By Sophie Bouillon
I was curious. I bought the Bradt Guide, the only travel guide dedicated to Nigeria.
From the confines of my Parisian flat, I studied each page. I read the street and district names, trying to
memorise the addresses of restaurants arid hotels. Adeola Odeku. Awolowo Road. Ikorodu. Apapa.
Karimu Kotun. They sounded so beautiful.
“[Nigeria) is simply one of the world’s most difficult places to travel in and the notion of travelling here
conjures up a horrific reaction. It’s far from a holiday destination, there’s very little to see in the way of
conventional sightseeing, and it’s an environmental disaster. There is no tourism industry to support the
national parks or historic sites. For the adventurous traveller, Nigeria offers the opportunity to see the
country in its raw and naked state. Travelling there is challenging but exciting and your experiences will
be memorable. (…)“
At the time, 1 didn’t even know that life was too expensive in Lagos and that my writing would pay for
neither hotel room nor taxi. I went there simply because 1 wanted to, without connections or any
assignment. That wasn’t downhill skiing anymore. That was off-piste skiing: pure thoughtlessness. But
I didn’t care. I lifted my eyes to the heavens, and I left.
God knows why that made me want to go.
I believed at this time that it would be easy for a white girl to jump on a plane for unknown destinations.
1 had navigated life this way for years. But right from this stage, Nigeria already bared its teeth. The
country never liked Western journalists, or outsiders poking their nose into its business. It took several
months and many return trips to the embassy to get my visa. The staff were unwavering. “You’re too
late.” “Applications have to be made on Tuesdays. It’s Wednesday. See you next week.”
‘We need a certified translation of your proof of address. See you tomorrow. Next.’
I grumbled. I got angry. But I didn’t give up. I hated them as much as I admired them. I knew that it was
nothing compared to what Nigerians had to go through to come to my own country, to travel to
After weeks of waiting and supplications, I finally got my pass. “Take. And thank God and
your skin complexion.”
I still remember pushing open the heavy carriage door of my building in Paris, setting off on the
dawn of a freezing morning in January 2014. I felt like I was launching myself from the top of the “black
slope of Africa,” as my friend Georgina would call it years later. At the time, 1 didn’t even know that life
was too expensive in Lagos and that my writing would pay for neither hotel room nor taxi. I went there
simply because 1 wanted to, without connections or any assignment. That wasn’t downhill skiing
anymore. That was off-piste skiing: pure thoughtlessness. But I didn’t care. I lifted my eyes to the
heavens, and I left.
Nigeria was about to become the largest economy in Africa, overtaking South Africa. Nigerians were
still rolling up their sleeves every day, and their stomachs were empty, but they looked to the future with
confidence. At the time, Nigerians were said to be the most optimistic people on earth, and it was true.
Excerpted from Manuwa Street, a Memoir, first published by 1ER PARALLELE in April, 2021 and later
published in Nigeria in 2022 by Farafina