I have always held that the Nigerian god is far too kind. Kind to our political leaders in spite of their wickedness, kind to our religious leaders in spite of their hypocrisy, kind to our traditional leaders in spite of their complicity in all the mess we find ourselves in. And kind to foreigners. I mean, you can be a technician from the roughest, poorest parts of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets and suddenly become a foreign engineer with servants, a huge salary and a secure mansion in the best parts of Abuja. We are in awe of expatriates.
I’ll share a little story: A Nigerian family friend who is a senior engineer with a big foreign construction company went to the mansion of an influential Nigerian politician together with his young white junior assistant to carry out some repairs. As they entered the house, a daughter of the politician gave the white man a seat and ignored his black superior. The white man of course kindly explained that he was not in charge, but his boss who had been totally snubbed. Don’t ask me how the story ended. The moral of the story is that we love you more than we love ourselves. Nigeria is expatriate heaven.
You have left hardship, harsh winters and a horrible economic recession in your nice developed country and are now an economic refugee in Nigeria. Of course, we don’t know this- you are the expat who will save us from ruin and teach us how things ought to be done. You have gotten a job with an organization or company that has applied for expatriate quota for you and secured a nice house with a generator, car and a driver. You have said goodbye to your family and your depressed, alcoholic friends and moved to Nigeria. Maybe you have even come with Hector, your cat. God will bless you for choosing our country. I mean you could have ended up in dingy Togo but you came here. This is how you must conduct yourself while living in Nigeria.
As soon as you arrive get in contact with other expatriates. There are online groups like Abuja Expats and you will quickly find whatever it is you need, from stores that sell foreign food to people selling off their furniture and books.
You are here to work and live large, not contaminate yourself with the locals. You can enjoy this country while pretending to live in your own country. Identify hangout spots that are ‘expat joints’. Your expat friends will tell what joints are suitable for expats- joints with food so expensive it scares the locals away. If there are any locals you can be sure they are in the safe upper classes. You don’t want to go get lost in a crowd of locals and catch some deadly disease like malaria or dengue fever or god forbid, ebola. Do nice expat things like jogging with fellow foreigners through the nice safe streets of Abuja and a nice picnic after. Of course there will be the odd local, but that is ok. One or two black persons in awe of you makes it nice and colorful.
When you are able to muster the courage to go to a non-expat joint, come in groups and dance with each other in a corner. The important thing is, you have done something revolutionary: risked kidnapping and disease by going to a local joint. Have a local guide- a nice junior local staff from the office who understands the pecking order. Drink as much as you can and party as often as you can. Where else in this messed-up global economy can you enjoy this much luxury?
Do not learn a local language. What’s the point?
Complain about everything in the country. Complain about how you can never find the kind of food that your cat, Hector, enjoys. Complain about how nobody cares about animals. Talk about how rude the locals are and how sloppy everyone is. Complain about how bad the driving is and how loud (except if you are American) everyone is. Complain about how nothing works in this country, about how everyone is trying to rip you off, about the heat. Because, in your cold, civilized, recession-hit country, everything works.
Have a nice upper-class local couple who can agree with you when you talk about how horrible things are. Invite them for dinner occasionally. This proves you are cool with the locals and are not racist.
Avoid the local food. Something terrible will happen to you if you eat the local food that is so low in nutrition and high in cholesterol and bacteria. Hire a cook who knows how to make food from your country.
Expect the locals to respect your culture even though you are in their country. It is ok to dress inappropriately, after all in your country, you are a free to wear whatever you like, or nothing at all.
I hope that you enjoy Nigeria and slowly get used to the heat and the reports of explosions and violence. Not to worry, you are safe. When we kill each other we usually leave out the foreigners. And the guys who used to kidnap foreigners are busy with more official duties. Stay well and God bless your foreign hustle.
* This post first appeared here. It is being republished with the permission of the author.