The road from the airport told you everything you needed to know about the country. The battered yellow public transport buses with their thin black stripes, parked haphazardly on the sides of the road against the back drop of luxurious aircrafts with their tails bearing the flags of various countries communicating the poignant point on how it was a country of extremes- extreme wealth and extreme poverty, living together side by side. Meeting but never mixing.
The rusty, broken down tankers, some with their heads hanging tauntingly low, a metaphor of the crippled state of the petroleum industry, their imposing forms capturing the enormity of the problem. They were the country’s own overfed dragons. The blessing that became a curse and then, a menace.
The bright, hot sun and the grass, brown in part, luscious green in others, a picture of the economy. The harsh conditions wilted some…many…too many, but others thrived, a testament of the spirit of the people but also the greed of a few.
The beggars were sat just far enough from the winding road that came from arrivals, not to assault the delusions of homecomers and foreigners. The ones who waved happily at the regulars and whose faces contorted with disappointment and sometimes disgust when you tipped them in local currency, just like the footman who pushed your trolley at the airport. And the security guard at the door. And the customs officer who checked your bags. And the police officer at the car park. The air was laden with entitlement, it clung to them and they wore it like a second skin. Their demeanor, a reflection of how they viewed anything that was theirs – worthless. Their expression, a reminder that in this part of the world, the dollar remained king.
The potholes on the road that seemed to go on endlessly. Some large, some deep, some small but cunningly hidden like the many hoops and holes one must go through to get anything and anywhere in the country. Like the many hoops and holes that money, government money, infrastructure money, health money, seemed to disappear into. A system designed merely to exist, at best.
The dust, was everywhere. On the road, in the air, on your skin. You could taste it on your tongue. A reminder that no one was immune from the disease. The endemic that had ravaged the country for years but somehow remained strangely undiagnosed. Its cause less so – ignorance, frustration, stress, tiredness, the government…
But no one was immune, not me, a fully educated adult, with a doctorate degree in philosophy, not the toothless, illiterate danfo driver behind me, on the 6th lane on the jam packed 3-lane road from the airport.