This headline is what I reiterate anytime I hear or experience something terrible about my country, Nigeria.
There are many reasons why I deny my country, Because the more these issues persist, the more I feel detached from my country.
Though to some, it may sound ridiculous or even silly. I’m certain there are people who will acquiesce regardless.
But let me first remind you that denial is a coping mechanism, so no judgements.
Apart from the precarious fact that I’d rather be called ‘Kimberly’ than ‘Labake’, another reason I agree with this title as my resolution is when I go to ‘Idumota market’, a market located on Lagos Island. I dislike going to any market, generally. ‘Idumota market’ just happens to be at the top of the list.
When I was younger, I remember how my heart fluttered each time I rehearsed with the Igbo cultural group in my school. It made me look forward to the sessional party where parents would watch us with astonishment and cheer us on. We were often told great stories of Nigeria while visiting iconic places. It was fascinating. During that period, I was certain I felt something for my country.
Now, it’s the opposite.
I’m not even talking about seismic issues like the poor educational system, sexual harassment in universities, abuse of fundamental human rights, institutional corruption, government negligence, and inadequate facilities. Oh well
I’m talking about seemingly little things like going to the market, for instance – Idumota market, at that.
First off, this was not my first trip to the market, however, this was the most aggravating, hence my tirade.
After listening to the ‘how to survive in Lagos market’ guide from my Mother on the phone which was starting to take long, my cousin and I eventually entered a bus that seemed as old as life itself. The windows were cracked and pieces of wood were used as a platform for our feet. It reeked of dead rats and fish. Nausea washed over me after some time and I gently opened the window for fresh air, but inhaled warm, concentrated polluted air instead. The noise of the woman advertising her deworming tablets in a strong Yoruba dialect seemed to increase at intervals, affecting me as I twisted and turned in my seat.
I plugged my earpiece for relief but it didn’t stop the noise, so I had to accept my fate. I realised she had a lot of products to advertise. She brought several products, waved it in the air, and passed it around. She repeatedly beat her chest to ascertain its legitimacy. I saw how people stretched out their hands to buy and it surprised me.
While on the bus, watching the glum expressions of passengers on the bus made me observe different levels of frustrations.
Through the cracked window, I also saw several insalubrious cases of open defecation. It made me laugh initially. I had no idea open defecation was so rampant. Some even smoked carefreely alongside this sick act.
My heart jumped into my mouth on a couple of occasions like unexpected incoming bikes and buses appearing whilst crossing. Also, the inevitable narrow struggle in between two buses by gesturing with a pleading nod in order to cross peacefully.
And especially when we climbed a bike for an overcharged fare, whilst covered in dust and literally swimming in the water caused by the rain that fell the day before. We soon found ourselves on the floor in such a twinkle and then my cousin stood up without a flinch and assisted the rider in raising the bike up, to climb again. It was the literal definition of ‘we move’. It baffled me.
I called my cousin’s name incessantly during this commotion and she quickly advised me to call ‘Jesus’ name instead.
She quickly glanced at me laughing and told me to be grateful that my clothes had not torn. This realization was beyond me.
One of the Lagos guides I abided by was the holding of your bag carefully under your arm with the zip facing your body.
Also, after walking for a while, I looked back as some sort of caution, carefully examining what I held too.
In the market, nobody could respect my skin sensitivity as they touched my hand or shoulder calling me different names like ‘my wife’, ‘princess’ One even called me, ‘my roommate’. They’d do anything to get your attention. Some would even drag you to forcefully buy an item or even look at it. My hands didn’t feel like mine anymore. Totally unpleasant.
I saw that most people moved with a sense of urgency and I had to deal with the offensive blend of sweat, smoke, and more.
We eventually purchased some items, although it seemed to take years to me because of the comparison of the same item in more than two stalls, and the hassling of prices to purchase the items affordably.
The height of this willful touching was when I was going back home in the bus that creaked at every movement as if the hinges were loose. The ceilings were scratched like the drawing slate of a three-year-old. Of course, I was heralded by the stench of metals and wet wood. Well, I reached out to collect my ‘change’ from the conductor and the middle-aged man next to me pinched my forearm for no reason and pretended as if he hadn’t. I was alarmed, and then I understood the real meaning of, ‘many are mad but few are roaming’.
But you see,
I did get through the morass of approximately four-hour traffic yielding severe stiffness and twitching of my body, swigging two bottles of drink constantly, coping through the balderdash all around me. I also dealt with severe stomach pain, flipping in between sleep and wakefulness, the insipid hassling of prices, the inevitable window shopping, the headache caused by the noise pollution. In addition to the various sellers’ repeated advertisement and the unnecessary bickering, listening to music for a while to ease the frustration, being overly cautious by taking side-glances every now and then, listening to different beggars’ stories in which a wave of undetectable sincerity swept through (Their chants that soon became a spiel in my ears till I unconsciously started saying it too). I also struggled through the crowd leading to unwanted physical contact because of the scramble to enter buses.
I cannot forget the series of absent-mindedness the gelidity of being alone when I could not trace my cousin through the crowd, panic overwhelm threatened by bad roads, reckless drivers and trailers, engaging in mind-boggling strategies, pointing out both important and unimportant landmarks and standing for almost two hours.
I could not avoid complaining about the terrible roads and country, fussing over the dirty environment, listening to further complaints among passengers in the bus, appeasing angry passengers in the bus sometimes to maintain sanity, switching moods in a twinkle, ignoring the missed calls due to the physical and mental discomfort, savoring the aroma of ‘ofada rice and stew’ on different occasions, sweating through the entire seemingly unending trip, and of course unavoidable contact with fellow sweaty bodies. Oh my!
I finally got home by 10:00 pm in the most exhausted and unstable state still cussing, still furious about the whole trip.
The tales never end. My cousin kept sympathizing with me even though she was equally tired. I was astounded that people underwent similar experiences every day. My cousin narrated worse cases she had witnessed that automatically downplayed the lunacy of my experience.
This may not be a big deal for some people. Others are too used to it for it to be a problem, but going to Lagos market is a big NO. Although It is my solemn hope that things change soon.
I couldn’t wait to feel like a baby girl once again and as I ascended the platform of sleep, I received a notification from my health application. It congratulated me on my health goals, inferring that I had completed 10,000 steps that day. I laughed. Such a big lie. I had completed way more than that.
With the number of steps I had walked that day, I was pretty sure Usain bolt had nothing on me. – YA
Omolabake Adejumo, Nigeria.