Monday, November 13, 2006

Remember Gas Lines?

Shades of 1978. This morning the residents of Accra collectively (for a country with substandard communications technology word travels very fast here) became aware of a fuel shortage (don't say 'gas' or even 'gasoline'- you will be met by blank looks and puzzled expressions. You put FUEL in your car- or maybe diesel, but never 'gas'.)

When I logged into IM with Ted this morning he told me about it and in the almost 30 years since the oil embargo I've apparently lost a tremendous number of brain cells and/or suffered a lot of brain atrophy.

My flawed reasoning was... "I have to get groceries later, I'll just go to the Total station next to MaxMart then." Three hours later, I drag my butt out the door and head down the block in my little white Opel, which incidentally is running in the red part of "empty" on my gas gauge...

When I turn onto Jungle Road I'm faced with a scene from the past- a gas station filled with cars and a line that has spilled onto the street. I dutifully pull up behind a silver Honda, about 30 cars back from the single working gas pump. Then I realize that the silver Honda belongs to a friend, so I beep at them and once Dennis (her driver) sees it's me and not some crazy taxi honking for him to get out of the way, Anna runs back to my car to pass the time and reminisce about the embargo.

Then a green SUV pulls in next to us- like somehow the line doesn't matter for him.

And a taxi pulls into line behind the green SUV.

Anna starts yelling 'NO!' at them and demanding that they wait in line like everyone else.

They are amused by her.

Then the taxi driver decides to avoid the crazy Obroni woman by backing out and cutting into line on the other side of me.

By this time, there are two legitimate lines being served on alternate sides by the one remaining fuel pump.
And the car behind me is Duke. Ha!

Everyone in town is looking for fuel and word has gotten out that there is still fuel at the Total station in East Legon, and by pure luck our Duke has pulled in behind me to fill up the company car.

Now I'm safely cocooned between Dennis and Duke, slowly making progress toward the pump.

Occasionally Anna pops out of my car to insist that the green SUV never be allowed to cut in front of us (the driver keeps explaining that he needs gas...we honestly can't figure out what his train of thought is regarding the rest of us, but at least Anna's antics are entertaining the locals.) or to tell the taxi driver that he cheated and will be punished for line jumping someday.

After about 50 minutes (as the line behind us gets steadily longer), Duke makes it to the pump on the left side, Dennis on the right. They pull up to their respective sides of the pump where a heated discussion has begun among various Africans and Total employees about whether they should be allowed to fill jerry cans with fuel without waiting in line (some people are sending their drivers with cans just to get their cars running so they can wait in a fuel line...).

When it's my turn to fill up, Duke has already run the big car next door to the MaxMart parking lot and come back to oversee my fueling.

After a few minutes he takes my car keys from me, gives me the company car keys, tells me to go to MaxMart and he will catch me up, but if he doesn't, just take the company car home and he will meet me there.

I give him a blank look (remember I have brain atrophy) and he leans in and says, "I do not want you here. It's getting ugly."

That's my Duke. The combatants are not mad at me, they are mad at each other, and a smiling Obroni woman is rarely in danger in broad daylight in a crowd, but I've learned to trust Duke so I did as he asked and left him to fill my little car with fuel.

A few minutes later he joined me in the grocery store, both cars fueled, with plenty of time left to get to school to pick up Cooper.

Who will undoubtedly, upon hearing that there is a gasoline shortage, volunteer to stay home from school as a conservation measure.