Thursday, April 23, 2020

No Inside Voices in Nigeria

We were in a sea of people and luggage, sweaty and despondently huddled together, running into one another and shoving at shoulders and waists to get through, like a mosh pit of a pugnacious punk show.  The scent of overheated bodies in the sweltering Nigerian winter unpleasantly drifted into my nose.  The lack of airport A.C., and 90 degree weather meant that I was perspiring hard, feeling the beads of sweat on my forehead, and my neck, dripping down to the crook of my back.  I was being pushed by the wave of angry (predominantly) men around me, being forcedly moved forward and backwards, side to side, swaying in the sea of aggression which ever direction the current carried me. 

The people of Nigeria were in the middle of a socio political protest after their gas subsidies were removed.  Prices of gas doubled overnight, affecting all aspects of their life. Daily staples such as rice, bread, and oil, and gas generators, used frequently as back up due to unreliable energy, became almost impossible to afford. With the majority of the Nigerians living on less than $2 a day, this made a difficult life, a struggle, and with this, people took to the streets hastily fighting against this new unsustainable deck they’d been dealt.

The airport workers looked exasperated.  Things were getting progressively out of hand.  Overweight luggage was being hurled.  Flights were getting canceled.  People were getting hurt.  There were limbs being broken,  gurneys housing bodies floating high above the crowds.  I panicked internally, unsure of what else to do but just continue to go with the literal flow I was in.  It was loud, and I could understand nothing but the frustration and anger in the voices of the people, but the volume was nothing new to me.  There are no inside voices in Nigeria.   

I was here in this warm in all of the ways country, because of my uncle Tiger, who married into our large jewish clan.  Two weeks prior, we were picked up in a chaotic flurry of excitement and love from his family in Lagos at this same airport we stood in now surrounded by a very different chaos.  We visited the cities where his family lived, and the remote village where he grew up.  I saw first hand the inconsistency in electricity, and how at night, when the TV would go out mid show, and the light would disappear, his brother would run outside, using the guidance of his eyes in darkness to feel his way around their generator in hopes of a few more hours of entertainment.  

We’d sit around, and dip sweet white bread into even sweeter coffee, and watch Nigerian dramas.  His siblings, son, nieces and nephews yelled at each other over the speakers, using their hands to speak nearly as loud, just barely missing knocking over their full drinks in a slapstick array of movements to get their points across.  It was noise overload.  Background music, the tv, honking cars, revving motorbikes, and dogs barking.  There was the yelling; inside of the house, outside of the house, over one another, one louder than the next.  No one ever hearing anything but the sound of their own voice, somehow in an incredibly zig zagged route, everyone understanding at the end.  And for a brief moment, the yelling turned to laughter.  Loud laughter, none the less. 

The volume of joy, and the volume of anger was the same.  And I thought of this the whole twelve hours to our gate, barreling through the rollercoaster of Murtala Muhammed International Airport in the midst of this demonstration. Through the hoards of fury, I listened for glee.  Their knack for turning a distressing situation positive, was one that they had unfortunately grown accustomed to, but an attitude I admired. 

Salt dried sweat marks stained our clothes as the heat subsided.  I closed my eyes greeted with the slightest second of silence as everyone decompressed the stress of the day.  It didn’t last long as yelling commenced from one end of the gate to the other, continuing onto the plane.  Not an inside voice could be heard through all of the yelling. 

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