When I tell people I lived in Nigeria for four years, they can’t believe their ears. “Really? Oh, you poor dear! How did you survive?” “How did you get here? They have planes? Are they normal sized? Are there airports?” “Did you live in trees so cobras couldn’t get you?”
Firstly, there are no cobras in Nigeria. Drill it into your brains, people! Eventually, I got tired of these ridiculous comments. So I decided to bust the myths that generations of Americans, Australians, Asians and Europeans have been generating. This is the true-to-life Nigeria, from an insider’s point of view.
“Did you live in mud huts or trees?”
Sorry to disappoint, but no. I lived in a ‘compound’, like every other expatriate! The buildings were brick and mortar, complete with glass windows, kitchens, dining rooms, bedrooms, elevators, swimming-pools and squash/tennis/basketball courts. If you could afford one, there were penthouses too.People may believe that Nigeria has only shabby huts to offer. They’re wrong. My Nigerian classmate’s grandfather owns a mansion in Lagos. It’s rumoured that the elevators are made of pure gold. I don’t know about the gold, but I’ve seen the house. It’s probably bigger than the White House!
Myth: people in Nigeria live in mud huts or trees.
Fact: No, they live in ‘normal’ houses.
“Do Nigerians form mobs and attack you? Do the policemen shoot you? I bet they were dead scary!”
On the contrary, they were extremely friendly and always looked happy. The best thing about Nigerians is that they are highly dramatic. Sometimes, the drivers would pull up side-by-side, mid-traffic, roll down their windows and have a loud argument over who overtook whom. They may even get out to battle it out on the road! Extravagant personalities aside, they’re people with large hearts, loud voices and great humour.The policemen, armed with big guns, would stop your car, smile and ask you to ‘dash’ them some Naira, which you would do, and then they’d wave and let you go. Or you might tell them that you hadn’t any money on you, but no matter, they’d ask you to bring something next time and see you off with a chuckle.
I’d see people stuffed in crowded, pre-historic minibuses, or trudging along hot, dusty streets. Somehow, they still smiled, and could often be found gossiping together. You’d get used to seeing beggars. I saw the same crowd outside my school every single day – old/blind adults, with children guiding them, and one guy with a tumor growing out of his stomach. Whether we gave them fifty Naira, or a bag of popcorn, they’d always say thanks and ask God to bless us.
Our drivers, Jima and Isaka, bought me a large birthday card every year. When I received Certificates of Academic Excellence signed by President Obama, they hugged each other, danced, got me a giant congratulations card, and bragged about it to everyone they encountered! Whenever I was sick, our maids, Happiness and Gladys, would spread the word. Before long, every maid, driver and security guard in the community would know about it. When I came down to play, everyone would ask me if I was feeling better. Isaka and Jima are Muslim, while Happiness and Gladys are Christian. But they were great friends, especially if one nicked a tomato or two from our kitchen: the others wouldn’t snitch; they’d demand their fair share!Everyone in my compound and the neighboring compounds knew and loved my dog. They were always playing with him or asking me about him. So anyone who thinks that the Nigerians were scary and mean has got another thought coming.
My Nigerian friends were your average kids: girls gossiping, boys freaking out about who cheated in football. There was all the drama you get everywhere else in the world: who’s dating whom and why, who said what about whom…etc. Now you tell me how kids inNigeria are any differentfrom kids in America, Britain or Italy?
Myth: Nigerians are scary, evil voodoo people.
Fact: They’re friendly, cheerful, tough people. (Most of them) “What about the roads? Are there roads in Nigeria? They’re made of dirt, right?”
Yes, there are roads in Nigeria. They may be clogged with traffic and dotted with potholes, but they are roads.
Of course, the traffic was terrible, so we kids got used to carrying books, ipads, laptops, portable movie screens and all other forms of entertainment in our cars, even for a ‘quick’ trip to the grocery store. If the traffic got too bad, we’d simply ditch the car, walk to the nearest jetty, and take a motor-canoe to the stop closest to our house, and then an auto-rickshaw there onwards.
But traffic wasn’t the only thing Lagos streets were known for… you could buy anything on those hectic roads! Anything. From balloons, to Kleenex, to Christmas trees! Once, I saw pink toilet seat covers on sale! After four years of experience with the go-slow sellers, I’ve picked up a useful trick: never look this salesperson in the eye, or at his stuff, or anywhere near him, else he will stand outside your window forever, asking you to buy, and will trail your car until you outrace him!
Myth: Roads were made of dirt and were filthy and ineffective.
Fact: They were mostly made of tar, and were more useful to the economy than anywhere else in the world!
There’s more, much more than thousand words could tell, but, when you come down to it, Nigeria really isn’t the stink-hole the world believes it is. It’s just a little eccentric. It has less order, and requires a lot more courage than other places. While other countries may be cleaner, safer, politer, I must point out: you can tour the finest cities, Paris, London, Los Angeles, but you’ll never find anywhere as alive as Nigeria!
Just go with our motto: No Wahalla!!!