• Tola Coker

An Outsiders Tale: Re-visiting Lagos

Updated: Oct 14, 2020

2007. 2007 was the first time I had visited my parents’ home country. I’m around seven years old at the time.

Ten years later, my mum had proposed it is past time we revisit Nigeria, and so we did.

I have very few memories of that last visit; what I can remember is the sweltering heat, frequent power cuts and the ice-cold Coca-Colas from my grandad’s’ fridge. I can remember walking into a door when the power went out or star-fishing on the mattress with the fan on full blast or having to bathe with a bucket and a jug. But nothing much of how I felt – aside from wanting to go home the two weeks we were there.

As I got older, the idea of visiting the rowdy streets of Lagos started to grow on me. I had become more aware of the concept of heritage and been more interested in visiting the place which my parents used to call home. Was I romanticising this idea? I probably was, but whether that’s a bad thing or not, I’ll leave that to you.

During the 7 to 8-hour flight and a stop at Casablanca, one begins to think about what life would have been like if my parents hadn’t decided to uproot their lives and move to the UK 25+ years ago. Before I knew it, we had landed at Muritala-Muhammed Airport, and I’m at customs pulling out my green passport instead of red. (thank you dual-citizenship)

We’re picked up by my cousin and aunt, we get in the cab waiting for us in the humid night and make our way to the hotel (let me disclose that my mum objected to staying with her in-laws – but that’s neither here nor there). I look out the window, and nothing is familiar, but I’m intrigued for what the next ten days will bring.

Waking up in a semi-foreign land is unnerving, to say the least, but in a good way, I guess. It’s home to your mother and father, to your grandparents but not to you; it’s not something you dwell on, at least not yet.

Looking out the car window, I see the red clay buildings, men and woman trying to sell stuff – from sunglasses to Fanta, in the road (yes, you read that right). Not to mention the few livestock grazing along the roadside, and the occasional rogue chicken; all of which made for an amusing car journey.

I compared the streets of Lagos to those of London – both noisy, traffic polluted and not without their bad drivers, however for that, Nigeria holds the record. Though somehow, I find myself preferring the dramatic streets of Lagos to the hustle and bustle of London.

Although, I must mention that when you are in fact in the road, you mustn’t make eye contact with whoever is knocking on your car window, because once they do, they won’t leave you alone; if anything, Nigerians are persistent. But I digress.

At every opportunity, my mum would tell us stories of her childhood, what’s changed and what hasn’t. How you’d have to run for, and jumped onto the bus because it didn’t actually stop or that the traffic lights are just there for decoration because they don’t even work. Here, I was able to walk down the streets with no wig and raggedy cornrows without judgement because that was normal. I felt invisible in the best way possible.

Passing through Banana Island, we drive past these big, beautiful houses. Commenting on how the people who live there must be deep-pocketed only to discover they were seized because whoever lived there was corrupt and involved in some type of scam (there’s that Nigerian scammer stereotype we love so much).

Unlike Kent, and to the lesser extent, London, there was never a time where I was the only Black person in the room, no matter where I went there were people that looked like me. It was refreshing, but for some reason, the feeling that I was starting to stick out was settling in.

You see, as you have guessed; I wasn’t born or raised in Nigeria – born in Sidcup and raised in Kent, I have a British accent, a British passport and don’t speak Yoruba either.

It wasn’t until the last few days in my paternal grandmother’s house did I start to feel like an outsider, with my very western clothes and very British dialect. I felt as if they could tell I wasn’t a homegrown Nigerian.

Though I looked like them, I didn’t feel like them. I had been raised with basic Nigerian etiquette – kneeling when you’re greeting an elder or never giving or taking something with your left hand, but it wasn’t enough. In all honesty, there has always been a part of me that that either felt too British or too Nigerian.

The ability in being able to acknowledge these feelings didn’t help because I didn’t and still don’t know how to deal with them. And it doesn’t help when I’m being grilled about not knowing Yoruba – but that’s for another time. Though I will say that getting your hair done, in-house for cheap is as Nigerian as it gets.

At the beginning of this family trip (minus dad), I couldn’t wait to rediscover Nigeria and look at it from a different perspective. But as the days went by I started to feel like a guest and ready to go home back to familiarity.

So, where do I go from here? Because if I feel this way here, is there a place where I would feel completely at home? Will I ever go back again? Many questions that I don’t have to answer to but if this little trip down heritage lane taught me anything, it’s that I can’t live without plantain.

Ok but seriously, your parents’ home does not have to be your home, and that is ok. You are you; you are where you are, and that is fine.

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