An African's Queen

Observations of an African Man's Western Woman

Archive for the category “Nigeria 2015”

Chapter 6: Summary and Your Questions Answered

This is the sixth and final chapter of Sanni and my journey to Lagos, Nigeria. This post has been written from our home in Melbourne, Australia.


Suffice to say, summing up the last month has been extraordinarily difficult. Surprisingly so. We arrived home very late Tuesday night (kudos to dear friend, Kylie from Kazique for the Epic Friendship Action of picking us up at 11.30pm!) and after resting Wednesday & Thursday we got back in to the swing of our individual lives again.

Cheeky Adeola with Sanni

Being home is something I continue to feel gratitude for, there are comforts here I’ll never take for granted again. And yet, I miss my new family intensely. In true African-time fashion we were late to the airport, nearly missing the flight. Due to Boko Haram threats airport security is much stricter so the guards only allowed Grandma to enter the building. Fortunately, in the kerfuffle of being late and blocking the door Adeola slipped in undetected. She’s good like that. Cheeky gorgeousness.

We only just made it to check in before they closed it. I was intensely stressed, feeling a tightness in my chest that threatened to remove all air supply. We had to open the three padlocked suitcases to be inspected for weapons, an additional unnecessary step considering they hardly checked for anything. I felt like saying: “Patting the top items won’t find a bomb in the lining, dear Sir.” Hardly appropriate and surely would’ve guaranteed a missed flight.

And then, like ripping off a band-aid, I got ripped away from Grandma & Adeola. Last minute hurried hugs and a brisk walk away had me bawling my eyes out in a spontaneous outburst that caught us all by surprise. I was genuinely going to miss these people. It was not the way I wanted to say, “until soon.”

I don’t want to diss my biological family publicly, they’re good people who go about their lives, minding their own business but I do need to explain the impact Sanni’s family has had on me and the only way to do that is to compare it with what I’ve grown up with. My mother is the only person who has ever 100% without question supported Sanni and my relationship. No one else has. I’m now estranged from my father and purposefully distant from my four siblings. I’ve given up trying to be in their lives, they make no effort to be in mine. I feel like energy I expend is an exhaustive waste.

Many family’s have a black sheep. I feel like I am the one in mine. Hell, I’m a black sheep with a hot pink mohawk of incomprehension. They don’t get me and make no attempt to try. And simply accepting me for the way I am seems to be well & truly too much to ask. I live by the stance:

If someone is not willing to waste their time on me, I cannot waste my time on them. For true friendship begets no wastage.

I would bend over backwards for my friends. If they need something I think nothing of repayment. That gift is wastage, not a waste. The gain is in the giving, it’s an outgoing expense I’m willing to give generously from my heart. There is no such thing as altruistic actions. Everything has a win-loss-win relationship. As Kylie said when I thanked her profusely for sacrificing her sleep in exchange for picking us up from the airport: “It’s what friends do.” And she’s right. You simply do it because you know it’s the right thing to do for those you love.

Family though is slightly different in that we do not choose the parents or siblings we’re born to. If we draw the short straw we simply have to either suck it up or walk away. No matter the difficulties my family and I experience, I still love them. They drive me fucking crazy but I do love them. That doesn’t mean though I’m going to continue to put my tongue on the tip of a battery and be surprised when I get zapped. You reach a point when you simply cannot try any more. The battery is flat.

Sanni’s family welcomed me wholeheartedly. They didn’t take care of me just because I am Sanni’s wife, nor their new daughter/sister/aunt. They took care of me in the exact same way they took care of Sanni and how they take care of each other. Now, don’t get me wrong, they are no Brady Bunch. They’re is still conflict among the nine siblings and their children but at the heart of it all, they all accept one another for who the person is. And they accepted me one hundred and fifty percent.

The only downside I saw was in the hierarchy model of society. No one junior can speak to an elder sibling with disrespect. If the first-born, or any sibling senior to you, did something wrong only Grandma could say something, and even then she would temper herself so as to not rock the whole ship. Only those senior can speak directly of the fault of those junior to them, but that doesn’t mean that using diplomacy and tact the senior cannot be righted. It’s just done with intricate care, examples and humour. A hard one to explain without specifics that I can’t divulge.

It is the total acceptance of the person that I am that differentiates them from my own family. I’d like to think that I’ve made every attempt to accept my siblings for the adults they are today but I do not feel I’ve received that. No matter what my actions are they’re always heavily scrutinised and criticised. For Sanni’s family, I was mostly myself. I say mostly because I didn’t show all them my whole self, culturally it was practically impossible to do so. Only Adeola saw the near-complete me, and that’s because she made the effort to not see me as a wife, a foreigner or white woman but as a friend. I gave the family all that was needed to be understood.

Other than from my dearest friends and my mother, I’ve never known this depth of acceptance. This level of love. It is that love that broke the dam of emotions, flooding my squished up, slobbering goodbye face with hot, salty tears. Despite how happy I am to be home I do miss them so very, very much.

Your Questions Answered

I posted to my twitter account a call out for questions. My friends being both serious and playful came up with a few great questions. I’ve chosen only a few to answer here. The others I need to research further.

Glen asks, “any girls there for me?”

Glen my dear friend, there certainly are. And I know you were half joking and half serious but here’s the thing, there are plenty of people looking for love in this world, many need to be more willing to look outside their present surroundings to try something new.

And then there is the stereotype of an African man (or Asian woman) who marries a Westerner just for the visa. My family (excluding mum), upon my return to Australia in December be 2010, all thought themselves justified in their warnings that Sanni was just using me for the Australian visa. None of them factored that Sanni & I genuinely did love each other. It wasn’t until he immigrated a year and a half later that they believed me. It still took meeting him for them to see just how much we really do love each other.

It cannot be denied that marriages of convenience do happen. My favourite Nigerian author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, wrote the best seller Americanah, which highlights this in a brilliant, non-judgmental way. And it cannot be denied that there is significantly good reason for these marriages to occur. Nigeria, other African nations, South America, and Asia are all very difficult places to live.

You need to constantly hustle. I mean constantly! There is no break, no downtime, no moment at all when your mind can just rest, be relieved from the pressures of simply being alive. When a Nigerian travels abroad it is extremely challenging for them to make do, that hustle doesn’t ease, it actually increases because now they have the obligation to take care of those at home. It’s no different from the pressure on the footballers who travel abroad that I wrote about in Chapter 5

The difficulty in finding true love is no different across cultures as it is within your own. You still have to protect yourself. But you do also need to be aware of the convenience factor in the decisions that you make. It starts first with attraction. There aren’t many African girls that are attracted to white guys. To be blunt, white guys don’t really know how to take care of a woman quite like an African man does. And no, get your mind out of the gutter, it’s got nothing to do with the size of their shoes!

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what it was but when I think back to my white boyfriends, they were somehow more selfish. My African boyfriends, and Sanni was by no means the first (once I went black there was no going back), all treated me like a queen. My needs were the most important thing to their happiness. The truth across all cultures is if a woman isn’t happy a man has no chance of it either. The difference is that if a woman isn’t happy an African man will be more likely looking at what he did wrong rather than blaming her, a white man is more likely to first think she’s the problem before questioning what he’s done.

The attraction for African women to Western white men then has to be unique to that woman and usually she will be western educated, worldly in her thinking, and not heavily enmeshed in the cultural normalcy of a male-centric society. She would first need to know what equality means before knowing how to then achieve it with her white male. And, there are many white males who hope she never figures it out. The white, western male is not as exotic as the white, western female and so the attraction can be there but it may take longer to figure it out. Women are far more reserved with their affections. To act otherwise is to be labelled a prostitute.

I’m perfectly aware that I’m making vast sweeping generalizations about men & women and Africans & Westerners, but there is some truth to my examples. I’m thinking this is a topic for another post, once I’ve done a lot more research. I would be keen to interview people who have an opinion or expertise in this area.

Richard tells me: “I’m owed $7.2 trillion from royal relatives who have died and the executors of their estates have emailed me” And asks: “When can I get it?”

Perhaps what makes this statement and question funny is that Richard is South African. He knows exactly what this question means and that the answer is of course rhetorical. Note, he never once referred to a Nigerian prince.I think that’s important because the world has tarnished Nigeria as the one country in the world that sends these scam emails. The fact is, it happens from every corner of the world and will always stem back to people who simply want to do anything they possibly can to improve their present circumstances.

All I ask is that we collectively stop calling the scams “Nigerian” because they’re not. They are now a worldwide term that may have originated in Nigerian law codes but are now recognised universally. Call them 419s because that’s what they are now.

I wrote briefly about 419 scams in the last chapter.

Theresa wants to know quite a bit, so I’ve picked three:

I’d love to know what your favourite foods are (I’ve had fufu, but don’t know anything else about Nigerian cuisine)

In truth, eating local food made both Sanni and I sick. Within an hour both he & I were literally running to the bathroom to prevent southern explosions. At home in Australia, we typically eat reasonably spicy food and yet, we couldn’t eat in people’s homes. On the rare occasion I could eat at a local restaurant without being sick but that could never be counted on. We don’t know what it was that made us sick, most likely a bacteria in the meat or preparation process that our stomachs weren’t strong enough to process.

For the first two weeks we were constantly running to the bathroom. Embarrassing enough at home with guests but when in public or at someone’s home, downright mortifying. Especially as they thought nothing about announcing to the populated room of my problem, my needs and then discussing my requirement for toilet paper.

Suffice to say, I hardened to the atrocious bathroom conditions of some people’s homes. While most have the standard ceramic bowls, few had a flushing mechanism and none had paper unless I brought it with me or it was purchased from a nearby store. Like in Asia, water is used to clean your genitalia. And trust me, when you’ve got chilli bum, cool water is far better than rough paper! And I seriously cannot believe I just told you that but it’s true!

Egg rolls

What I did enjoy eating most were egg rolls. They’re hard boiled eggs coated in thick donut-like dough and deep fried so the shell is super crisp and crunchy. They, along with Kellogg’s Corn Flakes and UHT milk, became my breakfast staple. I also brought with my T2’s Monk Pear loose leaf tea that saved my life. Coffee, as I mentioned in Chapter 2, was simply not an option. The only other tea option is Lipton. Let’s face it, that’s as offensive as Nescafe instant coffee!

I usually didn’t eat lunch or would eat a very late one that would also be dinner. Towards the end of the month I only ate Indomie, 2 minute instant noodles. I had settled with the reality that food was simply not an option. My body craved vegetables. I went from having a glass of fresh fruit & vege juice daily to not having any at all. We did have some fruit, like pineapple, oranges and apples though.

When I did eat my favourite things were amala and goat or turkey stew, which I described in Chapter 3. This style of dough with stew was the norm for most meals. The dough might change from amala, to semolina, pounded yam or gari but the way the food was eaten was the same. There’s really very little differentiation in the cuisine. With one stew there can be accompanying sauces, like a yellow bean sauce which is delicious or a green, fibrous sauce called draw stew for the way the liquid draws up in lengthy, strings. A little bit too much like drool for me to really enjoy, not that it tasted bad, it was just difficult to eat with the balls of dough. Very messy.

Suya – barbeque meat with chilli powder

I also liked suya. It’s basically thinly sliced goat barbecued and then coated in chilli powder. I couldn’t have much chilli powder but it did become a late night staple when we’d not eaten all day. Once I tried to buy it with Adeola and the guy lost his sale for trying to charge me 2,800 naira instead of the normal 900 naira! When later made fun of by Sanni, he tried to say that he quoted 1,500 and said that I didn’t even barter. Ha! White Person Tax!

Fast food wasn’t Hungry Jack’s or MiccyD’s. And I can’t believe I didn’t see one 7Eleven or real fast food restaurant anywhere. It’s a good thing until you can’t eat the local cuisine. Fast food was the same kind of food as local eat but a hellofalot more expensive. A few additional items like fried rice, ‘Chinese’ chicken stew, or a curry. And there was a burger too. Pre-made, packaged in plastic and eaten cold. One day Sanni brought pizza home. It was cold and perhaps the best thing I had eaten all month. And I don’t normally like to eat pizza.

Next time we return we’ll have our own house, and I will have my own kitchen and fridge. I will be able to control a lot more of the preparation process and plan to learn how to prepare the food.

Has Lupita Nynog’o’s increased fame filtered to Africa?

Lupita who?
Only kidding, the gorgeous Lupita Nynog’o is Kenyan and therefore doesn’t factor at all (for what I saw) in Nigerian pop culture media.

The disclaimer on this though is that where we’re staying no one really pays attention to Hollywood in great detail. They’re so busy trying to simply stay alive that what famous people are doing doesn’t really resonate. Musicians are slightly different. And Nollywood actors are talked about but again, their lives are not followed in the same way. There is an admiration but it isn’t something the people can relate to so the conversations I had were never about individual famous people. It was more about what they produced, the latest song and whether that song had a dance.

A massive hit right now is the song, Shoki, which I came to loath. I loath it only because it was played every single day, several times a day, by everyone. On one of my first days at the guest house they played a remix of it by a DJ that also embedded the sound of shattering glass and a baby crying into the track. And that was the only song they played on a giant speaker outside the bar from midday until about 8pm when I finally lost my shit (this speaker would boom until midnight every single day) and begged them to play some variety.

This clip is a remix of Shoki, which shows the dance that everyone’s learning right now.

Dance is core to being Nigerian so the fact that I dance like a chicken, with it’s head cut off, that has one leg, and appears to be stoned, was hilarious for all who tried to make me move with anything redeemably fluid.

What do Nigerians associate most with Australia? (Kangaroos? ‘Crocodile Dundee’? Oh wait, that’s the U.S.)

Nothing. Absolutely nothing. When we spoke of being from Australia there were no references at all about kangaroos, Dundee or anything else. The fact is, Australia is not on the radar because it’s simply too far away. The only countries people want to go to are America and the UK, and that’s because they’re obtainable. The link I gave above to Chimamanda’s book, Americanah, explains this quite well.

Conversations we did have about Australia had more to do with the cost of living and how wealthy we must be because we live in such a rich country. I made a lot of comparisons to how expensive Australia is in the local Naira currency. I would start by explaining the return airfare for us, then add the travel insurance, my vaccinations, purchase of new suitcases, etc and already we’re easily at one million naira. Then I would tell them that rent at home still had to be paid while we were away, and explained how much that was per month. Add all the tax and bills we pay for home and car and business and Sanni’s football, as well as sending money to them, and they began to see just how difficult it was to get there and why it took over two years to do it.

I love that our base is in Australia. I love that our home is in Melbourne. But, now I can confidently say that it will not be through living here that we make a life for ourselves. Only through building business in Lagos will be able to live comfortably in Australia. How odd that is.

Summary of requests

You asked me to:

  • Dress in traditional clothing and eat local food – COMPLETE – See the gallery
  • Francesco & Kristini: Send a post card home – Sadly, this is a fail but certainly not for want of trying. They simply don’t have a tourism market, therefore no post cards and they don’t use mail, so no post offices.
  • Meg: Bring home traditional and modern Yoruba music – COMPLETE
  • NEW! Mages: bring something (an object, a photo, a video, a song, etc.) that represents the essence of the journey.  – COMPLETE – My hair! It is the one thing that represents before, during and after and represents outside my body how different I am now inside my mind.

Thanks for reading along with our journey!
I appreciate you!!!

Chapter 5: Fields of Dreams

This is the fifth chapter of Sanni and my journey to Lagos, Nigeria. These events happened two weeks ago. This story has been a difficult one to write because it wreaks of so much I still need to understand.

And, it is also a very long post. I am unapologetic about the length of my posts, even though I’ve been asked to write shorter ones. I’m no Seth Godin, Master of the Daily Short Blog, I write what I feel needs to be explained and this one was especially important to keep as a single post. If you don’t have time to read it, that’s ok, keep the browser tab open and come back when you can. Your time is not for me to manage, even though I value you all the more for giving it willingly.

As always, these words are my interpretation only and shouldn’t be taken as anything but my observations of a foreign land that has done everything it can to accept me and I it.

Chapter Five: Fields of Dreams

Since Sanni and I met he has been telling me what it is like to live in Nigeria. Theoretically, I understood what he was saying. I could empathise with the hardships he described but he knew that I lacked a certain something in my comprehension.

Sanni described the fields on which he trained since he was a little boy. Barren fields of soft red soil and harsh, dry grasses. He would have to scramble to get a few hundred naira to get there (one more than a 45 minute journey from his home) on an okada (motorbike taxi). The coach would push him and the other 30-odd boys to the best of their ability. They would play a match with no half time, no side lines, hole-riddled goals nets and misshapen, poorly-fitting, coloured team vests.

He described the fans and how they would come to see him train or play a match. Locals, napep or okada drivers, businessmen (or Bosses as they’re also referred to), sometimes only a few, other times, tens of them. It is from these fans that Sanni made his measly income. They – most had little themselves – would give him 50 naira here, 100 there, or more if they were a Boss. This money is what kept Sanni and his friends fed.

Sanni with some of his friends

Sanni with some of his friends

Sanni has a charisma that I’ve never fully understood until I saw him among his friends and family. He is not only the peacekeeper settling the squabbles among his friends, he is a man that imparts wisdom. He is someone that easily attracts admiration. His football ability makes many look up to him but it is how humble he has remained in his fame that continues to enamour him to all.

Sanni gives everyone a piece of time, his most valuable resource, and with that time he gives people a voice. He carries people along. His genuine concern for the wellbeing of his closest friends meant that even if he was left with very little, his friends would share in the money the locals would give him. This money begins to tell the story of what was expected of Sanni upon the return to this country and his training fields.

Field of Dreams #1

Field of Dreams #1

The first one we went to was small and rough. The field belongs to the local state-owned primary school with its board-slat windows, accustomed to a football going array and smashing into them. He greeted the team, one of them asking without pause, “Boss, what have you brought us?”

I have heard this saying often here. But to hear it on this field brought a whole new meaning. Sanni used to be one of these boys. I’ve mentioned before the acclaim and expectation that comes from a fellow African once they’ve lived abroad, but to have lived abroad and played football is to have made it to the big time, even though what he does in Australia is hardly the big time.

At the end of their training game, I watched how the coach organised the teams into two, like halves preparing for another match. The coach stood with his back to them, Sanni faced him. I watched him pull the wad of cash from his bag, giving it to the coach. He then turned and gave me a signal. Even from two hundred metres away, without prior knowledge that I would even receive a signal, I knew he was telling me to get everyone to the car.

I stood, “We are leaving. Sanni has told me to go to the car.” They hadn’t even seen the exchange. I was asked how I knew. I just know my husband’s body language I told them. And it’s true. Just as he knows mine. We can see from afar what the other person is thinking and feeling and we know without speaking what the other needs. We’ve always had an inexplicable way of communicating with each other, but it hasn’t always been this synchronised.

My coming here was never on the cards; Sanni was meant to come alone. He wanted to deal with the business of paying back favours on his own, but he couldn’t imagine coming without me. Despite the fact that this last month has been phenomenally stressful on Sanni, he has protected me from the worst of it. He said often in the second week, “I think, somehow, you are even more beautiful now. I think you like being here.” I would smile and shrug. His charming eyes encouraging me to seek, to ask questions and to learn about his country.

(In truth, I’m treated like a queen! I don’t cook or clean or wash clothing, I don’t have to go grocery shopping. I am completely free of domestic burdens. Of course I’m more beautiful! Silly boy!)

As Sanni’s friends and I were ushered in to the minivan again, Sanni arrived and climbed in. “Let’s go,” he said briskly. “Where is Sunday?” His well-intentioned, big-mouthed but unreliable and selfish friend was still inside the grounds. I could feel the energy in the car escalate. Sanni told me to close my window and lock the door. Sunday arrived, everyone began shouting at him to get in, angry for reasons that weren’t clear. And then, like hyenas to a carcass they swarmed in. The car was surrounded. People shouting things I couldn’t understand through the window. I understood the intention though.

They, the locals, wanted their share. They all wanted their favours repaid. Even those that never gave favours in the first place. They all wanted something from the One-Who-Had-Returned. The car pushed slowly through the crowd of people, it looked like 50 people but it was probably more like 20. Finally the crowd parted and we roared off down the bumpy road, with no regard given for belts not yet buckled or the hitting of heads on the ceiling.

And then there was laughter. Sanni turned to me, clasping my hand, “are you ok?” I smiled, “I’m fine, you told me what to expect.” And I genuinely was ok. I was never in harm’s way. Had Sunday not slipped a few thousand naira out the window then yes, I would’ve been. We would have been trapped. The crowd would’ve simply grown in size and gotten angrier, most likely resulting in the worst case scenario of a mob-mentality pushing of the car, breaking windows and ultimately hurting people. I was warned of that too.

All the theory in the world won’t prepare you for the experience of living through something. And that was exactly the lacking in my comprehension Sanni has felt. It is this experience that has produced a silent, living love between us. A knowledge of how both of our worldviews are now one synchronised story.

The second field, two days later, I was told would be far larger with a lot more people. And, we would be taking a lot more money. This time I would carry it. There was no one else who would be more ‘untouchable’ than me. Like the last field, Sanni intentionally told no one he was coming, to do so would simply cost too much. Word would spread fast enough without giving notice.

Panorama of the Field of Dreams #2

Panorama of the Field of Dreams #2

Like celebrities we are ushered in to the gate and on to the large grounds. I saw the teams warming up in the distance, crowds milling in the shade of the tall, concrete brick walls, a man standing in the centre looked up and smiled. Sanni’s coach, the man who started it all. I curtseyed as I gave my Yoruba greeting as women do to people of seniority (men bow or touch their ankle, foot or the ground). He smiled and responded in broken English his surprise that I was greeting him traditionally, telling me, “He took after me with a woman like you.” A compliment to Sanni that I had heard often. It meant they approved of me and welcomed me.

Sanni whispered to me, “Ah, they’re going to kill me here today.” I knew he was speaking of the 20,000 naira cash bundles we’d broken into 200 naira lots. “Should I change more?” I asked, even though I knew we couldn’t afford it. He looked at me, that knowledge passing between us. He called to our nephew, Rahmon, a sweet young man who is last-born to Sanni’s eldest sister, “Take her to the bank,” he said in broken English. “Go alone, tell no one.” I was already carrying 50,000 naira (about $300) but I returned to the car and took an extra 20,000. We walked to the bank to change it into 200 naira bundles.

Dauda the Machine that he is

Dauda the Machine that he is

Now, with 70,000 naira in my bag, I felt a sense of fear. The milling crowd had tripled in size. Now there was 100+ people, some of them players, but most locals. They would all have their hands out very soon. I distracted myself by taking photos, teaching Rahmon to look for certain shots and talking to him about his own football passion. It is on fields like this all across Africa that dreams are made. They all want one thing, to play international league football and there are simply too many of them for most to ever achieve it. Sanni represents one that made it – even if he really hasn’t gotten far yet.

After we visited the first field, Sanni described how easy it is to make money off of these dream-filled, naïve boys. He told me that he could take me to another field, in another city. And while I say nothing, he would tell the coach that I am an agent and that we’re there to watch the boys to determine if any are eligible to play for the club I represent. We would watch them play. I would take photos and notes. It would all appear official, even though none of them would know what official looks like.

Only a third of all the fans waiting, expecting.

Only a third of all the fans waiting, expecting.

The next day, Sanni would return and tell the coach which of the boys I’d selected. These boys, excited, hopeful, and daring to believe their dreams had come true would run home and tell their families. Sanni will have told them the cost – usually in excess of 300,000 naira – and from there the families would sell their homes, cars, everything they own to pay for their boys dreams to come true. Sanni would collect the money, we’d bin the sim cards we’d used, and be on the next flight to another field of dreams.

Scams like these happen almost daily somewhere in Africa or elsewhere in the world. Africans, especially Nigerians are viewed as scammers. (Nigerian Prince emails, anyone?!) I have had to install a VPN service just to access some websites from here due to the world’s fear of Nigerians. But, they are not bad people. 99% of the people in Africa (a completely made up statistic) are good, wholesome people who simply want a home, to feed their families and if they’re lucky give their children an education.

This worldview of Africa is perpetuated by a pity party in Western media & business. It is the reason why I only follow Al Jazeera. They are the only international news broadcaster who gives a shit about telling the truth of how it really is here. Take the ridiculous portrayal of the recent Boko Haram monstrosity as an example. One broadcaster used photos that weren’t even connected to the story. And for what, certainly not to help the people of Baga. I bet their advertisers are happy though.

This fear is what makes it impossible for Africans to get ahead, no matter where they live. Simply being African puts a person immediately on the back foot, beneath, or less than someone from Europe, America or other Western-like countries, even Asia is discriminatory to Africans (which has more to do with black skin then their country of origin). The whole reason I started this blog was to speak up about this bullshit – and yes, it makes me fucking angry.

419 Scam warning painted on a house wall

419 Scam warning painted on a house wall

The thing is Nigerians fear themselves too. I have often seen painted on walls and gates to compounds, ‘This house is not for sale, fear the 419,’ – 419 is a universal code for scams – when a home is locked into a nasty family legal dispute and there is concern the house will be sold illegally.

This fear is not without good reason because this is a land where opportunity only comes to those who take it or make it.

Nigerians are the most entrepreneurial people in the world. They can make business out of the smallest thing simply so they can stand on their own to say, ‘I am doing something. I am not begging.’ I am proud to see what Sanni’s family has achieved and what they do on a daily basis to keep their heads above the water. They are an honourable, strong people who work hard and deserve more than the pittance they receive.

Unfortunately, this incredible entrepreneurial spirit can also be used for the evil of taking advantage of others, like these boys. Like what happened to Sanni when I first met him. They are the reason that when Sanni is set with his football goals that he will train to become a qualified FIFA coach and agent. We will set up a not-for-profit to support these boys with the education they need to identify these scams, to help them research clubs and to give them the theoretical knowledge of what Sanni’s experienced firsthand.

As Sanni prays with his team, his boots and socks are removed.

As Sanni prays with his team, his boots and socks are removed.

As Sanni stood praying with the other 30+ players at the end of the training match, his boots and socks were taken from his feet. As the crowd dispersed and Sanni came to greet me, one of the boys was tugging at the bandage used to wrap his ankles. In an awkward, tripping walk Sanni allowed the bandage to be removed without making him fall. The boy beneath us now removed the second bandage as Sanni looked into my concerned eyes. He smiled assuredly, “It’s ok,” he said. His eyes telling me, ‘this is the way it is, you have to let them take everything because they have nothing.’

A fist fight broke out behind us. Men were shoving each other and shouting aggressively. One of them had blood pouring from his left eye. The other had a cut lip, his eye already swelling. I asked why the two men were fighting only to be told one of them didn’t want the other to talk to Sanni first. They were not fighting because of Sanni, they were fighting to get access to Sanni’s cash first, believing the first person would get more than the others.

And so I watched as Sanni began to walk to the small clusters of people that had organised themselves into their own groups, waiting for what was coming. Sanni would come back to me to get another bundle of cash. The sense of fear I felt at the beginning was now heightened, although, I can honestly say, I was never afraid. The fear, I realised, came from the knowledge that everyone knew who held the money.

Sanni supporting the players and the community that supported him.

Sanni supporting the players and the community that supported him.

I didn’t have Moses there to protect me, Rahmon had left the field midway through the match, and Tunde had his own circle around him trying to take his shorts and sandals. Sandals that belonged to Sanni. Sandals, like the shoes on Sanni’s feet, I had stupidly brought to them when they were both left bare foot after the match. What is on Tunde’s body is considered to be from Sanni, so both lost everything. When someone asked for their pants the joke was, “what and leave here naked?” I have no doubt, were I not there, they probably would’ve left in their underwear.

When I brought the footwear I had made a mistake that took both men a lot to fight for. Tunde stood not far behind me as a young man stood with his outstretched hand resting on Tunde’s shoulder. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but I could hear the word ‘sandal’ being said over and over again. I turned to see Tunde shaking his head and the aggression in this man’s face. Something in me broke. I couldn’t remain silent.

I said to the young man, “Are those sandals Tunde’s to give you?” Before he had a chance to get over the shock of my speaking directly to him, I continued, “Those sandals belong to me. Tunde cannot give you what isn’t his. Are you going to ask me for those sandals?” I pause, waiting for him to comprehend my carefully enunciated English. “You can,” I said with a laugh, “but I will say no.” I turned around and continued to watch Sanni across the field as he handed small pieces of cash to people surrounding him.

Behind me I hear the young man say something else to Tunde, again with the word ‘sandal’. I turn abruptly, “Enough!” I say, my voice now serious and authoritative. “My answer is no. Now, leave.” The man’s arm drops from Tunde’s shoulder, his bottom lip fat with disappointment, and his eyes telling me that he’s embarrassed for making the oyinbo upset. In truth, I was angry at his greed. I knew Sanni had already given him money. I had watched him continue to follow Sanni around begging for more, and now he was trying to leech from Tunde. Others were grateful for what small thing they received but this man, like a few others, simply continued to pester for more and more.

Sanni dolling out the Naira. What struck me was how blantant it was. Expected. Normal.

Sanni dolling out the naira. What struck me was how blatant it was. Expected. Normal.

They pester like this because most people refuse to believe that we aren’t phenomenally wealthy. It is impossible to comprehend what living abroad truly costs. Anywhere that isn’t Africa is a better place. And coming from the far-off land of Australia, with his white wife, makes Sanni wealthy beyond imagination. To be clear, we are absolutely not wealthy, in fact I’ve struggled to keep us on top of the exorbitant costs. If we were, we would’ve kitted the entire team in new gear and splashed the cash around like confetti and still they would’ve asked for more. It is impossible to consider when a well dries, it really is empty.

I was left with Sunday and his friend to protect me. I told his friend to stay with me, to not leave my side, no matter what. The fear I felt was only of the possibility of being mobbed because I held the cash. I wasn’t afraid because I genuinely didn’t believe that anyone would dare come near me, let alone hurt me. It isn’t just fear of Sanni’s wrath that many would have. His extended family carries a name that even the police fear.

(By the way, the police have the same opportunistic mindset as everyone else, made worse by extremely low salaries. They won’t do anything unless you bribe them. They’ll often conduct road blocks to collect bribes from drivers to let them through. This happened with Sanni & I one day. Sanni told the officer he is the son of XXX (anonymity protected) and with a small bribe we were let go. I could see other cars being emptied of passengers and their belongings, the police looking for something they can take.)

I was ushered to a waiting minivan in which the coach was sitting. Sanni handed the man a large wad of cash before we began to drive a way from the field. Our car left behind. We parked on the opposite side of the road to our car, people began to surround it again. Sanni got out taking the last of the cash. I watched as he & Tunde tried to get in to our car. The doors held open by all the people surrounding it. I watched as they each handed out note after note. We kept waiting for the crowd to disperse but it didn’t seem to abate. Finally their car doors closed, shutting out the people still shouting through the glass.

Sanni & Tunde trying to get away, dolling out the last of the Naira.

Sanni & Tunde trying to get away, dolling out the last of the Naira.

I sat taking photos and thinking how surreal yet cinematic this experience was. Only in a movie carefully scripted would this be believed. Undoubtedly, even if believed on a theoretical level, it would never be understood without the experience of why the fields of dreams create so much need.

Stay tuned for Chapter 6: Summary and Your questions answered.

Photos are in the Gallery. Go, see, play. It’s chaotic there.

Summary of requests

You asked me to:

  • Dress in traditional clothing and eat local food – COMPLETE – See the gallery
  • Francesco & Kristini: Send a post card home – Sadly, this is a fail but certainly not for want of trying. They simply don’t have a tourism market, therefore no post cards and they don’t use mail, so no post offices.
  • Meg: Bring home traditional and modern Yoruba music – COMPLETE
  • NEW! Mages: bring something (an object, a photo, a video, a song, etc.) that represents the essence of the journey. (Yet to be decided on… I’ve got a few ideas rumbling around!)

One final post and then I’m home. Looking forward to a latte from Dom with Aunty Glen, red wine with my girls, stir fried vegetables with Dunc & Cara and reliable electricity.

Chapter 4: A Whole Lotta Ouchie-Wow-Wow

This is the fourth chapter of Sanni and my journey to Lagos, Nigeria. These words are my interpretation only and shouldn’t be taken as anything but my observations of a foreign land that has done everything it can to accept me and I it.

Take a look down at your keyboard and mouse. Take your left hand – or whichever one is not on the mouse – and glide your fingertips through your hair. If you’re bald leg hair will do. If you don’t have leg hair then find a hairy part of your body. If you’re completely 100% without hair, you’re a wonderful kind of freak and need to find a hairy friend/pet for this exercise (fair warning, they’ll probably hate you for a while).

Right, so, here you are with your left hand. It’s gliding over your head. It’s a calming feeling. Feels soooo good, right? Now locate a small tuft of hair above your ear, no more than about ten strands and pull on it. Don’t be soft. I mean really pull it. Hurts, right?

Now, don’t let go. Don’t soften the tug. I mean it. Until the end of reading this post, do not let go.

My hair before the braids.

My hair before the braids.

That small pain you’re feeling now is only one-millionth of the pain I felt when I got my bra-strap-length, thick, luscious locks braided.

You just let go of your hair, didn’t you? Ha.

I arrived at 9.30am but of course my sister-in-law and her seven apprentices (probably more like four but a few neighbourhood girls joined braiding the oyinbo’s hair) didn’t actually start braiding until 10.30am. Apprenticeships here are something people pay to do. They’re not jobs you get paid to do, rather you pay to do the work. Employers, like Mummy Malik, will school the girls in all the different styles, train them as you would expect from an apprenticeship, but they’re working and paying for it themselves. The privilege of learning from the best.

Mummy Malik – women lose their names after they give birth, they become Mummy XYZ, it can be any child’s name but it is usually the first-born’s – began with a tiny part of my hair above my right ear. The soft tender skin pulled taught as she wound the first strands of hair extension around, her deft fingers weaving the braid in with my hair. I felt the pull and the sharp stinging pain.

Inspiration for the style

Inspiration for the style

After half an hour and about five braids, I am already tired. I have a lot of hair and begin to question if I really want this. I have, well before I met Sanni, wanted my hair braided. It’s the only hair style I haven’t tried. I’ve been skin-bald. I’ve had a #1. I’ve had every colour. I’ve had dreads. I’ve even tried a perm that became, almost immediately, an afro due to the high humidity of Northern Queensland where I was living at the time. I’ve had all lengths, the longest down to my backside when I was a child, but never braids.

I was adamant that the style I wanted was close, tight, tiny braids so that my white scalp wouldn’t shine through. I do not think there is anything worse than a western woman trying to look like an African. There are simply some hair styles that western women shouldn’t try and braids, especially cornrows and fat braids are among those on the hell-no list. Mummy Malik knew the style I was going for so she braided each one very close to each other, taking only a few strands of my hair at any one time.

I made the mental decision that I would go through with it. If only once in my lifetime. And would lyelye (never) do it again.

Sanni and my niece and friend, Adeola, assisted me to explain in greater detail the colours I wanted threaded throughout, not just block braids of blue, pink, green, purple and white but also mixed with the brown that they had blended for me. There were no extensions that matched the brown tone of my hair, all of it was either too dark or too light so they took small amounts of dark brown, blonde and deep red and mixed them together. It was an interesting process of pulling the extensions apart and folding the colours back in on themselves in a fluid, repetitive motion.

Mummy Malik started the braids. She would braid a third of the length before one of the other girls would take over with yet another one holding it against my head so it didn’t pull my scalp. She was just above my eye when I asked whether another girl was skilled enough to start on another section. Mummy Malik wanted to ensure the best possible job was done but I realised quickly that we’d be there until dawn the next day if she was allowed to continue on her own. It took some general questions about who was the most senior girl and suggesting she start at the back before Mummy Malik relinquished her control.

The arched eyebrows and pursed lips of pain.

The arched eyebrows and pursed lips of pain.

I had refused to get out of the chair. Hours went by. The tugging of my hair, the braids falling across my face, the aching of my back all melded into the thoughts flowing through my mind. ‘Just get through this, just get through this,’ I kept saying to myself over and over. With every ‘ouch’ came a chorus of ‘sorry’ from each of the girls.

When someone says sorry, it is not only because they are sorry they’ve caused you harm but they are sorry you are feeling something bad. In other situations, like when I was sick with the Harmattan Cold or had diarrhoea for a week, people would say sorry. They didn’t do anything wrong, they were simply sorry I was uncomfortable. If someone hurts themselves, you say sorry because you are being empathetic to their pain, somehow you share that pain. I think it’s lovely.

Finally the pain was becoming too much. I asked Sanni, who would pop in and check on me every now and again, to get me food. I asked Adeola for paracetamol.

Called a 'million braids' for a reason

Called a ‘million braids’ for a reason

Sanni returned with these awful sausage roll things that were the only thing I could’ve eaten (eating here is a pain in the backside – literally!). I ate. They kept working. I drank water and took the pills. They kept working. I tried to read my book, even though I had braids covering my face the whole time. They kept working.

I felt the effects of the four tablets begin to make me sleepy. A strange, opaque, dopey sleep, still awake and still in pain but able to now withstand the sharp stings of my knotted hair getting pulled without a brush or comb and the tugging of yet another braid getting started. My head would roll and rest on the closest person’s stomach, my shoulders slumped with my hands resting on my lap or gently hugging the legs of the owner of the stomach-pillow, usually Adeola’s as she softly sang choir songs in my ear.

The dancing candle meditation

As it was when I sat for hours getting my tattoos, I decided to meditate. I pictured a candle in my solar plexus. I concentrated on the flicker of the light, how it danced with the movement of my body. I didn’t think about how that movement was caused by my head getting pulled, I only felt the dance. I was lulled into a peaceful place inside myself. I told myself to go within, that whatever was happening outside of me was not a part of this inner world.

And like this the day continued. A sharp pain, too strong for me to ignore would invariably jolt me awake and make me keenly aware of the stabbing pain all over my head. Everything felt grossly over-sensitive. Even areas of my scalp they’d not commenced. I stood abruptly. “I need a break,” I announced. “Mummy Malik, which bathroom can I use?” I didn’t really need to go, but I needed to escape the heat of eight bodies surrounding mine.

I get claustrophobia in large crowds so this took a lot of self-control and breathing to keep me from freaking out. It helped that I had braids covering my face. They shielded me from the outside world. I kept asking Adeola if there were people in the room that didn’t need to be there. People would come in and just stand around me. Curious gawking.

Posing for the gawkers

Posing for the gawkers

One lady started taking photos before I put my hand up and said no. I told her, and it was carefully translated, that she had not asked to take my photo. “I am not an animal in the zoo,” I told her. She was suitably embarrassed and apologised. Adeola explained that she wanted to show me off to her friends. I said that it was normal for me. That kind of thing happens all the time, to not ask though was an inappropriateness I wasn’t going to put up with when I was already feeling vulnerable. In the end, I let her take the photos because I knew that to not allow it would ultimately cause whispers around the community that would affect Mummy Malik’s reputation.

I have to be careful about everything I do and everything I say because I am constantly being observed as an example of Western character. Forget that everyone is different and all behaviour is unique to the individual, here I am the only example many people will ever get in their lifetimes of a Western person. So each ouchie-wow-wow (code for Dear-Holy-Mother-of-Fkn-God-That-Hurt) was carefully tempered and controlled. Each knot of my own hair they pulled on was carefully taken from their hands so I could slowly, delicately finger comb it out. Each over-pull was delicately pulled back in. All to protect this careful image of a Western person’s behaviour.

Western people are not as strong as Africans. I mean that quite literally. Mentally and physically we are weaker. Africans can withstand a lot more punishment and never, not once, utter a complaint. But Westerners, we’ll complain if the slightest thing isn’t to our liking. It is the reason you let go of the tuft of your hair at the beginning of this post. We might decide to put up with it, but, and here’s the biggest differentiation, African’s don’t need to make the decision to put up with it. It simply is so they deal with it.

Finished! And don't I look a treat?!

Finished! And don’t I look a treat?!

And so I did everything I could to deal with it. It took a total of ten hours to finish and twelve paracetamol.

Two days later and I was still in pain. Sanni’s eldest sister inspected the braids above my right ear, the first ones completed to find they were far too tight – even for an African – so she took them out and applied hot water on a towel to my scalp to relieve some of the pain. Afterwards, Sanni simply cut those strands of hair off. It’s funny how something so small and insignificant can cause so much discomfort. My niece, Ruka, then wove cotton thread around bundles of the hair and soaked each in boiling water to produce a beautiful curl to the length.

A million curly braids!

A million curly braids!

To be honest, prior to getting it curled, I hated looking in the mirror. I felt so different. I felt ugly. Fearing the wannabe African look was a reality. Everyone has told me that it looks really good and that it suits me. These compliments haven’t been enough to convince me though. This is a normal appearance for them. We all want to be accepted for how we appear (whether we admit it or not) and my tribe isn’t here. It’s a lonely confidence I feel when I say, “feck it, life’s a game. Let’s play!” Even if I’m playing on my own. With the new curls and reduced pain I am beginning to accept my new beautiful appearance. It’s unique. It’s an African’s Queen.

Oh, and friend, if you’re one of the rare few still holding your hair, it must be hurting a lot by now. Sorry. You can let go, thanks for sticking with me.

Stay tuned for Chapter 4: Fields of Dreams

Photos are in the Gallery. Go, see, play. It’s chaotic there.

Got a question to ask or a comment to share? A request?

So far you’ve asked me to:

  • Dress in traditional clothing and eat local food – COMPLETE – See the gallery
  • Francesco & Kristini: Send a post card home (still haven’t seen a post card or even a post office yet)
  • Meg: Bring home traditional and modern Yoruba music – COMPLETE
  • NEW! Mages: bring something (an object, a photo, a video, a song, etc.) that represents the essence of the journey. (I’m pondering…)

What else would you like guys? Let me know below.

Chapter 3: Oyinbo

This is the third chapter of Sanni and my journey to Lagos, Nigeria. This chapter completes the story of our first full day.  These words are my interpretation only and shouldn’t be taken as anything but my observations of a foreign land that has done everything it can to accept me and I it.

Chapter 3: Oyinbo

We’re ushered in to Grandma’s dark, cramped house sitting for a while as Sanni spoke softly to his mother in Yoruba. I would come to get used to the silence of listening to people speak another language in my company. I do not interrupt or think they should speak English for my benefit, even though English is the national language here. Instead I feel guilty for having not done more to learn before I came, even though I know immersion is always the best teacher.

We moved across to Sanni’s brother, Monsuru’s house next door. First passing the Sanni’s bedroom. Although, I would hardly describe the rectangular room that was no more than two metres wide and four metres in length a room. A large mattress was squashed wall-to-wall, a small analogue TV sat atop a box, clothes hung behind the door. Sanni told me that while the size was the same, nothing else was. It was now Tunde’s room, his friend who was more brother than friend as they grew up. Sanni described how he would spend hours holed up in there. The room darkened by thick curtains, and a large TV and sound system that always played at full volume. I’m told how he and up to eight of his mates could sleep in there at any one time. How baffled me.

In Monsuru’s, we sat in a more spacious living room while I was introduced to other members of the family. I kept wondering how I would remember each of their names, each sounding unique and different. I wished then for a notepad so I could draft the family tree. Sanni left me in their company as he made his greetings to other members of the community.

Unlike Western countries, I was not shown around the rest of the house. It is typical here to never leave the living room, unless you need the toilet. Most cases, I’ll wait until Sanni goes to the toilet first to know whether it’s ok for me to use. After living in Asia for many years I am okay with squatting or using a bowl without seat, but the difficulty has come when the bowl isn’t clean and I have nothing available to make it decent. Sanni knows when it is better for me to simply hold on.

While I am often given toilet paper, its use is uncommon. Instead they use a bucket filled with cold water (there is no hot water unless you are in a hotel) and a small bowl to scoop the water over you – front and back. I never quite feel clean enough and always I am left with a feeling of wet underwear after, it is something that takes a lot of getting used to. Fortunately, no one thinks I’ve wet myself as I joked Sanni had done one day.

Rooms are cordoned off not only by doors but also curtains, made from bedsheet-like material and patterned with bright colours and flowery designs. Beds are often on the floor, or on frames that sit low to the ground. There are usually one or two wardrobes, but rarely a dresser or large mirror. If there is a mirror it is small and attached to the wardrobe door. I haven’t seen myself full length since I arrived.

Grandma had prepared us lunch of amala and spicy turkey stew, a base of tomato with palm oil and chilli. Oh so much chilli. Amala is a Nigerian cuisine made out of yam flour &/or cassava flour. Yam flour is yam that has been peeled, sliced, cleaned, dried and then blended into a flour. Yam is white in colour but it turns into a brownish color after it has been dried; this gives amala its thick brown color (source). The flour is then mixed with boiling water, turning it quickly with a wooden spoon to form a thick dough. It is a similar consistency to bread before it’s cooked. If food is eaten with your hands, it is always with your right. You wash your hand in a bowl of water before taking a small ball of dough and scooping up the stew to put directly in your mouth.

Amala with turkey stew. This photo is borrowed as I didn’t take a photo of it on the day. It looks the same as this.

I am so relieved to have eaten in this traditional style many times before that moment because each family member’s eyes were glued to me. Each person remarked that it was good to see me eating their food. They had been concerned as to what I would eat. I have tried to let people know that it is important to me that I am not treated differently or special but it hasn’t been believed until Sanni explains in Yoruba why. I didn’t marry a man from another culture and travel to the other side of the world to eat what I’ve always eaten nor remain encased in my western way of life.

From Grandma’s we are taken to SS’s home. The journey took over an hour, although the distance as the crow flies is less than 20 minutes. The traffic is chaotic. Here people drive wherever they want, even on marked roads that have concrete barricades directing traffic to drive on the right. If an okada (motorbike taxi) or napep wants to go up your side of the road, as a short cut to a side road, it will. I don’t think we’ve driven above 60km/hr since we’ve arrived.

Even at that speed it feels dangerous because people can step out on to the road without looking, other cars can overtake without regard for oncoming traffic, and okadas can speed between you and an oncoming car. Large trucks can be broken down on the side of the road, which halves the amount of road left for cars, people, motorbikes, napeps, the rare bicycles and carts to navigate around. This is a country where, with the right amount of arrogance, ignorance, stupidity or money, you can park your car in the middle of the road and people would toot their horns, cuss, and then once you’re out of sight, simply go around it like they do everything else.

Learner Driver cars - learning what remains to be sourced!

Learner Driver cars – learning what remains to be sourced!

Of driving a scooter in Cambodia & Thailand, I used to say that it was an organised chaos. To someone who looked down upon an intersection it seemed as though people were going every which way whenever they pleased. Once you’re on the scooter though, you learned that no one was driving that fast and there were rules that were being followed (albeit never all of them). Here I have seen Learner Driver companies but have wondered what they teach because no one seems to be actually following any rules.

The road to SS’s is almost unbearably rough. The car lurched down deep ditches left behind by many years of the wet season softening the soil and cars ploughing through. All the back roads, and a few of the main ones, are just like this. Everyone complains but the government is rarely doing anything about it. Sanni told me that a main road near to where we’ve been staying has been under construction for the last eight years, recalling how it had been started just before he left.

Sanni, impressed by being bogged!

Sanni, impressed by being bogged!

I wasn’t surprised then when, on our way leaving SS’s well after dark, the van got bogged and we were forced to pass the heavy luggage through the car, out the front passenger window, across slippery mud and into a 4WD that I wished we had been in all day. I say ‘we’ like I actually did something. Of course, I didn’t. I was too tired to lift a finger. Let’s face it, you all know I pulled my royal crown down over my eyes to nap while the six very capable men sorted it all out.

As soon as we had arrived to SS’s and introductions were made, I was swept off for a walk around the neighbourhood with his children and those from surrounding homes. Thankfully wearing my Cons, I trudged through the soft soil roads and paths, around the streets and homes. The girls were hyper with excitement, asking me lots of questions, talking about their country and asking me to make comparisons to Australia. Every now and again, we would stop. I would be introduced to someone in the community. I was on display for all to see that SS’s children had a white woman for an aunt. An oyinbo, a white person was in their family.

Everywhere I go I hear people call, “Oyinbo!” So surprised they are that there is a white person in their midst that many children become too shy to talk to me until I lower myself to their level and greet them in simple English. It’s quite endearing to see the warmth from their eyes. They will talk about this day for years to come because most people here, not just the children, have never seen a white person in real life, only on TV.

I continue to be amazed by this but since Nigeria’s Independence in the 1960’s there’s been very little reason for white people to travel to Nigeria, other than for business, educational exchange programs or politics. Rarely do foreigners travel to the outskirts of Lagos, staying instead on Lagos Island (where the money is). There are a few Chinese staying in the hotel we’re in but they’ve not acknowledged me at all. To them, I am a foreigner. We are not foreign together.

One boy I hadn’t seen before stood at the corner of a building as we passed him. I heard him say oyinbo. Quickly I turned smiling, looking him in the eyes before saying, “yes, I’m a white person.” He was so shocked that I understood his Yoruba that he squealed and ran around the side of the building. The girls and I laughed until we cried. One of the girls telling me that he thinks he’s a big man here. When he later introduced himself to me as Stylie, it made sense. This was one of the cool kids in the neighbourhood. How ironic I thought, when I was quite young the cool kids squealed to get away from me then too.

Finally, as the sun began to set, I privately asked Sanni if we were sleeping here. Quietly praying we weren’t. It had been a full day. Had we stayed I wouldn’t have gotten any rest from the excited children, nor privacy from the constancy of a culture that is accustomed to living without it. Sanni assured me his brother, another one, Rahouf, had arranged for us to stay at a guest house.

Guesthouses in this country are not unlike cheap motels that people use only to copulate. There is nothing but a mattress, a side table, a tv, a cupboard (if you’re lucky), and a bathroom with toilet, shower and basin. The lack of privacy means that while these guesthouses are used for prostitution, the most common use is by legitimate couples, usually young, unmarried lovers, to get their shag on away from the reproachful ears of their parents.

I couldn’t have cared less where I slept that night. I was asleep just as soon as my head hit the pillow. I hadn’t eaten dinner. In fact, apart from the food prepared by Grandma, I hadn’t eaten much that day at all. This would become the norm. I rarely eat three times a day and never snack. There’s nothing to snack on. Meals here are heavy foods like the amala and stew I described, there’s very little variety in flavours or cooking techniques.

I wouldn’t have eaten at all if not for needing to take my malaria tablet with food. I was already fast asleep when Sanni returned with something from a fast food restaurant that I think was supposed to be like a knock-off of a pastie or sausage roll. It tasted bland, dry flour and processed something-I-didn’t-want-to-know but I sat up and ate, nodding off between bites only for Sanni to nudge me awake to keep eating.

Stay tuned for Chapter 4: A Whole Lotta Ouchie-Wow-Wow

Photos – The link in the Gallery has now been fixed. Unbeknownst to me, Google had moved Picasa to Google+. Go, see, play. It’s chaotic there.

Got a question to ask or a comment to share? A request?

So far you’ve asked me to:

  • Dress in traditional clothing and eat local food – COMPLETE – See the gallery
  • Francesco: Send a post card home (haven’t seen a post card or even a post office yet)
  • Meg: Bring home traditional and modern Yoruba music (working on it, one of Sanni’s friends is a musician)
  • NEW! Mages: bring something (an object, a photo, a video, a song, etc.) that represents the essence of the journey. (So, Mages, this blog is clearly not enough 😛 I will try but that’s a really hard challenge)

What else would you like guys? Let me know below.

Chapter 2: All out Wow!

This is the second chapter of Sanni and my journey to Lagos, Nigeria. This chapter is the start of our first full day.  These words are my interpretation only and shouldn’t be taken as anything but my observations of a foreign land that has done everything it can to accept me and I it.

Chapter Two: All out Wow!

We made our way up to the fourth floor where the Nigerian & Western cuisine restaurant was located. Suffice to say the gym, in the room next door, was better equipped than the kitchen. While it looked stylish and clean it did not have anything we asked for, whether Nigerian or Western. Instead I settled for boxed Kellogg’s corn flakes with UHT milk. I made the ghastly mistake of asking for a coffee. This I will never do again after being served packet Nescafe Instant with tinned milk and cubed sugar. It would be the first of many lessons in hiding my horror, masking my face in non-committal pleasure and gratitude.

Moses called. He had arrived. I ran downstairs. Okay, that’s a lie: a) I don’t run, b) It is four floors up and I’m wearing heels, and c) I don’t want to greet him all huffy, puffy, and sweaty. So I took the lift and jittered excitedly instead. I did in fact run in to his outstretched arms though. He picked me up and swung me around, exclaiming, “my Cazzie, oremi (my friend), I have missed you oh!” He looked a little more weathered but otherwise completely unchanged. He still had the same cheeky smile and laughter in his eyes. Even his short cropped hair was the same as I remembered from four years ago.

When he greeted Sanni, it was with jovial laughter, hugs, picking him up too – which I would witness often with my man who lives on the shorter side of stature. Immediately, they fell into the same play fighting I had seen daily in Cambodia, usually with Sanni taking the punches and looking to me for defence I playfully don’t give.

We had called Sanni’s brother, SS, before going to breakfast. He didn’t believe Sanni. I then greeted him and asked him to come and get us. He yelled incomprehensible Yoruba down the phone as the realization finally hit him. His brother was really home. “I will get a car!” he said in English before hanging up in our ear. It is common for calls to simply be cut without a salutatory ending. I have long hated Sanni doing this to me, in part I have become accustomed to it. He has made an effort to adjust, giving me a finality to our calls that my learned manners require. Now though, I can see where it comes from and understand it better – that said, I will not be telling Sanni this so he thinks he can get away with it. I still think it’s impolite.

Although I didn’t understand what it meant, I was told it would take hours for SS to come because of the roads. We were fortunate that the time was filled with catching up with Moses because it did take hours. Meeting my brother-in-law, a large man with bright, laughing eyes, a shiny bald head and a belly that Buddha would be proud of was at first nerve-racking and then a wonderful happiness for being immediately hugged and accepted.

SS thanked me. I didn’t understand why. I hadn’t done anything until Moses explained that I was being thanked for bringing his brother home. I would receive this gratitude from every family member and close friend over the coming days, as though I solely was responsible for bringing this determined man home. Hungry wolves couldn’t stand in Sanni’s path to going home, I certainly wasn’t going to stand in the way of omo aja mi (my puppy).

We piled our luggage in to the back of the rugged mini bus and travelled first to Sanni’s mother’s home (I will refer to her as Grandma from now on as that is the name she is given by the family. She has other names too, but I’ll discuss name protocols another time). Houses here are usually located within ‘compounds’ which are a few acres of land surrounded by 6ft+ high walls and large gates for access.

Projection all around the compound.

Projection all around the compound.

The walls are topped with either rings of barbed wire or shards of broken glass to deter anyone from jumping the walls to raid or rob properties. Unlike at home where a robber is unlikely to carry a gun but will likely have a knife, here, the standard is high-powered semi-automatic weapons bought on the black market so people take security measures for their homes very seriously.

Within a compound, there may be one very large house with several floors (for the affluent) or as is more common, several low set, simple, rectangular buildings set around the property. It is common for most members of the family to occupy the houses, but once a family grows and needs to move out, the empty houses are sub-let to locals. There are other types of living arrangements too. Some people sleep in the stores, or have ramshackled buildings made from cheap building materials. I’ve often wondered how these homes withstand the monsoon season.

When we arrived to the suburb of Ijebu, Sanni was aghast at the changes. As was I for my own first impressions. The roads in Ijebu, as they are all across Lagos – except on Lagos Island, which is the wealthy Google-image portrayal of “Lagos” – were once wide, level and easy to drive on but are now filled with large dips the size of half a car and potholes the size of a truck tyre (not an exaggeration).

Roads – this one still deep in water from rains two weeks ago. The soil too water-logged to absorb more. A off-road motorbike riders dream but no one elses.

Roads like this often have steep cliff edges to the drain ditches beside them. They’re jagged, unmarked and soft-edged, and incredibly dangerous to walk or drive beside. Yet, little choice is given. Roads that are tarred will have large cement-lined drains. These, like the other type, are filled with rubbish.

Black-green sewerage with no origin and no destination. It simply accumulates in the ditches of the roads and paths.

Black-green sewerage with no origin and no destination. It simply accumulates in the ditches of the roads and paths.

Along the side of many local back streets there may be a green-black sewerage channel, over which people must step or jump to get to the road/home/store, as was the case on the opposite side of the road to Grandma’s. I don’t know where it comes from or where it goes but it brings with it a foul stench that makes your nose hair cry out in agony. On the grounds everywhere there is rubbish strewn. Small pieces of plastic, pieces of footwear, bottles flattened by car tyres, bags, wrappers, anything at all can be found lying on the ground.

There is a disregard here for cleanliness that I cannot quite explain without seeming narrow-minded and judgemental but I will try. Despite the environment being really dirty, the people take pride in their personal dress standard. Women will have their hair done often, makeup is so common you take it for granted until you see a woman not wearing it. Everyone dresses nicely. The men are groomed. Appearance means a lot because it is how you appear that will tell people how you wish to be treated.

I remember when I first started dating Sanni nearly five years ago. I never ever wore tight clothing (I can hear my Argentinian goddess friend, Mages, gasping from here, “As if you would ever hide your delicious booty,” she will be saying). In fact, I always wore baggy clothing and hid my shape. I rarely wore makeup, shaved my legs or made an effort at all. I wasn’t even trying to be a hippie, I just didn’t think it mattered that much. I must have been like a jewel in the rough to Sanni because after time, I learned what it meant to have the same self-respect he and his culture live by and from his words of wisdom my booty got wrapped.

When you look your best it is said that you are saying to the world, ‘treat me as I treat myself.’ If you look good, people will treat you well. If you don’t people will not give you their time. They’ll not think highly of you and as a result will not interact with you. The basis of many relationships are formed purely on appearance first, character second.

With this in mind, think now to the description of the dirty environment Sanni and I found ourselves in. Our minds were reeling. Mine thinking, ‘is this really the place Sanni has called home?’ His descriptions didn’t speak of the rubbish or the total disregard for their living environment. Sanni told me later he was thinking, ‘is this the way I left it, really? What has happened here? Why is it so bad?’ He described how shocked he felt, and later, a sadness. I had wondered if the years abroad had simply softened him to the reality of how it really is. It would not be the last time I would wonder this.

It isn’t sufficient to blame the negligent local council for their lack of care for their areas. Yes, they must contribute to the solution but they are not solely to blame for the problem. The root cause resides with each and every person who chooses to throw their rubbish on the ground or in the roadside ditches. The council does not have an organized, paid-for garbage removal system. The onus is on individuals to pay to have their garbage removed, either by a truck (if it can navigate the roads) or by a man pulling a cart. Rarely do people have money to collect the rubbish though so it is disposed of on the ground, or ultimately in the ditches, which then clog the drains during the wet season’s monsoonal rains. This results in extreme mosquito breeding, malaria outbreaks and sickness.

The hard haul

The hard haul

Garbage truck for rubbish removal

Rubbish pickers


Even though I am surrounded by people who are extremely poor, they do not have poor character, just poor knowledge of how to work as a collective force. They do not consolidate to form solutions among themselves. They choose instead to blame others, most notably and deservedly, the government for not doing enough – if anything at all. “Everything wrong in this country,” I was told from a fellow passenger when I exited the plane, “is manmade.” And that is true. I do not believe though that because they’re poor they should also behave as though they’re poor, to live in a dirty way. That is within each person to decide.

It cannot be denied that were the infrastructure and education available for people to do better that they could make better choices, however, still, it remains up to the individual to make a choice for what their actions will be. Were the government to implement a program to remove rubbish and the people collectively worked with an attitude of Cleanliness is next to Godliness, this problem would not exist. No one, whether individual or Government, looks to themselves for the blame. It is always someone else at fault.

The gates of Grandma’s compound were opened, but the mini bus couldn’t navigate over the small incline of the broken cement driveway with its full load. As we opened the doors, I carefully manoeuvred along the edge of the car, past the steep drop of a ditch and into the compound first. I don’t think anyone actually saw me. Perhaps they thought me an apparition. Sanni sidled up next to me. I stepped out of the way just in time to see the flash of black skin and bright clothing and the screeching sound of an elongated, “Maaaaccchhhhhinnnnnneeeeeeee!!!!!” as one of Sanni’s cousins tackled him in an embrace so strong it knocked one of his earrings out.

Sanni and I turned at once to look to the steps of the house not more than 100 metres in front. There stood a majestic woman, equally short in stature as her second-to-the-last born son, with a face so similar to Sanni’s I was taken aback. She held her head slightly cocked to one side. As if to say, ‘can it be, can this be my boy?’

She stood firmly rooted to the spot as Sanni & I approached. Sanni lowered himself to the ground, touching his mother’s feet, a sign of deep respect for seniority, before rising to her embrace. Sanni quickly introduced me but we barely finished saying my name before we were both nuzzled deep into her voluptuous bosom in a hug that threatened to never let us go. Sanni & I laughed as she released her grip, looked us both squarely in the eyes and then quickly, as though she feared her imagination would dissolve us away, grabbed us in a tight embrace again. We hugged her with the same ferocity. Sanni calmly reassuring his 80+ year old mother we were really here. Her baby had came home.

Stay tuned for Chapter three: Oyinbo

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Got a question to ask or a comment to share? A request?

So far you’ve asked me to:

  • Dress in traditional clothing and eat local food – COMPLETE – See the gallery
  • Francesco: Send a post card home
  • Meg: Bring home traditional and modern Yoruba music

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