Any writer who sets out to capture the essence of the changeable, frenetic, off-the-Richter-scale nation that is Nigeria sets themselves a tall order. However, Noo Saro-Wiwa, Teju Cole – and more recently – Ifeanyi Awachie have each produced insightful, perceptive chronicles of their travel experiences in the West African country.
Noo Sara-Wiwa was raised in England but spent every summer in Nigeria visiting her poet and activist father, Ken Sara-Wiwa. In Looking for Transwonderland she travels from the chaos of Lagos to the calm beauty of the eastern mountains painting an enchanting picture of the father’s homeland.
“Kano women were a mystery to me, an inconspicuous, penumbral presence in the city, partaking little in public activity. Men appeared to do everything: they made up the entirety of cinema audiences, dominated the basketball courts, repaired clothes and sold all the fruit on the roadside.
‘Ninety per cent of my friends in the north don’t work,’ said Rabi Isa, from her desk at the British Council in the centre of town. ‘Many of them have degrees but they got married and started having children straight after graduation.’”
Teju Cole grew up in Nigeria and moved to the US in 1992. He is an award-winning writer, a photographer and a professional historian. Every Day is for the Thief is a fictionalised tale a of a young man’s return to Nigeria after 15 years away.
“Money dished out in quantities fitting the context, is a social lubricant here. It eases passage even as it maintains hierarchies. Fifty naira for the man who helps you back out from a parking spot, two hundred naira for the police officer who stops you for no good reason in the dead of night, ten thousand for the clearing agent who helps bring your imported crate through customs. For each transaction, there is a suitable amount. No one else seems to worry, as I do, that the money demanded by someone whose finger hovers over the trigger of an AK-47 is less a tip than a ransom.”
Ifeanyi Awachie was born in Nigeria and raised in California and Georgia. Her photodocumentary ebook Summer in Igboland is filled with experiences, recollections and vivid images of family, food, hair and music. Read more about her book and view a selection of her photographs at OkayAfrica.
“We head to the club, Orange Room on Bisala Road, for a night of dancing. On the drive over, I get nervous. I can dance—in the States, I’m always in the centre of the dance floor, usually surrounded by non-black friends who copy my moves—but I’m in Africa right now, the birthplace of rhythm. I dance hesitantly, expecting everyone at the club to bust effortlessly superior moves, but the DJ plays hip-hop, and the other clubbers are decent dancers, but I’m the expert. When it gets late and the set shifts to Afrobeat, I feel confident enough to summon up the dance moves I know from Nigerian community parties in Atlanta and invent more.
‘Where did you learn to dance?’ one of Nkem’s friends asks me, bending close to be heard above an Azonto track. He means that I couldn’t have learned to dance like a Nigerian in America, but I haven’t lived in Nigeria long enough to learn here, either. I could yell what I suspect, which is that rhythm is genetic, but instead I shrug, happy that my moves speak for themselves.”