Are there aspects of your identity that are totally out of sync with reality, propped up by wishful thinking and delusion? That sums up my relationship to many things, but especially the outdoors. I long to be a survivalist, someone who can live in the woods, fish, hunt game and drink dew out of a cupped leaf. I want to be the kind of person who knows what plants are safe to eat, can start a fire in inclement conditions and make a shelter out of anything.
In real life, unfortunately, I am inept. I can’t bear the wild or even when the wild dares to creep inside my home. I scream when I see a cockroach in the house. The horror of a large skittering bug crunching under my foot paralyses me. All I can do is shout for someone, anyone, to save me.
My younger daughter, seeing my blind panic a few years ago, asked for cash in exchange for bug killing and disposal, and now all three of my children dicker with me before helping me deal with insects. I am proud they are ruthless negotiators who would thrive in any Lagos market.
At my university, during your first year, you could start school a week early to bond with classmates. There were two options to choose from. You could have an urban experience in New York City or take a camping trip in the mountains involving hiking. Oh, I so wanted to sign up for the camping trip! I wanted to wake up in a tent, breathe in fresh, country air, poke a stick into a fire to cook breakfast and perhaps see a moose ambling by. But the anxious side of me wondered where I would poop. And what if there were bears? What if the other students were mean? How would I pluck my eyebrows?
I gathered up my courage, but it didn’t help because I had no courage. I was terrified of the uncertainties I would encounter in the wild, and I couldn’t bear to sign up for the orientation. It’s now a quarter of a century later, but I sometimes still regret not going. I’ve let a lot of opportunities slip away because I’m so anxious about the outdoors.
Since that time, I have camped twice. I realised within moments of entering a tent for the first time that I hated camping. Rather than roughing it, I prefer a nice bed under a sturdy roof, with clean sheets, a firm mattress, air conditioning and electricity.
Now in Lagos, in the thick of a megacity, I am still surprised by my yearning to be outdoorsy. This past weekend, I had to walk our dogs solo, something I prefer to do with another person because our dogs are wild.
I decided to embark in an entirely new direction as we set off from home. The dogs pulled me down the street, and my knee got jolted as they yanked me in different directions, chasing lizards and rats. Soon I was covered in sweat, and they were panting, tongues lolling out of their mouths. I squatted down and gave them some water in a bowl I had carried and noticed I was covered in grime, dog saliva and mud. My shorts kept climbing up my fat thighs. People driving by slowed down to stare at the dirty oyinbo, and one man shouted at me, “You are a very small madam.”
I was out of breath, hot, and, I realised, perfectly content. I was having fun. The dogs even seemed to be giving me fiendish smiles when they turned back to glance my way. It felt so free to be outside moving in the hot sun. It wasn’t quite like I had hoped. No stunning outdoor skills emerged, but it didn’t matter. It was enough for me to enjoy a long Lagos walk with my dogs.
Mona Zutshi Opubor is an Indian-American and Nigerian short story author and memoirist. She holds an MSt in Literature and Arts from the University of Oxford, an MA in Creative Writing from Boston University and a BA in English Literature from Columbia University.
Read more at www.monazutshiopubor.com
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