Every time I start to get too comfortable in Nigeria I get a reality check.
Just when I feel like I’m finally getting a handle on all the nuances, something hits me like a ton of bricks to remind me I’m not in Kansas anymore. In fact, it happens almost like clockwork. I’ll suddenly remember that like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, I’m nowhere near my comfort zone, instead I’m somewhere similar to the Island in the TV series Lost where inexplicable things happen and no one understands why.
My latest wakeup call wasn’t the never ending fuel scarcity or the back to back days of no power (I long for the days when my dreams are neither fuel or power related), instead it was the Senate’s rejection of the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill.
There’s no reminder quite like a group of people telling you they think you’re worth less than them because you have ovaries. Maybe I’m from Mars because I can’t quite wrap my head around how anyone could look at a Bill offering protection to widows and the elimination of discrimination, turn around and say ‘You know what, I don’t think I’ll support this.’ Then again, maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise, the rights of women are evidently not a major concern for the mostly male decision makers.
As last years hashtag #BeingFemaleInNigeria brought to the attention of the unaware, being a woman in this environment is a challenging experience. Yes, women in Nigeria have achieved amazing, inspirational, head swelling feats, but all of this is in spite of the very real barriers of discrimination, harassment and prejudice.
When I decided to move to Nigeria I can’t say I really thought all of that through. My Dad suggested it and off the bat I wasn’t convinced, but after a few dozen hours scrolling through Instagram coupled with all the tales of endless opportunity, it didn’t seem so far fetched.
Being Nigerian in the Diaspora and being a Nigerian from the Diaspora are two very different things. And it goes beyond having an accent, especially if you’re female. I’d visited Nigeria a handful of times before I moved, but I was not prepared for the culture shock, in short ‘I never experredit’
The day I landed my Dad took one look at my typical London summer wardrobe as I unpacked and told me straight up it wasn’t going to fly here. He actually chuckled when he saw my clothes laid out on the bed. Not because he had a problem with it, but because in his words, ‘Nigeria is a conservative country,’ and ‘This isn’t London,’ something I’d have to get to grips with sharply.
For instance, even though I’m now living in a place where the average temperature is at least 30 degrees, wearing clothes that ‘show skin’ could result in me being called out and told to dress ‘dress decently,’ whatever that means. I mean seriously, who sets the bar for decency? The decency police? Funny how they never appear when elected officials steal money.
Then there’s the pressure around relationships/ marriage/pregnancy, as if the sum total of a woman’s existence boils down to whether or not she can find a man and get pregnant. I went for a job interview and spent fifteen minutes with the employer discussing why I wasn’t married. I was so dumbfounded afterwards I had to ask myself, is this life?
There are so many rules for women usually revolving around a man, either hypothetical or actual. If a woman is educated she shouldn’t be too educated– in case she scares away a potential husband, she should earn her own money but not too much money–in case she scares away a potential husband, she can have a car, but not one that’s too big–in case she scares away a potential husband, unmarried women shouldn’t live alone, too much makeup and she’s attention seeking, too little makeup and she’s boring, too opinionated and she’s aggressive, too quiet and she’s dull, if she’s career focused she’s selfish, if not she’s an opportunist waiting for a rich man. The constant self policing is endless, like you’re constantly walking a tightrope, balancing cultural expectations while suffocating your own voice and your own needs,it’s exhausting.
I know I’m not in Kansas anymore, and I know that to an extent I’m lucky. My being here is a choice, my family are liberal and I don’t feel too much pressure to bow to pressure (you can’t teach an old dog new tricks and all that), I hope that sooner rather than later equality and the rights of women in this country are taken as seriously as they deserve and need to be, and my reality checks can be about something less straightforward like fuel.