Fourteen months ago, on 25 Nov 2019 to be precise, I relocated from Kigali to Lagos for work. However, before making this decision, I went through a rollercoaster of emotions and self-doubt. Is this a good idea? Could I do it? What if I failed? What if it doesn’t work out? What if I don’t fit in? The initial perception I had about Nigeria coupled with the feeling of not knowing anyone, and the anticipation of adjusting to a new culture and way of life gave me goosebumps. But here I am, fourteen months later as I reflect on the journey that it has been – the highlights, the misadventures, and the painful lessons that I garnered along the way.
Lagos In My Eyes
In my opinion, there is a deceptive perception of Nigeria in the media. The media often depicts Nigeria as a corrupt and sometimes chaotic country. There is hardly little to no mention of how warm and hospitable Nigerians are or the breathtaking beaches, and exotic restaurants with panoramic ocean views. Did you also know that Nigeria is the largest economy in Africa?
Apart from its unique cuisine, another thing that exceptionally stood out for me was its people, without whom It would have been difficult to acclimatize. Everyone I met was friendly, kind, and willing to offer a helping hand. Every single one of them. During my first week of work, my colleagues christened me “Ifeoluwa”, which is Yoruba for Aimée while my Lagosian friends call me “Ihunanyachi” which is Igbo for Aimée. Lagosians are also smart and astute. Some of them complete their undergraduate studies at the age of eighteen or nineteen, start a business and still pursue a corporate job. I haven’t been quite as sharp though. It’s been fourteen months and I’m still trying to get a side hustle that can earn me that extra dough.
On fashion and entertainment, nothing beats Nigeria. If you are about that extroverted lifestyle, then Lagos is surely a place for you. From their dancing skills to their fashion sense, theirs is unmatched. Lagosians know how to dress up and show up and this can be unnerving if you have a mundane fashion sense like me. When it comes to safety, I still believe that Lagos is safe provided one exercises the same precaution and measures they would, if they were in a different city. For instance, avoid being in “high-risk” areas, don’t walk alone so late at night, and don’t carry cash around.
While I have barely scratched the surface with the fourteen months that I have been here, one thing is certain, my views have been changed and my eyes have been opened.
While choosing to relocate can be a privilege, the reality can be tough. By September 2020, my expat life was in full swing. I had fully settled in, formed solid friendships, and was making the most of my stay in Lagos. I had four friends with whom I considered my family, my sisters, my best friends, and my tribe. Then one morning I woke up and everything around me had changed. All my friends had left the country. My housemate left Lagos to go back to her home country and the other three went to pursue their MBA in the UK. From the onset, I knew that they would all leave eventually but when they did, it was a huge blow (perhaps because they left almost at the same time). Their departure came with a sinking feeling that suddenly made everything seem completely isolating and disconnected.
I didn’t know what to do and I wasn’t ready to start from scratch. I felt lost, defeated, devasted, and lonely. The kind of loneliness that made me wish that I was home, to a much more familiar territory. Eventually, the universe aligned. I joined the East African community in Lagos and formed new friendships with amazing humans who became the light at the end of my tunnel. But as with all relationships, this required a lot of effort, commitment, and willingness to meet new people.
In a world where anything is possible, failure is possible too. Admittedly, I have made terrible blunders, all of which could have been avoided by conducting simple due diligence. And of all the mistakes I made, my house hunting escapades crown it all. Between the times my former housemate left Lagos and now, I have lived in three different houses and as it’s often the case, moving to a new house means more money spending on agency fees and renovation. It also doesn’t help that rent in Lagos is paid annually so the chances of one getting a refund when they move out before the due date are slim.
Behind my Instagram filters was an apartment that once flooded when it rained, another that lacked basic amenities such as clean water and a prepaid meter, numerous exchanges with an insidious washing machine vendor, and a bleeding bank account. Now that I have a better grasp of Lagos and how everything works, I hope to make more resolute decisions going forward. In hindsight, I’m glad that I made these mistakes, however thorny the lessons were because they have shaped me into the better human being that I have become.
It’s been a journey of self-discovery and greater self-awareness, and a journey that has profoundly changed my life. I’m incredibly grateful for Lagos and all the experience and lessons it brings.