TIA (This is Africa) and It’s Alright…

Each day that passes brings new experience, as is the way of life. But with this also comes the creepings in of adjustment and a deepening of a place called home. I am utterly blessed to feel deep in my core that I have two very strongholds of home right now, though neither of them are where I am currently situated. That said, it also feels like my normality is growing rapidly and I see myself at ease with the development of new languages and my enjoyment of playfulness is returning with this creativity also.

There are times when I notice my breath is out of sync with purpose, that I feel a stranger here amongst the people, not yet fully knowing who my kindred souls are. It has been fascinating however to observe this, as I opted into the state of being T-total for now. This has been with loving kindness to my healing body as it continues to manage the pains and ruptures within my leg, and for preparation of improved health before my pending surgery. Yet with this sobriety comes an adjustment to socializing where the energy can quickly change through alcohol consumption. Thus, whilst I have been once more familiar to this sensation, I have gradually returned to my yoga practice as best I can. (It has been a long journey between the breakages last October and I have greatly felt the loss of this; my body is taut and I have such limited flexion, as my muscles work throughout the hours to keep my leg moving in the ways that I need. Often my back goes into spasm after I have done my physio and it can be a real catch 22 to weigh up the balance). I have sorely missed movement in my life and I have felt very stagnant at times and not as creative as I enjoy to be.

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However, movement is gradually returning and a surgery date has even been brought forwards, so very soon I will be able to be much more physically active once more. Regardless, life has continued with it’s adventures for me, and I for it, and the repeated phrase TIA (this is Africa) has been omnipresent throughout much of this.

Upon my return from Osun state, I found myself plagued with an unimaginable burning sensation all across my feet and spreading up my legs. I literally felt like I was on fire and it continued for a few days. It seemed that I was reacting badly to mosquito bites and the thoughts of malaria ran through my mind. Though admittedly, malaria is dealt with incredibly well here and back where I lived in Uganda, so it was not the same worry that I would have felt, prior to living in Africa. That said, as the fire literally soared through the nights and I felt like I was losing my mind, I chatted to a friend and realised I was off-track. These were no mozzie bites but in fact, the work of fang-happy fire ants. I had literally plucked one off my ankle that last morning in Osun but had thought no further about it. High on the hilarity of my new hair-do and all of the escapes that had unfolded on that adventure, I had somehow not registered this as a memory until it was suggested back to me.

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At last count, I racked up more than 32 bites between my two fiery feet and they were not feeling much like wandering, let alone dancing, at this point I can tell you. One large ice bucket on the balcony later, more Anthisan than I could get my hands on, antihistamines galore, and the joys of anti-inflammatories…and four days later I finally enjoyed the sensation of a hot sleep once more due to the beautiful summery climate here, as opposed to the pangs of poison running it’s merry way through my veins.

I was now equipped with a beautiful new African-style hairdo, filled with beads and different colours, yet at the same time, I was beginning to look like a patchwork quilt at ground-level! A new look indeed, but one I hope never to see on me again. It really was an indescribable pain and I simply cannot find the words to do it justice. Take heed – avoid the aggressive critters, these ones have a bite far worse than their size could suggest.

Later escapades of general life here in Africa involved what has become an almost daily occurrence of no water in my apartment’s building, wherein I have ended up washing my hair in the sink or even through water from my large drinking bottle; not the most economical of uses. It seems like a long-lost memory in the stirrings of my mind to feel assured that when I return home from my physio practice or day at a work, that I will be safe in the knowledge that I can clean myself. Old rusted water pumps, bad plumbing, and incredibly bad air quality via pollution and salty sea air, all combine to make the apartment feel like it is akin to a room in the Fawlty Towers complex at times. I have generally been at ease with this disruption to daily life, having gotten very used to power outages in Uganda that could last hours or into a second day, causing lack of electricity and water. However, when I then returned home to discover that my freezer had also joined in the party, my amusement at TIA (this is Africa) began to weaken.

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Not the most ideal of temperatures when storing bags of ice…amidst the lack of water, I found myself wading through water in my kitchen, feeling like I had momentarily returned to the shores of Brighton beach!

Admittedly, I don’t really mind all of these mishaps. I struggled to be at ease with the amount of food that I had to dispose of due to the problem, when there are people starving just moments from my house. But in the scale of things, I have long since adjusted to some of the haphazardness that my new continent brings with it. It keeps me on my toes and it enlivens my spirit to embrace it all with presence, humility, and gratitude for all that I have been gifted throughout my life. (Including during times when I have not really known how very rich a woman I am, for the life I have).

As the embracement of living in Nigeria continues for me, as does my interest in learning more about its people and it’s arts. Delighted was I, therefore, when I discovered that the Lagos Theatre Festival was approaching. Whilst it is run by the British Council as opposed to local businesses, it highlights Nigerian culture through it’s performing arts and is a beautiful showcasing of various talents in the country.

Many events were occurring during the working day meaning I could not attend them. However, I happily made arrangements to go and see the play/dance of Lagos Na Wa. It is impossible to translate this phrase directly into English, as it is part of the much used Pidgin English language here in Lagos. Yet it could be loosely explained as, something that is unexpected or a shock.

NB My pidgin is growing slowly, as I remember to also greet my fellows with various Yoruba and Igbo sayings, but I do find myself flowing with the common phrase “how far?”. This can be used much in the same way as some English may say “alright?” but it also means hello, how are you, what’s up, how was your weekend, what has your day been like, what did they say to you, what’s the problem…it is all in the intonation to be honest. But if you are asked, generally you can respond with “I dey” (with the addition of good if things have gone as you would have liked). I adore all of these intricacies and stories, and my mind is awash with all of the new idiosyncrasies that I have picked up since I put my Hove home-life on pause.

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The performance was an hour-long and there were only 3 drums involved. All other instrumental work was performed via body percussion and vocalizing, including one particular scene where I would have paid money that there were violins being played, when indeed there were not. It was a brilliant comical performance, of what it would be like for a mainland village boy to come to the city of Lagos, where money is found on the pavements and all dreams apparently come true. The protagonist met many misfortunes however and I take his repeated phrase, in a beautifully naive and trusting tone, “It’s alright” onwards with me, as I continue to meet the different experiences of African living adventures.

At the weekend, I was able to partake in much more of the festival, wherein I spent some 12 hours at Freedom park, bimbling amongst the different venues and exhibits, making friends as I did so.

This was my first visit to the park but will most definitely not be my last. The air finally filled my senses with perfumes of frangipani and other sweet smells and the land brightened my eyes with rainbows, petals and butterflies. Not only that, the area is steeped in history, having once been a prison of man, and has a strong significance for the Nigerian people to represent the end of tyranny and repression, towards a direction of freedom. The whole place brought out the spirit in me and within moments I found myself wandering, (albeit slowly), wondering, observing, laughing, listening, and most of all, learning. It felt like my ‘player’ had fully arrived to Lagos and no longer did I feel like I was the sober rigid person I had been feeling for the past few weeks.

 

Around the park there were many characters to meet, some that gave me historical and cultural insights…

… and many more in the graphic form, courtesy of the inspiring comic series NewBorn; here each of the key characters represents a different African land and various elements of the cultures embodied within. I learnt that Irina represents the Ashanti people, Mboze, the kingdom of Kongo (now known as the republic of Congo), Aje is Yoruba for witch and Ireti means hope.

It was a fascinating eye-opener for me, to learn so much about the new age of graphic novels and the advancement of the literary world that we are now living within. I was blessed to join a 3-4 hour-long master class on this, wherein the speakers each told a very different perception of this showcase, as well as the hosts providing a sumptuous lunchbox of spicy Jolof rice to enjoy as we listened.

One speaker claimed that art is how we pass on culture, another stated that our combined reason for being present in that room together was to take “this” wherever we go to. As I heard this, I felt the words resonate deeper within, and noticed that the speaker was not as aware of the power of this statement as a whole; is this not our reason for being wanderers on this earth as we stand?

I noticed sensations around my source, as I contemplated the joy of what my wanderings are bringing me closer to in every breath. What a gift it is, to have spent my Saturday afternoon here amongst these strangers of another land, to take in what is a normality for them, whilst life “as we know it” continues across all four corners of the globe. I miss many things, people, and places. But I am truly blessed to be able to witness lives in other lands, as if it was just another moment in time. As you read this, perhaps you are in New Zealand, Uganda, Thailand, China, the USA, I do not know. With the advancement of travel and technology, the gap between all of our worlds is closing. Yet what is one person’s Saturday afternoon, sitting as only one of two white people in a room of creators of many African descents, another’s may be in a village out in the lands of Uganda’s national parks, at a family home playing games with their children, or bustling about in busy Rio Janeiro’s city life. For this moment, I am here. I am learning, and I am love. Loving Africa. Feeling Africa love me.

And if for a moment I might have become too absorbed in African sights and sounds that day, well as the universe does, a trick was played on me. I stepped out of the park to go to another venue for a show. As I looked behind me, I saw the sun setting amidst the palm trees, yet casting its rays down upon a most exquisite and seemingly out-of-place huge cathedral. I felt for a moment like I had stepped into Portugal or some place in Europe. Certainly not Lagos anyhow.

Nigeria is in a difficult time for its business and economy, as one of the speakers illustrated so well; what would have been their outgoing costs for 2.5 months of productivity some 18 months ago, will now only cover 1 month at a push. Life is hectic here in Lagos itself and certainly I felt much more at ease and at home within the lands when I traveled further into the heart of Nigerian lands themselves. But this is an issue that affects all of its people. It is a joy to meet people here and to share their stories, learn their histories, converse in their language. It also painful to witness such discomfort and torment in an environment where so many are struggling yet want to harvest a vibrant future ahead.

I am here to learn, to absorb and to assimilate. I do not want to be an outsider or a witness, though this is the role that I am in and at very least, may the stories that I tell enhance people’s embracement of the very different perspectives we each face. I was reminded of the Indian story, The Parable of the elephants, during the festival, wherein six different blind men each encounter the same elephant during their travels yet each describe him quite differently. Each of our views of the world would describe a very different earth in much the same way. And though this is not an easy journey for me at times, I am happy to be on it, looking out to see what there is for my mind’s eye to see. It really is all an experimental theatre, I have no clear direction of where I am going nor can I really say why I am going there. I am wandering. Not as a little girl lost, yet neither a voyager with destination set.

 

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