Follow Roads & Kingdoms on...

Life Lessons from Nigeria

1

Trust no one with your goodie bag.

2

If you are a woman in Kano and a man offers you flowers, money, or meat, always choose meat.

3

Life is cheap and God is fickle. We thank God; if God wills it, it will be; Inshallah…. Words uttered by man for comfort in the face of chaos, disorder and impotence.

4

No amount of money can buy organization in Nigeria, because no amount of money can buy something that doesn’t exist.

5

No matter what time you arrive, you will not be late. Whenever you are there, that is when you are meant to be there.

6

No matter who you are, you still have to hustle for champagne.

7

Every day is for the thief. I will look into your eyes and smile with respect—Yes Ma, Yes Oga—as I pick your pocket.

8

Arms dealers in Kano who say they export sesame seeds and fertilizer and tell you there’s a “five percent chance” you’ve been “marked” and that the Sallah holiday is dangerous are trying to scare you so they can comfort you. Say no to all dinner invitations and offers for their goons to shake down your trusty taxi driver.

9

Sani is the best taxi driver in all of Kano, and perhaps all of Nigeria, and perhaps all of the world.

10

Whatsapp conversations where one party is shitting blood and the other is petrified of being kidnapped = #livingthedream

11

When you’re at Transcorp Hilton waiting for more than an hour to use a wad of Naira several inches thick to buy a plane ticket to [COUNTRY REDACTED], and you’re thirsty and a bottle of water costs N700 at Pastry Corner, the eyeglasses shop across the way will let you refill your empty bottle if you greet them nicely and explain that despite the wad of cash, you are not a Big Madam.

12

There is a consulate in Abuja, and getting a visa to [COUNTRY REDACTED] is so easy and relaxed that it will make you regret all interactions with arms dealers motivated by the need for a visa.

13

There is no way to properly prepare yourself for the assault of entering Angu Uku Taxi Park in Kano. Even if you know what’s coming, merely bracing yourself for the onslaught does little to mitigate the violation of human dignity that occurs at the hands of Angu Uku taxi touts.

14

But, while you’re waiting for your taxi to fill up, you can still buy a nice ring for N500 that people will mistake for Dubai gold. Also, N500 is probably too much for that cheap piece of crap that turns your finger green anyway.

15

If they have to push start your car at the taxi park in Kano, there is no way you will make it all the way to Abuja in that same car.

16

If you’re a truck driver with a truck full of oranges, and you get a flat tire in Benue State, be careful. The villagers might come out and try and steal your oranges, even though their village is full of orange trees with so many oranges that they fall to the ground and rot in plentiful excess. Anyway, if they do start stealing your oranges, and if you slap one of the villagers because he is stealing your oranges, they might beat you to a bloody pulp until you are lying on the ground, rotting in plentiful excess. Women will bring their children to join in the beating, and your fellow truck drivers will block the road in protest. Two policemen will come, but they can’t stop anything. Five soldiers will come, and they can clear the road, but that’s all they can do because the villagers will already have fled to the bush. There will be no justice. And you will never think of oranges the same way again.

17

If the Yemini businessman you meet in Kano who offers to show you his step mother’s collection of soyayya books makes you feel like he’s going to steal your kidneys, politely decline his offer.

18

“Chicken Shawarma” is not a designation for a specific kind of food, but a vague umbrella-like term for any number of variations of sandwich that involve chicken, flatbread, and mayonnaise.

19

If you’re a white boy from Atlanta and you still harbor dreams of being a rapper, definitely don’t let anyone video tape you rapping at an apartment above a bakery in Kano at 1:30 in the morning, no matter how much delicious Taiwanese food she feeds you.

20

The road to Jos is magical.

21

According to a muscle man in a white spandex turtleneck at a bar in Jos, dogs are so afraid of hyenas that they are known to shit uncontrollably during encounters, and, the hills of Pachin are filled with dancing monkeys.

22

Drinking champagne in the bathroom at the family home of the President of the Nigerian Senate at 9 am is awesome, but is also the same as drinking in the toilet before noon.

23

If you’re an elderly Nigerian auntie and you’re using an ATM, take time. Especially if it’s the day before Sallah and there’s a queue of 15 people behind you, now is the time to contemplate the meaning of life, make a few phone calls, check your various account balances, and maybe just hang out for a bit, because hey, it’s about to rain and when you’re at the top at the ATM, you’re under an awning and all the people who are waiting are not.

24

If you’re behind an Auntie using the ATM the day before Sallah as she takes her time to contemplate the meaning of life and make a few phone calls, and you finally get to the front of the queue, and the machine tells you CARD NOT SMART, now is the time to remember that you’re glad a Yemeni businessman hasn’t sold your kidneys.

25

If a retired bank manager won’t let you leave his house without taking a pen that’s lost its cap with the name of his bank on it, this is a beautiful, beautiful gift.

26

If you’re a woman in Kano and a man won’t marry you because his parents aren’t happy that you leave the house, you’re probably too good for him anyway. If your other offers for husbands are from a middle-aged man working a the state publishing house who will make you wife #3 and a younger lawyer who will make you wife #2, choose the publisher. Lawyers aren’t good Muslims because they argue a case instead of arguing the truth. Make sure both of them buy you phone credit though.

27

If you tell a friend with whom you are frustrated that you’ll see him later because you have to go to your other friend’s BBQ first, there is a 100 percent chance he will be at that BBQ.

28

Foster Clark’s mixed in a garbage can and poured into saran wrap tied off into a cone is called “our local juice.” Photographing this process will make people laugh. Drinking this juice will make you sick.

29

White girls who have their makeup done by Nigerian makeup artists may risk looking like transvestite Barbies, but in the best possible way. And if you’re a white girl and you traveled all the way to Benue State and you’re wearing aso-ebi, you better own that makeup, in the best possible way, because, hey, you do look awesome.

30

If you are very rich, build a very big house with many small rooms. Each ante-room should lead to many additional small rooms. You want to confuse your guests into feeling impressed with your grandeur and wealth while giving the impression of an organism subdividing again and again.

31

Windows should be small and curtains should be large.

32

When you’re in Central Nigeria and you’re Skyping by candlelight because the gen is off, and you’re talking with someone in New York who is going to a party that you would go to in New York, remember that you’re exactly where you should be.

33

Protect your heart as vigilantly as you protect your kidneys.

34

When you’re at the Abuja airport waiting to get on your flight, and you ask the security man, “Are we boarding?” and he says, “Not yet,” and you say, “What time will it board?” and he says, “Just relax now,” he’s right: you should just relax now.

[Top image: The police band plays at a wedding for the Inspector General in Abuja, Nigeria. Photo by Glenna Gordon]

Glenna Gordon
Glenna Gordon is a documentary photographer working often in West Africa on long term photo projects, assignments for magazines and newspapers, and commissions for NGOs and other organizations. You can see more of her work at glennagordon.com.
Top

Don’t miss out

Join our newsletter to get exclusives on where our correspondents travel, what they eat, where they stay. Free to sign up.

Related Posts :

This country is complicated. Not like Manhattan is complicated or like calculus is complicated, but like humans are...

READ MORE

West Africa has a long tradition of griots, or praise singers, who sing the praises of leaders—chieftains, warrio...

READ MORE

All photos from Cameras of Kilimanjaro, images taken by the porters themselves, on disposable cameras. Whatever peo...

READ MORE