It was on the news that a family of eight had died from the fumes that had leaked out from a generator left on overnight. It was sad but that was just life. Like a bag of pick and mix; the bad mixed in with the good. People would gather around and talk about how horrible it was and then they would switch on their generators and go to bed and pray that God would take care of them.
I didnt even know what a generator looked like until I came to Nigeria.
Normal for me was the smell of the cold and wet damp of yesterdays perspiration on the tube. It was eating fish and chips dripping with vinegar out of the’ Sun’ newspaper and rushing home on friday to watch Top of the Pops and East Enders. It was watching your breath turn to icy smoke as you stood in front of the bustop and agreed with the old dear who shook her head when you said – Terrible weather innit.
It was normal that we both find an agreement in the weather even though we had never met before. It was normal that I would turn and comment on her dog and say how nice it was – even if it was mangy, had fleas and a bad attitude.
That was the normal I knew. The normal I craved.
There was so much to learn about the country of my parents and every time I asked questions, people just laughed.
Once in Lagos I saw these women walking confidently along, the pots of water balanced effortlessly on their heads.
“Don’t they have taps?”
People would just laugh and I found it uncomfortable. They laughed when I spoke; when I asked why everyone seemed so scared of policemen, why there were so many children selling things on the roadside when they should be in school and why any man needed to have more than one wife.
“A house may have a tap but the tap may not have water.”
Despite the terrible roads, the dire transportation system and the sometimes shaky political situation, people seemed to be relatively happy.
You could see it everywhere in the children that walked miles to school chattering away happily, in the buses and lorries bearing slogans such as words ‘God Dey’ another follows with, ‘Only God can judge me’ and, ‘God will bless me’.
Nigerians are a resourceful people. It was in Lagos that I went to my first night market. The night was a black velvet backdrop scattered with the lights of thousands of kerosene lamps, headlights from a passing Molue – the local yellow bus full of passengers sped past, while little lights flickered from the market stalls, where women sat frying puff–puff and chin-chin and suspiciously bright crimson coloured chicken and pork.
I couldn’t believe it, despite the blackout life went on. Was there nothing Nigerians could not adjust themselves to? Coups, blackouts, hunger, poverty, fuel shortage….
I thought of my uncle’s resilience. He reminds me of a Nigerian version of Del Trotter. He always believes like so many other Nigerians that ‘Tomorrow go better.” I must confess that I did not always share his optimism.