I am not a Lagos girl. Zinny now is and this post is from her. NOT ME. I REPEAT, NOT ME!!!
I am a Calabar girl, born and bred. I thought I’d always be a Calabar girl… until Lagos.
I was raised every inch a lady. How to walk, how to sit, the proper decibels at which to speak given the occasion, how to observe other people’s personal space, whether standing or sitting, how to observe rules of polite behaviour when speaking, like ‘please’, ‘excuse me’, ‘may I?’, ‘sorry’, etc. These all formed part of my home training growing up, at a time when formal etiquette schools had yet to make their entrance. And about the only abusive term I was allowed use of was ‘you are silly’. My dad was that particular! So it was that I blossomed into a lovely young lady who observed etiquette and frankly could not understand it when others wouldn’t.
This, until I was thrown into the cesspool that is Lagos… Thrown, because I was unprepared. Imagine my horror and utter confusion to find that everything which formed the basis of great relationships and a structured society was upended. I was introduced to a society where everything unacceptable is the norm. Even worse, unacceptable is considered cool. Death rides with conductors hanging out of buses whilst speeding through Third Mainland Bridge. Who does that?! Why would you want to do that?! Jumping out of buses that are still in motion. What are you trying to prove? That you are death proof? So was Humpty Dumpty…until he fell.
Lagos is the stuff nightmares are made of. For the longest time, going out was daunting. Why, oh why is everyone soooo angry and suspicious? And where are you all running to? Really! Sir, do please, pretty please, tone down your voice. We are perfectly capable of hearing you – thanks to the two ears the creator planted on our heads. And you might as well lose the viciousness while at it: some things are not worth the hypertension. Errrrrr, Oga, we want to go to heaven in our own good time; no point driving as if hell’s own hounds are giving chase. Ha! If only I knew I was practically alone in thinking this.
Gotta say, Lagos has done a number on me. How do I know this? I’m numb to most of the things that used to make my hair stand on end. Progress, huh? I think so too.
In Calabar, I would go to bed to the occasional bark of a dog and soft music playing in the background. Now I go to bed to the sound of blaring horns, screaming tires and humans who want to prove to each other that they know more abuses in the Yoruba language, and this at roaring volumes expected only in tunnels, so those of us who have nothing to do would be held captive. As it turns out, this is now music to my ears. As it plays on, I sleep on.
In Cally, I would awaken every morning to birds chirping, tweeting in the trees outside my room and the crunch of farmers’ boots on the way to their farms. Now I wake up at what is internationally recognised as an ungodly hour -4 A.M.- thanks to the loudspeaker in the mosque which is situated on the street directly across my house. During Ramadan, I am woken up at least three times a night by that darned gramophone. Oh who cares? I’m alive and it’s a new day, thank you Jesus!
One of my best features was my catwalk: a measured, somewhat seductive way of moving my hips in time to my feet. It was, if I say so myself, musical and paced just right. I am what people call shapely and my gait helped emphasize that. But noooooooooo, Lagos said it was snail pace and utterly unnecessary, when my job description did not read ‘model’. Buses zoomed off before I got to the spot where they had been standing. Conductors cursed and jeered. So I learned to gallop. It’s a cross between walking and running. Forget seductive, forget beauty. I need to get to where I’m going and do so in time. What’s the point of pacing yourself just so if it is lost on everyone?
In secondary school, in Calabar of course, we used to eat to time. If you hadn’t finished when the bell went off, you had to chuck your food. I was that girl who stood at the bins after every meal throwing away half my food because I couldn’t rush eating. There were times when students engaged in what was called massacre. They would rush at the servers with giant bowls and cart away huge quantities of food or an entire pot of meat or fish. The servers would be helpless to do anything because they were few and we were many and there were no prefects to bring order to the chaos. Even in those dire times, I would stand back and watch because I did not have the capacity for such violence. I was too ladylike for such extremities! I would be mauled! Not anymore. Now, when there’s scarcity of transport here in Lagos, I find myself rushing with the spring of an accomplished acrobat and the menace of a wild animal.
And don’t ask me what I do to my food.
Temperament wise, I have always called myself a melancholic. I won’t speak unless I need to. I enjoy my own company. I’m mellow and soft spoken; aggressive only when arguing a point (and that you can blame on my profession: Law). That’s all in the past now. I have undergone a whole personality change. I don’t remember what bedroom tones sound like. I scream at conductors with gusto. I am brash for no reason. I speak pidgin like an upcoming Warri babe. I even think in pidgin now (scary!). I tend to get bored of my company too soon. I look at me sometimes and I don’t recognize me. LAGOS!!!
Lagos is not just a place, it is a culture; an identity; a frame of reference. Lasgidi. Lagosian. It is an identity a lot hold dear and beat their chests loudly to in proclamation. It is an identity I loathe and embrace in equal parts. Think about it, what does Lagosian mean? It means one is tough, ready and able to do the necessary to achieve success, even if that means exerting grievous effort or taking on the lowliest of jobs. It means one is acclimated to traffic and its accompanying exhaustion and yet can still rise before cocks crow the next day headed for new traffic. It means one is aggressive enough to stand up to touts and their ilk and the quickest to head off in the opposite direction if a rape, beating, theft or murder is taking place. It means one can spot a cheat a mile off and never misses an opportunity to make an extra buck. It means one can live in filth without flinching. It means clubbing and working are one and the same and aso-ebis would never leave the no.1 spot on ‘trending’. It means strangers and beggars deserve the same treatment: ignore.
Lagos, the owners claim, is survived by only the fittest. Well, I have survived two years and counting and intend to do so until hubby dearest whisks me off to a destination island where we would spend the rest of our days. Come quickly honey, for although I am surviving considerably, the tell-tale signs are beginning to show. You see, all hustle and no fun, and there you have it – the perfect recipe for aging.
I just found my new tagline…
Lagos: Age Quickly.