Monday 26 July 2010
Writing About Lagos
After living in England for five years, the worst things about Lagos have become my favourite: the smell, the heat, the rancidity, the traffic. To digress, I love sitting in Lagos traffic now. Driving in other countries is sterile in comparison. You leave your house, you enter your car, you get to your destination. In Lagos it's more like, you leave your house, you enter your car, you buy MTN credit, you stop okada to ask for directions, you buy roasted corn, you pass two men fighting in front of their rumpled cars, you get stopped by traffic police for loading credit while driving, you plead temporary insanity with one thousand Naira, you see the fight has grown to ten men wey the matter no concern, you buy Lucozade boost, you get to your destination.
When I left Lagos five years ago, it was many things but never overwhelming. Lagos was Lagos, full stop. While editing, my agent pointed out that I had too few descriptions. Readers liked the atmospheric stuff, they wanted to taste a place, smell it, feel the dust in the back of their throat, all that jazz. My response was wonder. What kind of person would want to smell Lagos, or taste it, or have harmattan crawling in their throat?
I started writing descriptive passages that same night and this was when Lagos began to overwhelm. You see something clearly until you try to hold it. What does Lagos really smell like? It is smelly, we know but what does smelly smell like? Bad but bad is not good enough, too vague, what are the shades of smelly, the ingredients that make you drive past and hold your face? I don't know. I've written about the smell in Lagos, the traffic, the reflecting heat that bounces off walls but I still don't know. I've written about touts and policemen and the signs chalked on empty walls and the nice grass in Ikoyi and broken flats in slums and the mud in the markets but I still don't know.
Hopefully those of you that know Lagos will recognise it in what I've written. There was a five year remove so pardon the holes. For those of you that don't know Lagos, if my Lagos is fantasy, then hopefully it will be a readable, likeable fantasy.
Eko oni baje!