Winter finally arrived in Lagos, with cold temperatures and snow last night. It was not a big snowstorm, but it is still snowing as I type this. The local weather people say we will get 5-8 inches of snow today, in addition to the four or five that came last night. It’s hard to know with weather forecasts these days, as they exaggerate everything. They name every storm so they can talk about it like it is a monster from a 1960’s Japanese monster movie, “Mothra is attacking Lagos with snow and freezing temps!”
I’m a big fan of winter and I like snow, so I look forward to it snowing. I had some errands to run this morning, so I was out at sunup to shovel the truck out and clear the walk. I’m one of those people who enjoys shoveling snow. There is a limit to my enjoyment, but as long as the snow is not three feet deep or super-heavy, I enjoy the exercise and the satisfaction of seeing a clean walk. So, I was out first thing to shovel and then run some errands. I did not see anyone else out and about, so it was more quiet that usual.
That’s something I’ve observed in different parts of the world. When I lived in New Hampshire, the locals all seemed to love shoveling snow, almost as much as they loved complaining. The distinguishing feature of the New England Yankee is complaining about the weather. I recall the first snow storm when I moved to Manchester. I went out at first light to see all my neighbors out shoveling their walks and driveways. By breakfast, all of the walks were clear on my block and most drives were clear as well.
In contrast, Lagos may never clear the snow. My first snowstorm here was my first year, so I was unfamiliar with the local customs. We got a big snowstorm, over 30-inches, and the city was shut down for a week. I drove to the office to shovel the walk and found I was the only person out shoveling his walk. In fact, that whole winter the sidewalks were an obstacle course of frozen boot-prints, patches of ice and snow boulders. In theory, there’s a fine for not shoveling your walk, but I never heard anyone mention it.
That explains a weird thing you see here in Lagos, as well as other vibrant areas. When it snows, the locals walk in the streets. They will do this even when the walks are clear. I think it is just years of conditioning that has turned into a custom. You will see this in the county when it snows. People go out and walk in the streets. Here in Lagos, it means driving gets even more adventurous, as the locals could very well attack you while you are trying to navigate around them on the snow covered streets.
The other thing you see in places like this is how differences in time preference turn up in city planning efforts. My first storm here I learned that no one had bothered to service the city’s snow removal equipment. In fact, much of it was either disabled or missing. I recall that half the plows were either broken or unaccounted for, so snow removal was a comical failure. When your focus is on today, that is you have a high time preference, planning for even predictable eventualities is beyond your scope of interest.
This, of course, is a great way to introduce people to evolutionary concepts regarding human diversity. A thousand generations in a place without snow and inevitably the humans will adapt to a life without snow. It’s not just learned behavior at work. Nature is always tinkering with her creations. As Nick Wade put it, evolution is local, recent and copious. Put people from the real Lagos in a place with variability in the environmental conditions and their biological limitations will be exposed.
Of course, something that seems near universal is the panic that comes before every snowstorm, even in the snowiest places. I went to the market this morning and it was stone silent. The reason is everyone piled in yesterday. I saw this in New England when I lived there, so it is not just an unfamiliarity with snow. This seems to happen everywhere, so maybe the sense of something happening triggers the preparedness instinct in people with low time preference. The itch to prepare always needs to be scratched.
That said, there seems to be a strong desire among some pale folk to never have to deal with winter. I have friends who talk every winter about their desire to move south and never see another snow flake in person. The number of pale retirees in the Sun Belt says a large portion of pale people may be built for winter, but they really hate it. I’ve always found this baffling. I love winter and love the snow. It’s peaceful and beautiful. There’s a simplicity to it that appeals to me. Even in Lagos, I welcome old man winter.