Warning: the following post contains some graphic imagery.
I officially have less than a month in Ibadan. Time flies. I feel like I have only just arrived. I have noticed that it feels truly like I’m at home and that I’m in some weird sort of family. I think that when you live in a place for long enough every routine becomes somewhat monotonous. But it also opens into a cascade of noticeable small moments: with my host family, with friends, conversations, and a plethora of Yoruba gestures and noises. I am also KING OF THE MARKET! Just kidding, but I can actually haggle. Turns out it’s just a simple combination of persuasion, lying, and having a lot of confidence like you are the god of prices and it is not possible the price could be anything but what you say it is. It also helps speaking Yoruba is shocking. And having pigtails. That always helps.
So, Lagos. Now, as it must in Nigeria, everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong about my Lagos – or Eko in Yoruba – trip before it went right. Our car broke down before we left, when we were 45 minutes into Ibadan, and again to end our Friday in Jerico, another part of Ibadan. We got a fresh start on Friday morning where we traveled, instead of on the dreaded Lagos-Ibadan expressway, on the much faster Lagos Road. It was the scenic route to say the least, covered in lush vegetation that masked the scores of development between Black Africa’s largest city (Ibadan) and Africa’s most populated city (Lagos). The usual signs of development and industry (broken semi-trucks, pollution, squalor, and waste) were oddly absent.
The road we took comes through the large island to the west of Lagos instead of straight through the north to the mainland city. The island is so creatively named Lagos Island and another part is Victoria Island. This is where the mansions, U.S. embassy, shopping malls, and rich Chinese businessmen are housed. On the island, it is reported land and property can cost more than property in New York City. But the road into Lagos Island or LI opens first into a largely undeveloped section full of vegetation.
We got to the farthest side of the island around ten AM. My friend who has been to many other African countries smiled – he thought it was unbelievable to see large bridges, buildings, and infrastructure in this African city. Lagos is truly a different way to see Africa than most Americans envision it.
I was momentarily dozing off when our car braked hard to the left. I jolted upright to the curses of my friend driving. The car in front of us had come to a dead stop in the middle of the road, causing us to almost hit him. My friend was more upset than usually about the poor driving in Nigeria and I didn’t know why until I looked to see what both cars almost hit. I have to tell you my first reaction because it’s been stuck in my head for the past week. I was wondering why in the world a pile of bloodied carcasses were stuck in the middle of a road in LI. The obstruction was like something imaginary and out of place in this utopic island setting. But as we drove around I could see that the reason I couldn’t place this in my mind is because I had never seen dead bodies before. My friend opened her eyes and asked “was it a body?” and my other friend answered solemnly “yes it was.” I never expected in to be that gore-filled. It was so mutilated that I couldn’t even believe my eyes still. I sat as my friend comforted our driver, still in shock. Our other friend went about his business and started playing around with his phone. Someone asked me if we were okay and I said “yeah.” And the thing was, I really was ok at the time.
But then we drove on into the island. That day we were just mostly going to stay in the car and get out every once in a while. Our first stop was Shoprite, a huge grocery store next to a mall. As we pulled up I was immediately in shock. Plasma screen TVs advertised for the upcoming James Bond movie, advertisements flashed for different high-end luxury stores. It was shocking. I went into a grocery store for the first time since I got here which was weird.
We drove around for a while more, eventually stopping in the mainland for a while. All in all I only spent a little time there but my take away was this: at 10 AM I saw dead bodies at the foot of the city, at 1 PM I was in Shoprite. And I saw white people! Weird. Bellow towering sky-scrappers were shacks that fit families of ten. The contrast of great wealth and great poverty was illuminating. The thing that shocked me the most was just the crazy amount of money and the thirst for it everywhere. I don’t know what more to say about it. Being in Lagos made Ibadan seem rural and old-fashioned and slow. Lagos felt like being in the middle of giant developing machinery and the pain of growth was evident on every street.
The interesting part is that I actually got to hear Governor Babatunde Fashola (Governor of Lagos) speak this week at the University of Ibadan commencement ceremony. If you don’t know who he is, look him up. I repeatedly like to say that he’s the most important man in Africa. I believe this is true, but I’m biased. As the governor of Lagos, development has been his focus. He has revolutionized the whole state. If you went to Lagos a year ago you would find squalor everywhere, unpaved roads, okadas in frequent accidents… that’s all gone now. He is universally adored by (or at least fascinating for) economists and people alike for being something new and radical. He speaks in a way that gives you an unfounded optimism for the Nigerian State.
But in order to do this he has had to bulldoze sections of the city filled with crime and poverty. He does this to create infrastructure which though will always benefit the rich more than the poor, has innumerable advantages for those in poverty (public transit, safety, etc.). In every revolution, there is pain and there are enemies, but I hope in time Fashola leads this country in an unfounded direction with real African solutions. “We cannot treat every day like an emergency,” he said, “our solutions must not be in reaction but as part of a national plan.” How can you live in a country with so much need for refinaries, infrastructure, clean water, electricity… but that has over forty percent unemployment? There’s something wrong here.
While these ideas are not really new, attempts to implement them are. And I couldn’t help but swell with excitement and joy at the prospect of one day calling this man President of Nigeria.
Other than that the last weeks have been good, filled with joy and friendships:
-I fell into a hole after going out to the bar with friends so I’m officially checking that off my list.
-Commencement is going on right now so lots of street parties.
-Going hiking for the last time next weekend.
-Getting ready to say goodbye, less than a month remains.
-My Yoruba is getting so good! I wish I had just a little more time to get fluent!
-I was finally beaten at my favorite game “Ayo”
-Maybe getting the opportunity to go to Lagos again in the next couple of weeks but this is Nigeria… anything and nothing is possible. It’s a country filled with every contradiction.