As some of you know, our group of students was planning on taking a trip to Ghana through Togo and Benin over the last two weeks. Unfortunately, the “Nigerian factor/mentality,” as our teachers call it (people lying to us, cheating us, taking our money, refusing to begin any work on time, seeing white people as an endless source of money to exploit, etc.), we were unable to accept visas or find any success in going on the trip despite the fact that we spent nearly four weeks working hard to get everything in place. Despite the frustration, a few of us were graciously hosted by a friend in Lagos, Africa’s most populous city. I had an amazing time to say the least.
Lagos is one of the most interesting places I have ever visited and I think I can say it is one of my favorite cities. While following typical paradoxes that hold true through out this country (i.e. everything is possible and impossible at the same time), I found it to be one of the most vibrant and charismatic places I have ever visited. As one of Africa’s most populous city, Lagos is often dubbed as one of the world’s most dangerous cities. It is also on the United Nations’ list of “mega cities” along with places such as Mumbai, India. Lagos’ population is estimated to be between 14 and 18 million people. Therefore, typical side effects of rampant and rapid urban sprawl are impossible to ignore-absolutely horrendous traffic, noise, complete congestion in every sense of the world, and a plethora of less than pleasant aromas. That being said, Lagos has a lot to offer that is extremely difficult if not impossible to find throughout Nigeria and much of West Africa. I have been to Lagos twice prior to this visit, but only very briefly (you can see my impressions in my earlier entries). Although it is an impossible task to try and put my entire experience over ten days into a tiny blog post, I’ll try and pick a few highlights.
Nigeria is very much a split class society-it is a unique country as there is virtually no middle class (by the American definition). Most of the country is slapped with uncontrollable unemployment, a lack of basic infrastructure that is sufficient enough to support the entire population, and a horribly corrupt government that hurls all of these difficulties into a self-fulfilling cycle that is extremely deeply rooted in society and nearly impossible to break. That being said, there is a smaller percentage of the population with such an excess of wealth, they can’t spend their Naira quick enough to keep up with the supply. Most of these people are given seeds to plant money trees because they are oil company executives or politicians. (Interesting fact-much of Nigeria, especially Oyo state where I live has no personal income tax or sales tax. Only businesses pay any sort of tax, which helps explain why social amenities are often lacking and the rich can get filthy rich with ease). There are two Yoruba slang terms to describe the two classes above- “Ajepákí” (literally those who eat cassava), and “Ajebótà” (those who eat butter). The Ajébótàs are often dubbed as elitist, exclusive, extremely condescending, and apathetic to their inferiors (the Ajepakis). Although the majority of Lagos is populated by the lower class of Ajepakis, but there is an extremely high concentration of Ajebotas, perhaps the highest in the country (approached by Abuja, the nation’s capital). The influence and quantity of Ajebotas, as well as the least corrupt and most respected state government in Nigeria (two thumbs up for Babatunde Raaji Fasola, the Lagos State Governor) has led to the creation of a very posh (or “tush” in Nigerian slang) area of Lagos. Although it is hard for one to look at this type of excess gluttony after living in a city like Ibadan, it was a great escape for an American to feel like he was on vacation. The brick paved roads, brand new Mercedes Benz’ and Land Rovers, humongous mansions, fancy restaurants, hip nightclubs, and finely dressed Lagotians swaggering left and right made me genuinely forget I was in Nigeria at times (that is until the power went out or someone approached the car window trying to sell a completely random product). It was also freeing to see other foreigners, as in some neighborhoods they seemed almost common. This was evidenced by the fact that I wasn’t continually hissed at, yelled at, asked intrusive questions from across the street (“White man! What’s your number? Where are you going? Give me money! etc.) like I am subjected to literally everywhere and all the time in Ibadan. It was nice to feel like I was no longer the center of attention for once, as not as many people were staring at me, yelling at me, or approaching me to touch me.Some of the things I enjoyed the most in Lagos were going to a modern movie theater with all the new American movie releases,eating amazing food (Indian, Italian, Thai), drinking espresso (in a country where you are condemned to NesCafe, similar to drinking turpentine, if you look to real coffee for your daily caffeine fix), visiting one of the coolest jazz record stores I’ve seen in the whole world (in a country most people don’t know what jazz is), attending an outdoor concert with close to one million people that went from dusk to dawn (I arrived around 3am and left at 5), walking through the most crowded and congested place I’ve ever set foot in my life (the market) to buy insanely cheap jeans and Prada shoes, and as anywhere else in Nigeria, being accepted by our amazing hosts as their own children.
Although we spent ten days in Lagos, I feel like there is a lot I still have not yet explored. Even though Lagos also sucked the liveliness out of my bank account (most things are extremely expensive, especially compared to the rest of the country), I feel a magnetic attraction pulling me back to the city. My parents are coming to visit me from America in slightly less than two weeks. Although I’m a little nervous about their visit (it can be quite intimidating and difficult to come to this country as a foreigner knowing little about it and not understanding any of the languages here), I’m also excited for them to see how I have been living and what I’ve been doing for the last three months. I definitely plan on taking them to this wonderful charismatic city that the Yorubas refer to as “Èkó,” so they too can get a taste of it. Èkó ò ní bàjé ooooo!