As I drifted off to sleep in my brothers apartment that 6:00am of my arrival day, I wondered about our airport. Why didn’t we care more for it? Didn’t we realize most visitors were judging the whole country by that one airport? These were the thoughts that flitted through my head until I drifted off into a homecoming sleep.
The heat woke me up. The power had gone off while I slept and without the air conditioning, the room had hit a boiling point. I looked at the clock, it was 10am. I had slept for five hours. My nose felt runny so I got up from the bed and walked into my connected bathroom to blow it on the sink. Blood was what flowed out. I resisted the impulse to panic, since I remembered having a nosebleed my first winter night in New York. Extreme temperature changes affected my capillaries. I cleaned up, showered then stepped out. My brother was off to work and my sister in law and baby niece were in the room. I let her know that I was going to take a little walk around the estate and then I went out.
Coming outside felt like a baptism of the senses. I could finally appreciate that I was truly and fully in Nigeria. The sun, at noon was blazing, and there was the noise of blaring car horns, the hustle and bustle of people going about their day and everything else that confirmed that the whole city of Lagos lay right outside the gate. Above the din rose the rapturous notes of the Muslim call to prayer. It sounded close by, crystal against the noisy backdrop and I stood still, allowing myself for a moment to be caught in the swell of it. It reminded me of Sabrina, the Somali girl I used to be friends with in college and her attempts to get me to say the shahadah back when I did not believe.
I went out of the gate and walked around the estate. There was a secretariat office for the ruling All Progressives Congress a few houses down. Another house had a black gate with a sign telling you about a Redeemed Christian Church of God House Fellowship holding there on Sunday evenings. Having attended RCCG in the US for years, I made a mental note to check it out.
I decided to cut my walk short for two reasons, first it was getting unbearably hot but most importantly, people were staring, no, gawking at me. I wasn’t sure if it was my mannerisms, the fact that I was taking pictures of what looked like very ordinary neighborhood land marks, or my obvious discomfort with the sun but I was sticking out like a sore thumb. I cut back to the house then asked my sister in law if I could take a little drive in her truck.
“Are you sure you can drive in Lagos traffic?” she asked in concern. “People are crazy here.”
I assured her I would be fine and grabbed the keys.
Driving in Lagos was a joy. Yes, it was mad but I was just as mad so that evened out. There was a certain feeling of freedom, the road was mine and it had been years since I felt the release of driving without a posted speed limit. I gunned down Bode Thomas, blasting Olamide’s “Lagos Boys” really loudly from the speakers. I had my RayBans slapped across my face like Ansel Elgort in the film Baby Driver and my windows were down because feeling the vibes was more important than staying cool. That Nigerian heat is part of the appeal.
At some point I got stuck in what I thought was stalled traffic. After several minutes of standstill while the left lane sped past, I took a closer look. It was a queue trailing out of a gas station and down the road. The whole country was in the middle of a severe fuel scarcity and there were long queues like that at many gas stations all over the city. My brother had gotten an early tip from a friend and filled both his cars as well as his power generator.
I turned on my left signal light, trying to hop in the other lane to continue my journey. Ha, no one would budge. Instead, everyone sped up, determined not to let an ‘I just got back’ like me get in their way. After a few minutes, I realized my home training would have me sitting there the rest of the day so I revved my engine and swung into the other once there was the narrowest of gaps. The molue driver I cut off screeched to a halt, blared the loudest horn I had ever heard on a bus that small and stuck his head out of his window to curse at me in rapid fire Yoruba. I smiled and tapped at my horn in reply, then sped off. “Lagos nawa” I laughed, shaking my head.
I stopped by the MTN office and bought a SIM card along with some Street hawked oranges that felt like they were 70% seed. As I drove off, I called one of my older mentors in the faith, the Deacon from my church back in the US. “Who is this?” He asked at the unfamiliar number.
“Sir, it’s E. I made it safely to Nigeria!”
He cheered excitedly, unleashing a litany of prayers against any harm and wishing me a good stay in the country.
I said Amens with mild amusement not knowing I would need those prayers sorely just 24 hours later.
To be continued.