Returning Samba to the Afro-Brazilian Returnees in Lagos

Last May the Guardian UK reported that Lagos Carnival had lost touch with its Brazilian roots. Truly, the Carnival as it stands today is a typical manifestation of money in the hands of the wrong people. It is mass produced costumes and sound systems blaring overly familiar Naija pop music while dance troupes perform carefully choreographed acrobatics routines. To a spectator who has experienced Carnival in Rio de Janeiro and even London’s infamous Notting Hill Carnival, Lagos Carnival is disappointing, and couldn’t be further from the essence of Carnival arts. What the reporter did not know, however, was that after fighting tooth and nail to be included in the event, Nigeria’s first ever Brazilian style Samba School, Èkó Samba Community, participated in Lagos Carnival 2015. They were the only live drumming group at the event and they unintentionally upstaged every other performance group there.

Èkó Samba Community is a non-profit group based in Satellite Town, Lagos, which aims to engage and empower children and young people through creative arts, namely Brazilian Samba drumming. Despite wearing only simple white trousers, traditional Yoruba caps and bright aqua-blue t-shirts with ‘Bateria’ proudly emblazoned across their backs, the young people of Èkó Samba Community stole the show with their vibrant Samba Batucada beats and hypnotic Samba Reggae rhythms.

The drummers and dancers brought true Brazilian flare and spirit to the event!

The drummers and dancers of Èkó Samba Community brought true Brazilian flare and spirit to Lagos Carnival 2015.

This year something even more spectacular took place. Thanks in part to Ms Mark’s article, the founder and Musical Director of Èkó Samba Community, Seyi Ajeigbe, has forged a relationship with the Nigerian Descendants of Brazilians union group based in the Brazilian Quarters of Lagos Island, also known as ‘Popo Aguda.’ This was where the formerly Nigerian returnee slaves from Brazil came back to in Lagos once they were freed.

On 28th March 2016, Easter Monday, history was made in Nigeria as Èkó Samba Community brought Samba home to Popo Aguda for the first time. Seventeen children and young people aged between 8 – 21 years, held their drums anxiously, waiting for a signal to start playing. They were stood outside the Pavilion – a local establishment erected in 1998 to commemorate 100 years since the abolition of slavery in Brazil. The Onipopo (cultural leader) of Popo Aguda, Dr MacGregor, explained that this establishment is their “cultural signpost,” the meeting place for community events and the starting point of each Fanti Carnival year on year.

Fanti carnival is the legacy of the Afro-Brazilian Nigerian descendants in Lagos. It was started over 100 years ago and up until this year, it has taken place annually in December and around Easter time, organised by the Brazilian Campos Carretta Carnival Association. An insightful chat with Mr DaSilva, first Vice President of the Association, informed me that this year, sadly, the State Government did not to allow access to funds for either Fanti Carnival or its commercialised child, Lagos Carnival, forcing a break in more than a century long tradition. Every other carnival in Lagos and Nigeria, including the now infamous Calabar Carnival, was born out of this event, steeped in Brazilian traditions brought back and held onto by the Afro-Brazilian descendants. Back then, however, Fanti Carnival was a beautiful display of hand-sewn costumes, traditional dancing and live brass bands with the different regions of the Brazilian district competing for prestige in various categories including best performance, costume and crown. Members of the community I spoke with became wistful and animated as they recounted their grandfathers and fathers sewing costumes or constructing magnificent crowns from their carnival base or “Fanti house” such as the Damazio home on Igbosere street.

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This iconic bull’s head greets visitors as they enter Popo’s Pavilion.

Despite there being no Carnival this year for them to enjoy, families still gathered beneath canopies outside their family homes, sharing a meal as they do every year with children and grandchildren travelling back from foreign countries far and wide to all be together. The Onipopo shared his disappointment, “all the indigenes of this place, the ones of the Diaspora, the ones from London and so on, always come here … now they have come here and there is nothing for them to see.”

I met four members of the Vera Cruz family sitting on the doorstep of their Portuguese style house, sharing pepper soup and watching the commotion unfold in front of them as the Bateria prepared to perform. The only son discussed with his two sisters and mother how their great-grandfather, a goldsmith, was the first of their family lineage to return to Lagos in the 1800s. They spoke of how they watch Brazilian Carnival each year on television and one of the sisters wanted to know where her child could learn to dance Samba the way they have seen, “I like that Samba dance” she said. Mr Vera Cruz spoke of the enduring family connection to Brazil, including visits to Bahia to see family who are still based there and a ‘Labo’ masquerade that was brought from Bahia and is now displayed in the Vera Cruz household.

The women of the Vera Cruz family seated on the doorstep of the first house their great grandfather first lived in upon his return from Brazil.

The women of the Vera Cruz family seated on the doorstep of the first house their great grandfather first lived in upon his return from Brazil.

If you closed your eyes you would be forgiven for thinking you were in Brazil. Samba drums proudly and rhythmically calling people up from their seats and out of their homes to move their feet any way they can. But the incessant beeping of horns and bus conductors hollering out the route destination to potential passengers, served as an abrupt reminder that we were in fact in the hustle and bustle of Lagos, Nigeria.

Perhaps the most excited member of Èkó Samba Community was the Musical Director himself, Ajeigbe, who had only dreamed of a moment like this when he decided to bring Samba “back to Africa” in 2011. Having played Brazilian music for more than 10 years the Nigerian/British musician is now giving his local community something he longed for as a child – a place that would enable him to escape his daily struggles as his mother worked hard to raise him and his four siblings in a sprawling African ghetto by herself. A space in which he could bring to life the music from his imagination. A place where he could simply, play a drum and get lost in the music. Since discovering Samba in London in 2004, Ajeigbe imagined returning it to the continent where the very roots of this music had originated.

Before the drumming could commence, Ajeigbe poured libation on the doorstep of the Pavilion, paying respect to the forefathers and mothers of the returnee Afro-Brazilian descendants, honouring those who had embarked on that journey all those years ago, leaving their African Motherland for the complete unknown. “It is the most significant thing that we have ever done since the existence of Èkó Samba Community,” he said. “It is very important to connect the Afro-Brazilian music that we are trying to lend, with the Afro-Brazilian people living in the very place that we are trying to develop this culture. I am honoured to bring the culture of these people’s ancestors to them.” He compared the Nigerian descendants here in Lagos to the Afro-Brazilians in Brazil, “they need to hold onto their identity, because if they let it go it will disappear,” drawing on a Yoruba saying, “odo ti o’ba gbagbe orisun e, gbigbe ni a’gbe,” which translates as “the river that forgets its source, will dry up.”

And thus Ajeigbe called in the Bateria with a blow of his whistle and the tap of his charuto drum, beckoning people both present and past, to bear witness with their laughter and dance.

seyi

Seyi Ajeigbe, Musical Director of Èkó Samba Community was honoured and humbled to bring Samba to it’s rightful home in the Brazilian Quarters of Lagos for the first time.

Even within Brazil, people disagree about the origins of Samba. To date, the oldest form of Samba that is still currently practiced is Samba de Roda, also known as Samba Chula, which is indigenous to Cachoueira. This region in Bahia was the primary port where slave ships docked, bringing human cargo by their thousands from West Africa, for example from the Portugese Barracao in Badagry, Lagos, which acted as a half-way house for those destined for uncertain futures across the Atlantic Ocean. The slaves were transported from Cachoueira to Salvador Mercado Modelo, which was the largest slave depot in the Americas.

One thing that Brazilians will all agree on about the birth of Samba is that it came from the terreiros – temples in which African deities are worshipped through the practices of Candomblé, Umbanda, and Macumba. Rootsy rhythms were born out of the spiritual songs and beats within the terreiros and were later translated so that they could be palatable and transferable to a secular audience. And thus, modern day Samba was born and as it travelled across the vast Brazilian land took on different shapes and sounds and blended with various folk music to create today’s diverse array of Sambas from Samba Reggae in Salvador to Maractu in Pernambuco.

Mr Bayo Damazio, whose grandfather was one of the original forefathers who brought Fanti Carnival to Lagos, clearly enjoyed his first experience of live Samba in Lagos. As the drummers literally stopped traffic in the street and caused quite a jam in the narrow crossroads of Popo Aguda, Damazio didn’t even seem to notice as he whistled and danced as though he had been listening to Samba all his life. He told me afterwards that he found the group “quite impressive” and insisted they perform at his daughter’s upcoming wedding. Damazio had earlier admitted that, “honestly speaking the connection is just not there…” at present, between contemporary Brazil and the Nigerian descendants. It is not for lack of determination though, as he said earnestly, “but we are trying to re-connect.”

Bayo Damazio happily welcomed the live Samba drumming with flamboyant dance moves.

Bayo Damazio happily welcomed the live Samba drumming with flamboyant dance moves.

Dance DM

“We are Brazilians,” proclaimed Onipopo boldly, who although is not a descendant himself, was born and raised in the Brazilian Quarters. The connection today may not be as close as it could be, but there is no denying that deep in the spirit of the Afro Brazilian descendants lies a permanent and prevailing link to their roots. More than just their Brazilian surnames, the people of this community resemble closely their Brazilian counterparts from their strong family unity and love for music and festivities to name a few. Deeper than that, though, it is clear that their very identities are intrinsically entangled with their ancestral past. Onipopo alluded to the “cross-fertilisation of culture” that has occurred between Africa and Brazil, “they brought the Carnival [to Lagos]” he said, “whilst over there in Brazil, Africans left their legacy in the form of the Orixas,” or African Deities that are today worshipped more openly and widely outside of countries like Nigeria where they originate from.

As Onipopo shared his insightful knowledge on the Brazilian connection here in Lagos with me, we were offered hot akara (fried bean cake), a traditional Yoruba food that you will find in Salvador, Bahia, today where it is known as ‘acaraje.’ The Afro-Brazilian adaptation of this tasty delicacy is larger, usually crammed full of extras like prawns, okra and salad, and widely available at festivals and Carnivals as a street snack. It was quite poignant to see it being shared amongst the members at the Pavilion on this eventful day.

Onipopo of Popo Aguda, Dr MacGregor is the cultural leader of the community and a keen advocate for further connecting the dots between Nigeria and Brazil.

Onipopo of Popo Aguda, Dr MacGregor, is the cultural leader of the community and a keen advocate for further connecting the dots between Nigeria and Brazil.

It may not have been the spiritual experience I was anticipating, but it was the most spirited and soulful performance that Èkó Samba Community has ever given. Their drums carried so much more than just sound, bringing with them the energy and spirit of ancestors past. Tobi Ijadola, has been playing Samba with the group for a year and a half and reflected on the experience on the bus back home to Satellite Town.

“I am happy and privileged to be part of the team that is playing this samba in the Brazilian Quarters for the first time, bringing it to the owners for the first time in Africa. I can say that today’s performance is one of the most special ones and it’s one of the most important ones we have ever done and one of the best performance I’ve been included in ever since I joined the community band. I feel very happy that finally people are beginning to recognise samba in Africa…we are trying to bring it back and I’m happy to be part of that team. I think that today’s performance was well accepted by the people of this community. We were able to bring back the spirits of the slaves that went and came back.”

It was also a highlight performance for Emmanuel Offe, who has been drumming with Èkó Samba Community since it was established in 2011 and has played throughout Lagos, and at Calabar Carnival in 2014. Offe added that

“I really enjoyed myself today…we just did a great thing in bringing back our history to our country. I never had this kind of experience playing to our ancestors but I loved it so much.”

 Èkó Samba Community were filled with pride to be performing to the Afro-Brazilian descendants for the first time.

Èkó Samba Community were filled with pride to be performing to the members of Popo’s Pavilion for the first time.

For those of us who were there, the auspiciousness of the day was undeniable. The energetic and captivating Samba sounds were enough to shake awake the spirits and ghosts of Afro-Brazilian forefathers and mothers, and ignite fire within those who work so hard to preserve their roots. This was a poetic example of the positive legacy that has been born out of the epistemic violence that was slavery. Yes, positives exist, and the exchange, assimilation, preservation and dispersal of culture, be it here in Africa, in Brazil or beyond, as a direct result of the slavery era, is just one manifestation of this. Onipopo told the members of Èkó Samba Community after their performance was over,

“you have arrived at Popo Aguda. It is not easy for Onipopo to recommend people but you can see what you have achieved…I hope you will be coming here more often.”

Let’s hope that with the arrival of those drum beats comes a stronger connection between two kindred lands and their people.

 

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Grace is Beauty.

I’m dedicating a blog post to the incredible women I met picking tea leaves in the hills of Munnar, South India. They made my heart burst. They are some of the hardest working women I have ever had the privilege to meet. They surrounded me with smiles and stories and each wanted their photo taken. So here, I want to share the grace & dignity that oozed from these wonderful women. I was unable to write down their names… but I can still feel their energy now. Powerful, beautiful. They reinforced a personal mantra that started swirling around in my mind when my journey of consciousness escalated in the autumn of 2013….

Grace is beauty.

A reminder to myself in those moments when fears and insecurities start to over power the true and authentic me… when my Ego is triumphing over my Soul. It is a call to myself to awaken… and to do so gracefully. To not let old fear-based habits take over, just because they used to. Just because they could. Now I can add calling on the strength of these women to those moments when I stumble, feel weak, or lose my way a little.

Deeply grateful.1960847_10101514666233588_8183269421795565740_o(1) 10006099_10101514673414198_959197032084028907_o(1) 10700494_10101514674237548_6691893346853477965_o(1) What helps your Soul shine through a stormy moment?

Catching the greatest infection

Journal Excerpt: 26th November 2013

Location: Train route from Calicut – Alleppey

A forced break… I thank the all knowing Universe for giving me the time to sit and reflect, breathe in and out, recuperate and relax. If only for a moment. Awaiting a train in Calicut that will take us from the rural, mountainous, luscious green to the coast of Cochin. I feel tired but awakened.

Journey within

The change in climate is already noticeable and I welcome the renewed warmth of the sun kissing my skin after feeling cold up in the Western Ghats. The air is thick, people plenty, breeze refreshing. I feel as though I could be in Lagos. People here that I have met thus far have so much grace, dignity and a raw honesty that throws me for a loop… I’m unsure what to make of it other than to embrace it wholeheartedly and continue to try and emit only my own truths to myself and others.

I’m slowly catching the most wonderful infection I’ve ever had… SMILING.

Smiles here are natural, beautiful, pure and they are everywhere. Just like colour, India is unafraid to cover every corner with a smile. I love it. A simple smile, even just the slight upward turning of one corner of my mouth is met with ear to ear, bright, beaming, honest smiles. My heart is warmed. I consciously start smiling at anyone whose eye I catch and I am rewarded every time with yet another delightful smile. I make a silent vow to myself to keep this infection as long as I can… not just here in India but wherever my journey takes me next. I already feel as though I will need to be reminded of this when I  return to the UK. But I will think of that then… for now I am completely and deliciously here, in yet another perfect moment.

I am grateful to be alive.

I am grateful to be.

Just... be.

Just… be.

Through my Father’s eyes: reflections on post-war Sri Lanka 

Through my Father’s eyes: reflections on post-war Sri Lanka 
During the civil war and in the initial aftermath, I wasn’t allowed to travel to my Fatherland, Sri Lanka. Teenage angst aside, I could understand my father’s reasons – being Tamil put us on the ‘wrong side’ of things. In 2013/14, almost five years after the civil war ended, I finally made my maiden voyage and felt compelled to share that which I witnessed and absorbed during my visit. 

The people here are still at war… With greed, power and inhumanity. They are still fighting each and everyday, for survival, to recover, rebuild and revive the life they once knew, and they are doing it with the grace and dignity of kings and queens. Every single person I’ve met during my time here has in some way been affected by the war. Has lost someone, if not many people, dear to them. Has lost their home.

I’ve heard stories that will stay with me always. I’ve closed my eyes and tried to imagine the experiences that have been described to me. To be a 12 year old girl terrified to go to sleep each night in what should have been a “no fire zone” – a place of safety. Only to awake to dead bodies on either side of me. To be deathly thirsty that my only choice is to close my eyes and drink the only water I can find… The flowing blood red stream in front of me.

To be carrying my injured sister through shelling and shooting by fighter planes trying in vain to keep my wife and two young daughters out of harms way, only to later lose my sister … And be refused the right to respectfully say goodbye to her, forced to add her body to a pile of other sisters, mothers, daughters, wives, husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons.

If these haunting images weren’t enough, I’m also told of 30 newborn babies that were given up due to them being a product of rape during the war. Whilst rape is something that has become so commonplace in wars the world over, it will never cease to rattle me to my core when I think of the extra burdens that women – and girls – must bare as a simple result of being female. Being desirable and desired. And being thought of as something that can be taken, without consent. The brutality of this lingers with me. In a society with strict cultural codes and beliefs, these women will most likely now be seen as damaged and dirty, undignified and unworthy. Through no fault of their own. As a mother now, I put myself in the shoes of those 30 mothers (and countless more during the course of the 30-year-long war) and feel the flood of grief that would have ensued from carrying and giving away my child, the most innocent victim of them all. To not know who will be caring for them now, who will be feeding them, who will be loving them.

There are still displaced people living in “temporary accommodation” – which was explained to me as usually being a sheet of tarpaulin given to them by international NGOs. Nothing else to protect them from  the elements (monsoon season approaches) or wild elephants which frequently damage the camps. How is it justifiable that almost five years since the end of the war, people have still not been re-housed, or given more substantial shelter? Many Tamils have had their land, in the north part of the country (such as in Jaffna),  given away to army personnel. The painful irony is not lost on me.

My partner told me of an African proverb that comes to mind:

“When two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.”

No truer is this expression than during a war, where the very soul of the country, its people, suffer at the hands of those who are chosen to protect and advocate for them.
Sadly, in most cases, the ‘chosen ones’ instead serve their own agendas, line their own pockets, preserve their own privilege – all the expense of those they were chosen by and for. Sri Lanka is no exception, with its garish Government promoting itself as victors against ‘terrorists’ while the world looked on as yet another genocide took place before their eyes. That the grass suffered is an understatement. It was trampled, brutalised, betrayed and destroyed. The psychological and emotional scars of which will remain for generations to come.

We encountered a Museum of Weapons in Mullativu (established to “beautify” the area) and a MiG fighter jet mounted in the centre of Colombo – a grotesque display of deep seated fears if ever I saw one. The supposed powerful instrument of death that finally brought down the Tamil Tigers, in reality was used to drop bombs repeatedly on the “no fire zone” where civilians were ushered into during the final days of the war. It is here that they remained trapped until they met their inevitable and untimely deaths.

Bombs, Museum of Weapons, Mullativu

Bullets, Museum of Weapons, Mullativu

 

Despite the horrors experienced by people here, they are some of the kindest and most welcoming I have ever met on my travels. They reminisce fondly to a time when they were close friends with their neighbours, irrespective of their ethnicity or religion. Tamils and Sinhalese lived together peacefully and passionately, with many a mixed marriage to prove it.

Today, there are still bridges to be built, hearts to heal and scars to love anyway, before people can return to their harmonious co-existence.

My heart has been broken and filled in equal measure. My Spirit is still wandering the damaged streets of Vavuniya and trying to find pieces of the home my father grew up in in Jaffna. My Soul, however, knows without a shadow of a doubt that after the storm, the sun will always shine, and that the grass will grow back strong, healthy and full of optimism. 

All that remains of my Grandparent’s home, Jaffna


Note: the full collection of photos from the Museum of Weapons can be found here.

Unconditional Love

Journal excerpt: November 25th 2013

Location: Wayanad, South India

Amidst a day of perfect chaos I have found more than one moment of stillness and tranquility that I have been so deeply craving. Reaching a waterfall after turn after turn of luscious green fields of tea, and greeting the water with all of me… feeling the coolness rush over my toes.

Recharging the Soul

Later, meeting a pure and beautiful Swamiji who emitted Unconditional Love, with sweet gifts of prasad, smiles and acceptance.

Purity & Grace

Thus far, Mother India has shown me only the Unconditional Love that I know we all could be giving to one another. Loving the unexpected, I continue to trust that the Universe will provide all my Soul needs.

Mama India

Journal excerpt :: November 20th-21st 2013

Location :: Coorg hilltop, Western Ghats, South India

Without expectation but an abundance of excitement, I set out on a path of unknown beauty and perfection. A yellow brick road of luminous autumnal leaves line my path as I exit quietly from suburbia into utopia. A mostly calm, effortless journey brings me here… a mix of all the “homes” I have ever known in the depth of my heart… Mauritius, Lagos (and the as yet unvisited, Sri Lanka)… INDIA. Flawless. Dignified. Elegant. Breathtakingly BEAUTIFUL.

The tiredness of my journey cannot force my eyelids closed… I must absorb it all… people everywhere, smiles from their souls, colour, colour, colour, tuktuks and okadas and my favourite – the ever graceful cows roaming the streets with a radiant dignity. I feel my mother’s Soul beside me. I am already in love with the country that my ancestors have called me into… pulled me back to. I appreciate them for the force. I am here… I am home, again.

Following the chaos of traffic and hustlin’, we arrive at a true paradise. I hear birds and insects singing, Tibetan monks chanting, I am welcomed by our host family and I feel at ease. Everything is at once familiar but different… and it is all PERFECT. The landscape, the food, the smiles. Today, I feel the eternal truth that I am exactly where I am meant to be.

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Gratitude fills me up to the very top. Blissful life.

Drumming dreams come true

When you close your eyes and listen to the samba being played perfectly in time with rhythm, soul, and an undeniable vibrancy, you would imagine yourself to be in the streets of Rio. But this is not Brazil, we’re still in Lagos after all. Up wind of a makeshift rubbish dump, kids cover every inch of ground, step, wall and rooftop available. They don’t notice the smell wafting over the compound wall, they’re too busy watching the spectacle before them, something they’re not used to seeing in their modest part of town.

Seyi Ajeigbe, Nigerian/British musician (soundbites from his band AGEMO can be enjoyed here) has returned home (and brought me with him!) to give his local community something he had longed for as a child – a place that would enable him to escape his daily struggles as his mother worked hard to raise him and his four siblings in a sprawling African ghetto by herself. A space in which he could bring to life the music from his imagination. A place where he could simply, play a drum and get lost in the music.

After discovering Brazilian samba eight years ago whilst living in London, Seyi found something that matched the rhythmic beat inside him that he just couldn’t say no to. He excelled at playing samba in various forms and went on to perform all over the UK and throughout Europe. Life was pretty darn good on the drumming front, it would seem, but Seyi couldn’t shake an idea that he had had very early on in his samba career. He imagined playing this same samba, not in Brazil, but back home in Lagos, returning it to the continent where the very roots of this music had originated.

Seyi has established the first samba school in Nigeria – Eko Samba School – a non-profit organisation, which enables children from his local community to learn to play Brazilian drums. Bridging gaps between children from a mix of social, tribal and religious backgrounds, giving them team working and leadership skills as well as improving their social responsibility, and above all, learning, enjoying and performing together, it is clear this is something well deserved in this community.

Despite encountering many a bureaucratic hurdle with regards to getting support for the project here in Lagos, Seyi sums up the positives in an interview with Arise magazine:

“The best part so far has been the music itself. It brings a lot of satisfaction to hear the samba swing in the middle of a slum in Lagos, it’s as if the souls of those slaves taken via Lagos to Brazil are returning.”

For me, the best part so far is the ear to ear grins on these kids’ faces, the freedom in their enjoyment, as they sing and dance, sweat pouring from their bodies, and they play (and I mean they really play) those drums.

State hopping

Amidst a whirlwind fire cracker filled festive period we managed to escape to Ondo State for a very brief visit to see family and soak up some non-city vibes. The 5 hour drive from Lagos through Ogun, Oyo and Osun makes clear the reasons the Nigerian flag is framed in green to reflect their rich and varied trees and plant life. Most of the journey felt like a road had been carved through untouched forest and jungle with a different equally pleasurable view at each bend in the road. As a lover of drastic landscape, I was thrilled when we passed our first mountain and even more excited when we learned that a place called “Oke Idanre” (Idanre hill) which has just been classified a UNESCO World Heritage site was located just outside Akure, where we were heading. While I have mixed feelings on the political action of the UN with regards to their role in maintaining peace and helping to positively shape the world we live in, I also know that UNESCO rarely gets these sites wrong.

True to the way of the season, we crammed in an abundance of good food and made great memories with family, best of all young children. Ondo State is a world apart from Lagos while maintaining a consistent Nigerian thread. Reasons to move to Ondo with your family are clear (cheaper cost of living, calmer pace of life, milder climate, mosquito free) though unemployment is still as much of an issue as in any other Nigerian state.

We spent an afternoon in a village in Akure where we enjoyed freshly tapped palm wine, a national favourite, and a bowl of catfish pepper soup which was literally swimming-to-the-cooking-pot-fresh. A hidden gem not far from the state’s capital, the meal came at a bargain price given the freshness and quality of all we consumed.

 

On our second and final day we got blissfully lost in the hills of Idanre. We climbed to great heights up 640 steps and rock faces to take in views of magnificent hills, village filled valleys and luscious foliage. A range of charcoal coloured curvaceous rocks surrounded us like giant scoops of ice-cream, sleeping hippos and elephants. Here, an ancient village atop the hill has been preserved so that we could have a peek into what life may have been like for the Yoruba clan living 3000 feet above sea level for almost a millennium. According to UNESCO, “Since emigration down hill in 1923, the topography, vegetation as well as the fauna and floral life have remained undisturbed.”

In addition there are rare species of wildlife, a giant “Agbooogun” foot print, thunder water (Omi Aopara) and burial mounds and grounds caves, as well as Amen Olofin (a rock with unreadable lettering), and Odan, the ‘tree of life and beauty.’ The village mud walled school, prison, old court, market and my personal favourite, the ancient palace, collectively revealing a very comprehensive way of life in idyllic settings. Various statues (unfortunately largely defaced) form the pillars of the palace, each representing a type of local person in town such as security men, women, slaves and nobles. Beside the throne sits a stack of cow skull carcasses – each representing a successful year for the Owa on the throne. Modern day Yoruba festivals are still celebrated in the hills such as Ogun festival in October and the week long Ije festival in December breathing life into age old traditions at this ancient site.

The combined effect of being lost in nature and connecting with an ancient way of life was truly calming after a very busy couple of months in Lagos.  Neither of us wanting to leave the hills, we were coaxed home by promise of Ondo state’s “best food”, pounded yam. This was my first taste of homemade pounded yam done properly – and I was not disappointed. Using a large pestle and mortar with great precision, timing and strength, Brother D (head chef of the family) pounded boiled yam with nothing other than water. The result was creamy, delicious goodness and with one mouthful I could see why this is one of the nation’s favourite foods. With noticeably tighter fitting clothes and refreshed souls, we left Ondo the best way to leave anywhere… wanting more of everything we had experienced – not least our company.

Welcome (back) to Lagos!

After much deliberation, anticipation and a big dose of adventure I have left life in London to set up camp in Lagos for a while. After deciding to leave a job at an NGO I respect and value (Save the Children), my safety net of incredible friends, colleagues and most importantly, a family woven like Egyptian cotton (strong, close and beautiful), I’m hoping to address some deeper questions on what really defines quality of life – for me.

Leaving behind the 9-5 lifestyle where we work to live, I’d like to see if I can achieve an envisioned way of life where my personal priorities, ambitions and aspirations take centre stage. I’ve chosen to dedicate myself to positive change in a way which will enable me to truly be the difference I wish to see in my time on this planet. I also crave a life surrounded by natural goodness, self sustainability, peace and tranquility. Naturally, people here ask me why then I’ve come to Lagos – Africa’s largest metroplolis. Somewhere which can only be described as “like no other place in the world” – I can only reply that in my quest for a new way of being, I never said I wanted it to be boring…

The transition so far has been undeniably “interesting” but would I expect anything less in a move from London to Lagos, England to Nigeria, Europe to Africa? My body decided to adjust first, in a variety of ways. I’m not going to sugar coat it, most of them deprived me of comfort. But I’m pleased to report that both body and I have made it through in one piece and are still on talking terms… just.

I’m currently staying in Ijegun Egba, Satellite Town, a far cry from the Westernised “luxurious” (everything in this world is relative) Victoria Island, which is a short drive away. Here, I’m fully immersed in what it means to be surviving day-to-day in the most populous country in Africa. Despite a relatively high income per capita, and an abundance of natural resources, inequity is widespread. 45% of the population earns less than $1.25 per day, and in this part of Lagos I am surrounded by people in that bracket. However, to reference Christian Purefoy:

Living in Lagos taught me the true meaning of eternal optimism.

Indeed, optimism penetrates your senses here – despite huge inequality and struggle for basic human needs, Lagosians will always remind you that tomorrow is another day, and things will be better. Their resilience is inspiring.

One of my favourite aspects of where I’m living is the abundance of children… everywhere! Unable to hide their innocence they stare, point and gleefully shout out “Oyinbo” to one of very few people they’ve seen in their village who looks so different from them (this is clearly not a part of the world frequented by Westerners). They want to touch my skin, my hair, and check with their friends or parents if they’re really seeing me, my favourite comment so far being “is she TV??” … ahhh… children! My most treasured people on the planet for good reason.

That’s not to say a lot of the grown folk around here aren’t thinking the same when they see me, they’re just not as fortunate as the children to be able to declare it so openly, though many find a way to welcome me which I appreciate. And so, as a mixed Mauritian/Sri Lankan I’ve gone from being categorised as an ethnic minority in the UK to an even greater minority here – definitely a new dynamic to adjust to.

Adults and children alike, people here greet you. Greet each other – all the time. More than just a polite pleasantry, I’m often caught unaware, missing the opportunity to return the appropriate greeting for that time of day as they fly at me from every direction. Here, greeting one another is an ingrained aspect of people’s culture. I kick myself for not being quicker with my counter “good morning/ good afternoon/ good evening,” but I feel my awareness shifting as I open myself up to my surroundings more and more each day. Barriers down, I embrace these warm cultural differences and thank the sun for making it easy for people to smile and talk to each other, stranger or friend regardless.

I’d like to put a quick apology out to anyone back in the UK as the temperature starts to dip and the sky takes on an even darker shade of grey than you thought possible. Right now in Lagos, it is hot. Hot, hot, hot. Take a cold shower before you step outside, hot. Take another cold shower before you go to bed just to get through the night, hot. Don’t venture outside in the midday sun unless absolutely necessary, hot. Thank NEPA (National Electric Power Authority – more aptly known as – Never Expect Power Always) if and when they decide to bring electricity in the middle of the night and you get an hour or two of deep sleep… Hot. Delicious, I might add, to a self-confessed sun worshiper.

As “Harmattan” season begins, the air is getting noticeably fresher, but the tail end of the rainy season still plays games with us. Just a couple of days ago when I was outside washing my clothes the skies opened, refreshingly drizzled on me and soon after, poured. With Alanis Morissette singing in my head I watched the mammoth raindrops fall into my bucket of soapy clothes and couldn’t help but laugh to myself at the irony of the timing. Fortunately, as people here remind me, “this is Africa” and after it rains, the sun always comes back out. And it did, full beam, and dried up all my clothes before the day was done.

Transition indeed. When you move to a place where clean water and electricity are a daily challenge, you truly appreciate the moments of bliss. After three weeks of longing for a trip to the very ocean which encouraged me to return to Lagos, I finally made it to the beach. A short boat ride from the jetty and my surroundings changed drastically from the frantic pace of daily hustle and bustle, to views of the serene lagoon. With a fiercely blue sky juxtaposing the luscious greenery all around, I lapped up every moment. Laying under a coconut tree, I took solace in the type of natural beauty I had often day dreamed of from my desk at the office, or stuck on the London underground, again. Letting the sea breeze wash over me, I allowed myself to become fully revitalised, looking forward to what this unique, magnetic place has in store for me.