Friday, September 22, 2006

The 20th good thing about Lagos: Having a driver!

I've never before lived in a place where I had a driver and I must say, it's something I could get used to! In Lagos, it is absolutely essential -- I would never dare to negotiate the wild and crazy traffic scene and trying would be very stressful. It's quite relaxing to be driven around. I generally spent my car time looking around me wide-eyed at the foreign-ness of everything. But maybe eventually I would get to the point where I might do some reading or napping on the road. This is a photo of Dennis, who was our driver for most of my time in Lagos. During the week he generally wore a white shirt and slacks, except on Friday, which is Nigerian dress day at the office. I took this picture on our last day there, Sunday, and he was more casually dressed than usual. He generally drove for an employee who was then on vacation. I don't think he was thrilled with the reality of driving a "wife," because he had to work during the day and drive me here and there instead of having the day free to visit with his fellow drivers. But he did a fine job of plunging his car ahead into the roundabouts and taking the right-of-way even when others were attempting to do the same. We had some very close scrapes, but never actual contact with other vehicles. I felt like he really took pride in the car. ConocoPhillips has what I felt like was a pretty workable plan for vehicles. They have a fleet of cars and hire the drivers. Each expatriate will have a driver that is assigned to them, but on their days off, they will provide you with someone else to drive you around. Each family will have the use of one car and driver at no cost to the expatriate. If we were to need a second vehicle (which I don't think we will), the company would deduct an "auto cost factor" from our paycheck. They basically figure an average cost for a vehicle and gas and take that from you. But it's a pretty nice perk, I think to have a car and driver and gas at no cost. They provide that because, frankly, at times it is an inconvenience to have to plan ahead to have the driver there when you need him and not always have the car instantly at your disposal. And when you need your driver at night, you realize that you're keeping him from going home to his family, so that kind of made me feel bad for him. Dennis looks like a really young guy, but actually he has a 19 year old son -- he said he became a father when he was just a teenager and his parents pretty much raised his son. He's now married with, I think, 3 young children. He came to Lagos many years ago and wanted to go to college to be an engineer, but he didn't have enough money, so he got a job as a driver. He still tries to take some classes in his spare time in hopes to get a better job. But he says that driving is a pretty good job. The drivers have security training and they are our protection, though driving around the islands, they are not generally armed. They all have cell phones, as well as a radio in the car and every 15 minutes or so, they call in their position to the radio room. The radio room monitors any areas of disturbance in the city and will let the drivers know of areas to avoid. Several years ago on Victoria Island (which is considered a safer part of Lagos) there was a carjacking of a ConocoPhillips car -- the expatriate was released unharmed, but the driver was killed. In a dinner discussion, an expatriate said that was often the case with crime here, the expatriate's money or possessions will be taken, but they will usually be unharmed. Nigerian lives don't get the same respect. That's maybe a bit reassuring for me -- but I certainly hope that I am never in a position where someone else becomes a victim in an attempt to protect me.


Julie said...

My husband's company has their logo on the side of their cars, does yours also? My husband says he does not think it makes much of a difference. I know as a large man my husband is less likely to be bothered. Do you find that if you are driving solo (just your driver and your self) that you get harrassed more by the locals?

Carolee said...

Julie, I think there's a sticker on the windshield that marks it as a company car, but no logo on the side. I think there has been some advantage to having it marked as a company car a couple times when we've been stopped by police as they don't harass the driver for papers or things quite as much. What really made the difference with fewer beggars and hawkers coming to the window is after the company tinted the back windows so it's harder to tell that there's a person there. That made things much easier for me -- they still come to the window but they seem to leave quicker.