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.

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