Years ago when I began listening to Fela Kuti and other Afrobeat music what attracted me were its rhythms and sensibilities which I was unfamiliar with even after listening to 1950s jazz, punk, and the early stages of rap music. Leye Adenle, a Nigerian author, sets Easy Motion Tourist (Cassava Republic Press) in his home country. Though Nigeria is an English-speaking country there is, for me, a different cadence and awareness in the language of the book. The best I can liken it to is if you have ever ordered a cup of coffee in a foreign country, though basically everything is the same there are nuances to the entire process. It took me a few chapters to develop a familiarity to Adenle’s prose, but once I was at ease with myself, Easy Motion Tourist flew along.
Two points of view take up much of the storytelling in Easy Motion Tourist. The first protagonist we meet is the first-person view of Guy Collins, a white English pseudo-journalist, sent to Nigeria to cover the upcoming general elections. Warned against venturing out into Lagos at night, Collins ignores all advice and ends up arrested essentially for being a witness to the dumping of a body, a prostitute with her breasts hacked off. The other main character is Amaka who has a mysterious job of helping and protecting the young prostitutes of the city. There are several other points of view throughout Easy Motion Tourist from cops to government functionaries. The ones that interested me were the criminals like Go-Slow and Knockout, petty carjackers looking for a big break, and Catch-Fire, a small-time crime lord getting ready for the next level.
Adenle introduces us to the criminal underbelly of Nigeria where armed robbery and prostitution fuel the lower-criminal-class and high-scale bribery and other treacheries are the engines that propel the upper-criminal class.
‘Everywhere you look in Lagos, there’s a church,’ she said. ‘New churches appear every day. The people are poor, they are desperate. They turn to God for help, and when that doesn’t work, they turn to crime. The young boys become fraudsters, armed robbers. The girls become prostitutes. Some turn to black magic. Just like they believe in God, they also believe in the devil. God asks them to be patient but the devil says, “I will give you what you want; you only have to do one thing in return.”’
There are several well-thought-out mysteries in Easy Motion Tourist and the supporting characters, many of which are criminals, provide much entertainment and disgust. Adenle’s Easy Motion Tourist gives us a detailed view of criminal activity and behavior in Nigeria — it is both a good read and a great story.
Easy Motion Tourist gets its name from a song by Nigerian musician Fatai Rolling Dollar. A rich Nigerian tells Collins: ” ‘In the end it’s a song about nocturnal misadventure. That’s what you’ve had, and that’s why you, my friend, are the easy motion tourist.’ ” Who knew stepping out onto the street one night to witness a police action would create such ferocity of activity?