“So there I was, spear in hand,” I recounted to my thoroughly American friends, “The lion charged at me, jaws agape, snarling like the devil himself.” They’re all paying rapt attention to the story now, as well as the picture I had captured of this close encounter, a lion laying in the grass, seemingly unenclosed. The story, of course, was fake. The picture of the lion was taken at a zoo, using some clever camera angle to keep the bars out of the image, but I wasn’t going to tell them that, yet. For the time being, I was going to have fun with them.
People always anticipate the worst when you say that you’re going to Africa. When I started telling people about my upcoming trip to Nigeria, common responses included ‘Don’t catch Ebola,’ and ‘Try not to get kidnapped.’ Rationally, I knew that I wouldn’t have a problem with any of those types of things, but as an American, the concept of African poverty was so ingrained in our media and education that I had definitely internalized at least a little bit of the rhetoric, despite all the reassurances that my dad had given me, himself an expatriate of Nigeria. So when I landed at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos, I was just a little anxious.
The first impression I had of the country was here. It was hot and crowded. Very hot and very crowded. When I got outside, the sunlight was blinding, but by the time my eyes adjusted, I was startled by how verdant the outside was. Expecting a desert, I was greeted by greenery that belonged on a postcard. Palm trees and ferns lined the side of the road, and brought colour to the ash gray strip of highway we traveled on to get to our house in Lagos.
The highway there was uneventful. The local taxis caught my eye, each customized by the individual driver, many with religious messages, whether Islamic prayers or Christian epithets. One large yellow van had the words ‘GOD B GOOD ALL DE TIME’ emblazoned on the side in large, cheerful bubble letters. When we arrived in Lagos, close to the ocean in the south of Nigeria, I was surprised by how Western the city looked. There wasn’t much on the outside to differentiate it from any American city, besides the palm trees and the advertisements in Yoruba along the sides of the road. The house we stayed at belonged to my uncle, and was opulent. Surrounded by a large iron gate, and staffed by 5 overnight guards, it felt like walking into the palace of one of those Nigerian princes that are always sending me such friendly emails.
From there we went to Ibadan, one of the oldest cities in Africa. Farther inland, away from the ocean, the area was hotter than Lagos, and more mountainous. Olumo rock, an important historical site, sits 137 meters above sea level, and is home to many traditionalists who continue their ancestral ways of worship. From the top, we could see the red roofs of Ibadan sprawled out before us, stretching infinitely into the morning mist. The was one of my last images of Nigeria, and a somewhat somber one at that. On that mountain top, I prayed that I would be back soon. Hopefully, one of the spirits that are said to live in the rock heard me.
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