I am always fascinated with how vastly different cities can resemble one another in subtle ways. For example, New Orleans with the humid weather, brick buildings, very friendly people and spicy food reminds of driving into the Eric Moore neighborhood in Lagos.
And then there is Las Vegas, with its enormous buildings reminiscent of Lagos Island where you may find a bank’s skyscraper on one side and a few minutes away you will be at Balogun, an open air market.
Visiting Seattle always leaves me reminiscing about my hometown too. Here are five reasons why:
Seattle doesn’t feel like a clean-cut city that was decided upon in some isolated urban planning office. It’s an organic milieu of styles — from the typically grunge feel of downtown, to the more serene suburbs, to the up and coming ‘hippie’-like neighborhoods for young professionals.
It’s like Lagos, where you can drive from a neighborhood of old and stable wealth to a more informal arrangement of houses, to a gaudy looking nouveau-rich neighborhood in a matter of minutes.
Probably the first thing you must notice that Seattle has in common with a city like Lagos is the rain. The seasons in Lagos are classified after all into rainy, the cold and dusty harmattan season and the dry season.
In the rainy season, the rains come fast and dramatically and you run out to take clothes from the line, and to close doors that the wind may bang open and shut. Everyone runs for cover, covering heads with plastic bags and umbrellas and raincoats.
If you are driving, you may not be too happy with the traffic — another similarity with Seattle — but in Lagos, if you are unlucky your car may even get stuck in ditches covered by the rain.
But if you are safe at home then you will be very lucky. The house will get dark, the breeze will be soothing, and everywhere will smell fresh and earthy. You can turn on the radio, listen to music in the dark and feel like the world is perfect.
When I pass through Pike Place market, with foods from all over the world out in the open, people tossing out fish in one corner, smiling at customers in the other corner, I could be in Agboju market as a child with my mother.
Here, shopping is an interactive, iterative process between the customer and the seller. My mother asks her favorite seller for the price of a vegetable, and the seller who fondly calls her “customer”, a term of endearment, makes suggestions for her on the best possible buy. The seller may even reduce the price or give her an extra heaping of tomatoes to appreciate her for being a loyal “customer.”
Then she will smile at me, and give me the bag of food items to hold for my mother.
Visiting Seattle, I sometimes see the very same plants that we had in our childhood garden in Eket, a more coastal town in Nigeria.
Sometimes a tall old tree with a wide trunk will remind me of the ancient trees I would see traveling from my ancestral hometowns of Umuanum or Ezeawulu in Anambra to Umunono to see my aunt.
I love the lush evergreen trees that unabashedly love water, the ferns, the crawling trees wrapping around more sturdy trunks. The climate my be cooler up here, but it’s the same wet soil that allows so much to grow in it.
I remember how all sorts of fruit were in my backyard when I lived in Eket — guavas, pineapples, pears, amongst others. I could go outside and pluck as many as I liked, while plucking some bitter-leaf or scent leaves or perhaps okra for dinner. It’s a lot like filling a bowl of wild blackberries in August in Seattle.
Traveling by road when I am in Nigeria, one of my favorite moments is when I suddenly get a clear view of the water. Whether it is driving down to a beach, or taking a bus from Lagos to the capital territory Abuja, or perhaps to Accra as we pass through Benin Republic and Togo with clear views of bright blue shorelines.
Or perhaps simply running an errand that takes me from Festac into Marina. Even as I write I can see the view of the ocean, and remember how carefree I feel when the sun and wind are in my face as we drive down the third mainland bridge.
It is in making simple connections like this, that one feels that sense of global kinship — that when we look closely at any aspect of ourselves, our cultures and the cities that shape us, we will see lines that draw them together and humanize the people and places we may haphazardly consider ‘foreign.’