Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Sunday June 11, 2006

Where ya receipt?

Expect to hear this a million times if you dare to travel by road in Nigeria (particularly in Abia State) with a car full of baggage. The police checkpoint has long been a regular feature of life in Nigeria, but it’s starting to get ri-goddam-diculous © Casey Kasem

There’s machinegun-toting cops at checkpoints literally every few metres down the road and you get stopped at every single one of them if you’re vehicle looks “suspicious” (ie you got a lot of stuff in it, like I do right now) so they can ask you who you are, where you’re coming from, where you’re going and where you got all the stuff in your car.

“Where ya receipt?”

Basically, this is a euphemism for “If we decided to steal all this shit from you, would you be able to prove that you ever had it in the first place?”

I actually got my first taste of this when the Customs guys at the airport were giving me their routine rousting. They asked me to provide a receipt for technically the least valuable of my packages: the big U-Haul box I had gotten to carry some long gels and homemade reflectors and a few other random stuff I had pulled out of the other suitcases to bring their weight down. Of course they targeted that piece over the other suitcases containing thousands of dollars of equipment because they love anything in a cardboard box: DVD players, sound systems, VCRs, stuff like that.

How predictable.

Anyway, I told them that if I wanted to seize a box full of underwear and mouthwash, they could be my guest (and I’m gonna let you believe that I actually had the balls to speak to them that way rather than bowing and scraping and calling them “sir” as I pleaded that there was nothing of value in there).

So I take all my receipts with me when I hit the road. Unfortunately, I don’t have the receipt for the Nikon D70 digital camera hanging on my arm, so I fish in my pocket and pull out a receipt from Shaw’s Supermarket for some bananas, soy milk and shoelaces I bought two days before I left. The fact that the cops just glance at the receipt and let me pass is testament to how much they really don’t give a shit.

Armed robbery is quite a problem in this part of the country these days, so I almost wouldn’t mind all this harassment if I thought that it helped deter crime to any degree. But it really doesn’t… Because I know that even if this car had a trunk strapped to the roof with the crown jewels of Monaco and a dead hooker’s legs sticking out the side, all they’d ask me is “Where ya receipt?” and I’d say “Here…. Here is my receipt”

and they’d let me through and God speed me.

Welcome to Canaan City

Or “Calabar,” as the Portuguese called it. Or "my adopted hometown," as I call it. Whenever I come here it’s like I never left. Every street holds a memory for me… I think this might be my favourite place in the world but it’s vaguely sad for me too, though: to paraphrase The Specials, this town is kinda like a ghost town for me. Because while the city itself remains familiar, the people are not. Everybody I know seems to be gone, replaced by a whole new group of folks who barely even remember my “class.” Still, it’s great being here: it’s clean, cool, progressive… The land of milk and honey.

As we approach Koko’s house (my dad has insisted that I be accompanied by the driver), I spot Denis walking up the street to the store. He seems a bit dazed and out of it and is slow to recognize me. Ah, it’s early yet and he probably hasn’t had his coffee. Koko’s not around, either. I’m sweating like a whore in church and guzzling bottled water like a camel.

Once Koko arrives, we get right down to business watching the audition tapes. They’re actually pretty good.

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