Sinking, Rising – The Sinking Mud Story

Posted: September 8, 2012 at 8:59 am by

Images: Novo Isioro, Emeka Okereke, Ray Daniels Okeugo, Jide Odukoya & Mario Macilau

Text: Emmanuel Iduma

01

When the night began, only lightened by our van’s headlight, it seemed to me like a game, one that is played without an outcome in mind. Here the mud workers (for want of a better appellation), are beginning to clear the first muddy ditch.

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02

After the first ditch, we weren’t going to be pampered anymore. All the guys in the group stepped down from the van. The game was simple – the mud workers cleared the ditch, and we helped them to push the van across.

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03

An apt representation of the long, winding muddiness. Morning had come, the tortuous path had become clearer.

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04

It thrilled me that there were others, like us, who braved the mud. In this photo a truck is attempting the cross over. Most of the trucks that got through moved with edible goods. Food, that necessity that defies every obstacle, had triumphed over muddiness.

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05

One more photo shows the evident difficulty, and the possible triumph. Our van was behind. A glimpse of this success propelled us to strive on. That we didn’t have a van with four-wheel drive meant we would spend a longer time than most vans. Hadn’t we been warned that only such vans could succeed? But, Marquez says it all: “Courage was greater than fear.”

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06

Our feet got dirty. We had to get sullied, even bullied, by unhealthy conditions. ‘Unhealthy’ is not a word to use when there are no options. I recall that once I thought about that infamous aphorism – dust to dust. And after our legs were dipped in such manner, we entered our van at 3.00am, and slept. Sleep defies muddiness.

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07

It was perfectly normal to wash hands in the mud. It was a vast mud-landscape

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08

Some of these stones were carried to be laid on the mud when we got to our last obstacle. At the moment we felt all was ready, a van behind madly drove past our van (missing hitting Jide and Emeka by a hair’s breadth) and buried the stones laid on the mud. We rushed to him, threatening, hitting, cursing. He had to be pulled away before we moved past.

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09

This procedure was repeated many times – we had to attach a towing rope to our van so that another van could move us from a muddy ditch. On one occasion, one driver exclaimed that we didn’t have the right to block the road. But, considering this, thinking about the words ‘public’ and ‘road’, Emeka felt there was a need for redefinition. This was not a ‘public’ ‘road’ because it demanded personal efforts to cross through. In essence, the bad state of the pathway made it a ‘private road.’

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10

Once, during our time in the Sinking Mud, an elderly man crossing through joked that his motorcycle was a ‘four-wheel drive.’ He counted his legs as the other two wheels. In this photo, a motorcycle tries to cross. I envied the ease with which motorcycles crossed. If only our van could morph into a motorcycle…

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11

A Chinese woman being ferried across. The Sinking Mud is even an international route.

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12

We found time to dance, daring frustration and disappointment to stop us. Notice that behind us attempt was being made to move our van from yet another muddy ditch.

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13

At long last, after we had crossed, we posed for a photo. Here, together with the group, are the Mud Workers without whose assistance crossing would have been impossible, a daydream. We owe them many things – include the wish that their lives do not end with the knowledge that the Sinking Mud has not been built into a road.

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14

After going past Eyumojok, we encountered yet another (not-up-to-a-kilometre) stretch of mud. This was shorter, compared to the last one, but we had to spend the night on the spot shown in this photograph. Notice Ray Daniels standing on the Driver’s side of the van, accessing the road. It was one of the few times that he stood from the Driver’s seat in close to 36 hours.

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15

When I saw this photograph, I invoked Ben Harper’s lyrics: “I’m taking the mister out in front of your name/cos it’s a mister like you put the rest of us to shame.” I shouldn’t blame the Chinese construction company managing the road, but I should. I should blame them because we found many parts of the road hastily patched with gravel. But the bigger blame goes to a corrupt African government, for their disloyalty, insolence. And maybe the African Union too. All blameworthy. What we demand is simple – une société plus juste.

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16

Queen’s Hotel, Mamfe. The dilapidated hotel that we had our first proper sleep and bath after three nights. Although it reminded me of a brothel I’d slept in another Camerounian town, less than a year ago, I was glad that I had a bed, a socket for my computer, a ceiling fan. I was grateful that the journey was progressing.

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