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The I-Just-Got-Back (IJGB) Survival Guide

Congratulations, you’ve done it, you’ve graduated! You’ve hung up your cap, folded away your cape and are now ready to hop on a plane to join the workforce of your not-so-native country! You’re returning home to endure the hugs from camphor smelling big breasted aunts who bury you in their cleavage till you come up for air coughing powder and shoulder slaps from drunken pot-bellied uncles who give you a quarter of as much money when you see them “because you’re an adult now.”

Photo credit: Ajebo D Comedian

You’re going to face parents who expect their boarding school fees paid back with a written contract in blood and everyone you meet is going to tell you how small you were when you met. You think you’re ready, you’ve been here before, primary and secondary school, how bad can it be?

But Nigeria’s social customs are bizarre and Byzantine and having a vomit green passport isn’t going to get you into the club. Luckily The Guardian Life has compiled a list of survival tactics to help you through leaving civilization and entering the depths of economic hell.

Do Not Smile at Strangers

People will stare at you. The eye contact will last for possibly up to a minute and will sometimes make you question if the practitioner has suffered from one of those no movement seizures and lost all motor function. Under no circumstances can you smile or wave back. While smiling in many parts of the world is seen as an affable maybe even friendly practice, smiling at strangers in Nigeria is seen as the mark of an idiot. In Nigeria, the big men and women in tinted out SUVs do not smile as they run over pedestrians and cause two-hour traffic. And as a result, the population believes smiling to be an act of poverty. Smile and people will con you or even worse, give you the dismissive side eye and hiss that makes us the most hated country in Africa.

Do Not Be Nice

No one will be nice to you. Not police officers who will ask you for money and call you a prostitute if you don’t give it to them, not nurses who will deliberately miss your vein if you try to ask them how they are, not even people who you are paying to be nice to you. Housegirls, waitresses and checkout girls won’t bother smiling to your face and won’t wait till you’re out of earshot before they start hissing about how fat or ugly you are.

Never Eat Food From Outside

No matter how delicious the fat dripping pepper crusted perfectly pink-brown suya the mallam is roasting on the side of the street looks, it’s most likely dog meat. Nigeria’s food safety coalition NAFDAC does not cover the stalls pieced together from Bar Beach driftwood on the side of the road or the upside down crate in the market. Unless you are Ebola immune, have no qualms about eating raw lizards or have the rare luxury of life insurance don’t try it.

Drive Like A Maniac

Driving in Nigeria is like maintaining a garden, but the flowers are on fire, the earth is on fire and you are on fire and everything is on fire. The roads of Nigeria are a cross between Mad Max and Apocalypse Now. There are no rules unless LASMA is around, and even then they will most likely have their issued boots sticking out of the wound down semi truck window and their hats pulled over their eyes as they nap. There are no roads, there is only space you can and cannot occupy. There will be people trying to occupy your space, their lives a tiny price to pay for the sliver of air between your hood and the bumper in front of you. Do not give it to them. Because cars in Nigeria gather like flies on unminded plantain and if one goes through they will all try to go through, even cars from two lanes away. There will be people you suspect are assassins hired to kill you given how hard they try to smash into you. There will be people running on the expressway en masse trying to cross. There will be potholes that look like the pit of which all creation arose. Get an uber or hire a driver. There is no other option.

Don’t Try to Reason with People

At any capacity. Do not explain to the man screaming behind you in the queue to take one step closer to the WAIT BEHIND THIS LINE barrier. Do not question the pastor who says God has told you to buy him a pair of $350 Nike Airs. Do not talk back to the security guard who walks up to you and asks for your passport while you are in a line to have your passport checked. Nigerians do not like logic. Logic is the natural enemy of the steaming ball of chaos that runs this country. You are more likely to teach a monkey to dance to the entire discography of Michael Jackson’s Thriller album.

Everything is Expensive

You will find old favourites in certain stores, Jolly Ranchers, Freddos, Kool-Aid or Fox biscuits and they will be twice the price and two day’s stale when you eat them. Sell by dates to the average Nigerian are lies companies make up to stop reproducers from making money and make money they do. Expect food prices to be tripled, quadrupled and quintupled till your guilty snacks feel like buying a new car.

Always Wear Boots to the Market

Market places in many countries are sweet little cultural pockets of organic bliss. In Nigeria, it looks like a Game of Thrones director’s reconstruction of the bombing of Syria. There’s screaming, pushing, people running past you with wheelbarrows filled with personal belongings and crushed tomatoes everywhere you step that kind of look like blood. Clouded brown waters filled with drowned rats, human faeces and sometimes literal canoes can go as high as anywhere ranging from your ankles to your knees. Closed shoes are your only option unless you want to try to the melted cheese and plastic smelling boots whose smell cling to your feet for half a month.

Always Cross the Road in a Group

Traffic light colours are different in Nigeria. Green means go, yellow means go and red means GOGOGOGO. The startled herd of the wrapper and agbada clad antelope that run across the freeway every ten minutes is your only hope at survival. Nigeria has no walk lights and zebra crossings are treated more like tips: you can if you really feel like it but don’t feel obligated.

Do Not Buy Underwear From Anyone Ever

The tales of genital warts and second-hand herpes are nothing compared to the horror stories of Nigeria’s working class clothing mishaps. Vagina worms as long as your finger, flesh-eating termites, larvae eggs that hatch inside you, live lizards, penis devouring diseases. Stephen King’s worst nightmares couldn’t compare to any of these. If you’re ever forced to purchase or given these items, wash them first. Then again. And again. And again. And say a prayer, just for luck.

Expect Kids to Be Scared of You

Your favourite little niece or nephew who’s birth you missed will probably shudder at the sight of you and bow at your feet once or twice. Children in Nigeria are taught to treat adults with the utmost respect and see their parents as gods. Respect being absolute terror and gods being slave owners who can deck you at a moment’s notice. Only Nigerian families beat Kim Jung Un in terms of frightening devotion and that wariness will extend to you as an adult figure. It will be fun for a while sending them to get you a glass of water but the structure doesn’t change the older you get. Expect the same when it’s you and there are older people.

The Government Doesn’t Serve or Protect You

Dante’s Inferno missed the tenth worst circle of hell, which is a Nigerian queue. It will be over 20 degrees Celsius and there will be no AC. There will be flies. There will be people behind and in front of you. You will be standing for hours. There will be someone eating something smelly. You will want to scream, someone behind you will actually be screaming. You will go through this to do your passport, your driving license, your national ID card, your voting card, hell you will be doing this to buy bread. It never ends, unless you have money and someone willing to take a bribe, there’s no escape.

Your Parents Will Still Beat You

You’re twenty-something, you have a degree, you can drink, drive, have consensual sex and smoke. Your mother will beat the crap out of you if you forget to greet. Weapons of choice are often belts, clothes hangers, bathroom slippers and whatever object they’re holding in their hands upon enragement (beware of telling mid type parents of your escapades lest you are saddled with bruises and a Macbook bill)

You Will See Beggars-They are Liars

The sickly looking guy wilting in a wheelchair being pushed by the guy with a tumour on his chest? Can probably walk. The grey-haired shirtless blind guy lead by the skinny little girl l? He can probably see. The starving kids cupping their hands begging for something to eat? Probs have fridges in their houses. Beggars in Nigeria are scammers and swindlers, everyone is out to get a buck.

You Will Miss It When You’re Gone

When you’ve finally had enough of finding dead roaches in the corner of your bathroom, smoky grey skies and the constant beeping of horns and the strange rising woman’s scream that follows you everywhere that you have no idea where it’s coming from and you pack your bags and fly somewhere else, you’ll miss it. When you’re eating ice cream by a pier and you suddenly remember jollof rice or you’re watching a movie and suddenly feel the urge to clap at the end. Nigeria, like a market pant disease, creeps up on you suddenly, slowly and hits you hard in a vulnerable place-and is here to stay. You’ll find yourself wanting to come back, and you will and when the stink of unwashed bodies, the lazy buzz of flies and Jick bleach wet tiles at the airport hit you-you’ll finally feel like you’re at home.

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