The Troubled Heartbeats of Lagos

“Those of us who live in Lagos are just killing ourselves little by little; and we don’t even know it”, a family friend says often.  “Me, I’m packing my things and leaving this place. I’m leaving you people with your wahala”.  He speaks in Yoruba with an almost comical expression on his face but uses figures of speech that hold a tinge of what I sense to be regret, making his words bite deeper and run truer.

Of course, he is right.  Growing up, the life expectancy for the average Lagosian was somewhere between 40 and 50 years.  As a child, I was traumatised at the prospect of having just 40 years to live; however, one does grow accustomed to the presence of death at an early age here.  A friend, acquaintance or schoolteacher was always dying from some mysterious illness which was almost always stress related.  There were tales of people being found dead in their conference hotel rooms or collapsing suddenly to their graves. The life expectancy has increased slightly in recent years, probably due to more regular check-ups, but not much has changed in our pitiful lifestyle.

You eat your breakfast in 4.30am traffic and buy your dinner in the 8pm go-slow.  Heaven forbid there’s a fuel scarcity or you’d have to use your lunch hour to queue at a petrol station.  Officially, you don’t work on weekends but you somehow make it back to the office most Saturdays.  The company is laying people off so you just have to be there.  Infidelity is inevitable as you spend your days with the same people from early morning to night.  You communicate with your spouse more on Whatsapp than proper face to face conversations while that person next to you at work – whom you initially thought was ugly – is looking more and more divine every day.

When you finally get home, all you want to do is sleep but that’s when the worries begin: no electricity, no water, the removal of fuel subsidy, the tomato shortage, the price of rice, the price of bread, the dollar rate, the flood from yesterday’s rain that affected your car, the landlord who just gave you a week’s notice so you now have to look for a new flat in this extortionate Lagos market… .  The list goes on.

The chronic anger – you don’t know where it’s coming from yet it’s always there.  You are depressed and you can’t talk to anyone about it.  You try to push down your fatigue and cover it up with Vaseline, perfume and that glorious Nigerian smile.  Don’t let anyone see through you and if they do, just say: “It is well. God is in control”.

You never stop dreaming of moving to another state but your greedy hunger for fast money, good internet and great Chinese food holds you.  Yet, just last week, a colleague fell asleep in his car and never woke up and your boss had a heart attack two months ago; but you say, “That is not my portion in the name of Jesus”.  You know your blood pressure is high and that diabetes is slowly creeping in from the over-sweetened morning coffee you drink to wake up after only a few hours of sleep and all the bottles of Coca Cola and packets of biscuits you consume per day for a sugar boost when you’re feeling tired at work.  Still, you carry on as is because “that’s Lagos life for you”.


Image|Source: Mysha Islam, Flickr



  1. “The chronic anger – you don’t know where it’s coming from yet it’s always there. You are depressed and you can’t talk to anyone about it. ”

    You can’t, because depression is not a black man’s disease.


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