When in Rome….Life of An Expat in Lagos

Life of An Expat in Lagos…

It was a stormy day in the August of 2007, and I remember this well as it was my first solo visit to ‘The Palms” at Lekki, undertaken for the express purpose of buying vegetables. I was  fresh off the plane and Nigeria was an adventure in itself.

My husband was laid up in bed with a slip disc and I knew no one other than my driver who was given strict instructions to “ Take madam to Shoprite and bring her back.”

Shop

Off I went armed with what seemed an obscene bundle of high denomination notes all to purchase vegetables for our essentially vegetarian diet. Shoprite was beautifully air conditioned and well lit with rows upon rows of imported vegetables crying out to be put into my trolley. Upon closer inspection I almost had a heart attack!!! 1 beautiful cauliflower being priced at N 2,600 {which I mentally calculated as being almost 800 Rupees} an amount which was more than 20 times what I would pay for the same in India!!!

I quickly returned the cauliflower and proceeded to look for tomatoes, potatoes, green chilies and squash, only to end up buying a fraction of the quantity I had initially planned on buying albeit for many multiples of what I would pay for the same back at home

The same price disparity applied towards most food items. I returned home that evening depressed and irritable when a cheerful Nigerian neighbour dropped in, Mrs. O just laughed and said “ This is Lagos O!” and she told me not to shop like an “Oyinbo”, neither term made sense to me then. 

Thereafter I followed her to local markets like Jakande, Ajah and Falomo {under the bridge: as known to most Indians} where I can proudly say that I learnt to bargain with the best of them.

Now I just rattle what I feel is a fair price to the product I have in mind and most times I get the bargain I want! That coupled with a smattering of Pidgin English makes vendors more welcoming. I once told a shopkeeper {who as you surely know will multiply the price for his wares upon seeing a non-Nigerian in the market} “Oga, be fair O, if you cut my wrist I bleed blood and not dollars!”

That being said, the prices are still steep and the penny still pinches but one grows immune to it, one doesn’t automatically convert into rupees the price of things any more. I have learnt to live with a rule of the thumb “It’s a fair price if you take the cost of an item in India and multiply it by 10”, don’t ask me but a veteran expat told me this the first month I was here and I really believe it to be true.

My kids now eat Okro, Pawpaw and fried plantain in addition to Indian staples and that too purchased by me from a local market. It is not that I don’t shop from Shoprite, SPAR or La Pointe, like any expat wife, but these excursions are limited to special occasions.

As with any culture, adjustments need to be made here but Lagos grows on you despite its many challenges. I have been here for the past 7 years and have come to think of it as my second home.

Contributed by Radhika Roy

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