In the jungle, the mighty jungle
“A lot of us Nigerians are in an abusive relationship with our country. Especially Lagosians. Because some of us manage to buy Aso Ebi and party once in a while we think we’re good.”
Thus began the status update of a friend whose tirade against Lagos I read with a little sinking of the stomach.
“Lagos changed me, I won’t lie. The day I found myself slapping a tricycle driver who broke my side mirror was the day I knew I had become something else.”
I read with a little sinking of the stomach and a little shortness of breath because I too had been changed in my short stint of a few months living in Lagos.
Thankfully, I never got close to slapping a tricycle driver as I wouldn’t dare take up driving in the mad Lagos traffic but I knew Lagos had started messing up with my mind the day I completely lost it and was screaming my head off. Over office space, of all things – which in a world of creature comforts and middle-class problems sounds insignificant. Yet, try being moved to kick and screaming from your corner office to an open plan set up following months of head bending Naija wahala.
Yes, I admit, back then, before Buhari’s miraculous comeback, on the eve of the 2015 elections, I used to think I was tough. Yes, Lagos was tough, but I was tougher, or so I thought. By the time Lagos had shown me pepper, I knew I was just beyond ajebota.
In the first weeks of life in Lagos, before the going got tough, when it was still all fun and games and the jungle hadn’t yet dealt his hand, a friend said, “In Lagos, you’d better have a plan for every letter of the alphabet.” A few days after that, I remember posting on Instagram: “Lagos: survival of the savviest.”
You see, even when you can be considered savvy by any world standard, Lagos is a whole different ball game. Every minute of every day there’s something or someone that will try your patience – from the house help stealing from you, to the driver who’s using your car to cab when you’re away, to the shop manager who can barely manage himself to the waiter who’s meant to serve you but looks ready to spit in your amala, to the okada rider who cuts you in traffic, then getting hit, rallies his band of Okada riders to bash your car in.
Add to that the daily inconveniences and niggles – potholes the size of craters, potholes that turn into Olympic pools in the rainy season, lack of power, lack of fuel, the go slow, the day to day hustle…
A friend who lives up the road in Northampton told me of her late-night a few days ago. Arriving home after a long day at work she found there was no electricity. Thinking there was a power cut on her street, she wandered over to her neighbour. Seeing their lights and TV on, she was puzzled. After a bit of a faff around the mains, she realised the power to her house was cut. An engineer was called out and arrived two hours later, at 9 pm. Fiddling around the mains, he confirmed what she already knew, there was a fault with the power line.
Right there and then, she was told they couldn’t leave her without power. Following a complex operation of connecting her main source to the street lamp with a cable around her garden and through her cat flap, lo and behold, she had power directly off a lamp to keep her ‘lit’ till the next day. As sure as day follows night, at 8 am sharp, there was, in her words, “an army of men” who’d arrived, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, to investigate and fix the problem.
Never mind the morning after. I was still stuck on the night before.
What do you mean – an engineer came out at 9pm? And he investigated? Then he decided they couldn’t leave her without power?
My mind immediately went back to an afternoon four years ago in Lagos. On a stifling May afternoon, prepared for days of power cuts and wondering when next we could charge our phones or have a shower, we were interrupted by a knock on the door. The hotel receptionist handed over two flimsy candles and a box of matches as she grumbled they were for that night as they still hadn’t found fuel for the generator.
Just in time, a friend sent word he’d booked us rooms at another hotel where they had fuel, the generator was working and all was well. They even had a swimming pool. The sort of mediocre three-star hotel most would probably turn their nose up at on a beach holiday became our haven for the next three days. It was basic, but it had the basic necessities. What’s more, for those three days it allowed us a break from the madness of Lagos. We could regroup, recharge and rejuvenate.
Three weeks later, I was on the plane, with a one-way ticket back home. Home upon arriving I wanted to kneel down and kiss the ground. Home where the first thing I did was rent a car at the airport and drive down the motorway without fearing for life and limb. Home where people come out at 9 pm so you’re not left without power.
Yes, Lagos had changed me too.