*(Did you catch that? Instead of ‘Lego Land’, it’s ‘Lagos Land.’ Haha.)
The best explanation for the ‘Nigerian temper’ is that comes from a combination of equatorial sun and spicy food. All that external heat seeps into our blood, makes us crazy. It’s just a joke until you get to Lagos; then the theory doesn’t seem so ridiculous.
The heat and humidity make you feel like you’re inside someone’s mouth. The air is hazy and thick with gas fumes, and it sits heavily on top of the city, like a blanket. Underneath, nearly 8 million people try to out-hustle each other. A knot of noise and cars, okadas, kekes, and people twisting, tightening, shouting and suffocating. It’s hard to tell if it’s so hot because of our proximity to the equator, or because of all the congestion.
Lagos doesn’t seem all that different from anywhere I’ve visited in southern Africa. You haggle the same way in the markets and you pack yourself in the minibus like you would anywhere else. Everyone’s disgusted at how corrupt the government is. Groups of restless, jobless young men hang out on the street. They’re waiting for something, but I can’t figure out what.
It’s just that Lagos is so much more intense than anywhere I’ve been. On the streets, I spend most of my time trying not to get run over. I never quite feel in control. When I arrived, I believed seven months of travel had prepared me to take on Lagos. That was stupid. I imagine it’s like the difference between driving on the I-5 and racing in the Daytona 500. Technically, you know how to drive but…
I haven’t quite adjusted to these changes yet. When my mom was still here, we went to a market and a street hawker grabbed her arm, pulling her towards his merchandise. I hadn’t seen that at any market in southern Africa, and when I removed his hand from her arm, he yelled in outrage. Then I yelled, because I was outraged that he was outraged, and we both just stood their staring at each other with our mouths open. A few days later, my uncle and I were taking pictures at the pier, when two ragged men approached us demanding money. We make the area safe, they said. I just laughed. My uncle dismissed them with a snort and a flick of his hand, and they resorted to begging. He gave them a few bills and reminded me that this is Lagos and everyone’s got to make a living somehow.
This is supposed to be an extremely dangerous city, and although I’m doubtful about that, I wouldn’t know either way. My family’s decided that I’m too delicate to explore Lagos on my own. Most days I spend milling around my aunt’s house, and when I’m tired of that, I mill around her neighborhood.
Maybe other cities in other countries were safer. Or maybe they were just as dangerous and I didn’t notice. There were tourist dollars at stake and locals didn’t want to scare me off with lurid crime stories. Here, I’m not spared. My aunt lives in a gated neighborhood with one entry and one exit, and when we drive through she likes to point out which houses have been visited by armed robbers. Her house is surrounded by eight foot high concrete walls, topped off with another foot of barbed wire. A fortress within a fortress. Burglars dropped in through her roof and stole some valuables a few years ago.
I guess Lagos’ll get to you, one way or another.