On loving Lagos

I’m sitting in my hotel room in New York overlooking Lexington Av., wide awake at an ungodly hour. I am very jetlagged. But that’s okay, because I have work to catch up on and the Mindy Project is playing in the background, no interminable buffering – thank God for fast internet. I don’t love New York like I love Lagos, but it’ll do.

My refrain “I love Lagos” had taken on an ominous note last week, when I was confronted by my own hypocrisy. As of Monday, my passport had beentwo business days delayed at the US Consulate, and when I logged into the tracking site, the dreaded words “Administrative Processing” flashed up to the screen. It would take six to eight weeks to resolve, it said. I freaked out. I thought I had eventually paid all those pesky parking tickets – had one of them come back to haunt me? Could that even be the reason? I’d never gotten into trouble with the law. Why was I being delayed? Could I convince the Boston office to continue to pay me in $ if I was staffed for an extended period of time in Nigeria?

All of a sudden, I didn’t love Lagos so much. The same heat that I’d been tolerating suddenly became oppressive; the maid’s interest every few hours into whether or not I had eaten went from welcome and comforting to intrusive and annoying. And while I had known it intellectually all along, it got driven home: It’s easy to love Lagos when you’re a visitor with an expected end date; when all you have to worry about is what social event to choose from that weekend and what to wear. But when the prospect of Lagos stretches out interminably, even with air conditioning and uber, my love dimmed. A lot.

Eventually, after a second trip to the Consulate and sitting outside, under their canopy all day, after explaining to multiple guards why I should be let in and why I had to get my passport back ASAP,  after refusing to leave until I was assured there were no issues, I was told it would be released two days later – a full week after the initial date. I didn’t tell anyone. I was in full naija paranoia mode, and if my repeated crowing about loving Lagos on Facebook had set evil eyes on me, I didn’t want those evil eyes to have any updated info to re-strategize. I got to the DHL pick up location late the day before they asked me to come – because I knew they were delivered a day early, and flattered the agents until they let me in and pulled out my passport. I received it with relief, said a prayer in English, one in Yoruba and one in tongues, and then called my family to update them.

I refused to confront my actual hypocrisy until I was finally on my connection to NY – after I had already been let back into the US. I loved Lagos, but I did not want to be trapped there. I loved Lagos and I wanted to live there up to six months out of every year – but I didn’t want to lose the option of being able to leave. Acknowledging that sentiment shook me to my core and broke my heart.

And so here’s my salute to Lagos, and the real heroes who aren’t shielded from the hot sun on their commutes, who don’t sit in cushioned luxury vehicles, whose inverters don’t kick on the minute the power goes out, and stay on until the generator can come on at night. To the people who have to get things done every day even when it sometimes seems like the entire city is conspiring against you. To those who don’t get a choice in how long they live in the city, and to a lesser extent, to those who choose to live there full time. You are what makes Lagos the hopeful and inspiring and hustler and amazing city that it is. I am not quite ready to move back full time yet – I’m still afraid of becoming poor if I lose my job because I don’t know how I would find another in this crazy city where everything gets done only based on connections – but I can’t wait to come back. Maybe for three months this time, with the safety net of my job in Boston. See you soon.


On mourning

It was a sad night in Itebu Kunmi in early July of 2011. My dad had just passed, and we had travelled to the village for the burial ceremony. All the plans had been made – aso-ebi chosen, clothes sewn, cows bought, fines and fees paid to the various grasping elders of the village and leaders of the extended family. We had travelled from Lagos in a convoy of black SUVs, with the soldiers for hire that my sisters had procured for protection. We had arrived and made final arrangements for the tent and band and DJ and preacher and the women who were doing the cooking. There was nothing to do but wait until morning for the funeral to begin.

Then around 2.00am, there was a loud banging on the front door. I started awake, and my siblings and I looked at each other with fearful eyes. There were loud noises, shouting at the door and at our windows. My brothers went to investigate.

“It’s some of his age group”, he returned and said. “They want to pay their respects. They want his body.”

“His body for what?” My mom asked, sharply. “Your father was a Christian. There will be no rituals-”

“They just want to sit with it. Out front. In the courtyard.”

“Sit with it?”


My mom conceded. The casket was taken to the front yard. Some of the group had come with their folding chairs, and others asked for and got chairs from the dining room. They sat around the casket in a semi circle, and for the next two or three hours, they sang.

It was the most beautiful and also the creepiest sound I had ever heard.

They paid their respects to their friend and colleague. They spoke in Ilaje. They sang songs I had never heard. They drank. They poured libations. We sat inside and listened apart from it, all of us. Yes, we were his kids and his family, but this was their time to mourn their friend.

When chapters close in our lives, we are often in a hurry to move on. We delete the person on facebook, or at the very least limit what they can see. We block them from texting us, and filter their emails to trash. I have done this in the past. Partly out of anger – you hurt me, and so I will show you how quickly I can move on, and how little you matter.

But as I get older, I am taking a different approach. I am closing out a three-year season in my life, and I am going to take time to mourn it. I learned a lot from it. I learned about myself, and I grew more steadfast and more resolute in my faith. It was a great season, but I could not stay there for ever. It was not going to work out.

And so we lay out the casket. We pour out the libations. We sing songs. And we mourn.