On disembarking from the bus that brought us from Washington to New York, I decended downstairs to catch a train to my destination. That was my second visit to the Big Apple but my first experience of the train service there. I was stunned to see the sea of human beings underground rushing back home. About 8 million people are said to use the trains every day.
For some minutes I just stood still to take it all in. Then I reached for my camera and began to click away.
I kept on clicking until a hulk of a man tapped my shoulders and hauled me away to a small office nearby. He was either an officer of the NYPD or the FBI. I couldn’t tell because he was in plan clothes. It was just a few years after the 9/11 tragedy and the American security community was still unnerved
“What country are you from?”
“Nigeria”, I responded while quivering like a rain beaten pussycat.
“What are you doing in New York?”
“I came to visit my cousin.”
“Where do you live in the United States?”
“Can we see what you have in your camera?”
“Yes of course.”
I held out the camera but noticed it had shut down. When I put it back on, the navigation instruction on the screen had changed to French. Back then, unlike now, I didn’t understand a word in French other than bonjour. I began to sweat profusely and couldn’t find my way around a camera that I had used for three years. However, there was nothing in my camera to suggest that I was taking pictures of critical infrastructure as a terrorist might do.
“Do you have an ID”
“Yes sir” I pulled out my Virginia driver’s licence and handed it over. I became even more apprehensive. Some of the 911 hijackers had Virginia licences.
Suddenly, one of them said,
“Let him go. We haven’t had any terrorism problems from Nigeria”
Indeed, they hadn’t until that spoiled brat from Katsina, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to blow up a plane of 289 passengers headed for the United States on Christmas day in 2009.
I stayed and toured the bustling city for a week. New York is in a way like Lagos and Kano, filled with human beings that move in droves like locusts. However, New York goes a step further. It plays host not just to people from many parts of the United States, but also from all over the world. Therefore, if there is any place an immigrant can quickly feel at home in the US, it is in The Big Apple. The same applies to Lagos and Kano in Nigeria.
But shrouded in the admirable structures and melting pot status of the three cities are two factors that can fuel the flow of disease out break- people mobility and slum dwelling.
When people move, part of the personal effects they move with is disease. When people live in slums, they also create a comfortable environment for disease to thrive. Slum dwelling in New York was scantly talked about by the rich in that state until a journalist who was “fooling around” with the then newly invented flash light for cameras captured the sleeping spaces of some New Yorkers. The city state was outraged.
Understandably, during the Spanish Flu outbreak a century ago, New York took much more casualties than any other place in the USA. Today the story is the same with covid-19. It will be frightening to relate here the horrible situation in New York.
In Lagos, most people will remember the eyesore that was Maroko when it was brought down by the Lagos State government. But there is also Makoko and many others that can be a public health nightmare in Lagos
Watch out for the part two of this article tomorrow.