Femke becomes Funke: White sexual commodity

Being a woman in Nigeria means a large percentage of the time you are seen as a sexual commodity. Add to that being white, no matter how you look, and you also become a sexual trophy

The big man whispers something in my ear, but the monstrous fans on the freshly cut lawn make so much noise I cannot understand him. So he speaks up. His voice is surprisingly squeaky, as if someone is squeezing his throat.

‘I could help you with rent, you know. you don’t have to settle for the Mainland.’

I laugh.

‘I like the Mainland, Sir. I am not looking for a place to stay on the island.’

I glance around. My acquaintance who introduced me to the to the big man in his white embroidered agbada ten minutes ago has disappeared. The guest of the Dutch embassy’s cocktail party are devouring the snacks – anything deep fried – that keep coming from a seemingly endless stock in a kitchen inside the building hardly used since the embassy moved to Abuja. The oga – something industrial, married, in his fifties – repeats his offer. He gropes for my hand, which I notice just in time, so I reach for my beer to avoid his touch. Instead, he leans in closer.

‘Life can be hard for a woman on her own in this town. I could help you. And if at some point you could grow fond of me, that would make me very happy.’

There he is, my treacherous acquaintance! I hastily excuse myself to join him. For the rest of the evening I avoid the big man’s company.

‘This is Miss van Zeijl, my business partner.’ A week or so later I have to hide my surprise when a Nigerian lawyer introduces me to some colleagues. It is a Friday afternoon at Ikoyi Club, my preferred venue on the island because the beer is cheap and served in chilled glasses. Only thing is: you have to be a member to get in, or invited by one. My lawyer friend is a member. We met last time I was in Lagos and went out for drinks once or twice. I guess that makes us friends. Business partners we are definitely not. When his colleagues move away from our table, I ask him.

‘Why the lie?’

‘Because I am married and I don’t want them to get the wrong impression.’

‘Do you think they believe you?’

‘Of course they won’t. They will assume I am having sex with you anyway.’

Being a woman in Nigeria means a large percentage of the time you are seen as a sexual commodity. Add to that being white, no matter how you look, and you also become a sexual trophy (and a possible ticket out of Africa). It gets you plenty rejectable offers. By now I have learnt to wiggle out of these kind of situations politely. Most of the time.

I am browsing through a magazine on display at the Symposium for Young and Emerging Leaders at the Muson Centre on Victoria Island. The day has come to an end and the young leaders who are going to change Nigeria are having pink fizzy wine and snacks that seem to be prepared by the same caterer as those at the embassy’s party.  From the opposite side of the hall a guy in a shiny suit paces towards me. When he reaches me, he hands me his business card. He is an Abuja based consultant in sustainable development and social entrepreneurship and promises me a wealth of information about Nigeria if we keep in touch. Could he have my card? I pluck one out of my wallet and offer it to him.

‘Can I call you some time?’

His tone of voice has changed, as he moves way into my comfort zone. This guy is not talking business at all. Suddenly I feel tired. And fed up. I stretch out my hand to shake his, creating space between us again.

‘Of course you can call me. But I’m never gonna have sex with you.’

I turn around and walk back into the auditorium. I can play along and be the polite little girl for quite some time, but every once in a while I’ll claim the prerogative to be Dutch and direct about things.


Comments (21)

  1. thats nothing new,Funke!!!nigerian men hit on pregnant women not to talk of an unpregnant white lady!!!Thats a champions league trophy u got there. lol

  2. Olufunke, oloruko mi, kaabo is orile ede Nigeria ( Olufunke my namesake, welcome to Nigeria. ) I read your posts all the time but this is the first time I feel pressed to reply. Trust me, what you are experiencing is nothing new. You are a woman, a beautiful one at that, ergo men will come onto you. That's a fact of life. Now, the fact that you are 'oyinbo' makes it more of a trophy for the pot bellied business men and consultants on sustainable development (another name for lobbyists and frontmen for political office holders).

    That said, I support you speaking out about the good and bad sides of Nigeria. Like most nations, we are made up of the good, the bad and the ugly -Fact.

    Its not that you are hanging out with the wrong people or in the wrong places – ask my sisters in hijab and the nuns if they don't get hit on, pschew. And please forgive the fellow who called you an idiot oyinbo woman, think of him as one of the ugly ones.


  3. Very difficult situation. You are right, it is not unique to Africa by any means, and this can be both a source of amusement and exasperation – I have been in that situation and always, you think, 'here we go…' . You are a woman on your own, and I think any woman who is seen to be making her own way in a strongly patriarchal society will be subject to this kind of thing – 'fair game'. I did find it hard to trust people, but if you have good friends, then that will definitely help, and you are a strong person with a love for the country and people

  4. @Wendelyn – in one of my previous blogs I describe exactly the response you are talking about to a Nigerian man walking around with a white woman, when a friend I was walking down the street with was called 'Yahoo Yahoo' to his face. http://ynaija.com/2012/03/26/femke-to-funke-best-
    I do realize the fact that some people might consider a white woman a (financial) trophy comes with the prejudice of others that any man walking around with one does so.

  5. You are deceiving yourself about being a trophy in Nigeria. I am a man with a white wife and trust me, the looks I get are as though I am the beach bum she picked up on bar beach…

  6. LOL This is the first time someone calls me 'Idiot oyinbo woman' to my face'. I take the liberty of using it as a title of one of my next blogs. Brilliant.

  7. Idiot Oyinbo woman. Gentleman kindly offers to rent flat for her on the Island and all she does is come and slam Nigerian men on internet. Local content should cover the Sugar Daddy industry too. How many Niger hustlers get that kind of offer!?

  8. Thanks Femke for an insightful and revealling piece as usual.

    I'm more than a bit repulsed by the comments suggesting the author hangs out with touts, area boys and 'the wrong people'. Isn't that all part of the racist/elitist bullshit that also emboldens the unwanted suitors? The BS that believes 'white people' should only hang out with certain people and 'white women' have a certain type of morality,

  9. My reason for moving to Nigeria, I've said it many times before, is the people. I've met so many wonderful, hospitable, generous Nigerians during my travels, and I wrote about them extensively. I've made true friends and am so grateful for that. See for example my entry on Ebute-Metta, the place where I fell in love with Lagos. http://ynaija.com/2012/03/30/femke-becomes-funke-
    When that was published, no one commented that I should have mentioned there are bad people in Ebute-Metta as well. But now I am addressing another side of my reality of living in Lagos, less rosy, and people tell me that I should have included the fact there are good men out there too. Of course there are. But that was not the subject of this piece.

    Balanced reporting is a process, not a snapshot. Painting a picture of my experiences in this society that is so generous to accept me in is what I intend to do in this blog. Even though I feel Nigeria has been depicted very unfairly in international media, I am not going to be part of a re branding Nigeria campaign. I will address both the positive and the negative. And everything in between. That is what responsible journalism is about.

    Diane made a very valid point. What I am addressing is racialized patriarchy. It is not unique to Nigeria, nor to Africa. And it hits black women more than white women like me. But it objectifies all women, whatever race.

    Osemhen: I actually made a solemn promise to myself to find more girlfriends to hang out with in Lagos and I am counting you in the party. ;o) Also I have decided to go on teaching poweryoga and pilates like I do in The Netherlands. Little groups of 5-6 women, Saturday or Sunday mornings, coffee afterwards. Doris is already enthusiastic. What do you think?

  10. what you are addressing though is racialized patriarchy- sorry but this parallel is exposed throughout the diaspora- it just doesn't pertain to people in Nigeria- look at the rates of racialized dating in the US for example- black women are seen as the bottom and white women are seen as the prize to black men- the real question is why you are a trophy while the nation's woman is a commodity ( an expected on at that)

  11. Your problem has been highlighted above. You are obviously hanging out with the wrong people. If you continue that way, its a quick way bigger disappointments.


  12. Thank you for speaking up.

  13. Lol, Femke! Doh (that means "sorry" in my language). Is it that bad? You should hang out with girls more often. They're less likely to hit on you (:D) and creepy fellows avoid groups of girls.

  14. Nonsense! You need to stop hanging with 'area boys' (touts).

  15. @Dom: Why do you say the writer is confused? Maybe you find her piece aggravating, too truthful? Of course not all Nigerians are like that. But many Nigerian men are.

  16. You are confused. Hanging out with the wrong people. Find the right people. Not all Nigerians are like that.

  17. Interestng story, short and puncy, inforative and beautifully told. I have always enjoyed your writing and stories.Enjoy Lagos Femke. Oh, Funke.

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