Sunday 24 November 2013

London Lagos Chronicles Part 2

And all the while I am writing this, there are people trudging their way to Europe thousands of feet under me. I have a cousin who crossed the desert to get to Spain once. Not a first cousin. I distinguish not to distance our association but because I hope no first cousin of mine would ever be reduced to such straits. Even if they fell off the road to prosperity, the family net would catch them but the further you radiate from my father and his brothers to their cousins and cousin’s cousins, the net grows weaker till only a few strands remains, dangling weakly, straws for drowning men to clutch at. He crossed the Sahara, miles and miles of sand, only to be sent back after a few months in Spain.

I saw a patch of grey a few minutes ago and I wondered if it was an oasis. I met this desert crossing cousin of mine very briefly. He came to see my dad in the hospital. If England looks like a living organ still pumping sap, the Sahara looks like a dead organ, dried and exhibited for study in the lab, the cross section of dried tissues and vessels cut open for students and airplane passengers to look into. This is the desiccation of the world. Some of the patterns on the ground look like waves, waves petrified in motion, forever about to break free and continue their surge forward.

When my cousin who walked across these dried waves came to see my dad, we (Dinachi and I) dropped into the office briefly. We greeted him warmly, in the way you greet strangers who you have just been told are your relatives. He did not look like someone that had needed to cross the Sahara. He was lanky not thin and he was smartly dressed in dark colours, either brown or black. I remember what I was wearing. Flared blue jeans with zip pockets in front bough from America, a size 5 not 7 even though my first cousins in America thought I was more a 7. And a pink tank top with a cartoon monkey on it, whose provenance is unknown but which I am certain I did not buy. It was a gift but I cannot remember from whom. I had just been to the bank with my mother, the purpose of my trip I have forgotten but it was just before I moved to England. Anyway, I met my cousin, we shook hands with adequate smiles and then we left.

Later on, my mother told me his story. She said he looked at us like special children, like the children of a rich man who was enjoying life but we were his cousins. It wasn’t an acquisitive look but it was a look that said, ‘that could have been me.’ We come from the same stock. The context of my mother saying this was that my father had offered to sponsor his higher education. He had declined and asked for sponsorship to go to Europe instead, by air presumably this second time not by road. This was where he wanted to continue his life and possibly finished school. It seemed preposterous to my father but my mother sympathised with this cousin of mine. He saw his relatives sending their children to schools in Europe and America, he saw their children enjoying, epitomised by myself in my tight jeans and monkey shirt and why should he not want that? Entitlement is a funny thing. On some level we all have it. We feel entitled to the world. That’s why we wake up every morning and go out into it. I don’t know one singularity about his character, except what I can extrapolate from his willingness to cross the Sahara on foot. He might have been a great explorer in another life, Mungo Park, Livingstone, Stanley, the last especially with tenacity and demons driving them on. Instead, in the 21st Century, he ended up another immigrant deported back to his country, doing in six hours on a plane what is had taken over six weeks to do on foot.

I have been writing for almost an hour. We have 2:04 hours left of flight time. When I started I think it was 2:59.

16 minutes left. There is a harmattan haze over Lagos so even though we’re so close I can’t see a thing. I much prefer a morning flight actually. I only had brief nap but during the day time, that’s when you realise that 6 hours of travel is not that much. Just three BBC documentaries and a couple of hours of reading, journaling and playing games on my ipad. The ground below is still very scrubby and dusty but it can’t be Northern Nigeria. This plane is fast but it can’t cover that distance so fast. The plane is trembling a little bit. Not jolting up and down in turbulence but trembling. I wish I knew why. When you know the reason behind every strange noise and rumble, you grow less fearful. Maybe I should learn how to fly. Skip driving.

We just flew over some lakes with green land pushing into them, mysterious puzzle shapes of moss. Nigeria is very green, very dark green. I can see a red dusty line running through the verdure, unpaved earth leading perhaps to a village with no running water. The plane has stopped trembling. We are floating noiselessly. The land isn’t parcelled out in square strips like in Europe. No patchwork here. Just green and more green. Plenty of room for modern agriculture. Another red line running through the green. I wonder what state we’re flying over.

Now suddenly, the sprawl of houses begin. Welcome to Lagos. I’m right opposite the sun. Its cloaked in dust. Harmattan makes it almost possible to look the sun in the eye. We’re back to green again. Those houses weren’t in Lagos or at least not Lagos proper. The land makes its own pattern here. A clump of trees, some scrub, some open grass, once in a while intersected by dirt lines like scars. Ooh a tarmac road. The woman behind me said, ‘It looks like Scotland.’ Her boyfriend I think is Nigerian. He has no hair on the sides of his head, on purpose I think. In the middle is a long top knot of dreadlocks sitting in a prim bun. 4 minutes remaining according to my clock and still no sign of Lagos. Clock must be wrong. Lagos is drowning from the ocean and the North is drowning from the Sahara. Houses scattered in the green, haphazardly from this height is seems. What need for order in such space.

A little oasis of green grass in what has become a sprawl now.
‘Look at how densely….’
‘It’s just haphazard.’
My fellow passengers.

I have seen a church from the sky, pink roof and cream walls, and a rubbish heap and some tiny fires burning on a smaller dump. The roads are much nicer in Lagos. Actually I just saw one that looks like eczema. I can see into people’s compounds now. The man behind me is thanking God we arrived safely. Touchdown. It’s good to be home.

Thursday 14 November 2013

London Lagos Chronicles Part 1

Instead of spending 6 hours watching movies on my last flight home, I decided to write and record the experience live and direct. Here's part one of my musings.

Separate the waters. I'm on the British Airways flight to Nigeria.  From the air on a clear sunny day with no clouds, the blue of the sky and of the sea merge into one on the horizon. All around is blue, no up and no down. Flying over England, the land below reminded me of sayings like the land is in the blood or the blood of England flows through your veins. It really did look like an organ with the thick lines of trees like arteries and veins and capillaries carrying thick green sap to England's people. And who are England's people?

The couple next to me are old. They sneeze and splutter and cough a lot. They cover their mouths when they do. Their hands seem ineffectual. Many germs escape I fear and mostly on to me but their politeness is appreciated. We are over France now. Just across the Channel and the landscape seems dryer, more arid and the pieces of the farmland jigsaw are smaller and browner. There also seem to be fewer trees or maybes it's because we're higher up. Some quite persistent turbulence. I am drinking Coke. I fear for your pages. The engine roar grows louder for a moment and then quietens down. I used the loo before I got on the plane but will it be enough? The flight has quite a few empty seats. Perhaps BA is not longer so popular, colonial mentality unwinding.

We're flying over what must be the Sahara Desert now. It's not the Sahara of shifting sands that is so popular in the imagination but the part of the desert that is craggy and brown, unending dryness to the front and the back of the plane. The ground is so unchanging it doesn't feel like we're moving at all. There are thin cracks in the land that look like the beds of where river and streams once flowed. We are leaving behind the crags now and moving on to the more archetypal Sahara. The cracks in the old Sahara look like dried up capillaries and veins, arid England. There are some depressions in the sand. They must be quite deep but from up here they look like pockmarks.

 There is a dark thin ribbon running along the ground for what must be miles. It looks like a grey tarmac road but it can't be. Once you have a fixed point to look from, you realise how fast we're moving. In the few seconds it took to write this, the strange road has already disappeared beyond craning distance. I will make a way in the desert God says in Isaiah, where rivers of living water will flow. There's a patch of sand a lot redder than the rest of the desert, like a birthmark. There are lines running through the desert, swirling and sweeping and it makes you almost think there must be a pattern, some cosmic Artist whose handwork you would be able to fully appreciate if only you could go a little higher. That's how they saw the Nazca lines. They flew.

Stay tuned for Part 2.
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