There’s seeing a city and then there’s seeing a city. One of the best travel memories I have is from Lagos, Nigeria. A colleague and I were stranded in the former capital for nearly a day in between a canceled flight to Monrovia and a hastily arranged change of schedule to London. When embassies and consulates have too many visitors and too little interest in your activities on a Sunday, they deposit you in a local hotel, or in this case the American guesthouse. This mini-lodge serves as the American Club — refuge for those who wonder why they’ve left the U.S. or who simply need a dose of their favorite American beer, food, and television shows. The kind of place that bores me to tears.
So I wandered away from the leafy suburb of the diplomatic enclave and towards Lagos proper. I never made it to the heart of the city, it was simply too far and I had no sense of where I was going. But I walked for a good hour through some markets and streets, looking unsuccessfully for an Internet cafe. Lagos is choked with traffic and choked with people of all ages. The walk back to the American Club seemed long. So I flagged down one of the easy taxis — local boys on 50 and 125cc motorcycles. No helmets, no assurances that I’d be taken to my destination, poor security practices all around. Just a general sense of direction and we sped off, around and through stop-start traffic, and along the river back to diplomatic land. Probably the best ride I’ve taken on the back of a bike in years. I’m unable to forget the feel of the wind from that day.
Living abroad in Kolkata means you suffer the delayed arrival of mail and magazines. Not that time matters when you read back issues of the New Yorker. In the November 13 issue, George Packer writes a tantalizing and stark piece on Lagos. It’s worth reading. I saw my own version of Lagos for about 8 minutes on the back of a moto. He sees much more.