When I got an invitation by the British Council to attend a two-day workshop for ‘Festival Managers in West-Africa’, I was excited! I was going to spend three days in Lagos, the most dangerous place in the world where I had to watch out for kidnappings, theft, aggressive robberies and cheating men.
It was my first time in Nigeria and I couldn’t wait to disprove all these preconceptions. I had wild plans to explore the city after the workshop was over, taste that famous Nigerian Jollof and dance to afrobeat in sweaty clubs.
The reality is that we boomeranged from the hotel to the National Theatre in air-conditioned buses. No street robberies, no wild chases across the highway but full time armed security. Bummer!
Don’t get me wrong; I am not complaining. In fact, I was lucky to be able to attend the workshop at the National Theatre. It had a beautiful mosaic that offered a pleasant distraction for when the workshop got a bit, well, tiring. The walls were covered with woodcarvings and the ceiling was decorated with a material unknown to me. It struck me how developed Lagos is. Of course, I realise that Lagos Island is not a representation of the entire city, but here in Sierra Leone there’s nothing that comes even close. Just to compare; there’s 7 million people in the whole of Sierra Leone and 21 million in Lagos.
On the last day of my visit, I took my chance to see the real Lagos.
Carefully, with a couple of Naira [the local currency] in my pocket, I entered the streets. Whenever I travel I try to be a flaneur, to blend in with the surroundings, and instead of being a spectator, become part of the city scape.
So, I upped my pace (Lagosians walk a lot faster than Freetonians), put a disinterested look on my face and walked with no particular destination in mind. Well, even I can’t fool myself, I’m Dutch-Sierra Leonean and with my light skin and scruffy afro, of course I stood out like a stain on the wall! Yet, nobody approached me in a negative way. When I bought some Nollywood films the seller gave me a brilliant soliloquy in Yoruba (apparently she tried to teach me how to say ‘gun’), her eyes glimmering and friendly.
Drinking ice tea straight from the pack at a local bar, I observed the daily hustle and bustle. I saw the factories, the people living under the bridges, the heaps of Indomie instant noodles and beautiful faces that were worn with rough living conditions.
In the end, I left Lagos feeling stirred. I was very aware of the enormity of Lagos and of how insignificant and ignorant I was. Mostly, I knew that I had to come back to experience its full reality.
You have not seen the last of me Lagos!
Esther Kamara is a Dutch-Sierra Leonean born and raised in Amsterdam. After finishing her bachelor Media Studies from the University of Amsterdam she moved to Freetown to work as an artist manager for the Freetown Music Festival. Her interests lie mainly in literature, film, dance and design. Apart from artist management she writes for several platforms that specialise in these areas. Her brainchildren are otherworldly short stories and peculiar drawings of non-existing characters.