London to Lagos II

APRIL- EYO FESTIVAL

My brother-in-law appreciates Lagos state’s Cultural initiative in portraying the indigenous Lagos Eyo. He’s also convinced it will be an educational and fun outing for his wards, so I’m cajoled into following the family to witness the Eyo festival as my sis is currently out of town. Of course I am uneasy about attending such event: transportation to and fro the venue has been declared free so there’s bound to be a huge crowd, the religious aspect is another thing I am trying hard to workover in my mind and a whole lot more! “We have a VIP invite”, “it can’t be bad” my brother-in-law’s attempt to douse my doubts.

As with Lagos, everything is a tussle. Even with the VIP invite it’s a struggle to get into the gated arena and an even greater effort to leave the venue without marks from stripes of the Eyo, being stampeded, bumped into or run-over by other spectators fleeing the wrath of Eyo, removing your footwear and walking bare feet in the dirt and larvae infested waters adorning the side streets of TBS etc. It takes the intervention of a military personnel with gun in hand who walks us to safety through the array of the various Eyos. Not until after a few nairas have entered his camouflaged khaki pants of course!

Friday 17th April, 2009

About 5:30pm

 Here I am at Obalende again, looking to get on the LAGBUS to Ketu. Fair enough, the queue’s not crazy,  neither is the place rowdy. The area seems to be filled with sane people today. My, did I speak too soon! I walk briskly to my ‘bus stand’ (nothing concrete/ as orderly as your civilized mind may be imagining) seeing there’s no need to walk pretty here- who’s your audience/who would you be hoping to attract??- vulcanizers, market sellers or rehabilitated ‘area boys’. Passing by some ‘omo ibo’ chilling with ‘his guy’ comes this rude remark- “Fine girl, how now?” Is he talking to me? The air? Or the car that just went by? Was that in English or Vietnamese? Really don’t know and honestly don’t care, because at that moment I chose not to hear that. Now talk about misappropriation of his freedom of expression!

It’s pointless gettin upset/depressed/over such unwelcome lewd comments although it may be termed harrasment or bullying in a civilised environment.

On the LAGBUS now, and I can’t afford to get distracted lest I miss my stop again. So here I am at the edge of my seat frantically looking around to spot landmarks. Phew! We’re past Ojota now, so I know I’m only few minutes away from my stop.

I head forward to inform the driver (you really don’t want to push dem buttons or tug on the dangling rope. Wonder the specie and quantity of bacteria Kim, Angie and the team from How Clean is Your House will find there if they came testing!) who politely acknowledges my request and drops me off.

“O God! Where am I?” (says me, on the verge of panic). It is about 7:30pm and the last thing you wanna do at this time is get lost in this area in Lagos, Ketu market. I sigh with relief, upon realizing I am where I need to be- the bus driver dropped me off few minutes before my desired stop. Typical! Now all I have to do is walk into the park to start the next phase of my journey home. Easy, you’ll say, but not when you have to maneuver your way past roadside traders, buyers and fellow commuters at that hour. As you’re trying not to bump into the man by his ‘bend down boutique’ you also have to be mindful of the woman selling okra displayed on the ground and the nicely heaped bowl of gari on display etc Because I am looking to get home in one piece (not like I can look after myself, it’s all thanks to God o), I also have to be on the lookout for ‘danfo’ guys and of course the dreaded ‘okada’ riders and ‘keke napepers’.

Now, I’m at the stop for a bus to Alapere. Only thing is, there are no buses available. This must be a joke! How do I cover the 15 minute distant bus ride? Walking is definitely not an option as I’m not familiar with the route and I can do without rash comments/remarks from touts and customers of ‘iya whatever’ after taking a few shots of ‘paya’ and some sticks of cigarette. I’m most certainly going to ride no ‘okada’; not here, not at this time. As I ponder and wonder what alternative routes and mode of travel are available, a bus arrives and like bees around a hive awaiting commuters run in its direction. Fortunately, for me though, to avoid incumbent traffic it is not taking all routes but will terminate at Alapere, so I gladly hop in and seat up- trying hard to avoid body contact with people by my side- I already feel sticky and sweaty plus I’m very irritable at this point.

In the bus now and anxious to drop off at its terminus ’til we get into traffic. Traffic?! It’s actually a deadlock! By now, everyone in the bus and other commuters are murmuring and passing un… comments, horns are blaring and even the okada riders are complaining as they are also stuck in traffic.

Mopol officers come from nowhere in an attempt to ease traffic. Our dear driver is not unusually not on his lane, and so ordered to follow the route of the lane he’s on (which if followed, takes us back to square one: our point of pick up). The order results in an uproar as passengers, the bus conductor and driver begin cursing, pleading, complaining, murmuring and all what not. ”Gbaa” What noise was that? What did I just feel? Well, in a bid to make it clear to the driver he was not kidding and that his order had to be adhered, Mr Mopol had hit the the ‘danfo’ door with the butt of his gun. How terrifying! (At least, to me, no other person seemed to have noticed it). Why should mobile police officers have guns on them/on display to ease traffic?????

Thankfully, the driver is granted access by another officer (my prayers answered) and off we go. Deep sigh!

I get in (home) at about 8:30pm.

Tips of the day:

Selective hearing: a skill that would come in handy for travel within Lagos

Always say a prayer- it helps a lot, believe me!

Wednesday

 I have to meet with a potential client at Ikeja- somewhere near the High court and boss dear thinks it’s okay to go on the bus(black and yellow ones, I mean). After chilling in the scorching sun for a taxi for what seemed like forever, I had to brave the black and yellow ride to Ojota from Obalende.

These are places you hear when people talk long- distance travel (guess you can get a bus to anypart of the country from here) and Suya spots (home to the famous Obalende suya, I think). But, at this point I’m interested in neither, so what on earth am I doing here?!

Anyway, since I had taken this route earlier with a mate, I thought it’d be a walk over. (We had had to run a few errands and had agreed to take the yellow and black bus to prove to my mate I was not such a ‘butie’, afterall). Got on the bus and waited for it to get filled- the bus conductor screaming at the top of his lungs while I’m praying nothing from his mouth lands anywhere on me. A few minutes into the ride, the ‘gentleman’ beside me asks me to ‘dress’ a little. Now, after so many days in Lagos and association with  passengers on the bus, I should have known better than to reply the ‘gentleman’ informing him his request wasn’t plausible as I wasn’t well seated myself. Of course, ‘guy’ flared up in pigeon and in a rather aggressive tone demanding we swap seats if I couldn’t ‘dress’ cause I wasn’t the only uncomfortable one. Seating by the door of those things, next to a dread-haired, ear-pierced and ‘paso’ chanting seemingly unbathed conductor wasn’t an option. So I ‘dressed’ a bit whilst seriously trying to hold back the tears and pretend my eyes were watery from persistent itching or dust coming through the bus windows as I wiped off the tears that escaped.

Thursday

Would wonders ever cease in this Lagos?! O ga o!

On the shuttle (in my mind, eh?) to Osborne and less than 3 mins to our destination, my guy, driver dearest suddenly hits the brake. Though, if truth be told, wasn’t his fault (a reflex reaction resulting from a vehicle suddenly joining his lane), my guy refused apologising to his ‘flying’ passengers. Who at this point were in an uproar. Particularly, my heart went out to the lady who was thrown between the driver and front passenger seat at the sharp jerk of the bus. Although slightly hurt, all she demanded was an apology from the bus ‘officials’- driver and conductor who blatantly declared they were not apologetic and would give no apologies as it wasn’t the driver’s error.

You guessed right, other passengers raised their voices in her defense. This time it was an exchange of insults and curses with the driver and cohort.

It took the interference of a uniformed personnel (this guy wasn’t even a police officer or member of the armed forces. He must have been a mere personnel of one those private security companies. But because he was in some kinda uniform and possessed an aura of authority and control, the ajegunle-associated one time tout suddenly discovers the ‘gentleman’ in him) to get the driver to say apologise outta fear. A little too late as the bus had reached its terminus and affected passengers were already trotting off in anger.

I finish from work late – don’t get it twisted I ain’t paid nada for working extra hours, so I trot off to TBS to get on the BRT to Maryland enroute Obalende. You should see me – holding on to my handbag so tightly and trying so hard to avoid any form of contact with anyone- really the slight brushes or bumps are very unnecessary- let everyman keep to himself. I’m a bit scared and wary of everyone that stares in my direction for more than 3 seconds, but I try hard to wear a confident/’hard’ demeanor (u really don’t want to wear a weary, scared or “I don’t know where I am’ look as you walk the streets of Lagos especially this type ones at night).

After a 45-min queue at TBS I finally get on the BRT feeling confident as I’d become quite familiar with the CMS – Ikorodu route. As the bus approaches Barracks I start to look out the window knowing I am just few stops away. The buildings begin to look familiar amidst the darkness that struck the streets (the showpieces in the name of streetlights adorn the streets so well during the day but could be easily missed at night). On sighting an overhead bridge ahead and assuming the bus was approaching my stop, I hit the stop button (with tissue in my hands of course. I can’t even imagine touching that button or in some cases pulling a string with bare hands) and gladly make my way out of the bus (squeezing through) amongst muffled “excuse mes” which I’m sure were either not heard or just blatantly ignored. Finally, a whiff of air – ope o! Looking around I suddenly realize I’m at the wrong stop – I’d gotten off at Anthony rather than Obanikoro which is one or two stops before (using the overhead bridge as a landmark was a mistake as both stops are underneath-ish overhead bridges).  Aarghh!! Not after so many rides on this route! I was so sure (or so I thought) how come? – I had never done this route at night (my lame excuse).  It’s unnecessary crying lost at this point (not on a Lagos road at night, especially) so I put myself together making a mental note to cry later and return to the stop to get the next bus (it’s only logical, abi?). Thing is logic doesn’t always apply here. My previous ticket has been classified invalid although I’d just got off a similar bus less than 5 mins ago, the ticket sellers are nowhere in sight, the bus drivers/conductors do not have tickets on sale and there is no concession for cases like this. So, feeling like a management professional, I get cracking on Plan B – getting a taxi. The roads are busy, the streets dark and I’m standing close to a bridge with questionable  characters loitering around.  The taxis all seem occupied and the ones that aren’t are on the busy lane of the road making it difficult to hail their drivers to stop. Plan C – do anything but keep standing here for another second (I can’t even think of reaching for my phone to call for help – not here, not now- even if it rang forever). Loooong story short – I get home about 10:00pm just in time to stop my aunt from dispatching a search party. Too tired to have dinner and grateful to God for His safe-keeping yet again, I go to bed after having a hot bath.

Guess what I did the next day after work?! Broke routine – called for a Corporate Cab to pick me up from work home (abi now? I no fit shout, abeg!). Although it costs about 250 BRT tickets- it’s well worth it. The comfort and anxiety-free journey cannot be compared! My muscles were less stressed – there’s no trying to avoid contact with strangers on a packed-full bus or trying to maintain an indifferent look and demeanor despite rude remarks and cat-calls from inhabitants and workers of ‘precious’ Obalende and suburbs when all you really want to do is take a minute to inform the dude the insults et al are re-directed to his m***** and all females in his clan. 

Unsurprisingly, even the corporate mode of transportation has its issues/hangups. The driver  assumes a young lady working on Ikoyi, leaving on Maryland and taking this  cab must be well enough to do to replace his lost, spoilt or stolen mobile phone, support his child in school or perhaps ‘sugar’ him – there’s no harm ‘throwing’ after all!

Ever heard of fake chocolates? Well, I did today. A colleague (another jand to Lag mate) had bought chocolate (a bar of snickers) off the road spent the rest of the day having cramps and tummy upset – which she unhesitantly attributes to the snicker bar she had earlier purchased from a road-side vendor in traffic. Her admonishing?  Please don’t buy chocolates especially imported brands anywhere else apart from trusted stores like the ones in the popular mall on Lekki or the other prestigious ones on Ikeja. Apart from risking food poisoning, the chocolates I have bought here just taste really ‘funny’. Someone says the stale taste can be attributed to the length of time spent shipping the goods from ‘overseas’ plus the days/weeks prior to clearing by customs. As a chocaholic, I have resolved in requesting my favourite brands from friends and family coming into the country (UK, USA, Dubai, Ghana even Cotonou!) 

Another thing I’ve found particularly interesting on this bit of the universe is the banking procedures/operations. During one of my holidays about TWO years ago I opened a current account with one of the ‘top’ banks that managed to stand by itself after the whole CBN-N25B ‘thingy’ looking to quality unparalleled service.  

My cousin escorted me to the bank to inquire the status of the account after my relocation only to be informed then that the references I put in over a year ago did not pass their screening. Haba! Isn’t that why they had my contact details? Shouldn’t I have been advised immediately that happened? Is something missing here or am I asking for too much/the impossible?

Now I’m driving and grateful the Obalende runs and sweaty-underarms smelling in the BRT buses is over. But hey I’m faced with the … of LASTMA. Lagos State Traffic Management Agency is the body responsible for maintaining and ensuring free flow of traffic on Lagos roads. If you are familiar with Lagos State you will appreciate this initiative plus the officials are doing a good job – at least most of them for most of the time.

Lagos State driver’s code (JJCs must pay close attention to this):

Always make sure your car windows are up (even if your air-conditioner doesn’t work or is outta gas. It is better to drip with sweat than be exploited or robbed by the ‘street- dudes’- uniformed (green, yellow & wine, purple/lilac etc) or un-uniformed (dem under bridge boys)

It’s been a long while since my last entry. Work has brought me to Abuja for about THREE months now. I must admit things are calmer in Abuja compared to Lagos but The Federal Capital Territory has its challenges: gay clubs, cougarism (the older woman/younger boy relationship), aristos (the wealthier much older married man or woman/much younger less privileged male or female relationship), pimps (y’all know this one – if u don’t a few sessions with Mr Springer (Jerry) will bring you to speed)and so on.

The tales and experiences are endless; older women frantically chasing after younger men and sabotaging their careers/education/businesses at their ‘victims’ slightest refusal, married men seeking young girls, younger girls scheming the affection of much older men; marital status not withstanding.

 I was once ‘approached’ by an obviously married man right after a dental appointment. I could not believe him as my gums were obviously swollen from the jabs given by the dentist. Will wonders ever cease?!

Conclusion

This text is not intended to discourage Nigerians in diaspora or anyone else from relocating and building their lives/careers in Nigeria (c’mn the land is green!); only just be ready as it is not a task for the faint-hearted.

Never use overhead bridges as landmarks –“Lagos is full of fly-overs”         

Always be extra-prepared as norm and seeming logical things do not always apply in this part of the world

Must-haves:

Determination

A rugged-personality (die-hard)

Hand sanitisers (especially for ‘normal’ arrivees)

Anti-malarial capsules/vaccination etc – the mosquitoes on this side of the world are mega starved and merciless!

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