This is How We Do It


Life is a series of waiting. From the doctor’s office to the travel agency, from the dentist to the foreign embassy, we queue, tapping our feet, until we are served. Smart businesses turn waiting into a pastime. Forget glossies and car magazines. Forget coffee, tea, sweeteners, and creamers. Nothing like free Wi-Fi to eat up fifteen minutes of eternal boredom.

Yet, at supermarkets or self-service restaurants, Wi-Fi, and even 3G or 4G seldom come to our rescue for transaction speed is paramount.  We depend on tacit rules of queuing to bear our collective suffering and for smooth passage. For example, the loud disapproval of waiting-weary law-abiding citizens dispenses instant justice to queue-jumpers while attendants uphold the  people’s verdict. Those in a hurry don’t have to be doomed to sighing, hissing, time watching, and eye rolling. They just need to approach the Queue Court of Appeal comprising all or some of the people they intend to bypass.

I returned to Nigeria with this mindset. So, when I went to a fast-food takeout, I ignored the people milling at the counter and joined what seemed like a funnel-shaped queue. It didn’t move. This was what happened: people walked in, went straight to the counter, placed their orders, were served, and walked away. Did they have a smirk as they strode out with their prize or was that my waiting-weary imagination?

Anyway, I queued on in faith, ignoring my daughter’s tug on my wrist. I glared at my son for daring to suggest that I muscle my way to the counter. I counted tiles on the ceiling when I noticed people looking at me as if I had dyed my hair lime green. But, the toughest battle by far was drowning out the soundtrack spinning in my head, “Mumu, mumu. Mumu, mumu. You are a big mumu.”

queue culture

I wore my long-suffering like a green-white-green badge until somehow, I found myself at the counter. Before I opened my mouth, a lady appeared and started placing her order. I expected the attendant to ignore Queue-jumper but she took her order instead.

“Didn’t you see me on the queue? It’s my turn.” I eyed the attendant and Queue-jumper.

“How was I to know that it’s your turn?” Queue-jumper replied, looking at me, and then at the attendant, “add moi-moi, three moi-moi . . .” She faced me again, “You’ve just been standing there slacking; I don’t know what you’ve been waiting for.”

Anger rose slowly from my heart to my mouth.

I went into a tirade about how long I had been queuing and why. I expounded on the demerits of organised disorganisation, dragging the name of the management into my argument and stating that they enabled people like her frustrate the system thereby killing any hope of excellence.

When I heard giggles behind me, I paused to view the effect of my words. Some people were snickering. My son was shuffling his feet and looking at the floor. My daughter was looking at me as if she didn’t know me. I forgave them instantly. What did they know about Nigeria besides the ogbono soup and poundo, which I regularly made while we lived abroad? And the objects of my wrath? One held a bag of fast food, the other, N500 bills, and an exchange was imminent.

Another attendant came to the counter, “Madam there’s no need to shout, if you want something, please just tell us.”

Anger left my mouth and lodged in my heart.

Days later, I saw a real queue in Shoprite at The Palms Mall, people waiting to buy bread. But a friend went to the corner and gave an attendant N200 to jump the queue. Holding his N200 loaf of bread, he winked at me and said, “This is how we do it.” As he sauntered to the till, he bumped into a trolley that crashed into an aisle, causing canned goods to tumble to the floor, while those on the queue shifted their weight, dodging rolling cans.

Is this how we do it?


©Timi Yeseibo 2014


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48 thoughts on “This is How We Do It

  1. Lol, Nigeria has this effect on me. It’s like the moment I step out of the Airport in Lagos, Operation “Shine Your Eye” has begun. From the filling stations, to Restaurants, to the lines of people waiting to be prayed for by the Bishop? Nigerians live a “Survival of the Sharpest” life. No time for dulling 😂😂😂


    1. Lol@Survival of the Sharpest. So, the ‘thing’ is in the air? 🙂

      If more us refuse to conform and model change . . .
      I saw a poster the other day that said, “Don’t raise your voice, improve your argument.” If only I’d seen it before. I guess I’ll remember for next time.


  2. Interesting post… I imagine myself on that queue, I’d most likely have had my earphones plugged in anticipation of the long wait and when you started, in my mind, I’d have said “Na true this lady talk sef” But I’m almost sure, I won’t have removed my earphones. Let’s say I’ve become too jaded to be fired up about any n everything. Some things I just let slide… It takes a whole lot to rankle me these days… But That’s just me.

    You of course are in the right, You’ve seen it done better somewhere else and being out of the country for a while does reflect in your piece. Of a truth, this is just How we do it. Call it Naija mentality if you will… It’s just the way it is.
    To change that however, will have to be the companies prerogative. The company will have to install systems that exclude the option of choice… in other words, the company should be able to say ‘This is How we want it done’ regardless of who you are or What you want, you’re on our premises and this is How you do it.
    From the companies point of view, it’d mean employing more staff and increasing the cost of doing business. So if there is no regulation or something of the sorts that makes it mandatory for them to do So, they most likely won’t.

    So next time, it should not end on d sales person, it probably should Get to the manager’s desk. If the fellow is conscientious, he/She would have a word with the staff in question.. if not…well, you’ll say you tried…


    1. I think I hear what you’re saying- that people will take advantage of a system that is not regulated, so it is important that structures that facilitate queue culture are in place. And where one throws their weight around matters- change is effective when it’s top-down or change should be modelled from the top-down. More food for thought . . .

      I did not anticipate a long wait and the disorderliness rankled me. But as you said, perhaps if I was used to it, I would have learnt to adjust for it.

      All the same, I hope that as we view ‘the way we do it’ from a different lens, all stakeholders will move for change- top, down, middle- all of us.

      Thanks for sharing your perspective.


  3. Oh, I have embarrassed my kids and my grandkids by saying, “It’s not your turn yet!” and making the person stop and think. I could not believe someone used the word, “slacking” when you were waiting patiently! I could see myself, counting tiles and chanting words in my head! Smiles, Robin


    1. Lol Robin, as far as she was concerned, I was just, “standing there.” 🙂 She could not fathom why anyone would queue.

      That embarassment = life lessons in polite behaviour. Thumbs up Robin!


  4. LOL! I am very familiar with this situation. Some people find it hard to be civil in public. While they think they are the only ones who are smart, shunting queues just to get what they need or continue on their journey, they provoke a sharp reaction from those who try to exercise patience.

    Sometime last week, at an ATM point outside a bank premises, some customers and I were in the queue waiting for the woman who was being served at the ATM machine. Due to poor Internet connection, her money withdrawal was taking more time than required. Some people decided to sit down, hence distorting the formation. It didn’t take long before the other ATM machines gave up on the customers queuing up in front of them. Ours was the only one left. Finally the woman withdrew some money and as she left an elderly man begged to be the next person to conduct a withdrawal. We allowed him. As he left, a man who had just come in, went straight to take his place. This provoked an angry response from us. Because he was muscular and tall (I guess that was his motivation), he tried to intimidate the men who challenged him. Before anyone could say Jack Robinson, he was exchanging punches with the men.

    Nigerians! We love to have our things sharp-sharp! No “dulling,” they say. If you do, you are the mugu. In fact, King of Mugus.

    I guess this is a global issue, after all. Man is animal. But with wisdom and self-discipline, we can always keep that beast inside.


    1. Lol@”Before anyone could say Jack Robinson, he was exchanging punches with the men.” Do we need to carry boxing gloves to fight injustice? 🙂 But seriously, I am glad people stood up for what is right. At the point before it degenerated to a fistfight, it would have been good for the security personnel to act.

      @Some people find it hard to be civil in public. I suppose it’s because they cannot exercise self-discipline in private. What do you think he’ll do to those who oppose him privately?

      This ‘no dulling’ and ‘sharp-sharp’ mentality sef? We should channel it to good use. I can only imagine where we’ll be as a people if we do.

      Thanks Uzoma, you described the incident so well, I shouldn’t laugh, but I am laughing!


  5. In the U.S., we are proud of order and control, and line-jumpers (aka queue jumpers) are social outcasts akin to serial murderers and puppy kickers. When I’ve been to Asia, it was much more of a free-for-all. Once, waiting to board a ferry, an elderly woman elbowed me in the ribs and ran across the ramp to the boat ahead of me. I was laughing too hard to get mad.


    1. @elderly woman, I have a vivid picture in my head, and I’m laughing so hard. It says something about the society when the elderly have to resort to ‘kung-fu.’ 🙂

      Seems like a small thing but I like to think that queue culture reveals something about a people’s psyche. I should move to the U.S. Nah, here in NL, queuing culture is good, until you get to the train/metro platform at rush hour. I have neither elbowed nor been elbowed (yet). I have mastered the art of standing at the exact spot where a train door opens. From my vantage position, I can see the last passenger about to step out, and make my move. I’m usually among the first to board. 🙂


  6. Hello ma’am…Am I allowed to laugh? I know it’s not funny but the part where you mentioned how you went into a tirade and your kids were looking like…”uh.., mum?” I could only laugh. Why? because me sef I’m tired and things like this just make you wonder if people are going to change at all. I think it’s everywhere or something. But I don’t understand why the attendant would say that to you. Some are just rude. Didn’t she see you? at least she could have been respectful enough to take your order first. I’m sure if their manager was there and you reported, she would have been saying something else and doing eye service.

    And my question is this,…, Must someone bigger than you be there before you do the right thing?

    It’s sad. Pretty sad.


    Wow, so you have kids…umm, I berra start calling you ma o instead of the bae I’ve been calling you oh 🙂


    1. Please laugh as long and as hard as you want. I am also laughing.

      That’s the thing isn’t it? If Queue-jumper refused to behave, one would have expected attendant to uphold article 101 of the Queuing Code of Conduct! She probably thought I was a mumu too. Well, the second attendant came and played her version of ‘good cop.’ 🙂

      To answer your question, no. But do the staff receive customer service training? It can be difficult to envision change when you look around, but it starts with one person. The world is looking for heroes- one reason why movies with protagonists who rise up against the odds, and do ‘good’ become blockbusters.

      Yes, I have kids and I’m still a babe! How dare you call me ma’am and insinuate that I am old? In my book anyone 18 and older is allowed to call me Timi, Lively, or whatever. I wish people would stop calling me ma’am on this blog; on this blog even a ten year old is allowed to address me by name. I know it’s a Naija thing, but this is an international forum. You show respect to me and other readers by commenting thoughtfully and disagreeing agreeably. So, please bae all the way jare 🙂


      1. hahahaha…okay oo. It’s Timi bae all the way 😀

        yes, I agree with you. The fact that everybody is doing it the wrong way doesn’t mean one should follow. The change starts from us(like the article I wrote the other day) That makes you the hero, that even speaks for you and defines your integrity.

        Ahh….about the customer care something, that’s true o. I’ve had my own share of sauciness from them as well and it can be pretty annoying because I know I wouldn’t do something like that. I’ve attended to people before in my line of work and I’m as polite as it can get and so I wonder why people do it and some are so downright NASTY you’ll be like…”aunty? is it because you’re behind counter you’re talking anyhow?’ from BRT stations to eatries, Bad customer service is at peak forgetting that if people don’t patronise their goods, they are as good as closing up.

        So why treat them anyhow?

        I know some customers too can be brash about their requests, but there’s a polite way of answering the person such that whoever is patronizing you will know he/she is at fault!

        Lovely post as always


        1. @Timi bae, thanks! @lovely post, thanks!

          There’s a lot to chew on in your response, from customer service orientation to ‘common’ courtesy in relating to others. I want to do better in theses areas as well.

          Looking back in time, it’s usually one man that inspires a group of men to act . . .


  7. Haha! The ‘mumu’ soundtrack plays in my head all the time. I mean since the days of lining up to get food at boarding school, people have always ‘chanced’ me :(. On quite the unrelated note, what pisses me off is that ‘Mr Biggs’ never has change, lol: “sir, please do you have 50 Naira”-happens every time. I’m not sure what the solution to ‘chancing’ is but I definitely enjoyed reading this, as usual.


    1. Oh my, you’ve reminded me of the word ‘chanced’ I haven’t heard it in ages! Shout out to Mr Biggs: “Please have change ready otherwise you lengthen turn around time!”

      I just mentioned queue management systems in my response to Tony below. I’ve seen several types all over the world, and they do, to a large extent, eliminate ‘chancing’ and within these systems, there’s also the possibility for express service for people who meet certain criteria.

      Some may argue that Nigerians would still try to beat the system. Take the automated ticketing or numbering system for example. Some people would collect two or more tickets; one for them and others for their relatives, who are on the way, or for ‘hustle’ 🙂 Then you’d need to put a security man in charge. Ah, but the minute you put flesh and blood in charge, you introduce the possibility of bribery! Tomi, my head is spinning, I’m overthinking this thing. Last, last, we go back to the days of Idiagbon! 🙂


  8. Haha. Just like that. I love your kids already.

    From what I’ve noticed a good percentage of Nigerians are ready to do the right thing, but they also don’t want to be left behind and labelled ‘mumus’ by the ‘we no dey carry last people’ and so chaos ensues.

    One or two people jump a line, and the people in authority don’t do anything like sending them back to the end of the line rather they serve them, then the people queuing will feel like mumus.

    Nice write up as usual.

    Grace & Peace be unto you.


    Sent from my iPhone



    1. Tony, the kids picked up on the queue culture in that place rather than the lesson I was trying to share!

      You are right, no one wants to be treated or seen as a fool. But when I decided to be one-woman Terminator, no one backed me, making me feel like a bigger mumu 😦

      Anyway, perhaps one solution would be to use crowd control barriers (as they do in some banking halls and airports), and have express check-out counters for a defined group.

      Of course you can’t really use these outside at ATMs, bus stops, etc. It’s down to us observing tacit rules of queuing. No wonder Idiagbon introduced WAI! I think that as part of good customer service, businesses should look into queue management systems.

      If a good number of us persist in doing right, would the good percentage of Nigerians who want to do right be inspired to follow and step up their game?

      Thanks Tony, you’ve made me think 🙂


      1. Timi, I’m humbled that my short reply made you think :).

        Indeed, that would be a very welcome introduction in businesses/systems where they are needed.

        I think it’s all down to a numbers game. If the number of people ready to do the right thing are fair enough and they are vocal about it and actually go through with it (cos words don’t always translate to action), I think the others would conform (whether they are inspired or not is a different thing).

        Your blog post reminded me of my roommate in my final year in college, he was a ‘one-man terminator’ to borrow your term. It was tough for him, but in retrospect I’m glad he stood firm.

        Shalom. ✌️


        1. So my unofficial stats may work: 10% ‘mumus’ follow through and 50% ‘any government in power’ join them. 60% should overrun 40% ‘waffi nor dey carry last’ 🙂

          Would like to meet one-man terminator; would like to know what makes him tick . . .

          Thanks again Tony.


  9. So interesting for me to read this blog (and all the comments, of course!) and see what is the same (and what’s not) in our different parts of this world. I was raised to delay gratification and that patience was a virtue. And I embody that so well, (right!) as detailed in my last post about waiting in two hour lines at Disneyland.. Thanks for this perspective!


    1. Lol @ Disneyland. We took the kids to Disneyland in Orlando once. We had tickets for three days. Day one: we arrived Disneyland at about 9 a.m. and left at about 9 p.m. Next day: woke up kids for day 2 of our Disney marathon. Both kids responded (I kid you not), “Please can we NOT go to Disneyland? We’re tired!” 🙂

      I haven’t been to Disneyland since then, not even the one near me in Paris, fast-track tickets or no fast-track tickets! I’m coming over to read about your adventure, I know I’m in for a good laugh 🙂

      Doesn’t matter where in the world we are, there are certain similarities about queue culture, because we’re all doing life together. Thanks!


  10. I would love to meet your kids. I guess that’s their own way of saying “Good Lord, mom! Don’t be ratchet!” Lol 😀

    Nothing irks me more than seeing a room full of hot-blooded uncontrollable youths who don’t know how to appreciate the authority that comes with silence. I mentored some fresh naija youths few years ago in college. They interrupted everyone else’s speeches and fought for vocal dominance- even over sighs.

    My patience and empathy for this lack of listening skills gave in to anger one day when I said “You know it’s rude to cut people off mid sentence while they’re speaking, right?” You guessed it – I wasn’t done talking when another snuck in an ill-timed, 2-second apology then proceeded to explain why she couldn’t wait to rebut the other’s argument. The other interrupted her as well…it was a never ending cycle.

    Guess what? It happens in churches and corporate organizations too.

    Sigh. I’m weak. Lol 😀


    1. Talking about churches, after three days Esther fasting, you know what Yorubas call ‘biribiri’ workers in my church , I mean elderly workers not youths were jumping the queue, cutting in peoples front, ‘ramota-ing’ to get served. My conclusion the fasting was a waste of time, it has not thought long suffering , patience , selflessness or anything for that matter. At the end on the day there was plenty of leftovers.


      1. Ha ha ha, Naija mum, I’m in stitches! Reminds me of the scramble for ‘plastic or rubber’ wedding souvenirs, back in the day. Okay, what would cause people to behave like this? Do they not have food at home? Ha, the instinct for self-preservation- let me get mine before it finishes! If I think hard enough, I will find that I have behaved like this at one point. I must do better . . .

        Hmmm, so this is why Jesus told the multitudes to sit down before his disciples served them bread and fish. Can you imagine the scramble? Lessons in crowd control! 🙂


    2. I have a ‘vocally dominant’ voice in normal conversations, so imagine when I shout. I shudder with embarrassment when I think about that day. The kids were probably happy their friends weren’t there 😉

      Maggielola, you’ve introduced another dimension, queuing to speak, and not cutting in line when it’s another’s turn. This, in my view, is even harder than queuing for a service. @Naija youths, do you think it’s a cultural thing? In the past, kids were brought up to be silent when adults are speaking, never mind interrupting an adult. Perhaps they just were never taught that it’s rude to interrupt. Must have been a difficult time for you. *Let’s observe one minute silence for your pain* 🙂

      Seriously, one way I judge my maturity is by my ability to wait. It doesn’t mean I’ll be a doormat, but my attitude while waiting or insisting on justice is key. I fall short many times, but keep reminding myself that smart people wait well.


      1. “@Naija youths, do you think it’s a cultural thing?”

        I know that that quiet, introverted, or considerate child will get called mumu in the current naija society. Is this cultural? I think it is! The fear to look like mumu is real. The abuse of power is real. The show of affluence is also real, hence we have folks in a hurry to give you their two cents with penetrating voices. End of story.

        Oh- the pain was real oh. I felt like a mumu- which I wasn’t, and that hurt more! Lol


        1. Lol@ penetrating voices. Where two or three Nigerians are gathered, the ground vibrates from the volume of happiness!

          @fear to look like mumu, could it be a natural human trait- the kind that injustice stirs? Could we channel this fear productively? Hmmm . . .


  11. For me, I look forward to learning more about the “organised disorganisation” the dialectics and the theorizing of it…
    I was schooled by the army in my years and even against myself the rigour of my adherence to a disciplined life amazes me.
    Many times, I which I could be more lax with myself and take life less seriosly especially in the face of seeing people get by with minimum efforts what you burst a vein to achieve…
    Though life is not fair being around here… I can’t help being myself: I will turn up early and in time for appointment, stay on queue and return phone calls… God bless a soul that would be subject to me and find those impossible to abide with…God bless such.


    1. Charles, if I hear you correctly, the influences we had in our formative years colour our lives way into adulthood. How important then was it for me to stand up against ‘injustice’ though, every time I remember how why chest heaved and my voice rose, I wonder what lesson my children took from the incident! 🙂

      I think, and I may be wrong, that without constant reinforcements, societal pressures can recondition us. The armed forces is known for discipline; I know a couple of kids that were sent to command schools for ‘re-orientation’ 🙂 Kudos to you for upholding those standards. Please don’t be lax, the world may not realise it, but they are looking for principled people.


  12. And because “This is how we do it,” we shall remain firmly entrenched at the rear of the queue of civilized and progressive nations. Just my dos centavos!


    1. My my, if only we can jump on this queue of civilized and progressive nations. If only we can deploy our ‘shunting’ skills to stand in front of South Africa, and then move a few paces to sneak behind China . . . 🙂


  13. I have always been known as a Voltron of sorts. I feel this compelling need to rise up and fight against perceived injustices:-) In your situation at the fast food take out, I would have have been just as upset as you were and I would most likely have launched into some sort of anger induced tirade but it would have been just to let off steam and let my opinion be heard..nothing more because I understand that ” This is indeed how we do it ” in Naija.
    I understand that it is very unlikely that my words will change anything or cause any sort of “prise de conscience” . The cashiers and the erring customer would probably never see any wrong in jumping a queue. I mean only a ” Mumu, or Mugu or Maga” would prefer to stay on an everlasting queue when the possibility to “shunt” was readily available.
    This is the way things have always been done and it would take a complete mental and cultural overhaul to see any meaningful change occur.


    1. Tamkara, I feel you. How can one voice be heard? But it can . . .

      Anyway, I saw people queuing for BRT buses in Lagos in an orderly manner, without soldiers or mopol present. There is hope. True @ complete mental and cultural overhaul. The radio jingles and adverts on NTA of the past, which called for integrity, etc, would hardly be meaningful today, unless leaders (both of us are leaders 🙂 ) demonstrate these values.


      1. Hmm….There really is hope, if people can queue for BRT buses. And yes both of us are leaders:-) reminds me of my mum telling me off for pointing one finger at others while four were pointing back at me:-)


        1. Oh dear, telling you off wasn’t my intention 😉
          There is hope yes. I went to First Bank or was it GTB? People were adhering to the queues. What bothered me was that they were showing Africa Magic and Supersport channels on their LCD monitors, I deduced this to mean that we were in for a long wait! 🙂


          1. I know. But sometimes, I do get carried away with the whole everything is wrong mentality, so it’s nice when someone highlights the progress we are making….no matter how tiny 🙂
            I loved the post….as I do all your posts and I can almost paint a vivid image of the events that unfolded….down to the lady buying all that moi-moi!


  14. Lovely write up, had my ribs cracking @”How was I to know that it’s your turn?…..add moi-moi, three moi-moi…….You’ve just been standing there slacking; I don’t know what you’ve been waiting for”…..

    (Permit to break from the norm of comments)

    I know a lot of people are going to comment on how sad, bad, annoying etc, this practice is, but I have to be sincere….THIS IS HOW WE DO IT …was one of those who used to believe in waiting your turn, until I was told by a friend that with my attitude “one day its not just vehicles that would overtake you, the highway would jet pass you” (He actually stated this in Proper Waffi Pidgin English, this is the best I could translate it. The original version is sure to change anyone’s mindset)…As a rule of thumb, I change cash into 100/200 Naira bills for when the need arises to ensure that the expressway doesn’t really come speeding past me….
    P/S…..If you are one of those going to state how bad, sad……… or going to follow Timi’s line of action…..please do not carry this mindset to a Nigerian airport as you are sure to miss both your scheduled flight and the subsequent others……take my advise and ensure you are armed with either an Obafemi Awolowo, Ahmadu Bello or Nnamdi Azikiwe, in extreme cases or when you need to damn everyone on a queue your only saving grace is the combo of Aliyu Mai-Bornu/Clement Isong.

    Warri truly does not carry last………


    1. Lol, John, me sef, I dey laff! While writing this post, I was thinking about what a friend said about how Naija can leave you jaded. It is hard to swim against the tide, true. Meanwhile, I admire your candour. Most of us are guilty o jare, but only few would own up here.

      @airport, I have had to part with cash to catch my flight, and I’ve avoided bank queues by calling on a manager I knew. I know all about having loose change in my purse. But na wa o, there’s a better way. Corruption and all the other ills we moan about thrive in organised disorganisation.

      Abeg, the highway will not jet pass you o! 🙂


  15. Thank God for the prior mindset. Who knows you would have ended up ponching the so called attendant in the nose. My dear welcome to Nigeria where the system is design to thwart our dreams. At times I wonder if with this kind of attitude we could still point accussing fingers on the ruling class when even we yet to hold elective position can not follow the due process. Until the leaders and the lead change their subconscious thinking, replace and reshape their old way of doing things, when we talk of rebranding we are talking of another her illusion. Hence, insanity has taken over our land. Indeed there are Useful Idiots


    1. Although there is some truth in your comment, it saddens me. This is what saddens me: “the system is design to thwart our dreams.” My reality is that I have not been to any country where the system was designed to ‘aid’ my dreams. Yes, some countries are more conducive than others, but I’ve had to push and pull myself in the direction of my dreams. Could it be that we may have more power than the system lets us believe?

      Indiscipline occurs worldwide. I have found that people need to be ‘policed’ every where in the world. The difference say in NL for example, is that policing is more sophisticated e.g. speed cameras & billing systems that ensure no contact with humans who can be bribed.
      But then again, the level of indiscipline in Naija na wa. You don’t see it in NL . . . ah, I forgot, at rush hour on train and bus platforms 🙂


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