Following Shola’s Footsteps

by Uche Nworah

He may not know it yet, but Shola Ogunmokun, the human flying machine may have started a quite revolution amongst many Nigerians. When I first read the personal account of his exploits and adventure with his kite, my heart not only skipped a bit but I also wanted to send him a personal email to ask him to remember to include me in his will.

However, after reading what I may call a review of Shola’s adventure by one Mr Bankole Arowobusoye, the sheer bravado and impact of shola’s adventure began to dawn on me. I suddenly realized that i hadn’t really engaged in much adrenaline pumping activity in my thirty something years of living on planet earth. Maybe those oyibo people that participate in bungee jumping and sky diving are not crazy after all, like i used to think.

I am like the average Nigerian, we love life so much and are afraid to die, we’ll rather play it safe as we waltz our way through life, personally i used to think that people that engage in such activities have some kind of death wish. What if the rope snaps, what if the parachute refuses to open, what if the wheels clog, many what ifs are unanswered on our minds to justify the decision not to attempt to enjoy life a little bit more.

Some people may argue that surviving in a harsh environment like ours is enough adventure on its own, what with the constant battle with mosquito bites, police stray bullets, armed robbery menace, poverty, NEPA inflicted darkness etc. You can’t really fault such people because come to think of it, indulging in some of these adventures obviously will set you back a bundle, meaning that such extreme sports are not for people with holes in their pockets, when you consider that over 80% of the Nigerian population are engaged in a constant battle for survival against the odds, then you wouldn’t fault them much if recreation is not high on their agenda. Shola and Chief Newton Jibunoh (of the desert crossing fame) are just the only 2 people that i know in Nigeria who attempt such daredevil Richard Branson type of challenges.

Maybe we should try and localize this for a moment here, as far as pleasure and thrill rides go, I’m not sure there is any as dangerous as catching a luxury bus at night from Maza Maza in Lagos to any of the eastern towns in Nigeria, this is because if the luxury drivers don’t throw you into the bush, then the armed robbers(or their tales) will scare the living daylights out of you, try also to jump on or off a moving molue bus traveling from Oshodi to Okokomaiko, these are all journeys of a lifetime as well. The only difference may be that we all undertake them as necessities unlike the Oyinbos who undertake their own fun rides voluntarily. I’m sure that if given the choice, many Nigerians may chose not to go through the many journeys that life and fate has thrown their way.

We tend to view recreation a little differently, in most cases our concept of recreation will consist of a visit to the local beer parlour or restaurant, to savour the different orishirishi on offer, ranging from nkwobi, isi-ewu, cow leg and some bottles of odeku (Guinness) and shine-shine bobo (star lager beer) etc. Throw in occasional visits to nearby colleges and universities where the men (mostly) go to ‘hunt’ (Moremi hall in Unilag may suffice here), not forgetting the nocturnal visits to hotels (the girlfriends may have traveled and the wives may be looking after the kids at home) for a quick wam-bam-mam-thanks experience and you have your typical recreation for the average Nigerian male.

Even when we travel, it is a different story, for those of us in the diaspora, Nigeria is usually our first holiday choice, airline check-in counters are at their busiest on the days that flights go to Nigeria because of the size of our luggages, it sometimes baffles me why every year i still make the journey back to Nigeria for my summer vacation, being that i never ever get to have a moment to myself, what with my many cousins, uncles and aunts waiting on the wings for one thing or the other.

A few years ago, George my elder brother suggested that we visit Turkey for a week, I still remember this encounter with the Turkish immigration at the Ataturk airport in Istanbul, when we told them our mission, the immigration officers scoffed and confessed to us that our stories were unbelievable, two Nigerian men coming to Turkey for one week holidays, the story of the year they joked aloud. They strip searched us and kept us in their holding room for a few hours on suspicion of drug trafficking, eventually they let us go. This experience and Shola’s adventure has now made me to wonder if indeed Nigerians ever take holidays, and if yes, what sort of holidays?

I was in Paris a few weeks ago, a must-see-city for everyone if you ask me; there is really some truth in Paris’ claim to being the most romantic city in the world, try going to the Eiffel Tower at night when those lights are switched on, simply magical. Also you don’t want to miss walking down the Champs d’ellyses in the day for some retail therapy. Anyway, the story of Paris is for another day, because today i really want to share some personal experience and ‘triumph’ of mine.

In a way, Shola has a lot to do with this, although i still feel he should have put a don’t try this at home warning in his article to prevent copycats diving to their early deaths as a result of his exploits. I must confess my trip to Paris was work related, could i not have gone on my own, yes, may be at some point, or maybe not. But since i was already in Paris, best to make the most of it, remember the saying – see Paris and die? Well, I’m fine with the seeing bit, but not so sure about the dying bit. I visited Disneyland Paris, good place to take the family i thought although those who had been to Disneyland Florida would argue that the difference between the two is clear (apologies Seven Up), but still i did have a good time at the Paris Disneyland.

Usually I’m not one to go on any of these roller coaster kind of rides anytime i visit a theme park, but on these occasion, Shola was on my mind, if he could attempt his hand gliding gimmick, then i might as well take on some personal challenge, so i thought. Prior to this experience the only other time i had ever taken a ride like this must have been way back in the 80s in Enugu, in my uncle’s front yard swing (janglover we used to call them), and also at the Enugu Polo field in one of those squeaky merry-go-rounds that could easily form part of Jim Nwobodo’s legacies.

Disneyland’s space mountain (mission 2) seemed to be an attractive option, it promised all the funs and thrills i was searching for, i first spoke to people who had just been on the ride with their hearts practically dropping still. Shola here i come i muttered.

I hopped on to the 4-seater capsule, and secured firmly the iron straps in readiness for the ride of my life. Here finally i was about to conquer my fear, a befitting rites of passage. We were first catapulted to the launch pad at a speed of a million miles per second, and then a momentary lull for mission control’s clearance before the adventure actually began. Forget about the tumbling speed of your washing machine, i had never felt, nor experienced anything like it before, at some point i felt i was passing out, that’s when i closed my eyes and tried to steel my heart as the shuttle made series of maneuvers and spins at the speed of light before finally landing back at base.

This definitely is not a ride for weak hearts, it may be necessary to write your will first before embarking, and if you do finally conquer your fear, then life may just be a walk through.

Where and what’s next Shola?

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