ktravula – a travelogue!

art. language. travel

Riding the Storm

There was a huge tornado in this area four weeks ago, and I was in it. It was a most frightening experience. I was returning home from campus, and it ended with my car being spun 360 degrees and tossed off the road along with the meal of fries I had just bought at McDonald’s. (It gives a new meaning to “taking the car for a spin”, doesn’t it?) Luckily I wasn’t hurt, and neither was the car. But by the time I read the news and saw what it had done to the airport in St. Louis that same night, I knew how much luckier I had been. It moved planes and cars, broke glasses and knocked down electric systems. Since then I’d sworn never to ignore tornado alerts.

The biggest storms I’ve ever experienced in Nigeria usually happened at night. There have been tornadoes but they are rare and spaced out so I’d never actually been in one. They’re deadly nevertheless. Imagine walking in the rain at night and have the wind throw an aluminum roof straight at your jugular or at your car while you drove. Just a few years ago, father went to bed in a large house of two storeys and woke up with an open roof. The whole roofing frame had been moved a few miles down the street. My grandfather’s house once suffered the same fate many years later.

The houses in America are built differently, it seems, and thus suffer a seemingly greater damage. Then there is the powerful wind running at such speed that can wreck anything in its way. Two days ago, another big stormed roamed this parts and killed about 117 people from Missouri to Minnesota. Pictures from Joplin MO looked like a war zone. When people say “be thankful for little blessings”, I guess they mean that one should be grateful for not being in a place like this when the storm comes. It is a frightening, and often devastating experience.

UPDATE: President Obama has promised to visit the town on Sunday.

 

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A Mean Day

Today started very early, and promising. I had woken up very many times in the night in order to drive the current visiting scholars to the airport. They are visiting Washington DC for the first time for the Fulbright conference. I knew the feeling of anticipation that attends such an important experience. Less than a year ago, I was on the plane eastwards on the same mission across the country. Now, an older (and hopefully wiser) man, I volunteered to drive them to the airport perhaps in order to relive some of the excitement. Eventually, after waking up the umpteenth time, I realized that I’d had enough sleep. I got up and set out. It was seven in the morning. The flight of the first one of them was billed for nine thirty. We had underestimated the traffic situation in our neighbouring state.

A news camera set up at around the bridge. I found this by error while looking for where to turn around.

A few minutes later at seven thirty, we reached a detour. The interstate highway was closed and the only way to get to the airport was to take another route, which ordinarily would have got us there in twenty minutes. After about three miles, we ran into a traffic situation that brought me thousand kilometres away from the scene of the annoying stretch of ice-capped cars on the Missouri road. I was back in Lagos, on the Third Mainland Bridge. It was morning on a Monday morning and the only available space for movement was just an inch, and if we got lucky, a foot, then a stop for another three minutes. The cycle repeated itself for as long as possible until you got to work, late. It was my first experience with bad road traffic. Back to the present, it was about eight twenty.

Thirty minutes, very many exasperated sighs, plenty discomforts and pretend conversation easing topics later, we got off that stretch of road finally and headed out to the airport. The traveller needed at least thirty minutes to get to the airport before his flight. The distance from home to the airport was supposed to have been thirty-five minutes at the most. We got down at ten past nine, and rushed into the terminal. We were late, as were about four other people. The attendant staff were courteous but unyielding. “You have to be here thirty minutes before. No buts.” They scanned the machine for available flights and put my friend on one to leave at twelve thirty. He didn’t mind. It wasn’t as if he had a choice. Then we went to the tables, sat down and started talking about everything under the sun. I had my eye on the car outside just in case a cop showed up and wondered why it was left attended. He did. The car bad been there for about two hours.

There was a ticket on it already, and he was just getting into his car. “Are you the owner of this car sir?” “Yes.” “Can I see your license?” “Here sir.” “Can you read that sign over there?” Sigh. The sign read Vehicles should not be left unattended. For the first time, I also heard the announcement on the PA that said in two minutes intervals: Cars left unattended will be ticketed and towed. “I was already getting ready to get it towed” the officer said. I looked at the ticket and hoped that the soft unassuming look on my face would earn me a slap on the wrist and a pardon, being a first time offence. Nope. He was already leaving. “You have to pay that before thirty days or you’d lose your license,” he said, and moved to the next car. Now I had a dilemma, get out of the car back into the terminal to say bye to my friend, or to go home. I waited it out for ten minutes, hoping at least that said friend would come out towards me. He didn’t notice, probably, so he didn’t. The cop did however, with a mean look on his face. I moved, and headed home.

Not yet over, I got back on the road and found myself back eventually at the interstate closure. It was time for another long roundabout rerouting through a series bad roads and empty countrysides and through Alton in order to get into campus on time for the first time today. It was almost one o clock. What a day.

Update: I have now found out the cause of the closure. A petrol tanker had run into a stationary car on the bridge, killed a man and set parts of the bridge on fire. That was why by the time I returned home, a few people who had heard about the news on the radio had been frantically looking for me, praying that I was not the victim. Now I have to worry about paying the darn ticket! On the bright side, look at how many pictures I took, even in my state of distress.

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Random Missouri

I figured that it’s been long since I last put up a photo post, so here – a few random shots mostly taken in our neighbouring state of Missouri.

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Visiting Missouri Again

I drove to Missouri again today, the second time I’m doing so in the last one year. The state border is only twenty minutes away from my location. This time however, unlike the last time where I had to take a sick friend to the Barnes Jewish hospital, I was visiting in order to perfect my driving and adjustment to American road and rule system. For that, I had to drive almost around the state making sure that I tested myself on each type of road and driving conditions. Traveling with a University professor, mentor on and off the wheels, the trip took much of the whole day, going through a few major towns in the state. Missouri is famous not just for the St. Louis Gateway Arch and the Mississippi river but a whole lot of historical hotspots including Mark Twain’s famous residence, the site of the brutal fighting of the American civil war, the famous Route 66 among many others.

One of the places visited today was the Missouri Welcome Centre, a one-stop shop for every tourist destination in the state. Then I visited the city of Manchester where we’d gone to check up a few books at the Borders Bookstore. Borders is one of America’s largest bookstores. The only Nigerian books there were two new reprints of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Chimamanda Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun, a different cover edition of Purple Hibiscus and another one of Half of a Yellow Sun. There was no Soyinka or any of the other contemporary names in Nigerian fiction. Well, I also found Uwem Akpan’s Say You’re One of Them, which is only proper since Oprah Winfrey had chosen it once as a Book Club Selection. There were a whole tonne of book on the other aisles though, and I had a good time browsing through a few of them

I was a Clayton, and a few other neighbourhoods in the city. Many of the pubs were closed for Labour Day. A few of them were still open, with considerable patronage. My own assessment of the driving exercise was that I’m now ready to take on the country. The downside is having to be in total control of a moving vehicle on such a busy highway as those around the midwest. Worse than Lagos in a few different ways, and better in a lot more, the main minus to driving is only the letting go of the ability to daydream for a few hours every day.

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A Warm Southern Welcome

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On landing at the airport in St. Louis, Missouri, it took quite a while to locate the baggage claim point. Luckily for me, I found a friendly airport staff who pointed out the direction to me:

“You go that way, turn left, walk up the stairs, turn right, turn right again and keep going. It’s pretty easy!”.

I agreed, and followed his direction. I eventually asked somebody else when it seemed that I was gonna get lost, and I found my way at last to M1 where my bag finally came out. The next step was to find my greeters who were at this time nowhere to be found, so I walked towards the exit, and sat down. I was in St. Louis, the beautiful town famous for the likes of Miles Davies the jazz trumpeter. Should I step out of the airport and feed my eyes while I wait for my greeters? I decided against it, and just waited. After about 8minutes of waiting, I took one last walk back to M1, the baggage claim point, where I found someone carrying a sheet of paper that had my name written boldly on it. I brought out my camera and *click* took a picture. I went closer and introduced myself.

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There were two of them: Mary – a student of English Pre-law from the Students Government body, and Sai – an Indian in the Engineering department. They helped with my bags, took me to eat some more flour-based food, and we headed to campus.

I hadn’t had breakfast since morning, and the bagel I ordered in the morning was kinda unsatisfactory because of all the cheese they stuffed in it that I wasn’t used to. Luckily for me, these were students from the International Students Office who had come to bring me to campus, and I could be free to tell them how I really feel. “I would prefer something not made with flour,” I said. And from the first giggle, I knew it was an impossible task.

All for me

All for me

I am now on campus, in my room, after signing for the key, and everywhere I turn to here, there is a sign that bears my name, welcoming me to Edwardsville. I feel special. There is a basket of fruits for me from the International Hospitality Program. There’s also a large paper bag containing everything I must need to be comfortable in this lodging: Pringles, tissue paper, snacks, jotter, pen, crayons, nail clipper, toothbrush, shampoo, hand sanitizer, deodorant, sugar, milk, juice, toothpaste, plastic spoons, chocolate, salted peanuts among many many others that I haven’t yet opened. It’s impossible not to feel special right now. In the fridge is another assortment of food items, all for me. I know this because my name has also been tagged onto the door of the refrigerator.

This is the honeymoon phase. This is my first night. So help me God.

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