On May 27th 2017, I got on a flight to Lagos. My ticket said I would be staying about a month, that I would be returning on June 25th, but my plan was to stay indefinitely. And that’s about as far as to what extent I had plans for. I did not have a job in Lagos, nor any serious prospects of getting one. Food and accommodation wasn’t too big an issue because my best friend lived in Lagos at the time and I knew I could always sleep where she slept and eat what she ate. I didn’t count on her moving. She moved. I think it was in the third month of my indefinite stay that she moved to Abuja. I stayed back in Lagos because that city has done me one strong thing, but also because I didn’t want to be under best friend’s feet as she was settling into a new job and home.
There was a bar down the LCDA in Yaba that I spent quite a lot of time at during my stay in Lagos. A friend and I discovered it by chance one evening as we were looking for a place to drink wine. I liked it because it was walking distance from where I stayed so I eventually got into the habit of walking down there every evening, just to get out of the house. I would take a book or journal with me, order a 600ml bottle of Orijin, ask for a straw, read or write while listening to the loud bar music , and drink my Orijin. I come from a country where we do not have Orijin and I had it for the first time in Nigeria, on my first visit in 2016. It felt like I was drinking Africa in a bottle, but there’s also just something about it I find exotic, which is probably just to do with the fact that we don’t have it where I come from.
One evening, I’d already had my Orijin for the day, but I stopped by my Orijin spot anyway, just to greet the barman there because he was always really friendly. There was another man with him, a man I had seen a couple of times there, always part of a festive crowd, ordering drink after drink; on one occasion he even ordered cake for someone. A man I had not realized was the owner of my Orijin spot. He greeted me, told me he had noticed me stopping by every day, always with a book. I told him it was a bit of a ritual, but that day I was only there to greet because I’d already had my Orijin for the day. He asked me to please sit and have an Orijin on the house. Of course I accepted.
I eventually did join my friend in Abuja. On October 2nd. Yes, I was in month five of indefinitely. This time I had a more defined plan⎯The Indefinitely Plan wasn’t working out too well⎯I would stay a month in Abuja, go to Abeokuta for AkeFest 2017, and a birthday treat, then back to Lagos for all the literary events that happen there in November, then I would get back to Abuja to fly back home from there.
On the morning of October 3rd, right in the middle of telling a friend about my plans to go back home in November, I got a call from a man who had interviewed me for a job sometime in June. An interview I had long forgotten about. He was calling to see if I was still in Lagos, and if I was still interested in the job. I asked him to give me a day to think about it. He emailed me an offer and said were I to accept it, I should start on November 1st, in Lagos. What is that the muzungus say about plans and making God laugh?
I took that call as a sign, a sign that I was to stick to the Indefinitely Plan and stay on in Nigeria. I accepted the job offer. There was just one little problem: I no longer had long-term accommodation in Lagos, but I didn’t care. I don’t know why, but for some reason I was just sure things would just work out somehow.
Before I continue, I need to clarify that I wasn’t stranded in the truest sense of the word; I would never be. There were a number of people I could have called to come to my aid ⎯, and in the end, I did call a friend. But I have this strange curiosity about what would happen to me if I was left completely to my own devices, in another country; how I would survive ⎯ I still have dreams to someday be a homeless beach hobo in Mozambique. It’s part about me, and part about humanity would people I don’t know, complete strangers, help me?
On October 27, 2017, I got off a GIGM bus, arriving in Lagos, and that was the last time I was sure of anything. The previous night, I’d had dinner, unsure of where next I would have dinner. When I had taken a shower that morning, wondering when my next one would be. Nothing has ever been as uncertain in my life as the couple of days that followed were to be.
I hailed a cab, and instinctively said one of the few Lagos addresses I knew off-head: 7 Fanaye Street, Off Old Yaba Road. The Seventh Day Adventist Church. My church. I told myself had the Embassy been in Lagos, that’s where I would have gone, but it wasn’t, and the church was the next best place. Surely they couldn’t turn me away.
“I’m stranded, I need a place to sleep. Could I sleep at the back of the church?” I said to the security guard. My accent can be a bit confusing, at the time my Southern African twang had had a lot of West African influence and I sounded strange even to myself. Well, I sounded strange to everyone, really. I still sounded foreign to the Nigerians, but everyone back home was telling me I sounded Nigerian. Anyhow, all the security guard seemed to have gotten was “the church” and he said, “Well, this is the church.” He allowed me to wait, for about five minutes before it dawned on him exactly what I had asked. Two more attempts at conversation and a church Secretary later, I was turned away and asked to please leave the premises because the pastor wasn’t around and they couldn’t allow anyone to stay on the premises without his say-so. My first real lesson that the house of God follows due diligence and protocol.
And with my Samsung note charging from my Macbook Pro Air, I probably didn’t look much like the sight of homelessness.
I was tired and it was getting late. I no longer had the energy to be a Ninja. So I called a friend, told her I needed a place to crash. She asked where I was and I told her we could meet at my Orijin spot. So I took a cab to the Orijin spot, telling myself going there for a drink and calling my friend is what I should have done to begin with. I got there, I was greeted by the owner, who was surprised I was still in the country. I told him I had planned to leave, but then I got a job offer. He asked why I had bags with me, I told him I was waiting for my friend to take me to hers while I figured out my accommodation situation in light of the job offer. He asked me, “You know we have rooms upstairs, right? You can stay here.” I told him I didn’t quite have the money for lodging at the time, but I would in about a week or so and maybe I would take him up on his offer then. He told me I didn’t have to pay right away, that I could stay as long as I liked and pay whenever I was able to.
We quickly discussed the numbers, he gave me a discount even then when I was not giving him any money. He offered me an Orijin, on the house, while he asked someone to get me a key. I called my friend to tell her my accommodation crisis had been averted, but of course she came over anyway and spent my first night in “my new home” with me. I stayed there eight days, which was about how long it took for another of my friends to come to my rescue with an accommodation solution.
Of course things would have gone differently had I not been greeted by the owner himself when I went to the Orijin spot to wait for my friend, but I will never get over the fact that where the church couldn’t help me, my drinking habit did.
About the writer
Munukayumbwa ‘Mimi’ Mwiya is a floater who sometimes sits still enough to write