Africa travel advice: 'Be the backseat'
As a traveler there's no more chaotic city in Africa -- or maybe anywhere in the world -- than Lagos, Nigeria. On my only visit there, in 2006, I saw two fistfights break out along the side of the road and had a screaming Christian preacher thrust his Bible through my window asking if I wanted to be saved. And that was just the taxi ride from the airport. I think I witnessed more human struggle and emotion during those 45 minutes than in all the previous 25 years of my life.
So it was with great amusement that I read New Yorker writer Steve Coll's account of a recent car ride through Lagos. You see, Coll's car gets stuck in some horrendous and unexplained traffic jam late one night. The car doesn't move for 30 minutes. We've all been there, and most of us can't control our agitation. A veteran foreign correspondent, Coll's advice is simple: "leap past the first four stages of grief—denial, anger, etc.—straight to acceptance. Be the backseat."
The brief passages that follow offer a helpful litmus test for aspiring correspondents in the developing world. Forget the wars, refugee camps, dingy airports and byzantine bureaucracies; if you don't think you can handle car journeys like this without ripping out the wire from your reporter's notebook and strangling yourself with it, don't go to a place like Nigeria: