Thursday, 7 August 2008

On......a return to the organized bedlam of Lagos

The first thing is always the humidity. Dense and sultry. Lagos-by-the-sea. Where no breeze dare ride freely for fear of being hit by an okada driver. Baggage collection is much improved with two separate halls divided by a Pyrex screen. Another flight has just landed but at no point do we have to go and check the conveyor belt in the other hall for misplaced baggage.

The long journey home. I am bracing myself to confront the traffic. The smallest things provide the greatest details. There is a small goat tottering across the motorway that leads from the airport. I wonder what it aims to do when it reaches the other side. If its entrails have not mingled with the motorway by then. The biggest road problem remains the bikers and okadas. Mechanical bees. They swarm around your car, coming from all directions, threatening to sting at the slightest provocation. There appears to be no law about what an okada can and cannot carry. I intend to set up a photo log displaying the varied passengers I have seen on the back of an okada. Today there is one carrying two passengers. Hardly noteworthy, aside from the fact that the second passenger is one half of a dead cow.

Businesses continue to thrive. Everywhere one looks there is the ubiquitous florescent green banner that proudly advertises some business or the other. Whoever creates those banners must be making a killing. One such sign for a charity bemuses me. Motherless babies. I wonder if there isn’t a good chance that the babies are not also fatherless babies. And if not why don’t they just call the thing an orphanage. It is only a euphemism of course but motherless babies always sounded a bit too cruel somehow. A bit too Dickensian.

Governor Fashola is doing a good job. Ask any one on the street and he will tell you. For the first time as far as I can remember, there are discernible changes in the way Lagosians are living. Actually, strike that. For the first time, there is a discernible positive change in the way Lagosians are living. The Molues are gone. There are proper bus stops. People are queuing. I am amazed. Many overhead bridges and walkways are now protected against the elements. I hope this will mean fewer deaths from breakneck pedestrians trying to cross a motorway when an overhead bridge is one foot away.

The mechanised tentacles of construction and redevelopment are spread right across the city but still too concentrated on Lagos Island. The mainland is still far and away it’s poorer cousin. Urban improvement is less visible in Yaba and Surulere than it is in Victoria Island and Ikoyi. It is still a tale of two cities. I know Islanders who do not venture into the Mainland unless they are going into the airport. If one thinks this is a class thing then consider that there are just as many Mainlanders who would rather prostrate naked on a bed of scorpions than live on the Island.

As we enter the island I notice the traffic in the other lane. It is the same traffic that I have been noticing since the Third Mainland Bridge. I wonder what time those at the tail end of the traffic will reach their loved ones. And what time they will need to set off again in the morning. I fear the effects of the partial closure of the Third Mainland Bridge. It will be two months of great difficulty.

Asda and Walmart killed the trader. We stop at the Palms and Shoprite is fantastic. You can find anything and everything at reasonable prices. There is a suya man there buying huge quantities of meat. I ask him in Hausa why he does not buy his meat in the market. He says that whilst the meat is still slightly cheaper in market, the cost of transportation there and back removes any actual savings. How long before there is a Shoprite in every corner of town? How long before they start squeezing prices and forcing small traders and middle men out of the equation? The cost of a carton of juice is twenty naira cheaper in the market than in Shoprite.

I am so happy to be back. It has been fourteen years now since I have lived here, disregarding holidays in between. Fourteen years. More than enough time to spend in any one place I reckon. These days you get less than that for murder. I will give myself ten years here then let us see what happens. America perhaps would be the next great adventure. Gosh, I will be 40 then. Where does the time go? I aim to have fun. I left Jand because I stopped having fun. There will be disappointments strewn across the road in front of me. Tragedy even. But I will hurdle each one and continue running. Let us meet at the end.