My name is Temiloluwa Coker (Temi Coker for short) and was born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria. I lived there until 2003 when my family and I moved to Canada. We then moved again to Texas, USA only a year later. I am currently a high school teacher at my old high school where I teach photography, Photoshop and animation. Coming from Nigeria to America took a lot of adjustment, but I have been able to learn new things in this culture that I wouldn't have back home. This is what makes traveling to me so important. You get to see other cultures and learn how they can be similar or different from yours.
How does photography influence the way you travel and see the world around you?
Every photographer has a different eye and style and I think that’s what drew me to photography. I love how two people can go to the same place and come out with two very different experiences and photographs. A lot of people go to Nigeria, but I feel like most of them only go to show the world that Nigeria is a “dirty" or a "poor place full of huts”. This is why I went back. I wanted to show people how beautiful my home Nigeria is through my eyes.
What sparked your trip to Nigeria? Which cities did you visit?
I went to Nigeria to surprise my Grandmother for her 70th birthday. I stayed in Lagos majority of the time, but also went to Surulere and Victoria Island.
What was your favorite approach to photography while in Nigeria? Did you generally strike up a conversation with your subjects or just candidly capture the moment? How did locals react to being photographed?
My trip wasn’t about only capturing the good looking parts of Nigeria. My goal was to show that there is beauty even in things we don’t consider “beautiful”. I initiated conversation when I could, but often times I was on the road or my subjects were far away. My goal was never to exploit anyone, but to show the beauty of my home. I was approached a couple of times and asked why I kept taking pictures which forced me to explain my goal to them. Some agreed and some didn’t. A lot of people didn’t enjoy having their pictures taken because they see how Nigeria has been portrayed in the past and think all photographers have the same negative intentions. I respected their decision. Apart from that, people were really cool about me taking their pictures.
How did you plan for your trip? How did you navigate between each city?
I was born in Nigeria so I’m luck to still have family there, which made the whole process a lot easier. Moving around also wasn’t an issue since my Aunt already had a driver that drives her everywhere. As far as planning my trip, it wasn’t too bad. My parents were already going and I just told them I would come and luckily I able to snag a ticket (but it was costly since I purchased it a month before traveling.)
How was this travel experience different from past tips? What surprised you most about it?
My travel experience was really awesome. I enjoyed being able to explore and meet new people and see old faces. I learned during this trip that I take a lot of things for granted. This trip made me realize that sometimes not having everything can be a blessing. In America we are drowning with options and a bunch of other material things which causes a lot of comparisons, unhappiness, and discontent. In Nigeria, I saw people who didn’t have everything I have in the US, but were much happier than I was.
What were some of your experiences? How did seeing your home country with fresh eyes impact your perspective?
Nigeria is beautiful and I discovered a whole new appreciation for it during my trip. I think the most striking thing I saw was how hard working the women were. I saw a woman carrying a baby on her back, holding something on one hand and carrying a pot full of goods to sell. I watched her as she did all this with ease. In America, we can easily get a baby sitter or someone to help us carry our items, but this woman didn’t. She earned my respect in that moment. But the reality is, this is quite normal in Nigeria. I also saw young kids doing similar things. There was a kid I saw who left school to help his mom sell goods around the market. How many of us would sacrifice like that to help a loved one? That’s selflessness. I was lucky to encounter a lot of selfless people.
What would you say has been the most challenging about your experience? The most gratifying?
I don’t think there were any major challenges, though the most gratifying was seeing how my people always make the best out of any situation. They don’t complain, but see the good in what others call ugly or filthy. I learned that life is really what you make it. You have two choices: complain or keep moving forward with what you have.
What is your funniest memory from a trip? Is there a particular travel moment you would relive given the opportunity?
My Aunt and Grandma tried to hook me up with a childhood friend that I hadn’t seen in years. It was pretty funny because they planned out our whole day and told the driver to take she and I around. We had fun catching up but my Aunt and Grandma were so disappointed when they found out I didn’t “ask her out”.
What recommendations can you share for future travelers interested in visiting Nigeria?
Plan ahead! Know the currency exchange because if you don’t you will get ripped off. Have someone who speaks the language there or have a translator (if you’re going to the cities/villages where English isn’t as popular). Also, never go to Nigeria without trying SUYA! Suya is a spicy skewered meat delicacy and is amazing. Try it and thank me later. Also, be sure to visit the beach. I went to Atican Beach in Victoria Island and it was amazing!
Of all the images you captured, which would you say is your favorite? Why?
I love this picture (see image above) because of how it made me feel. It was captured right after the man asked me to ride the horse. I kindly declined and as he was galloping off I pulled out my camera because I just felt this was a moment that was unique. I loved how he was riding away. As I pulled out my camera, our eyes met. When I go back, I want to give him a copy of this picture. It will be on top of my list of things to do when next I go back home.
What’s next for you?
I want to travel the world, experience different cultures, and capture different environments. This summer I’m going to Germany for 3 weeks. I’m very excited and looking forward to capturing and learning about the culture.
Images Courtesy of Temi Coker
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