By – Suleiman Murkthar
Lagos, the city of many opportunities. I will tell about Lagos; in Okota police barracks where I lived, we werent really much of a big people, we werent know for the size of the place just five blocks of 24 flats each block. I will tell you about the smell of roasted plantain engulfed in the smell of firewood made Nigerian Jollof that comes out of Iya Bisis restaurant, the way the fore of the gate was so busy and occupied with sellers of small-chops. I will tell you of how sonorous the bus drivers were, at the bus stops, they sang with the name of places so rhythmically, how they always get piqued when you hand them five hundred naira or a thousand. But six years away from a place, takes a toll on you. I dont even remember Iya Bisi anymore or even the taste of her jollof rice, i dont even remember what colors the walls were before I left, was it cream-ish or peach, I cant remember, so I wont even try.
Why do I talk of Lagos?, they say that Home is where the heart is that is to say that home is only but relative, that where we call home is as a result where we are most comfortable, where we find the most peace, content and heartwarming welcome. Hence; home is mobile, home goes as far as the farthest seas and as high as the brightest stars. But there is something attached to the place where you were born, the soil where your roots lie and for me that is Lagos in Nigeria. And it is true that my home also transits with my heart, that in some demystifying way I have to find solace in wherever I have come to find myself, a bit of home in the confines of a four walled and well-roofed apartment.
Iloilo is a small city, I remembered the surge of joy that engulfed my heart when I was told that I had gotten the admissions to San Augustin, the feel of adventure that transients into all my smiles, after almost seven years away from secondary school, I was finally going to have a feel of a university, and not just a University, somewhere where white people lived— now dont get me wrong, this is in no way as a result of inferiority complex of any kind or some sort of racist talk, but being African had its default perks of unconsciously elevating all white skinned people. And as such I liked the fact that I was leaving my black skinned melanin dominated comrades. I was headed for better days, to learn better, speak better. An education abroad was all the education that was needed.
When the plane touched down the airport in Manila, my heartbeat raced faster and no longer in sync, I knew that I had come somewhere else, I looked out the airport and some of the things I had read were all true except that it still felt like Lagos, there wasnt more so change, it just looked like they replaced the blacks with the whites. It was almost the same hustle game.
The air smelt of dry grass and egusi soup, maybe it was all in my head, but there was rhythm to the way the wind blew in Manila, it felt like a guitar like song, it felt like those soft head banging and feet tapping songs Don Williams sang, the kind my little sister had filled my phone with and I have come to love on the trip down. The new families I was going to stay with stood out there with a placard that had my name emblazoned on it, they had spelt the Ucheh wrong, but it didnt matter, I got the message. They ferried me to their car and off we went home, the streets were the same, people going about activities like we would have in Lagos, I have to admit that I wasnt short of the disappointment in my eyes, I felt piqued that I saw Lagos in this white dominated place, they also had light poles and grasses on the streets, I guess the movies lied, I guess my imaginations had soared as far high as the clouds..
I saw how people looked at me at the airport, I seemed strange, and awkward, they stared mostly at my hair, at how I was able to by some magic braid them as neatly as they looked, there was a weird feel to it as though ET had come to the Philippines, when we got home I was scared that the news would have reported our arrival, probably tagged it as an alien invasion and that the Martians were in town. But that wasnt it, instead when I got to my new Philippine temporary found home, I will be received with warmth and care and a lot of smiles, I will be given little orientation and small talks, I will come to love the accent of the Filipino and their uncanny knack for nicknames. I will be fed with rice on my first day, rice and Vanyad, I liked rice, if you were Nigerian and a barrack breed girl you will understand that Rice day was like Christmas Day.
The following days were somewhat of a struggle, trying to always wear a plastic smile and always seem friendly, and then just when we were trying to adjust to that, I came to learn that there was such a thing as a Nigerian Smell, a lady in a restaurant we had gone to eat had complained that by some sick idea that we reeked of something, she didnt have to say Nigeria. And then our first day in class came, the classrooms arent as overcrowded as the stories of the Nigerian universities we have come to hear tales about, there was really nothing out of the ordinary, it felt like secondary school only with more colors. I cant recall the class but I recall noticing myself in class, we were only two black ladies in the class, black and ladies and we didnt go unnoticed by everyone, by days end I have to have a sore cheek from the too much effort I have had to accord to smiling.
Days became weeks, weeks became months and moths became years, and I was settling in fine, I have to find a sweet delicacy in Vanyad soup for rice. Although I located a, market where I could get my jollof rice ingredients and as though the God Lord couldnt be more kind, I could also get Egusi soup ingredients.
Over the years I have come around making a lot of friends and learning a lot. I must admit that by some notion, I must have been somewhat nave upon my arrival to the Philippines and somehow I have come to understand certain rudimentary importance of relative things, I came around making this place my home, my Lagos and even though there are still fragments of me left back in Lagos, the actual Lagos there is some way that my heart have come to belong here; the friends that have become families, the strangers that had become lovers, the unfamiliar streets that has become my hood, all the little things.
Some of the things that came as shocks to me were the fact that people could smoke anywhere, now dont get me wrong, Nigerians do smoke, we even smoke a lot, I dont know about other places in Nigeria though but in Lagos, people smoke very well but I was something of an amoral act, something we see as unruly, as not normal, but here everyone was cool. And also, it would take me a while to adjust to the fact that gays and lesbians were free to go about their activities in the open. And also how freely minded people can be here, how someone can just walk up to me and ask how I was able to braid my hair, how she also wants it too. Nigerians can be friendly people but not as friendly, we are as friendly as we are meticulous. When we say hello we say hello, we dont smile and nod like the Filipinos do else there is a brand that comes with that a very suspicious brand. But it makes us string though, in its own uncanny way, it makes us bound by one another and somehow true to ourselves.
My stay here has been one of the most engaging of all time, I have come to learn the grace of heritage, that there is always a home away from home, I have come to find my own peace and happiness. I have come to find me.