Femke becomes Funke: The expat’s universe

A local lawyer friend told me there are only two reasons expats come to Nigeria: love and money.

‘You know there will be a war in this country’, he states matter-of-factly, gazing out of the window of his overpriced apartment looking out to the Ikoyi skyline. He points down to the street below. ‘There will be a war and I will be safely watching them riot from up here. I already have a plan to make money from their war.’ I am visiting a neighbour who lives in the same block. Temporarily I am staying on the Island in one of those compounds expatriates like to hide themselves in. It is a temporary solution. I have never felt further away from Nigeria than I do in this expat’s universe. It is a golden cage.

My neighbour is not the only one locking himself in. When I told the manager of my VI gym I was looking for an apartment in Ebute Metta, he stared at me in bewilderment. ‘Where is that?’ He’d never heard of such a place on the Island. After having been informed that it was in fact located on the Mainland, he shrugged off the rest of my explanation: ‘Don’t bother. I never go to the Mainland. Unless for taking the plane home.’

Fela’s song Ikoyi Blindness, in which he describes how the rich people living on the Island never see – or want to see – the reality of the people in places like Makoko, Ebute Metta, still very much applies.

On a daily basis I am shocked by the cynicism I encounter in many expats. Like the British off shore worker waiting in line at customs when I came into the country last month. He overheard me calling a friend in Abuja, exclaiming I had landed and was so happy to be back in Nigeria. When I put the phone down he turned towards me and sneered: ‘That is never really true, is it? One is only happy to get out of this country.’ I could smack him for defaming my new home country like that. I wish I had. But I do not believe in violence.

A local lawyer friend told me there are only two reasons expats come to Nigeria: love and money. Let me once and for all end all speculations: I am not in Lagos because of love. Not by a long shot. It is hard enough to start a new life in a foreign country without the wahala of a man. Also I am not here to get rich. Are you kidding? I am a writer. If I wanted to get rich, I would have made another choice of career decades ago. The reason I am here is people. Plural. I have been trying to explain this in every other blog that I write.

It is easy to make fun of us, expatriates in Nigeria. Not hard to paint caricatures of the isolated lifestyle and scared behaviour of most foreigners in this country. In our defence: frightening things do happen to some of us. We tell each other about those things every occasion we gather. The number of hold up, break in and kidnapping stories I have heard since I came here is enough to make a grown man go back to his mother’s house sobbing. And honestly, they are getting to me.

The other day a neighbour took me out in his oversized SUV. It was a cool Lagos night, it had drizzled a bit and the streets gave off this crisp invigorating smell ever so shortly overruling all nasty urban odours. There is no better moment to be out, and I rolled down the car window to enjoy it fully. My neighbour panicked, urging me to leave it up. ‘They will put a gun in your face.’ The next time while I was driving Wilma, my old slightly dented car I shipped in, I caught myself wondering wether or not I could open the windows a bit for fresh air.

Fear is contagious. I find myself looking around me differently after three weeks in this expat’s universe. Remembering all the terrifying anecdotes makes me less at ease here in this protected environment than I felt in that little street where I stayed last year in my beloved Ebute Metta. I do not want to be naïve about the risks involved in living here, but I refuse to live in fear. I need to get out of here as soon as possible and live in a place where my neighbours will teach me to speak Yoruba, ask me to join them for a beer outside and where the kids in the street call me auntie. I need to get to the Mainland.


Talk to Femke on Twitter @femkevanzeijl


Previous entries of Femke Becomes Funke:

Not Island material

Behind a desk catching up on your sleep?

A people gone numb

Frigging Snow White

My drawer of self deception

Sex and closed draperies

No people deserve dog food

Guilt and privilege

The word I hate most in any language

‘Idiot oyinbo woman’

As good as your gadget

My moin moin madness

White sexual commodity

‘I became angry the Lagosian way: skin deep’

Beer in the morning? I would not dream of refusing

‘Oyibo, oyibo!’ Best enjoyed at night

Golden opportunity

A terrifying dream

Comments (7)

  1. "not knowing is the cause of fear" -and it's very true of "the islanders" who are trapped in a vicious circle of fear and ignorance. I would never have fallen in love with Nigeria if I'd arrived as an expat! Anyway, looking forward to visiting you on the Mainland! Keep taking some fresh air, and keep supplying those expats with it through your stories

  2. Thanks, Cees! Are you a countryman of mine, by any chance? ;o)

    And Lesley, I have moved to the Mainland four days ago and haven't been to the Island since. I feel a lot better… It is not as bad as some people make it sound. Not by a long shot. Having that said: the guy I quoted in the first line of this piece says he will never come and look me up on the Mainland. Too dangerous. LOL

  3. Sounds almost as bad as the 'Abuja Bubble'. Truth is, could apply to most cities in the world in one form or another. And its never really as bad as the long term expat residents make it sound. You begin to wonder why they stay. Conclusion – it must be love or money. The real challenge is figuring out the Nigerians who share that expatriate disdain for their country. The ones nostalgic about our colonial era, who fail to see a nation of black people living in liberty and deciding their own destiny, good or bad. We're making our mistakes and we're learning from them. That's nation building. And while a lot has gone wrong somewhere we're doing something right because we're still here and growing, economically, socially and politically. We as Nigerians really need to start counting our blessings.

  4. Hi Femke, any expat not familiar with Banky W's "Ebute Metta" video and thus the area should be publicly disgraced! More seriously, I obviously recognise much of what you say. But please, there are many expats, even on the Islands (!), who are part of Nigeria's life and society. And they stay in this country for the love of it. No Olympic medals (versus Holland's 13th position in the medal table), yet I am not going anywhere. Keep writing!

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.

cool good eh love2 cute confused notgood numb disgusting fail