense of something new, something alive.  Our select group tasted this and felt the need for adventure.  From the plush marble walls of the Wellington Hotel, we left behind its automatic doors and the gated entrance to meet the world of Nigeria’s booming oil town.  And after traveling from Lagos to Benin City, meeting up with twenty new Nigerian delegates, and together moving further along the road, it became just that: Warri in the Dark.

It was what all advisors warned against, including our own leaders and delegates (some of them from the city itself). The traffic, the madness, the exodus of humanity returning home with the 6PM closure of shops and subsequent seven o’clock road-ban of motorcycles due to recent unrest.  The jam was a river of creosote-stained logs, spinning in a whirlpool of rusted industry.

But what intrigued us the most was the sheen of the skin, its black gloss.  It cast a mellow glare like hot candle wax, while headlights from oncoming traffic reflected like sandblasted glass through the rising dust.  Men’s bald heads, their lanky necks and broad, ram-boned shoulders; women in color, rainbows of woven crystal magnified in the haze-ridden beams of night traffic: These two aspects of male/female clashed before slamming into one another with a meager quality of production and care, prosperity and concern.  Their heat infused in the mass of ground movement and mixed within the airborne ether of the African atmosphere.

Again, it was dark—a thick black held in a global container of humidity.  There were few stars, only faint specks seen burning through the dank layers above, and as we crossed the Danger Zone our Nigerian delegate, Nicholas Ijabor, announced,  “In the mid ’90s, even at the turn of the century, this was a battlefield.”

We nodded.  We stared.  White eyes blinking without sound.  There was nothing but black and that brown night beyond the bus’ thin glass.  Our bubble felt small, insignificant.

“This junction is the line,” Nicky continued, “the line of property both Ijaw and Itsekiri battled for.”  His talk was smooth, stirring our fears with his ease of localism.

I know what we were all thinking just then.  First, the reality of being in Nigeria.  I heard that chant in my head.  I looked across at Eric.  He felt it.  It was in his heart:  Nigeria, Nigeria, Nigeria.  In a peculiar way, we were all familiarized by now, but at the same time, we knew we never would be.  We were Americans in Africa.  We came from a culture that exploited their livelihoods and raped their lands.  At that moment, we were taking their oil, paying the multinationals to supply our economy, which gave the people little in return.  This was not our land.  It was not our oil.  It never was and it never will be.  We turned a blind eye as people died, wars raged and violence within a suppressed people’s revolution prevailed.  Oil was spilling across humanity.

Secondly, the US State Department recently released a statement on its website specifically advising travelers not to enter the Delta State.  This surfaced immediately.  Our minds spun with the cars, mottos, lorries, and people outside.  The bubble became smaller.

The feelings, the facts—our rationality—compiled.  As I sat in my seat the bus trundled thru traffic.  I came to a third carriage of thought.  The Security General had reported to our delegation his own personal concern: Do not travel outside Lagos, Africa’s 2nd largest city, without a trunk-full of AK-47s and a MOP squad for escort.

Suddenly, there was space for reflection.  The churning seas parted and we saw the Security General as a professional with words; sentences used by professionals for those very professional reasons.  That was what he was there to do. Cogs and bolts greased, the mind’s moving machine continued, traveling with the rest of Warri as a ship across calming waters.

Now a fourth and final respect reared: our own leaders, one by the name Joel Bisina—a local of Warri-town—warned of the adverse potentials after nightfall.  Looking out the windows again, blinking, and making sure what we saw was real, we wondered whether our bus with its government plates was a paradox.  We were white, rich in most eyes, with the world at our fingertips.  And we were traveling through their existence, at the opposite end of the spectrum, through the blackest of nights.  A deep brown of raw earth permeated my vision and there was only that steady darkness within my mind and within those who stared at our bus’ identification.

Being white in Africa, I seemed to relate with what was white.  Therefore, the only visibility I could perceive from our air-conditioned vehicle was the eyes and teeth of our fellow humans.  They were a clear, clean reflection that caught the glare of passing headlights.  They reflected back like moonlight on a pond, soothing us, reminding us of the perceptions we perceived and the choices we made.  Our minds reflected an external landscape.  Our environment mirrored that of our internal framework.  Everywhere was an oily darkness that stuck to the skin, but there were those eyes, those teeth—the inner brilliance of the light of the soul.  My eyes adjusted, my mind reorganized, and what I saw was the reality of an oasis amidst a midnight dust storm.

Our eyes remained wide, our thoughts pondered the “adverse potentials” as we crossed the Danger Zone, and we played nervous finger games among ourselves while the bus surged through any opportunity for space.  Then we crawled out, smelled the air and broke the bubble.  The eyes and teeth were filled with the light of many smiles as colors absolved.  This was Warri, the West African oil boomtown we sought.  This was our level of desire, arriving for awareness, breaking down fears and moving forward to change.  We were freely caught in this chant—Nigeria, Nigeria, Nigeria—where the oil suddenly ceased importance, where money did not matter, and what only existed was humanity and the planet we thrived upon.  I had an opportunity.  He had that opportunity.  She had the opportunity.  It was their land and their lifestyle.  But it was our connection as humans that united us within that African night.


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