Friday, 28 July 2017

Ozy Magazine/Robert Clyne: Making a Killing in Nigeria

OZY
Stay Interesting

    HOMENEWSMAGAZINEVIDEOOZY FEST

Making a Killing in Nigeria
SourceCourtesy of Jessica Teal

True Story
Why you should care

Because Ivy League doesn’t always mean ivory tower.

By Robert Clyne

The Daily DoseAPR 13 2016

This is a story about going from Exeter to selling gray-market diesel made from plastic garbage and waste oil on border towns in West Africa.

You see, growing up in a seriously dysfunctional family, I had a good nose for failure and collapse. I first smelled it in the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan. I remember the postelection was like a requiem. I was at Exeter at the time, and Exeter was a strangely brutal but highly functional place. But by the time I got to Stanford, there was no denying collapse. No ideas, no guts, no passion — just smiley faces looking for “careers” and all that monument building. So upon graduation, I joined the Navy SEALS training program but washed out. I was not tough enough and, given I spoke Spanish, they would likely send me to Central America. I had already spent eight years in Central America, including four during the height of the Nicaraguan civil war (to this day, I hate the sound of firecrackers). Even if I was tough enough, I didn’t need to kill “Indios” for Uncle Sam.

To redeem myself, I got into the Yale Ph.D. program in cultural anthropology. I decided to do my field work in Nigeria. I had lived there as a child and I was fascinated by the Yoruba religion — especially the god of war, Ogun. I landed there and went to a hotel I had gone to as a child to learn swimming. There were 10 hustlers for every guest. Prostitutes tried to chase me into my room so they could stage fake-rape shakedowns. Luckily, I run fast. I was literally sprinting with my key in my hand.

My field work went well. I was initiated into a secret society and taught cult secrets. I loved the diviners. One basically wrote an entire chapter of my dissertation. Their stories were sometimes staggeringly beautiful. But the wear and tear was ferocious. I lost 20 pounds in two or three months every time I went. No lights, no running water. I lived on powdered milk and bananas for days a time. I had malaria frequently, amoebic dysentery constantly and nearly died from one case of bacillary dysentery (it killed far more of Napoleon’s soldiers than winter, bullets or cannon fire).

While armed robbers were always a threat, my biggest fear was the police. They considered executing and robbing me at least three times that I know of. Five hundred dollars was more than enough to get you killed. So Nigeria burns neurosis out of you and you have zero stomach for bullshit. If it is not a rusty Kalashnikov pointed at your head, you kind of don’t give a shit. Even with a gun to your head, you check to see if the holder has the balls to use it.

Enlarge
2010 01 05 04.16.00

 
 
 
 

Purified water

Source Courtesy Jessica Teal

But I had received no grant money and had to sell museum-grade African textiles around the world to make ends meet. I kept the best pieces for myself. I reveled in their beauty; they represented something that only I could do. No other art dealer had the guts to go where I went. They relied on runners. They never built the relationships that got you the truly great stuff. Through it all, somehow, I graduated from Yale and as a consequence decided to go back to Africa. But I wanted to go back a man, not a student. I wanted to help my crew. I promised them almost 20 years ago I would change their lives if they changed mine. They helped me through malaria, death threats, police shakedowns.

I went back with a purified-water business. It was not clever, but I wanted to sell good reverse-osmosis water to poor people. Bottled water is, like, $2 a liter in Africa. I wanted to sell it through vending machines for 10 cents a liter. No PET bottle pollution, just clean water. The machines broke all the time and my once lively crew were now old men. The superhuman effort that was their hallmark in the ’90s was gone.

I needed an idea easy enough for my fading crew to handle. I also wanted to do something that mattered. My dying mother wants me to be a success. She only loves me when I achieve, so I decided we could collect plastic and waste-engine oil and make it into diesel. I got the idea from an overpriced Japanese machine that did very much the same thing.

We paid people to pick up plastic garbage, and we paid fishermen to catch it. We could clean up all those disgusting beaches and help school kids pay their fees and finally I could help old people eat. I put all my money into making portable pyrolysis machines. Even now, I virtually live at the factory. I don’t trust anyone to give a shit enough (they don’t). We are failing but also improving more than we are failing. The machine is coming together, and people seem to like the idea. This week, we had two major breakthroughs and, on top of that, I’m heading off to Abu Dhabi in the hunt for cash, for the factory and for trucks. We’ve got one already, to haul the fuel from the factory.

So pyrolysis will make the trucking super profitable and, barring getting beaten half to death or, God forbid, all to death by people I suspect of being oil-company fronts, I’ll be making fuel for these trucks and avoiding nettlesome government regs while keeping the beaches clean and my people employed. You know, if you have balls and brains, your life should matter at some point.

It’s good to be alive.

    Robert Clyne, OZY Author
    Contact Robert Clyne

Comment
TOP 5 FOR YOU

    Fast Forward
    Can Nigeria End Its Business Nightmare?
    Good Sh*t
    How to Farm Without Breaking a Sweat
    Good Sh*t
    The #1 African Food Truck in Paris
    Rising Stars
    The Tech Entrepreneur Who Accidentally Built a Billion-Dollar Company
    Rising Stars
    Is This Leading Lady Nigeria's Next President?

OZYTrue Story

Good stories from around the globe. Essays and immersion, into the harrowing, the sweet, the surprising -- the human.

    Blowing the Best Invite of My Life
    True Story
    Blowing the Best Invite of My Life

    Saying yes to a restaurateur who dropped no’s on celebs like so much confetti? Well, woulda, coulda, shoulda been a real good idea.
    Tales From Inside an Israeli ER
    True Story
    Tales From Inside an Israeli ER

    ”…we had to treat the terrorist alongside the victims. Sometimes, if their condition is more critical, we’ll operate on the terrorist first.”
    37 Years Behind Bars: My Life as a Brazilian Jailbird
    True Story
    37 Years Behind Bars: My Life as a Brazilian Jailbird

    For 37 years, 59-year-old Camilo de Mello’s been watching Brazil break from dictators to its current political chaos. All from the bad side of prison bars.
    I Work at the Hezbollah Museum of Resistance
    True Story
    I Work at the Hezbollah Museum of Resistance

    “I’m 47. I’m not young. I have high blood pressure and I get migraines. But being here helps me relax.”
    I Was Sexting Before the Age of Smartphones
    True Story
    I Was Sexting Before the Age of Smartphones

    In the days before smartphones, one man’s misadventures in the online-dating realm reveal marked improvements in sexting tech.

More from True Story
Most Popular on OZY

    Comey, Russia, Health Care … What Trump Voters Think Now
    Politics & Power
    Comey, Russia, Health Care … What Trump Voters Think Now

    Here is what your neighbors are thinking.
    How I Caught a Contract Killer
    True Story
    How I Caught a Contract Killer

    Being on the trail of a contract killer nicknamed “the Iceman” was about as chilling as it sounds, but someone had to do it.
    Bigger Than Brexit? The U.K. Electorate Shocks the World … Again
    POV
    Bigger Than Brexit? The U.K. Electorate Shocks the World … Again

    Yesterday’s U.K. election was more turbulent than anyone expected. And the fun is only just beginning.
    The Most Powerful First Daughter of All Time Was Not Ivanka Trump
    Politics & Power
    The Most Powerful First Daughter of All Time Was Not Ivanka Trump

    Anna Roosevelt practically ran the country in FDR’s final year.

get caught up
with the presidential daily brief 
Police Searches on the Rise in Russia
Nyet Problem
Police Searches on the Rise in Russia
Amazon Becomes Film Distributor With Woody Allen Feature
Now Showing
Amazon Becomes Film Distributor With Woody Allen Feature
vault ahead
with the daily dose 
Police Searches Are Booming in Russia. The Best Thing? It's Legal
Acumen
Police Searches Are Booming in Russia. The Best Thing? It's Legal
Paris' New Love: 'Murica's Southern Comfort Food
Fast Forward
Paris' New Love: 'Murica's Southern Comfort Food
Stay interesting.

25M People and growing
   Facebook
   Twitter
   Instagram
   Vimeo
   Youtube

    The Week On OZYAbout OZYMeet The TeamJobs @ OZYAdvertise On OZY

© OZY 2017 Terms & Conditions

    Facebook
    Twitter
    402Shares
    Copied
    Copy link
    Email

Post a Comment