Posts in Logs

Neverwhere 3.0: Riding The Bus 

I’ve taken about 1050 bus rides since February.

That’s an average of 25 bus rides every week for 40 weeks. At a daily cumulative average time of 3 hours spent on these rides, I’ve accrued about 840 hours in transit across 1000 bus rides. (The occasional Uber ride and cab rides are unaccounted for here).

It’s an incredible amount of time to spend on the move. That’s 35 days – or a month and a week – mostly spent looking out the window of a moving car in Lagos, staring intensely at nothing in particular.

I started a new gig in Lekki this year (more of that in another post I hope I have the good sense to finish) and joined the horde of people shuttling between the Island and Mainland for work. Nearly every activity that takes me out of my house every day happens on the Island, and it’s quite ridiculous how I’ve managed to convince myself that remaining in Yaba is still a better option for me, financially. Seeing as all I come to do at home nowadays is sleep at night, I’ve started to think that my rent is a rather steep price to pay for a bed to lie on at the end of the day.

Moving around in Lagos is a nerve-wracking ordeal. You’ll find soon enough that you’re constantly racing against time. Lagos traffic is a time-bending force of nature all by itself. You could ply the same route and achieve astonishingly different ETAs each time. A route that takes 25 minutes today could balloon to a 97-minute trip on the return leg.

You know how there’s always these “studies” coming out that try to chronicle all the cool, fixer upper things you could be doing while you’re in traffic? Well, they didn’t factor in Lagos in those studies, apparently. You can’t be taking an online course while trying not to die, Sam. Plus, the network signal on Third Mainland Bridge keeps gesticulating that you couldn’t possibly be thinking of such things.

Depending on your mood, looking out the window in the morning isn’t half bad. Granted, it eerily feels like being in a moving cell and peering directly out into other people in other moving cells and farther onto gen pop. Except, on Third Mainland Bridge, gen pop is mostly filled with scantily clad men, 20 feet below, squatting and taking a shit in the black river, along with their comrades, perched on wooden rafts docked 35 yards away from their homes. The whole act seems very pedestrian, nothing to make a big deal out of, much like a bunch of guys in a dorm shower brushing their teeth and discussing the games from the evening before. It’s only a big deal to the glaring eyes from above, eyes which the men promptly ignore or pretend aren’t there.

The sights are better at night, obviously. Peering into lit office spaces and apartments as they trudge past my point of view creates diverse, fleeting scenarios in my head. I think of the company culture of the folks in that lit office on the 8th floor of the Civic Towers,  and wonder if the guys still at their desks are staying the night. Maybe they stayed back to complete their torrent downloads before heading home. Maybe they’re waiting out the traffic.

Riding the bus is a deeply immersive experience. Violently so. You can only pretend to ignore everyone else for so long until something dramatic occurs – and it usually does. Something as innocuous as checking your notifications and responding to messages can devolve into the guy sitting next to and behind you telepathically joining the conversation you’re having on a private chat. Under the gaze of passengers turning the pages with me with their eyes fixed on my phone screen, I’ve read copious amounts of Alain de Botton, Noah Harari, and Teju Cole in transit this year.

You can only ride in these steel cages for so long until they start to take a toll on your body. Before this year, I only grossed 100+ minutes in a moving vehicle in one day only when I was traveling between States. And that happens maybe 3 times a year, at the most. I was always weary after each trip and wary of the next one. Because my body always took a hit. Now I gross about 180 minutes nearly every day. Sometimes more. Let’s just say my body isn’t too psyched.

Another year has passed in which I didn’t improve on my Yoruba. Even though nearly every conversation that happens in buses is in Yoruba, I’ve managed to blend in well into things without really learning the language. But my understanding (response-ability, more like) has broadened significantly since. I get it now when people tell me it’s about the easiest language to learn (I don’t agree, I don’t know). But Yoruba is a gesture-heavy language, speakers gesticulate so much while making a point that it’s basically loose sign language with the audio turned on. I’ve gotten better at reading the signs and matching patterns to get by without really knowing the language.

Riding the Lagos bus is more than a means of getting around for me now. It’s a cultural experience all on its own. Every bus on the road across the city, with the attendant anyhowness that marks its pulsating voyage, is a metaphor for the charges, firing and traveling in indiscriminate bursts across the city’s meshy neural network.

There’s the occasional Uber – my personal favorite for when I’m out later than 9 pm. Apart from creating the occasional comfort and being driven around in complete silence that I seldom crave, it has proven to be an efficient means of getting home without the risk of getting mugged. I had the misfortune of breaking my MO once and took a bus on a humid Wednesday night in July from Lekki at past 10 pm. It was the most dramatic ordeal I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of on the road. Long story short, we were robbed by men dressed in police combat gear, relieved of our phones and bags (I dunno how, but I miraculously walked away with my backpack containing my Mac that night). I’ve strictly adhered to my MO since. No buses at night.

Jetpacks. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my obsession with jetpacks this year. You spend so much time commuting, a few wonky ideas start to flood your mind. There hasn’t been a day I was on the road this year I didn’t crave jetpacks. I genuinely think they’ll help cut down commute times significantly across the city. Or we could have civilian Iron Man suits. Someone should build a business around those. Or, maybe there should be a legislation that mandates companies to offer some form of remote options to their employees (Techpoint wrote an article about this totally based off of my tweet, by the way).

One gets to leave the city behind sometimes. Sometimes for work, or when one takes a break from work. I don’t understand people who stay back here when they take a vacation from work, though. The city will always be here, the smell and the madness won’t go away. You’re meant to be here only if you absolutely have to be. One is besotted with thoughts of leaving every now and again when you can no longer muster up sufficient patience and tolerance for the bus life, when your bones ache more than normal.  When you need to rest your mind. But one promptly returns – unwillingly, but without as much a fight as is needed – to the yellow mobile cells. It is the identity of Lagos. It is also, in a weird way, my identity. I am riding the bus and finding myself.

 

 

Read Neverwhere 2.0

Read Neverwhere 1.0

Oblivion

One of the common questions we throw at candidates at our interview sessions at the office is the rather smug “do you consider yourself smarter than the average person?” tripe. The result is hardly surprising every time. Most of the candidates respond in the affirmative after a brisk introspection. And, more often than not, they are not wrong – our process is already optimized to ensure that the best candidates make it to the room. It is the ones who take a longer time to respond that hold my interest. For, in that prolonged pause before they reassure themselves, I too, find myself on the spot, trying to answer that same question.

I have lived in my current apartment for a year now and my spatial judgement of the area hasn’t expanded significantly since I moved out here. The first three trips to my apartment before I moved in, it seemed like I was visiting the area for the first time. I was petrified I might take a wrong turn and miss the street. For months after I moved in, I only stuck to the same route from the office to my house. I never explored any other detours out of my street, even though there’s at least five of them. I have tried one of them out since that time.

There’s a guy – at least, I assume it’s a guy, I can’t say for sure – in the apartment beside the stairwell to my floor who is something of an instrumentalist. He plays at least 2 musical instruments – I have heard sounds belting off of a saxophone and a piano at different times. He’s almost always practicing. Or maybe it just coincides with the times I am home – my schedule is pretty regimental. Over the months that I have been here, I have managed to put a face to about 7 of the people who stay in my building. The possible number of neighbours I have in that 3-storey building is at least twice that number. And I don’t know which one of them is the musician. Now that I think of it, I only got to know one of them is an engineer from people yelling “engineer” at some man on the ground floor every now and again. He fixed my generator too, according to my flatmate. I think about how so little I really know about the people around me or the environment I live in and the things that go on there. But the people here know me – as the guy who largely keeps to himself, leaving in the mornings and returning late in the evenings. But I am mostly oblivious and not too eager to do anything about that realization.

I have no idea what my flatmate’s car looks like. I know he has a car and he parks it in the compound sometimes when he returns from work. He leaves for work at least an hour before I do and I may never see him drive out or in with the schedule we both keep. The man in the flat above ours gave me a ride once when it rained and I had to go to work. He carried me beyond the flood so I woudn’t have to step in the water. I had probably stumbled across him or his son not more than 3 times before that day. I  and my flatmate speak often (if we can call it that) at home when we’re both around on weekends, especially in the kitchen on days we each feel like making our own food instead of ordering take outs. But I don’t really know him – at least, beyond the surface level stuff. I am the one who is least inclined to strike up a conversation, to be honest. In my rather busy street, I only occasionally speak to the lady who sells me confectioneries, the noodles guy and, recently, the barber who has cut my hair twice now. Short, polite, meaningless conversations to ease our transactions.

When I was in university, ladies got bored from me not having a clue when I was being greenlighted. The subtle nuances were always lost on me. Lol, it hasn’t greatly changed now, to be honest – I am always second-guessing the signals or I’m oblivious altogether. Sometimes I require a floodlight to get a hint, I’m afraid. At work or some other set up I’m involved with, when I get to hear of people who are rumoured to be seeing each other, I kick myself at the realization that the hint was there all along and I missed it because I wasn’t looking.

I’m usually not looking at these things – and there lies my problem. I am largely oblivious of my immediate surroundings and I could maybe hold a decent conversation on politics, foreign policy, physics, math, media, psychology, technology and all those things that one can grasp from reading books and observing people. But it seems I am oblivious on purpose, because I tend to make connections pretty quickly when I absolutely have to. I always joke about how my aloofness tends to immediately fade out when it really matters.

The average person is not necessarily aloof. Ignorant, maybe, but everyone is ignorant about some things. Thoughts like these run through my mind in those few moments the person sitting on the spot is contemplating whether they consider themselves to be smarter than the average person. When they finally say yes, I quietly think, yeah, me too. I think.

 

 

Calling Home:

My parents are probably the only reason I find phone calls useful. Everyone else can IM me on whatever platform we’re both connected on – unless there’s an emergency or we haven’t spoken in forever and absolutely have to talk.

On the off chance that I have to call someone – and it is not an emergency – I secretly hope that the phone rings out without an answer. So I can send a text and say I tried to reach out. Easy, ball has left my court. Over the years, making a phone call has become like an unpopular chore one has to occasionally deal with. I find I’ll much rather text a long winded essay when interacting with someone than have the conversation over the phone. Texting is easy. Talking that isn’t face-to-face is… well, it’s not hard; just exhausting.

Texting, on the other hand, really only works if the other person is smart and/or interesting enough to be worth the time. There’s nothing more torturous than trying to carry on a conversation with someone who can’t be bothered to type like they had some basic education without coming off as a condescending ass grammar nerd. Sometimes, it’s even more painful when they don’t get the hint even when you’re one. Ugh. End of chat. Be gone.

People who think K or kk is an acceptable response should be sterilized. In any keypad, the letters O and K couldn’t be placed nearer each other than they currently are. How do so many people not realize and respect the sexiness that comes with conversing in good grammar? Carrying on texting like you’re retarded is so pervasive that people who make the effort to converse like they have some education are the ones who seem retarded. Madness. While I may enjoy a person’s company or find them interesting, I find myself judging and correcting their grammar in my head when we communicate. Can’t be helped, sorry.

Calling home is easy. My parents don’t use the internet and they don’t have to talk for very long on the phone – even though I don’t mind if it comes to that. Calling home, especially if my nieces are around to chime in is therapeutic for me, sort of. In the often pulsating voyage that sums up my day-to-day life out here, occasionally talking with folks back home is very soothing.

Next on that ladder is the person I am enamoured with at the time. Sadly, even I tend to cower and follow the script when I’m in love with someone. It’s almost like they’re and my family are in a constant jostle on my speed dial. They win every time – if only in frequency, though. Even with them, after a while, I tend to ease back into texting more often than placing a call.

 

Here and Back Again: ChattrBoxNg and The Big Story 

The last 3 months have been a roller coaster on all fronts. Last night, I and my team recorded the 12th episode of the ChattrBox podcast and it dawned on me that we’d logged 3 months on this thing already. Incredible. 

Now, some backstory. 

It all began on some Friday night, late in May,  when my friend Henry Igwe – Copywriter and Editor at Naij.com – showed up at my house in Yaba. He was in the area to meet up with some folk to record some other podcast he was working on at the time. Recording didn’t happen. Logistics nwhatnot. It was too late to head back home so he came over to my place. We talked about work and stuff and memories and trajectories from Uniben. When he tried to sell me the idea of us starting a podcast together, I kinda shrugged it off. Like, I was too busy with work at the moment and I’d not-too-recently started managing a new team. There were KPIs to be met. Too busy, maybe later, I said. We left it at that. But Henry is a marketer and, by the next weekend, I was heading to a studio in Lekki to record a podcast whose name we hadn’t even decided on yet. We figured out the name just minutes before recording began. The Chatterbox Podcast, by Henry, Solomon and Cyclone. (Cyclone is a singer and an actress. She was in uniben too) 

Fast forward to the first weekend in August. We had put about 8 episodes out already on SoundCloud and were getting some good feedback. Then we went on Ebony Life TV as guests on The Crunch. Henry was basically working his media connects and marketing the podcast with the single aim of getting us to do it in the big leagues: on radio. Ebony Life TV was the first crack at the good stuff. 

We moved on from that and progressively got better with the pod. Better traction too. Owen, friend and classmate of mine,  joined us the next weekend and became a regular on the  pod as Cyclone got progressively more preoccupied to continue with us. By mid August, radio came calling. Henry’s connects had come through and we answered the call to do a “clean” version of our podcast on radio. You know, for the NBC nwhatnot. Can’t have Henry cursing on radio and getting us corporate flak. Lol. 

Getting on radio was massive. LagosTalks 91.3fm is the sister station to Naija102, Beats and Classic fm. We got a 1 hour, prime time slot for the show on Saturdays. Couldn’t get much better than that. And the feedback has been great. Now, we do the radio show and still record the  podcast every weekend. Whew.

I still do my 9 to 5, working at Nigeria’s best and foremost Travel-Tech start up and that is a massive experience all on its own. Now, media is part of the mix as well. Was speaking with Stanley Azuakola (Editor/Founder of The Scoop and good friend – and classmate of mine) a few weeks ago and we joked about how I always manage to end up being on radio and/or TV, no matter where I go. Three years and three cities after, same trend. There’s no escaping this stuff.

On The Big Story, we do a quick run down and analyse the biggest stories that make the headlines every week. Same thing for the podcast, except it’s not particularly radio prim and proper nwhatnot.

Lagos is intense. There’s hardly ever any free time but we do what we must and scale the hurdles every day. We are young now anyway. Might as well expend the energy well now before our time in the sun is up. I’m eager to see how this all pans out though. Should be good.

The fifth episode of The Big Story airs today at 11am, Nigerian Time. Tune in to LagosTalks 91.3fm to catch it. Or stream it online. You can also catch up on previous (and subsequent) episodes of the ChattrBoxNg Podcast on our SoundCloud page.

Follow me on Twitter for real time updates on what I’m working on.