Often, experiences jump out at us when least expected. We never can tell what it will be or when we will encounter something new. That is what happened to me on Sunday, the 8th of September 2019, when I travelled to Bafut, the land of my birth to see my dad. It had been three years, from when the crisis turned violent in the North West and South West, that I had not visited my village. Tales of gun battles between the military and the non state armed groups, kidnappings, killings and harrowing journeys had scared me away and I had to rely on phone calls to assure myself my dad was doing ok.
On this fateful Sunday, following a sudden call to my Sister, I made the decision to accompany her to the village. At least, I consoled myself that she had made the visit several times and was aware of what routes we could take in case we met trouble on the way. The first part of the journey was quite smooth, but the last four of five miles had to be covered by foot, going down valleys and climbing hills before we could get home. After years and years of not carrying any load, I had to experience carrying a bag of yams on my head for this part of the journey.
Following a fruitful visit, my sister proposed we take another route back to town. This route though shorter as a result of the availability of bikes, was riskier due to the nature of the road and the fact that we would certainly meet ‘The Boys’ along the way. She said it would not be proper for me to come and go without understanding what the villagers go through on daily basis. With a little reservation, I kicked my heels and started walking towards the dreaded path.
Fortunately for me, I experienced nothing of what had been promised. What I saw however was infinitely more fulfilling. After we boarded a taxi and started the return trip, we got to a section of the road that was so hilly and slippery, that the driver, having carried lots of cargo could not climb. He stopped the taxi, saying he had to set up his four wheels. Then he went to the boot and started off-loading the car. So, I asked if the four wheels were behind the boot. That is when the other passengers explained that he wanted to transfer some of the luggage from the boot to the bonnet of the car. Then I saw him transfer two bags of water fufu (wet ground cassava), each about 50 kgs to the front. Having done that, he got into the car and we sailed up the hill as if we had developed wings. I couldn’t hold back my laughter and admiration at such ingenuity.
When I asked the rational of his action, he explained to me that because of the weight in the boot, a Toyota 90’s front wheel will be lifted off the ground and the car will be unable to climb. So, he had to balance the weight of the car, by adding extra weight on the bonnet, to ensure the wheels were well grounded. We have bad roads, we have luggage to transport, we do not have the car power to do all that – what do we do? We improvise. Most drivers on that road have learnt to manipulate the technology to suit their local realities and that is how they get to feed their families, send their kids to schools and build houses for themselves. That is what I love about Africa. We may not be able to manufacture what we want for ourselves, but we are able within our means to make what we have work for us.
If you have enjoyed reading this, then share with us some of the amazing ways Africans are thinking out of the box.