The Bush Shop
When preparing for an 89km run, I think it is fair to say there are few environments more challenging than the streets of Lagos. Although improving, most roads in Lagos are not built for traffic, let alone provide nice, smooth surfaces for us to run on. As one of the runners in our group put it this week – At times, it can be more like Adventure Racing! Another challenge when training, especially during the long runs, is hydration. To the untrained eye, water stops seem to be either non existent or very few and far between. But by putting our trust in the main ‘Oga’ – Willem, we have discovered that there are plenty little stalls, kiosks and shops in what can seem to be the most unlikeliest and craziest of places. One of our favourites spots to stop and get some fluids is the place I like to call ‘The Bush Shop’.
I cannot put it any simpler than what the name suggests – it is simply a shop in a garden hedge. There are no walls and no roof. The shop floor is demarcated by what is, effectively, topiary. But this does not hinder the trade in almost all household goods you could possibly imagine. Candles, toilet paper, cigarettes, eggs, vegetables, soap powder – just to name a few. But most importantly from our perspective, the shop sells Guinness Malta & ice cold Coca Cola – in those funky, 500ml glass bottles. Drive or walk by with any kind of speed and you might miss this little gem, which would be a shame as these ‘side of the road’ kiosks are the heartbeat of Lagos. Every topic of discussion is mulled over and debated here around a drink or a meal. Anything from football to politics can be the topic of conversation.
Once you meander on in, you will nearly always find people enjoying their big, heavy, starch laden breakfasts of traditional Nigerian cuisine. Dishes such as pounded yam and fried catfish. Or you may just find people simply sitting around, enjoying the chit-chat and drinking litres of tea out of plastic mugs as big as wine barrels – nearly always with two or three teabag strings hanging out over the side. Nigerians, we find, are very social and animated people, so often when we walk in, it sounds like we have just missed out on the big joke or a story.
I love stopping here. Always at the helm, busy preparing a meal for her customers, you will find Mrs Adams – the proprietor of the shop. Not Gladys or Emily, but Mrs Adams. She is a typically proud Nigerian and wonderfully friendly. It often puzzles her why on earth we run as far as we do, but she is happy in the knowledge that we could not do our training without her shop. She tells us that she does an important job running the shop. Her customers that are enjoying their breakfasts are mostly the labourers working on repairing the roads, and that it is her shop and her cooking, she informs us, that gives the men the strength and power they need to do a good job. It is great to see that not only do we benefit by having better running surfaces when the roads are repaired, but that Mrs Adams also benefits from the increase in business while the work is being carried out.
We have become such regulars to the bush shop that we have sometimes turned up with no money and had to plead for her to help us with some water and coke :
“Please mamma, dash me some pure water and coke, abeg. Next tomorrow I don get cash, and bring for you”
Her customers almost fall of their chairs laughing at hearing these Oyibos trying to speak pidgin. We know we sound silly and that the joke is at our expense, but for those short little moments, although we might be worlds apart in terms of culture and experience, laughter is the common denominator that we can all share.
So to you Mrs Adams. When my Lagos friends and I cross that line in May and we look back and reflect on the journey it has been to get there, we will know that without the energy and smiles you and your establishment have provided us, our training would have been that little bit harder and not nearly as memorable.