I lived in Mushin in the carefree days of my childhood, and I still remember the damp smell of the neighbourhood, the stale gutters and the rhythm of bread sellers calling out to buyers as early as 6:30 am. I remember the abokis and chemists who sold everything between provisions and medical wares, and I remember Mama Tope that made clothes three blocks away and screamed at her girl and had four children and my aunt who said all four of Mama Tope’s kids were from different men.
Part of a larger whole
I remember because in that neighbourhood, I lived primarily on the streets, raised by the biting sarcasm of neighbours who refused to mind their business. Fed by agege bread of the softest, hottest kind, with akara purchased from the woman beside Oga chemist. In the neighbourhood of my childhood, I felt fixed, like part of a larger whole, even though it was often loud and hot and stale from damp air.
Then my family moved to Festac, our very own house, nestled at the extreme end of a very short street. It was my first introduction to life without the pomp and fervency of purchasing breakfast. There was no bread, no akara, no chemists and almost no people. The close was often barren with the occasional glimpses of people returning from work or standing on their balcony and sometimes, simply the sound of their dogs barking. And in those first few months, I came to learn that there was such a thing as living in a neighbourhood without the part of being a neighbour.
Another new neighbourhood
A few weeks ago, I found myself moving again, further uptown, leaving behind a former life and a former job and a whole queue of former disappointments. The thing about moving is that being in a new neighbourhood can be tricky. From the grating renovations that need to be done to the pinching restlessness that happens on your first night. You will have to sample the area, master your routes and do the mental work of adjusting to the new set up.
But most importantly – at least to me – is that you will have to do the awkward social stumbling of meeting, learning and embracing your neighbours. It took me three months back in Festac before my first conversation with a neighbour from two houses away, and then a few months before I had my first crush in the neighbourhood. It happened because even though social climates change, humans still have the option of reaching out and making connections.
What moving means to me
As a full-grown woman, life has moulded me into an adult with a preference for privacy, because silence is comfortable and besides, who needs akara dripping with oils that can clog your arteries? Except that the answer to this akara question is also a tease, because akara tastes better when you eat it between laughter, and home feels more like a promise when you have the familiar, courtesy or friendship from people you share space with.
At the end of the day, this is what a new neighbourhood means to me: people. It means connections even when they are a stumble; possible business relationships, possible friendships, possible war and headaches and animated disagreements. And this is what I am most grateful for, no matter how different environments get, people will always remain people. We only have to do the work of getting to know them a little?
Do you have any interesting stories about changing neighbourhoods? Please share with us in the comment section.