Lesotho or  Nigeria?-Part 4

Lesotho or Nigeria?-Part 4

Last week I left myself at Lagos airport (a remarkable act of masochism). Into the car and we drove off to the hotel. First, the thrill of seeing huge cargo ships all lit up at Apapa docks. Then the downside of discovering the student driver didn’t know Lagos as well as he’d claimed. The streets all have names, but there are no street-signs to reveal which one you’re on.

After a bit of unproductive to-ing and fro-ing, he suddenly declared “now I know where we are!” I asked “did you recognise that building?” and he replied “no, I recognized the pot-hole. It’s been there for thirty years.”
After that, all the best of Lagos came to the fore. I was there for the Book Fair, a big annual event held in a vast marquee on the grounds of the National Museum. My slot seemed to go down well, and there was a beautiful dance performance and, best of all, a Poetry Stampede, during which anyone could come up to the mike and recite or read a poem — a riotous event, but full of energy and zing. If I were still in Lesotho, I’d try to organise something along the same lines.

One respect, though, in which Lesotho loses out to Nigeria is that you don’t have fresh palm wine, which was available throughout the Fair.
Another typical Lagos memory from the Book Fair week, friends arriving from Ibadan and taking me to the former Bar Beach for lunch (Bar Beach has now all but disappeared under the wicked capitalist Eko Atlantic development). This was a tourist can’t-miss.

The beach had a chequered history: once a focal point for charismatic preachers, later, notoriously, it was the site of public executions (Soyinka’s satirical Jero plays depict it all). The beach restaurants did wonderful fish and shellfish, and you could watch people horse-racing along the shore-line. Also there were lots of traders, coming to your table with, for example, beautifully locally-fashioned ornaments and jewellery, made out of wood and metal and sea-shells: inexpensive and easy-to-pack-presents for the folks back home (my host was Yoruba, and imagine the delight on the trader’s face on discovering he was also fluent in Hausa, the trader’s first language).

I could go on and one about “Lesotho or Nigeria?” but had better wind up, or my long-suffering editor might finally lose his cool. Just to say that so much comes down to size and scale. If you look at literary production, for instance, Nigeria is one of the absolute power-houses of the modern novel in English. This is in part to do with the size and complexity of the place and with its host of unresolved problems, all of which is grist to the novelist’s mill. But then look at Lesotho, at the rich heritage of lithoko and lifela and other poetic forms, and the great achievements in written literature (Mofolo, Khaketla, Segoete, Machobane et al) — not bad for a small country that couldn’t work up a dinosaur more than five feet long! Certainly a much more robust heritage than those of countries of similar population such as Botswana or Swaziland, and the reasons for this would be interesting to explore.

Lesotho or Nigeria as a place to live and work in? Assuming a reasonable income, it comes down to the level of excitement you want in your life and, of course, to logistics, comfort and safety. On the last three counts, Lesotho comes out pretty well. I spent my five years in northern Nigeria with house break-ins, power cuts lasting up to two days at a time, no running water, and medical facilities that made Lesotho’s seem wonderful. But I had buckets of excitement (and buckets of water, the only way to get it).

For tourism, I think that every African who can afford it should visit Nigeria. For Basotho, an advantage is that, whatever the state of the maloti / rand, the naira is in deep trouble (has been for decades), so your money goes a long way. But do work out the logistics before you get there, and be cautious — and it helps a lot if you have friends there (I could always lend you some of mine). For non-Africans, it has to be Lesotho, to get a beautiful African experience without too many frights.

Chris Dunton

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