The First Place that Smells of Home

Nigerian writer Chika Unigwe shares her personal reflection of Lagos.

By Google Arts & Culture

Modern view of LagosThe Centenary Project

Lagos was my favorite uncle's house
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Lagos was my favorite uncle’s house where I could have whatever I wanted for breakfast and so I had all my favorites: bournvita and nido and eggs and dodo. 

Backflips at Tarkwa Bay (2018) by @__tseOriginal Source: Homecoming Festival

And outings to I-don’t-remember-where
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And outings to I-don’t-remember-where but I remember feeling all warm and fuzzy inside, and thinking that if I were sliced open, I’d look like the inside of a soursop.

Homeward Journey (2018) by Damola AdepojuTerra Kulture

Long after the uncle died
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Long after the uncle died, when I was old enough to, I’d go to Lagos to spend weeks at a time at my aunt’s or my best friend’s or my sister’s. Lagos was Muson Centre Theater where I saw Death of a Salesman and fell in love with Francis Agu who played Biffy. Was it Biffy he played?

Samples of finished AdireOriginal Source: The Centenary Project

Memory is a funny thing, as slippery as soap
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Memory is a funny thing, as slippery as soap, you can’t trust it but you can trust feelings. I fell in love with Lagos, with all the bits of it I was allowed to inhabit.

Chromatin (series) (2017) by Medina DuggerOriginal Source: African Artists Foundation

Once, in Surulere on my way to a salon
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Once, in Surulere on my way to a salon, someone stopped me and asked if I wanted to be in a commercial. For hair. I crossed myself and skipped away from him. Growing up, we were warned that things happened in Lagos.

Balogun/Idumota market (2019)The Centenary Project

I am in love with Lagos.
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I am in love with Lagos. It slithered itself into my soul and found a corner, beside Enugu, to make itself my home too, so that when I write, I am nostalgic about the city and have to write it out. So much of my work is set in Lagos.

An aerial view of a section of Balogun Market (2019)The Centenary Project

Whenever I am in Nigeria, the first place
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Whenever I am in Nigeria, the first place that smells of home is Lagos, it seems impossible to me that I have never lived here, that I have always come as a guest.

Chika Unigwe (2020-07-01) by Yẹ́misí Aríbisálà

I walk the streets of Surulere, of Ikeja
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I walk the streets of Surulere, of Ikeja, of Banana Island, of Ikoyi and my feet know that they are home. There must be a saying for a guest that is no longer a guest. Lagos has staked its claim to me and I claim it back, this Muse of mine. This wonderful, breathing, raucous, segregated city.

Credits: Story

About Chika Unigwe 
Chika Unigwe is the author of four novels including On Black Sisters’ Street (2009) and Night Dancer (2012) Her collection of short stories, Better Never than Late appeared in 2019. She has won awards for her writing, is widely published and heavily anthologized. Previously a visiting Professor of Writing at Brown University, Providence Rhode Island and Emory University, Atlanta Georgia, Unigwe now teaches at Georgia College, Milledgeville. She writes in English and Dutch.


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