An African's Queen

Observations of an African Man's Western Woman

Chapter 2: All out Wow!

This is the second chapter of Sanni and my journey to Lagos, Nigeria. This chapter is the start of our first full day.  These words are my interpretation only and shouldn’t be taken as anything but my observations of a foreign land that has done everything it can to accept me and I it.

Chapter Two: All out Wow!

We made our way up to the fourth floor where the Nigerian & Western cuisine restaurant was located. Suffice to say the gym, in the room next door, was better equipped than the kitchen. While it looked stylish and clean it did not have anything we asked for, whether Nigerian or Western. Instead I settled for boxed Kellogg’s corn flakes with UHT milk. I made the ghastly mistake of asking for a coffee. This I will never do again after being served packet Nescafe Instant with tinned milk and cubed sugar. It would be the first of many lessons in hiding my horror, masking my face in non-committal pleasure and gratitude.

Moses called. He had arrived. I ran downstairs. Okay, that’s a lie: a) I don’t run, b) It is four floors up and I’m wearing heels, and c) I don’t want to greet him all huffy, puffy, and sweaty. So I took the lift and jittered excitedly instead. I did in fact run in to his outstretched arms though. He picked me up and swung me around, exclaiming, “my Cazzie, oremi (my friend), I have missed you oh!” He looked a little more weathered but otherwise completely unchanged. He still had the same cheeky smile and laughter in his eyes. Even his short cropped hair was the same as I remembered from four years ago.

When he greeted Sanni, it was with jovial laughter, hugs, picking him up too – which I would witness often with my man who lives on the shorter side of stature. Immediately, they fell into the same play fighting I had seen daily in Cambodia, usually with Sanni taking the punches and looking to me for defence I playfully don’t give.

We had called Sanni’s brother, SS, before going to breakfast. He didn’t believe Sanni. I then greeted him and asked him to come and get us. He yelled incomprehensible Yoruba down the phone as the realization finally hit him. His brother was really home. “I will get a car!” he said in English before hanging up in our ear. It is common for calls to simply be cut without a salutatory ending. I have long hated Sanni doing this to me, in part I have become accustomed to it. He has made an effort to adjust, giving me a finality to our calls that my learned manners require. Now though, I can see where it comes from and understand it better – that said, I will not be telling Sanni this so he thinks he can get away with it. I still think it’s impolite.

Although I didn’t understand what it meant, I was told it would take hours for SS to come because of the roads. We were fortunate that the time was filled with catching up with Moses because it did take hours. Meeting my brother-in-law, a large man with bright, laughing eyes, a shiny bald head and a belly that Buddha would be proud of was at first nerve-racking and then a wonderful happiness for being immediately hugged and accepted.

SS thanked me. I didn’t understand why. I hadn’t done anything until Moses explained that I was being thanked for bringing his brother home. I would receive this gratitude from every family member and close friend over the coming days, as though I solely was responsible for bringing this determined man home. Hungry wolves couldn’t stand in Sanni’s path to going home, I certainly wasn’t going to stand in the way of omo aja mi (my puppy).

We piled our luggage in to the back of the rugged mini bus and travelled first to Sanni’s mother’s home (I will refer to her as Grandma from now on as that is the name she is given by the family. She has other names too, but I’ll discuss name protocols another time). Houses here are usually located within ‘compounds’ which are a few acres of land surrounded by 6ft+ high walls and large gates for access.

Projection all around the compound.

Projection all around the compound.

The walls are topped with either rings of barbed wire or shards of broken glass to deter anyone from jumping the walls to raid or rob properties. Unlike at home where a robber is unlikely to carry a gun but will likely have a knife, here, the standard is high-powered semi-automatic weapons bought on the black market so people take security measures for their homes very seriously.

Within a compound, there may be one very large house with several floors (for the affluent) or as is more common, several low set, simple, rectangular buildings set around the property. It is common for most members of the family to occupy the houses, but once a family grows and needs to move out, the empty houses are sub-let to locals. There are other types of living arrangements too. Some people sleep in the stores, or have ramshackled buildings made from cheap building materials. I’ve often wondered how these homes withstand the monsoon season.

When we arrived to the suburb of Ijebu, Sanni was aghast at the changes. As was I for my own first impressions. The roads in Ijebu, as they are all across Lagos – except on Lagos Island, which is the wealthy Google-image portrayal of “Lagos” – were once wide, level and easy to drive on but are now filled with large dips the size of half a car and potholes the size of a truck tyre (not an exaggeration).

Roads – this one still deep in water from rains two weeks ago. The soil too water-logged to absorb more. A off-road motorbike riders dream but no one elses.

Roads like this often have steep cliff edges to the drain ditches beside them. They’re jagged, unmarked and soft-edged, and incredibly dangerous to walk or drive beside. Yet, little choice is given. Roads that are tarred will have large cement-lined drains. These, like the other type, are filled with rubbish.

Black-green sewerage with no origin and no destination. It simply accumulates in the ditches of the roads and paths.

Black-green sewerage with no origin and no destination. It simply accumulates in the ditches of the roads and paths.

Along the side of many local back streets there may be a green-black sewerage channel, over which people must step or jump to get to the road/home/store, as was the case on the opposite side of the road to Grandma’s. I don’t know where it comes from or where it goes but it brings with it a foul stench that makes your nose hair cry out in agony. On the grounds everywhere there is rubbish strewn. Small pieces of plastic, pieces of footwear, bottles flattened by car tyres, bags, wrappers, anything at all can be found lying on the ground.

There is a disregard here for cleanliness that I cannot quite explain without seeming narrow-minded and judgemental but I will try. Despite the environment being really dirty, the people take pride in their personal dress standard. Women will have their hair done often, makeup is so common you take it for granted until you see a woman not wearing it. Everyone dresses nicely. The men are groomed. Appearance means a lot because it is how you appear that will tell people how you wish to be treated.

I remember when I first started dating Sanni nearly five years ago. I never ever wore tight clothing (I can hear my Argentinian goddess friend, Mages, gasping from here, “As if you would ever hide your delicious booty,” she will be saying). In fact, I always wore baggy clothing and hid my shape. I rarely wore makeup, shaved my legs or made an effort at all. I wasn’t even trying to be a hippie, I just didn’t think it mattered that much. I must have been like a jewel in the rough to Sanni because after time, I learned what it meant to have the same self-respect he and his culture live by and from his words of wisdom my booty got wrapped.

When you look your best it is said that you are saying to the world, ‘treat me as I treat myself.’ If you look good, people will treat you well. If you don’t people will not give you their time. They’ll not think highly of you and as a result will not interact with you. The basis of many relationships are formed purely on appearance first, character second.

With this in mind, think now to the description of the dirty environment Sanni and I found ourselves in. Our minds were reeling. Mine thinking, ‘is this really the place Sanni has called home?’ His descriptions didn’t speak of the rubbish or the total disregard for their living environment. Sanni told me later he was thinking, ‘is this the way I left it, really? What has happened here? Why is it so bad?’ He described how shocked he felt, and later, a sadness. I had wondered if the years abroad had simply softened him to the reality of how it really is. It would not be the last time I would wonder this.

It isn’t sufficient to blame the negligent local council for their lack of care for their areas. Yes, they must contribute to the solution but they are not solely to blame for the problem. The root cause resides with each and every person who chooses to throw their rubbish on the ground or in the roadside ditches. The council does not have an organized, paid-for garbage removal system. The onus is on individuals to pay to have their garbage removed, either by a truck (if it can navigate the roads) or by a man pulling a cart. Rarely do people have money to collect the rubbish though so it is disposed of on the ground, or ultimately in the ditches, which then clog the drains during the wet season’s monsoonal rains. This results in extreme mosquito breeding, malaria outbreaks and sickness.

The hard haul

The hard haul

Garbage truck for rubbish removal

Rubbish pickers

 

Even though I am surrounded by people who are extremely poor, they do not have poor character, just poor knowledge of how to work as a collective force. They do not consolidate to form solutions among themselves. They choose instead to blame others, most notably and deservedly, the government for not doing enough – if anything at all. “Everything wrong in this country,” I was told from a fellow passenger when I exited the plane, “is manmade.” And that is true. I do not believe though that because they’re poor they should also behave as though they’re poor, to live in a dirty way. That is within each person to decide.

It cannot be denied that were the infrastructure and education available for people to do better that they could make better choices, however, still, it remains up to the individual to make a choice for what their actions will be. Were the government to implement a program to remove rubbish and the people collectively worked with an attitude of Cleanliness is next to Godliness, this problem would not exist. No one, whether individual or Government, looks to themselves for the blame. It is always someone else at fault.

The gates of Grandma’s compound were opened, but the mini bus couldn’t navigate over the small incline of the broken cement driveway with its full load. As we opened the doors, I carefully manoeuvred along the edge of the car, past the steep drop of a ditch and into the compound first. I don’t think anyone actually saw me. Perhaps they thought me an apparition. Sanni sidled up next to me. I stepped out of the way just in time to see the flash of black skin and bright clothing and the screeching sound of an elongated, “Maaaaccchhhhhinnnnnneeeeeeee!!!!!” as one of Sanni’s cousins tackled him in an embrace so strong it knocked one of his earrings out.

Sanni and I turned at once to look to the steps of the house not more than 100 metres in front. There stood a majestic woman, equally short in stature as her second-to-the-last born son, with a face so similar to Sanni’s I was taken aback. She held her head slightly cocked to one side. As if to say, ‘can it be, can this be my boy?’

She stood firmly rooted to the spot as Sanni & I approached. Sanni lowered himself to the ground, touching his mother’s feet, a sign of deep respect for seniority, before rising to her embrace. Sanni quickly introduced me but we barely finished saying my name before we were both nuzzled deep into her voluptuous bosom in a hug that threatened to never let us go. Sanni & I laughed as she released her grip, looked us both squarely in the eyes and then quickly, as though she feared her imagination would dissolve us away, grabbed us in a tight embrace again. We hugged her with the same ferocity. Sanni calmly reassuring his 80+ year old mother we were really here. Her baby had came home.

Stay tuned for Chapter three: Oyinbo

If you liked this and can’t wait for the next instalment, why not subscribe to receive a notification to your inbox? There’s a link on the top right of this page.

If you’d like to see what I’m seeing, check out the Gallery. I’ll post new photos with each chapter.

Got a question to ask or a comment to share? A request?

So far you’ve asked me to:

  • Dress in traditional clothing and eat local food – COMPLETE – See the gallery
  • Francesco: Send a post card home
  • Meg: Bring home traditional and modern Yoruba music

What else would you like guys? Let me know below.

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2 thoughts on “Chapter 2: All out Wow!

  1. Kristine on said:

    Living vicariously. Perfect description of meeting Sanni’s mother. Martini tears (naturally). xo

    PS I second the request for a postcard!

    Like

  2. Pingback: Chapter 6: Summary and Your Questions Answered | An African's Queen

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