I have traveled long and far to be here. I am sitting in the computer room of De Skyline Hotel in Lagos, Nigeria. This after a pretty formidable onslaught of intensely eager individuals “greeting us,” so to speak, at the airport departure exit trying to solicit tips for their luggage lugging services. This was, to my understanding, the nature of things here in Lagos where every Naira (Nigerian currency) is earned and accounted for.
The purpose of my voyage is to work as an Architecture intern alongside several very intelligent multi-disciplinary men and women (ranging from the US, Spain, London to Ghana) to produce a model eco-sustainable rurban (rural + urban) new city in Anam, Anambra State under the auspices of the Dr. Aloy & Gesare Chife Foundation and in collaboration with the people of the greater Anam community. My task will be helping to develop a variable, self-sufficient model for affordable housing that is viable under a micro-financing solution. But blah blah blah, you’re bored already.
Back at the airport, when our entire party was herded, our chaperone, Manny, collected us to wait, amongst a larger herd of traffic stagnant vehicles and people, for the SUV to come around to take us to the hotel. We stood behind an officer who haphazardly directed the flow of traffic and took the occasion monetary bribe in exchange for prime un-loading parking, all the while toting, perhaps, the largest firearm I’ve ever seen in person.
A young guy, stood amongst us and I couldn’t tell if he was in our party or not but he was dead set on greeting me, so I complied with a handshake. He proceeded to pat his chest over his heart after the handshake and stated, “Welcome, brother.” End of story, right? Not exactly. When the car arrived and we loaded the back and crammed in, the same young guy appeared in the window rubbing his fingers together gesturing towards me that I had not tipped him. Wait…what?! Was I to tip you for a welcome? Was your mere presence contributory to a perceived pleasurable experience enough so to warrant compensation? Were you the Chief Welcoming Ambassador of Nigeria?!!
It was in that moment that I was lost – lost in the sense that I could not find the words to respond to that situation but also in that I could not readily identify the socio-economic realm in which I had been immersed. I felt removed from this place and, although I never knew this place, I knew I should know this place. You know? The faces seemed foreign, the tongue was different, but the incessant motivation to want something more – something better than what you’re handed – resonated with my spirit. In hindsight, I probably should have tipped that guy because he, in two words, epitomized my struggle with coming to this place; the fear of reinforcing the disparateness between Africans and those several generations removed from this place in America. But in his actions and the collective forcefulness of the tip seekers, he showed me that no matter how far I may have gone from this place, I engender the spirit of this place.
I have traveled long and far to be here not just in time and distance, but in struggle and perseverance. If you would have told me a year ago that I would be where I am right now…well, honestly, I would have believed you. I am passionate about this work and that passion stems from a desire for something. Something more…more…well…something more better.
We leave for a domestic flight to Benin City in the morning. See you when I get to Anam…if there’s internet.