Careful, It Burns At Home.

Credit: TCD concepts

Murtala Muhammed International Airport Lagos welcomes those who return with a fiery embrace. The kind my body had taught itself to forget slowly, and then all at once after spending the past eighteen months living abroad. Lagos is hot and humid enough, and when you factor for an airport with more faulty air conditioners than functional ones, your body becomes a host for pain. It feels like thin needles, heated over extreme temperatures are being inserted into my pores. The viciousness is unrelenting. It is a whiplash of a reminder. Welcome home, o kaabo. The suffering you left is ready to embrace you, back into the folds of dysfunction. My body releases sweat as if to say “I’m sorry I forgot, I cede. Victory is yours.”

Helplessness has always defined me and most Nigerian’s relationship with home. As I have bent to the heat, so will I bend to the long list of discomforts waiting in the arrival lounge, uninvited like extended family. Over the next few hours there will be extremely long lines. I will reach into my survivor’s toolkit. There is cash in hand for those who demand bribes outright, and practiced ignorance for those who cannot ask so bluntly. The casual sexism to be endured when my shiny dark skin is pawed at. There is the war of wills that are negotiations with taxi drivers. If you are going to spend the same time it takes for a direct Lagos to Nairobi flight in traffic, you want your madness to be compatible with your driver’s madness.

My driver regales me with everything I have missed, much of which I had gleaned from the torrent of depressing news reports. Something about hearing it from this leathery old Yoruba man makes the information almost bearable. If all that bad stuff could happen and this man is still here, still chatty and happy to gist, maybe they aren’t quite as horrible. I interject with the occasional “hmmn” and “nawa” and “God go help us”. My shoulders fall and I lean back, because the other thing I forgot about home is coming back into my consciousness. I remember that even though Nigeria is defined by oppression and heat, Nigeria is also defined by love. Something about our collective sense of helplessness fosters a culture of strong communal support. I forgot because I was too busy adapting to a county where your neighbors are not your friends. This time, I am happy to be showered with remembrance.

There are more reminders when I get home. I pay the driver more than we settled upon and smile as he heaps prayers on me before driving off. My family spills out of the gate and help to carry my luggage. Inside we all embrace. This too is its own kind of heat, a balm. Dinner is hot enough to see smoke curl from the bowl of soup. I will dip the amala into the ewedu, feel it roll down and gently scald the walls of my throat in the way that Yoruba cuisine does. I will be cross legged and recounting eighteen months between swallows. After dinner my sister will massage my feet with aboniki. It will sting, but in the aftermath, the balm will make a mockery of all my previous aches. Before I sleep I will sigh smoothly, like syrup drizzling over pancakes. My last thought will be of how heat burns, but also consoles.

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Careful, it burns inside. You might catch fire

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Alithnayn

Alithnayn

Careful, it burns inside. You might catch fire

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