Route 007: Mariam Sule
The last time I wrote about Lagos it was a somewhat rebellious piece titled “This is not a love letter to Lagos” about the façade of the place, like how everyone is a big man, but right beside them you see really poor people or how you find a slum right beside a high-rise building. — Mariam Sule, Yaba
Our questions are italicized.
What’s your favorite memory about the street you grew up on?
Evbotubu in Benin City, I hated it then, but liked how we knew everyone on the street. We moved in when I was three and stayed for about ten years. My favorite thing about it was I could walk on it, it was a short street, I could go towards the market or towards Agho, another street. I knew people’s houses, but I wasn’t allowed to go to those houses. Still, it felt homely in a way no other neighborhood I’ve lived in since then has been. At three different phases of my life there were three different hair salons I could go to fit that age. It had “the chemist” who is my mum’s close friend till date, they called our house “white house”, the building also had a borehole where people came to fetch water. This made it a popular place.
What’s the longest you’ve had to travel for something?
Probably my trip back from Ghana in 2006, I can’t remember the reason or how many hours it took. I just know it was long.
What’s your daily commute?
First of all, I don’t go anywhere. Because of the pandemic, at my workplace right now we only see on Mondays. I go to work at Surulere and come back to Yaba. Otherwise, I go to see someone or for an outing almost always on the Island. I don’t have many friends on the Mainland.
How would you describe what you do for a living to a three-year-old?
I write articles and stories that are sometimes interesting and sometimes boring, but I aim to write interesting stories.
Don’t you think a three-year-old would be lost?
I really don’t know how else to describe it. Let me try again, I string alphabets together to make words that make people laugh and cry. I use alphabets to make people cry? Yeah, that is the best.
Car, Okada, Bus — What do you consider the best mode of getting around Lagos?
Honestly, because of safety these days, cars. I’d take bikes to certain places, but I’m more afraid now because of security and accidents. In Ilorin I use okada to get everywhere and I don’t even think there are buses there.
What’s an obvious part of Lagos you’ve never visited?
What’s something you know about Lagos that not too many people know?
That it’s smelly. The moment you enter Lagos a smell attacks you, I don’t know if it’s around Berger, coming from a place like Ilorin that smells like air. I wonder if people know this place stinks because they act like Lagos is hot cake.
What was the last place/thing in Lagos you wrote about?
It’s been a long time since I wrote about Lagos because I’m trying to decenter Lagos from my narrative. Lagos is not the center of my existence so I’m trying to purposely center places I grew up in my narratives.
The last time I wrote about Lagos it was a somewhat rebellious piece titled “This is not a love letter to Lagos” about the façade of the place, like how everyone is a big man, but right beside them you see really poor people or how you find a slum right beside a high-rise building.
And what’s one word that perfectly describes Lagos?
Misery, just misery.
What’s one place everyone should visit before they turn 20?
Owu waterfalls in Kwara State. It’s a really long, hilly and painful walk to get there, but when you get there it feels great and worth it, you’ll have a nice time there. Cars don’t go towards the waterfall so when you’re going back you might cry.
When was the last time you visited somewhere new and what location was this?
That would be Moloney, Lagos Island. I had never been there before and experiencing all those people just dancing and being themselves was pretty amazing.
What’s a route you know by heart?
The road to my father’s house. Funny enough, I don’t know the way to my father’s house well enough. We are always taking different routes because the road is bad. I do know the route to my house in Ilorin. You pass through Tanke to Oke-odo and take the next turn by Balogun village or go through Tanke then Chapel and take some corner-corner to my house.
What part of your father’s house is your favorite (and why)?
My favorite parts are the bathrooms. When we moved to our new house, the one my father built, he’d say he was going to shower but he’d spend 2hrs in there. When I was depressed and started sitting more in the bathroom I realized why, my dad’s a Civil Engineer and he designed the house, he made the bathrooms air-tight and when you stay there it becomes your zen place, you’re shut away from everywhere and you feel safe, that’s why my dad likes it as well. That’s my favorite part.
Where were you the last time you got lost?
I can’t remember the last time, but most likely in Lagos. One time, I was going to W-Bar and the map kept telling me to go through a route, but it wasn’t accessible. You know how Lagos is, there’ll be a road somewhere, but you can’t pass because someone’s father died or something.
What’s one thing you always look forward to seeing on your street?
In Ilorin, goats and rams. They are so reassuring and cute. They help me calm down.
What’s the most you’ve had to pay to get from one place to another?
₦7,000-ish. I can’t remember exactly when or where, but it was definitely from the island to the mainland.
The last location you texted or tweeted is where you’ll live next, it’s:
Akoka, Somolu. Hospital? God forbid o.
Also, You’re going to a place you’ve always wanted to visit and can only take one thing, where are you going and what are you taking?
Definitely Nairobi, Kenya, and I’d take my phone.
Mariam Sule is the ‘HER’ editor at Zikoko. She is also a freelance writer, co-founder of Artxjuju and the host of Pridediaries podcast. She is an award-winning activist. Mariam moved to Kwara state from Benin city in 2016.
Routes by GatePass is mapping African stories one route at a time. This project sits at the intersection of life stories and mobility in African contexts. Through Routes, we explore how African lives are shaped by mobility, migration, journeys, and modes of transport; and how places take on the stories of the people who have visited or passed through them.
Do you or someone you know have an interesting mobility story? Do you have a hack for moving around your city, or know something about your city’s history that not too many people know? Tell your story. We’re open to submissions and looking forward to reading!
Connect with Us
Editor / Publisher — Wale Lawal
Sub-Editor — Muyideen Dosumu
Interviewer — Aisha Hameed
Illustrator — Samson Msheila