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The Devil’s Dexterity

In Mexico City recently, I met George Osodi, a Nigerian photographer who’s done some incredible work in the Niger Delta, among other places. One series particularly caught my eye: ‘Devil’s Dexterity,’ which captures the not-uncommon road crashes in Nigeria, a country that oil rich but infrastructure poor (anyone who can opts to fly between cities rather than make the harrowing drive). It’s not uncommon, Osodi told me, for wreckage — vehicular and human — to lie for months, years, on the sides of roads. As he explains the title of the series:

I can recall growing up as a kid in a neighborhood in Benin city, and overhearing various adult whenever there is news that an accident has occurred, especially when lives are lost and people injured. You will hear them say “Oh my God this is the Devil’s work, the Devil has done it again, the Devil is a blood sucker” it goes on and on. Therefore it is little wonder that many jobless youths take advantage of this by providing jobs for themselves acting as “Prayer Warriors” on many commercial buses. Praying for the passengers before embarking on a journey. Passengers will listen with great humility as these “Prayer Warriors” step into a commercial vehicle and start to pray, using words like “this vehicle is covered with the blood of Jesus so any evil demon on the highway will not succeed, I bind and rebuke the devil in the name of Jesus, I ask the holy ghost fire to burn all demonic agents looking for blood on the highway” and many more such prayers. At the end of these prayers passengers are asked by this “Prayer Warrior” to make a donation, which some will happily do.

The Devil’s Dexterity was born out of a curiosity, having survived many road accidents myself, one in particular very serious. I seek to change the psyche of people in context of what things really are, and not justify living an illusion.

What interests me is that the sort of ‘magical thinking’ as evidenced in the above paragraphs, while we might consign it to those of a particularly religious worldview, is expressed by a great many of us when it comes to thinking about risk and safety on the road — e.g., the problems of talking on the phone and driving can be eliminated by removing the phone from one’s hands and moving it wirelessly to one’s ear; or the idea, oft-floated, to build what are in essence more dangerous roads for the illusory safety offered by “fast” emergency response times. Or witness the apparent seriousness given in the U.S. to a recent “survey” from Allstate (which it was forced to apologize for) ranking drivers’ safety based on their astrological signs. While the insurer said it was for “entertainment purposes only,” the original release had more than a whiff of certainty about it: “But, can an astrological sign really influence driving habits? Generally, the signs with the fewest number of reported accidents were those associated with traits like “compassion,” “graciousness” and “resourcefulness” where those with more accidents tended to be more “uncompromising,” “arrogant” and “impatient.” ”

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This entry was posted on Friday, March 11th, 2011 at 5:44 am and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

5 Responses to “The Devil’s Dexterity”

  1. Tom Armstrong Says:

    Between reading this post and the one prior to it, I rode my bike to work. Nothing unusual about that–I enjoy my roughly thirteen-mile commute by bike far more than I do when I drive it.

    What was notable in the context of this post was that during my ride, I saw a woman feverishly thumbing her phone/texting device while sitting at a stop light. Since I was at the head of the next lane, I got to see how she reacted (rather than responded) to the change of the light–she was still fiddling with the device as she drove away.

    Her plate was from Indiana (I live in Kentucky, but there is LOTS of cross-river traffic here), and had the inscription “In God We Trust” on it. Plainly she believed that her god (in which I disbelieve) would protect her while she did things like pay attention to text messages instead of paying attention to her driving.

  2. Colorado Kid Says:

    I find that the signs with fewer accidents are the ones associated with short time periods. Under the calander Allstate used in the linked article Sagitarius covers only 6 days (so if they account for 7% of crashes they probably are overrepresented, since 6 days is less than 2% of the year). Virgo spans 46 days. Hmmmmm.

  3. Chet Skwarcan Says:

    Along these lines…Robert Wunderlich, the international president of the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE), declared at a recent presentation I attended at Purdue University that he chose to go cell-free while driving. In fact, he has been driving cell-free since March of 2010. He admits the risk is debatable when considering handheld vs. hands-free, but asks, “Is it worth any risk at all?”. His voice message states, “I’m either driving or away from the phone”. Of course someone like myself is very careful so no big deal. But if I ever see you driving and talking or texting…well, that’s just plain stupid.

  4. Tony Sonna Says:

    This is sort of off the main topic but.. When I went to Nigeria for work on the way from the airport I saw two accidents so I can attest to the severity of the accidents.. The first one we missed by minutes, there was a crowd around the driver that was pinned inside the car slowly dying. They where trying to make his last minutes comfortable. The other one was a car that flipped over and landed on top of another car.. That one looked like it happened earlier in the day.. While I was there I also saw a lot of wrecks just sitting on the side of the road.. But the funny thing is that I see more beat up cars in Los Angeles ( Where I live) then i saw in Nigeria.. Go figure…

  5. Matthew Says:

    OMG – they do that here in the northeast of Brazil too!!! There are rotting bus carcasses, left where they initially burst into flames, that lay along roadsides. The highway police have checkpoints where gathered wreckage accumulates for years. The accidents here are horrific and quite regular yet the population seems to insist on taking huge risks – attempting passes or other in the most impossible conditions. They seem bent on total destruction and it crosses class definitions – except that the wealthier, who have a penchant for driving expensive crew-cab pickups, drive faster and more recklessly than all of the rest. Roberto DaMatta (Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at the University of Notre Dame) just launched a book in Portuguese titled, “FÉ EM DEUS E PÉ NA TÁBUA: Ou como e por que o trânsito enlouquece no Brasil,” where he tries to put some understanding behind the cultural elements that have led to the manner of driving in Brazil. It will be wonderful if this book is some day translated to English.

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Traffic Tom Vanderbilt

How We Drive is the companion blog to Tom Vanderbilt’s New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K, and in languages other than English by a number of other fine publishers worldwide.

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