'[H]undred miles an hour ... only speed a self-respecting Nigerian considers worthy of him' - Theodore Dalrymple on his Travels in West Africa



I can't focus today. So, I have abandoned the more academic literature I was to read today and, instead, settled down with a travelogue. This one was written by Anthony Daniels under his alias Theodore Dalrymple (no relation of that other travel writer, William Dalrymple, as far as I can gather), a doctor, psychiatrist and journalist. After two years of working in Tanzania, Dalrymple decided to cross Africa from Zanzibar to Mali by public transport, by bus, lorry, train, boat and canoe. His account lacks the historical and analytical depths of William Dalrymple's From the Holy Mountain, another travelogue I have recently read and enjoyed. Nevertheless, the book contains some gems – and, indeed, some rather lovely accounts of busses and lorries.

Take his account of Nigerian drivers.
'Within a very few seconds we were doing a hundred miles an hour. It is, as I discovered, the only speed a self-respecting Nigerian considers worthy of him, whatever the condition or situation of the road. This driver, dressed in Hausa robes and a colourful embroidered hat, peered imperiously, with his head thrown back and his eyelids half-closed, at the road ahead – except when speaking to me, when he turned to face me, disregarding the road altogether. Of course, he did not slow down at such times: he was a man of uncompromising principle, with fine aristocratic features and mien. Before long I had the same disdain of death as he.'
(Dalrymple 1988 Chapter 10: Nigeria.)[1]
And, of some of the taxies he rode.
'To Kano from Maiduguri is 370 miles, and I went in a taxi with the cryptic words Sea Never Dry across the rear window. […] [Another] car, a golden Peugeot, had tinted electric windows and curtains, arctic air-conditioning, a silvered nymph diving from the bonnet and quotations from the Koran to ensure safe arrival.'
(Dalrymple 1988 Chapter 10: Nigeria.)
And, here's his account of getting onto a bus in Niamey.
'The bus that was bound for Gao in eastern Mali was called Lover Boy. It was parked between buses called It’s Not Wonderful and Oh Don’t Worry. Others nearby – all with Ghanaian registrations, presumably here to earn francs rather than near-useless cedis – were called Good Father, To Be a Man Is Hard and If There Is Life There Is Hope. Lover Boy also had a couple of slogans emblazoned on its bonnet: Good God and All Shall Pass, the latter a prediction, it transpired, of some accuracy. […] When I woke an hour-and-a-half later, there was a distinct stir of activity. Baggage ten feet high was being tied on to Lover Boy’s roof; and the crowd round it had grown ominously large for so small a bus. An enormously fat boy – an unusual sight in Africa, where most children are thin – had taken up position in the doorway of the bus, and though the passengers had already paid the full fare he would not let them board without a further payment. A few of the passengers objected and tried to pull him from his position; he shouted at them, struggled, and then defeated them utterly by bursting into tears. I was the only one allowed on the bus without the fifty francs he demanded. […] A kilometre out of the gare came the first roadblock. Then the sun went down and it was time for prayers by the roadside. In any case, Lover Boy needed frequent rests: no longer in the first flush of youth, and terribly overburdened, even an incline of a few degrees produced horrible grindings and judders. The road was dust and rubble, a treacherous surface for bald tyres; the male passengers had frequently to get out and push, while the female passengers stayed modestly where they were. The plan, insofar as there was one, appeared to be to travel by day and night. But Lover Boy had other ideas. On the stroke of ten, a breakdown occurred beyond hope of nocturnal repair. There was only one torch on board, and the batteries were soon dead; Lover Boy’s lights, never the strongest, were soon reduced to a barely perceptible glimmer. There was nothing for it but to sleep where we had stopped.
(Dalrymple 1988 Chapter 11: Niger.)
There are many more well-captured scenes in Dalrymple's account of his travels; not all of which I can or should reproduce here. So, while I am really not up to writing a proper review for this book [for that see Goodreads] – If you're looking for some light-hearted and well written reading material for a lazy Sunday afternoon, Dalrymple's book is worth a shot. Just don't expect it to live up to the writing of his more famous namesake.
Theodore Dalrymple (1988): Zanzibar to Timbuktu. London: John Murray. [E-Book, published by Monday Books, Cheltenham, 2012]

[1] Apolgogies. Mine is the ebook edition of the book, therefore I cannot provide page numbers here. That said, Dalrymple's chapters are rather short. Skimming them in search for these paragraphs shouldn't be all too taxing.  
Edited, 26 June 2017: Faulty formatting corrected (font size). Hope its easier to read now.

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