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  • -[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

  • -[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

  • THOMAS MORTON: Hey, it's Thomas.

  • We're in West Africa.

  • West Africa, in the eyes of huge corporate multinationals

  • like Proctor & Gamble, Nestle, and Unilever, is the last of

  • the great untapped markets.

  • They see the region not for its poverty and AIDS rate and

  • civil wars involving legitimately insane guerrilla

  • armies, but for the 245 million people who could be

  • buying their soap.

  • -Are you ready?

  • THOMAS MORTON: To get their stuff from ports in Ghana and

  • Nigeria to shelves across the West African Savannah, these

  • companies rely, as we do, on long-haul truckers.

  • We're in Lagos, Nigeria.

  • And we're going to go catch a truck and drive that to Ghana,

  • which is 200 miles.

  • So it should only take us like five or six days, depending on

  • a lot of crap.

  • So the first leg of our trip is from Lagos to

  • the border of Benin.

  • We're basically going straight to this little truck depot.

  • This is the office.

  • AGDEBOLA MONSURU: Yeah.

  • THOMAS MORTON: These are the old trucks.

  • AGDEBOLA MONSURU: Yeah.

  • THOMAS MORTON: We're going to go see the new trucks now.

  • Yeah.

  • This is a fine, well-maintained highway.

  • These are pretty good looking trucks.

  • Do you usually go in like-- what do you call it?

  • Like a convoy?

  • Who would attack you, though?

  • Who attacks people?

  • Oh, OK.

  • All right.

  • Engines are revving up.

  • And then we've got, like, a literal ton of soap.

  • The truck-- a brand new Chinese-made cab.

  • The driver's named Osama.

  • I think everything's going to be good.

  • The road's paved.

  • But there's a lot of potholes that you have to stop and kind

  • of roll through them carefully.

  • I'm about to fall asleep, though.

  • We need to get some tunes going, or something.

  • I'm zonked, dude.

  • Less than an hour into our trip, we hit the backed up

  • traffic for the Nigeria-Benin border crossing, about three

  • miles back from the border itself.

  • All right.

  • OK.

  • Yeah.

  • That seems pretty far back.

  • How long do you think it will take?

  • Oh, OK.

  • Trucking in West Africa takes forever.

  • Despite the presence of ECOWAS, a trade organization

  • created in the '70s to promote and streamline West African

  • commerce, border regulations and even hours vary widely

  • between the 15 member countries.

  • It's not uncommon for a semi trying to exit Nigeria with a

  • full trailer of butter to spend several days waiting for

  • their goods to be inspected by customs, then navigating the

  • red tape and straight up bribery involved in clearing

  • immigration.

  • So what do they have to do now?

  • They have to pay export taxes?

  • OSAMA: Yes.

  • THOMAS MORTON: These hold-ups turn 200-mile trips into

  • multi-day, sometimes multi-week tracks, and ratchet

  • up the price of the goods being shipped with every stop.

  • They also lead to informal economies wherever the trucks

  • are parked--

  • not the kind of economies that further the interests of

  • Nestle and Unilever, but more of the JT LeRoy variety.

  • So we're following these guys to the custom's office.

  • This is Seme, it's basically a border town.

  • This is like the El Paso of Nigeria and Benin.

  • It's a little seedy.

  • This is kind of the government area, so it's a little nicer.

  • The other side is basically a shanty town.

  • THOMAS MORTON: Well, there's something that's kind of

  • light-colored and doughy, and I take that and I dip it into

  • this thing, which is sort of dark and granular with a tangy

  • sort of juice it's soaking.

  • I want to say it's beef and some sort of flour, but I

  • can't be sure because there are not lights on here, and it

  • is nighttime.

  • A lot of people at the boarder, but not entirely too

  • much to do.

  • The one thing there is plenty of to do is pick up hookers.

  • As a truck stops in America, prostitution is the most

  • profitable, if not visible business activity in the

  • gridlocked villages.

  • And with the 20 to 25% HIV rate among local lot lizards,

  • truckers are not just the lifeblood of West African

  • trade, but also the spread of AIDS.

  • It's 10:30.

  • And we just came back behind the bar and

  • met some new friends.

  • We're just hanging out, talking about what it's like

  • on the border.

  • What is it like on the border?

  • On our way out of the brothel, some police grabbed us and

  • detained us at their station for a few hours, giving us

  • only two options of soda and several bottles of cashews to

  • eat and drink.

  • It was harrowing.

  • -Welcome to Nigeria.

  • THOMAS MORTON: So it's noon.

  • We've been at the border close to 24 hours now.

  • They brought us into a conference room and gave us

  • cookies and coffee, kind of all smiles and apologies for

  • basically detaining us for three hours for

  • no reason last night.

  • Things got a bit heated.

  • Suicide was threatened in a kind of weird way.

  • And it's funny, because it sort of exemplifies exactly

  • the kind of crap that the truckers have to go through,

  • too, to get their stuff through the boarder.

  • So we're in the border right now.

  • -Show us your cards, please, sirs.

  • OSAMA: We've already done this.

  • -I know.

  • Present your cards, please.

  • OSAMA: OK.

  • THOMAS MORTON: I'm not sure how any of this works.

  • And I'm kind of not sure they really know how it works on

  • either side.

  • JAKE BURGHART: No one's wearing uniforms.

  • JASON MOJICA: Uniforms or anything.

  • JAKE BURGHART: I don't know who you are.

  • JASON MOJICA: Were those dudes officials?

  • Or were those dudes just angry because of all of us riding?

  • -Each one of those is a checkpoint.

  • THOMAS MORTON: So we're here on Benin side of the border.

  • And we're basically in the same situation we were in on

  • the Nigerian side, which is like 500 yards

  • that way, but in French.

  • It's mind-numbing bureaucracy.

  • And it's also extraordinarily just frustrating and boring.

  • You're just waiting constantly.

  • And basically we'd be doing a better job on a

  • horse, I feel like.

  • After being kicked out of the border area by cops and a

  • bunch of guys in shorts, we decided to hit the beach to

  • wait for our truckers.

  • I don't know where this trip goes from here.

  • So it's 8:30, going on 9:00.

  • We are still right here at the Benin-Nigerian border.

  • We're waiting on our trucks.

  • So over the course of two full days, we've crossed one border

  • and made it a whopping 60 miles to our destination--

  • basically an hour's drive in America, provided you drive

  • like a nerd.

  • And our trucks won't even be ready to leave until morning

  • because Beninese customs keeps French hours, in tribute to

  • their former colonial master.

  • In other words, everyone fucks off early and sleeps in.

  • Hi.

  • And we're in Togo.

  • All right.

  • Cool.

  • Whew.

  • It's 10:30 again.

  • We gained an hour by coming into Togo, which is good,

  • because we lost an hour in Benin because they thought we

  • were spies.

  • We lost our trucks.

  • We've got to go find them somewhere up their road.

  • Maybe some of these motorcycle taxi kids can take us there.

  • That'd be a little more exciting than riding in a

  • truck for a second.

  • So having lost our truckers, been 86ed from almost every

  • hotel in Togo, become apocalyptically sick from

  • either food poisoning or washing our hands in tap

  • water, we decided to wait with some of the stalled trucks

  • lined up in front of the Ghana border and try to rethink our

  • plans and lives.

  • That's where we met the motoboys.

  • If the backbone of the West African economy is the

  • independent trucker, then the introvertible discs that keep

  • its spine articulate are their apprentices, the motoboys.

  • Where the contemporary West African trucker leads a fairly

  • cushy lifestyle and has the reputation of an itinerant

  • Lothario, motoboys are basically Dickensian urchin

  • children who do odd jobs, help keep the truck clean and

  • running, and watch over the parked goods while the driver

  • goes off to get drunk and laid--

  • and sometimes AIDS.

  • So how long have you been at this border?

  • -[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

  • -Is this normal?

  • Like, a week?

  • -[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

  • -Jesus Christ.

  • So what do you do you?

  • -[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

  • THOMAS MORTON: While the drivers at least have money to

  • partake in the diversions these border towns have to

  • offer, their motoboys are left to fend off days of boredom

  • the old fashioned way, by goofing around.

  • These dudes are so bored.

  • So we're done with hit stick now.

  • We're playing orange soccer.

  • What kind of fun do drivers have?

  • -[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

  • THOMAS MORTON: Do the girls ever come down here for the

  • motoboys, or--

  • -[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

  • -[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

  • -[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

  • THOMAS MORTON: Oh, no.

  • No, she isn't.

  • THOMAS MORTON: How did you become a motoboy?

  • Like why did you decided to start working on trucks?

  • -[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

  • THOMAS MORTON: Motoboys rely on their driver's beneficence,

  • not just for food and the occasional--

  • very occasional--

  • beer, but to teach them the ropes and help them eventually

  • get their own rig.

  • Becoming a driver doesn't just take time

  • and learning, though.

  • Getting your license and ECOWAS Brown-card cost money,

  • which can take years to save up from driver's handouts.

  • And that's provided they don't just ditch you for a younger

  • and cheaper motoboy, which happens a lot.

  • -[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

  • THOMAS MORTON: After dinner, we got a call from our

  • truckers, who'd made better time without us through the

  • Ghana border and were already in Accra--

  • which is great for people who need to buy soap, but not so

  • hot for us getting a lift home.

  • While our truckers work for a multinational company with

  • enough clout and money to make it through 288 miles of

  • borders, police checkpoints, and random stops in a bustling

  • four days, their success means very little to the motoboys

  • we'd been hanging out with-- most of whom had been at that

  • border longer than our entire trip and were still

  • there when we left.

  • It means even less to furthering trade in West

  • Africa, at least for anybody who isn't a billion dollar

  • corporation.

  • The old line free marketeers like to use that flooding an

  • economy with money means the rising tide lifts all boats.

  • In the '80s, this got tempered into the trickle-down effect.

  • But in a system marked by 50 years of completely unchecked

  • corruption, money doesn't even trickle.

  • It simply goes straight into the hand of whoever's clever

  • enough to grab it first, all of which leaves the kids at

  • the very bottom of pipeline, our motoboys, as likely to

  • make a living from trucking as American kids are from playing

  • professional sports--

  • provided they don't just join some guerrilla army first.