Updated: Jun 22, 2020
Expat (IN) Nigeria? Get it? No, ok we'll explain. It's a play on words on 'expats in Nigeria trying to 'expert' Nigeria. We think it's pretty witty don't you?
This is a new segment on the site where we talk to different expats living in Nigeria about their experience in a bid to show how varied their situations are and also dispel or reinforce myths.
Today's guest is a 29 year old American female who's raising a family in Nigeria and had to figure out what she believed about annointing oil.
When was the first time you ever heard of Nigeria?
I honestly can’t remember a distinct time when I heard of Nigeria for the first time but while I was in university doing my undergrad, I had several friends who grew up in Nigeria. We became good friends while we were all working on the cleaning crew on campus during the long holiday.
Were you worried about coming here?
Not really. Before moving to Nigeria, I was teaching in Sierra Leone. While there, I lived with Nigerians from Taraba State and they always spoke so highly of their country. While doing my masters in London, I was a live-in nanny for a Nigerian family. These experiences and relationships gave me confidence in coming to Nigeria.
So where are you from and is this your first time being an expatriate?
I grew up in Michigan in the United States. Before moving to Nigeria, I lived in Sierra Leone for three years and spent six months in the UK doing my masters so it’s not my first time living outside of the U.S.
What do you do here?
I work as an education consultant with a mission organization based out of the U.S but I am seconded to a local association of Christian schools here in Lagos. I work with my colleague to coordinate trainings for Christian school educators in Nigeria. I also coordinate a two-year school improvement programme for Christian school leaders.
How long have you been here for?
I moved here April of 2018 so just over two years now.
You’re married to a Nigerian man, what’s that like?
It has honestly been a whirlwind! My husband and I met at City Church Lagos in April 2018, we started dating in August 2018, got married here in May 2019 and just had a baby in March 2020. When we started dating, we got a lot of skepticism from people that did not know my husband.
The skepticism was from Nigerians because they didn’t trust that he genuinely loved me. If not for our church community that really encouraged us, I might have given in to that skepticism also. One time, we were walking down Awolowo road in the evening and one guy just started shouting at me “He’s a 419. He F****d the queen” over and over again.
Oh wow, that was very rude. Sorry about that....
I am pretty sure he was on something, but nonetheless, that is the first thing going through many people’s minds. When we have gone to comedy clubs, we are always the joke of the evening.
When we did our court wedding at the registry in Ikoyi, as we were writing in our details on the marriage certificate, the woman told my husband in Yoruba that he was a good man because he found a young white woman, as most Nigerian men come here with old white women.
We blame 90 day fiance to be honest....
While driving to my in-laws house, one police stopped us and asked if Dami was my Uber driver.
Looks like the judgment never ends
Despite the stereotypes that we continue to encounter, it’s our hope that people take the time to get to know us first. Several multicultural couples told us that the two biggest challenges in a multicultural marriage are extended family dynamics and money. What has helped us so far is that we both share a similar worldview regarding what we believe that transcends our cultural upbringing.
When our son was born, my Mother-in-law came to do Omugo, which was such a blessing. But at the beginning, there were times where there was tension between us. She came into it assuming I knew little to nothing about how to care for a baby so she felt she had to show me how to do everything.
Don't worry, they all do that. After all they have raised children and you haven't is the thought process...
The first day, I told her we were not going to clean the umbilical cord because if you use alcohol it kills good bacteria that helps the cord dry out. She insisted that I call my mom to get her opinion on this.
If my mom was around, she would ask “what can I help you with?” She would only show me how to do something if I asked her to show me how.
The first time my parents came to Nigeria and visited my husband’s family, my mom expressed her concern after the visit because my husband is the oldest in his family and so he would send his siblings (particularly the youngest girl) to do tasks for him. In our own culture, you have no right to send your siblings to do anything for you. We used to try but somehow my mom would always be there to shout “do it yourself.” Extended family dynamics on both sides are definitely challenging, but I am grateful that my husband is able to stand his ground. When we make decisions his parents don’t agree with, he graciously tells them our reasoning and takes his stand.
We stan a husband who stands his ground for his fam.
Finances are a challenge too, but we have a joint account and a monthly budget so there is transparency and we are able to trust each other. That has helped us navigate the differences in how both cultures handle money. Overall, marriage has been a joy and we keep learning each and every day.
Is there a struggle on how to raise your child to ensure he has both cultures or have you guys created a path for yourself?
Yes definitely! We have only been parents for two months, so we are still new at this but we hope to chart our own path by making sure he experiences the good parts of both of our cultures. It takes grace really.
There have been many times where I have wrongly said “this is how I was raised and this is the right way.” But again, what has helped us when it comes to parenting is that our faith gives us a framework for parenting, which transcends the very different ways we were raised.
This has helped us have conversations on how we desire to parent. One piece of advice we got from a friend here is that Nigerian men tend to not be too involved in the day to day life of the child. It is largely the mother’s responsibility. The father is responsible for school fees. When you grow up in a patriarchal society, you can desire to do things differently, but it’s actually difficult to change. So we decided that Dami would be in charge of bathing our son every night to give him a chance to also build a relationship with our son. (we only bath him once o! It’s too much work to bath him twice a day).
Since we plan to make Nigeria our home and raise our children here, we will be more intentional about bringing some of the cultural practices and traditions I grew up with in the U.S here so that our children can experience both. Traditions like stringing popcorn and cranberries on the Christmas tree, celebrating St. Nicholas Day, making pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving, dying Easter eggs, etc. There will be a lot of things that we will chart our own path for, disciplining our children, educating them, giving them household chores, allowing our children to take risks from a young age, cooking (our son will definitely cook), exposing them to art, music, sports, culture, reading from a young age.
Your faith seems to play a big role in your life from what I can gather. Is there a distinct Nigerian experience to it or is this how it has been your whole life
I grew up in a Christian home. My parents were and still are incredible examples of what it means to follow Christ, to love God and love your neighbor. So this has always been a part of me. But I think my faith has grown and also adapted when moving to Nigeria. I have had to really understand what I believe and why I believe it because I have been exposed to so many different interpretations of Christianity here. You also experience all sorts of interesting things while working in a Christian office here. Once I had to pray over anointing oil that we put all over the building because a “prophet” prophesied that something bad was going to happen to a staff in the office. So I now had to go and figure out what I believed about anointing oil.
LMAO, not even shocked about that.
The only experience I had with anointing oil was when my mom used it for my aunt who was dying of cancer.
Right before our son was born, my in-laws called my husband to tell him that their G.O said we needed to go to the nearest hospital to our house. There is a woman there that just gave birth and cannot pay her bill. We need to go and help with the hospital bill to essentially protect our own baby from harm.
Ah, so what happened?
We didn’t do it but we had long conversations about what we believe about prophesy because of this. Culture influences Christianity in many ways so I have also had to unlearn certain aspects of how my Western worldview has influenced my faith. I credit this to living here in Nigeria. It has opened my eyes to the broader body of Christ and the blessing of diversity in beliefs and practices that still keep Christ at the center.
I also think living as an expat, you always want to turn to what is familiar. For me, this has been my faith. Yes, I definitely have ups and downs, I am just coming out of a long dry period, but in general, when the going gets tough here, I can turn back to my faith. If you don’t have that, this is where many expats turn to other familiar coping mechanisms to deal with the challenges of living here.
What does your daily life look like? (including weekends)
Well, daily life has changed recently with the birth of our son and while we are both working from home for the meantime and limiting our contact with others. But it basically consists of waking up, doing devotions, feeding baby, making breakfast, trying to work while keeping baby occupied, random zoom meetings, going for a walk, making dinner, bathing baby, and going to bed.
Phew, that's definitely a lot to juggle in these climes
On weekends, we try to be intentional about inviting people over to our home for dinner, game nights, movies, etc. We also like going out for art events, comedy clubs, concerts, plays, beach trips, etc. I love baking also so I usually spend time baking to give to people. We don’t have a house help so Saturdays I normally clean in the mornings. Sunday we go to church and then we normally get together with church friends after service on Sunday. When work resumes, I go to the office four days a week and work from home one day a week. I normally do market runs and shopping after work because there is a market very close to my office and several supermarkets on my way home.
I mostly cook Nigerian food because we both enjoy it.
How would you describe the life of an expat in Nigeria from your own point of view?
Life here from my own point of view definitely has the good and the bad. As a white expat, I can talk to the Nigerian police anyhow when they constantly stop me while driving.
Some people will collect better slap if they try that
I can enter into estates by just dropping a name because of my skin color. I get offers to jump queues in government offices and in Arik check in lines.
They respect foreigners more..
The women in the market call me “betta Oyinbo” because “I don born”.
As a white expat, the privilege you have stares right back at you. My colleague and I who ride to work with me is always asking me “don’t you get tired of people staring at you?” We are kind of an anomaly in some ways. A White woman driving to pick up a Nigerian guy at Iyana Oworo every morning.
You get tired of people taking advantage of the fact that you don’t know the price of things. Sometimes, I use my husband’s Instagram account to ask for the prices of things. Living and engaging with a foreign culture can be exhausting and it can definitely feel lonely. No matter how well you assimilate, you will always be an outsider to some extent. That can be hard.
But living here gives you a beautiful opportunity to open your mind to new ways of doing life, to trying new foods and cooking new foods, to learning a new language, to building relationships with people who are very different than you. It gives you a new perspective on life that many people do not have the privilege to have. It humbles you and helps you see your own flaws.
What’s been the biggest cultural shock
I think culture shock is really a gradual uncovering of how deeply rooted cultural practices are in a society. The longer you are here and the longer you spend time in deep relationship with Nigerians, the more you gradually uncover.
When my mother in law left our house, she advised me that we need to keep our bedroom door closed and private. We should not allow anyone to enter our room.
Sounds like my mum
While in the West, if you give someone a tour of your house, you show them the whole house, including your bedroom!
This is a visible difference, but deep down you realize that we have different ideas of privacy.
In my office, my boss, who is Nigerian, had to constantly remind me to CC him in emails, which is something we don’t normally do in the U.S. Hierarchy in office settings has been a challenge for me to get used to. In the West, we value efficiency and productivity in office settings, so once you are given a task, you do it. No need for CC’d emails. Relationships are valued more here compared to productivity and efficiency that is valued in the West.
What’s the hardest part about living here
The thing that is the hardest for me is bad drivers and light. It frustrates me to no end when people can’t just stay in a line at the tolls. Maybe it’s my controlling nature and my desire for order.
It irks us too!
We just create more problems by rushing the toll booth. Or when people go the wrong way on a one way in traffic or enter the left turn lane when they are going straight. Light also frustrates me.
I am gradually learning you just have to take power into your own hands. We now have an inverter system and a generator.
Hate to say because it is a shameful it but we provide everything for ourselves to be comfy
It is so hot and humid in Lagos and in our house, there is little to no air movement so if there is no light, it is sweltering.
Nigeria has a high expat community. So do you only hang out with the expats or you have Nigerian friends too
Pretty much all of my friends here are Nigerian. My colleagues are all Nigerian and my church is mostly Nigerians so that is the community that I am mostly involved in. I am a part of a group of women who are Niger Wives, women who are foreigners married to Nigerian men, but that’s about my only contact with the expat community here. It’s easy to move to another country and connect to the expat community because it is something familiar in a very unfamiliar place. I remember once in Abuja I went to a gathering of expats and it was pretty much an evening of everyone complaining about the inconveniences of living in Nigeria. My experiences with expats and the lifestyles of many expats really turned me off from the expat community.
Do you have any beliefs that hold you back from adapting to culture here
Within the first few months of work, whenever my immediate boss would call me to his office, I would respond by saying “yes” or “yep”. He was quick to tell me that I should respond by saying “sir”.
Despite my boss’ insistence, I still haven’t been able to adapt to this. I still say “yes”. In many ways, I appreciate the strong sense of respect for elders within the Yoruba culture, but the Westerner in me has a hard time adapting to this. I don’t find it difficult to challenge someone respectfully who is older than me.
Ah, don't you know it's 'rude' to disagree with older people?
Sometimes that gets me into trouble. This will be something that I will always wrestle with.
Best & worst thing about living here
Worst thing is definitely the traffic (and the terrible drivers that create more traffic), no doubt. But, I am grateful that I live near Obalende and work in Ogba so I drive against traffic every day to work. The best thing about Lagos is that there is so much to do. My husband and I love the arts and culture scene here. I also love the beaches (he is learning to love the beaches). Sometimes you just need to get away from the city. Tarkwa Bay is probably my favorite.
Can you communicate in any of the local languages? If yes say something.
I dey talk pidgin small small. Wey I been dey Sierra Leone, Na mi padi dem dey make I speak pidgin. But I no sabi write em well well.
Wehdone! Are you willing to stay in Nigeria or can’t wait to get the hell out of the country.
We are planning to stay and raise our family here! There are lots of great opportunities here.
Advice for expats?
Have an open mind. Try new foods and cook new foods. Explore new places, events, and restaurants. Take the time, effort and hard work to build relationships with nationals. It can be uncomfortable and exhausting at first, but it gets better. Don’t get comfortable with what you know. Ask questions. Wonder. Discover.
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