Nicholas and Frederick are dancing on the street, just in front of their mother’s shop. Arit smiles saying: “They never stop, they tease each other all day. At least I can always keep an eye on them from my shop.“
Arit is a tailor, her “boutique” is in Jakande slum, one of the dozens shanty towns spotted around Lagos, a megacity of 18 million residents. Jacande’s community counts around 25,000 families, a mosque, several churches, a meat market and even an art and crafts market for oybos, the white foreigners.
The slum is surrounded by the fast development of the middle-class residential businesses compounds of Lekki peninsula. Brands like Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Diesel, KFC are opening their outlets all around. Jakande residents know nothing good is coming for them. They have no power, no sewage system, during the rainy season the whole neighbor gets flooded and the small barracks sink in water. Future looks gloomy for them. They know they will have to move, they will be moved away, farther away from the new Lagosian rich middle class.
We sit on the porch outside Arit’s shop, while she is sewing a traditional ankara dress. I am with her and Barbara Pepoli, Loving Gaze General Manager, a Nigerian NGO which operates in Lagos since 1995. She has been in the country for the last ten years, she runs two clinics and two schools, coordinating 200 people. Nevertheless she knows the story of each and every beneficiary.
Arit looks again at her two boys “Now we are happy. Life is ok, I see them grow, I can help them grow. You know, they both go to school. Last Saturday I was so proud of them competing at their school’s sport day. I even run myself with other mothers, 50 mt run. I felt like a child myself again. And the boys were clapping at me. I did not win o’. “
You look at her eyes and you guess where her children’s energy came from.
Arit is the genotype of Nigerian women: strong, resilient, and empathic. They carry most of the burden of the country’s issues: lack of jobs: diffuse violence and criminality, poor healthcare and social services. Nevertheless they keep their communities together.
“My husband left me after Nicholas was born. My family is far, in the south, in my village. I found myself here alone with my two boys. I started a small second-hand clothes business, from home. And we survived. But then, three years ago, the rain, it destroyed everything. I had to take Frederick out of school, I could not afford it. Nicholas got sick and I was desperate, it was just malaria, but I did not have money for drugs. Then I thought of the white ladies who run the clinic here in Jakande. I went there with Nicholas. Barbara welcomed us like family. They did not only cure Nicholas, they talked with me, they wanted to know my story. I could finally cry and share my pain. I felt I could trust them, I found a loving sight in their eyes. They even asked what I would have liked to do. Me? Nobody ever asked me what I liked to do. I knew I wanted to start my tailor job. I am good, I