RETURN TO AFRICA

We are Africans, not because we are born in Africa, but because Africa is born in us. 

I am surrounded by Nigerians as I stand in line, or rather, amidst chaos at our boarding gate. Glancing around, I am convinced we are already in Nigeria until a solid Texan accent drifts through the intercom announcing that group one may approach the desk for boarding. I sigh deeply as I wait patiently for them to invite group five up to board our flight from Houston to Lagos, Nigeria. My mind is soon engrossed in observing the colorful conversations and exchanges between complete strangers. I subconsciously begin to repeat certain words in my head in an attempt to master their boisterous accents. I drown myself in the sound of their voices and flamboyant laughter. 

Once seated on the plane, I settle myself next to two burly Nigerian men for the long twelve hour flight. “I’m going home. I’m returning to Africa!” I keep repeating to myself, and an irresistible urge to hug and kiss every African on the plane overwhelms me. A heard of buffaloes charge around in my stomach and I try to contain my nervous excitement and anticipation. The hours pass by at a snail’s pace and I am unable to get much sleep.

At long last, breakfast is served and the Captain announces our decent. I am deeply relieved and my anticipation grows but I note that everyone on the plane seems to visibly tense. Passengers become silent as the aircraft begins its approach. The two men sitting next to me sit motionless and they begin to pray. I start to question what it is that everyone seems to know that I don’t. As the plane touches down and the breaks are engaged, the cabin erupts in a chorus of cheers and relieved laughter.  The man to my right exclaims, “Praise Jesus!” and the other next to him responds with a resounding “Amen!” He then proceeds to turn and face me with a giant grin on his face and ask how my flight went.

As per any routine flight, passengers are asked to remain seated until we reach our gate and the seatbelt sign is turned off. This is no ordinary load of passengers however! This airplane is carrying several hundred determined Nigerians. People begin to stand up and open the overhead luggage compartments. Flight crew are kept busy scuttling up and down the aisles trying to settle the chaos. Several passengers head for the lavatories and others proceed to withdraw their luggage and place it on top of their heads. Numerous nationals shake their heads and mumble in embarrassment.

We pass through customs without much hassle, other than the fact that one fellow team member forgot their Yellow Card. Standing at the carousel waiting for our luggage, I question how on earth we will manage to get to our bags as everyone is practically standing on the moving belt. There are no gaps in which to even see. After some polite and hesitant nudging however, our team is fully equipped and ready to exit the airport into a hot and humid Lagos. We have a representative from Benson Idahosa University guiding us through the chaos of traffic and people outside. Our team is lead to a parked van and we all proceed to pile our hot and tired bodies in.

As we drive through a sea of cars towards the Golden Tulip Hotel, I am completely captivated by my surroundings. A sense of peace and contentment consumes me and I find comfort in the familiarity. I am reunited with my Africa! It’s so foreign, yet so familiar. A young man casually walks across all lanes of traffic carrying a car windshield and I can’t help but grin. All modes of local public transport overflow with perspiring bodies. People hang out of windows and doors, and others suspend themselves from any seemingly secure object. I can’t help but think that these are the more fortunate ones as they are able to inhale some fresh[er] air. Men of all ages line the roadsides equipped with a petrol canister and rubber tubing to fill cars up with gas. The atmosphere is filled with an incessant chorus of blaring car horns. It appears as though any road rules that may have once been in place, cease to exist. There is no apparent speed limit anywhere and the use of signal lights seems to be a foreign concept as four lanes of traffic squeeze into two.

When we reach our hotel, I am relieved to be standing on solid ground once again instead of roaring through an ocean of threatening vehicles and exhaust fumes. The hotel lobby is cool and welcoming and soon we are shown to our rooms. I decide to soothe my aching, hot and tired body with a nice cool shower. As I visually scan my surroundings, I notice what looks to be a large insect or bug of some sort in the shower. Upon closer inspection, I find myself face to face with an oily, black cockroach. I start to laugh and instead of removing the specimen, I return to my belongings where I remove my camera to document this stereotypical ‘African’ experience. Shortly after, we experience a power outage and I am not disappointed. My first day is filled with the excitement of a cockroach in my shower and two power outages. I am content.

To be continued...