At the fringe of my school is a blessing: rippling water cut off from the rest of its body crashes into jagged stones and hugs the atmosphere with coolness. The stones open into a shore lined with swaying trees. Milling the ground are clusters of students intertwined in conversations and drifting in and out of laughter. Meanwhile, a man is pushing a FanIce ice cream cart around and exchanging the ice cream for money. 

I am sitting on what remains of a felled tree. Above me, another tree extends branches overflowing with leaves that swallow the sunlight and cast a cool shadow on my skin. Beside me, a girl is nestling her head in her lover’s chest. The air of embellished joy wafts from their embrace and prickles me with longing. Meanwhile, red crabs with ferocious orange pincers tear out from the wet soil. They parade the ground with such startling speed that I have to constantly check my feet to make sure none of the crabs come near them. The sound I have come to associate with sacredness—a mysterious silence punctuated by croaking frogs and chirping birds—hangs in the atmosphere like a heavy cloak. 

I am here because I am searching for solace. My heart is heavy with anguish, and I am hoping this tranquil scene—the unperturbed lagoon, the aura of sacredness, the sound of laughter, and the appearance of joy—will interweave to lighten my mood. The lagoon spreads out farther than my eyes can see, and tiny waves form on its surface as it breathes. Men in faded shorts float on canoes, their bare backs the colour of roasted coffee beans, glistening in the sun. They cast their nets in the water hoping it will bless them with fish. 

Lining the mouth of the lagoon is a half-eaten, bone-coloured barricade intended to separate the known firmness of the ground from the deceptive one of the water. I consider the barricade a joke because it has degraded to the point where there are several gaps wide enough for a body to squeeze through and meet with the water.

Meet with the water.

For a brief moment, I imagine standing up from where I am sitting and squeezing past the barricade to the spot where the water is licking the tip of my toes. What if I turn fear into a powerless thing and stare unflinchingly at the water? What if I pretend to have forgotten I cannot swim and plunge into it? What deadly tunes will the water sing? 

But that isn’t what I want. I want to live but without the weight of this distress. I remain seated, and a tear gathers at the corner of my eye before rolling down my face ever so softly. It wriggles through my lips and etches its saltiness on my tongue. I don’t bother hiding it because no one pays me any attention anyway. Everyone seems engrossed in a conversation, taking selfies, or letting smoke snake in and out of their nostrils in secluded corners. So I don’t try to stop my face from scrunching up and my lips from quivering to let out my hurt in a clutter of whimpers, tears, and mucus.


This lagoon is called Lagos Lagoon and it is the largest lagoon in Lagos, Nigeria, and the entire Gulf of Guinea; it has a surface area of more than 6,000 km2. The lagoon is home to Third Mainland Bridge, the longest bridge in Nigeria, spanning 11.8 km. Like every other lagoon, Lagos Lagoon was formed through a harsh separation—it was cut off from the rest of its body, the Atlantic Ocean, by a growing piece of land some hundreds of thousands of years ago. For this reason, I think of lagoons as special bodies of water because they are familiar with isolation and, I like to think, the pain that comes with it. A part of the lagoon touches my school, the University of Lagos, and gave birth to what is arguably the most popular hangout among students, Lagoon Front. Students troop in at any time of the day to read (or pretend to!), spend time with friends, smoke weed, or reportedly have sex in the blanket of the night.

Still sitting on the tree stump and my face sullied with tears, I stare intently at the lagoon—its grey surface shimmering under the sun, it seems to go on forever. For the first time since I arrived here, it strikes me just how undying the lagoon is. This water has been rippling on this same spot for millennia on end (and would continue to), watching diverse human societies spring up and fade, but their essence must have all seemed identical to the water. I wonder how many people in the past have come with burdens and cried in front of this water. Am I any different from them even with the years that create a distance between us? I let my mind wander and start to reflect on what this lagoon and this location must have meant to my ancestors before it became a popular hangout for students. It is a welcome distraction from the crushing anguish that lies deep in my heart. My surroundings melt away as I am pulled into a muse.

I come from Benin City, Nigeria, and to Binis (that is, the people of Benin), water typifies goodness, beauty, and fortune. Before British colonisation and incorporation into Nigeria, Benin was a large and autonomous kingdom with a distinctive religion. Although Christianity is currently the dominant religion in Benin, a significant number of people still practice the traditional Bini religion. Even among Christians I know, there is a lingering belief in the efficacy of traditional Bini religious practices. 

In the Bini religion, several deities exist and are all under the authority of the supreme god, Osanobua. Osanobua’s eldest son, Olokun, popularly referred to as the god of the sea, rules all water bodies and can manifest himself in any of them, including this lagoon. He is believed to have a magnificent palace and a storehouse of wealth underneath the water. Rituals are performed regularly to Olokun, and he rewards his followers with wealth, well-being, and fertility. His influence was (and is still) so powerful that it gave rise to the saying: “Oba n’ ame no se no rre oke” (The king of the water is greater than the king of the land).

Apart from having a greater reverence for Olokun, the Binis who practice also appear to have a more intimate relationship with him than with other deities like Esango (god of thunder) and Ogun (god of metal). 60% of the human body is water, and as for the human soul, the Bini belief system postulates that it passes through water (the realm of Olokun) before it is born on earth and before it enters the afterlife. Since water is perceived to be such an integral part of humanness, it is no surprise then that Olokun, the king of water, is believed to have great insight into people’s problems and understands their plight even when no one else does.

Generally, individuals with a personal crisis beyond what they can deal with are encouraged to pray and offer animal sacrifices to Olokun in the hope that they will receive an answer that will enrich their life. Olokun is perceived as a source of hope, love, good luck, happiness, and peace. And this perception rubs off on the water body since it is Olokun’s dwelling place. The water and Olokun as a symbol of help are portrayed by the saying: “A ighi gbe oban’ ame/ I vba oba n’ ame mwen” (You do not fight the king of the water/ I come to meet the king of the water for help).

I come to meet the king of the water for help.

In my mind’s eye, 400 years ago, a woman kneels in front of this lagoon, her shoulders drooping with sadness and shame. Her hair is braided in an intricate pattern and adorned with myriad beads. The partings in her hair are so precise that they shine in the sun. She has a loose wrapper around her waist, and the rest of her hazelnut skin—sleek with palm kernel oil—glistens. The look on her face is hard to read, but underneath her right eye is a curve made with white kaolin chalk. She lifts her head and stares at the sun for a second too long. Teardrops fall from her eyes and down her face ever so softly. They catch the sunlight and briefly transform into crystals before hitting the water. Her heart prays for untainted miracles in exchange for a slaughtered chicken, kola nuts, and obedience.

I realise I am not very different from her, even 400 years later, with a science textbook tucked in my bag. I may not believe Olokun is underneath it, but in a way, I, too, have come to this water for help, hoping it would have a soothing effect on me. And that somehow I would leave here better than how I came. But unlike her, all I have brought to exchange with the water are my tears. 

I stare at the canoes still floating on the lagoon. The men cast their nets in a different spot, their muscles bulging with exertion, still searching and hoping.


Having to navigate through piles of coursework (that I absolutely must excel at every single one of them) while keeping up with all the extracurricular activities I am wrapped up in can be inundating on its own. But I am also usually weighed down by the daunting feeling of being alone in a new city, the invisible pressure of trying to fit in with my peers (which I seem to fail at over and over), and the liquid fear that comes with being aware that the future I am working so hard for is not as certain as the sun rising and setting every day.

I usually don’t realise when I am starting to feel overwhelmed, so the feeling continues to swell stealthily until boom! I explode in a paroxysm of distress such as this one. When this happens, my emotions are intense and often cloud my judgment. So I lack the perspective to see them or the distressed state as something as transitory as a caterpillar’s existence. A time in the future when I am not entirely stressed out and unhappy becomes difficult to imagine. So I have disturbing thought patterns that center along the lines of: “This is how I am always going to feel.” And it makes me want to lie on my bed and cry endlessly into my pillow. But I usually manage to drag myself out of my dormitory and walk to this lagoon.

Visiting this lagoon is always a magical experience partly because I can let my eyes travel as far as they can. I live in an urban area which means there is always something in front of me: a person, a building, a billboard, or a car. But coming here and watching the water go on endlessly, with nothing to obstruct my view, helps me think and put my experiences and emotions in proper perspective.

I stand up and let the picturesque view soak into me: the grey sky as vast and unfathomable as the grey lagoon beneath it, Third Mainland Bridge that (from this distance) looks like a zipper in the middle of a grey garment, and the cars that zap past it to the loop of their lives. And I am reminded of how big the world is—something I occasionally forget because I am guilty of frequently staying indoors and within the boundaries of a book. I suddenly feel tiny in the grand scheme of things which surprisingly feels good. It reminds me to slow down and live in the moment, and gives me the perspective to see this tough time for what it really is, a passing thing. This realisation brings relief; just like the water, the possibilities in my life are endless.

Later, I would discover that this improved mood and broader perspective after a visit to a water body isn’t unique to me but is experienced by other people. In 2013, Matthew White, an environmental psychologist, and his colleagues examined the influence of a wide range of natural environments on feelings of restoration. They discovered that individuals who visited the coasts experienced feelings of restoration (calm, relaxation, revitalisation, and refreshment) more than individuals who visited other natural environments, proving that water is psychologically restorative! In another study I find even more intriguing, George Mackerron and Susana Mourato in 2013, examined the link between subjective momentary well-being and the immediate environment. While the research revealed participants are generally happier in natural environments, it also showed they were happiest in marine and coastal margins!

I stare at the students around me and wonder if they are here because they, too, are seeking something from the water—a new perspective, an improved mood, a place to make colourful memories; whether they are aware of it or not. These students skip the school library which is only a stone’s throw away, to come to the lagoon to read (or pretend to!). They walk past restaurants, parks, and empty classrooms to spend time with a partner or friend in front of this water, and some students reportedly abandon the comfort of a bed to sneak into here at night to engage in a lustful exchange. I think the water may mean more to them than they realise. I sniff and wipe the tears off my face. Another Bini saying goes: “A yan bu eze a i won ame oren fo” (You go to the river, though one can never finish the water). We can never finish the water; no matter how much humans come to it for solace, miracles, or restoration, it will not run out. It is always here for us.

I walk to the ice cream cart and buy some ice cream. The man tells me a joke, and I laugh wholeheartedly. I bite into the ice cream and let its sweetness replace the saltiness the tears left on my tongue. I leave Lagoon Front with a lighter heart. Weeks later, a friend would tell me that he, too, drags himself to Lagoon Front to cry, gain some perspective and emerge in a better mood.

What a blessing it is to have a water body at your fingertips.

1 Matthew White et al., “Feelings of Restoration from Recent Nature Visits,” Journal of Environmental Psychology 35 (September 2013): 40-51.

2 George Mackerron and Susana Mourato, “Happiness is Greater in Natural Environments,” Global Environmental Change 23, no. 5 (October 2013): 992-1000. j.gloenvcha.2013.03.010

About the author:

Izehi Amadasu is a writer from Benin City, Nigeria, and a Psychology undergraduate at the University of Lagos, Nigeria. She is deeply fascinated by stories and their ability to evoke powerful emotions. When she is not writing, she likes to read (unsurprisingly). She also likes to listen to music, flip through fashion magazines, and try out unfamiliar food. Her writing has appeared in Frivolous Comma and The Republic. She occasionally posts on Twitter: @IzehiAmadasu and on Instagram: @iamizehi

Feature image by Raimond Klavins on Unsplash