Sometime ago the second floor of the building I live in caught fire.
One minute I was lounging, eating dinner, the next, adrenaline took over and I found myself downstairs running out of the building with my bare feet.
When I was safely outside the building, I watched as neighbours, and ‘area boys’ rushed into the burning building to put out the fire. People risked their lives, they forced doors open, climbed ladders to get up. They helped us remove all our gas cylinders and stood by to help us remove generators should the fire escalate. It was a touching moment for me.
While I was at the university, I lived in an off-campus hostel with almost 100 rooms. Until I graduated I did not know the names of up to five persons in that hostel and people did not know I lived in the hostel.
I kept to myself, not because I am a snob (I might be, tell me) I just love peace and quiet and get tired of unnecessary conversations.
Once when ASUU was on a strike and I went home to my folks, a neighbour saw me around the fourth or fifth month of the strike and said, ‘ah, welcome o, how is school?”
School? ASUU is on strike’ I replied him, ‘I have been at home for four months now.’
He was so surprised.
One of the many things my Mum always tells me is make peace with people wherever you stay. So gradually, I began to learn to interact with people more. These days I am learning to live differently, I greet my neighbours, stand with them to make small talk and complain about our light bill and Lagos sun. I help open the gate if I hear somebody knocking. I make it a point of duty to greet the people I walk past every day on my way to work.
It was so tiring at first, but now I think I enjoy it. They greet me back and tell me to go well and come back safely. It makes me smile.
Early in the week of the fire around 5 am, I was already up working when I heard shouting from another building on our street and people knocking on a gate. At first I had thought it was a robbery, but who will be robbing a house by 5 am in Lagos when people are already awake? So when I looked out, I saw it was fire. I and my housemate ran out to help, on our way we saw another neighbour, an elderly woman rushing out too with a pack of Omo detergent. With the help of other people, the fire was quickly put out.
It just struck me that in this our country, all we have is each other. For emergencies, we cannot depend on government agencies. A building is on fire and you want to call fire service? That building will burn to the ground before they come. And even if they come they won’t have water. Health emergency or anything at night, can you call an ambulance or 911? Mba.
Or you are driving and your car falls into a gutter or pothole, you want to call a car towing company? Or LASTMA? Even for security, why did people start up neighbourhood watch?
I remember as a kid, during Christmas my Mum would put food in a basket and I’ll go from house to house sharing food. Our own table would be filled with food too. That we are moving from that community life to a more individualistic one, has its advantages and disadvantages but please do not be that neighbour with a permanent scowl on their faces, the one nobody greets and who has fought with everyone in the neighbourhood.
Be at peace with people where you live.
We are all we have.