It was 4:00 a.m. and I was already on the streets of one of the busiest cities in the world. I remember that day vividly; it was some time in early November 2001 and the Harmattan breeze was already making it’s way from the North down to the South. That morning I woke up as early as 3:00 a.m. and prepared with my sister for what will be the beginning of my journey to a new life. Our host (I will refer to her as Nneka (her soul rest in peace) told us that we were already late and I thought to myself: “already late at 3:00 a.m.?”
This was all new to me; the hustle, the noise, the rush and the energy, everything was new to me. For the first time I was in Lagos; the city of hustlers. I grew up in South-South Nigeria, in the now-troubled Niger-Delta region and even though I had visited other parts of Nigeria, at 17, I still hadn’t been to Lagos. I was overwhelmed by the stories I heard about the city, I convinced myself that I couldn’t survive under such tough conditions; 3rd mainland bridge traffic, the armed robber stories, area boys wahala and the likes. For me Abuja was my dream come true, an organized city in the heart of Nigeria, the closest I could get to the images I saw in Hollywood movies.
It was the beginning of my journey to the United States and I had no other option than to go to the US embassy in Lagos. I had heard stories about the long line at the embassy, how people sold and bought spots on the line, the freezing air conditioning system in the embassy, stories of people who were denied visas wailing and crying; people who had sold all their belongings or told everyone they knew that they were leaving Nigeria for America: the land of “milk and honey”……I was excited, I was nervous, I was hopeful but most of all I was faithful. Yes I was faithful, I mean I had to be faithful with the amount of prayer and fasting I did with my sisters. At the time my parents were already in the US, so I was confident that we would get our visas with ease but with stories I heard about the meanness of the embassy staff, I knew that I needed serious prayers to bind them from standing in my way of living the American dream!
…..at 4:00 a.m we were already in a cab and the at command of Nneka, the cab driver was speeding like mad. We were headed from Festac Town to Victoria Island(V.I.) and Nneka told us that we could easily get stuck in a 2-hour traffic if we didn’t make it out there before the rest of Lagos wakes up. The streets were already getting filled by cars, sounds like gala, gala, gala, pure water and fresh bread filled the air. I was just amazed by the phonetics with which the street hawkers yelled out their items. A young boy who I thought was barely 10 years old was screaming “cold mineral, malt, cold mineral, malt.” (At his age he should be in bed or getting ready for school. I dreamed of the day I would be able to get young hawkers of the streets off my country). I was startled back to reality by the loud honk of an overloaded Lorry….the driver had been cut off by another motorist and he was screaming harsh profanities. “God punish you” he yelled as he stuck out his five fingers at his new found enemy (giving him the “waka” sign). So much was going on – on the road….the streets of Lagos looked like a movie to me (I was a JJC nah).
We got to V.I. at about 5:30 a.m. and just as Nneka had said, on getting to the embassy the line was already miles long. Nneka being the Lagos chic that she was moved up the line and bought us a spot from one of the street boys who stay overnight and sell their spots to anyone willing to pay. I came to realize that in Las Gidi, everything and anything was a business….(I remember seeing a public toilet on the road with the sign “Pay Before Service” and a line of customers already forming; I guess they were better than those who did their business under the bridge). After waiting on line for what seemed to be eternity, it was our turn to get into the waiting hall. I remember stepping in there and thinking wow….am almost in America, LOL. That was minutes before I realized that unless these people (embassy staff) were trying to kill us, there was no reason the AC should be that cold…..(to be continued)