Femke becomes Funke: “I became angry the Lagosian way – skin deep!”

by Femke van Zeijl

  All of a sudden I see it too. The cramped expressions on faces, the throbbing veins in people’s necks, the eyes spewing fire over nothing. From the outside Lagosians appear to be in a constant state of rage.

‘Animal! Beast! You idiot!’ The taxi driver’s following lines are lost on me because they are in Yoruba. Judging his expression and intonation the content is at least equally insulting as his tirade in English. In his opinion, the bus driver coming from the opposite direction should have given way. Needless to say his opponent does not agree, which the latter expresses in a language matching his counterpart’s abusiveness. The two happily insult each other for a couple of minutes, not minding holding up traffic on this back road in Surulere near Lagos University’s Teaching Hospital. Then they move on as if nothing happened.

I do not realise how much I have already got used to this Lagosian way of communication until a friend from the Nigerian North comes to visit Lagos. He is shocked. ‘Why is everyone shouting? What are they so angry about?’ I look around me in surprise. All of a sudden I see it too. The cramped expressions on faces, the throbbing veins in people’s necks, the eyes spewing fire over nothing. From the outside Lagosians appear to be in a constant state of rage.

I fear for the physical health of an urban population that is so easily ignitable. The blood pressure table of the average Lagosian must look like a chain of mountains! How come not more of them keel and die of acute heart failure in the street, I wonder. Until I come to understand there is a special technique to Lagosian fury.

A couple of weeks later I find myself in another taxi. I know already how this journey will end, because half way the driver starts mumbling about how remote the destination is. The usual scam: he’ll end up demanding more money. When he actually does, something funny happens. I explode. I hear myself exploding. With raised voice I tell him I’m fed up with taxi drivers always trying to pull the same tricks, I get out of the car, slam the door and in an almost stabbing motion push my right hand with the originally agreed amount through the open car window.

‘You want your money or not? Take it or leave it.’

When I turn around and walk away from the yellow cab I smile. Then I realise what just happened. I became angry the Lagosian way. Skin deep.


Comments (9)

  1. This is such a lovely piece….

    I don't know you but whoever you are, Pele jare (sorry dear!!)…

    You need to have special bathes with scented oils to live in Lagos…

    That is if you want peace of mind at any time "T".

    The moment you step out of the house, every thing takes an unpredictable course…

    At least, let's be glad you can tell the story.

    Thanks for sharing

  2. If you get "craze", and know the right words, you'll beat all tricks and everyone will generally respect you irrespective of where you from.

  3. I think Lulufa is right: in order to survive, Lagosians cannot let the anger get to them. But that does not mean everyone succeeds in doing so. While I was writing this, I remembered a series of interviews I once did in Bukavu, Eastern Congo, with the only local psychologist. We discussed the long term effects of war and violence on an urban population. He stated that many 'unexplained' deaths were actually related to stress or even post traumatic stress disorder. I can imagine this might also apply to Lagosians. Though pollution, bad diets and the state of health care are not helping to boost life expectancy I'm sure.

    Thanks for the appreciation. I will in fact continue to write about my process of moving to Lagos – watch this space.

    'Were le le yi'. Have to remember that one. Might come in handy one day.

  4. Skin deep? Life expectancy for men is 51 for women 54 I think. I wonder if there is a corelation? Because they are keeling over for some thing.

  5. Hilarious. The taxi man probably to himself after your outburst, "Were le le yi," meaning "this one is mad". That's the typical Lagos reaction when someone shouts louder than you or louder than you expected.

    But the fact is, a lot of people do go home and keel over. Only their death is usually attributed to some mysterious power. I'm sure if there were records, we would find that more people are having strokes nowadays, but of course, no one will admit it's because of all this screaming.

  6. Interesting piece Funke as I would like to call you and not Femke. I have lived in Lagos all my life and I can tell you that the noise and hurling abusive languages at eachother is what makes it "lagos" without that you are not in lagos yet. This is Lagos,welcome to Lagos!

  7. hahahahahahaha! I love this! Write more often, will you?

  8. Hilarious. I have lived in Lagos for over ten years but it took an expatriate to explain why Lagosians don't 'keel' over from HBP. Well written, funny and sadly true. The anger is skin deep because we cannot allow these things to enter and settle in our spirit, less it throws our souls out of balance. That is why we have the most vigorous armchair quarterbacks and critics but they never ever take to the streets. People rob pensioners to build multi million naira houses, spend billions on birthdays, elevate bribery, extortion, cronyism, nepotism into new art forms, and we can do little about it… This is the second piece from 'Funke' I am reading, please more of her insight.

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