HOT CHOCOLATE| The Search For Fuel, Water, Light and the Stories in between -By Abdul Mahmud
My generator set sputtered to a slow death as it ran out of fuel. The way it sputtered, the GREE-GREE, GREEEE… GREEEE sound made me think it was either close to that final moment of seizure or it was struggling to muster strength to survive the state it found itself, having sent a whizzing message to every appliance in my home and each appliance responding as if someone had thrust them into the middle of the Siberian winter. The appliances danced KOKOMA before dying out. The sputter of the generator set sounded more like a plea or a plain wish to be revived before death beckoned. I had no single drop of fuel that the generator set badly needed, so I made no attempt to revive it. They say water is the sustainer of life. I had it stored aplenty. Amid the darkness I thought about turning water into fuel to return the generator set back to life the way Christ turned water into wine at the Wedding at Cana, but it was just a thought, a mere thought anyway, a strange way of hoping that the necessity of that moment only served as the dotting mother of the new invention I was so eager to create, at least in my head. I thought about those school girls who made the news not long ago now by powering a generator set with urine. “Don’t be stupid”, I constantly heard my heart tell my head. To invent a way out of a dire situation by producing thoughts that are founded in science isn’t stupidity. There are countless folks, like me, who wish they can power their generator sets with water, or with urine, and forget those endless days and sleepless nights of waiting at petrol stations.
While my thoughts converge with the thoughts of my compatriots, the idea that great countries, known for their countless scientific and technological discoveries and inventions that have progressed all humanity, are searching for new forms of life in outer planets beyond the reaches of ordinary folks, strikes at the heart of the belief that there are many problems that need to be addressed before embarking on the mission to the outer planets. If one adds the problems of perennial fuel scarcity, lack of clean and potable water to the list of challenges, my argument here would be appreciated. “Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do”, Goethe once asserted. Was I, or those other folks, really stupid to have pondered the possibility of turning water into fuel to power my sputtering generator set? At least, wanting to go beyond the sense of willingness, desiring to apply intelligence, no matter how agricultural or native it is to my circumstance necessitates the desire to apply and or to innovate. It is thus safe to suggest that my thoughts are not stupid after all, even safer to say that it is those who deny the science of knowing, of wanting to apply, of willing and desiring to do- to turn water into fuel, or to invent generators powered by urine- that are stupid. The genius of science makes every impossible phenomena very possible and it is from this genius that humanity finds happiness and bliss, progress and growth, and embraces with passion that which inspires it in science and nature. To achieve progress, to attain the state of happiness or to proffer solutions to problems like fuel scarcity, requires capacity for creative and innovative insights. We need scientists, like those folks at Audi who earlier in the year turned water and air into diesel, who can convert gases extracted from water into liquid hydrocarbon fuels and make them available for wider use, so we can point our ten fingers of WAKA-SHEGE at those failing public servants who inflict perennial pain on us. Those folks in Lagos hit by water shortages will ask, “how about us?”. Don’t worry folks, the Lagoon never dries, water won’t be a problem.
The search for fuel in the time of scarcity is like the search for the needle in the haystack; it is like thirsting for the sparkling water of the lake on the sunny road- the elusive mirage that appears and disappears into the thin air. This is my experience last Thursday, call it ‘the diary of a citizen in search of fuel’: the generator died on Wednesday night. Thursday morning I had only a car with a half-filled-tank to take me in search of fuel. The first choice was to load empty storages and the generator set into the trunk of the car; but there was the bigger problem of fitting the generator set inside the car, so I abandoned it. “Where on earth do I find fuel”, I asked myself. I thought about Hafiz, my mechanic, who has excellent knowledge of almost everything connected to automobiles. I rang him. “Eku alaisi epo, daddy”, he greeted me in Yoruba the moment he answered the phone call. I smiled. “How can lack of fuel become a form of greeting?”, I asked him. “Daddy, na change we dey o”, he answered and directed me to a petrol station thirty kilometers from Abuja. “But na two hundred naira dem dey sell a liter for there”, he asserted. Having established the fact that fuel was available somewhere in the outskirts of Abuja, I had to make a decision between choosing the rock or the hard place: to travel that distance on a half-filled-tank meant I would return almost with an empty tank if I didn’t find fuel to buy. Or not embarking on the search would invariably confine me to days and nights without light and without means to pump water from the borehole. If Lady luck smiled on the search, I would return home happy like the Three Wise Men. Lady luck didn’t smile on the search; in fact, the Lady was nowhere near the sun-beaten shoulder of the road, three kilometers to the petrol station, where my car and I were marooned for ten hours as we queued for fuel, for Luck to make sense of my pain. I returned home with an empty tank, like the broken Argonaut who turned up late for the California Gold Rush.
So much for the hardship, the pain my compatriots suffer, the ills we have been summoned to cure by grassing those who lock up their petrol stations and refuse to sell. All I can only say here is that those who call on citizens to become policemen and women, or watchmen and women at petrol stations, are victims of their own ineptitude, blindness that suggests that they grope for idiocy, but not for knowing or for grasping the truth that though our country is in the big league of oil producers of the world, it cannot refine crude oil for domestic consumption. But there is something very original about Nigerians who, in their moments of pain, escape their conditions by rendering sadness into joy, disasters into casual jokes. The capacity for mimicry and rendering, the genius of creativity, the desire to make light of things that sink the heart, is what makes Nigerians happy according to a recent Gallup poll. Oh, my God, consider this: folks who pray that God should not make their enemies the inheritors of their victories, in apparent reference to late Abubakar Audu who was set to become the Governor of Kogi state. “Baba Goddey, make awa destinies no be like dat of Naija wey dey make petrol but no even get CHINGIRI for im pipole”, I overheard taxi drivers pray two days ago.
Dear reader, how is your weekend coming on? Are you just waking up to the new day or you are still lying in bed, dreaming the world of angels who open new doors into life? Are you at the front or back of the fuel queue that slithers far from the familiar into the back of beyond? Wherever you are this moment, I say: Eku alaisi epo.
The writer can be engaged on twitter via his Twitter account ; @AbdulMahmud1
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