Doing Dangerously Well

Paperback | May 17, 2011

byCarole Enahoro

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A dark comedy about disaster capitalism, cutthroat office politics, vicious sibling rivalry, hapless do-gooderism and the corporatization of water.

When a humanitarian catastrophe strikes Nigeria, an unforgettable cast of Machiavellian opportunists and quixotic do-gooders swoop in to make the most of the tragedy.

Some time in the near future, Kainji Dam, the engineering marvel that is the pride of Nigeria, collapses, killing thousands of villagers. The Minister of Natural Resources can hardly believe his luck - now he can make a bid for the presidency. On the other side of the world, the grimly ambitious executive of a water company also sniffs an opportunity - to make her bosses happy by privatizing a major African river. Her sister, Barbara, who has never encountered a cause she wouldn't carry a placard for, joins forces with Femi Jegede, a charismatic Nigerian activist whose family was swept away in the disaster. The result: a wickedly satirical romp along a road to hell paved with both good and bad intentions. Brazen, hilarious and sublimely written, Carole Enahoro's debut novel is simply dazzling.

From the Hardcover edition.

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A dark comedy about disaster capitalism, cutthroat office politics, vicious sibling rivalry, hapless do-gooderism and the corporatization of water.When a humanitarian catastrophe strikes Nigeria, an unforgettable cast of Machiavellian opportunists and quixotic do-gooders swoop in to make the most of the tragedy.Some time in the near fu...

Carole Enahoro was born in London of a Nigerian father and an English mother, and grew up in Nigeria, Britain and Canada, and still shares her time among the three. With a background in art history and film, she has worked as a filmmaker, journalist and lecturer, while pursuing an abiding interest in political and social issues. She is...
Format:PaperbackDimensions:480 pages, 8.02 × 5.2 × 1.12 inPublished:May 17, 2011Publisher:Random House of CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0307356914

ISBN - 13:9780307356918

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OneKainji Dam  Striding like a panther, but with greater self-assurance, Amos parted the crowds at the market in Ndadu. His threads were making visual contact with the General Public and, not surprisingly, jaws dropped, flies entered. It is true that the GeePee had seen his sort before— local boys who had made good in Lagos or Port Harcourt— but Amos had added a lemon twist of indív to the mango juice. From his snakeskin boots to his sheepskin jacket, all was as it should be. Yes. I’m looking fine. Continue to check. No payment necessary, he thought, with a grin that made his toothpick stand out the more. Blustering gusts of wind that heralded the season of sandstorms only added to the drama. His bell-bottoms (or “Keep Nigeria Cleans” as his friends called them) flapped at his ankles while his jacket ballooned behind him to create a framing effect that pleased him greatly. As boards banged around him and tin roofs rattled, he fought against the blasting currents of torrid air, head down. Yes, the wind was strong, the air stifling, but what breeze could stop a proper whappasnippa from broadcasting his whereabouts? He had rolled up his left sleeve to display a watch the size of a coconut, with dials informing everyone of the time in Lagos, London and Lima. As every Nigerian knows, sunglasses maketh the man, and variety was not the spice; uniquatiousness was. Amos was well satisfied that no pilot on earth would be able to find shades like his own. At the top they were mirrored; at the bottom they were almost transparent. In the middle the mirrors formed droplets, while the transparent parts looked like waves. Yet, as shades, they performed their duty. No squinting was necessary. The wearer could walk down the street with pupils the size of cocoa beans and still never blink. Try as you might, there was no street in Lagos that could sell you this one particular pair. This was Amos’s week off from a dry job in cellphone sales in the big city, so he had decided to surprise his parents with a visit. He had taken the bus north (motto scrawled across its windscreen: “We Are In God’s Hands”). Where strictly necessary, the bus veered onto the wrong side of the two-way highway until the route became clear enough to swerve back onto the right side. As for oncoming traffic, who would be idiot enough to drive into a fully laden bus? After his arrival, Amos headed towards the food stalls with two large, empty flour bags to help with his load. “Yepa! Amos!” Amos heard a thunderous roar to his left as he jumped across an open drain. “Am I seeing correctly? Amosquito! Ah-ah!” He turned towards the source of the commotion. Momentarily distracted, he bumped into a crowd of haggling women, who pushed him away towards the drain. “Yes— walking like a Titan!” Straining to see over the tops of people’s heads, he spotted Gambo, a boyhood friend. “Why are you limping?” Gambo shouted over the heads of a group of men. “What is the matter with your leg? Has it grown shorter? Amos with your Lagos Limp!” “Gambo!” Amos yelled, shoving aside knots of shoppers to reach his friend. “Gambo— still walking as if a snake is in your trouser! Long time! How body-now?” He elbowed a man refusing to move and sidestepped the rubbish, threw down his shopping bags and hugged Gambo ferociously. They exchanged an intricate handshake of five distinct phases, ending in a snapping of each other’s fingers. “Amos! Worraps? We no see your brake light for long-long time. How your parents? Ah-ah! Look how your trouser rhyme your shirt. Don’t jealous me-oh!” He looked at Amos’s sunglasses with approval. “Everywhere tinted!” Amos opened his mouth but was suddenly shoved sideways by the brute force of a market woman. “Oga, sir! Oranges. I beg-oh! Oranges. Come and see my oranges.” He was turning to look at the future victim of his tongue-whipping when he was body-slammed from behind and a voice piercing the very drum of his ear screamed, “Eh? You are taking my customer? He was standing here! Oga, please take a look at theses fruits. Look at my oranges here. I have melon, banana, grapefruit—” “Please, sir . . .” The first woman took Amos by his arm, yanked him sideways and dislodged his beret. “Ah-ah!” Amos exploded. “Am I dreaming?” He stared at the two women. “Have I fallen asleep? Did you just touch my hat? Gambo, I beg-oh, wake me up. Is this my own hat that she touched?” “Who . . . who . . .” An enraged Gambo kissed his teeth, hardly able to form his words. “Who are you touching? Is this man a customer? Is he not a customer?” As could only be expected, other women joined the altercation, expressing the fierce contempt granted to all those who had travelled far from home. “Who is this Been To?” “Who is causing this wahala? Eh— do you think this is Lagos?” “I am trying—” Amos exploded. He immediately checked himself, noting Mama Tela’s bulk heading his way. “I am trying . . .” Amos talked slowly and calmly. “I am trying . . .” As more women gathered, he realized the rabble could kill them both like cockroaches. He lowered his voice further still. “I am trying to buy some food, ONLY I cannot buy anything if I am squeezed into paw-paw juice before—” “It’s Amos. Amos Jegede!” Mama Tela announced. “Amos? Is that you? What is the matter with you? What are you wearing? Ah-ah. Is it not hot enough?” The market women broke into hysterical laughter. “Amos! Always different. Separate-Amos! What are you wearing on your head?” “Mama Tela!” one of the women shrieked. “Let me bring scarf and gloves. Amos is catching a cold!” “I beg, bring some Vicks VapoRub as well!” another screeched. “So— you are back, Amos?” Mama Tela called, walking towards the knot of market people. “I can hardly recognize you. Where did you get these fine shades?” “That’s a trade secret. Go and find out the recipe for Coca-Cola, then come and ask me where I get my shades,” Amos replied, not impressed at all. “So, Mama Tela, I just came to buy food and water for my parents. I don’t need more wahala—just give me a good price.” With Gambo at his side, Amos fought his way to Mama Tela’s stall, where he was able, through much commotion, to buy fruit, vegetables and twelve bottles of water. He haggled over the water for a good ten minutes, yet it still cost him the equivalent of two weeks’ wages, although it was locally produced— tapped from the regional aquifer by a national conglomerate owned by the minister for natural resources, Chief Ogbe Kolo. His parents would cherish this gift, placing the bottles in a display cabinet under lock and key, dusting them off regularly and offering the water to only the most honoured guests. Other visitors would receive ordinary brown tap water, boiled for fifteen minutes and filtered twice to rid it of some of its impurities. Mama Tela carefully wrapped the bottles, then Amos, accompanied by Gambo, walked towards the small house occupied by his parents, flour sacks slung over his back. The red earth, parched and fine, fringed the bottom of his trousers. As Amos struggled on against a shearing wind, the sun beat down upon him, its throb playing time with his pulse. The scorching air seared into his lungs, its steam offering no relief from the heat. He could hardly breathe. He panted as he laboured upwards towards the house, struggling to keep a foothold on the path. The wind tried to push him back, force him away, using its full might to block his onward journey. Amos, chatting and complaining to Gambo, turned past an outbreak of dying bougainvillea towards a boulevard of umbrella trees, trunks painted white. Then it hit him. A smell, an overpowering stench, a punchy stew of putrid gases that almost knocked him to the ground. Amos’s eyes watered as he tried to suck in breath. He choked. He tried again. He could feel no oxygen. He began to panic. “Breathe through your mouth-oh!” warned Gambo. “You can’t breathe through your nose here.” Amos opened his mouth to breathe, but not willingly. It did not seem an adequate enough filter to shield him from the noxious fumes. “What is that smell now?” asked Amos. “Gambo! Wetin? What has happened to the creek?” Amos gasped as he looked at the bed of clay, in which lay a thick black gunge. Fetid refuse, raw sewage, foul chemicals, all humanity’s waste and business’s excess, pooled into a narrow river that had been drained to almost a trickle. “No water,” Gambo replied. “The IMF will not authorize any loan to Nigeria until we pay for water. All the rights have been sold.” “Sold? To who?” Amos kept staring at the riverbed. “Sold to Kolo’s companies, of course.” “What does he want with our water? How are we to bathe or drink? Even, how are we to plant seeds or fish?” “You didn’t get gist about the sale?” “Lagos rumour. Village complaints. Dry season. I thought that was all. Can any man believe a sight like this?” Amos looked from the river to Gambo and then back to the river, as if refreshing his view might take away the terrible sight. Its banks were parched and cracked, littered with plastic bags, rusted mufflers and excrement. This place of idyll, where Amos and his brother, Femi, would scramble and giggle, jumping off ropes or tires tied to trees, somersaulting and water-bombing into the cool, playful water. This place of history and ancestry, where the local priests would hold rituals and ceremonies in honour of the spirits; this place of worship, where the evangelical churches would baptise their fervent newcomers; this place of passage and fruit, where boats and fishermen could ply their trade, was now nothing but a stinking vessel, witness to man’s defiance of nature and the basest evidence of his existence. “Anyway,” Gambo cut into his reveries, “we have to pay.” “Pay for what? Pay for water? Pay for our own water? For a loan? Yaaay! That President Mu’azu.” “No, not the president. Kolo! White Mercedes-Benz himself. He told that idiot president that Nigeria needs another World Bank loan. Then the IMF said we have to pay for our own water as part of its restructure this and redevelopment that before we can get any loan or grant. While the president is talking to the World Bank, Kolo is already running to write up the contracts so his companies can receive the financing, buy our water and then sell it back to us.” Amos was flabberwhelmed. “So Kolo is going to the World Bank for extra aid to buy water that we already have? Doesn’t that man already have enough money? How much can one man want?” “Kolo?” Gambo cut in. “Greed can never quench for that man. He will just institute another National Frugality Year. Do you think he’s going to reach into his own pocket to finance his own ventures? His hand couldn’t even find his pocket. His hand has never seen the inside of that place. Never! He’s just living with his nice helicopter pad, wearing his gold agbada, driving his white Mercedes-Benz and his this and that.” “Can you imagine?” Amos raised his voice a few notches. “The World Bank. Can you see how the World Bank’s hands will shake when they write the cheque to ‘Government of Nigeria’? They know they will never see the money again. They know it!” “The oga writing the cheque, he knows he will never write another cheque again in life. That is his last day at the World Bank. What can he do? Joh, nothing. He can just take his pen and go. Finish.” They walked past the river as quickly as they could. “Don’t worry.” Amos’s voice filled with confidence. “Femi will go to Abuja to protest.” He smiled, a feeling of pride banishing his gloomy thoughts. Femi, his elder brother, could inspire confidence in the most hopeless of causes. “He’s already on seat there.” “What? About this small village?” Amos’s eyes twinkled with admiration. “Is he trying to kill us all? What’s the problem with him?” Fierce in defence of his idol, he waited for Gambo to contradict him. “He won’t rest until the river is flowing. Even if he has to pump it back himself,” Gambo exclaimed, indignant. “Femiiiii . . .” Amos chuckled and shook his head, smiling as he visualized the reaction of his parents. Femi the Activist. Femi, the bane of his village, who thought he had wasted his hardwon education on such fruitless quests. Although he had become one of Nigeria’s most prominent activists— a legend to other humanitarians— he had wasted his legal education on protecting others, rather than enriching himself and his clan. But to Amos, Femi was the man who would meet his death throwing off his blindfold, grinning like a lion eyeing an antelope. They made their way past palm trees to a short road, at the end of which sat a small house. Initially white, it was like all other houses in these parts, covered almost entirely in the red sand whipped up by the wind. That fine silt seemed to creep into every corner of life— inside the leaves of every book, the holes of every transistor radio and the straws of every mat. Amos could tell his parents were in— oblivious to the heat, goats were sitting on the car, so the hood must still be warm. He opened the back gate, making sure not to grip too tightly lest the rust crumble into splinters in his hand. Passing the smell of pepper soup, he rounded the house to the front steps and shouted his welcome through the open windows. His skin prickled in excitement as he heard feet running. As his anticipation reached its height, as the door opened, as Gambo turned to him with a smile of encouragement, as his mother’s kind eyes opened wide with surprise and her lips parted to mouth the word “Amos,” it happened. First, the sound of the sky exploding, the ground quaking past its point of integrity, then, arching over them, a huge darkness. And finally, as high as the horizon of the human eye, a wall of water. Not a cleansing, sharing, pure water, but water of rage, of greed, of death.  Kainji had burst. The water dammed up for over fifty years had exploded. It travelled, blundering at first and then with greater assurance and intent, smashing everything in its path, destroying lives within seconds. Almost half a million lives. Lives of texture and flavour, lives of promise and purpose, lives of caretakers and listeners, advice-givers and guides, scoundrels and thugs, emotional, volatile lives as well as lives of those most given to contemplation and quiet tenure. In one instant, all was gone. Amos, his parents, Gambo, Mama Tela, the market, the oranges, the village. All gone. Waves punched through waves, the swells growing even more immense, throwing a monstrous night upon the landscape. The quaking ground exploded, flinging trees upwards like tiny twigs, leaving them spinning in the air before plunging back into the rushing currents. Houses and factories cartwheeled alongside them. Humans, too, shot up and out of the torrent, small specks spiralling in erratic arcs, and then flopped downwards like thousands of fish. Others, spared the indignity of such an end, were merely slammed into the surge, flattened and crushed. Everything in the water’s path was razed. Once the turbines burst, the country was plunged into darkness. The river stormed right down to the Niger Delta on the coast. News of the catastrophe surged into every village, each city, through words, through images, through touch. Nigerians went into deep mourning. The boisterous fell into silence. Those who walked stopped, swaying in place as if rocking their own cradles. Hands became numb to all sensations, unable to distinguish between one object and another. Eyes lost focus and vision turned inwards to the past. Some grieved over the death of family or friends. Others wept over the loss of homes, businesses or farms. There were others, however, hidden like the sand in the darkest corners and crevices of Nigerian society, who felt not only grief but passion. Loss can always be transformed into profit for those able to envision reconstruction. Indeed, the greater the calamity, the more seductive the prospects. Old arrangements are washed away and new opportunities surface. To direct the flow of such blessings, it takes not only a thirst for acquisitions but a certain gift for deal-making. And in areas of contract and negotiation, Chief Ogbe Kolo, minister for natural resources, was not just a master craftsman; he was the pre-eminent artist of Africa’s greatest nation.From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

"It is no mean thing to say that Enahoro has caught something of our time. Doing Dangerously Well does just that, an intriguing and heartfelt assault."--The Globe and Mail"A diabolically satirical farce that leaves you shaking your head at one moment and quaking with laughter the next." --Hour“Reading Carole Enahoro’s work is like encountering a tree dripping with fruit — one is taken aback by the richness of what she creates. She is both generous and riveting.” --Douglas Coupland"A hilarious mix of satire, political intrigue and environmental mismanagement on two continents.... Enaharo's characters are larger than life as they bumble, manipulate and bribe their way through the political landscapes of Nigeria, Europe and Ottawa." --The Chronicle Herald"Totally believable. Doing Dangerously Well features fascinatingly rich characters.... This is a writer to watch." --NOW (Toronto)