Saturday, 1 October 2011

LAGOS, land of dreams

The alarm rang through my ears, opening my eyes to the harsh reality, that it’s yet another day, another day to join the hustles and bustles of Lagos.
I slipped out of my wrapper into the bathroom with sweat dripping down my neck, I felt the coolness as the shower rained down my head, as i washed myself with mind drifted back to the night....
The heat was so much I couldn’t sleep, we hadn’t had light in almost eight weeks, I tried  seeing with a candle while struggling with the charcoal prints on my shirt perfectly stamped from the locally made stove iron.
I laid on my bed and reflected back on how the journey through the day went, I felt stress and pain all over my bones. I laid, looking straight up the dark ceiling and drifted into sleep at about 12:35am.
Another slap of the water at my face, I jumped out of my reverie and dashed back into the room, the time was 4:25am, in another 20mins,I was back on the streets of Lagos.

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Lagos, the land of dreams…We hope, pray, smile and cry.
The sky so clear, the sun so bright, from the suburb to the island,
 Lagos, a land to all, people of tribes, tongue, and race with an estimated  population of about 9million people.
The future seems so bleak for many who rise in hope at dawn only to drown in tears at dusk. Men and women, boys and girls, all going round but in circles, facing the harsh realities of life in a city, in this city called Lagos.

Iya Abeke, A woman from the down side Ajelogo in mile12, she lives with her six children in a cubicle built on top of water, a swampy mosquito infested area, where refuse is dumped, she lost her husband in an auto accident, life is so tough for her and has no option other than a shelter in d slum.
Waking up to the stench which is now a very familiar aroma, her children queue up to buy drinkable water, at least that can be afforded, and afterwards, stroll down the back of the house to fetch the swamp water for a bath. Life seems so hard, with the children falling sick and not been able to provide white medicine but herbs and other concussion.
Before 7am she sets her fire wood and frying pan out for her regular sale of Akara and Yam which is the only source of income for her bills to be paid. At sun down the children hawks pure water and come back at night to eat Yam and Akara which has been a usual menu since they can remember and probably till death.
With bright eyes shinning with hopes and a fighting spirit, Iya Abeke keeps hope alive.

Lamidi, is a graduate of Accounting, he’s been six years and counting on the streets of Lagos, he walks the length and breadth of Broad street, with a brown A4 envelope which contains his life most precious asset, his credentials. He dreams of been a chartered accountant someday, maybe working in one of this very tall buildings. He was brought up and has spent most of his life in Ibadan, heard news of greener pastures in Lagos, he squats with a  friend who squats with a distant relation, all with the hope of a better life in the city of dreams.
Lamidi was born into a family of eight, his father, a farmer and mother a petty trader in Ibadan. Coming to Lagos for Lamidi's parent was like a son traveling to the New York City. The harsh realities of Lagos and the unfriendly environment turns Lamidie’s hopes into dreams. He cant go back to Ibadan with nothing, so he hopes upon nothing, the Future seems so bleak.

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It was a regular Friday evening, I headed for the bus stop, the crowd was intimidating, no bus, I thought to myself, "not again", then a bus came speeding down the park, I was now at alert and as d bus came to a halt I rushed, squeezing myself through as others did the same, holding my bag so tight so I don’t become a victim to pick pockets, I secured a sit right behind the driver before I could catch my breath, the conductor started shouting ''wole kpelu change o" I had no change but I ignored him, a look at his face, I was annoyed at his arrogance, and then I thought ,he looked like one around 21/22 years, dark and painfully thin, with red eyes and black lips, he obviously has been drinking and smoking.
Looking at him just reminded me of a young boy I interviewed some months back, he was lost in Lagos, those were his exact words, a boy with no future, he had chosen his own life path, he came from faraway Kwara state with no relatives in Lagos, he sleeps under bridges and buses and at dawn, jumps on the next bus as a conductor. So many other young boys of his age have the same life circle, they roam aimlessly on the streets, bus stops and under bridges, with little or no hope for tomorrow, they go into robbery which is the fastest way to earn money and shortest cut to hell and then again, I thought to myself, what’s the remedy out of this life? Can’t somebody be responsible? May be the government, the thought of that brought a sour taste to my mouth, well that’s a thought for another day, I said to my self.
It was a long ride down to Ikorodu, the traffic was heavy, and then I noticed a familiar street hawker, a little girl of not more than 12years of age, she sells candle stands in traffic, my heart wept for her.
she lives around my neighborhood with her blind father who makes the candle stands, how he makes them I still don’t understand despite his blindness, she hawks the stand from noon till sundown. Isn’t that what is referred to as child abuse? Then I took notice of more young and old, selling different things in traffic, this has become their profession, I wondered how long this will go on.

Life is hard in Lagos, how can we have adequate amenities? at least light and water? the new government promises a better life, by providing all the basics but that hasn’t really improved. Despite the BRT transport which you would need to queue for hours to get on the bus which people stand in between the rows, still not convenient. The promise of uninterrupted power is a far cry, In fact we virtually live without it and so used to it. Having a private generator set is now the remedy in Lagos, where the generator traders connive with Nepa to with hold the light so they can make more sale, isn’t that pathetic?
The rich stays rich and the poor, poorer. I took a ride down to the Lagos island sometime, though on a mission and not aimless, I saw life, beautiful houses and sleek cars, the gap between the rich and d poor is just so wide, I couldn’t comprehend, maybe Lagos is really meant for them. Better roads and electricity, which is readily given to choice areas.
and I wonder to my self ,do I belong? I am affected by this hard life and a victim of the hustle, but I wonder, if other states were well catered for like the posh areas in Lagos, if they had good roads and the basics, then we would all rather stay in our different states.

Some where far down east, is were I come from, were civilization hasn’t touched its borders, long untarred dusty roads, no basic amenities, not to talk about jobs. My Ibo brothers have no choice but to jump in to the next Ekenedilichukwu Transport to the city of dreams EKO.
EKO! The land were we struggle, hustle, fight to survive, keeping our head above the waters, we try living our dreams but watches as it fades, we cant go back without noting so we live and hope that some day we'll live our dreams in the land of dreams.

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It was some time in April, some where in Ajegunle, stood a little settlement for the for people who couldn’t afford so much for a better accommodation. These houses were built with woods on swamp, even those built with blocks were on swampy grounds and like the tears of heaven, the rain came pouring with dark clouds, children playing in the streets ran for refuge, the woman gathered all they could in to the house, if only they knew what was to come. And the wind blew so hard, the roofs came tearing down and the rain started ,it seemed forever, it seemed endless as the water rose and rose, even to the roof level. They lost everything, all of the little they had, they were homeless, in the dark night, in the cold, the children, the dream, there was no hope, all chattered dreams, all they worked for, all drowned in one night.
Looking out my window as I rode in a bus, I watched the scene and I thought to myself, "waiting for help is like waiting for rain in the drought" after several weeks, help finally came, the government was able to make channels for the water to flow, but no channel for homes to be restored. That is the harsh reality of life in Lagos.
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From month to month and year to year, the black smoke from her fire wood painted the twilight skies. Gentle old lady squats by the black big pot on the burning fire wood,  stirring her fired fish, afterward she puts her fried yam on the hot frying oil, she feels the pain through her back spine as she squats her back down, her old palm has been severely bruised by hot pots and woods, her eye color is constantly now yellow as the smoke goes directly into it. In all she finds her joy in her three grown sons whom for them she does all this, training them with her profit. They stand proudly behind her, helping their old lady set the fire woods, cut the yam and also sell the cooked products to the long queue of buyers including me. This is yet another hard story of struggling to survive in Lagos to make ends meet to train her boys, all in this land of dreams.

The story seems endless as there is another collapsed building on Lagos island. Ifeanyi, of blessed memories who was married with a wife and two kids. He was able to secure a room and parlor in one of these very "slim"  building on Lagos island "Isale Eko" a poor structure which he paid  too much for, he grumbled as he observed the smelly gutter, he had no choice, but at least it was cleaner than the one room apartment he was moving from in Ikota – Etiosa, with small space, he could hardly even open his window for it would definitely hit another neighbors window, he was a trader, he had a weave on store in the heart of Balogun market, business was going fine with him, at least he could travel last Christmas to the east to show forth his hard work to his people. On that fateful  Sunday morning, preparing for early morning mass, The children were all dressed and ready for church after a healthy meal or rice and beans…then it all happened suddenly, in a twinkling of an eye..
The rest is history, a part of what I write today, he is gone and so also his family. Life goes on like nothing happened, and a lot of "about to collapse buildings" still stands tall on the streets of Lagos with more lives to be lost.
It’s an ordeal been a victim of circumstance, life has been so cruel, it has left people sad and many dead. Seems like the grasses are greener under other skies and not this part of our world.

There are definitely no green grasses under Alima’s skies, she was a victim of this feelings, thinking a lot and most times finds her self in the cool of the evening roaming the streets aimlessly. She was born from two unstables who fought to become stable, a victim of broken home and child abuse. Her story begins on the streets of Ajose adeogun were she lines up amidst other young girls to be picked by the high and mighty men who are patriots to this profession. She thought the body trade business was not so profitable as she does so much for just a little Naira, she wishes for a better life, maybe to learn a trade or get an education but were on earth will help come from? These and more questions she asked with tears in her eyes as she narrates a bitter tale of her life’s story. Is there truly help from somewhere, anywhere? what Is the government doing about situations as this? What measures has been put in place to eradicate poverty, prostitution, robbery etc.
Our people needs help from all aspect  of life but I know helps comes from no where else but God, for when all routes seems blocked, through obstacles and bridges over troubled waters, HE will surely cater for his own.

Through teary eyes and smiley ones, the sorrowful and the contempted, we lift up our eyes to the heaven with the believe that only there our hope lies.

On a quiet Tuesday evening, we were all set for dinner with our plate of hot rice and stew with the steam causing the ceiling to sweat, with just about three spoons of rice down my throat, we heard a knock at d door, it was a very unusual knock, I got up and headed for the door, who is that, I shouted and it was Miss. Ross, our neighbor from the back flat, a middle age lady who has had her fair share of life’s bitter taste and resolved to a life of solitude. She seldom goes into peoples houses so I thought for her to be at my front door, it must be important. So I opened up immediately as our eyes met, she gave a quick wink at me but it was too late. I had guns pointed at my fore head, the rubbers were two and the others were positioned around the compound. They raided the house and threatened to shoot if we dint cooperate. They looted to their satisfaction and left us locked up in the toilet. When we were sure they were gone, we screamed aloud for help..we got none cause the neighbours locked their doors instead and turned off their lights for they also feared for their lives. The robbers flew free.

Precisely 6:15am on a Monday morning, on my way out early to beat traffic, right under the Ojota bridge laid a man rolling on the floor, he was an albino and probable could not see clearly cos it was still very dark at that time, he had just been hit by a hit and run vehicle, passers by as usual placed their hands on their heads, screaming but no one went for the rescue, he suddenly laid looking dead at some point and moved his legs weakly intermittently for people to know he is still alive, he laid there waiting for help as he passed on slowly. I was right on the opposite side of the road screaming ‘somebody help him…he is still alive’’ just like the other lagosians, I couldn’t do much but scream as my bus rolled away, I felt depressed that whole day as I wasn’t sure if he survived. This albino was with a traveling bag, probably one of the night travelers who just got back from a journey. He sure would have come into Lagos with dreams, but Jan 12th 6:20 am, he might have just died with those dreams. This sad scene is a regular on the Lagos roads.

The stories are endless, more of sad than good, but in all, never give up those dreams, in fact dream big, hope and be hopeful, rejoice in all situation, and give thanks daily for another sun rise and sun set. Most especially, contribute your own bit to this city and feel justified.

Lagos, land of dreams, dreams for many, young and old, rich and poor, the happy,
and depressed, the achiever, the jobless, the traders and street hawkers, the under bridge dwellers and men of the under world, we are all but passers by in this land, even in this world at large, no one wants to go back to were was once called home but feel so at ease in Lagos.

                                                                                                                  THE STORY TELLER
                                                                                                                                    JD Ugwu

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