LEARNING AND UNLEARNING
Today I visited Stockholm for the first time in my life.
There’s a sign in Stockholm declaring that Stockholm is the capital of, wait for it, Scandinavia. Interesting stuff. Think of this: Lagos is the capital of West Africa.
But no one will think of saying that, because while there is something to be gained by a city audaciously positioning itself, Lagos remains a city in which very few people care for any thing beyond personal positioning; the power of bread, butter – and parking space.
Life in another man’s land is a tasking endeavor. Especially in a case like mine where my being here is not merely a brief holiday, to be lubricated by a motley band of hosts who have no other duty beyond showing me sights and generally impressing me with their city (or perhaps merely with their knowledge of their city). I have therefore found myself – as Jesus Christ advised – a little child once more, utterly at the mercy of hows and whys and whens too complicated for me. Lagos has to be unlearnt, and Sweden learned. And when you do not even speak the language, the whole conundrum hops one more step up the complexity ratings.
It is easy to unlearn Lagos. Very easy. You may find it hard to not miss the city, but you will very quickly unlearn it. You may confirm from all those people you know who have escaped its vice-like grip. You will unlearn all those weird psychological defense mechanisms that your body evolved primarily to keep you primed to tackle LASTMA, Council Boys, Windscreen-cleaning scouts, Anti Highway-Crossing Brigades, Parking Space Warlords (whether at the office or at fast food joints). This is my latest theory: trapped within every Lagosian is a soul desperately seeking to unlearn the City. In my case, for 3 months, I shall be free. And then I shall return. Hopefully they’d have reopened the 3rd Mainland Bridge, and completed the Oyingbo-Iddo road, and perhaps even laid the foundation stones of the 4th Mainland Bridge.
What is not easy to do is to learn the ways of the New World. Take this whole fire/security alarms business for instance. Here at the institute where I have my ‘office’, the security alarm automatically comes on at 9pm on weekdays, and stays on all weekend. What this therefore means is that anyone entering the office at these off-hours has to learn how to activate or deactivate them as required. I have been given the code. To lock and unlock. But there is one more code. That is the code that I will dictate to the security company managing the building, on the off chance that by an act of ill-treatment the alarm system goes off and goes ahead to notify the company. In that situation this is what will happen: A (bored, mustachioed) security man will have to come over and find out what the situation is. To dissuade him therefore I shall have to dial a number to speak with him, and supply my ‘open sesame’. It is that (second) 4-digit code that I give him that will stop him from coming over to see things for himself. In other words, that code is “for insiders only.”
The hotel which is home also has its own fire alarm. But it also has a kitchenette. So life has to be lived negotiating the high and narrow road between cooking and upsetting the fire alarm. No frying, is rule one. No frying, because, no smoke. And we all know (or have at least been told) there’s never any smoke without a fire. So, no fire, period. And I am left to wonder how any Homo Sapiens in their right minds can be expected to cook without smoke. Let the Europeans come and tell that to their African brethren. Let them come and tell that to all those hungry University students spread across famous male hostels in OAU and UI, for whom the first stage in cooking anything is the chemical conversion of palm oil to groundnut/vegetable oil. By ‘frying’.
10 years ago