Interesting fact: I spent 18months in Lagos, Nigeria. I met my husband there and what began as a 6month visit from 6th form college in the UK became an 18month life-changing event. Really, given the choice, I wouldn’t have left.
The first week that I was in Nigeria was overwhelming but I loved it immediately. It is a difficult place, volatile and under-developed in many places but for the most part, safe and wonderful to visit and live. Within 20mins of the two places that I lived in Nigeria was the Lekki Conservation Center, a patch of jungle land with paths cut through for people to walk through. There was a crocodile watching stand from where I saw one monitor lizard, a troop of monkeys that were occasionally friendly and even brave enough to go up to groups as my father experienced, though they never came down from the trees for me – my husband would say that’s because they knew I wanted to take them home… By far the highlight of this center was a tree house somewhere in the middle of the area, located HIGH into the tree probably two or three stories up. It was a hell of a climb to get up there; a vertical ladder nailed onto the tree and with a cage built around the upper reaches to prevent accidents, which just made it scarier, and then a small square for maybe 4-6 people. From here you could see for miles on a clear day, you were above the tallest trees imaginable and it felt like you were Tarzan. It was an amazing feeling and an amazing experience, just to be there. I saw many animals while visiting the center, from centipedes as big as a man’s foot, to 6ft long green tree snakes, however the savannah section was always disappointing and we rarely saw a glimpse of anything while walking this arid area.
There was one occasion where my brother was in Lagos visiting my family. He and I took a car and were dropped off at the conservation center to look around and visit. This was the usual wonderful visit but became all the more exciting when the car didn’t come back to get us and we decided to get public transport back to the school grounds on which we lived. White people in Lagos do not take public transport. Locals have a name for white ex-pats: Oyinbo Pepe, basically “white-man, red pepper” ie, burnt guys. Hilarious no? ah the joys. Anyway, for the most part, the locals didn’t see much of the expat community which mostly tried to avoid public transport or local areas so my brother and I jumping on a fully loaded Damfo (think 60s hippy bus with no doors and painted bright yellow) was amazingly funny to them. We squished onto the back seat of this damfo, I might even have had to sit on my brother’s lap at first, I’m not really sure I remember that as clearly as the woman whose chicken was in a cage on her lap and the children who stared at us the whole way back. Even people on the sides of the road saw white faces and pointed and laughed at us being there. It was made more incredible by the idea that, typically, expats don’t use public transport because it was unsafe but of all the time I spent in Nigeria, I never felt threatened while around the locals, not once.
I met a boy through the friends of my brother and he and I struck up a mutual friendship in our admiration of the locals and general awe at our surroundings even though he had lived in Nigeria much of his life. He arranged a trip for us to go to the tiny waterfront home of a fisherman around the back of where we lived when we were first in Nigeria (we lived in two places). These tiny shacks were dotted along the water of the lagoon all over Victoria Island and I hadn’t ever really given them much thought, though I marveled at the tiny canoes the fishermen used to travel from one side of the lagoon to the other. The canoes were basically tree trunks scooped out to fit a couple of people and sat in the water, fully loaded with men and women and boys and girls, just barely above the water’s surface. My friend had arranged for us to take one of these boats, take some line and bait from the fisher man and travel from my side of the lagoon to his family’s dock on the next island over. It was terrifying. The boat sat so low in the water I was afraid of it capsizing every second. The man who ferried us thought I was hilarious and my friend was much more at ease than I was. We made it across the water unscathed and we sat on the little strip of wooden decking dangling our lines over the water, and I caught my first tiny little fish. Someone came out from the house and brought us some cokes and I noticed a flash of brown moving in the garden. My friend’s sister apparently had a pet deer. A deer. It was a tiny little fawn (a special kind of deer that doesn’t grow very big but I can’t remember the name of it) and it was the most adorable and random pet I had ever seen. We spent the whole afternoon sitting under the sun fishing and drinking cokes before getting in a car and going home. It was a great way to experience some of the things the locals did and have fun. I don’t think my friend knew how much that day meant to me… I’m not sure *I* did until later.