Lagos is undoubtedly the beating heart of West Africa. Whatever you get elsewhere in West Africa – the smells, good and bad, the beats, the hisses, the traffic…. you get so much more of it here. This is Africa with the volume turned up to full – not surprising given Lagos’ status as the largest city in Africa, although no-one knows how many people actually live here.
Driving around the mainland shows you Lagos and West Africa in all its glory, with all its contradictions – chickens for sale in a wooden cage out the front of the the brand new gas station, a goat wandering in front of the shiny ecobank, shanty shacks squished up against gated buildings, and women selling bananas at the traffic lights to drivers of extremely expensive 4wds. I liked the mainland, it was bonkers, and given the time I had already spent in Africa, I was acclimatised to the noise and the pushing and shoving. I should have stayed on the mainland, but Lagos reputation for violent crime meant I had booked a hotel on Victoria Island…….
Arriving on Victoria Island was a little like landing on Mars, or being time shifted instantaneously to a parallel universe. It’s like a Stepford version of West Africa. You can tell you are in West Africa from the heat, the light, the occasional waft of raw sewage and the musical lilt of the people around you, BUT everything is a bit sterile, the cars are all new, the roads have not too many holes in them, and people obey the streetlights. I went into some of the shops and almost fell over. Extremely expensive french delis and international supermarkets, stuffed to the gills with delicious things, all at prices which well exceeded the average ticket price at Selfridges food hall (a small total greek yogurt was $5). These shops were heaving with well to do Nigerians, dripping with posh jewellery, often accompanied by a helper, and who had ridiculously large 4wds in the carparks to lug their purchases home. The is a wealthy oil rich town in spite of 85% of the country living under the poverty line. This isn’t really the West Africa I had come to know and love, so in spite of luxuriating in my hot shower today, I felt a bit lost here amidst all this conspicuous wealth.
I went for a long wander, ‘walking the mean streets of Lagos’. I had a loose goal of visiting some art galleries and changing some money. Its ironic that this is the first time in weeks I have needed to change dollars and I had to walk for an hour to do so. In any other city, I would have fallen over a money changer meters from my front door and could never walk around town without hearing the perpetual hiss of ‘dollars, dollars, euros, euros’. Nigeria’s corrupt government is not managing the currency well. The official bank rate, that which I would pay if I withdrew money from the ATM is $1 for 315 naira. The publicly acknowledged parallel rate, which you can read in the paper every day is 490. It was worth the hour stroll to make everything 40% cheaper during my stay. The average person that I met on the streets were extraordinarily friendly, and after asking a few people, I was directed to a big hotel, where I was told to ask the security guard to point me in the right direction. Indeed he did, and a nice lebanese man sorted me out with some cash (the lebanese really are everywhere).
I made a few friends at the spar supermarket which was a bonkers riot of people stocking up for christmas. I spent $2 there to buy enough water and diet spite to last for my stay, rather than pay $2 per bottle in the hotel (yes I am cheap). And I made a few friends with random security guards, street side cooking ladies and a couple of policeman who stopped for a chat on my wander. Honestly, am not sure I have ever met friendlier people.
I did make it to a few of the art galleries – the Nike Art Gallery and the Red Door. I actually preferred the Red Door – smaller and more intimate. Lagos doesn’t really have that many sites, and apart from the art galleries, the main ‘sights’ are shopping malls, which really aren’t my favourite place to hang out.
I have always had a theory that NZers are nicer than the rest of the world as we have more space per person…., and in big cities people are grumpier because they have less space. Lagos has utterly disproven that hypothesis!. I love Lagos. The people are friendly and full of life. Without exception the people I met are chatty, smiley, friendly and welcoming. I am looking forward to coming back to hang out with Las Gidis
December 24, 2016