Hello all,

This year as we watched fireworks from our front porch and toasted a happy healthy new year, I was brought back to New Year's Day 2019, weeks after we'd published our first guide devoted to Mexico City.  As anyone who has founded a publication will tell you, you spend months and months on the first issue and then find yourself having to do the same thing all over again, this time, in just a eight or ten weeks and with the knowledge that you'll be on this crazy treadmill for years to come—and that's if you're lucky.

I consider us very lucky, in spite of the many challenges we face as a small, independent media company. You are part of a community who see the value in exploring new perspectives on places around the world. We publish work that matters and we are finding new ways to build this community of global citizens like you. 

For the second year in a row, we were honored with the National Magazine Award for General Excellence. Thanks to building a great team, we were able to devote an entire guide to modern Ukraine, even in the midst of the Russian invasion. Additionally, we published some of our best work ever from Vietnam, Johannesburg and New Orleans. Additionally, we dove back into live events, including a wonderful evening at Fotografiska in New York (in partnership with NPR) and at the Hotel Saint Vincent in New Orleans. 

Our Fellow Traveler's Club is a new way to support our work while enjoying curated items from around the world. Our first box celebrated toiletries and in February, FTC members will get a set of our favorite pantry items, from Hungarian paprika paste to Japanese mayonnaise.  We're also going to releasing our calendar of events, both virtual and IRL. For those with an interest in a non-paper option, we just launched our $5 digital sub.  

In 2023, we plan to publish our 20th guide. It's an exciting moment for us and it's all thanks to you—our community of readers and supporters who see the importance and potential of this work. 

So it's back to the treadmill for us as we wish you all a happy and healthy 2023!


The Perfect Read for the Globally Curious

Excerpt from "Unsinkable City" by Wole Soyinka

From Stranger's Guide: Lagos

Going to the Portobello Road Market for wosi-wosi— the Yoruba name for odds and ends, antiquities true and fake, and general bric-a-brac of even unmapped nations—has remained my routine destination whenever I find myself in London. It may have commenced in curiosity, provoked by the aqueous association of names—Portobello, Beautiful Port; Lagos, Lakes, originally Lago de Curamo—I can only testify that it all began while I was a student in mid-1950s and has remained ever thus. Periodic forays into Britain even decades after my first student incursion have failed to diminish the tug, despite deleterious changes at the Lagos end of the axis. Each visit still registers personal correlations, some stimulating, others sobering. It is no longer the innocent, prying eye on antique oddities, ogling, desiring and caressing art objects of dubious pedigrees; it is now both attraction and repulsion, but always evocative—in absentia—of that amphibious city, thousands of miles away, called Lagos. It was the official capital, once upon a time, but it is still the commercial capital of the most populous, and perhaps most unmanageable, black nation of the world: Nigeria. Lagos exerts a secretive, sometimes resented, but tenacious hold on all who pass through its steamy streets and tumultuous markets. Do not take my word for it. Ask any foreign resident or mere bird of passage through that frustrating capital. The accustomed expression is, “You can take the expatriate out of Lagos, but you cannot take Lagos out of the expatriate.” The less charitable version goes, “Lagos is akin to a mosquito bite: the malaria spores never completely leave your bloodstream.” The ever-popular high-life song with fluctuating lyrics that give away recent peregrinations of whichever band leader appear to settle the matter once and for all, applicable even to Portobello addicts, but with increased dosage of disenchantment:

Lagos is the place for me 

Lagos, this lovely city

You can take me to England and Amerikay

Keep your Paris or Roman city

Give me Lagos any day

Lagos, for my temperament, is perhaps best enjoyed vicariously and in small doses. Luckily, the city shares many features with the antique mart or, perhaps less glamorously, a flea market. Sometimes one feels that the world’s discards, the detritus of the constantly surging ocean, eventually come to rest on the beaches of Lagos. No wonder, the argument also rages forth again and again, especially at election time, that Lagos is a no-man’s land. Historical facts jostle with myth, migration waves with politics of concessions, attributions and conquest. Were the monarchs of Lagos truly vassals of the Benin kingdom, or was Benin a mere occupation force on military camps established in parts of Lagos island? Does the name by which a large Lagosian group of settlers, the Awori, are known, truly derive from the triumphant cry Awo ri? This would lend credence to the Lagosian origin myth that claims a roving hunter from the Yoruba hinterland, having decided (or been forced) to migrate with his people, consulted Ifa, the Yoruba divination system. The outcome was instruction that he place a bowl on a stream and follow its progress. Wherever the bowl sank—ibi ti awo ri—that was the destined habitation.

Lagos’s numerous ties to the ancient Benin kingdom—culture, trade, indigenous names, etc.—are not disputed, only the details. A Yoruba war leader wrote a unique chapter in war chivalry by journeying for several weeks just to return the corpse of his slain foe, a Benin war commander, to the king, the Oba of Benin. As a reward, the king sent him back as regent over one of the Benin war camps and its zone of authority. Just as strong are the claims of another set of “true owners”—the Idejo, the Olofin, plus the radiating lines from a great hunter, Ogunfunmire. Ogunfunmire wandered in from the heart of Yoruba land and founded Isheri, from where his 12 descendants fanned out along the coast and farther inland to establish a clan dynasty. Was that the same hunter? Or a different ancestor entirely?

The Lagos of today is what preoccupies, agitates, repels and seduces, and from widely different causes. Lagos is truly a Joseph-city, a garment of many colors, textures and stylists. Try to imagine a straight line, drawn from any point on the border of Lagos across its land mass until it terminates at the beach. Walk that straight line through buildings, markets, lagoons, canals, upscale and hole-in-the wall shops and residences, flyovers and clotted streets, shrines, parks, warrens, mosques, churches, etc. You would end up surfeited by sheer variety, like a jumbo meatloaf attempting to set the world record in the stuffing of incongruities. I suspect that it was a whiff of that wanton ecumenism of identities that I sensed in those stalls of Portobello markets at my very first visit as an impressionable youth. I gratefully found it a generous, accommodating substitute that served as relief from the notorious British inhospitable and insular character, plus the unpalatable weather menu of the 1950s—cold, wet and dismal. 

But even as Portobello began to burst its bounds, both in its capture of neighboring streets and enlarged cosmopolitanism in its offerings, opening out to other continents, so did Lagos begin to expand, become more haphazardly textured, more daring, with insertions of thematic galleries and mobile stalls, its squares and traffic islands pocked also by itinerant performers and lethargic to enraptured audiences, vanishing into endless by-streets and cul-de-sacs, in and out of festive seasons. The pace has become so rapid that it is hard not to imagine a Lagos of the future, prefigured in those intensive transformations, including new hordes of visiting or relocated nationalities—Japanese, Chinese, Caribbean, and other babblers in their own tongues and accented English. Let us traverse backward through the years to a significant fin de siècle transitional phase in the life of this writer, for a sampling of human and other exotic wares.

Occupational risks, of the political extracurricular kind, eventually prescribed exile. I returned to Nigeria in 1999 after a compulsory spell outside her borders, an exile of some four years. Before that hasty departure, I had lived mostly in my hometown, the rockery encrusted city of Abeokuta, but also with a foot in Yaba, a Lagos suburb where the trees had not been eaten, and even enjoyed residential, integrated status. By then, I had long terminated a career of regular teaching at my former university in Ile-Ife. It had served as the transient third of a residential triad of unequal occupancies. The other two were Abeokuta, maternal home, and Isara, paternal, a small town of unremitting red laterite whose dust permeated even the human skin, giving it a russet pigmentation.

Back from exile, I found myself obliged to seek another toehold in Lagos. I found one, right on the island itself and close to a sandy stretch known as Bar Beach, largely a weekend and holiday relaxation recourse that also serves as a buffer between the Atlantic Ocean and the newly developed residential zone known as Victoria Island. That habitation sometimes felt, in some ways, a further extension of my exile, as so much of it had changed. My awareness of the sea, from childhood vacations spent in Lagos, had been formed by friendly surf and wave-sculpted sand. Nature was then at its most placid and collaborative, in peaceable partnership with the lagoon and sluggish canals that threaded the marshy islands—Obalende, Ebute Metta, Ikoyi. Apapa, Isale Eko—each wet surface with its own network of plying canoes, shacks and shanties, cries and gurgles, whispers and raucous sales chants and dark silences, even in brutal daylight.

Read the full essay here

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