Growing up in Namibia, weekday afternoons and weekend evenings involved watching a lot of Osita Iheme, John Okafor, Ramsey Noah and Patience Ozokwor movies… Everyone knew watching “African movies” meant being tuned in to Nollywood. So thanks to Nollywood, I could rattle of the names of Nigerian food names long before I knew what any of it was, and I knew all the 419 and corruption stories, lol. I’ve always been really fascinated by Nigeria and Nigerians, and, I really cannot reiterate it enough, that as they present themselves to the world, whether they realize it or not, whether they do so consciously(or purposely) or not, Nigerians ‘bring life to life’, everything about them is lively and entertaining… from their sorrow to their celebration… Everything comes alive in Nigeria!
Thanks to the social ways of my siblings, I’ve always had Nigerians at some point of my life, but in 2011, I made my own Nigerian friend, Jennifer. Jenny is a brilliant young woman who lives in Lagos, and is now one of my best friends. For years we’ve been toying with the idea of visiting each other, and this year I decided it needed to happen, so, dates were discussed, tickets were bought, airport drama was had, and I was on a flight to Lagos.
From very early on in life, I’ve been warned about Nigerians and their “shady” ways, but thank God I traveled to Nigeria at a time in my life where I was more interested in having a memorable travel experience than being too scared about what might happen to me, otherwise on a plane full of Nigerians, I would have chosen not to talk to a single person, including the nice man who sat next to me, now my dear friend, Oluwasogo:).
Upon discovering that I was non-Nigerian, visiting Nigeria for the first time, he tried to “prepare” me… mostly for the power cuts and the heat. He then told me to take his number, just so I’d have one more contact in Lagos, which was really the sweetest thing. Well, at the time it was, when we landed he did me one better when he absolutely refused to leave the airport (despite the anxious wife who was waiting to pick him up) until he was sure I was safe and sound with Jenny.
I had a window seat, soon as it was announced that we would be descending, Sogo kept leaning over to look at the window… Disappointed two out of three times, on the third, he finally saw what he’d been looking out for: The Lagos lights. I think he asked me to look, but I don’t think I heard him… I was already looking, and I was spellbound. I’ve always had a thing for city lights, but I do not remember ever feeling about any other city’s, the way I did looking down at the Lagos. Looking down at Lagos, felt like I was looking down at a very brightly lit Christmas forest(with some dark patches showing the areas with power outages, but a brightly lit Christmas forest none the less). As we landed and got ready to disembark, I reached for the jacket I had on me, Sogo told me he didn’t think I would be needing it, the plane was chilly so I was skeptical, but he was the “Roman” of us, so I decided to take his word. Good thing too, because I stepped off the plane and it instantly felt like stepping into an oven. The way I felt about it though, was the same way I imagine cake would feel if food had feelings: Like this heat is intense, but it’s heat that’s going to make me rise and turn me into delicious ‘goldenness’. It’s not even an exaggeration, two days of the Nigerian heat, and my skin was emanating radiance.
I got on a cab to Jenny’s place on my own, now, both Sogo and Jenny were calling the cabbie at every minute. At this point, the shady Nigerian I’d been warned about would have realised that I was a first-time foreigner in Lagos and he could have done all sorts of unthinkable things: Kidnap me for ransom, drop me off in some shady corner of the city and run away with my belongings, rape me, assault me, kill me, and heaven knows what else, but nope, this man patiently endured my friends’ constant calls, talked to me about my country, told me about the University area we were driving to.
Because I’m Mimi Mwiya and must have ‘Ninja’ stories to tell, the next day after I’d been visiting someone from my other Nigerian connections, I found myself taking an Okada (motorbike used for public transport) back to Jenny’s place, on my own, this on just my first actual day in Lagos. I knew the street name very well, I just wasn’t too sure about the house now(because my name is Mimi Mwiya and I have no sense of direction whatsoever!). I had my phone on me, but did not yet have a local SIM card. What else was there to do, save for ask a total stranger on the street if I could use their phone to call my friend? Jenny didn’t pick up on the first try, nor the second. I walked further down the street, asked another stranger to use their phone, still no answer, further down the street, still no answer. At this rate it was fairly obvious that I was new in the area and completely lost. Again, a number of people could have decided to do a number of things to me, but nope. I eventually got hold of Jenny, using the phone of a guard at Fidelity bank. I think when she finally checked her phone, she counted about 16 missed calls, from at least 8 different numbers, and one of those numbers called her again to find out if the friend who’d been trying to reach her eventually did. Imagine that, a total stranger wanting to know if another total stranger was okay! I’d hardly been in Lagos 24 hours, and I was already convinced it had the loveliest, warmest kindest people.
Now, the people aside… The streets, Chai! Forget New York, if you can make it in Lagos, you can make it anywhere, I swear you can feel the hustle just by breathing in the air of those streets. And getting around, ha! I won’t even talk about crossing the roads on foot, save for to say that my heart was in my throat each time I had to. Now, public transport system: In Namibia we’re super spoilt, the average cab ride is like half a US dollar, so we take taxis everywhere, all the time. When I was in Zambia, I kinda sort of got used to the minibus system(that “normal” countries with “normal” population sizes use, lol), they also have the bus system in Angola. In Nigeria, they not only have ‘danfo’ buses, they also have the ‘Okadas’ and ‘Keke na peps’ (little yellow, buggy-looking tricycles without doors). The first time I was on a Keke was that day I was getting lost… Jenny texted(I could use my WhatsApp because the internet is beautiful!) to ask how my day was going and I replied with “I rode one of those little yellow cars, it was exhilarating!” and the poor girl thought someone had taken me on some serious joyride or at an amusement park or something, I was just talking about riding a Keke in the crazy Lagos traffic.
Now, what I really really went to Nigeria for: Nigerian cuisine! OH. MY. GOODNESS! So rich, so varied, so full of flavor (full of life, if I may, like all things Nigeria!). Fufu, Egusi, Pounded Yam, Peppersoup, Jollof Rice… all the things you’ve seen and heard of on TV, I had, and then some you’ve probably never heard of. If I had to pick an absolute favourite: It would be fried plantain. We do not have Plantain in Namibia, and Jenny is convinced this is the actual reason she was brought into my life, because, in her words, “..no one should have to go through life without Plantain!” And she religiously fried me some every morning, bless her soul!
I haven’t traveled nearly as much as I would like to, but I’ve traveled enough to know that, with each country you travel to (if you’re anything like me), you leave a little piece of yourself, maybe a little piece of your heart. Sometimes you’re happy just knowing a part of you is elsewhere, be it in your own memory, or that of the relationships you may have forged and left there. Other times, you are restless until you go back for that piece of yourself.
Someday. Until then… Lagos is beautiful and full of life. As are ‘Lagosians’. If you want to go to a place where you feel Africa come to life around you, go to Nigeria. I don’t know how or when just yet, but I’ll certainly be going back!
Munukayumbwa Mimi Mwiya is a floater who sometimes sits still enough to write. You can read more of her adventures at firstculture.ng