Flight to Lagos

luggage

A KLM flight to Nigeria begins at the baggage weighing scale at Departure Hall 2. Several passengers drop their luggage on the scale, take note of the weight, nod, and walk away with sure steps. She is surprised that some passengers even weigh their hand luggage.

“What for?” she wonders aloud.

She lugs her first suitcase on the scale. A frown appears. She lugs the second and her frown deepens.

The night before, she had weighed herself, then carried each suitcase and reweighed herself. Then she had repacked and reweighed, repeating this process a few more times, until each suitcase weighed just under 23kg. She had expected a difference between the weight of the suitcases at home and at the airport. But 33kg and 29kg?

She would whistle if she knew how. Instead, she moves her suitcases to the repacking section at the corner and then whips out a folded Ghana bag from her cream handbag. She shakes it lose with one big motion so that the Ghana bag quickly assumes its rectangular shape. She hisses as she kneels on the floor and makes deft work of 16kg, filling up the Ghana bag.

In all her time at Schiphol Airport, she had only ever seen Africans ‘sweating’ at the repacking corner. The problem of course was that expectations—shoes, bags, clothing, and electronics, for family and extended family—carried a lot of weight.

After paying 200 Euros to check in an extra bag, she clears security and passport control before heading for Gate F. At the departure lounge, conversation rises and falls in English, Pidgin, Bini, Yoruba, and Igbo. She could have been at the International Airport in Lagos. Here, she finds comrades with two pieces of cabin luggage, a regular one and another bag which should not qualify as an accessory. In addition, they each have a true accessory, a handbag, a briefcase, a backpack, or something similar.

The cabin crew greet passengers as they stream into the aircraft. No one jostles for room in the overhead baggage compartments. An easy cooperation reigns among passengers as cries of, “don’t worry, there’s space here,” ring out.

Many passengers are already seated and adjusting themselves for the flight, when Mr. and Mrs. X show up. An air hostess reads their boarding passes.

“20E, this way madam, on the left. 16A, sir on the right.”

Mr. and Mrs. X walk down the aisle, stow their hand luggage, and take their places in 20E and 20F. Not long after, the passenger who had been sitting in 20F returns from the toilet.

“Madam, my seat please.”

A small quarrel ensues and an air hostess comes to arbitrate. When she confirms that Mr. X should sit at 16A, chaos occurs.

“You want to separate me from my husband? It is not possible. How can you separate me from my husband?”

“Madam, but your boarding pass—”

“Did you not hear? You cannot separate me from my husband!”

Mr. X coughs, the only sound to escape his lips. The air hostess persuades Mrs. X to vacate the seat. Mr. X accompanies Mrs. X as she follows the air hostess’ lead, dragging their cabin luggage behind him.

Atink you see this people o? They want to separate me from my husband!”

It is a battle the air hostess should win. The boarding pass says so. But her face is red, every blond hair brushed into place. Her blue suit is devoid of creases, and her voice is no match for Mrs. X’s rising decibel.

The wrangle is drawing some interest, but no mediators. Perhaps it is more expedient to use the time before take-off for selfies and goodbyes. Yes, most passengers are lost in their cell phones and tablets.

The air hostess consults with her colleagues and then they whisper to a few passengers. Before long, they escort Mr. and Mrs. X to a row of seats where they can sit side by side.

Mrs. X declares her victory for all to hear. “Ehen, what God has joined together, let no man put asunder. Ah ah.”

Take off to Lagos begins after this display of survival of the loudest.

She remembers the extra 16kg and 200 Euros and shakes her head. She should have shouted, “You cannot separate me from my luggage!”

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2016

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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A Tale of Two Cities

a tale of 2 cities

I was born in the USA and for as long as I can remember I’ve always felt like an alien who didn’t quite fit in. This is partly to blame, I suppose, on the fact that I was raised in a military family and was constantly pulling up roots and moving every year or so, while growing up. As an adult, I kept up this pattern. I’ve lived in or near some of the largest cities in the U.S.—Houston, Philadelphia, and the New York City area.

I feel comfortable in large cities because they afford me the anonymity that I, an alien, crave. No one looks at you “funny” and as long as you don’t hold a stare for too long, you are left alone.

I recently visited London and Paris. I had long dreamed of visiting these places as they have lived in my imagination for years from reading books. Using the subway systems of Philadelphia and New York City, primed me for the London Underground and the Parisian Metro system.

On one of my many excursions around London, I descended the steps into the underground, and encountered a smiling, red-faced uniformed attendant.

“Hello!” I said.

“Hello!” he returned.

I inquired about the best route to get to my destination.

“Take the Circle Line to Baker Street, transfer to the Jubilee Line. Get off at Southwark and it is only a short walk to the Globe.”

“Thank you!”

“Cheers!”

This was typical of my experience in the London Underground— easy to navigate with friendly attendants and patrons who were willing to answer questions.

When I arrived Paris, I approached a Parisian Metro booth and spoke to one of the attendants.

Bonjour, parlez-vous anglais?”

Un peu.”

Although I did not speak the language, I was able to communicate well enough to find my way using a few words and hand gestures. Perhaps the incongruity of being in a strange land made my existence in Paris somehow congruent. I felt at home at last.

On one of my last days in the city, I sat outside the Café de Flore on Boulevard Saint Germaine, enjoying a glass of red wine. A Frenchman, who took the table next to mine, lit up a cigar, and then glanced in my direction to ask if the cigar smoke offended me.

“Oh, no,” I said, “I understand that people who sit outside often smoke and I am not offended.”

He nodded and smiled. He puffed on his cigar a couple of times and we began chatting, he in perfect English. We talked for a long time about a wide range of events including the recent terrorist attacks. I mentioned the increased security around the metro. He shared that he had just spoken to his daughter who lives in the neighbourhood where the attacks occurred and she felt safe using the Metro System.

“Yes,” he cautioned, “but the police and soldiers cannot be everywhere. You have to be vigilant. In effect, we have to be responsible for our own security.”

While sitting outside, we watched many police vehicles drive by with sirens blaring.

“Something’s going on,” he said. “If a car were to pull up in front of us right now and gunmen alighted and started shooting, what could we do about it? Nothing!”

He was right of course. So I concluded that the French are a little fatalistic about such things.

C’est la vie?

I travelled to London and Paris by myself because I needed time to think about my life and my absurd existence. With only myself for company, I walked the cobblestone streets of Montmartre and the rain-swept pavement of Trafalgar Square in London The encounters I had helped me believe in the possibility of happiness and hope for humanity. A big smile and a hello or bonjour broke down the normal barriers humans erect, especially in urban areas.

You can be anonymous, but by using the universal language of a smile followed by a greeting, you can touch and be touched by the human heart.

 

A smile is a curve that sets everything straight.
– Phyllis Diller

 

©Benn Bell 2016 @ Ghost Dog

 

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I Hope Someone Calls Them Beloved

 

oworonsoki by Logor

There is something about Lagos, about this human chaos, about entering danfos and crawling into kekes and jumping on okadas and pushing against bodies reeking of sweat while dancing between pungent puddles that makes me wish I could read minds.

Not all lives interest me. Some people are just derivatives of other people, stock personalities coming out of the human conveyor belt, uninteresting in the way I imagine I must be. But a few stand out: fascinating humans who compel me to observe, like the three girls who piled into the bus at Obalende and sat behind me on Saturday.

They wore clothing that strained against their youth. One sat and two lapped themselves. One pleaded with another in Yoruba, telling her she was sorry.

“Let us go to Alhaji’s place,” she said.

The friend replied, “You can go, I’m not going.”

She pleaded again, “I am sorry.”

They repeated this sequence as more people hauled their bodies into the bus. I took a bite of Gala and a swig of Lucozade Boost.

“I said I’m sorry,” she began again.

The third friend was silent throughout this exchange.

The reluctant friend finally gave in, “Okay, we can go.”

Who is Alhaji? Why is the need to visit him this strong a few minutes past 6pm? It bothers me that there is a whole swathe of human experience and emotions I do not have access to. It bothers me that this bothers me.

As we sped along Third Mainland Bridge, the girl who had been pleading so she could visit Alhaji received a call and spoke to a guy who, from what I could gather, was expecting her.

“I’m at home now,” she told him.

She spoke in heavily accented English with some hesitation, which shows the speaker has the basic vocabulary for fluent communication in English, but is actively translating from Yoruba in her mind.

At Oworonsoki, the trio started a Yoruba Christian song, the kind that choristers in long robes chant enthusiastically to the rhythm of gangan. There was so much cheer in the girls’ voices, and they giggled intermittently as we moved on to Oshodi. There, I alighted from the bus and took the overhead bridge. I looked down and saw the three girls walk towards Ilupeju.

I hope one day to have the courage to ask these people for their stories. I want their stories told with care and empathy, in a way that will make me see them, as they are, not just as the world labels them. I hope, somewhere at the end of their journey, there is someone waiting for them who calls them Imzadi* in a way that is not predatory.

____________

*In Star Trek: The Next Generation, Will Riker, Deanna Troi’s love interest, calls her Imzadi, which translates roughly, in the Betazed language as Beloved. It is what she called him the first time they met.

Alhaji: a Muslim (man) who has been to Mecca on pilgrimage; often the title connotes that the bearer is wealthy.

 

©Ife Nihinlola 2015 @ IfeOluwa’s Rambles
Ife is an avid observer of life in metropolitan Lagos, which he translates into rich ruminations on his blog. Read the unabridged version here.

Photo credit: Owonronsoki by Logor Olumuyiwa

 

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

Along Came Fences

fences

We lived in a compound of three flats and a boys’ quarter in Ago Okota, Lagos. Ours was a fenced compound, sort of in the middle of nowhere, last on the street and separated from other buildings by an expansive gulf of undeveloped plots of land overgrown with weeds.

A single mother and her three kids lived in the boys’ quarter. Her first son was my age-mate and friend. When I think back to those formative years, I remember the resolute cooperation of two nine-year-old boys who decided to make a bench from abandoned formwork lying about an uncompleted building close by.

For days, we slaved to make a three-legged bench that a parent bought for N10. My friend and I always watched with pride as our siblings and parents sat on the bench in the evenings. We made another, which I marketed to a relative, selling it for N5. I walked for half a kilometre with the bench on my head to deliver it. While making those benches, a rusted nail pierced through my left foot. My mom took me to a nearby clinic to have me treated. The bill was N200.

When we moved to Kaduna, only two houses on our street were fenced—ours and another one down the lane. Our gate was the opaque border bounded by four high walls decorated at the top with broken bottles.

Despite my love for accessing that side of solitude that engages with written words, the part of me forever enslaved to fantasy fed fat on cartoons and I hungered to bring the adventures scripted in them to life. So, during my teenage years, the call of the streets drew me past our gate, to a circus of street hockey, boris, hunting traps, bangers, suwe , and games of catcher with many other children. As dusk fell, I would reluctantly retreat from the big compound that was our street to the confines of the opaque gate.

In the space of two decades, every house on my street has grown a fence. The ‘big compound’ has shrunk away from the backyards, front yards, and trees, which were common property supporting the imaginative expressions of every kid. The evening bustle of legs and screams have vanished. Moreover, kids have now been tamed by big and small screens that keep nagging them, demanding every bit of their attention.

My village is different. Even today, there are no fences. Solitude is alien and greetings and communal assistance are prized. People do not distance themselves from the identity and stories of others who live around the corner.

Fenced houses and gated communities are the norm in cities. We insulate ourselves to feel secure. However, I maintain the premise of one of my favourite lecturers who is a past president of the Nigerian Institute of Architects: the best form of security is communal and that happens when there is a sense that anyone could be watching a thief from a nearby window.

 

© Samuel Okopi 2016
samuelokopi.com

 

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The Center of My Universe

hosiery

I looked up to find her staring at my leg. Her smile revealed crowfeet, which made her thick dark eyebrows seem relaxed, although in fact, they did not move. I glanced at my leg and smiled in return.

Earlier that afternoon, the zip on my boot snagged my tights. When I stood, my dress rushed down to my knees and swallowed the tear, which was determined to run anyhow. After searching for clear nail varnish around the office, I finally found red nail polish with which to halt the run.

When I sat down in the train, my dress rode inches higher exposing the long gash on my tights. Three red dots, bright as blood, marked the spots where the nail polish had tried in vain to heal the tear. I was tired and my vanity had expired so I adjusted my bag to hide the split. My bag must have slipped because I woke up from my nap to find my torn tights in her line of sight.

I wanted to ask her, haven’t you ever done the same thing too? A smile can be an invitation to talk, but even with eye contact, urban solitude—that unwritten code, which prescribes polite distance in communal spaces—prevailed. Her gaze remained on my tights.

We were four seated in our corner, two sets of seats facing each other with enough distance to keep knees from brushing. Still, feet touched whenever legs were stretched, even a little, resulting in both stretcher and stretchee mumbling, “Oh sorry,” before retreating into urban solitude.

The people crammed in the aisle, shuffled grumpily at each station where more passengers entered the train than exited. A few weeks ago, the Metro ran a story about frustrated passengers who felt cheated because they had to stand their entire journey. The NS had explained that werk aan het spoor meant fewer trains with shorter carriages. I thought it was unfair that passengers suffered discomfort while the NS took the public for a ride and cashed in on full fares.

Complaint can start conversation, but even those standing dulled their inconvenience behind earphones and displayed their perseverance by texting or reading on their handheld devices as the train lurched and swayed, speeding from city to city.

The woman next to me had timed the previous passenger’s exit to perfection and so became the lucky winner of a vacant seat. She was watching a movie on her phone and her eyes didn’t wander from the screen once. Sitting directly opposite me was a girl whose head bobbed at intervals as though she was listening to music but she was sleeping. The white wires of her earphones peeked out from her black hijab. The woman adjacent her, who kept looking at my tights, wore shiny grey tights and black high heels.

This woman broke into a delicate laugh all of a sudden. Could hosiery induce such delight? A faint whimper diverted my attention. I followed the sound and peered down. A red leather collar; how could I have missed it? She had not been smiling at me. All this time, it was the puppy in the raffia tote, which the woman next to me straddled.

Sometimes the best reminders come in small packages—I am not the center of the universe, only mine.

They say before you assume anything, try this crazy method called asking. But I could not have asked her, could I?

 

Don’t acknowledge fellow passengers or sustain eye contact beyond two seconds. Please respect urban solitude. – unknown

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2016

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Urban Solitude: Eko o ni baje o!

Mainland Bridge Danfo

Hasn’t it always been this way? Isn’t this the drawback of metropolitan cities? That they teem with busy people who bury their conscience in the fortress that earphones and smartphones provide? Agitated people with tired eyes that look past others to admire the moving vision of success. Rush-hour people who hold their bodies tautly to avoid brushing against each other as if touch is an infectious disease.

Lagos is Nigeria’s biggest cultural melting point, a land of opportunity where I hope to make it big if I hustle right (not everyone returns to Nigeria with excess Pounds and Dollars). In spite of all the promise it holds, people warn that Lagos can be a dangerous place. I feel safe in our flat and the office, but the streets scare me, crowded as they are with worker ants motivated by the fear of poverty and beautiful homes on The Island.

At 04:45, my internal rooster crows and I use warm water to flush traces of sleep from my eyes. I leave our flat with my handbag and a waterproof bag that contains my office shoes, my feet in rubber slippers for the morning jostle on the streets.

“CMS, Lagos CMS, CMS!” the bus conductor’s call rouses the streets.

The driver whisks us away from The Mainland to The Island, where we’ll run laps chasing dreams, luck, and money. At CMS, Victoria Island beckons. Behind the bus stop, the ripples on the sea glitter like diamonds under the rising sun, while container ships dock at Apapa Port.

My jewellery lies scattered in crevices in my handbag. Unadorned with shiny objects, I am an unlikely target of pilferers. I hold my bag tight under my armpit as I board the bus to Victoria Island. I have not spoken to anyone since my journey began. My hair rests on the window and my eyes feast on luxury cars. One day, I will ride in one of them.

The day’s work is hard and my journey home long and silent. Small puffs of dust rise from where my flip-flops slap the earth. In five minutes, I will enter the haven of high walls and still warm air trapped between three-storey buildings that is our flat.

Ahead, a car burns slowly at first, and then with a feverish rush that epitomises the pulse of Lagos. I mean to walk past, but the fire is a magnet that draws others and me. I mean to just look and shrug and stand at the edge, as I am sure the others will do too, but this victim of sudden misfortune tugs at the heartstrings of calloused street people.

We pour water and sand alternately on the burning car. The fire mocks us; its flames lick our concerted effort. Commands fly left, right, and centre as raindrops escape from the sky. Unable to surmount the singleness of our vision, the fire sucks its last breath when a fire extinguisher emerges.

Smoke clouds shaped like ghosts sail across the sky. We, and our ghosts, our resurrected conscience, shout for joy. The rain plasters my hair to my skull and dripping water teases my ears. Eko o ni baje o, Eko o ni baje o, now, I believe the streets still hold promise.

protected helmet

When I open my bag in our flat, my purse is gone. Disappointment strikes blows at my gut as I calculate what I have lost. I embrace urban solitude, the definition that at first made me laugh because I thought it was relevant only in London.

“Don’t acknowledge fellow passengers or sustain eye contact beyond two seconds. Please respect urban solitude.”

And why not? On the streets a kind deed breeds mistrust that quickly turns to scorn. Asking for directions or providing them is a chore weighed with suspicion, and if death nearly claims a soul, the body that houses the soul stands no chance; it will be mangled in the stampede to “arrive” or survive.

This city bustles with life, yet there are fewer strangers to talk to. I long for human contact, not the obligatory type I receive when I walk into a shop, but the disarming type. The unexpected touch from a stranger whose smile meets my upward gaze as he hands me something that dropped from my bag, or the kinship in eye contact with a stranger, after a silly advert on a giant billboard has amused us both.

Eko o ni baje o!

©Timi Yeseibo 2014

Eko o ni baje: (Yoruba) Lagos will not spoil.

Read more about Lagos? These are snippets with photos worth seeing:

1. Yellow. Bright. Happy. Memories of Lagos:

KitchenButterfly memories of Lagos

http://www.kitchenbutterfly.com/2013/12/23/yellow-bright-happy-memories-of-lagos/

2. Eko The Musical

eko the musical@crea8ivenigeria

 http://www.creativenigeriaproject.com/ 

Credits

1. Beyond The Rules (Danfo on Lagos Bridge) by Kosol Owundinjor (Photo by Lagos)  http://photobylagos.wordpress.com/2012/11/08/beyond-the-rules/ 

2. Protected Helmet (eko oni baje helmet) by Kosol Onwudinjor (Photo by Lagos)  http://photobylagos.wordpress.com/2012/09/19/protected-helmet/

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.