Wednesday, 28 August 2013

30 @ 30: the top 10 places that have shaped my life in 30 years – by Michael Taiwo

Introduction to the Top Ten Places I remember the most
There is nothing magical about the places I have been. I remember them because they were locations where my view of humanity rose via the interactions I had with people or places where I had a new epiphany or made contact with my spirit. Some of the places may have been renamed, some may not even exist anymore, some may be shadows of their former selves but that is all beside the point. The memories created here will stay with me forever.

Food Canteen, Offa
This was a micro business my mum started to make ends meet. It was a road-side shed that catered to students of the Polytechnic institute in the area. It was never destined to be a commercial success. It was bogged down by bad lease terms and erratic sales from the start. Yet, it was the perfect crucible to learn entrepreneurship. When I look at how my sisters’ businesses are flourishing today I have no doubt it is because of the (sometimes painful) lessons we learnt together while trying to salvage a failing family business at a young age.

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School Chapel, Offa
This is a surprise entry for me. But the more I look back, the more I realize that the only sane moments for me in secondary school (middle school plus high school) were the times I was in the chapel. In the classroom, I was a nuisance. Outside of it, I was on the move to the next prank. But put me in the chapel and a very different – better – side of me showed up. Here, I met some friends I still keep to this day. There were times I even went there by myself simply to pray and meditate. That was an uncommon practice for me then but somehow I found it is the master-key.

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Assurance Villa, Offa
I had an unusual high school experience. My family relocated in my penultimate year in high school leaving me to live by myself. I quickly found myself a two-bedroom rat-hole to accommodate my growing library and friends. All my friends lived either in the boarding house or with their parents, so even though I lived in a shanty they were always there because it offered unrestricted freedom and they could do as they wished away from the prying eyes of authorities or parents. We soon nicknamed my shack “Assurance Villa” because it sounded cool to us and because it was the one place in the world where we were sure we were in complete control. You can have a paradisiac experience in a run-down hut; it all depends on who you are with. That is what Assurance Villa taught me.

Room 353, Awo Hall, Ife
Room 353 was like Assurance Villa without the carefreeness. It was the room I stayed in for four academic sessions. In that time, I must have had dozens of roommates (I define “roommates” loosely in this instance). The most memorable of these were Ugochukwu Onyeonoro, Kolawole Ayinuola, Akintoye Oyekunle, Bible ID, Baba Law, etc. I owe these guys a lot. This was a community in every sense of the word. I knew they were always watching my back as I watched theirs. I cannot recollect any single time in those years we had a bitter argument; it’s surreal. I have met too many guys (and girls) in my life to think the current crop of leaders we have running Nigeria is the best we can produce. No, a thousand times no. Inhabitants of Room 353 remind me that leaders with a passion for the future are in our midst.

Jesus Power House (JPH), Ife
Members of Student Christian Movement (SCM) were like family to me. JPH is SCM’s main office so you can say JPH was my “family house.” SCMers were fond of hanging out in JPH and SCM had no shortage of talents. What this means is that by chilling in JPH, you got a bump in your intelligence as you listened to different opinions and viewpoints. The discussions ranged from the cerebral to the ridiculous but they almost always had a take-home point. The abundance of talent and generosity of spirit also meant you could walk into JPH at any time and find a solution to your problems. The problem could be physical e.g. “I’m hungry, who has gari?,” or intellectual “I need help, who understands Laplace Transforms?” or spiritual “I’m struggling, who can pray with me?” Whatever it was, the family was there to help. My memories of JPH will always stay with me.

Sports Complex, Ife
It was a complex built for school athletes to hone their sport skills. It had a full size soccer field, cricket field, a couple of lawn tennis courts, basketball court, etc. But it was known for the religious activities – both corporate and private that went on there. In and around the fields and courts at any time of the day or night you could find students praying, casting out devils, preaching, you name it, provided no school organized competition or training was going on. After all, physical exercise profiteth a little. I had many experiences, made many friends and won many battles in the significant amount of time I spent in the Sports Complex.

848 Storer Avenue, Fayetteville, US
The biggest change I had to contend with on moving to the States was living alone. All the places I had lived in before were always packed, crowded even, and I loved them. The first time I moved into my studio apartment, I wasn’t sure I could cope alone. There was just so much space! I thought of how about eight people could have easily lived in the space reserved for one. I later adjusted to the new normal and in the process discovered that I actually liked it. I had a handful of friends that made life beautiful but, number wise, it was still nothing compared to my previous life. It was at 848 Storer Avenue that I discovered that I very much enjoyed spending time with me. I always knew I loved hanging out with people but I never knew I equally loved hanging out with myself until I had to. I can now say like Paul, “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.”

2214 Bell Engineering Center, Fayetteville, US
Bell 2214 was both my office and my lab during grad school. This was where I EARNED my PhD…through sweat and tears and serendipity. I was fortunate to have a boss that didn’t care if I came at 9am and left at 5pm; all he wanted was regular updates that showed I was making progress. Because I knew I could always leave the office if I wanted to, I became more productive anytime I was in it. I wasn’t killing time, I was investing it. I spent more nights than days in my office-lab because I am more functional at nights. It was at Bell 2214 that I would learn that there is nothing that cannot be overcome through sheer persistence and a stubborn will.

Journey to Nowhere, US
In the last few years, I picked up a new habit. Whenever I need to clear my head, I get into my car and drive off with no destination in mind. Sometimes I have a friend hop in with me but most times I go solo. It is a very therapeutic thing to do: discovering new landmarks while chewing over an idea or deliberating on a response to an event all at 70 mph. I cannot get lost because I am going nowhere to begin with. When I feel I have reached closure on the issue at hand, I return home. I call this mobile place my Journey to Nowhere .

 Lagos, Nigeria

I lived in Lagos from right after college till I left Nigeria. Lagos is the soul of Nigeria; its 20 million inhabitants are more than 1/8th of Nigeria’s population. Nigeria is a melting pot of about 250 ethnicities and every one of them has a representation in some form, shape or fashion in Lagos. Yet, on a per capita basis, Lagos is one of the most peaceful cities in the country. Compared to a city of its size anywhere in the world, the murder rate in Lagos is astonishingly low. Lagos is by no means a perfect socio-political environment but it is the best example we have of a working ecosystem in the nation. Lagos doesn’t come close to the dream I have of Nigeria; but whenever I take off my dream glasses and put on my “as-is” (reality) glasses and look at how far Lagos has come, my hope for the entire nation swells.

First Published on the Author's Facebook Page as part of a series.

Michael Taiwo is a believer that Nigeria's best days are ahead. He is a Doctor of Engineering and currently works in the oil and gas industry.

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