Sunday, February 10, 2008

Lagos noir

The weekend is for Lagos. The sky is a Mexican smog of particulates blending with the harmattan dust. All lungs beware.

From my vantage point on Marina: a building softly collapses under fire across the way. A helicopter carries huge buckets of lagoon slop, dropping its load ineffectually onto the flexing and crumbling concrete. Yet another collapsed building to add to Eko's sculptures of woe. In the UK, we would become quickly bored by empty minutes of flame (a la Camden) on the rolling news. Here, whatever lives and livelihoods were lost lie unrecorded. The news is yet to roll.

Meanwhile, the widening of Ozumba Mbadiwe in VI continues to make life impossible for anyone having to go near the Island in the day time. The poor rich people of Lekki... I wonder if anyone has ever considered the British experience of the 1980s - all those widening/bypass schemes that simply increased the volume of traffic on the roads. In a future decade, perhaps there might be an alternative to the roads (water, rail...)

In the evening, after dinner at Lagos' answer to the Sopranos, Il Sorriso restaurant (a slice of Naples in West Africa, complete with a grumpy looking Godfather-owner), we venture forth to the latest Lagos hotspot, Jay Jay Okocha's retirement plan on Saka Tinubu. Downstairs is an all-too-predictable Prem footballer's idea of style: a Don Perignon boutique, selling a bottle of liquid for well over the average annual wage. Wayne Rooney is probably planning something similar for Alderley Edge. Upstairs is the 10 bar. Sons and daughters of the Lagos elite jostle against each other. I savour my off-menu mojito. My drinking partner challenges me to distinguish the 'normal girls' from the recharge girls. It isn't so difficult, although there is a small overlap zone of high-end product on the verge of legit. The low-lit place could do with a fishtank I thought - but does Nigeria do fishtanks?

Afterwards, outside, the usual array of impossibly muscular bodyguards, against the backdrop of telecoms masts.

Then, the next day a woman sitting next to me in the departure lounge on the way back demands 1500 naira credit from her toaster on the other end. Minutes later, on the bus to the plane, I give up my seat for a young woman. Two friends behind me flash looks at a guy standing next to me in quick eye-response. He protests, 'look if you get up and let me sit there, then I will get up and give you my seat too!' 'Tsch', one of the girls answers back. 'Nigerian men!' I smile at the scene. The praise feels unearned. Most often I'm just another slightly rude person fighting for space on trains and planes - its not easy being big and compressed by the world. Perhaps I'll try and be polite every time from now on.


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