Kemi Agbaje

“The media shows Lagos as either plush houses and clear blue swimming pools or shanty towns and overcrowded markets but they’ve got it wrong. Lagos cannot be reduced into a binary code. It is a lot more than that.”

At first glance, Lagos is a place with not much to do. After you’ve had your fill of weekend weddings and go-karting, exhausted the cinemas and the few good restaurants, the remaining entertainment options seem few and far between. ‘Seem’ is the key word here because I’ve found that if you search hard enough, you’ll find stuff to do. The increasing number of ‘millennials’ moving back from the diaspora has fostered an environment that encourages the growth of underground spots and alternative things to do in the city. Basically, you have to make the effort and seek out what makes you happy. If it is exploring the city and taking pictures, or starting a book club, your experience here will be determined by what you make it.

“‘How was your night?’ Those are the words that I am greeted with every morning that I arrive at work. That is the thing about Lagos. People care. Unlike other cities I have lived in, there is a sense of family everywhere you go. You are never alone. Everybody is your ‘sister’ or your ‘brother’, whether you like it or not.” 

I have loved more moments in Lagos than I have not loved. I love the weather extremes of the sweltering sun and tropical rain. The fact that I can bond with my aunties and uncles, create memories with my best friend, spend time with my parents, hang out with my brothers, take my little cousins to birthday parties and see my grandma are some things that make Lagos a happy place for me. I also love fruit, particularly mango season! I love the fact that it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to buy a pineapple and that I can eat a coconut from my garden. These are little things but, undoubtedly, it’s the little things that add up.

Despite these happy thoughts, I am no stranger to the specific brand of frustration Lagos has to offer. What is key is how you channel the energy from that frustration. I returned to Lagos in December of 2015 and I am not entirely sure what I expected before I moved back. I had heard more bad reviews than good reviews about life in Lagos and this is something I struggled to understand. Having lived elsewhere for 13 years, Lagos was just a pitstop that I’d make during the holidays. However, after having lived here for a year and a few months, one thing at least is clear to me: holidays are not a reference point for what life is really like ‘on ground.’

If Lagos were a person, it would definitely be a dedicated hustler because this city never sleeps. It honks. It tonks. The heat thuds along your spinal cord. Beads form on your forehead from a short walk to the ATM. You are invited to come, look, feel, taste: groundnut, bread, plantain chips. Come rain, come shine, the city stays vibrant and everybody stays hustling.

There have been moments when I have shed buckets of tears, moments when I have lost it because someone is trying to take advantage of me and moments when I have gone home angry because someone I didn’t know well told me I had put on weight. Driving has also been a frustrating experience because people are impatient and ultimately selfish. On one day, an escort car bashed mine and drove off. That someone could do that without flinching showed me the level of unkindness and nonchalance out there. However, there have been more moments of kindness than unkindness so I try to think about those so as not to let Lagos break me. The trick to staying sane in this wonderfully chaotic city is to stay true to yourself and surround yourself with people that bring you up.