The first thing I noticed when I woke up in Abuja was my renewed eagerness to wake up in the morning to go for a brisk walk in the cool morning air.
In the past months, it has felt obligatory — stressful even — to go for a walk, run or any activity without a destination in a city making headlines daily due to its population density.
Now, I crack open my eyes just before the alarm goes off and I bundle out of bed, a pep in my step, ready to take on the new day.
I begin what would be my routine for the next few days: I shuffle through my phone and hit play on a 45-minute podcast. The whole time, I’m wildly aware and grateful for how large and empty the roads are, save the occasional jogger and/or akara seller.
I stretch my arms wide, some times up and about, and I let my body move without a care or a worry. I inhale — deep, and exhale — loudly.
When the podcast is over, I finish off the last fifteen minutes of my walk with just the right songs from carefully curated playlists guide me home.
Why couldn’t I do this in Lagos?
I ask myself this again each time I woke up ready and eager to carry out my new routine.
The answer was not quite what I expected, especially when you consider the numbers of people who stream out to do some form of exercise daily. I doubt that there is anyone who isn’t motivated by the sheer number of people able to kick off a sprint without stopping to gasp for air.
But now, I realise that the position of being motivated is different from the experience of now actually doing it.
Do a full-body stretch on Lagos roads and you may likely end up plucking someone’s eye out. Your running pace is likely to be cut short by a lackadaisical pedestrian or worse, a driver who can’t even be bothered by the car behind him, talk less of you.
And then, there are the bellowing trucks who time their movements so that their thickest emission happens just when they are beside you — now you are concerned about air pollution, its impact on your health and the environment, and whether the whole thing is like taking one step forward and two steps back.
A few years ago, still new to Lagos, I wondered why people were not bothered about giving themselves and others considerable space to walk. That time, I would be the one shrinking myself to avoid an oncoming collision while the other person soldiered on towards my direction. Bumping into an oncoming pedestrian is so normalised that nobody bothers to look back to even acknowledge what had just happened. With time, being considerate begins to feel like wrapping yourself into a smaller and smaller ball to give yourself and others the minimum amount of personal space required to function sanely.
Having every two inches of road space filled with joggers is actually a motivating factor to others, after all, if you had been postponing it, you now see that there are many others of your kind, interested in doing what you are doing.
But having to be in the thick of it, you stop being the motivated, and instead become the one just looking for a moment of public expression without interjections. I too have learnt how to match on into any oncoming obstacle (occassionaly flipping the finger).
But always being geared up to take on a very aggressive world takes its toll, whether you know or like it or not. In as much as you would fight through it, taking a great amount of effort.
As I later found out in Abuja. Having a pollution-free space where I didn’t need to hold my breath when a big truck passed, expecting billowing smoke in my face, made a lot of difference.
When letting your hands stretch free, meant putting them in someone else’s face, I realised my reaction to an environment such as Lagos’ was to shrink and occupy as little space as I could manage without causing descriptions. But all of this takes a toll, and it began to affect my desire to put myself out there.
Planning for the moments when you alternate between moments of respite and aggression is what anyone who has successfully lived here can attest to.
Like they say, “everyone is mad in Lagos.” The trick is to schedule your madness on demand, recognising it as something like an umbrella you need for the rain, so that it doesn’t become your life.