You could say he hit the ground running once he landed in Bonny, because he went through the books, though not that there was much to see there, but he wasn’t willing to set off on a troublesome note, so he didn’t bother to query the Dental Surgery Assistant, DSA – the buxom one, about finances. He later met the cleaner, and another girl who used to be the PR-person of the clinic, but had been sacked when the clinic started facing financial challenges the reason he was recruited (in the first place) to help turn the fortunes of the clinic around. He was surprised that his proprietor offered him the job even with a weak recommendation coupled with his lack of experience in running a dental clinic, and coming from the other end of Nigeria’s west coast in Lagos, over and above the many dentists dotting the landscape of Port Harcourt, Rivers State, as well as surrounding towns, cities and states. He suspected that maybe what he considered a living wage may be unacceptable by most inhabiting or resident (of the region) dentists, even when the job offer came with (not tastefully or lavishly) furnished free accommodation. Having come all the way, he decided he would atleast give this a chance, and let time decide his next move.
The other arm of the clinic which had more surgeries, and a dental laboratory was located upland in Port Harcourt, the capital of Rivers State, and was founded by Nigeria’s first indigenous Dentist, who had since been late, but now managed by his wife, who he later learned had been his DSA. He never revealed the latter part of the story to his fiancee who used to be his patient, and was always suspicious of other female patients or when he told her stories about them.
After seeing just one patient whose upper left first molar he extracted for free because she had no money to pay, and he was in that good mind and mood, he asked his staff to shut down for the day, an hour before the closing time of six o’clock, then strolled out for food as he had been snacking all day.
It was later that night after spiking his system with food (of which he spent the most times removing the pieces of “ISAM”, the meaty innards of periwinkle in the soup- which he never learnt to eat all his life- to aid the yellow mound of Èbà made from cassava flour or Garri, down his throat to the stomach) and washing the combo down with two small bottles of Guinness Stout (a tad more expensive than in Lagos) at a restaurant nearby, then back to his lodgings that night, that he took a good look at what will be his home for the next few months, or years if fortune elects to smile on him. There were two bedrooms, each fitted with large mattresses without bed frames. Each of the bedrooms came with wardrobes fitted into the wall, as well as other simple bedroom furniture. The bedrooms were separated by two narrow spaces containing the bathroom (with a water heater that didn’t work) and toilet, then from these a door leading to a passage with one end leading to the clinic side of the house, and the other to the backyard. In the middle of it, another door into the living room, also simply furnished from which a door leads to the kitchen which could also be accessed from another door at the end of the passage before one got to the door that led to the backyard. The kitchen was well furnished, with the only thing absent been food and gas cylinder, which really didn’t bother him since the Hot-Plate compartment of the gas cooker still worked. He’d been told that the gas cooker was removed by the dentist who worked there before him. One good thing about Bonny is that unlike the rest of Nigeria it was not connected to the national electricity grid where epileptic power supply is the norm rather than exception, but enjoyed uninterrupted power supply from the utility company that generates power from gas from the LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS company located right there, in the midst of an abundant gas supply so much so that the excess is flared away not only in Bonny but in several places across the Niger Delta. Infact, the sighting of an eternal flame incoming from the sea is how one knows that Bonny Island is close by, though he wouldn’t know if that also applies to Brass, another LNG plant location in the neighbouring state of Bayelsa, or indeed any of the other islands in the Niger Delta home to Nigeria’s oil and gas infrastructure, the mainstay of it’s economy.
It didn’t take much effort for him to settle down. Bonny, especially the part he stayed in looked no different from middle class Lagos settlement that he was quite conversant with. It drew many people from all parts of Nigeria and outside of it, people who’d come to have their share of the NATIONAL CAKE. The LNG, is the main business, the nucleus which many other companies and “humans” serviced. His clinic didn’t have a retainership with the LNG, and though there was a clinic within the estate built for administrative staff of the LNG, it lacked a dental clinic hence it choppered a dentist (his classmate incidentally) from Port Harcourt into the estate twice a week. He knew this because the Chief Security Officer of LNG, just days after his arrival brought his mother late at night to receive dental treatment at his clinic, because he couldn’t bear to see her wait a day longer till the dentist from PH was scheduled to come.
The retainerships with the OIL SERVICING COMPANIES had also evaporated since the former dentist left to set up his practice just about a hundred metres away. He was only able to reestablish contact with the notable privately owned hospital in town, that obliged him based on goodwill, and another smaller clinic whose proprietors’ conditions appeared exploitative but he still agreed to it just so he could muster some patient flow. Once a while some Asians or South Americans from the oil servicing companies like Daewoo, Schlumberger, Hyundai etc would stroll in for treatment, paying cash or promising to pay later but never honouring their commitment (though he thinks they’d have but suspects their Nigerian escorts cornered the money).
This was before Health Management Organizations, HMO’s became as widespread as they are today, and private dental clinics depended mainly on retainerships for survival. The challenge in Bonny was the fact that though there was a lot of money been made, the majority, especially the indigenous people were very poor and couldn’t afford dental treatment that wasn’t subsidized, so he found himself most times offering his services for free, or collecting in kind over cash. At some point, he had in his possession, a patient’s mobile phone as “collateral” till the patient showed up later to pay an amount short of the agreed, while another patient, an accident victim he did an INTERMAXILLARY FIXATION for failed to turn up to retrieve his “exercise equipment”, which he promptly converted to personal use, wondering if the patient would’ve paid the dentist that removed the interdental and tie wires he used to hold his jaws after the stipulated period to wear the wires elapsed, and fracture site healed, for free.
The situation wouldn’t have hassled him if he didn’t have to bank proceeds into his proprietors’ account, who then made him a cheque for his salary and that for other staff. The first two months she sent cheques without any query, though both times (as will become norm for the duration of the time he spent in Bonny) she failed to pay him the agreed sum in salaries blaming that on the paucity of funds, especially as the Bonny clinic under his care was yet to brought to profitability.
Though in the short term things hadn’t worked as he had hoped, but he was optimistic that things will turn out for the better, he may not appear or speak optimistically most times, but he sure does live in optimism, finding at several junctures of his life the need to hope for one thing or the other. He determined to make the best of his time in BONNY, giving it all it requires such that even if the worst of situations should arise, he would definitely have something to write home about regardless. He therefore set himself up to explore the social life of the island.
PICTURE CREDITS: http://s76.photobucket.com