Nigeria, The Expat life: Memories of an 11-year-old South African girl

“Memory plays tricks. Memory is another word for story, and nothing is more unreliable.”

Ann-Marie MacDonald~ Fall on your knees

By Kate

Earth’s tears poured onto her sun-kissed-old-aged-skin. Creating pools of scarlet mud that our Jeep sloshed through. I stared vacantly as the Nigerian scenery chopped and changed. I had lost count of how many times I had driven to and fro from the airport over the past decade.

The Jeep halted abruptly to a stop as cars piled up upon one another, prompting our driver to give a long and healthy shrill, “Beeeeeeep! Beeeeep! beeep!”

Desensitized to the chaos of Lagos traffic, I settled my attention on an abandoned broken down Volkswagen. Vines had clung to its heart and engulfed the eroded metal frame into the damaged earth. Claiming it for its own. I thought ironically, ‘This encapsulates what Nigeria is to the rest of the world: neglected; dangerous and dispensable.’

I looked out through windscreen, taking in the third world scenery. A faded, peeling black and white billboard was plastered on the first of a series of broken lampposts that divided the road, “Rule your world.” The bitter irony of the sign was highlighted by the corrugated iron shacks and broken half-built buildings that extended into what seemed infinity.

My memories looped through time and paused on a young girl in Stanger- South Africa, a true daddy’s girl who was eagerly awaiting her father’s call. He had been in Johannesburg for the final shortlisted interview for a job in Nigeria.

She was doodling on a notepad when the phone rang; three trills echoed through the large old house before she raced to answer it.

“Hello, 2050 Kate speaking,” the blonde ten-year old panted, knowing who the caller was but nevertheless following phone protocol.

“Kate!” her beloved father’s familiar voice boomed through the phone line, “Guess what? I got the job! We’re moving to Nigeria!”

She let out a whoop, thrilled by her father’s elation. Her excited screams caught the attention of her mother who rushed over and took the telephone receiver from her.

The jolt of the vehicle pulled me back to the present. I smiled at the memory and felt sorry for my naive self, for she had no idea what the implications of that phone call would have on her life. Her world was about to change, and she had no real idea what that meant.

Smiling to myself, I recalled the first time we arrived in Nigeria. It was the first of many new experiences. My Mother, brother and I were loaded up like camels, carrying bottles of condiments, crushed bags of cereal and dog food for our Jack Russell, who was whining in a dog cage on the conveyor belt.

A pool of muggy air engulfed her as she stepped out of the South African Airways airplane. Foreign smells invaded every orifice in her body. A combination of the thick humidity and the swarms of bodies that pushed and pulled past her made her feel nausea. She stood frozen suffering from a sensory overload.

“I don’t like this place mom”, she said sullenly as she thought about how different things suddenly were.

She didn’t like that everything had changed. Her dad lived an 8 hour flight away, and her mom didn’t seem to understand her. Most of her friends had left her school and there were only three of them in the class now; and now worst of all, she was going to a place where she couldn’t contact her best friend for 16 days.

“Kates, give it a chance”, her mom said.

She merely glanced away and focused on not letting her glassy eyes brim over.

We slowed down as we approached another poverty-stricken area. People, motorbikes and the odd domestic animals darted in and amongst the fuming trucks and cars. They were all pushing and hooting for a place in the swollen two-lane road that had been forced into five lanes. I let out a groan when the vehicle once again stopped. We were stuck in a go-slow, otherwise known as a traffic jam, where the wait could be a little as ten minutes or as long as four hours.

A large red truck coated in dust swayed beside our car; a man who hung on the back of the truck jumped down onto the road and quickly placed a rock in front of the truck tires, attempting to aid the otherwise failing breaks. I smiled to myself and thought, ‘Nigeria didn’t stand a chance then. Funny though, how you can come to love something you once despised.”

An hour had passed before we started edging forward and making our way through the traffic. I glanced across the street saw a man lying on the ground. He looked as though he were a part of the cracks and filth in the street. As we drove closer my view of him became clearer. He was lying face down; a halo of flies buzzed around him christening him Christ in Yeats’ The Second Coming,

“Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold…

The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun.”

People walked around his corpse, as if it were an inconvenience in their path. No one acknowledged him. The car started forward, and I too just as guilty, drove away…

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