The first time I rode a danfo I felt like I was flying. Probably not a statement you’d expect to hear from anyone.
When I received notice I would be riding public transportation to get to and from work I remember feeling tense all over. No more cushy chauffeured rides to and from work. Where the A.C blew constantly even when it was already cold. It was a privileged bubble from what the less fortunate Lagosians were enduring. Now my reality was either the bus or legadeze benz to carry myself go work. Though I would soon learn that riding danfos involves BOTH.
I’d been apprehensive about taking local transportation because of the unlucky stories I was told. All I needed to hear was “one chance” to have my skin crawling. Small buses, or danfos, that were not really danfos but vehicles of thievery. As I was told, it was always on that day that you carried “big moni” that you ended up entering “one chance”. (Read more here).
It was a breezy weekday morning when I walked with Precious, the driver out to where the bus stop was. Precious was a blessing to me really. I’d depended on him early on to figure out how to maneuver around and handle Lagos life. The path to the bus stop wove out of the estate down roughly cobbled streets and through a large grassy alley-like area. As we walked he told me to be careful of that area particularly at night. There were narrower paths on the side that area boys liked to hide in and prey on tired victims returning home from work. When we arrived at the stop he turned to me giving me a solemn look. That look that most locals gave me as a “JJC” (Johnny Just Come). It pitied and doubted my ability to thrive while laughing at me for coming to Nigeria in the first place. I smiled back in return giving a courageous front.
“Dis na “F” bustop. Take bus wey go drop u for CMS, tell d coducta say him go drop u for ontop of bridge. Frum der u go come take bus wey go come drop u for Costain. U don grab? make u no forget oh!”
Nodding I repeated in my head CMS CMS COSTAIN COSTAIN. By force I would not get lost. The thought was too scary to fathom. After what felt like ages we heard “CMS! CMS!” or at least what I thought sounded like it. The guttural thickness of the local Yoruba accent was taking some time to get used to. Before I knew it Precious was pushing me forward and I jumped inside a metal skeleton of a bus. Wow. . Where are the seatbelts was my first thought. Then I laughed at my own foolishness. There weren’t many of us on the bus. About four, not including the bus driver and the conductor, the latter hanging out precariously where the side door was supposed to be. The conductor shouted out periodically “CMS! CMS” and shouted in Yoruba. His Yoruba was deep and sounded like the words were fighting with each other and the people hearing them. I’ve been told that this is the authentic Yoruba, wey you go know say person dey from Yoruba land well well. The breeze coming through the door-less side embraced me energetically. Leaning forward, I welcomed it happily. This wasn’t so bad. Other than the rough driving that threw me every which way I quite enjoyed it. I broke out into a grin and peered through a window as the island passed by. This JJC was going to make it!
When I arrived at work later that morning I strode in and dumped my suitcase on my desk. Waiting to be noticed. Sure enough when people noticed and asked how my morning ride in was and wondered where was the driver and Oga, I tittered with barely contained excitement and pride. Regaling them about my ride on a DANFO and how I’d made it to work, I strutted around and gestured broadly mimicking the actions of the conductor and other passengers. Looking back I must’ve seemed comical in my joy at taking public transport. They must’ve pitied me since I hadn’t really tasted suffering yet… but I would and soon. I would learn why people said you could never bath enough in Lagos, and why traffic was TRAFFIC in all caps when you rode transport, why a lack of change could cause riots on the bus, how Yoruba was more important than English to land at any destination. I learned to stop smiling and “showing teeth” that survival was better that way. How 1000 naira was more of a nuisance than lesser bills. That contrary to what Precious advised loose skirts were better when riding the bus than pants because and this is also a point – propriety gets lost and ignored in the cramped and sweaty boxes of survival called danfos.