Today`s scenario was an exciting one. A road trip from Lagos to Accra.
With an early start, a distance of 600km by road in a comfortable bus should take 9 hours I thought
However, as I set up to depart for the bus park, my friend reminded me of the folly of my plan. Who travels by road on a most uncertain route when you can fly to Accra from Lagos and be there in an hour ? But my reasoning was far from crazy.
As the largest and second-largest economies in West Africa respectively, Nigeria and Ghana have strong economic ties with bustling ports which see imports from all over the world. Thousands of Nigerians and Ghanaians travel to and from Seme border into Benin Republic and onward to Togo and Ghana every day along this route. I was determined to see all this action myself.
Sitting in the lounge of the Cross Country bus park in Yaba, I had to admit it was all going well. Apart from the early shuffle out of bed, so far it had been a pleasant experience. My senses were fully awake as I took in my surroundings.
The waiting area was clean and ventilated. A small cafeteria served a range of travel food while a television beamed soundlessly in the background. It was a busy morning. As travellers lugged their bulging bags into the waiting area, many seemed relieved to have made it this far. They arranged themselves in most of the chairs dotted around the room.
All in all, everything seemed perfectly normal except for one tiny detail. I did not know when we would depart. Like everybody else around me, we all just waited for the bus to “be ready”.
Finally, just before 10.am, we were off. The bus lurched forward ponderously out of the car park. Voices were raised in prayers all around me and I joined a chorus of many “amens” several times in unison.
A smallish man in a shiny brown conductor suit, seemed to be in charge. He prayed vigorously and rendered passages from the bible with such ease that he gave off a air of deep seriousness. I wondered if he was a passenger who decided to lead a bus full of strangers in prayer. Or a paid staff of Cross Country performing a service for their customers? Whichever way, we were all in it together and he certainly captured the imagination of this congregation.
As if to answer my questions, more gospel songs filled the air. Men, women and children sang joyously in their loudest voices.
Then the epiphany. I understood completely.
We were Nigerians. It didn’t matter that we started this day as complete strangers. It didn’t matter that no one could predict for certain when we were going to arrive in Accra or how long we would wait at the various border checkpoints along the way. Ambiance was everything- eagerly expected, passionately sustained and completely welcomed by all. This faith, this philosophy, this attitude was what we needed to get through the next 24 hours. And it all began with the prayers.
What mattered most on that bus, on that journey, was establishing and preserving a rapport of expectancy, of blind optimism and faith that all would indeed be well. The pastor, the singing, the banter, the prayers, the comedy skits, were essential ingredients to ensure that our sanity was preserved and our faith restored.
That God is present everywhere and that all prayer, all heartfelt songs of gratitude and thanksgiving wherever shared, must be shared by all, is a faith lived by many Nigerians. And this faith was needed now more than ever.
There was enough drama going on that bus that nobody would have too much time left to wonder about their personal concerns: what to do if you desperately needed the toilet or why the roads intermittently disappeared into the bushes and came out on the other side of somewhere…
Even though we all shared these anxieties, we responded resolutely with a brave face full of laughter, loud noise and new found camaraderie.
Across 4 countries with some terrain best described as as unnavigable, we eventualy pulled into accra just past midnight. It had been a fantastic journey. I had learnt a lot. I made some new friends who I would probably never see again But that didn’t matter. Together we had made this trip. That memory I will keep forever.
Despite all the delays, the apprehension, the doubts which crept up intermittently, we made it. We all shared a deep thankfulness for this fact.