© Selena Deckelmann, Flickr
Motor parks are chaotic, crowded and usually filthy, stuffed to the gills with vehicles and market stalls, and are frequented by hawkers, food-is-ready stands, and conductors and touts shouting out destinations and arguing over passengers. They are full of life and great places to observe daily Nigerian street life. Once everyone has got over the shock of the arrival of an oyibo (white person) and you have located and decided what vehicle you are going to take, you’ll receive no hassles and it’s a fabulous opportunity to see everyone at work and chat to the people around you.
Motor parks are frantic places where everyone wants to sell you something. The hawkers do their rounds with loaves of bread, peanuts, sticks of suya, soft drinks, pure water, various other street food, boxes of imitation watches, underwear and handkerchiefs (a very useful item in a sweaty bus).
Other hawkers offering services include the shoe doctor or mobile tailor (amazingly these men walk around with old black Singer sewing machines on their heads), and – my absolute favourite – International Finger Cutter men. These are manicurists who wander around the motor parks clacking their scissors and administering what look like rather harsh manicures and pedicures to any man who desires to have his nails buffed (presumably women conduct this grooming procedure at home). Then there are beggars – the blind, crippled and maimed – who throw their hands through minibus windows and rattle their enamel plates.
There are also lay preachers, who come to each vehicle and pray to God for all the passengers to have a safe journey. This often turns into a bit of impromptu hymn singing, after which the passengers are expected to pay the preacher some dash. We were often ‘sprinkled with the blood of Jesus’ for safe travelling. Quite often a passenger in the vehicle will say another prayer before departing. Finally there are traditional doctors, who roam the motor parks proclaiming through loudspeakers that they have the medicine, the book and the power to cure all the ailments of the world, which on one occasion included ‘unfriendly body odour’ and a ‘weeping penis’! This same gentleman advised putting undiluted petrol on a tooth three times a week to cure toothache, washing your hair in urine to cure dandruff, and using an onion to cure premature ejaculation. The man I was sitting next to on the bus, who was a real doctor, told me irritably that the traditional doctor was ‘confusing the common man’. It was a priceless moment.