West African Diary
Lagos, Nigeria: June 17.
First night in Lagos: an infernal hotel-it shall be nameless-with a room like a wind tunnel, thanks to “air-conditioning.” Turn it off-and you roll and toss in the sweltering night air of Lagos. Turn it on-and the rat-tat-tat shakes you to a neurotic jelly. There are, also, animals….
I hear of a nice, new American-built establishment: the Bristol in the inner city. Iced water, DDT, and real air-conditioning. I transfer straightaway. It is, as advertised, cool and salubrious: a good, central base from which to explore the city.
Really, it is not much of a city, Lagos. It began as a slave market, one of the biggest on the Guinea Coast, a kind of West African counterpart to Zanzibar. The slave trade has long gone, but the town still cries out its origins. Lagos is a half-breed, an ugly amalgam of European slickness and African squalor. The redeeming features are lacking: Europe’s efficiency, Africa’s easy charm. Open drains run through the main streets; there are too many swaggering, loud-mouthed nouveaux riches in this town; and too many beggars. Lagos is half slum, half shiny new banks and embassies and commercial premises. Much is prestige building, mostly American-financed. But Lagos lacks, from the past, that faded imperial grandeur that constitutes the charm, say, of Calcutta or Bombay or Singapore. Lagos has simply no history to be proud of.
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