I’ve never been very good at portraying my first impressions of people, places or things. Why? I think there are two explanations, really: 1) I tend to skim over details that are essential to painting a vivid picture of some place or someone, and 2) My eyes naturally gravitate toward commonalities and similarities more so than difference.
This shortcoming has complicated my work here significantly. Finding a way to portray the reality of daily life here is an important aspect of my fellowship, but I’ve struggled to find the right perspective.
The problem is, the country of Nigeria in general, and the city of Lagos in particular, are far from one dimensional. Yes, to be clear, there is unspeakable poverty here and living and working conditions even the most downtrodden westerner couldn’t possibly imagine, but the thought of perpetuating this image of Africa unsettles my stomach. The explanation for why is complicated.
First of all, like all other outsiders drawn into this community, I’m blown away by the poverty and deprivation here and feel an obligation to share my experiences with those back home.
But as a Nigerian myself, I’m hesitant to play the role of expatriate voyeur, peering into the impoverished lives of helpless, hopeless Africans.
During my first trip back in 2006, I remember welling up at the sight of street children selling snacks and household odds-and-ends on the side of the road. In every child’s face, I saw my own. The fate that could have easily been mine if not for an accident of birth. So to photograph them, expose their vulnerabilities to the world, feels unthinkable. Despite the fact that, in many ways, they are the face of Africa.
The question is, whose story do you tell?
The women I’ve interacted with through Wimbiz in particular are some of the most intelligent and successful I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. Tapping into their brilliance is the key to developing Africa, as far as I’m concerned. Yet strangely, part of me feels that by sharing their stories, I’m painted an unrepresentative picture of the continent. Exposing a side of it the rest of the world seems reluctant to recognize: the flourishing, resilient side.
For example, in my blog post “Patience is a Virtue,” I went into great detail describing a couple of the greatest challenges to doing business here. Yet, as much as I am blown away by these obstacles, what I find most shocking is the extent to which people here are able to work around them. The extent to which they don’t seem to get in the way of people living their lives, or accomplishing their goals. Furthermore, given that all of my previous trips to Nigeria were to the quaint city of Ibadon, my hometown, I often find myself impressed by Lagos. The level of public services and infrastructural development here, far surpass those of several other Nigerian cities I’ve visited. Yes, in several respects this city is still hopelessly underdeveloped, but the more time I spend here, the less inclined I am to focus on its inadequacies.
I’ve come to the conclusion that it is just as important to highlight the successes of the this place, as it is to draw attention to its shortcomings. In an effort to do just that, I’ve posted the first of a series of short videos I plan to produce on Wimbiz “Success Stories.” I hope you find it inspirational, I certainly did!
Posted By Abisola Adekoya
Posted Jul 14th, 2010