My dear, Nostalgic in Kampala,
It is always awesome to hear from you, even when it takes you two months to respond to 3 paragraphs. *insert a slightly judge-y tone here*
Since I last wrote you, a lot has changed. It’s hard to believe that I have been in Lagos for a year now. In some ways, the city and my routine are so familiar that it seems as though I have lived here forever, but in other ways, everything is so foreign that it is as though I just arrived.
I get slightly more Lagosian by the month, with all the good and bad things that entails. My pidgin has progressed from level -2 to +3 give or take and I no longer give people blank stares when they address me as “ma”. It’s kind of sinking in that I am the mysterious “ma” of whom they speak.
The past six months or so have been filled with so much economic uncertainty for Lagos and Nigeria at large that it has brought out the worst in people. For example, since January my landlord has imposed a fifty thousand naira monthly fuel deposit which does not count to our electricity bill. The electricity bill is another absurd fifty thousand or so, which brings my monthly expenditure on electricity to about one hundred thousand naira.
Now, I know that this all sounds very foreign to your delicate East African soul, used to almost constant electricity provided diligently by your utility, but let me break it down for you on two levels.
First, our electricity utility (NEPA), is by far the most unreliable entity I have ever seen. UMEME and Kenya Power sound like GE in comparison. UMEME is even a publicly listed company! That is how well it is run. Yes we have power black outs, and sometimes it is frustrating but there is usually a predictive pattern to it, which enables you to plan. Also, they send out all these radio adverts offering warnings and/or profuse apologies for the inconvenience. (How very sweet). NEPA is like Russia’s Putin in that it does what it wants, when it wants and however it wants, without fear or favour and with absolutely no consideration for the needs of others (at least that’s what if feels like). I would say we have about 10+ outages a day on average. This means, if you can afford it, you either buy your own generator, or you live in a serviced estate/apartment. I fall in the latter category. It seemed like an amazing deal at first, but now, with an ever rising diesel deposit (which is completely baseless because the NEPA metre still runs even when we are running the generator), my costs are just sky rocketing. So you can imagine my chagrin, when after coughing up 50k, I woke up on Saturday, to find that we had no electricity, because… wait for it… we had no diesel! I completely flipped; I discarded my Ugandan – ness and fully embraced the dark side of the Lagosian in me, and went all out, emailing all my neighbours to schedule a town-hall and calling the estate manager to scream down his ear about how such a situation was completely unacceptable. I was so shocked at my reaction, but I guess it’s true what they say about Lagos… It changes you… toughens you up and what not. Lagos is teaching me how to fight ha ha.
The second angle to my debacle is the actual cost of my electricity… Nigeria is currently going through a horrible forex crisis thanks to the tanking oil prices. Since dollars are hard to come by, there is a flourishing black market where the rate (350 Naira to 1 USD) is almost double the official rate (200 Naira to 1USD). This means, I could be spending either 285 dollars a month on electricity, which is a lot, but not jaw dropping, or I could be spending a whopping 500 dollars a month, in which case, maybe I need to scream some more. I say scream and not move houses, because that isn’t really an option. Most landlords in this city require you to pay 2 years rent up front, so I am pretty much locked down for the next 12 months or so. *insert appropriate amount of self pity here*
Despite all this, I am not miserable, in fact I love living in Lagos, there is very little that would convince me to move away at this time. I am not sure what it is about Nigeria that has me and countless other people transfixed. Maybe it’s the euphoric feeling that comes with constantly stepping out of your comfort zone and conquering a little more turf, or maybe it’s just the amazing people you meet here and the way they draw you into their vibe. I still cannot quite place my finger on it, but Lagos is addictive.
I really hope you come to visit me soon.
Lost in Lagos.
P.S. Your salon story had me in stiches! It is such a Ugandan thing to assume that just because you speak the same language as somebody you can get over familiar smh.