On July 10th, I landed in Lagos, Nigeria. I am here for a deeply personal reason, but also to see a major African city up close and personal. The beauty and frustration of Lagos is that you MUST go with the flow. This is a land of seemingly orchestrated chaos where the rhythms of the “go-slow” determine the day. My first trip to Nigeria was as a child in the early ’80s. I remember everything being so much bigger than me and as a kid it was pretty scary. Coming back as an adult has been bittersweet. While there initially is the underlying anxiety of the unknown, what gives way after a few hours is an understanding that there isn’t much you can do, so there is no point in being frustrated. Ultimately, Lagos is what you make it.
Base camp has been a small hotel in Ikoyi. The staff has been attentive and extremely helpful in making our stay as comfortable as possible. A small property, connecting with the other guests has been pretty easy and my brother and I have met some great people. One chance meeting resulted in an unplanned day out. The organizers of a walkathon to raise awareness for Sickle Cell Anemia were staying in our hotel and invited us to come along the next day. A genetic disorder that affects 40 million Nigerians alone, my family included, we decided to participate. It was a welcomed change from the family excursions, and I was excited to city Lagos on foot, while supporting a worthy and personal cause.
We were up pretty early, so the city was still quiet and calm. The old buildings reminded me of scenes from the movie Black Orpheus, when the camera shows downtown Rio in Brasil, just one day before carnival. Built in the 1950s, many of the buildings are a reminder of Nigeria’s colonial past, and what I suspect was a hopefulness during independence. Walking the streets got me thinking of the past. I tried to imagine the city through my parents’ eyes before they left for America. In my daydream, newly independent Nigerian citizens walked the streets mixing traditional and Western styles in everything from music to language. Government workers interested in picking up where the colonial powers left off, existed alongside Pan-Africanists who saw independence as a new beginning and an opportunity to expand nationalism past geographical borders into continental unity. It was pretty heady, and I took it all in as I watched the slow build of the street bustle that would very soon become a cacophonous blend of merchants, hawkers and traffic gridlock. This moment was just confirmation that life goes on. Here I was almost 45 years after my parents emigrated to America, standing in what used to be their capital city. I felt very fortunate and humbled by the entire experience.
We finished the walk and based on the turnout, I would say it was a huge success. The organizers were very pleased and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. Definitely, one of the highlights of the trip so far. There are a few more Lagos adventures to share, but tomorrow I head to Abuja for a few days. I expect to have even more stories once I return, so stay tuned.
Click here for Part 2