Yuichi Oono / Marubeni Nigeria Ltd.
Nigeria, a country where people dressed in colorful ethnic costumes fill the streets, is an assembly of more than two hundred ethnic groups, and has a population of 160 million. It is Africa’s largest oil producing nation. Lagos, where we live, is a commercial city on the Atlantic Ocean. Because of its tropical climate, you can enjoy bougainvillea and hibiscus blooms and the sight of palm leaves swinging in the sea breeze year round. Read this line, and you might be forgiven for thinking that Lagos is a paradise. In reality, however, it is a city full of noise and confusion, as if representing the troubles of Africa.
No sooner do I drive out of the steel gate of my home, which is protected by security guards, than I get stuck in a traffic jam. Sometimes, it takes almost an hour to get to the Falomo Bridge, only five-hundred meters from my home. Beyond the bridge lies Victoria Island, the center of the city and everyone’s destination. It is a far cry from the waterfront areas in industrialized countries where islands are connected by a variety of beautiful bridges.
There are a myriad of cars and motorcycle-style taxicabs, weaving their way through the crowd of cars. Barely a few centimeters are left for pedestrians, the majority of whom are street merchants or skeletal figures. They sell everything from vegetables and sweets, to pajamas, wall clocks and hats. They are like a walking convenience store. Traffic jams are good opportunities for them to sell products. If you look at one, even out of curiosity, they take it for granted that you will buy their goods and they will follow you endlessly. When driving in Lagos, I never open the car windows. In fact, I have never strolled along the streets of the city. These days, restaurants get held up by armed robbers on almost a daily basis. So it is not easy to dining out in the evening.
At night, streets are dimly lit by the swinging light of oil lamps used by shops along the streets. Against the backdrop of the black night it is a truly romantic scene. But in fact it means that once again electricity is not available. Blackouts are an everyday occurrence. When it rains, streets and roads flood as if a huge amount of water were dumped from a bucket.
I often see people napping on the side of the street. At high noon, when it is sweltering, they look quite comfortable under a bower of trees. As I gaze over a quiet creek I sometimes see people casting a net from a small boat. It is a pastoral scene that reminds us of the tranquil local lifestyle that has been passed down for generations. I feel a constriction in my chest. Lagos is a city where the rich and the poor together with ancient and modern society coexist in a confusing and chaotic manner.
I heard that the number of Nigerians who feel that they are happy and satisfied with their lifestyle is very high, despite these problems. Joshua, our cook and a dedicated Christian, always says, “I thank God for everything he gives me.” His specialties are gyoza and korokke (Japanese-style croquettes), prepared using dough he makes himself. The most relaxing evening pastime is having a party with the very small number of Japanese workers stationed in Lagos, and enjoying conversations with them while appreciating the snacks cooked by Joshua. In these relaxing moments, I feel like “sunny spells.”
Marubeni Group magazine "M-SPIRIT" VOL.43 (Jan, 2008)