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
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