West Africa: A Londoner’s Glorious Return Home
How my way to Lagos, Cotonou, Ganvie, Lomé, and Accra in West Africa, didn’t go as planned
By Dami Grace Olaleye
Most people snooze all the way to the airport but of course,I had Cardi B’s, Bodak Yellow on repeat screaming it at the top of my lungs all the way to Gatwick airport– that song has a way of making you feel like a billionaire-sexy-gangster-rapper.
Picture a pumped up me, Canon 80D strapped around my neck, dragging two bright colored suitcases into Gatwick’s South Terminal. The level of excitement was definitely real! Now imagine my dismay after joining a long queue, then being told that my Medview airline flight had been canceled *insert upside down smiley face emoji*.
Are you telling me my Bodak Yellow hype was in vain? I’m sure you can imagine all the thoughts that came into my head. I was like damn I could still go to that house party Kenny invited me too! I’m joking, but seriously I was pissed.
One night in a hotel, the next at the airport snoozing off on metal benches under intimidation lights at the airport gate. Apparently, the flight was canceled because birds attacked the plane on its way to London from Lagos. Do not fret, however, as things did get better, apart from the cold tomato sandwiches the local hotel we lodged in served us.
I met two lovely ladies, Onome, and Emara who I enjoyed a satisfying dinner with at the Sofitel hotel, Gatwick organized for us.
We eventually board the plane and my peace of mind was restored. In relief, I sent my Uncle Jide and my cousin Seun an update since they were picking me from Murtala Muhammed Intl airport in Lagos Nigeria.
Onome by my side, Emara out of sight, but I occasionally got up to disturb her when I would film around the plane. Filming passengers snacking and relaxing, and air hostesses serving was my main source of entertainment as Medview do not have films on their planes yet. Touche.
“Dami! Ahhhh OMG!”Seun running towards me with a full force of energy was the best confirmation that I was finally home.
Yes, Lagos, your girl has arrived! Uncle Jide wasn’t as excited to see his favorite *cough* niece, “How would you have gotten Uber to where you’re staying since you lost your Glo SIM card?” Welp. I laughed it off and put on a brave face.
Let the Fun Begin
Lagos, Cotonou, Ganvie Lome, and Accra. Let the fun begin…
The first thing I could think was my hair needed braiding. So off to the hairdressers I went. I thought about telling you how they tried to up the price but honestly, I can’t be asked, just know I wasn’t having it and became friends with the hairdresser lol!
She messages me occasionally to say “your WhatsApp DP is nice”. After all isn’t that what 2017 friendships are?
At this point, I’m looking like a Lagos babe, and on my way to watch Idris Elba in The Dark Tower at the cinema.
I must confess going to the cinema is not ideally what I’d like to do in Lagos over a short window holiday but sexy Idris was playing, plus my friend ChiChi treated me and Seun. We had some ice cream, walked and talked until the jet lag kicked in.
First morning in West Africa (Lagos)
Morning in Lagos and I was most excited about this amazing event ‘Outspoken’ that happens every other Thursday at the Silver Bird Galleria in VI!
I literally made sure I’ll be around in Lagos for it, didn’t want to miss the spoken word, Poetry and Live Music performances.
I was very lucky that day to stumble across some great performances too. A new generation of socially aware creative forward thinking young people. If you love satire and dealing with current affairs, make a friend here. After the night, I and Seun went out to eat fish pepper soup off Awolowo way with some friends from Outspoken (courtesy of Bernard and Petrina).
Then eventually one had to go home as the next morning we began our journey on the road.
Border Etiquette– what to wear and what not to wear
The next morning, I glammed myself up enough so I don’t look like a mess but not too much to get too noticed, since I would be crossing borders. Farouk, our driver, picked us up from VI and we headed down to the station where we could get a taxi to the Benin border. When we reached the border–I don’t know if I should be honest here.
Well, we sort of got up in a bunch of lies and the immigration officer wasn’t having it and asked us “why has lying become your hobby”. That has to be the funniest statement of 2017, anyways at least they let me charge my phone. They finally let us go and off we were, jumped on a bike to the hotel with my suitcase on my lap.
Seun was under pressure because she had to look after me, so she went from sweet Seun to Mama Bear with no warning when anyone came near me, lol, the pressure of traveling with a younger cousin. Sorry Seun! I filmed it all somehow lol.
Arriving at Cotonou- Concert on a Beach
We relaxed the first night, we were way too tired to go to the red carpet event a friend invited us too. Trust me, I was very aware very soon my holiday would end and I’d be back PMO-ing in London, so I must use my holiday to the fullest. The next day, a Saturday, was Mr. Eazi’s concert at Dream Beach, Summer Festival!
Probably the best man-made beach I’ve ever seen, (I plan to have my wedding here) and the show really began once the stage crew got over their technical delays.
I have to say the energy among young Beninese is the definition of LIT!
I was so happy to capture footage of Mr Eazi so close along with the crowds’ reactions, as the saluted performing artists with dabs and azonto steps. Cotonou knows how to catch a vibe and I’m coming back. May I add they had some good-looking Beninese-Lebanese guys there! My type indeed.
Next on the Map
We took a boat with Seun’s friend who she schooled with in Venezuela, her boyfriend, to Ganvie, a stilt village north of Cotonou. Fortunately, there was a wedding that day, so I whipped out my camera as guests arrived in style in boats, carrying coolers of food wearing matching Ankara.
Davido’s “$30 Billon for the account” kept playing from house to mansion on the stilt. After surviving my fear of falling into water, (I can’t have been that scared if I was filming with that bulky Canon 80D and trying to balance) we head off by road to Lome. Luckily, Ale had some Beethoven TV shows downloaded on her iPad, so we watched it between naps in the car till we reached the most astonishing mansion named Le Passager du Vent on Airbnb.com, Lome, Togo.
lorida Vs West African Beaches
When you think beach holiday, you may think, Miami South Beach or somewhere on the Islands, but Lome’s beach in Kodjoviakope must be the most relaxed of them all. The sand is warm, yellow light brown in color feels so gentle to the feet but my favorite was how the air made my skin and hair feel so soft.
I will forever think about Lome as a beach destination, maybe one day bring my future kids with me. I didn’t get to spend enough time in Togo since I was catching up on missed time because of flight delays.
My mummy and her siblings used to spend their summer holidays in Togo when they lived in Nigeria and it was nice to experience their sense of realities, her stories almost came alive, but I want to feel more of Lome. I was very lucky to capture the beach on camera, but next time with a wide lens to capture it all lol!
That day, we headed off to the Ghanaian border on a bike, listen it’s much cheaper and more fun to go on a bike.
If you want your travels to stretch, then go by road and between short distances take a bike. Getting through Ghana is a story I’ll keep offline (I hear your thoughts, no it wasn’t dangerous) and we got there. Took an Uber from the bus station Circle to our Home Boutique Hostel in Osu Ako-Adjei.
Funnily, the Uber driver was Igbo (Nigerian) and he took the chance to school me about the level of traffic in Lagos can’t be compared to the one in Accra. I can’t testify to his claim as I experienced zero traffic during my stay.
Met a friend who took the brave step to move abroad
Anyways, I met my friend Jacquelyn from college, I’m sure my excitement made her blush, as she stepped out of her jeep, like a boss with shades on. Ghana babe of life!
She took me out to eat at Restaurant Chex Clarisse Mama Africa, man the food was really good, two friends joined us so I could pick into as many dishes as I wanted. Isn’t that why you eat out with friends?
I probably looked so stupid with my camera trying to catch the oozing atmosphere at every live moment.
Made a friend who teaches kids to code
After lunch, I went to meet my friend Josiah at ispace.com, who co-founded an establishment that teaches different types of coding languages to young people in Ghana. I was lucky enough to meet a young boy much-smarter than me who showed me a car racing game he was making.
My skillsets are so out of date now! I interviewed Josiah and he shared his ideas for iSpace, and honestly, it’s revolutionary.
What’s a holiday without clubbing? We went to the club and I watched my cousin get dance lessons from Nma (a friend we made at iSpace), who could dance really well, by the way, we clearly weren’t tired so jammed at a Local spot to eat some really good Banku and tilapia after.
Accra is an amazing city and I confess I could see myself building a house there to live. I must come back for you Accra, I didn’t get enough of you.
Dami Grace Olaleye is a writer from London. Since her early teens, writing came to her as a form of advocacy for change. Now an adult, she uses her confidence to influence, through words and producing content. Her belief in the power of media building communities, contributes to her ideology, ‘outweighing the bad with good strengthens even the weakest economies’.
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