This morning, I woke up at some few minutes after 5.am. My head was pounding with a slight headache and for the umpteenth time, I slept in my clothes with my wallet and keys in my pocket. I woke up to the dawn of the morning in Libreville, and looked out the window. I was hit by a pleasant view accompanied by an equally pleasant feeling. That inner excitement that comes with being in a new place, the excitement of knowing who I was even though I didn’t know where I was. Sounds were a mishmash of speeding cars, and the crows of roosters, as if the city was in struggle with the countryside in attempt to determine which best represents it. But Libreville is a city of many facets. The rich are richer with the too-good-to-be- true cars and plush appearances, while the poor are very poor, minding their business mostly in the “quartier populaire” which is hardly the most popular part of the city.
Since we arrived here, I must say that there has been something really strange about being here. I shouldn’t experience this strangeness given that I speak enough French to easily get around in a Francophone country. Yet it feels like those moments where you are at your clumsiest. Perhaps this will straighten out. I don’t know. When we arrived here the Nigerian presence and especially that of the Igbos was a shocker – the extent to which they have integrated! We spent time at “La Gare Routiere” where there are shops and daily business run by the Igbos; we ate at an Igbo restaurant and mingled with some of them. We came to learn that the relationship between Gabon and Nigeria dated as far back as the Biafran war when many Igbo families fled to Gabon and did not come back after the war. Since then there has been subsequent generation of Igbo-Gabonese. A new dimension is formed from this circumstantial intermingling of peoples – it gave rise to ” Francophone Igbos”. This I find quite interesting within the discourse of borders. Borders are always there; an attempt to affect it only shifts it to another position in the map – be it the physical map or the socio-cultural.
Borders are, at face level, what divides us. But profoundly, it is equally what brings us together to contemplate the possibility of co-existence. And in that process a third dimension is formed which in itself produces another demarcating line, another border, but concurrently, an intertwining of different people and perspective. Therefore borders are what they are: vague and immaterial as entities. It is not the end result of a process of demarcation and unification, but a function within that process. Borders are shifting lines that emanates as a result of the necessity to individualize, socialize or classify, but never the cause of it. This is why borders will be found everywhere and anywhere human beings make the attempt to transform or transcend existing modes of being. It is like a double-edged sword and will conform to whatever form for which it becomes useful. Therefore, what is left to us is to decide to what use we could put this shape-shifting entity called borders, but never if we should ever use it at all.
The Van is the Asset, The Access.
As we moved from one city to the other and then one country to the other, one thing is more constant than any other: The van we are traveling with. In no where has it (the van) become more physical than in traveling from Nigeria to Cameroun and Gabon. It became a symbol for the impossibility that occupies the minds of many. Everywhere we go within Cameroun and Gabon, this huge 4-meter-long van is imposing and difficult to be unnoticed, but much more is the Nigerian matriculation number of our vehicle. One could tell that for the Nigerians living in Cameroun and Gabon, Nigeria is a faraway home, one they can visit only after about 6 months of pre-planning and pre-saving. And for the Cameroonian and Gabonese, it is just that Anglophone country with their Anglophone brothers further away than France.
We see the disbelief that shrouds their countenance when they spot our van in Douala, Yaoundé or Libreville. Some of them walk up to us to ask if we have truly travelled by road to these places or if we had to fly in our van by air. I am tempted to believe that the mere sight of our van must have caused a jolt of their sensibilities and their perception of proximity. I am assuming (rightly an assumption) that in spotting our van, they could now draw a line, a path, indeed a road, in their minds from Libreville to Lagos. It becomes a possible line; a line, unlike a hypothesis, has every tendency to become tangible. This was made possible by the presence of our van than of us.
In contemplating this, and the tedious and near-impossible nature of this traversal from Lagos to Libreville, coupled with the metaphorical importance of the van as a constant entity-in-motion harboring human beings who were bound to adjust to the events of the journey, the van becomes a Tunnel, a passage way for which it was possible to move from A (Lagos) to Point B (Libreville) in sometimes roadless conditions and we are obliged to adopt the van as a living space, sleeping and eating in it for about three days in a row. For me, it is difficult to see any interval in the journey from Lagos to Libreville; it is a single
line knotted together by the constant displacement of the van.
Therefore the role of our van on this year’s trip has gone beyond a mere means of transportation, but in essence has become a symbol of that Trans-African line which in spite of all obstacles and challenges have managed to offer an alternative by which this journey becomes real and imagined.
Written during and under the framework of Invisible Borders Trans-African Road Trip Project 2012.
Copyright: Emeka Okereke