Unseen: this is also Lagos

by Dammy Fasoranti

First experience of Lagos

I was born early on a Thursday morning – 3am to be more precise – in a town situated in Southwestern Nigeria called ‘Owo’. My family moved shortly after my birth and resided in Akure, both of these towns are part of Ondo State.

I left Nigeria when I was 9 years and 7 months old, and arrived in London, England two days before Christmas inappropriately dressed in my best Sunday attire; a sky blue puffy princess gown and my Church shoes. I returned to Nigeria for the first time 11 years later to attend a cousin’s wedding where I had my first proper experience of Lagos town. Although I spent the best part of my childhood in Nigeria, it was in the small quiet town of Akure; a town where my father’s uncle was Chief.  Lagos was entirely different in almost every way to where I’d grown up and ultimately what remained of my memories of Nigeria.

After my initial re-introduction to Nigeria, a seed was sown and when I returned back to England 3 weeks later, I thought frequently about returning. I finally made the leap 3 years later when I secured a job in Lagos as an Architectural Assistant and for just over 9 months, I was a ‘Lagosian’. I proudly navigated the bewildering transport system and bravely sat through hours of backed up traffic everyday. During my time in Lagos, I found myself often pondering on the growing cosmopolitan City Lagos had become. The vast differences between the people residing and working in Lagos was unlike any I’d seen anywhere else. In Lagos you will find people of almost every race, colour, social and economic class. The hustle and bustle is indescribable and has led many to call Lagos the city of dreamers. If you can dream it, in Lagos you can achieve it. When I left in 2013, I thought I had seen most of what Lagos had to offer. However my last visit to Lagos showed me otherwise.

In December 2014, I revised Lagos to spend Christmas with my extended family. Before arriving in Lagos, I had read about a project called the
Makoko Floating School by an Architect called Kunle Adeyemi (Founder of Nle Architects). This project had been gaining some media attention so
I was determined to take the time to get up close and personal with the building while I was in town. One impulsive day, a friend and I set off to find our way to this building – we asked locals and friends and eventually stumbled across some Okada (motorcycle) drivers who offered to give us a lift to the people who could give us a personal tour.

Visiting ‘this’ Lagos

We arrived at the edge of Lagos Lagoon and met our guide who helped us into the canoe we would take to the Floating School. After sitting, he informed us he had some errands to run and needed to deliver some fish before we could begin our journey to the School. He hoped we wouldn’t mind. I in fact was delighted! I was looking forward to meeting some of the residents of this quirky community.

The Makoko community is an amazing community that has managed to build a self-governing society on water.  This is not a task for the faint hearted.
On our journey, we came across people who had expertly adjusted to their surroundings like fish to water. As someone from an Architecture background,
I found myself wondering how the community had successfully built homes, buildings and even places of worship on the lagoon. What was even more
astounding was that they were thriving in this environment that many would look down on.

Granted most of the ‘homes’ were little more than structures put together for survival, however besides the structures that had been created by the community, they had successfully developed a system for carrying out day-to-day living. They had developed businesses for making money – from floating shops selling an array of groceries and home products, boats trading fresh fish caught at sea, to floating restaurants selling hot food. What was most impressive to me was how the community had taught their children how to survive on water. I saw many kids jumping from boat to boat, navigating their way through the neighbourhood. Several were even expertly rowing these boats with little to no effort.

My trip through Makoko also showed how the residents had made their environment home. Along many of the structures were Christmas decorations,
lights and tinsel; there was also music playing across the water as people got along with their daily routines. Although I had taken the journey primarily to see the Floating School, the experience I had along the way is what stayed with me. It showed me something of what I described earlier –
the resilience of the ‘Lagosian’ spirit.

I saw a multitude of people who had dreamt of a community and despite the odds, had achieved just that.

See the fascinating pictures of Makoko in the Music issue of ReAfrica magazine. Available on

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