By Ochereome Nnanna
AN Igbo adage says: “Ndi na-asu n’olu n’olu, mana ochi (na akwa) but otu”. Languages differ but laughter (and crying) sound the same. No two human beings are exactly the same. No two cultures are exactly the same.
The world is full of diversities, even to the extent of human species having so many colours on their skin. But once you open up anyone from anywhere we are all the same inside. If you subject any human being to extreme emotional thrill of sadness or joy they will react just the same.
I delved into this amateur psychoanalysis due to a sobering series of experiences I have been privileged to witness since one week of my stay in New York City. I told you all that I would pay quality attention to issues that draw some parallel with situations back home in Nigeria.
After all, the USA is a society we model Nigeria after. In our size, diversity and constitutional aspirations, we are more like America than Britain.
Since last Sunday October 28th 2012 when the Hurricane Sandy blew in from the Caribbean, life as Americans know it on the East Coast, has never been the same. Sandy has knocked the stuffing out of citizens of a country that prides itself as the greatest nation on earth.
As I observed in an earlier dispatch, the experiences Americans have gone through in the past eight days bring to mind the devastation of 9/11. Sandy turned American citizens into Third World folks.
I saw New York and New Jersey and their residents reduced to situations familiar in Nigeria as a result of our underdevelopment, corruption and poor leadership. On Thursday morning last week, our plush “refugee camp” off Parsons Boulevard, Jamaica district of Queens Borough, New York, woke up to a sumptuous breakfast.
Leon, an Investigator and Counsellor with the New York City Council and Chief Abogo, a California-based businessman who came to buy supplies in New York, and I, set off in Leon’s Toyota Landcruiser to attend to our respective schedules for the day.
I had planned to nose around the city and find out how the electoral authorities were shaping up for the Tuesday presidential election after such a devastating rupturing left behind by Sandy.
There were fears that the election could be postponed in some parts of the North East. I was also to attend a medical check-up. But all these were not to be.
The power outage that affected 7.5 million people and businesses had far more greater consequences than contemplated by anyone.
People (including those who had defied the warnings of the authorities) had to flee their homes due to the power cut to escape from the cold and hunger since all the food they stocked up in their fridges were rapidly decaying. Schools were closed for a week, and public transportation was severely restricted.
To reduce the traffic nightmare around Manhattan (the Lagos Island of New York) the authorities isssued an order requiring that any vehicle entering Manhattan must carry at least three occupants.
They should have spared their breath because on that Thursday morning, motorists woke up to find there was no “gas” (as they call it here) to fuel their vehicles.
Leon, a former broadcaster with the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) who has lived in New York for over twenty years, knew all the gas stations in the city and was confident he would get a place to fill the tank. We used the little we had until his dashboard turned red and we had to return home to a nearby Mobil station.
Fuel queues everywhere
All over the city there were miles and miles of vehicles queued in front of gas stations that had no gas. Our Mobil was no different. Somehow, cutomers suspected that the Indian operators of the station were hoarding the fuel and refused to leave.
Vehicles blocked everywhere and other motorists found it difficult to use the roads. The police would have none of that. They came in their squad cars and after conversing with the station’s operators, it was agreed that gas should be sold to enable some vehicles get into the queue and out of the roads.
The dealers also agreed to sell to those who came with jerry cans (is that familiar?). Within a jiffy, motorists raided a nearby convenience store and lined up with their cans. By the time we went there to acquire one, the police had ordered them to stop selling because the situation at the pumps was turning chaotic.
After failing to get people to comply with directives to be orderly the police ordered the immediate stoppage of sales. They sealed off the station with yellow tape with the inscription: CRIME SCENE DO NOT CROSS.
All vehicles were asked to leave the station. Ours had completely run out of gas. Surprisingly, the four police officers on duty, including a young lady, offered to push the SUV into a parking lot, even though the three of us could have done so easily.
Long wait for fuel
For hours, about fifteen people still hung around the station, in hope that something would happen. They were all there: Whites, Blacks, Chinese, Indians, Arabs, and of course, us Africans. Most clutched their red cans and looking expectantly in the direction of the Indian salesman, but no show.
He dared not defy the orders of the police who had long left the scene. Much later, a lone Black policeman returned to the station, conversed with the attendant and drove away. The salesman called those of us still around and announced that gas could become available the following day all over the city when vessels from Pennsylvania refineries would have arrived.
He said police had permitted him to sell to a few people in cans by midnight if we would come back. Based on this agreement we all dispersed at 6.30pm. The only difference between what we saw that day and the situation in Nigeria, was that there was no “black market” fuel hawkers anywhere.
Nobody around could remember the last time there was fuel scarcity in New York. There could be price hikes (and price reductions!) but no scarcity. Even in Nigeria, we never witnessed fuel scarcity before the 1990s.
The “black market” only developed as a result of prolonged scarcity occasioned by racketeering and profiteering. If the scarcity should persist in New York racketeering is sure to follow. Languages differ. Laughter (and crying) are the same.