Quite some time has passed since my last entry and in many ways life has transformed in such a way, that it was a stranger who was last here as the author. In the time-lapse, I have been back to England to undergo a full knee reconstruction, which turned out to be of a much greater extent than anticipated once I was under the knife. Quite frankly, the interior of my knee was a shambles, and it needed a huge tidy up and rebuild.
I was heavily reliant on support and thanks be to the Gods, (or the higher powers that be), for the fact that I am deeply blessed to have angels in my life that stepped right up to this, aiding me in more ways than I had possibly imagined ever needing. Not least of all with mobility, but also with feeding me when I was unable to stand for long, supporting me to wash and also to help me stave off the demons that the pain kept drawing in.
My return to Lagos was a bumpy one in numerous ways and it was a challenge for me to still be so reliant on others, whilst I know the people here so little. That said, I needn’t have worried. My driver, Ojo, almost burst into tears when he met me at the airport; shocked as he was, at the sight of me coming out of the gates in a wheelchair, and in a full leg brace. He has been a real crutch (haha, fun with a pun) since then and it has been nice to have this caring aspect in my daily life. Likewise, the expats I share a building with, have been so hugely open-hearted towards me, providing me with many meals, keeping an eye on me and offering help with food shopping and general pick-me-ups.
I have now been back for just less than two months, with the roller-coaster of recovery being ongoing and transformative. It is quite something not to be able to just get up and walk around, whether it be to make a quick drink of water, to pop out for some fresh air, (hmm, I use that phrase loosely given the awful quality here) , or to move from one side of the room to other when I am teaching. The longer I am stationary, the higher the pain level, and with the Lagos traffic as it is, this is one of my current life challenges.
initially, I had been able to relish the return of the heat after cold days in England, but it was short-lived and quickly replaced with utterly spectacular storms. There have been times when the bars on my windows have shaken or when I have been woken from sleep by the sensation that my room has become bright with floodlights! Here, as in Uganda, the storms are a masterpiece to behold. I have had many nights when I have not slept as a result of them and I have turned up to work bleary-eyed. Yet it has been breathtaking. It is like watching an orchestra in the sky.
Adapting to a much quieter and slower lifestyle, I have become incredibly selective and minimal in where I have been going and what I can do once I get there. On the whole, I have been home. Getting to know my quiet self, my levels of optimism against deeply required levels of resilience, feeling into a very different of stillness than I have known before, and reflecting deeply on what I want to do with my time, when it has been taking me so much more energy and physical strength than I have ever needed. Of course, the days when there has been sunshine have helped greatly. The days when the rooms have suddenly filled with darkness, despite it being 10am, and power has taken its leave for an extended period…well, these days have allowed space for a different type of rest and enjoyment for sure.
Meanwhile. I don’t talk much these days. What is there to say?
I don’t write much these days. What is there to write?
But I do listen. I do watch. I do feel….
And from this, as has often been a key source for me, has once again been a focus towards the arts, spotting them wherever I can and finding more and more ways to be amongst them.
When I first returned to Lagos, it was time for the Eyo festival, involving the revered Masquerade. Warnings were sent out to residents about the guidelines for the event, to be strictly adhered to, or else it is common practice that rule breakers will beaten. (And I mean this in the clearest sense. Beaten, badly, and most likely with hard sticks). Rules include not wearing sandals or a particular hairstyle known to the region, or for motorbikes to be present. The crowds are big and naturally it was not the place for me, whilst on crutches and wearing a full leg brace.
However, it was also the time of celebrating Lagos at 50 (to this day, myself and others have not quite worked out the meaning behind this concept, as Lagos is much older than this amount, but TIA as always), and I was invited to the National Theatre. One of the major university’s was showcasing a play all about the origins of Lagos and the detriment of the locals that the white man’s arrival had caused. Within the play, the masquerade appeared anyhow, so it turned out I got to see it firsthand nonetheless.
And I must say, it was quite a surreal experience. The masquerade is used to escort the soul of a departed king (Oba) out, and to usher a new king in. They wear white gowns from head to toe, covering their face also, and a large black hat. A special dance is performed and a heavy stick is used. The attire felt eerily like Ku Klux clan, and I was the only white person in the audience, as I watched a play all about the impact of racial divide. I wondered if I should feel uncomfortable, yet I observed all that was presented, and I felt into my heart; I do not agree with the superiority of the white man, nor of the rich man, nor of any man in all honesty. I am here living in Lagos, because I want to learn. I want to embrace other forms of life than I have previously known, to absorb the languages as best I can and to open my heart with others. This is not what the story was detailing and I did not feel like it was me they were talking about. By my simply wanting to be there in the first place, I feel this was recognised, and I felt safe. (I will admit as a side note, I was morbidly fascinated by the parodies that the Nigerian actors gave, when they acted as the British soldiers and governors – it was like looking at my life in an alternative universe somehow, seeing how ‘we’ are seen).
Meanwhile, as I watched the performance, I felt my skin sticking to itself, as the theatre is poorly ventilated and has no air conditioning. The generators were not strong; there were at least four power cuts during the show. And I had to raise my hat to the performers; they must have felt so hot and worn out as a result of this combination; each time we were plunged into darkness, they froze, in picture perfect freeze-frames, until the second the power resumed. They were flawless in continuing with the very next line, as if there had been no interruption at all. Yet at one point, the disruption lasted almost 15 minutes. Utterly incredible, I was in full admiration for them all.
Otherwise, I have mostly been lying low in Lagos.
I have been to the fish market, to barter for fresh prawns and snapper. I have sampled a few more eateries and checked out various supermarkets (they are scattered all over the place, and not one of them supplies all that you would need, so you have to build up an internal repertoire in your mind of what you want and where you may get it, also knowing that just because it was here today, does not mean that it will ever be here again tomorrow), and I have continued with physio.
The economy is more hectic now than I recall it being even just a few months ago. And there are some terrible news reports in circulation. Tragic deaths, for the sake of fame and glory. Protests and riots that result in lives unnecessarily lost. And a lot of talk and confusion about all that is being portrayed about the situations occurring over the seas back in Blighty too.
It is a time of appreciation for me, in so many senses of the word. And I am focusing so greatly in simplicity and gratitude, that my sense of wonderment is lower; perhaps because my wandering is also as such.
I have forgotten almost all of the Yoruba that I had learnt before I left for surgery, but dia dia (slowly, slowly) my mind is returning to its interest with this. The phrase that most tickles my fancy at present is ‘e ku ojo’, one that I am able to use with high frequency given that I am within rainy season just now. It is a way of greeting the rain, or if we are dancing with it, or you can change it to ‘e ku ojo mete’ if we have been apart for some time and reunite. Often I receive the word ‘pele’ when gentle folk notice my stilted gait, my leg brace, and my walking stick. It means sorry for your pain, and it is humbling for me.
The few Nigerian friends I had met before I left are wondering why it is taking me so long to heal, as are many of my Nigerian colleagues. And I am often told they will pray for me and that they trust tomorrow I will be just fine.
I visited one such friend on his campus at UniLag (the University of Lagos), and I was humbled to be introduced personally to each and every Dean of Arts there. I adored the experience, as I felt like I was more “in” Lagos, moving amongst the students and the lecturers, in their real day-to-day experience, rather than the created expat scene I feel I am often consumed by here. There are many things going on under the surface here and there is a huge vested interest not to let the oyimbo see it. I understand and appreciate the safety involved within this, but I also find the mirage frustrating as I feel denied from really understanding what it is like to live here.
At the campus, I was blown away by the high level of art that I bore witness to, especially when I stumbled into one art studio, that was full of dust and cobwebs; amongst this, there were breathtaking pieces of art, simply stacked on top of each other, against the wall. Seemingly not going anywhere, yet worthy of being displayed on the finest of walls. I wanted to scoop them all up and take them home, to my apartment here in Lagos but also back to England too. The skill of these pieces was magnificent, but remain unnoticed and unacknowledged. Art, an old friend once told me, is not for anyone else but the artist themselves. He actually destroys most of the pieces that he makes, for he feels that once it has been created, it is no longer required, and I can understand what he means. But, if the works are to remain, then better that someone like I displays them and enables the artist to be seen by others, than their efforts to be left desolate in a dark room that no-one ever enters, no?
Soon I will move house, to another part of Lagos, where there are more trees and I will be nearer the water. My new home sits uncomfortably in my energy field, but it is already written in the sand, so embrace it I shall. My discomfort lies with the splendor of the compound itself, as it highly extravagant; two swimming pools, big gym, tennis courts, private party area and so on. Yet just outside of the rather large wrought iron gates, there are families quite literally starving and desperate for even the slightest bit of money or even acknowledgement. One of my balconies is level with the tree tops, so my heart sings for the anticipated return of birdsong to my ears (something I have greatly missed since I left Uganda), yet on the other side, my balcony looks out over a desolate area, where there are shanty homes and people living very much on the edge of their very tiny means. Of course, I understand that by being an expat here, I am in one of the various privileged few. And I accept that I chose to come here with this in mind; my physical health needs the comfort of the circumstances I have created for myself. I am also not shy of witnessing the divide that money creates and when I am more mobile, I will spend more time walking the streets and talking to various people where I (safely) can. Yet the problem is much bigger than this.
In Nigeria, it is said that something like 9% of the population are millionaires, yet the remaining 91% are amongst the poorest in the world. My colleague spoke to me with grave sadness only the other day about this very fact; it has always been my understanding that my white skin causes me a different price, and that I must therefore fight hard for any semblance of fairness. However, my dear friend who is Nigerian born and bred, recently visited the law courts, as she required an affidavit to have some qualifications certified. Upon arrival, she was told that the fee was 3700 Naira. However, she knew that her colleague had been there only the day before and was charged 1700N. When she questioned this as such, with some grumbling, the price was reduced. Yet, as she walked away, she overheard another person be charged only 1000N, for the very same thing. Shocking. Frustrating. And utterly bewildering. We discussed it at length when she returned to work and she told me how sad she is to be Nigerian. That her young boy of age 6 prays every night that his country will become fair. And my heart wept for her.
Yesterday, my driver and I were moving about the island and, as per usual, we were stuck in traffic moving along at a snail’s pace. Whereupon a young man appeared and started to clean the front window. My driver immediately indicated for him to stop, as he had not been asked if he wanted this service and he was annoyed. The next thing I knew, the young man was banging on my passenger side window. This is commonplace anytime we are in traffic – white skin, big purse, open hands (or so the presumption goes). Before I said anything however, the young man started shouting to me, with abuse about my driver. And about his country as a whole. Telling me that all Nigerians are wicked. That they are greedy. That they don’t care if their fellow-man starves to death or does all that he can to make some money for his family. I was expecting to have the abuse hurled at me for not giving him money. Yet he was giving it to his fellow man.
Lagos. I am here lying low. Watching, learning, and most definitely wondering. I find the life as I know it really very surreal. There is amazing art, music, clothing, poetry, language and literature here. There is also a very dark side that comes out, not only at night. People are sad. Scared. Confused. And I have no idea where I fit in amongst it. Right now, let it be said, I don’t really fit anywhere but with my own self. My own healing and my own journey. I am returning to the stories to be told and I tell them to you with wonder. I feel, as always, greatly privileged to be here, to witness, to wander and to wonder. I hope to learn more, to make any impact that I can, and to create whatever it is that my spirit has brought me here for.
Lagos, lost land that you are to me, thank you for having me back.