Monday, July 12, 2010

Yenagoa, Week 2: A Socio-Economic Adjustment

Dear all,

Things change so quickly. I can not even convince a Nigerian to believe me when I tell them that, in the US, I don't have a car, a TV or any servants. In the States, the servants get paid (some, probably not all) a pretty decent wage, and are way too expensive to have unless you need them. In the US, I make my own food, clean my own home, get myself from Point A to Point B on the bus or train, and otherwise walk myself to where I want to go.

In Nigeria, I have a fancy car with a driver who doubles as my 'tough' when I go some place that requires such an entourage. If I travel out of Yenagoa, I have to be accompanied by a uniformed guard with an AK-47. I live in a designated guest house, have people who feed me (had a small lapse when the G was out of town, but we've fixed it). I have 2 'stewards' who help around the house (with varying levels of reliability, but its nothing to complain about) and live in a walled compound with guards and such.

So, this has required me to learn some new skills. My stewards were shocked to learn that I can operate a microwave and heat up my own food. I need to learn to give directives about the things I need done. Until recently, I would end every request with 'is that okay?' which just seemed to confuse them.

Anecdotally, they were also shocked that I can walk around on my own, and that I can shop and cook.

In an attempt to maintain my elitist morality, I also am determined to find out about the lives of my staff, provide positive reinforcement, and to do my best to develop their sense of loyalty to me. So far I've had some very nice conversations about people's families, and at least one of the stewards sings to himself as he works, which is quite pleasant.

I've more or less settled in, my friend is visiting and she and I have had fun outfitting my establishment. There still are some kinks, but they're getting resolved.

Any advice on how to go from not-having-servants to having-servants? What is your advice on how to best engage them, as a foreigner, and as a person with a different set of expectations than they would expect?

A whole new set of lessons!



  1. They're probably professional service workers, they might take offense at your feeling like you need to do something for yourself. Professional pride may be wounded when they discover that you would rather cook and shop for yourself, rather than allow them to do so for you!

  2. Alena,
    Thanks for your telling us all the interesting things in Africa. I'm enjoying in Tokyo, wondering how the weather in Nigeria.

    - MT

  3. I have enjoyed your blog, especially this post and the one about your cultural heritage. My wife and I along with 3 young children have been missionaries in Abuja for 5 years. I struggled for quite some time as to how to treat our workers and servants, just to find out that they simply want to be treated like human beings. Your servants are surprised, most likely, because of past experiences with "hyper-Americans" and/or rich Africans who were their bosses on a short-term basis, only came to make their money, and did not care about putting their heart into anything or anybody. There are liabilities to how you are handling things: someone may want to hang onto you and have you be their beneficiary, you may find out things that almost give you nightmares, and/or you will be constantly advised by others against your mode of caring. However, the benefits of actually getting to know these great people, their stories, and their beauty, is worth the chance of heartache and heartbreak. I hope you continue your kindness and have success in your project.

  4. By the way, I am always on my wife about adding things to her orders, i.e. "if you don't mind" etc. People are very straight-forward and agressive, yet cheerful, here. I love the combination!
    Mark Holmes