Battling traffic daily in Lagos has recently turned me into an accidental poet, the kind that looks at a gridlock in Obalende and thinks of Yeat’s popular poem. Some people might think the opportunity to make art I’m incapable of except in moments of distress is a blessing. When I’m hungry—in that moment between lucidity and the hunger shutting down my body system—I become profuse of mouth, running it in all directions and saying things that don’t need to be said. It’s almost like my self control is only possible when fueled by food. This kind of artistic eloquence is no fun.
I spend an average of five hours daily traveling from home to work. That’s approximately 24 hours or one day every week, or 52 days every year, which is about 14 percent of the days I’ve been afforded in a year. Considering the good lord only demands 10 percent of all our belongings, it appears Lagos considers itself a higher God, asking that I offer a chunk of my time in return for the opportunities the city has given me.
This is on brand for Las Gidi. All who come here are transformed. They are remade in the image of Èkó. They become beings different from whatever they were in their former towns and cities of residence. It makes me wonder if there isn’t a spirit that pervades the city: madness.
Obalende, where navigating a roundabout feels like a W.B. Yeats poem. Anarchy. Buses as beasts slouching towards Bethlehems.
— ifeOluwa (@ifemmanuel) July 10, 2017
This new development—lyrical me, tweeting me—shouldn’t be too strange, considering my recent embrace of the term writer as vocation. That name that is tied to quarter life crises, crippled ambitions and disappearing dreams. That name that conjures images of drinking garri at home, agonizing over deadlines and hoping your next pay comes sooner than later. Some folks try to euphemise it into journalist for me, but nope. My sadistic self likes writer just fine. (I’m also quite shitty at that thing called journalism, having none of the reporter’s sensibility it often requires: I am nosy, not pushy; curious, but also intent on finding things out for myself.)
You would think poet is close to writer in the hierarchy of vocations, but all the negative details above are magnified to biblical proportions in poets, especially the kind that have the charm of dead-wood-smiling and can’t perform the poetry that will make people whistle, stomp their feet and snap fingers above their heads. I do not want to be a poet, but when suffering hits, I now find my brain offering lyrical feedback for the pain.
In July, suffering visited me in the form of rain. Some days it felt like the rain had my number. I step out of the house, get to the bus stop and it starts. I’m about to leave the office and it starts again. I’m coming out of the bus at Obalende, and there it is, just drizzling and “being the cool kid, you know.” Now, if it just rained and took itself out immediately I wouldn’t have a problem with it. I hate umbrellas, but I don’t mind being sprayed by water once in a while.
This aquaphobic city insists on flirting with the ocean. But the rain hits and it shrinks like a touch-me-not.
— ifeOluwa (@ifemmanuel) May 31, 2017
The problem is that when it rains in Lagos, two lane roads turn to half a lane. Puddles gather in unexpected places like nature is bogeying the roads up for some obstacle course. One of those said days, a keke taking me home was rushing to beat the now-permanent traffic and fell into a crater in the middle of the road that threw the three of us in the tricycle up in ways that can bust your upper lip. The rider began to swear, and pleaded with us. I didn’t complain though. I know how evil the rain is. Most worrisome of all is how it’s been intent on damaging my two pairs of shoes. I had to switch actively to sandals, because I won’t cry when those ones damage. As for shoes, I purchase one every year, and I’m still gathering money for 2017’s purchase. Remember, I’m a writer now, not some highflying engineer out to make the world better.
And engineers are what this city needs. Better still, competent ones given the opportunity to solve its problems. The science of taking rain data, using it to model flood patterns and using that information to design storm drains that will keep water off the ground during rain isn’t novel. But in Lagos, if we did things the right way, we’ll have a collective heart attack. There was a time when I was excited about the things I could do with my engineering degree, but that is fading now. These days, when I see the rain, water pooling in drain-less roads, becoming ponds that can flow and carry a kayak, I think in verse, not equations.