Monday, December 24, 2007

Lagos- Chop Life City

I have spent two nights in Lagos, yet it feels like a week or two. Things move so fast here but each moment is filled with all kinds of experiences. What you experience in Lagos in one week can be like a month in other countries. Scenes and events from a drive from the airport to Victoria Island is enough to write a short play – I guess this is why Nollywood is so prolific. This is all heightened around the Christmas and New Year period when Lagos is on a full high. The festive period is a time of great activity: weddings, engagement parties, Christmas parties, all kinds of parties for all kinds of reasons or at times, for no reason at all. People simply want to ‘Chop Life’. This is Chop Life city, the home of CLC – Chop Life Culture. The parties never end. The people must party. The unwritten social constitution accepts it as a fundamental human right. It is the land of the world’s happiest people.

In December, hundreds if not thousands of Nigerians in the diaspora return home for the festive period (and the airlines make a killing at this time because they increase their fares knowing they will still have full flights). For Naija’s returning home, it’s not just time for gifts and good cheer, it’s a time to “show what you got” and strut your stuff. For every indignity suffered overseas, the few weeks spent in Nigeria will make up for it, when all of a sudden you who may have been a struggling nobody with a strange surname in a foreign country get to Lagos and become a ‘Big Man’. People who can tell you are from ‘abroad’ or that you are a person of affluence or influence (in short, if they smell the cash) with full-toothed smiles and solicitous eyes will call you “Oga, Chairman, General, Chief etc”, not because they really feel you maybe any of these things but because they are simply seeking their own slice of your financial cake. Some egos thrive on this and so some pockets get filled up from ego-stroking. And for those with the same background as you, well, the competition is on: the question is who is the Bigger Boy: What do you drive? What do you wear? Where do you live? Who’s your daddy? How many bottles of Champagne can you buy? Who’s on your arm? How fair skinned is she? These are, of course, all broad generalisations, but you get the picture, Lagos is not for light weights. For example, on Sunday night, I was driving in Victoria Island and then got on the phone with a friend in Nairobi, so I parked opposite a club not too far from my family home here. In less than 30 minutes, I counted at least six brand new Range Rovers, five Mercedes Benzes and a plethora of other luxury cars driving up, many with personalised licence plates. The “sistas” all looking Beyonceified in their carefully chosen colour coded clothes, glittering hand bags and dangerously high stilettos, ensured that they did not go unnoticed in the whole charade. It was both a car show and a fashion show at the same time. You can smell BIG money everywhere, though the source of the money however, is another issue.

Often when people talk about Nigeria or Africa, they focus on the poverty not the wealth, the dangers not the pleasures, and while watching one of those Nollywood movies on Africa magic, I was impressed when one of the actors driving down the streets of Abuja, pointed at the skyscrapers and said “They don’t show this is on CNN, they just want people to believe we live on trees”. True to form, I was watching the BBC a few hours later and on a programme called Have your Say, there was a debate about aid ( in the context of humanitarian assistance) and conflict across the world, but the only pictures they were showing in the background were kwashiorkor ridden African children with their genitals in full display, bare breasted African women and drug-dazed pseudo-Rambo rebels contorted into strange positions while shooting AK47s at some unseen opponents in lush distant bushes. This is the Africa the world knows, not the Africa where people enjoy and “chop life”. In addition, they will never show unclothed Caucasians in a state of vulnerability on television (unless it carries a warning) and secondly why use Africans as the image of poverty? As if that is all we are about. I suggest that the Ministry of Tourism think about changing the brand of Nigeria from ‘the Heartbeat of Africa’ to Nigeria: Chop Life Country. It seems so much more appropriate and by the time you explain that Chop Life means ‘eat life’ i.e. enjoy life to the fullest, then we may just position Nigeria as a key tourist destination. However, don’t make the mistake of thinking you have some pounds and dollars and you are coming here to live large or oppress those who live here – they may just have more of both currencies than you do. You better bring a truck full of money if you think you will impress anyone because Lagos can be both expensive and demanding, and before you know it, you have spent all you have. But at least you will have enough memories to show for it.

People here know how to have a good time and are as committed to it as Italians are committed to their one hour siesta. In the next five days, I have three weddings, three receptions, traditional engagement parties and a number of other parties and reunions. I suspect that by the time I get on the next flight, I would definitely need a holiday. By the way, I am writing this from Terra Kulture – one of my Think Zones in Lagos ( as you will discover in different cities across the world, I have what I call TZ’s which are cafes, restaurants or lounges where I can think, write, eat, drink and people watch). If you dabble in any of the above, Terra Kulture is a must. Its wi-fi enabled and they also have theatre (every Sunday), an art gallery, a library, a bookshop and an internet cafe. The ambience is arty cum sophisticated with Afro-decor. When I was driving in, I smiled when I saw a banner saying ‘London has the West End, New York has Broadway, Lagos has Theatre@Terra. To know more about Terra Kulture have a look at their site:

Anyway, enough for now, more from Lagos- without a doubt. Merry Christmas from Chop Life City.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Stuck in Atlanta

22 Dec 2007 -So here I am at the Double Three Hotel in Atlanta after a rollicking good, but freezing, writing time in New York and New Jersey. I was meant to be in Lagos by now but I missed my connecting flight from New York thanks to Delta Airlines (the worst I have ever travelled on after Aeroflot to Moscow). Delta Airlines flights are "punctually late" and should be called 'Later Airlines'. A good number of the staff are rude and unhelpful and Later Airlines offers no compensation for making one miss a flight beyond hotel accommodation and $7 meal vouchers - almost the cost of a beer on their domestic flights. Yes, you have to pay for your own beer on Later Airlines! The hotel is nice but sterile, its near the airport thus most buildings around the hotel are somewhat industrial. Perhaps I will foray into the brutal cold to see a bit of Atlanta before heading off to Lagos. Can't wait for the warmth of the African sun!

The presidential race here in the US is heating up and one would think the elections are next week, not next year. Even Kenya which goes to the polls on the 27th of December is not as heated as this, though that would be something to watch....I have a vivid picture of a Kenyan friend's cute three year old holding up her fist and shouting "Raila Odinga" two weeks ago when I was in Nairobi. At least we can be comforted to know that three year olds are more politically conscious than teenagers glued to MTV or Channel O. Anyway, back to the US, Obama's savvy and acceptance here is quite impressive. He is on the face of so many magazines that Hudson News and other airport and train station newsstands seem like Obama campaign centres. I have not seen a black candidate taken so seriously -remember Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpeton ( now under investigation about his presidential campaign funds) were often snubbed or laughed off their campaigns? Well, if you want to see support – with a comedic twist - check out this Barak Obama Christmas carol I just heard on CNN: I wonder if there are any carols for Raila and Kibaki! That would be something. Nairobi must be alive with political hype right now -cant wait to get back there next week under President Odinga or Kibaki...(?). IF Obama wins in the US, wouldn’t it be a Kodak moment to see two sons of Kenya seating down in Camp David over a meal of Nyama Choma? Comrade Jomo Kenyatta would be so pleased.

Anyway, the coffee machine beckons and so does sure I can find a good bookshop and cafe somewhere to 'people watch' -if I my eye lids are not frozen shut. God knew what he was doing when he made me an African! Melanin and cold don't go well matter how long I lived in Europe, I still eschew this cold. It will be a delight to wake up over African skies tomorrow and to start my day in the warm embrace of the African sun and the pulsating hype of Lagos...the city of the unpredictable.