This was for a series called #Repyourcity to celebrate Nigeria’s independence. The concept was to write about your city through the eyes of a stranger. It was first published October 11, 2015, on Lucid Lemons.
Welcome to Lagos: the city where dreams come to die, the land flowing with milk and honey where the majority are famished and impoverished. Welcome to the centre of excellence- a city clothed and disguised in hype and overpopulation, forever basking in glorified mediocrity. Okay, I realise this is not the warm welcome you expect and I apologise. It has been a hectic day of senseless traffic and all sorts of pollution. Forgive me, dear brother.
Where are my manners? I welcome you to Lagos and forget to offer you some refreshments. Would you like a tall empty glass of promise or a bowl of opportunity groundnuts? I would be careful with how I take those groundnuts if I were you. You do not want to get in trouble with big daddy. He usually saves them for his favourites. Novices like you and I should not be fishing in such bowls, even though it is technically for everyone.
See me again. Sorry, my brother. How was your trip? Did you come in one piece? How is everything back at Umuahia? How is your mother and her aching back? How is your brother’s electronics business? What about beautiful Joy? Fine-fine, sweet-sweet Joy. Does she still have plans to move to Lagos once she passes Jamb? I still remember the shimmery glow of her skin under the hot afternoon sun. I often think about her and the times we shared together during my youth service. Sometimes, I hear her laugh echo in the cave of memories past and I let it resonate to life, filling my room not only with her raw sound but also the reassuring warmth that comes with it.
Writing about Joy lifted my mood and the bitterness has been swept aside for a moment. I am sorry if that introduction was a bit too much for you to take in all at once, but that is Lagos. The city is forever moving in such a manner that leaves you no time to take it all in and offer a warm welcome. Johnny, there is no time to laze about under the banana tree and let the day pass you by. If you want to make it big, you have to be on your toes 24/7 because the city never sleeps.
I walk through these streets every day with one quote in mind: “Concrete Jungle where dreams are made of.” Alicia Key’s words in ‘Empire State of Mind’ have never felt truer than when I am walking down the pavements of Balogun with traders tugging at my sleeves from left and right or when you feel a danfo pass you by with the conductor holding onto the roof and sides for dear life as he screams, ‘Ojuelegba!’
That picture alone has a hundred stories in it and one thing they all have in common is that they are survivors. This is a city built on the blood and sweat of hustlers every day and you are not simply living if you get to live another day. You are surviving. It is a constant battle to survive and outrun the city before it swallows you up and spits you out. Once it is steps ahead of you, it is impossible to catch up.
However, look a bit deeper and you will see the fuel to their engine; Hope. Strangely enough, every time you receive warm smiles and hear satirical jokes, brush off the surface and dig deeper. Maybe you will see a glimmer of hope in their eyes. If you are lucky enough, you will look in the mirror and see it reflected in yours. No matter how hard the city tries to suck you in, you will draw strength from the positive energy surrounding you. You will never notice until the day you find yourself smiling and whistling ‘one-day e go better,’ filled with an overwhelming sense of belonging.
Perhaps one thing that will excite you is that this is the city of black range rovers and high maintenance girls. Oh yes, the Lagos babes, an essential part of the beauty of the city. You will meet one who looks exactly like the one you met a couple of hours ago, who also looked like the one you met a couple of days ago. You may meet some who look like they just walked out the TV set-unconventional and foreign. Be careful when you approach them, lest you meet one who sniffs your inexperience from a mile away and realizes you are financially handicapped before you finish saying ‘Hi.’ These girls are some of the most dangerous beauties you will ever see and if you land yourself one, be careful to keep her away from these big men in black range rovers and expensive colognes. They, my dear brother, are Lucifer’s godsons.
Lagos. Will. Frustrate. You.
It will suck you dry and leave you feeling like a shadow of yourself on some days. On other days, it will leave you bursting full of life, ready to embrace strangers with wide open arms. You will spend some of your good years stuck in Lagos Traffic and probably spend valuable time contributing to senseless Mainland vs Island arguments. You will find yourself in the middle of many horror scenes such as a tanker falling off a bridge, reckless drivers colliding and many ‘stop, inner light’ situations. You will pull the hairs out of your head due to frustration from bureaucracy. You will find Lagos overpriced and over-hyped. You will continue to compare Lagos life to life back home, but one thing is for sure, you are here to stay.
One advice I must give you is to not end up like me; a corporate robot who eats drinks and breathes work. Immerse yourself in Lagos culture, open your eyes and heart to Lagos but also be sure to keep your head above water. Maybe you will end up writing a letter to me some day and tell me I have Lagos all wrong. You will tell me that some of the most caring people you have ever encountered live in this city. You will tell me you have never been surrounded by such a diverse group of people and cultures, but yet, you still feel a part of one family. You will tell me that you have been in Lagos for no more than 6 months and you have this overwhelming need to claim it as your own. The more the city tries to treat you as an outsider, the more you feel at home.
You will tell me that you travelled back home for the festivities, and within hours you were craving the hustle and bustle of Lagos. Everything back home felt slow and the days dragged on. You will tell me you have fallen for Tolani, a lady set on building an empire with you, but you still cannot keep your hands off Chidinma. You will tell me of your recent conquests, Salewa and Janet, and how they never ask too much of you, unlike your experience with Aisha and Ene. You will tell me you have dreams of moving to Ikoyi or Lekki but, for now, the small room in Iyana Ipaja will have to do. You will tell me you have come to love those annoying street kids who run around the streets in shorts, chasing flat tyres with a stick or running after dogs. You will tell me about little Yusuf and how his favourite biscuit is Noreos and how much he loathes school. You will tell me about how you have come to love going to bed with the sound of the local church’s cymbals bursting through your walls and waking up to the call for morning prayers from the local mosque.
You will tell me about the annoying Alhaji who likes to block the street whenever he throws a party. His older children like to come in big cars that block all exits and cause traffic. You will also tell me how sweet the Jollof rice and puff puff Alhaja sent through Moria was. You will tell me about your new friend Hakeem, who is teaching you the dynamics of street gambling and you will tell me about your new found love for Friday nights at Mama Oluchi’s, drinking Orijin and eating Suya from the Mallam down the road while listening to Reggae Blue’s and anticipating Young John, the wicked producer’s name to pop. I will be able to tell from your letter that you are now a serial wedding crasher and have been infected by the Owambe bug. A serial gate crasher at popular night clubs 57 and Sip, creating ruckus at Industry nights and managing to get your face shown in a Wizkid video.
Since I am in the mood to give out advice, please pass this on to sweet Joy also.
Joy, you are a woman and by default, an unsung hero. Love every inch and curve and cherish those moments when your laugh leaves you in pains. This is because ,when you reach Lagos, you may not get to laugh often from what I hear. You will be disrespected and underestimated often because of your genitals. Lagos will try your patience, it will try to push you to a box and define you by that box. It will wear. you. out. You will encounter statements like: ‘You are a woman, you won’t understand. You, people, are too stubborn. Isn’t there a man of the house I can speak to?’ It will drive you insane, and you will find yourself discarding every ounce of decorum. So you will end up shouting at men on the highways/streets, supermarket queues, Office receptions etc. But do not fear, you will have your way eventually.
I should warn you to make plans to stay with Johnny because Lagos Landlords will refuse you accommodation as a single young woman in Lagos. Perhaps you buy a cheap band to put on your finger so that you can walk with your head held high and get some respect. It seems only married women get treated with respect but if you are single, you will have to work harder. I should also warn you of the predators: sugar daddies. They will sell you dreams and your mates will tempt you with Instagram posts of sponsored trips to Dubai. Joy, you will doubt yourself sometimes and find yourself saying that ‘the ends will justify your means.’ Joy, this is not so. The city never forgets. Tread wisely.
I should tell you what I love most about Lagos but that in itself cannot be simply put down in words. Lagos nights fill me with so much peace and calm. It is something personal and cherished that I’m afraid putting it in words will undermine its beauty. It is something you will both have to see for yourselves. Especially when you are driving down the Marina, letting the cool Lagoon breeze hit you as you enjoy the scenery of the stationary ships, yachts, the tall palm trees, the warm night lights and the free road. It is the same driving down Ikorodu Road to Bayo Shodipo to Eko Bridge. Also Osbourne, Bourdillon Roads, and Ozumba Mbadiwe. They fill me with an alarming sense of calm and peace, and for a short while, it does not feel like Lagos anymore.
The warm night lights remind me of you, Joy. It reminds me of those precious moments in my life when I was at peace with the world.
The city is filled with so much unexplored history, which adds to its mystery. From the congested streets of Isale Eko to the familial Surulere, to the ends of Epe and finally, the potential greatness of Badagry. Lagos is a story.
I am writing this letter to you seated on a rock on the Bar Beach overlooking the ocean a couple of minutes before midnight. I have managed to attract a few glances from some suspicious looking men, but I know I will be fine. Once again Johnny, welcome to Lagos. This is a reminder that your journey is not over yet, in fact, your journey just come (laughs in failed attempt at a pun).
Welcome to Lagos Life, Eko living! I know you will love this city more than I do and in your own twisted way, just like we all do.
Photo Credit: Jason Florio