Project: Love in Lagos

Third Mainland Bridge, Lagos

The world always looks brighter from behind a smile. ~Author unknown

Four months after completing the MBA, I landed a job on the Island and had to move back to Lagos. If you have lived in Lagos you know that accommodation on the Island costs two legs and an arm and in exchange, you’ll get a crooked real estate agent who wants 10% of 2 years rent for finding you a place, a landlady who will impose a curfew, monitor your visitors and note their hours in your flood-prone apartment that lacks running water. Fresh out of school, I could barely afford to keep my car fuelled during the first month of employment, much less afford these nuisances, so I lived with my cousins in Isolo, my uncle’s home.

Those first weeks, I had to get used to waking by 4:30am and speeding out of the house at 5:30am to be sure I beat the traffic and got to the Island before 8am. Most of the time, I made it to the office at about 7am and slept in my car for the last hour. This is a common practice in Lagos. At the end of the day, I’d head back at 8pm in the hopes that traffic would have eased. Hardly. I’d get home at about 10pm if the traffic was light. After 2 weeks of sitting in traffic daily, during which I was grabbed by the throat and robbed, my feet started swelling and I wasn’t even pregnant. I was so exhausted; my entire weekend comprised of just sleeping.

Fortunately, I discovered that the office provided a staff bus that went close enough to home, and so life got a little easier. I woke up as early as usual but only had to drive 20 minutes on Apapa-Oworonshoki Expressway to catch the staff bus at 6am. Now, at the end of the day, I’d join the last bus that set out for the mainland at 6pm. I’d clamber into the front seat of the 21-seater Coaster bus, right next to the driver, and it soon became known as my seat. Now, 6pm was not the best time to be heading for the mainland because the traffic-causing spirits were quite certainly at work everywhere, particularly on 3rd Mainland Bridge, our preferred route.

Within the first hour on the bus, the banter behind me usually died down to the occasional mumbling of someone on their phone and then, silence and occasional snoring, leaving the driver and I to battle the traffic and wake them by yelling out at the bus stops till we came to the last one, where the driver and I would part ways.

Then one night, stuck in the usual traffic, lost in thought and staring down at the cars beneath, a driver waved and smiled. I woke and stared hard, waiting for recognition to happen. It didn’t. He was just smiling, so I smiled and waved back. Then the traffic started moving and he got lost amid the pairs of brake-lights. I’ve always thought of them as rubies going and diamonds coming but, that’s beside the point. Looking for the smiling stranger, I noticed how tired, sombre and frustrated many motorists looked in traffic. Some helpless and resigned, others down right angry even when they weren’t alone in their cars.

So, Project: Love in Lagos was born with the goal to make people on 3rd mainland Bridge smile. I decided to pay that stranger’s smile forward to as many people as I could on my way home.

“Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.” – Mother Theresa

I started smiling and waving at frowning tired motorists in traffic and often enough they waved and smiled right back. For some reason, this made me exceedingly happy. Sometimes we’d even have mini-conversations, mastering sign language one car to another. Men were most responsive and friendly, women were always skeptical and many ignored me completely, unless there was a man next to them who smiled back. Then they’d either smile and wave too or get visibly upset with the man for responding. I had a guy offer me the shawarma he was eating, much to his lady companion’s disapproval. I also had someone who chased after the staff bus which made the driver and other staff laugh, because in traffic it’s almost impossible to keep up with the swift movements required to make good progress.

Children were also very tricky. I came across some super friendly ones that would not stop waving back, as well as those who hid from me and then peeped occasionally to see if I was gone. I’ve stopped one from crying, and had others who just glared at me. However, kids weren’t common on this project because it was so late in the evening.

This project had a few unpleasant experiences. Sometimes he or she will look at me with contempt, send me “waka” or even the middle finger for no reason at all. Others were too preoccupied to notice me no matter how hard I waved.

Soon, my colleagues joined in. Some even went as far as to trading phone numbers and making new friends. And so, my little project lasted for 6 months, after which I was finally able to afford to rent an apartment next to the office and didn’t need to take the bus anymore.

Love in Lagos continued on the bus in my absence, but not for very long and honestly, I didn’t keep track. I still wave and smile at motorists from time to time. I’d even blow a kiss if I’m in a really good mood and if it’s a particularly friendly guy. On one hilarious occasion, this guy begged for some of the Blue Bunny ice-cream I had been enjoying in the Lekki-Epe Expressway traffic. It was a sunny day and his air-conditioner obviously wasn’t working. At the roundabout, he mouthed “Only one spoon!” and illustrated with his free hand. I laughed but declined because I can’t share ice-cream with anyone, much less risk losing the whole pint to a stranger.

Today, give a stranger one of your smiles. It might be the only sunshine he sees all day. ~Quoted in P.S. I Love You, compiled by H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

I’ll close by saying that, if you are reading this, I hope you find time to share something small with someone new today even if it’s just a smile. On the other hand, if you realized that we have “met” in traffic, I hope this post clarifies that I am not crazy, I was only trying to brighten your day and I’m really glad I made you smile.

Photo Source: Hans Wilschut

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