Last Thursday marked my having been in Nigeria for a month. The time has gone both quickly and slowly, which it usually does when you’re in a new place. The weekdays whizz by, the weekends are over as soon as they begin, but you consider all the new stuff you’ve seen and done and can’t believe it has been only four weeks.
I’m finding it okay, but it is taking some effort to manage that. Firstly, I should say, that so far the job I came here to do is shaping up nicely. Extremely well, in fact. I’ll not go into it, but that side of things is as good as I could have hoped for, and probably represents 90% of the battle. Actually, torch that. Being Nigeria, it’s about 50% of the battle. Because being here is like being in a continuous fight just to stand still.
I will say now that I don’t like the place. I’m sure if I said this to somebody here they’d patronise me by saying that I need to give it time, but Nigeria is the 36th country I’ve visited in my life, and the 6th I’ve lived full-time in. If I cannot judge a country in a month, it is not through lack of experiences to use as a comparator. I am still confined to the hotel, as there are no company apartments available and there is no news on when one will be. Some people have ended up here for months waiting, and me being a bloke on single status, I am probably on the bottom of the list. I don’t have much idea what sort of place I will end up in, but from what I hear the apartments are pretty nice and once I’m settled in one with all my stuff shipped over from Thailand I should be okay. I’m also waiting for the next step in the process of buying my car, and then I have to find myself a driver, which everyone says is very difficult as there are not many good drivers around. But everybody I speak to seems to have an excellent, honest, reliable driver who is apparently the best one in town and there are no others like him. It’s a bit like everybody’s Russian girlfriend in Sakhalin spoke perfect English better than any other, and everybody’s Thai girlfriend in Phuket is the only one in town who was not a hooker when they met. I’ve not yet met the bloke who gets taken to the bar which only locals go to and no other expat has been there, but I’m sure it won’t be long. Or maybe it will. I expect a bar in Lagos where no expat ever goes is a place where no expat ever comes out of.
I need a car, and I need my apartment. Not that there is anywhere to go except the triangle between home, office, and the grocery store but I need to get into a comfortable routine, because it is that which makes the time go quickly. At the moment I am in what I will call an uncomfortable routine. I was somewhat startled to find a skinny, athletic looking chap standing in my room when I came out of the bathroom the other day. He had shoulder muscles which I’d never had, a flat stomach the likes of which I’d not had since my first year of university, and looked to be capable of running further and faster than I’d managed since May 2003, the month before I emigrated. This stanger turned out to be me, apparently what I look like after a month of spending an hour in the gym six days per week. All of a sudden my trousers (bought before my Thailand loaf-athon) fit properly, the belt is once again on the last hole, and I feel an awful lot better. And I have another 6 weeks of this to go before my wife next sees me. Let’s hope she recognises me and doesn’t whack me over the head with a saucepan. But it’s not vanity that’s driving this, and the real purpose is twofold. Firstly, I am eating hotel food every night and I was not exactly in great shape when I arrived. If I didn’t do any exercise, I’d probably be pretty unhealthy after three years and I took a conscious decsion to go to the gym before I arrived. But the second purpose is to stop myself slipping into a state of depression, which I can feel banging on the door every time I stop and think for a moment. Three years is a long time, and when I leave I’ll be 36. Still young, but not as young as the 33 that I am now. I will have been apart from those I care about – and there are a lot of them, scattered all over the world, especially if you equate caring for somebody with helping them prop up a bar or just sitting about bullshitting – almost the whole time. I’ve asked myself several times if there is a better option for me right now. And fortunately, the answer is no, there isn’t. Had I kept my mouth shut in my last job, I would probably still be there, in a country I’d much rather be in with some friends around me . But I’d be in a dead-end job with a third-rate company, and eventually that would have ended anyway and I’d be pretty much where I was 7 months ago but with no guarantee of landing on my feet like I managed to do this time. And I’d have had to watch the last of my friends slowly demobilise, one by one, until I was pretty much the last one left. I’d hate to do that.
So I’m here, and I don’t like it, but I know that this is where I need to be. And I’ve found the way to stop endlessly asking myself the same question and to prevent a bout of depression barging in through the flimsy hotel door is to make myself so damned physically tired that I actually enjoy just lying on the bed watching stuff on my laptop and consider it a good use of my time. That’s the real reason I’ve been in the gym almost every night, because I need to get into a state of mind whereby I am content with where I am and that is the only way I know how. I’ve also laid off the drink almost completely, afraid of what it might do. Golden rule: never drink alone, especially in a hotel room. I’ve taken to drinking two pints of orange juice a day instead. If I turn up somewhere looking like Bart Simpson, that’ll be why. When faced with a period in a place where you don’t want to be, the best thing to do is to ensure you use the time productively. To this end, I have set myself some goals. I have to learn French, that is a must. I expect my next assignment will be in Paris and living there is almost impossible without knowing basic French. The French lessons I was promised have failed to materialise so, as with so much else in expatriate life, I have to sort it out myself. I have ordered some textbooks, put the word out that I am looking for a private teacher, and as soon as I have either one of them I am going to be putting serious hours into it. I’ll use the same techniques I used to learn Russian – old-fashioned textbook exercises, a teacher, and lots of practice – which I know work for me. I’ll keep going to the gym, I’ll try to get better at the guitar and maybe have a crack at the banjo (that’ll please the neighbours), and do a lot of reading. I left the year I spent in Kuwait knowing the basics of the guitar, having read War and Peace, and with an open water scuba diving certificate, and I need to do a similar thing here.
Self-disciplined lives tend to be pretty dull, which means there may not be so much to write about. I reckon the descriptions of Lagos and Nigeria in general will hardly vary and I’m not going to spend three years writing about chaos. The Russian chaos was humourous, in a dark sort of way. Here it is anything but. I’m lucky that so far the people seem to be all right, and hopefully my opinion will stay that way, but even if it doesn’t I’m not going to be writing negative stuff about Nigerians very often. I don’t want this blog to turn into one big complaint, especially if it’s stuff which is obvious and merely repeated over and over. So I don’t know how much writing I’ll do, although I intend to keep writing about the Russian oil and gas business and the idiocy which characterises much of oil and gas recruitment. But if I find there is not much to write about I might start a few creative writing projects I’ve got in mind, and post the results on here from time to time.
And that’s the beauty of writing a blog, you can make it into whatever you like. And, maybe, it might just keep me sane. Do keep reading.