By Tony Ubani, in South Africa
What has a zoo got to do with the World Cup?
Forget those beautiful scenes we saw in the advert of Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria, BON, where animals were playing football. Elephants, Lions, squirrels, birds, tortoises etc.
It was an amazing art of deception meant to hype the World Cup coming to Africa for the first time. It also depicted the many wild lives in the African continent that has fetched millions of dollars with so many tourists streaming into the continent to see the wild animals in Africa.
And when I mistakenly landed in the Johannesburg Zoo, the scene was not different from that of a football arena. There were many people from different countries judging by the different jerseys, blacks and whites.
I had set out to go to the Media Centre at Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg where journalists converge to send reports back to their different stations.
The big hall with many pots for laptops and computers are never enough for the thousands of journalists who are in SA for the World Cup. If you want to get a comfortable position, you must get there early. Little wonder why I set out early putting a call to a taxi that promised to be in my hotel in 30 minutes. 30 minutes was a long time and I stayed back in my room facing the heater to give me warmth before I confront the annoying cold outside. 30 minutes turned to one hour before the tall driver struggled to come out from his vehicle. I told him to take me to the African village and we set out. I was lost in thought as I admired the streets of Johannesburg and beautiful flowers and trees that added to the beauty of the streets.
The smooth roads were clearly marked and the many adverts added to the color. I thought about Lagos and the beautiful works being done by Governor Babatunde Fashola to change the ugly face of Lagos.
I remembered the many political battles that the Governor is waging through and I cursed all those standing against the progress. The many traffic lights in Johannesburg would never allow a driver to be reckless. It checkmates most of them who soak themselves with their local palm wine called Nkoboti from getting out of hand. Suddenly I realized that we have been on the road for about 45 minutes. I asked and he said â€˜in a momentâ€™.
The taxi screeched to a stop and a big signboard â€œWelcome to Johannesburg Zooâ€ starred me in the face. I alighted and wondered why Otunba Olusegun Runsewe would bring Nigeriaâ€™s village to the Zoo.
There was no sign of any Nigerian or Nigerian flags. Parents with children were busy buying souvenirs. The driver demanded for three hundred Rands. â€œYou brought me to a wrong place and you still want to cheat me. I will pay you three hundred Rands if you take me to where I am goingâ€, my voice changed and the driver shouted. I looked around to see if there was any Nigerian who could be of help if this driver decides to be funny.
There was none and people moved without noticing that I had a problem. The driver moved into his vehicle and told me that I would see.Â I waited contemplating giving him three hundred Rands to avoid this looming trouble. We have been warned to be careful with people and my pulse raced.
The driver moved in a way that suggested he was up to something and I decided to enter into the zoo to avoid his next action. I went through chimpanzees and monkeys that entertained the crowd. I kept wandering and suspecting any tall man in sight when I suddenly saw myself facing a massive lion.
The king of the jungle roared and people yelled in excitement. One of the tourists or attendants(whoever he was) suggested that we could walk into the lions den without harm since the giant animal had finished devouring a goat for lunch. He explained that the lion could be dangerous only when it had not eaten. I moved fartherÂ from there. After all, my name is not Daniel and I donâ€™t want to be play the hero.
I remembered the story of an insane man who with his bible went into the lions den in Ibadan, Nigeria some years ago. He was torn to pieces and could not live to tell of his miracle. Or could it be thatÂ these people had no food and wanted one for the lion?Â Itâ€™s not my portion. I am covered by the blood of Jesus. I ran away through the back gate. I saw a taxi that dropped some tourists coming to the zoo and I asked if he could take me to the African village. He said he only operates by phone calls and would not pick a passenger on the road.
I brought out 100 rands and he smiled and told me to enter. The sound of trumpets and the noise of Nigerians brought me back to life. Otunba Runsewe was at the gate and he welcomed me with a hug and swallowed me in his massive frame. I went straight for some pints of brandy to fight off the cold,Â the lion trap, the taxi cab that promised to deal with me and my misadventure in the course of covering the World Cup.
Snorting sleep out from my eyes
One is going through many battles while covering the World Cup in South Africa. The tight security that is woven around the teams is enough to frustrate one because it deprives you from getting first hand interviews with players.
Meteorologists have not helped by predicting worse cold in the coming days in South Africa.
The cold has forced many people to dress like masquerades. Very funny dressing in the name of fighting cold. And there is nothing like being used to cold. Even those from England, USA and other parts of Europe are involved in this dressing that makes it look like it is a masquerade festival in South Africa.Â Besides that, after all the hustle and bustle, one deserves to rest, to sleep and to dream.
But the cold interferes in the night. Not only cold. I am in a quagmire because I share a room with Sylva Eleanya and Christian Okpara stays in the room next to ours. They have done more harm than good in the night. Sylva is blessed with massive frame and he has been putting it in bad use here. I have been fighting a lost battle to make sure that I sleep before them.
When Sylva sleeps, the night is awake. Sylva does not only snore, he snorts. He makes an explosive noise that is difficult to allow youÂ sleep. He admits that he snores and his wife tolerates it.
That puts me in a difficult position. If the wife tolerates his snoring, who am I to complain? His cacophony of noise should not be an issue. I know the wife is meant to tolerate him even if she dislikes it. She has no choice.Â I have a choice. Sylva is not alone in this midnight trumpeting. Christian Okpara of the Guardian has joined forces with him to deny me sleep. When Sylva produces his bass, Okpara replies in tenor. And I wriggle in discomfort.
The cold attacks while I am awake listening to disturbing un-arranged music of amateurs who need medical attention over their goiters that need repairs. I kept vigil only for Onichie Anibeze to call to tell me that they have 16 pages to be filled with World Cup stories. I have lost weight covering the World Cup. I have missed the fun and work in the newsroom of Vanguard. The best newsroom in the world where men and women comfort themselves with products of work of human hands. Hector Igbikiowubo, Jide Ajani, Victor Omoregie, Innocent Anaba, Kenneth Ehigiator, Sola Ogundipe, Patrick Omorodion, Yemi Adeoye, Dan Gumm, Sir Tom Anaduaka, Victor Ahiuma Young, Ogbonna Amadi (all members of the bar) I miss you.
I miss Chris who shuttles between Kirikiri and Festac to make life worth living.
I miss Adeseri, the self_acclaimed Pastor who does not eat rat but shares it for children. I canâ€™t wait to be back to the comfort of my home and sweet weather in Nigeria where there is no electricity but there is sweet sleep with the tender hands of my wife cuddling me. Where Sylva and Christian would not blow their trumpet to keep me awake like a Jehovah Witness.