Friday, April 16, 2010

Makoko…A View From Below

“It sure looks different from down here…”

You know that place you look down at when you are riding in your car or in a bus across the mainland bridge…Yes, that cluster. Like you, I spent many years wondering what life really is like down there. Who these people are…what they do; where they are from, what they are like. Well, one Friday morning, I took a nervous trip down there with my friend, Yemisi. And what we found…I’d say, put us on a rollercoaster of emotions.
As we made our way into a most unfamiliar territory, we realized that the community is divided in two parts…one is where the Ilajes reside and the other is for the Eguns…okay, at this point we didn’t know where to turn. Suddenly, we were met by a nice lady who led us into the market where they all trade and the riverbank they keep their boats till nightfall. DSCN1610
So, we stood at the riverbank for less than 5 minutes before another woman popped out of what I assumed was a wall covered with cloth. “Good afternoon”, she says. Okay, I also didn’t think I’d be speaking English down here…but I was very pleased that finally someone did. She excitedly led us to sit in front of her home, which is where we were standing already. Her name is Victoria Ojuri. She sells fish (main trade) and clothing out of her home. Her parents were from Ondo state but she was born right here in Makoko. She spoke proudly of her six children all born in Makoko as well; two youngest ones in school, four others employed, married and living with their families…all here in Makoko.

DSCN1608 Here's her son, Oye, who took us on our canoe ride

What struck me most about our conversation with Victoria was her declaration, “This is our home…our community. It is all that we know. We never want to leave here…all we want is better homes, clean water, security…all here in Makoko”. Yemisi and I couldn’t hide our thoughts…we were wondering why anyone would want to stay here. Standard of living is below appalling. But she made us understand that she was born here, like many others, and to take them away from here would be stealing their own identity. While we spoke with her, we noticed a group of little children chuckling to each other and yelling… “Foto…mo fe ya foto.” They wanted to take pictures…so we did ;)
We also caught up with Bukky and Martha as they returned from school

After our chat, Oye informs us that a canoe had arrived to take us across their town.
As we rode on, I started to feel a bit uneasy…the water was (to say the very least) filthy. I struggled to hide my fright…but somehow Yemisi remained disturbingly calm (or maybe she could hide hers better;) Oye was extremely aloof while we sailed. We tried to speak with him severally, but his answers were curt. I later realized it wasn’t just him. Most of the adults we met along the way were even more.

We greeted. And if we got an answer, it was in the look they shot us. Oye’s friend who rode with us, explained that most of them don’t understand English nor Yoruba… but I knew it was beyond that. They must have seen many like us come in the past…and to them we were just another charade. Somehow, the cold shoulders gave my nervousness the boot… I started to wave more intensely. Any canoe that passed us, Yemisi and I would wave or reach out, just so they knew that we were here to be part. However, it wasn’t hard reaching the children… their chatter and playfulness, we found very comforting.
DSCN1626DSCN1613 Yes, even in that water…they swam

Many times Yemisi and I would forewarn each other, ‘duck!’. They had ‘roads’ leading to different areas and homes in the water. At a point, we got stuck…there was some kind of ‘traffic’. We couldn’t move…we had to wait for something to be moved out of the water. “Let’s just go back”, Yemisi says. But for some reason, Oye was determined to get us to where we could view the 3rd mainland bridge. So, we waited and rode on...
Here's a view from below...

Finally, Oye spoke…well, a little. “I always come here to watch the cars pass on the bridge…”, he admits. Before he could say another word… we heard, “I go break that camera oh!”… Oh oh, Yemisi and I turn around to see 4 disgruntled men shining wood behind us. Quickly, Yemisi urges that we return. But Oye and his friend reassures that its just a bluff. However, we turned our canoe around….and I still took a quick shot ;)

This is how they get around to their wood shops

When we got back to shore, we met Victoria’s youngest son, who’d just arrived from school. He’s so cute ;) She reminded us, “All we want is a better life here…here oh”.She was willing to talk to us even longer…though she wasn’t prepared to be photographed.
Yemisi and our other 'chauffeur', Kehinde

We met Bukky again as we prepared to this
time she had resumed at her mother's shop to
sell till nightfall...
Yemisi and I
After we said our ‘goodbyes’, we stood outside and stared back at everything we were just coming from…It felt like we couldn’t tell what was real anymore. Through our ride back home we kept ranting to each other..."I wonder what would be a typical bad day for these people?"..."Truth is everyday has a potential to be one". Through every conversation we had in that community, we saw a people simply existing… but do not feel alive. For the children, it was like we brought with us a new excitement that they do not see very often... and now we have taken it back with us. At least, so they feel.

Till this very minute, Yemisi and I are still talking about Makoko…it just won’t go away.


Abi Mohammed said...

I am so amazed at this piece. Thank you so much for sharing this with the world. I and so many others might never get to go to makoko but now, whenever we cross third mainland bridge, we'll spare a thought for the little children and their families who despite not having many of the things we take for granted, can still smile. God bless you!

Anonymous said...

This piece just stole my heart.
Thank you. Love, Ruky x

Anonymous said...

Mot, Wonderful piece. Keep up the Good Work.

KUDI-TOX said...


Tope said...

Very nice! I remember a class back when I was in Unilag that required us to identify a slum and figure out an urban renewal plan. We came up with plans, but 9 years after that things still remain the same. Great job to you both!

bukky said...

Great job!made me feel I was actually there and could see, hear and feel exactly what you were reporting. Thanks for a showing a side many haven't seen. I've been insanely curious about the lives of these people for a while now I have some idea how they live and what their challenges are.

Omolayo said...

This right here humbles one. It's amazing how much we take for granted in our lives. When we see things of this nature, it definitely makes us feel grateful for what we have. It is so sad that some people have to go through this type of lifestyle. I really wonder how we can reach out and help these ones. They deserve an opportunity like we all got.

Anonymous said...

Mot, This is quite an enlightening story.
I’m very proud of you and Yemisi for humanizing this settlement...
It certainly shows the parallel universes of the great city of Lagos.
Please keep the good journalistic work going!!!


Binta Ogohi said...

Mot and Yemisi weldone. i love this piece (it felt like i was there) and my heart goes out to the people of Makoko, i wish i could have been there with you guys. it couldnt have been easy on your part to see them live like they do. stories like this helps us remember God, and makes us remember to try to reach out to the less priviledged, thank you sooo much.
p.s. i look forward to your next piece ;)

niyi said...

Lovely piece....its hard to describe the emotions, that of sadness,guilt and appreciation. this is a wake up call.

tanx ladies