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 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.