In Nigeria, an accent is a catalyst for love

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I have been debating whether I should write this for days but a conversation with a friend just convinced me to do it. Please hold up on the hunt for me till you’re done reading.

When I decided to spend 30 days in Lagos, I intended to just work and go back home but many people told me that would be a loss. Lagos is one of Africa’s most vibrant cities with something exciting each week. Its people are dynamic and energetic. I am yet to be in an African city that makes being African so cool and sexy and just darn fun. Yes, there are some challenges here, most of them deal-breakers but that is a different conversation.

As I come to the end of my trip, many people have asked me if I met any nice guys here (I hope my father doesn’t read this). I didn’t go looking for guys, and to be honest I had no interest but I did meet a lot of people and a number of them were guys. The dating scene in Lagos has mixed reviews from residents, some who love it and others who despise it. For most women, that I spoke to, it seems that Nigerian men are not much loved, some of them. “Nigerian men deceive with intent, it’s almost as though they set out to be evil and hurt you,” someone recounts to me. The creepy thing is this perspective is held by both men and women. My male friends warned me to not be alone with guys I just met or have only known a few days, and to watch everything I drink while out. It paints a rather terrifying picture of men in Las Gidi.

While men are deceiving with intent they also seem to be existing in a faux conservative world. More than one 20-something confessed their undying love to me after only an interaction of less than 15min, maybe I got mad game maybe not. When I relayed this to a friend he responded “it’s that tinge of British in your accent”. Nigerian men and women seem to fall for people by their accent, at least that is what I understood from his response. Here an accent is a catalyst for love, marriage and the world because Nollywood. The movies say when you fall you should fall hard and it should be a forever kind of thing – real or not. I would be flattered if I didn’t feel quite ridiculous every time it happened.

No one here ever tells you they just want to have sex, the conservative nature of the country makes that a fake taboo. It’s not like people aren’t doing it they just rather pretend. Goodness me, Nigerians can lie. Men lie about their physical desires and what they want from women, women do it too it would appear. Is there a law that says you must lie for survival? Nigerians believe in love at first sight, or at least they think they do. The way it plays out it seems Nigerians need to grab love by the collar and make it theirs immediately. They see a girl and they fall hard within 10mins. They will pledge their lives to these women, send flowers and even offer to buy lingerie. Nigerian girls must know the rules and signs of this game by now, so why are people still playing it?

No one asks you for a date, they ask you for a lifetime as though those are easy to give away. People throw the L word around like its going out of fashion, it’s rather perplexing. Why? It’s been an interesting 30 days learning and watching. The politics of love, dating and sex is weaved into the fabric of this city. Here it seems people are paying for sex one way or another, with the promise of love, marriage or money (security). In some cases all three. Quite the costly exchange for the promised.

Nairobi and all her charms: a humdinger of a city

Nairobi

It has been a dizzying few weeks, I have made stops in several cities around the world and more yet to come. Each city even more beguiling than the next. I would however be quite remiss if I didn’t take a few moments to write a love letter to Nairobi.

On a cool summers Sunday, I stepped out of an oddly quiet Jomo Kenyetta airport into the Nairobi air. The week ahead was carefully planned, with some hard work and a bit of play. Anyone who has been here will tell you there is an energy in Nairobi that is somewhat indescribable. Some locals know it, others take it for granted. I call it the ‘Kenyan Savoir-faire’ because no matter the situation you can always figure it out. Nairobi is flirtatious but she is not coy, she will wreck you, yet make you beg for more.

My first order of business call my “favourite” Kenyan.

“I am in your city my love!” I yell enthusiastically into my mobile phone.

“Darling, this is amazing!” he echoes my enthusiasm, and so it begins.

There is something outrageous about the amount of experiences Nairobi offers. A good friend, who happened to be on his first trip the city, was marveling at every little thing. Nairobi, through his eyes, is a shinning city. Africa’s Emerald City, if you will. The city of super fast internet, and the local will settle for nothing less. This is proven true when my other favourite Kenyan and I made our way through Madrid and she was appalled by the internet speed in the great European city. In this Emerald City, you will get an adventure whether you want it or not.

There are no hoity-toity affairs here, the city and its people are full of boundless energy and it is delightfully infectious. Between sips of chai (which you must drink here), a new friend tells me you don’t have to go too far to find entertainment or lions, the latter has me excited.

The Nairobi National Park is some 20mins away from the heart of the city on a day without traffic, which is rare but possible. Nairobians claim that they have the only park of this size so close to a metropole. Truly so, because while gazing at Gazelles gracefully dancing their way across the field you can see the city’s skyline, where people bustle on about their workday.

Zebras

I love nature and as we made our way through the park on the crisp morning, even the desperation for sleep couldn’t tear my eyes away from the animals. This effect is synonymous with every park I have ever been to. There is something quite awe-inspiring about watching a family of Zebras go about their day or to witness to speed of the Gazelle first hand. If you find yourself in Nairobi, make this trip, even if it is at 6am in the morning.

When people talk about Kenya not just Nairobi, they talk about the parks and mountains and the Mara. They talk about this other worldly experience, observing lions in their natural habitat or the marvel that is Samburu — because elephants. They talk about the great tea and coffee that is made here. Here, you can drink tea one of two ways here, the Kenyan way with lots of milk and little tea, or black with the milk on the side. The Kenyan way is worth the experience, chai.

The more I visit this country, and this city in particular, I see a new kind of Nairobi. The one that has a growing coffee shop culture, there is a Java or an Artcaffe at every turn and a skinny latte is one hand-raise away. Nairobi is the city of the young. Where Kenyan celebrities hop in and out of TV studios and make their way through the busy city streets. There is a party culture here, some of it seem to be imported from Nigeria, Kenyans know more about Nigerian music than I do (shameful, I know). These beautiful people of Nairobi, these 20 and 30-somethings are happy to go see a lion or an elephant but their natural habitat seems more in the party streets or a cup of chai at Java.

I must admit, though I had cup chai at Java and latte at ArtCaffe my time was mostly spent at Mama Ashanti. A Ghanaian/Nigerian restaurant that brings the pleasures of Nigerian cuisine to a lovely out door setting. I gorged myself full of plantains and pepper soup almost every night.

In this city there is a humdinger of life that puts all other humdinger cities to shame.

Dancing with strangers and meeting Princes in Lagos

Lagos Mainland

I would be doing Lagos a great disservice if all I talked about were its humidity, the impossible traffic and the hints of sexism that befell me on my last trip (more on this in another piece). I think if I were to truly explore what the delectable city had to offer and laid it bare Florence and the Machine would come to mind: “sweeter than heaven and hotter than hell”. This is a sentiment encapsulates an unforgettable experience.

I have been here often enough but I don’t really know the city, when you think about it really can you truly know a city? The city I currently live in still harbours great mysteries for me, the city I grew up seems to be so far away that its stories don’t belong in my head anymore. But I digress.

Like an inescapable dream Lagos comes to life in audacious yet subtle ways. One of the pleasures of this trip was a restaurant called Terra Kulture, nothing special by most counts but I find that I couldn’t stay away (there was free wifi). Tucked just a few ways away from the famous Bar Beach, the African themed restaurant is a fusion of art, entertainment and food. The premise for it seems is to provide top notch Nigerian cuisine while serving its customers need for culture, with the occasional plays as well as housing a gallery with exhibits from some top photographers. The whole place comes together quite nicely, like a perfectly executed dish of intellect, perfect mixology and soul food. Here the ladies meet for their weekly book club, whether books are read or it’s an excuse for a gander at the bar is anyone’s guess. I have a favourite dish here, and ate it every day I was there: Ofada rice (a sort of locally grown rice served with a spicy sauce) accompanied by fried plantain (yum yum) – it is a taste duet that sends your taste buds into an orgasmic adventure.

Ofada rice

One night after losing my resolve, I relented to go party. I danced with strangers and was proposed to by a supposed Prince. In the same breath a man claiming to be an oil tycoon promised me the world if I would only permit him a dance. It’s a strange thing venturing in the night in Lagos. I mean who could resist a Prince and an oil tycoon, me apparently. But you get the gist, the drinks will follow and the rich will play.

Unlike my last trip I decided to forgo my preconceptions and make my way to the Mainland, a place my father would rather I did not go. Lagos is vast populace and like most urban areas it has its problems, unfortunately those problems are laid quite bare for the world to view. The city dwellers don’t seem too perturbed by this; their city is still the greatest in the world and there is no telling them any different. As I made way through into the jungle of broken concrete it plays out like an unfinished dream or one deferred. The dreamers are still dreaming but its workings are incomplete, they have made their peace with what will come but I don’t they know what that is. Some believe it will never be complete and that too is okay. For the few in the know, the overpopulation and traffic is just a small price to pay in a bigger dream that they can taste on the precipice — and so they solider on.

I feel that too. I dared a trip to the beach on one the days with a friend, as we surveyed the surrounds she said to me “you feel that?”

“What?” I ask in confusion.
“The city.” She replied simply.

The ocean was waging a war against the shore, its waves crashing fiercely and the city behind us hummed in choreographed aggression. It took a moment but soon it was clear, the city is more than the pretty views, yes there pretty views here, the food (which is to die for) or cheap liquor. The city is a beast. While most tourists would go to many big cities for the sights and landmarks, this is not that city. There are sights here; I am told I am yet to actually go to one. What this city has is culture, an experience and gravitas.

Lagos, pack your malaria meds and get ready for ride of a lifetime.

Lagos, the city that surprises no matter what you think

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This year I have visited Nigeria more times than I thought I would. Lagos and I have had a courtship that I never thought possible, trust me if you have seen photographs of Lagos in the news you’ll understand. However I have come to love this city and I am itching for my next trip.

When you arrive at Lagos airport it’s quite the adventure, busy and unorganised but make it through immigration and get out and you are almost home free.

First the heat and humidity will hit you into a fog of confusion, if you have ever visited Dubai you will understand what I mean. Then there is navigating the almost never moving traffic to get out of the mainland and hit the Islands. Once you achieve this then it’s a whole new world and experience. Welcome to a world of opulent wealth, a lifestyle so full of luxury and scenes so beautiful who want to be there forever.

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Traffic is a bitch. That’s the truth, if you think your city has a traffic problem that’s child’s play compared to what you will experience here. You can wait somewhere between five to six hours to advance five kilometers in the worst of it or the best of it somedays in some locations. The residents of Lagos are used to this, it’s just another price they are willing to pay to live in a city they consider to be the greatest in the world.

The people are insanely kind. Seriously! Everyone wants to help. Airport security called my ride for me because they were late and waited with me till they arrived. The lady even bought me a cold drink because it was hot and I hadn’t had time to change my money yet. The people make this city.

Nigerian cuisine overlooking the bay

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I got to enjoy delicious Nigerian cuisine overlooking the beautiful bay of Lekki. It’s like something out of an exotic travel magazine when you look at it from the Island angle. The world is so different, expats running around trying to navigate the complex yet simple terrain of the Nigerian market. Tech is big here and so is everything else. A country full of promise and a city where everyone wants a bit of that promise — things can get interesting.

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I asked the waiter that served me what his favourite thing about this city was: “that’s easy,” he says with a lazy smile. “When the sunsets and Lagosians come out to play,” his tone knowing. He is right of course as I discovered, no one parties like the people of Lagos and for them as long the drinks keep flowing and the dance floor is available it’s all good.

Take it from me, if you end of in Lagos, ignore the superficial veneer and take a trip into one of the Islands and enjoy a fish barbecue, some fried plantain, a bit of pepper soup and some much indeed carousing at Club 10 in Victoria Island.