Welcome to Lagos: Random Thoughts

Today, not dissimilar from most Thursdays, I was on my way home from work. It was around 9.08 pm, and I was just entering the gate to my house when I received a text from Nsoromma. “Please tell me you are watching Welcome to Lagos”, it read. “Shit!” I thought, rushing through the gate and pushing through my front door in one messy bundle. Whoever knows me knows how anal I am about watching a film or a show from its very first second. And I had missed a whole eight minutes! mini sanɛ nɛ! (Loose tr: oh dear!) So I ran straight upstairs,totally forgetting about the televised political debate, not stopping to say hi to my family downstairs in the living room, not even pausing to take a breath, or to pass Go and collect my £200. I had to watch this programme I had been waiting for the whole week.

I practically catapulted myself into my room and made a beeline for my TV. Quick...Remote...BBC 2. Once I had finally managed to get the TV onto the right channel, and sit down, I must admit I was a tad disappointed by what I was confronted with: a grown ass man sporting dirty overalls and a cap rummaging through piles of junk in a massive dump site. What the hell is this? KMT! I was tempted to switch it over, but as the show progressed, I realised this man sells the “goods” he finds in the dump to make a living. And then the documentary followed the man into his home, (Joseph, I think his name was), and the way he interacted with his family. His daughter’s first birthday was approaching and he and his wife were planning a birthday party. Something he said caught my attention. It was along the lines of “If I had to work in a dumpsite smellier and dirtier than the one I’m in now to earn more money, I would do it to give my family a good life.” I am not really sure what the programme had covered so far, but for me that was the first of many stereotypes of Nigerians it had broken. For example, not all Nigerian men are dictators, fiercely ruling over their women and their families while refusing to actually interact with them with any sort of affection. Shoot me if you want, but that’s the portrayal of Nigerian men I had actually believed.

The documentary also showed how Lagosians and people from other places made a livelihood in the big cattle market. It documented people negotiating over the price of cows, and other cattle (that I cannot remember!) It also showed how a man (I have forgotten his name) processed Cow’s blood to make chicken feed. What I liked about the show was that, for once, Africans were being shown to be resourceful, working hard for a living, rather than passively accepting aid or fighting over food items being thrown from UN trucks.

Also, although these people were living in squalid conditions, they were happy. Rather than playing the victim, they seemed to be content with their lot. I also noticed that the narrator often used words such as “optimistic”, and “hard-working” to describe the Nigerian people.

My criticisms? Well firstly, in typical BBC style, I feel the show did impose its opinions on its audience a bit. Like the uncomfortable close up of the man talking into the camera with a chewing stick in his mouth. I mean I’m sure the BBC would never document life in London, and have a white man speaking into the camera while brushing his teeth and spitting foam into the camera.

I also disliked the way subtitles were put up even when what was being said was in perfectly comprehendible English. It just seemed a bit patronising. Subtitles, in my opinion, are totally acceptable if people are speaking Pidgin or in their different languages. And while, we are on the subject, why are subtitles always needed when it’s an African speaking, no matter how clear his English is? *sigh*

Also, I feel the great British public has been brainwashed with enough images of abject poverty in Africa. I don’t think they needed to see anymore. But I got the sense that the show was one episode in a series of many. So I sincerely hope that life in the more glamorous side of Lagos will be later broadcasted.

You may disagree with me, but one thing the documentary did not lack was the entertainment factor, it was certainly interesting. I think it did attempt to be real, but I couldn’t help but feel the Lagosians were sometimes being mocked. To finish, let me add that I actually sat there watching the show with my coat on and didn’t think to take it off until it was over!

Picture taken from http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/tv/2010/04/welcome-to-lagos-itll-defy-you.shtml


9 opinionated people have something to say:

Sankofa said...

Pleeeeease tell me one of you sky-plussed this for me. I'm so pissed off I just missed it.

About the whole subtitles thing, to be fair to the Beeb I don't understand Scottish/ Scouse accents etc. We understand Naija accents because we're used to them but imagine how it sounds to the average chav. Also, when I was living in America, I was watching something on Oasis (the band) and they had subtitles the whole way through! So let's just pretend it's only for the good of the audience and not just covert racism....

Myne Whitman said...

I second Sankofa on the subtitle thing, British people are sometimes subtitled here in the states so..

I would like to see that doc, let me go search Youtube.

Anonymous said...

sounds like an interesting documentary. I would have loved to see it. I noticed dat U made no mention of the whole 419/fraud thing, which would mean (I hope) dat the show did not mention it either. A show about NIgeria/nigerians which does not dwell on 419? that is a huge step up (sadly, we had gone so far down, that it really is)
as for the subtilttes, like Myne said, the english are sometimes subtittled in the US of A, I thin kthey do it (just in case) to cater to ALL.
Nice blog, glad I stumbled into U, will be back.

Last Born Child said...

I missed this too - I was caught up in the Leader's debate and everything that followed.

Thankfully, Welcome to Lagos is on the BBC iPlayer website and available to view for a week or so.

Another recent story of Africa is Blood and Oil [I know, I know, the title could have been better but trust me :)]. I think that's still on the iPlayer website.

Anonymous said...

I really need subsitles for some north American states. And now I need subtitles and translations for London English that has now become incomprehensible to me! Lol

As to the comment about the chewing stick – how many Westerners would appear in front of TV cameras brushing their teeth and spitting foam? Or even brush their teeth in public? Isn’t it about what is acceptable in different cultures? Perhaps the BBC could have chosen not to film him. Or maybe they should have told him to stop chewing whilst being filmed!

Nsoromma...Child of the Heavens said...

The chewing stick incident did much to amuse me, I can't deny it. Maybe it is about what is socially acceptable in different cultures but I don't think it was necessary for that to be filmed.

The point of the programme was to show ingenuity within the Nigerians in Lagos and considering that Nigerians are known in the UK for fraud I think it provided a very positive picture.

In fact, I rather prefer this show to any showing obscene wealth, pomp and ceremony which will perpetuate western views of rich African dictator-type governments.

The subtitles did my head in though, why do it? KMT. As though Africans are incapable of speaking comprehensible English. In a country where English is the official language. KMT. Scottish people don't even speak English, accents don't need subtitles, different languages do.

Afrocentric said...

@ Sankofa and Myne Whitman: since you have made your points about subtitles in Amereica, I will give the Beeb the benefit of the doubt (but with suspicion). I can't remember if it was another BBC documentary or not, but I remember watching a show in which a french man was being interviewed and there were NO subtitles, even though he had a strong accent. Let's just hope the average chav understood what he was saying!

Also Sankofa, I don't have sky plus, but I'll ask around to see if anyone did record it.

@ awittyfool: I'm glad u stumbled upon our blog too. Welcome to the wonderful world of LALI! Believe it or not, there was no mention made about 419. (At least in the 50 minutes of the show that I watched), which is why I'm impressed that the BBC made a documentary about nigerians working hard to make money without using deceptive means.I just hope the whole series is not about people rummaging through rubbish though, or I WILL be making my complaint to the BBC.

@ Last Born Child: I missed the leader's debate, but I watched Question Time afetrwards, just to catch up on what went down. Please watch Welcome to Lagos on iplayer asap and let us know what you think. I'll try and find Blood and Oil. (The title IS bad!)

@grahamghana: it wouldn't have been so bad if the man was in the background, cleaning his teeth. But it was the closeup that bothered me. Trust me, it is all intentional.

Afrocentric said...

Nsoromma,i think we prob watched the show with the same mindset. as for the subtitles thing, if they are going to do it, i feel it should be fair and should be provided for ALL accents. And the chewing stick thing really did make me feel uncomfortable.

Anonymous said...

i was frankly planning to not watch this series as i didn't think it would be enlighteninng or interesting...WRONG! iwas so wrong! the first show was funny, warm and showed me that i and most of my nigerian friends have NO idea about a place everyone seems to think they know. the chewing stick scene just made me laugh, i don't think we need to get angry on behalf of the people portrayed, if we do i feel we are just contributing to the "poor african" stereotype, why does there always have to be a question of mockery or exoticism, when we have clearly seen that these are grown people able to fend for themselves and who are happy and comfortable with their way of life and customs?

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