The color of Lagos

The color of Lagos.jpg

Lagos evokes the color yellow, the sound of horns and radios barring, the energy of hustle and bustle. But have you realized that the color and sound of Lagos change from time to time. It changes so gradually that the transformation may be barely noticeable from one day to the other or even one month to the next. But every once in a while, I remember something that once was and no longer is or I notice something that now is, but previously wasn’t.

And at that point, I am reminded with certainty that this city is continuously transforming, perpetually evolving and constantly in-flux and this is a good thing. Collaboratively, we are bringing about our individual and collective future Lagos.

When I see pictures of the Lagos of the 60s and 70s, she is often only recognizable because of some famous landscape or building that still stands, usually the Marina or Cathedral. In the 60s, her streets were not teeming with people. Even at high noon, the people in the photographs had substantial personal space between them. In these pictures, she reminds me of the innocence of young adulthood; that space between 19 and 20, where the emotions of the teenage years have subsided and there is no indication of the frenzy that lies ahead in adulating, or in Lagos’s case of a future where she will permanently be bursting at her seams. In the Lagos of the 60s, I see peace. contemplation. potential. I always listen lustfully to older generations speak about the Lagos they grew up in, which included real PARKS and leisurely strolls.

It is ironic to be nostalgic for something you never witnessed, and doubly so for something whose transformation you contributed to. My parents moved to Lagos with 4 year old me. And I grew up in the Lagos of the 80s and the 90s. In two homes, one in Railway Compound, Ebute Metta and the other on Milverton Road, Ikoyi. They were both rambling colonial homes, and at least from my memory, each of those compounds could take at least 6 average sized compounds. A developers dream today, but in those days, the perfect place to create an idyllic childhood. We ran, cycled, rollerbladed, climbed trees, picked fruit, chased chickens, tried to avoid the random uncovered pit (mama?) that was at a forgotten edge of our massive field and had those random conversations that only children can have with such authority and knowing >> you know the ones that are almost always inadvertently under an open window so the grownups can chuckle in amusement as they walk by.

The Lagos of my childhood had people, but not in a way that a national transplant or a foreign visitor would feel overwhelmed or completely unable to navigate without a guide. In Railway Compound, we had family friends who lived 6 very long streets away (about 20-30 walking minutes), not highway streets, but through at least two major arteries and a couple of interior roads. We would walk to and from each other’s houses with abandon and had mini expeditions around our homes. There might have been help with us, but not in any of my memories.

On our way we crossed small thickets, nothing extremely dense, just unwieldy over grown shrubs and trees decorating the border around the homes on the inside and the generous perimeter around the compounds on the outside; at the time the city’s curbs were considerable and free from the fear of encroachment. The imaginary sidewalk on some of the side streets could get dark enough that if felt like light couldn’t get through the tree leaves even in the day time.

Railway Compound had at least two patches that seemed like forests to the child Akwugo, these forests scared me. I was always more than content to take the longer route through the main roads and would only run through the forest in a group. Once, we even came across poison ivy in these forests. Thankfully, no one I needed to visit with any frequency lived along those paths. Railway Compound was a nice sleepy estate, there were only a few cars, even on the major roads. I can’t say that we ever encountered large groups of people on any of our expeditions, but we did encounter flowers and butterflies.

I grew up drawing these butterflies and flowers and not much else. I still remember how to draw butterflies with two mirror image letter Bs. My favorite flower was the forget-me-nots, I am not sure I liked the flower as much as I loved the name. Even at a time when there was no he, we used the petals of flowers to find out whether he loved us or not. Last year, I went to Ogun State to look for land for a factory and I bumped into white butterflies and the beautiful flowers from my past, my entire childhood came rushing back. It was the most beautiful moment. I had to stop in the middle of a serious excursion to take these pictures. My guide asked me, “why did you take pictures of the flowers?”

How can I explain to him that these flowers awakened the actual child that I once was, and not just the familiar diluted flashes of childlikeness that still resides within me, which I sometimes marvel at as it disappears, search for when I need to be reminded of simpler times and cling on to as it evaporates?

On a subconscious and subliminal level, we carry a piece of every single thing that has ever influenced us. They not only shape us, they inform the trajectory of our lives. As someone who has lived in Lagos for a cumulative 25 years of my life and given that Lagos is the place, of any one place, in which I have lived the longest, my version of Lagos exists in its entirety within me. I say my version of Lagos because I know for certain that my Lagos is not Lagos, we all only have a little piece of Lagos. I have grown up and befriended people who grew up just around the corner from my home in Railway Company, in denser populated Surulere, and everyone on their street was their friend, they took turns living out of each other’s homes and are still friends today. I have a friend who grew up in a yard and as a result she can speak 6 NIGERIAN LANGUAGES FLUENTLY!!!!

The Lagos of my early childhood was filled with hopping over railway lines; skipping through meadows; Tejuosho market; the white and blue walls of St. Savior’s Ebute Metta, and the Mobil Station at Costain. The Lagos of my late childhood and teenage years was full of walking through Old-Ikoyi, when it was Old-Ikoyi, before Golden Gate, which would be the iconic building on Kingsway Road for the longest time, had even been built; renting videos from Ikoyi Hotel, which stood where Southern Sun now stands, and is the original home of Glover Court suya; weekends at Ikoyi Club; ACE supermarket on Awolowo Road; and Third Mainland Bridge. My Lagos now is still Kingsway Road, but also Ozumba Mbadiwe; the Lekki-Ikoyi link bridge; Lekki Phase I and the Lekki Epe Expressway and its multiple roundabouts. I haven’t made up my mind around my expectations for the Lagos of my future. It has only just occurred to me in writing this that my responsibility in creating the future of my dreams, applies not only to my personal life, and not only to the social construct of my community, but also to the built environment of the Lagos I seek for my children, whether I enter politics or not. I know for certain that we cannot manifest things until we dream them.

 Where did you grow up? How has it changed through the ages of your life? What are your hopes and dreams for your home or adopted city? I’d love to hear.