Lagos, where I’m based, is the world’s fastest growing megalopolis. In this place I feel a little like Azaro, the spirit child in Ben Okri’s novels. Part of me resists occupying my physical self, which has to see and hear and smell this city. So while I have been entirely engaged in my work, I don’t yet feel fully present in my own experience. Lagos is a case, and there is most assuredly an element of the centre not holding.
People and their dreams often spiral out of control here. This city is where all bad municipal planners should be forced to spend their retirement, where all former military dictators should do community service until they die, which, in Lagos, would be soon and miserably. For most people it’s a hard place, with its heaving morbidity and mortality, its ever-expanding slums, the mountainous garbage and the perpetual, stinking smog.
The MSF clinic at the General Hospital Lagos is a good thing, a little miracle in a calamitous city. It was the first free HIV/AIDS treatment center in all of Nigeria. And while access to treatment in this country is improving, there’s still a long road to hoe before a Nigerian can enjoy what so many of us take for granted in our universal, publicly funded Canadian health care system.
I just returned from Abuja, the purpose built capital of Nigeria which, with its wide boulevards and expensive modern buildings, is a disorienting change from the frenetic pace, claustrophobia-inducing congestion, and general decay of Lagos. I was there for a national summit focused on the mid-point review of the Nigerian National Strategic Framework for HIV/AIDS. MSF is advocating for free, comprehensive care for all people living with HIV/AIDS in Nigeria, but while this country swimming in oil money, the vast majority of its citizens do not benefit from the nation’s resources and wealth. When also burdened with illness, they are often asked to reach into their mostly empty pockets to pay for the privilege of attempting to save their own lives.
I travelled back to Lagos overland, 11.5 dusty, bumpy hours. It was great. I got to see something of this huge country, it’s wonderfully weird rock formations, its hyper-fertile delta region, small town political rallies, roadside rat sellers, and beautiful children giggling and waving and calling out “oyibo” (white person) as we drove by.
With the state and federal elections days away, tensions have been rising here. Everyone on our team hopes that things will remain calm enough that work at our HIV/AIDS clinic will continue uninterrupted. I guess we’ll know by the time I submit my next blog…