I’ve lived in various countries and many, many cities. I have worked across many of the workplace realms, at differing employment levels (from Social services, to Education, to hospitals, to catering and hospitality). And I have traveled to, and explored, quite a few countries also.
But never in all of my experiences can I ever recall days as disparate as the ones my eyes see and my feet tread here, in Nigeria. It is truly a fascinating, if not deeply heart-wrenching life I feel I am wrapped within. I often find myself spinning inside the spider’s web of confusion, intrigue, wonder and sadness.
Take for example this past week. I myself have been experiencing some health issues. As I am assigned a hospital through my workplace, I have been having tests with them. I have then been administered drugs to relieve symptoms. Yet for the second time in less than a year, the meds prescribed are ones I am highly allergic to (to the point of possible death)…
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to me (as I always keep my phone on ‘Dont disturb’, finding that I am already a slave to the device as it is, let alone also being alerted every time it has a message for me to notice), frantic calls were coming through to me one evening last week, due to some of our local news making its way across the waves to the UK (Lagos school collapse). Sadly many devastating events happen here..and of course my heart broke when I got sent the live news feed whilst still on the grounds of my own school. Yet even more devastatingly to me as I received the news, was the acknowledgement once again of the numbness I have built up as I continue into my third year here now. There was an air of detachment after a few days of the terrible event, as I knew it was certainly not the only tragedy happening around me on this land. (Even with this incident, the ramifications are much wider spread than a single incident, given the actions taken following it.)
Getting back to my own health…
After realising I needed to make a serious choice if I wanted to recover and not be mistreated any further, I reached out to a fellow expat who has excellent contacts here medical-wise. The costs have started to stack up quite considerably, causing me to become ultra aware of my own viability and the impact of not being free to choose who supports me to manage my well-being. Finally after months of issues, and in fact problems that I believe started over one year ago, I am starting to get the right treatment.
Happy to say this high financial cost did at least allow me some short moments in front of a beautifully handsome doctor who treated me with great respect and tenderness, and also gave me as much time as I needed.
Though I could most definitely do without the bills that are rising. Then again, I have ways and means to afford this, if I juggle some things around. As I step back into my car with my loyal driver, I feel another teardrop fall within my heart. As he does not. His own health (and indeed for so so many here) is weak. He has had malaria and typhoid in the past month. And last Friday he sat with me with fear in his eyes, after having coughed up blood the previous night, asking what on Earth it is that I think could be wrong with him.
What a dichotomous experience this life I am witnessing, and somehow I believe I can say I am ‘living’, is, here in Nigeria. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined it, described it or expected to have ever been a part of it.
Taking an alternative reflection, on yet another side of the same coin, I come to consider how my day-to-day general life continues here.
One weekend prior, I had my regular tennis lesson. Having never really played ever before, it has become a little mental challenge of mine to learn and develop well in a sport I know so little of, and therefore ideally have no bad habits to amend. Whilst I was being taught that day however, I was acutely aware of an audience. Another tennis coach. Who seemed to know my own instructor, and then told me he also knew me. I realised then that he is the instructor of one of my friends on the compound (oh yes, you heard right; I live in a compound. Iron gates. Armed guards. High trees for privacy as well as for the nice scenery. And many facilities within the grounds, I guess to keep us in, as opposed to venturing out. Anyhow, another story for another time…). We shared a brief exchange and I returned home after my lesson. However, whilst I was showering, my house-guest appeared knocking at the bathroom door to let me know my tennis coach was in my living room and waiting for me. How very odd. I had just waved goodbye to him, he was in good form, and I had paid my bill. Whatever could be up?
But indeed, it was not my coach, but that of my friend. And before I had really worked out what was happening, he was on his knees and prostrating to me, talking of how ashamed he felt, tears full within his eyes, and all the while a gentle stream of words explaining his desperation. His wife has just delivered his first child the night before. He lived more than three hours away. And though he had taught on my compound that morning, the client had neglected to pay for him for the three lessons. This resulted in the fact that not only did he have no money to get home, but he could not even afford to eat. The client in question had insisted the money would get transferred across the course of the day. So the guy waited. And waited. And waited some more. By the time he was in my lounge, it was now 8pm. Nothing had arrived monetary-wise, he was starving and ashamed, and his wife was frantic. (Travel late-night here is not the safest and it has been elections time, which has upped the ante somewhat). I barely knew this guy. But the friend who used him was overseas, and he had nowhere else to turn.
What was I to do?
My guest served him a plate of freshly cooked Nigerian delicacies, I ransacked my purse, and I listened to him tell me all about his newborn baby.
In all honesty, this man was not my problem.
But if this had been my own father, my own brother, my own friend….I would hope that someone somewhere in the world would help him. We live on this earth as one. I am no better than you. Nor am I any worse. One of my many tattoos is inscribed in my skin for exactly this belief strongly set within my heart, and I will carry this to my grave.
It had been an expensive week for me. I didn’t really have the cash to spare. But I can honestly tell you, that ’til the day I die, if help is needed, I will always find a way.
My white skin gives me some eery privileges in this country… though I am actually on the low-end of the expat economical scale, given that I am not within the oil and gas sector. I give private therapy sessions, and 1:1 tutoring on 4/5 days of the week (including Saturdays). I am by no means financially free, or rich beyond measure. However, I am abundant in choices in comparison to so many here. And I vow never to lose sight of this.
I came here to learn. Not to abuse or take advantage. My grandfather brought me here, I walk the footsteps he lead before me. And though I can no longer ask him how my experience rates against his, I know in every breath that I take of this torrid polluted air, I am here for a reason of love. It may not be the healthiest and most carefree living I have had before. But it is perhaps the most developing. Sadness weeps within my breath often. So does the chance to overcome some of these disparities, somehow, somewhere.
Would you do the same? If a stranger knocked on your door?
Returning once again to the numerous sides of the coin. Whilst all of this has been bubbling away, I have of course been turning up to work every day, loving every minute with my kids, and making the most of the time with my colleagues as I can, amidst a highly stress-induced environment/workload. Temperatures are really soaring here compared to memory of former March times. Whilst it remains around 34 deg Celsius, the days are so incredibly humid, air conditioners are constantly breaking down, and everyone is feeling drained and somewhat irritable. I currently teach the youngest students of the school and I do all that I can to provide them with an enriched childhood (play) experience whilst I can. Their lives are heavily indoctrinated by before and after school lessons, and many have attended formal schooling since the age of 2. Academically this seemingly works, as they arrive to me much higher than the age-comparative children I have taught elsewhere in the world. However, their social skills are somehow not in the same realm at all. That said, they and I share a great bond. And anytime they ask me to go the extra mile, I will. For example, on Valentines day we were asked to come in wearing ‘A touch of red’. I wore everything that I could find, including a red wig. They know I adore strawberries also, so I bought them all some as part of the celebration of love we shared together that day. (We also greatly enjoyed sharing the red licorice laces my sister had bought for me on my birthday!).
So, when one of the parents asked me if I could possibly attend the birthday part of one of my students, and it happened to be right after my Saturday lessons had finished, what was I to do but of course say yes.
It was a truly beautiful set-up and the girls (they were a set of twins) looked stunning in their range of party outfits. The catering was exceptional, the decor sublime, and the enjoyment of the children – top-notch. It was a joy for me to share. Not exactly the relaxing part of the weekend I greatly needed, especially given my health issues. But the smiles on their faces by having me throw myself down the bouncy castle slide with them and enjoy ice cream and frolicking around. Well, this was priceless.
As I left, I found myself once again reeling at the disparities. The parents are doing no harm, they are simply loving and adoring their girls and showing them a true Lagos birthday party for their social circle. I tell you, I would kill to have them arrange such a party for me, even as an adult! It did leave me once again back at the start of my point however. What sort of a world I am in here? One moment schools are collapsing, whilst another grown men are crying at my feet. Another moment I am having private tennis tuition as if I am going to be the next Sirena Williams, and the next I am lapping up the delights of a party that was truly fit for a queen.
It is indeed a strange life I lead. And as I remember many people around me saying as I grew up, ‘there’s nowt as queer as folk’. Make of it what you will. This indeed is Africa. (TIA).