Machete, the Translator! | ExpedEvac

Machete, the Translator!

(Extract from my diary of my trip from Harare, Zimbabwe to Bamako, Mali 2011 - soon in eBook "10(k)m to Mali")

4 Sept (Kari to Kano)

Kano City, Nigeria
View of Kano City from the top of Dala Hill - northern Nigeria
Today’s drive was all good and a relatively quick drive from Kari to Kano. On the outskirts of Kano we were stopped by the traffic police which I had personal experience of being some of the worst authorities to be stopped by due to them being extremely rude and hugely corrupt. They were checking whether I had all the emergency requirements like reflective triangles and fire extinguishers etc.

After not being happy with the extinguisher I had in the cab, I mentioned that I had yet another one in the back passengers’ section. The one guy was intent to the point of rudeness, that he wanted to see if it worked i.e. I had to use it! My protestations initially went ignored until one of the more senior guys came in and told the guy it was fine and he should just let it be. This was only after much shouting by the former guy and alternate bouts of arguing and pleading. Any “fines” he mentioned I refused to pay as he specifically also said that if I paid I could go, thus clearly yet another bribe he was used to getting.

Just as I was about to set off, he came to the truck and said I had illegal spotlights on. I turned the truck off again and got out, the pettiness proceeded at the front of the truck. He insisted that I remove the spotlights even though I repeatedly told him the vehicle had a road-worthy test in Zimbabwe and that it conformed to the requirements of Zimbabwe; it was also impossible to change the truck to every traffic officer’s whims in every country I drove through. Eventually the discussion moved to where their vehicle was parked with the senior officer. After once again refusing point-blank to pay them (having no money, specifically no Naira, and being a 1st time visitor was my main contention), I was eventually allowed to leave and continue into the city. Little did I know my traffic police encounters were not over for the day.
Kofar Mata Dye Pits in Kano, Nigeria

At a traffic light in the city, a guy opens the passenger side door and tells Ousman to move onto the middle seat and shouts at me to park on the right just past the traffic light on the other side of the junction. This guy had no insignia on his shirt or anything resembling a uniform and I started shouting at him to get the f… out my truck. He didn’t make any attempt to leave so I grabbed the machete on the ground next to me and with my right arm against Ousman, held the blade against the guy’s throat and telling him to get out. At this stage, the lights turned green and I drove across and pulled off to the right at the traffic police. The moment I stopped, this guy opened the door and flew/fell out at speed, he even managed to slam the door shut! I saw in the rearview mirror a very senior traffic police officer walk up so I waited as he came up and opened the passenger door. 

Rather brashly he told me that his officer had told him I had chased him out the truck while threatening him with a machete. I didn’t deny it and mentioned that this was an unknown person with no obvious uniform or insignia and that I had been warned about potential criminal elements at traffic lights. At this he actually visibly softened and started apologising for his officer’s behaviour and asked if we knew our way around Kano, or needed directions. I told him that we were looking for Kano State Tourist Camp and didn’t know our way around upon which he promptly gave us very detailed directions.

Eventually finding Kano State Tourist Camp, we settled in and Mohammed was hugely helpful and assisted us in paying the correct rates for camping. He then organised some of the guys there to wash the truck and do our laundry. Chatting to Mohammed, I mentioned that I had read about Mohammed and another guy at this campsite that all the overlanders referred to and praised them for how helpful they were. He told me that they had sadly both passed away and that he had now taken their place.

After sitting at the very nice Lebanese restaurant on the premises, I went back to the truck which now looked like new. I think my jaw dropped visibly as the guys had done a sterling job of getting her clean. It was then time to go and catch up on some internet which was next door at another take-away and restaurant complex. 

Breakfast local way on a sidewalk
Kano, Nigeria
It was actually quite funny when I walked in as one of the Lebanese owners was at the door and very angrily and loud asked “Americain?”. I said no, I was South African at which point his whole demeanour changed completely and with a massive smile hugged me and welcomed me to Kano. 

The previous day the South African president had apparently made a statement saying it was wrong for the west to intervene in Libya and this contributed to this guy being so happy to meet a South African. Anyway, I was subsequently always greeted very warmly by the owner and his friends/relatives when I went into the complex over the next few days.


I have to mention here to any other potential future visitors; no alcohol can be purchased or used on the premises as they are under Shari'ah Law (the Shari'ah council was next door to the campsite) as was the State of Kano, or most of it anyway, as I understood it. This wasn’t a problem for me as drinking hadn’t exactly been a main item on the menu the last few days.