Missing Home

June 14 21:53 2016 Print This Article

On a recent visit to her country of birth, Femke Van Zeijl reminisces about what she misses about Surulere – and what she doesn’t.

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Femke Van Zeijl

I figured a pocket-sized shaker with blazing hot chilli pepper, as well as an extra-thick pair of wool socks, would get me through my time away from Nigeria. If I could spice up my mum’s otherwise delicious dishes – she cooks my favourites every day but my Naija-flavoured taste buds keep begging for pepper –  and also manage to keep my feet warm, I wouldn’t miss home much on my visit to the Netherlands. Or so I thought. After a couple of weeks, I realise that Surulere means more to me than spicy food and warm temperatures. And so, from faraway Berkel-Enschot, the village I was born in, I have decided to draw up a list of things I miss from Surulere, and things I don’t.

What I don’t miss is obvious: power cuts and fuel shortages. And even the water has stopped running from the mains again, I have been told. These Naija issues everyone can do without. It is shocking, though, how quickly one gets used to the contrary. You think I cry out ’hallelujah!’ every time I press a switch here in the Netherlands and the light comes on? I don’t give 24/7 electricity a second thought. And even though the Lagos State Water Corporation has been keeping Surulere thirsty for weeks on end without explanation or promise of improvement, I am equally unimpressed by the cold Dutch drinking water forever flowing from the taps. Getting used to more utilities, more services, etc. is the easy part; it’s the hardship that takes an effort to adjust to.

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That is also why I do not dance around the fuel pump here when I put petrol in my mum’s car without having to wait four long hours in a queue of grumpy drivers.

I do, however, raise my eyebrows in shock whenever I look at the petrol bill. There is a reason all Dutch own a bicycle: driving a car is not cheap. Paying almost 300 naira per litre in the Netherlands makes the fuel price one of the things I miss about Nigeria. You can imagine that even after government deregulation of the petroleum sector hikes the Nigerian fuel tariff to 145 naira, this Dutch woman will still smile while paying at her Surulere pump, remembering Dutch prices are more than double. All a matter of perspective.

But what I miss most about Surulere is seeing, hearing, and greeting people in the street. My mother lives on a quiet lane where, on working days, you might not see a single passerby for many hours. Weekends are not much better. And when you do see someone, they are usually in a hurry. The public space is just an area you pass to get from A to B. No one sells agege bread at the junction, there are no neighbours gathering on the same street corner every afternoon, and there is no one to greet when I head out in the morning to the gym on the other side of Berkel-Enschot.

In Surulere, I walk to the gym, not only to keep fit, but also because I look forward to the greeting rituals involved: ’Bonjour’ to the

gfneighbour’s maiguard, who is from Benin Republic; ’Good Morning’ to the Mallam and the taxi drivers around the bend, who have saved me from arrest on many a Saturday by sending me back with the words, ’Madam, you don forget again, it’s environmental o’; greetings to the phone credit seller under a parasol near the street’s gate, if she is not visiting her village in Enugu State; the exclamation, ’Ore mi!’ from the tomato seller at the junction, who has called me her friend since the day I moved to Surulere; a surprised ’Long time’ from the bread seller across the street, even if she saw me only yesterday; and a ’Sannu’ from the water-seller close to the gym building. Only the moin-moin lady at the junction seems less than eager to greet me ever since I – one of her best customers – stopped buying her product after the doctor pointed it out as the likely culprit of my prolonged bowel wahala. But even that is part of the ritual.

I could never stay in Lekki Phase 1, where most inhabitants treat the streets the same way the Dutch do, and only those who cannot afford to speed through them by car will be caught in a public space. I am a writer, I need life around me. And that is what I love and miss about Surulere: not the streets (although I have a soft spot for Ogunlana Drive, trying to pretend it’s Adeniran Ogunsanya but never quite succeeding); not the food (though Kingsley’s roasted fish and his onion-flavoured chips –  the best in Surulere –  is the first thing I am going to eat once I get back home); not the night clubs (though I am planning for a night of salsa as soon as I return); none of that: it is the people I miss.

I also miss that almost complete absence of vegetation that Lagos wears like a badge of its urbanity.

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Don’t get me wrong, I love to look at the cascading blue flowers of the wisteria in my mother’s garden, and I enjoy strolling through the nearby forest in full bloom, but the explosion of vegetation during Dutch springtime has also caused epic attacks of hay fever in my pollen-averse constitution. After weeks of teary eyes and constant sneezing, I cannot wait to return to my Lagos concrete jungle.

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Femke van Zeijl is a Dutch journalist and author living in Surulere. You can find her on Twitter @femkevanzeijl

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1 Comment

  1. June 23, 04:18 #1 Wilson

    Femeke u are very funny.. though it’s so true…I miss home my self

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