What's floating in the water at Makoko? (Part 2) | This is Africa


What’s floating in the water at Makoko? (Part 2)

ASAR ALKEBULAN traveled to Makoko, a nearly 200 year-old fishing village located in the heart of Lagos lagoon. Journey along, experiencing the sights, sounds and spirit of the people in this incredible water community and find what’s floating in the water at Makoko.



(Continued from Part 1)

Makoko with a view of the Third Mainland Bridge (Image: NLÉ)

As the shanty structures lining the soupy channels of this city on stilts give way to the full expanse of the Lagos lagoon and the Third Mainland Bridge, my eyes behold the earth’s horizon and the exponential increase in water volume leading to open seas is petrifying, but I relax and allow the immensity of it all to absorb me. I’m bolstered imagining my enslaved West African ancestors braving these ageless waters, chained and choking in the dark and musty holds of lumbering slave ships stealing them away to “the new world,” never to return; however, at this moment, vicariously through me, once again in familiar waters.

Whanyinna School Floating Annex (image: Inhabitat)

Our boat gently veers right and just before us, resting upon 250 ocean blue plastic barrels, is a massive, wooden, three-story, scaffold-like great pyramid; the Whanyinna School Floating Annex. Approaching this floating phenomenon, I become acutely aware of my minuscule presence in the vastness of the lagoon. I’m certain this attempt at disembarking will lead to calamity as the platform, though without gaps and gapes, is ostensibly higher than those along the waterway and cluttered with numerous docked fishing boats. Surprisingly, I’m out of the boat and standing erect without much difficulty, but quickly stepping away from the edge. Although the Annex isn’t holding classes, the “alfresco” “ground” floor (community space, play zone and “green area”) is alive with activity. Numerous Makoko women are conferencing and several male youth are knitting and repairing fishing nets. Traversing these happenings, we reach the staircase and climb to the enclosed second story classroom of donated furnishings awaiting eager-to-learn Whanyinna School students.

A fisherman repairs fishing nets in the Whanyinna School Annex, which the community uses according to their needs 


We continue to the open-air third floor schoolroom where a brisk, cooling wind welcomes us as I clandestinely attempt to catch my breath. While we survey the sprawling 50 hectares (nearly 125 acres) of Makoko from the Floating Annex’s apex, Noah tells me this buoyant behemoth, designed by Nigerian architect Kunle Adeyemi in response to frequent flooding in the area, serves the needs of both the Whanyinna School and the larger community. Noah goes on to say that the Floating Annex was erected by Makoko craftsmen using local building materials and it incorporates “green technology” features. I turn to scan the interior for these ecology friendly attributes and Noah motions toward the rooftop, explaining the rainwater collection system for aiding in sanitation and waste disposal, and the solar energy panels that provide lighting and electricity. Although structurally complete, the building must first be immobilized with steel pylons, so as to ensure its stability in rough weather, before hosting 100 bright and eager students.


Whanyinna School Floating Annex (Image: NLE architects)

Now gazing out at Africa’s longest bridge (Third Mainland Bridge) and pondering the fate of Makoko as it obligatorily battles impassive profiteer land developers and conspiring local politicians, I ask Noah about the demolition of several stilted houses by the Lagos State government in 2012, ultimately resulting in the murder of fellow community leader Timothy Hunpoyanwa . Having both anguish and determination in his stare, Noah points to countless broken platform supports, standing like partially submerged soldiers in formation, where they once held firm as foundations for family homes. At that moment, as though writhing with the pain of loss, I feel the Annex gently sway . . .

My journey is nearing conclusion as we retrace the waterway route, leading to the colossus in the lagoon, back toward our launching point. Along the way we witness carefree children enjoying a frolic in the cool, murky, debris-laden water with Styrofoam bodyboards. The smell of smoldering fish is intoxicating as we pass innumerable smoke houses luring us as fish to well baited hooks. Succumbing to enticement, we delay momentarily to procure a handful of smoked sardine—gratis, from a flirty ol’ woman. Traveling these final few meters to shore, I’m reflecting on the day’s adventure—the enormous lagoon; the vast distant ocean; the expansive and resilient Makoko community, alive with color and creativity; the majestic Floating Annex; the innocence of children at play and learning; and the indomitable spirit and courage of the young man named Noah—I conclude undoubtedly as to, “What’s floating in the water at Makoko?” A school? A community center? A gigantic environment-friendly bath toy? No, none of these things. What’s floating in the water at Makoko is Hope; Hope that conditions will improve; Hope that there will be good fishing; Hope that homes will be spared; Hope that no one gets sick; Hope that there will be clean water to drink and light in the night; Hope that the teachers will be paid; Hope that the children will get books and uniforms; Hope in the youth; Hope in the future. Hope in all things great and small—and as everybody knows, as sure as the sun rises in the East and sets in the West . . . Hope floats.


The view from the top: Whanyinna School Floating Annex

To contact Noah at the Whanyinna School, please send an email to ShemedeNoah@yahoo.com. Thank you.

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