Diasporean reflections on identity, and returning to the city with fresh eyes | EBELE MOGO

 

This will be a new story about an old place-Lagos, Nigeria. About home, and returning to it for the first time. Once familiar, that ritual of returning becomes like waist beads one rubs in the intimacy of the shower, reminders of the self that survives all the change that life brings; the ‘you’ that remains even as you slip in and out of accents, norms and systems.

When you return ‘home’ whatever that may be for you, there is this new thing in your eyes. Everyone else can tell it too.They know you smell like you are not from here- whether its the accent, the outfit, or the mannerisms that give you away.

Returning sensitizes you to smells- the airport, the wind, the rain, people, the market- reminders that pictures say all and yet say nothing. After all, it is not the bench in the corner, but the time you cracked almonds open on it, in the afternoons after primary school. Not the pictures of the overpopulation but that life here is lived as hustle and bustle and haggle for a good bargain.

You relish the little things- a ripe ‘udala’ fruit you have long craved and its sticky sap. The smell of the rain pounding unapologetically, like everyone and everything here. You notice that your threshold for bad customer service is lower, thanks to North American enculturation. And it is a strange balancing act- while there is something annoying about someone not thinking twice about grazing your shoulder at the bank counter, it is also humanizing that here people can make contact with one another’s bodies. You slip into the rhythms here, given time. Weddings every weekend. Men hitting on you even when your no is as emphatic as a thud.

Life here is hard. People wake up early to hawk wares and work for today’s food. After all this is Lagos, in Africa where people are said to live under a dollar a day. Yet being here you have to ask- what does gross domestic product have to do with happiness? With the way the beggars play on the streets and the hard joy in their eyes that tells you that you do not have anything to give them, but your money? That they can find their way in the chaos?

Don’t forget, chaos is a lifesaver too. You remember that as you wind down your glass to buy food in the middle of traffic. And when the little one is pressed and no one is startled that he went to the gutter and took a piss. And when your flight is tomorrow and with a little change you get the immigration officer to process your documents expressly.

These too are little graces.

Ebele is an artist-scientist-entrepreneur who writes at www.streetsideconvos.com on the intersection of personal, creative and cultural transformation. You can find her on twitter @ebyral