Friday, November 17, 2006

This is Lagos

Around the city, garbage dumps steam with the combustion of natural gases, an auto yards glow with fires from fuel spills. All of Lagos seems to be burning.

Newcomers to the city are not greeted with the words “Welcome to Lagos” They are told “This is Lagos” – an ominous statement of fact. Oliza Izeobio, a worker in one of the sawmills along the lagoon, said, “We understand this as ‘Nobody will care for you, and you will have to struggle to survive.’ ” It is the singular truth awaiting the six hundred thousand people who pour into Lagos from West Africa every year. Their lungs will burn with smoke and exhaust; their eyes will sting; their skin will turn charcoal grey. And hardly any of them will ever leave.

Rem Koolhas described how his team, on its first visit to the city, was too intimidated to leave its car. Eventually, the group rented the Nigerian President’s helicopter and was granted a more reassuring view:

"From the air, the apparently burning garbage turned out to be, in fact, a village, an urban phenomenon with a highly organised community living on its crust…What seemed, on ground level, an accumulation of dysfunctional movememtns, seemed from above an impressive performance, evidence of how well Lagos migh perform if it were the third largest city in the world."

The impulse to look at an “apparently burning garbage heap” and see an “urban phenomenon,” and then to make it the raw material of an elaborate aesthetic construct, is not so different from the more common impulse not to look at all.

Folarin Gdadebo-Smith [who works in local government] says. “You’re aware of the ‘megacity’ thing...Lagosians talkabout it as a trophy. As far as I am concerned it’s an impending disaster.
-- George Packer in The New Yorker

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