It is a fact that most of us are hardly bothered by certain issues pervading our environment until we have to tango with them in order to satiate our needs.
I am about to take you on a journey that revealed how misguided my peers are (in my opinion) by the concept of ‘civilisation’ as defined by the Western world. There is a rapid influx of conflicting values that will never find a prosperous home in our society; but may succeed in destroying what remains of our cultural heritage, if we do not address this catatonic state we are in. I’ll explain.
My sister and I frequently go through the rigours of shopping in our country, Nigeria, and in past years finding clothing cut to our taste has been quite a battle. On our latest quest though, we hadn’t an inkling as to what lay ahead of us. We assumed an optimistic standpoint and geared up for combat.
Hop on! The ride is about to begin.
Destination: Alade market, Allen Avenue and Opebi Road.
Assignment: Mission impossible. (Phase I)
Dawn… We were anxious to set off and with expectancy in our eyes, we kissed our mum good-bye and proceeded. We had gotten some tips over the years (from those who claim to have mastered the art of shopping in this country) on how to be patient: “Never be in a hurry to purchase any article of clothing” they say, “and have faith even in the most unattractive boutiques. You never know what you’ll find.” They got that right!
Our first stop: Alade market. Not that we expected to find very much here, but we figured we’d give it a chance. It still looked like it did yesterday. After stumping past many aisles lined with several attires resembling a mad shredder’s attempt at fashion, and eventually going round in circles, it was abundantly clear that we were in the wrong place. So we attempted retracing our steps back to the market’s entrance and ended up zigzagging to a boutique (that had nothing in terms of clothing we liked) where there was an impressive array of hair ornaments on display. Alas! Our sun-scorched taste buds began watering and we purchased some dainty-looking accessories. So, we left Alade market feeling like we were making progress with a couple of hairpins in our bags.
As we stood on the street undecided as to where we should visit next, the sun drummed sizzling melodies on our backs and left us slightly parched and agitated. We finally decided to walk up Allen Avenue hoping to spot some mannequins – through shop windows – dressed in styles that had our names on them. We decided to employ the tip about giving every boutique a chance and went into the first one we came across. We explained what we sought to the attendant – trendy (but decent) outfits of classic style and versatility, preferably in sober shades – with utmost clarity. The expression on her face was comical. You would have thought we asked if she knew where we could buy a live dinosaur! Despite her inability to meet us at our point of need, she still went ahead to unearth some gaudy looking clothing with psychedelic patterns that would have made Austin Powers proud. We decided to satisfy our curiosity and honour her efforts by going through the rubble. We held up garments supposed to be tops, but could easily have passed for eye masks with added strings and clasps. As for the skirts, forget it. They were either too short, highly slit up or so tiny that you’d have to be chronically anorexic to fit in them. Don’t get me wrong. These were not outfits that couldn’t be worn, but we found ourselves asking, “By whom?” Once more, we tried desperately to relay our preferences to her but our attempts proved futile and we were out and on the streets again.
We tried another boutique where the atmosphere buzzed with inactivity and the shop attendant had wandered off into some subconscious chamber. We politely summoned her back to earth and asked for her assistance. Her attentiveness was commendable! She regarded us like we were subatomic specks and obviously wasn’t going to lose any sleep if we didn’t like anything we saw there. Judging by her countenance, it appeared she was hardly confronted by customers who wanted anything other than what was on display. (Which we didn’t care for). We probably weren’t going to be her last customers, so why should she care? As soon as we motioned to leave, she reclined in her chair and resumed her ethereal journey. If only ours could be so straightforward and cosy…
We continued pounding the streets and faith had no choice but to amalgamate with the mounting frustration eclipsing our day. Before we knew it we were at the Allen Avenue roundabout and hadn’t added anything to our prized collections of earlier. We didn’t panic, but it was imminent if things didn’t look up soon.
Characteristic of every human, you exert yourself, you expend energy and then your stomach begins chiming relentlessly. We were ravenous and decided to douse our misery with a good meal. During lunch we mused over our next line of action and drew a blank. Other than moving from shop to shop, there was no other way. Resigned to our fate, we went on.
WE STRUCK GOLD.
Well it was more like it struck us. You’ll see why.
We ended up on Opebi road before we found a boutique that calmed our laboured heartbeats. Inside we found flickers of hope hanging on racks and for the first time all day, carved a smile from despair. My sister and I tried on some outfits and settled on the few we liked and would buy. Have you ever felt like you were paying more for the shelf a commodity sits on than its actual value? Well, here we were – fatigued, frustrated, desperate and faced with that reality. Since desperados can’t be choosers, we had no option but to pay. Battered but unbroken, we walked on and on, sometimes picking something here and there but never really finding the all-encompassing boutique of our dreams.
END OF THE ROAD?
By the time we got to the end of the road (of Opebi) and the sun began its slow descent, we knew where we had to head on to next. Home! With shoulders undecided as to whether to slump or hang tall, we looked and smelled like automobile exhaust pipes (having walked the entire length of Opebi and Allen Ave.) as we sought a taxi to whisk us away from Hades. On the ride home we evaluated the whole day rather calmly (considering what we went through) and still dug up a bit of hope for the ones to come.
Hope you have your fingers crossed because the ride continues.
Destination: Ikoyi/Victoria Island.
Assignment: Mission Impossible. (Phase II)
As we do not reside in Lagos, time was not on our side. We knew better than be pessimistic and vowed to discover our very own El Dorado. Awolowo road was the first to witness two people searching frantically for the unimaginable. Or so people think! We stumbled across a few more places (spaced by a few hundred footsteps) where the shop attendants or owners knew what we wanted but hadn’t any in stock. Talk about a good reason to collapse? This was one. After sympathetic remarks like, “We wish we could help” or “If you come back next month, we may be able to help” were voiced, we burdened them no more with our forlorn faces. Still, it was a bonus as we had now earmarked some shops we’d definitely revisit another time. Always look on the bright side, right?
Have I mentioned anything about footwear? Guess you have a vague idea of what we found or barely found. I’ll cut this long story short. As usual, only few knew what we so craved. (Shoes representing comfort, class and uniqueness.) We found a pair here and way over there amidst undescribable collections (sure to send you to a chiropractor fast.) and had to make peace with our lot. (Of course, the prices were staggering and we heard the same old story about foreign exchange going up) For all I care, it seemed they had run wild with the price punchers. You don’t blame most of these business people though, they try so hard to please customers and stock up their shops based on what a majority of their customers crave. They made it abundantly clear to us that their merchandise had to appeal to the palates of modern-day youngsters. If you unfortunately fall in the minor/insignificant category like my sister and I do, give us a call. Some comfort food should quell our frustration temporarily.
Come on; let’s keep walking.
Through different malls, past unalluring windows, into several more boutiques we went. I can confidently say that during many thorough searches (still finding very little), we narrowly escaped being hurled out of windows by angry attendants, for bringing a cyclone with us and leaving it behind without any benefits on their part. Let me ask this: When you talk of jeans trousers what comes to mind? Do you picture a clean-cut pair or one that looks like a terrier half-gnawed on it? You better believe it! We can hardly get pairs of jeans that are one tone and don’t have frayed dual carriageways running all over the fabric these days. The shop owners will tell you in a matter-of-fact tone, “This is what’s ‘in’ or ‘hip’ or ‘so now’.” In other words, if you’re not ‘in’, you’re basically out. It’s either an off-the-waist affair (hip-clinging numbers), frayed with/without a multitone effect or most likely nothing! The most infuriating aspect of all this is how hard they try to sell these ideas to you. They’ll say, “This outfit will really suit you or you really will look like a ‘babe’.” (a terminology used to describe the so called ‘up-to-date’ girls) How unconvincing; I think not!
It amazes me how much confidence oozes even from younger ones who already have begun aping their older siblings. My sister and I had the displeasure of encountering a few of such at an eatery. These were girls definitely between the ages of 16-18, but with the absence of all innocence they definitely looked older. While we gawked in disbelief and reproof at what they had on, they returned our stare with an attitude that said, “Well, I’m sexy and desirable and you are not!” And I said within myself, “Whatever!” Did you actually leave home dressed like that? In an attempt to rationalise this silent confrontation, I weighed the pros and cons involved in trading one’s dignity and self-worth for a status that disregards core values and leaves you irreparably damaged and scarred in the end. I could not highlight any remote advantage the latter had over the former. If you do, please educate me. Maybe our style of dressing has nothing to do with our personalities. Perhaps tugging at what little clothing you have on in order to conceal those assets that are constantly on display is acceptable. You must be saying right now, “It can’t be that bad,” right? Take a leisurely stroll on Nigerian University campus grounds today and you’ll be dumbfounded! (Oh, if you have a cardiac or pulmonary condition, go with your medication.)
There was Adeniran Ogunsaya in Surulere, Victoria Island, Ogba… Guess you can foretell our fortune by now. Though we were yet to explore every corner of this big city, the painstaking exercise that had led us to our breaking point made it obvious we would not succeed. Have you ever felt unjustly defeated by fatigue and frustration? Well, at this juncture my sister and I were totally perplexed by the outcome of our attempts at conquering material-paradise, and the disappointment was evident from the deflated look on our faces. On the last day, we took stock of everything we had bought. One wink and finito! We were through. Don’t worry, this was no show of ingratitude. Well, almost not.
Reality slowly crept up on us and it became obvious that we were fossils even the most dedicated of archaeologists wouldn’t eagerly excavate.
A new species was evolving and we were hardly being considered among the relevant numbers. I feel this Western culture we’ve begun adopting is one that grants so much freedom, providing excuses for everything – rational and not. Our present intellectual, psychological, moral and physical orientation manifests a deficiency in the appreciation of core values. This argument over decency/indecency in dressing is just a fragment of the main issue.
You may think this situation is over-exaggerated, but it is not. I’ll tell you why: One bright school day, I was dressed in a shirt and a long khaki skirt on my way to the university campus for a lecture and a group of skimpily dressed – Oh! Pardon me – ‘trend-setters’ were casually walking ahead of me. As I walked past, they began cackling and whispering. I listened momentarily to their comments and heard one of them (who obviously wanted to be heard) say that I looked like someone lifted right out of the 70’s. In other words, I looked ‘retro.’ I was infuriated having been a victim of ridicule – not because I looked the part – but for the mere fact that I refused to participate in the so very popular ‘dare to bare’ contest. In their mind’s eye, I can bet they felt like certified fashion gurus. (Yeah! And decapitated too.) Do you see where I’m coming from now?
I know my sister and I are not alone in this battle. I still believe there are many young people who seek a difference other than what the majority of our generation have come to accept. Some of you may wonder why we haven’t taken to shopping abroad to alleviate the present difficulty. (Since it appears convenient shopping in fairly expensive places, right?) Believe me, we make full use of the opportunity whenever it arises! Foreign markets cater for both the endangered species (like us) and the ‘in’ crowd, and therefore can be salves for our sore eyes any time.
Do you think about our Nigerian heritage and why only very few are proud and willing to celebrate this culture? Why must we have no authentic identification on the white man’s soil and worst of all, on ours? If the many cultures of this great country were richly celebrated and respected, don’t you think the hunger for foreign ideologies would wane? Has the media played its role in propagating thought-provoking information to the youths of this country?
ROUND THE ROUNDABOUT.
Have you ever stopped to observe how many decently dressed youths you see each day?
Be you male or female, the diverse states of undress you find people in these days must leave you ashamed and asking why indecency is replacing the torch of normalcy. As much as I try not to judge or condemn the lifestyles and ideals others wish to adopt, I know that the madness we, the youths have taken to so casually is deadly. Though we all have our idiosyncrasies, there must be a balance in life. There has to be! This advanced era has shipped off many prolific ideas, but has also succeeded in smuggling the elements of destruction into our community. This sinister umbra is stealing the virtues of so many today. Why have we permitted this?
Though it’s no easy task riding against these modern tides, but in order to remain centered we have to prepare sufficiently for challenges every day. After all, who wouldn’t want to be a friend to society or be conveniently accepted and loved by the world? But has embracing the Western culture satisfied this desire or given us international recognition? Are we better candidates for survival than our forerunners, who employed wisdom and caution while exploring life pleasurably?
Dear reader, the roundabout is life, leading us to places of our choice. As we go round in circles some will float aimlessly until the ride is over, while those who apply wisdom uncover many roads rich in options. It is clear that evil camouflaging as self-definitive freedom has inebriated this generation and I fear we may never pause long enough to see where it is taking us. Pardon the constant reiteration of this fact, but it challenges my beliefs sometimes, and I find myself asking if I’m inept and unappreciative of the concept of modernisation. (albeit misconstrued) What do you think?
A THOUGHT FOR US ALL
Can you parents ever stop chasing after the wind long enough to get involved in your children’s lives? When they are gradually becoming strangers to you, do you care to know why? Have you ever heard of a mouse giving birth to a rabbit? If such an anomaly exists, a biological explanation is sure to clarify the issue. Likewise, when children begin metamorphosing into creatures you cannot identify, why not ask yourselves where you have gone wrong? Discover who or what has gained supremacy in their lives. No child is born a deviant unless the parent or guardian has played little or no vital roles in his/her life. Your children need to be loved inspite of their mistakes. They’ll never know a better life if you don’t lead them part of the way. Our society reflects the emptiness this generation harbours and fears to express. The detachment and neglect we feel stems from the inadequacies clogging our immediate environment and each day broadens this chasm of confusion and listlessness stealthily encroaching on us. Play your role – slow down and look into your children’s eyes. There’s a lot to be seen and heard.
As much as we’d all rather be absorbed in our individual lives, it’ll take a miracle to turn this world around and we must. Be you a parent, a friend or a stranger, if you see someone silently screaming for salvation, reach out and take their hand. Multiply your blessings by being one without discrimination. Let us all challenge life to its own game and convert our weaknesses and shortcomings to unbreakable links of progress.
If you are with me in this, – young and old – hold on to the orb of life and keep it revolving not only around you, but all of humanity. Let us remain relentless in this endeavour until there is a resurgence of health in mind and soul. Wisdom is nourishment unto the soul. Open your inner chamber and discover the goodness subtly rooted there.
As for the many boutique owners my sister and I left soggy-shouldered, throw us a lifeline. Our sanity is intensely being tested!