Moscow will appeal to Nigerians that are used to chaos and freedom, and who are mostly confused and uncomfortable in over regulated England. Nigeria is one of the freest countries in the world you see, it’s a the laissez faire anarchists wet dream. This may not be a popular opinion especially among Nigeria’s twitterazi that want to see stronger government regulation of everything including the dog but once you can accept corruption and insecurity as the high price of freedom you will learn to appreciate it.
Russia may not be a bastion of freedom but it certainly feels less regulated than England. There’s litter and broken glass on the streets. Cleaners come out once a day (except in Kremlin Square). In England the cleaners are out round the clock and they pick up your litter before it hits the ground. You must try not to feel irritated with the cleaners hovering at your elbow at every turn, giving you dirty looks as if daring you to throw that candy wrapper on the ground. That’s their job description. They don’t just sit around and empty the trash cans; they are really the litter police.
On street corners in Moscow they keep it simple. They just have traffic lights that say stop or go for cars and people and tell you how many seconds you have to stop or to go for. In England you can spend up to 15 minutes reading all the signs on every street corner and you’ll still not be sure if it’s okay to move, in which direction and for how many yards before you have to stop and wait for the next set of instructions. The English can’t seem to do anything without very specific and detailed instructions.
It’s worse if you are driving. There are double yellow lines, single yellow lines, jagged white lines, straight white lines and double white lines and notices that tell you what time you can park, on which day, how fast you can go, where you can go and the fines for not following the rules. You have to go to a special school to qualify for a driving license; it’s not just about moving a car and the written driving tests are tougher than Bar exams. In Moscow your Nigerian driving skills will be more than sufficient and there are only the normal lines you know on the roads.
If you do pass the test and are granted an English driving license you will actually have to obey the traffic rules. There are traffic cameras that record everything and six months after you’ve committed an offence and long after you’ve forgotten the details you will receive an official ticket with Her Majesty’s seal on it for a £100 fine and a £50 penalty because it arrived while you were on vacation and you missed the first payment deadline. If you chose to ignore this like you would in Nigeria Her majesty’s servants will suspend your license.
In England every bicyclist and skater wears a helmet, a reflective vest, knee pads and elbow protectors. It’s totally uncool. Anybody who is cool would rather have their brains splattered all over the side walk in a bright red mess than wear so much safety gear. You can be cool in Moscow. Bicyclists, roller bladers and skate boarders young and old, whiz around at high speed with no helmets or vests or pads. Besides as a Nigerian you know it’s all in God’s hands anyway, unless you didn’t say your prayers this morning you have nothing to worry about.
This English paranoia can be quite infectious. After watching a dozen public safety announcements on road safety the image of a car or train appearing out of nowhere and squashing you will be seared into your brain and pop up every time you want to cross the street or a railway. You may find yourself obsessively looking left and right two dozen times before scurrying across even on a narrow empty country lane. In Moscow the streets are as wide as the River Niger and the drivers are as fiendish as Abuja drivers, if you have just come from England it will take you a while before you can cross with the same nonchalance as the Muscovites or the death defying confidence of an Abujan.
In England there are CCTV cameras everywhere; streets, train and bus stations, shops, offices. Stand in a door way and you’ll likely see a sign saying ‘Smile you’re on CCTV’, look up and there, the ubiquitous camera. You may feel you are on some sort of Orwellian ‘Big Brother’ reality show, and feel compelled to look your best every time you leave your house unless your house is also monitored by CCTV or online ‘nanny cams’ as they are called in which case its best foot forward all the time. This does not stop crime but if you are mugged and killed you can die with the assurance that the criminal will be caught. In Moscow I’m told, like in Abuja, most CCTV cameras don’t work.
Meanwhile most of the Russian police are completely bribe-able just like the police in Nigeria. This makes a possible encounter with them seem less of a game changing event. As a visitor in England you may be super self-conscious of doing anything that may lead to an encounter with the police for fear of deportation or at the very least a mention in the cross departmental database that will make immigrations services deny you re-entry on your next visit. No such fears in Moscow just have a fistful of dollars ready or some serious mafia connections and you will be fine.
There are security bars on all downstairs windows in Moscow unlike England where they don’t even have netting to keep out the summer insects. This will give you the necessary peace of mind to fall asleep with the windows open at night, a necessity since most homes do not have air-conditioning and get quite stuffy on hot summer nights. After years of living behind bars and nets and air-conditioned isolation in Nigeria, in England you may be unable to fall asleep because you are freaking out that something is about to crawl in through the window, be it man or beast.
The Russians are loud, not as loud as the Nigerians (no one is as loud as Nigerians) but certainly louder than the English. In England you will be shushed on the street coming home from the pub at 11pm, if you turn up the volume of your car stereo too high you will get dirty looks from the natives and you will only hear the sweet roar of souped up car engines on a race track. In Moscow at 2am you will hear drunks shouting, music blaring, drag racing, fire crackers and even a gunshot or two through the open window of your 14th floor apartment, perfect white noise for a good nights slumber. If you forgot to your recording of night church vigils and early morning call to prayers in Nigeria, record Moscow night sounds when you’re going back to England.
You will also find that cigarettes and alcohol are as cheap in Moscow as they are back home in Nigeria. You can buy a whole roll of Marlboros for less than the price of a pack in England and a long night at the pub will not squelch one week’s budget. The fact that you maybe in England (or Moscow) does not mean that your financial circumstances have improved even though all your friends in Nigeria may think otherwise, so you will still need cheap tobacco and cheap alcohol to lighten the drudgery of your daily hustle.
It may not be home but you sure will feel more at home than in England. Enjoy.