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.