I will not bore you with the details of today’s tardiness, since I have subsequently been made the time enforcer. The participants start arriving from 6:31 a.m. and by 9 a.m. we are all gathered. A few family members and friends are there to see their loved ones off. Amaize is also there to say goodbye and a prayer for safety as we set out. We leave Lagos at 9:50 a.m., with some participants already filming and making photos before we are out of the state. The trip stretches into 12 hours, as we make a number of stops along the way. The first is at a blockade on the Benin-Ore road. An accident has occurred and several metres have been blocked, with traffic diverted to the other lane. In that scene, Emeka sees a border of road blocks. The troupe gets out of the van to ‘cross’ it. While we are there, another accident occurs. The photographers make photos and soon we are on our way. Our next stop is at a travellers’ stop in Benin. There, I learn firsthand that there are downsides to a road trip, besides back ache and leg cramps that is. Most jarring is the awful bathroom we have to make use of.
We cross the Niger Bridge into Onitsha sometime after 4 p.m. There is a fallen goods truck and we, once more, stop. Christian likens the scene to the St. George and the Dragon narrative — the truck represents, to him, a modern day dragon; in this instance, of consumerism. He also does a ‘re-enactment’, which Emeka captures.
We drive into a masquerade festival in Mbaitoli Local Government in Imo. Of course, we park our van to interact and make photos. There are two men, both addressed as “chief”, who tell us we cannot make photos of the masquerades without their (the masquerades’) permission. I speak with one of them about the symbolism of the festival, while the guys try to convince the other to grant permission for photographing. The parade is a month-long one which symbolises peace, I am told. While I am speaking with the chief, a guy walks up to him and introduces himself as a member of the press. He gets the same “no photography” spiel. There is an exchange of Igbo words that escape my understanding. What doesn’t escape me are the two naira notes that are placed on the ground by the press man. The chief places the staff in his hand on the notes, and then says to him in English, “In our place, we are trinity. You have to make it three.” A third note makes three. And, thus, the press man gets photography rights. The colourful masquerade parade draws close. They are wearing Banga leaves and holding whips. One of the chiefs shoves me backwards and tells me to get out of their way to avoid being flogged. I ask him why the masquerades are holding whips if the festival symbolises peace. He tells me it is so that they can flog people who disobey the law. He points at my three-quarter shorts and says, “People like you. A woman wearing trousers.”
It is dark when we drive into Abia State. There are no streetlights. It may sound dramatic to say the roads are treacherous, but that’s what they are. This place holds memories for Emeka. As we move along, he reminisces about growing up. Memories are not always comforting though, for it seems this place has not grown in the years he’s been gone from it. He says he recognises some potholes, but they’re larger now. I think about the spate of accidents on Nigerian roads, and wonder what successive governments in this state have been doing with their budgetary allocations. I don’t wonder for long, as we drive into the hotel where we will be spending the next two nights while we explore the city with what is, perhaps, the largest market in Nigeria.
It’s been a long day.