Getting my Naija on in Nigeria
After breathing in the suffocating air in the non- AC Murtala Muhammed International Airport, I take my place in the long security line. According to the couple in front of me, the line hadn’t budged in the last 20 minutes. I take out my phone and so begins my current Diner Dash addiction. Roughly 10 minutes later, a man approaches me with the ever so tantalizing “Sista! Sista! How long have you been waiting?” I give him my since-perfected-Naija-“fuck off”side-eye and with one glance at my Nigerian passport, he moves on to the family behind me. FYI–I can’t speak in Nigeria, once my “Americanah” accent comes out, it’s a wrap for me.
The same man tries his luck on a white family behind me, letting them know that for a couple more Nairas they can go in the priority lane, cash only, of course. They don’t have enough cash, but obviously he’s going to see what he can do and shuffles them to heaven knows where. 15 minutes and 4 Diner Dash levels later, I’m wishing I took the guy on his offer as I see the family in front of me! My line just moved an inch.
Finally, I get to the “security” counter, which consisted of two men behind a wooden table. The security check is apparently an older man rifling through my clothes, plantain chips and cheap braiding hair. He and his coworker are taking an obscene amount of time rummaging through my baggage and I just smile my way through it because you know… I’m a lady. The person next to me has already given one of the inspectors some money to move faster. In broken Yoruba, I ask him how much longer and if he could hurry up. I sprinkle a lot of “abegs” (slang for “please” in this situation in a hurried fashion. Just pepper it in all your conversation; you’ll sound really authentic). He looks me dead in the eye and says “sorry sister, you may pass now”, he must’ve seen my “broke-ness” in my eyes and decided I wasn’t worth the hassle.
Loads of airport beers and jollof (Nigeria’s unofficial national rice dish; if someone tells you the Ghanaian version is better, they are no friend of yours) later, I was snugly on my KLM flight back to DC.
I hadn’t been back to Lagos in about 14 years and it was about damn time I went back to my motherland. I was a child when I left Lagos, so most of my memories consisted of being ruler slapped by teachers for disobedience, eating yummy street meats, the smoldering heat, and okadas (dangerous motorcycle “taxis”. Don’t do it if you like mobility of your limbs). I moved to The States late 1999 and have both a Nigerian and United States passport. Honestly, I let my Nigerian passport expire and predominately used my US passport for most of my travels. I decided to visit Lagos in 2015 and that was when I renewed my Nigerian passport.
My first impression when I walked out of the airport was a moment of pure confusion. The heat instantly creates a film of sweat on your skin, drivers yelling to find their passengers, friends and family screaming in laughter as they reconcile. Such utter chaos and I’d never been so excited to be with my people again!
First things first, what Lagos feels you feel. The city changed my mood in 0.5 seconds depending on whom I was speaking to. Nigerians are a very expressive people (all Nigerians must be Leos), and can influence your mood faster than you can say Prozac. So if a hawker was aggressive towards me, I just had to breathe through it. Otherwise I found myself on the losing end of a screaming match in the middle of horrible traffic. By the way, the traffic in Lagos is so real it sometimes felt hella personal. The only great thing about the traffic jam is the plantain chips, sausage rolls (that always tastes better than the ones in stores), great Nollywood movies, Mentos, and car chargers you can buy while waiting in Lagos traffic. On the other hand, when I’m surrounded by happy Nigerians, I feel like I am bursting with glee. The happiness and laughter is literally so contagious, not even Eeyore could be depressed. Where do you find happy Lagosians you ask? Any gathering that contains food and/or music. Lagosians are the definition of turning up (even though we are at minimum 2 hours late for most social events).
Returning to Nigeria made me realize two things:
1) People can and will abuse (meaning: tease) you so I had to develop my quick tongue and drop the sensitivity.
2) The food is so amazing that I had an extra jiggle in my thighs. But with the sweating from the heat, it evens out right? I became a suya addict, a popular delicious street meat, but I use the word ‘meat’ loosely because you might be eating cow…you might be eating donkey…what doesn’t kill you right?
All in all, I enjoyed each and every seemingly infuriating thing the city had to offer, because for every annoyance there were probably 5 redeeming moments around the corner. In the midst of the traffic and all the wahala, Lagosians were extremely lively and hilarious people at heart who wear their hearts on their sleeves. I came in with little expectations, but left with a new love and respect for my country and its people.
But wait, did I tell you this Nigerian also traveled to South Africa? Talk about breaking a black stereotype moment..kinda…
SO I can’t swim, but I went shark diving. During my trip to South Africa, I found myself in a car on the way to Gansbaai, one of the largest homes to Great Whites. My travel friends wanted to go cage diving, I was completely opposed to the idea but I’m a team player. I get on the boat, enjoy a drink, and get my melanin on while these fools decide to test their fate.
35 minutes later, everyone is getting fitted for their wet suit and I am chilling in my white one piece mesh bathing suit looking like a Nigerian goddess. Not surprisingly, the guide tries to get me to participate by giving me standard reasons: I’m already here, I already paid for it, don’t be a baby and so forth. Too bad he doesn’t realize I’m the youngest of 5 with a Nigerian Catholic mother — I am immune to guilt trips or petty insults. I reiterate, “No, thank you. I’m fine where I am besides I can’t even swim!” This man laughs in my face and says “You think learning how to swim would save you from a shark?” and walks away. I don’t know what mental juju had just happened but I climb into the 10-12 foot long cage and confess my sins to the Almighty as it is submerged into the freezing blue water. My fellow divers were my two friends (a term that’s being used loosely at this point tbh) and two other crazies. Above us the guide was chumming the water in order to attract sharks to the cage (feel free to re-read that last sentence again slowly to capture the true essence of my bad decision).
“SHARK!! GO DOWN GO DOWN” the guide yells and down I go! I plunge myself into the FREEZING water and I swear my heart stopped. I felt terror, anxiety and uncertainty all at the same time; almost instantaneously two looming sharks whizz past us lunging at the bait! Instinctively, I screamed (still underwater by the way) allowing a wave of gross salty, chumm-y sea water into my mouth; flailing everywhere I pull myself up for air and start laughing uncontrollably. (Apparently, in terrifying, knee-weakening situations… laughing like a maniac is my coping mechanism.) I caught my breath and after a chiding from the guide for flailing everywhere, I was ready for round two!
This time my fear was replaced with exhilaration and excitement as I eagerly submerged for another look of the majestic, graceful creatures. I saw a total of 4 sharks and though they did get pretty damn close to the cage, they were more interested in the fake bait and not the potential real life human bait. Honestly, the feeling was something I don’t think I can even describe; the mix of fear, excitement and unknown of what’s about to happen was amazing!
All in all, it was such an incredible experience, or it could be the cold water seizing my heart, but I had never felt that able before in my life! In fact, I quit my job about 3 months after and moved to a brand new city! I mean, if I can go Great White Shark cage diving in South Africa without knowing how to swim….Who gon check me boo?