Into Africa

In Nigeria all roads lead to Lagos. In South Florida all Nigerians take the road to Sam's place in Opa-locka.

It's a long drive to Sam's next stop -- a container warehouse on the edge of the Everglades. After that he must visit a ranch a few miles farther west; he needs two goats to slaughter for weekend meat sales. Using English and a few words of broken Spanish, Sam exchanges pleasantries with the ranch hand.

For a decade Sam's world has worked this way -- a little business here, a little business there. "All your life depends on sales," he observes. "You have to make sales." In a good week, Sam can gross as much as $4000 selling and delivering goods. But not every week is a good week. When his friend Brent Cantrell still worked at the Historical Museum of Southern Florida, Sam was sometimes invited to prepare food for conferences and meetings. The money -- as much as $1500 per event -- helped him weather the slow days. Now he's dependent on the store's earnings alone, and on weekdays sales can sometimes fall below $200. Saturdays are his safety nets, for he can gross between $1000 and $2000. The family doesn't work on Sundays.

Sometimes Sam talks about saving enough money to return to Nigeria, build a house near Port Harcourt, and start over again in a town where the pace is more relaxed. He does not want a mansion or a Mercedes. After nearly twenty years away from home, he just wants to be near his relatives. "I miss my brothers and sisters, my cousins," he says. "When I went back home for my father's funeral, I felt so much better."

If he can't return, he would at least like to send his children to a boarding school in Nigeria. He frets about the effects of Miami's fast-moving culture, where the young grow up too quickly and drugs and gang violence confront them daily in school. "There are lot of people who think that because of crime, it's not a good place to raise children," he muses. "Right now [my children] are disciplined, but who knows down the line when they mix with their high school friends?"

At the end of another World Series game, the crowd at Sam's has dwindled to about four, and Sam is ready to leave. Izzy Wordu strolls to his well-worn Audi, but it won't start. For a few minutes he struggles alone in the dark, holding a flashlight.

Then the group comes out of the brightly lit store. "What's the matter with your old jalopy?" asks Lateef Adigun. "Did you pee in it?"

Wordu chuckles: "Maybe that's what I should do."
Before long it's clear the car is not going to cooperate.
"Do you need a ride somewhere?" Adigun asks Wordu.
"No, Sam must pass by my place. I'll go with him."

As Wordu waits, Sam grasps a chain connected to his shop's retractable metal door and pulls it shut. He then walks around the store a few times, checking that the freezers are closed and the tables are clean. After he has inspected the place he stands in the doorway, arms folded, and surveys his domain. When he turns off the lights, darkness envelops the parking lot.

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