In 1996 I was living in Port Harcourt Nigeria with my (now ex) husband who worked in the oilfield services business. I only agreed to go live there if I could have something to do. There was a volunteer position at one of the schools so I agreed and off we went to Port Harcourt Nigeria, leaving behind small town East Texas.
The following is my newsletter that I sent to family and friends in Canada and the USA – a little nostalgia from Nigeria.
Tuesday, October 1st 1996
Greetings people of the Western World!!!
Today is Independence Day in Nigeria so it is a public holiday; however Buddy is working as usual. He did have last Sunday off (first day off since he’s been here) so we went out on Saturday evening with a couple I met at the school.
We went to Finesse – a club where they have a live band that plays a variety of music. One guy does a James Brown impression that is very good. So we had quite a few beers and were able to relax all day Sunday.
Here’s what’s been happening in Port Harcourt, Nigeria…
The work situation
I have been working at Trans-Amadi International School as the administrator since September 2. Basically, I take care of all of the accounting and make sure the office is running smooth – ha!ha!ha! – this is Nigeria after all.
Yesterday we had the following dilemmas:
- The radio did not work (and we have no phone – they rarely function)
- The water pump did not work
- The electrician who was supposed to be in at 10:00 didn’t arrive until 12:30
- The sanitation police (actually the government Department of Environment and Sanitation) visited the school (during break time!) to demand payment of 6,300 naira for 1996 sanitation tax. I thought they were four-one-nining us and I didn’t want to pay. 4-1-9 is the police code for robbery here – if someone is charging too much for something we say it’s a 4-1-9. We paid it after lengthy discussion – they said they would impound something from the school if we didn’t pay.
Anyhow, that was Monday morning and today is quiet and peaceful, I’ll be going off to the pool for the first time since I’ve been here.
It usually only takes about 10 – 15 minutes to get to work, however getting home can take 50 minutes during the go-slow. There are no traffic lights (2 actually, but they don’t work).
There are traffic police at most of the busy intersections, except when it’s pouring rain and they run for cover. They dress in orange shirts and black pants – everyone calls them yellow fever, but not to their face.
The roads – well some are paved – sort of – and some are just dirt and mud with huge dips in them (and an assortment of animals crossing the road) which makes for a slow but bumpy ride.
We don’t have to drive but Buddy usually drives on Sundays when traffic is not so bad. He even has a driver’s license – which I don’t think any of the hired drivers have. There’s no driving test given – you just pay 600 naira (approx $7.50).
There aren’t too many road signs, no speed limits signs, and no little lines painted on the roads.
Some interesting Nigerian driving rules:
- You may overtake a vehicle on the left or right.
- Driving on the sidewalk or walkway is permitted.
- You must honk your horn profusely.
- Some people flash their lights if they want to give someone the right of way and some people flash their lights when they want someone to get out of the way – rather confusing.
- You may drive on the wrong side of the road, provided you hold a few naira out the window to give to the police if they catch you.
If you don’t have a vehicle you may walk down the streets through the lanes of traffic – usually at intersections and go-slow areas – and sell stuff or beg for money.
What do they sell in the middle of the road, you ask? Well there are mints, oranges, clothes hangers, moth balls, calculators, scissors, socks, ties, toilet brushes, bath towels, kitchen towels, can openers (non-electric) eggs, pens, batteries, water, toothbrushes, newspapers, magazines, bananas, plantain chips and much more.
So being stuck in traffic is not so bad if you happen to need a toilet brush or some munchies. How many times have you been driving somewhere and suddenly remembered…damn!! I need a toilet brush, I wish someone would walk up to the car with an assortment of toilet brushes! Thus far I have purchased scissors, clothes hangers, mints, oranges, plantain chips, and kitchen towels.
When you do get home from work you probably have electricity. We do too but NEPA (officially National Electric Power Authority but we call it Neveh-Evah-Power-Anytime) only works sporadically; therefore we have a generator.
NEPA is so well organised that they will cut off your non-existent power if you haven’t paid your bill, but when you ask for the bill so that you can pay it they will tell you “it is not ready yet”. NEPA goes off 2 or 3 or more times a day, every day. Fortunately we don’t have to mess with the bills or the generator because someone else does that.
Well, life is good, someone else does the cooking, cleaning, laundry, ironing, shoe polishing, answers the door, the driving, some shopping, yard work, changing of lights bulbs and all maintenance, etc. So expect us to be quite helpless when we arrive back to your neck of the woods. We do mix our own drinks at home – we’re not totally helpless!
Food and drink
I do the most of the shopping now. I buy meat at the French butcher’s, bread at the Chinese bakery, groceries at an assortment of small, poorly stocked supermarkets, booze is purchased at a number of shops on a street dubbed ‘whiskey road’, cigarettes are purchased at the roadside kiosks. Here’s a price list for a few items (100 naira = approx $1.25 US):
That’s our report for this month. Here are some stories we’re going to cover next month:
- Going to the bank
- The markets
- Stuff you can’t get in Nigeria
- What lands on your roof when your Nigerian neighbour butchers a cow.
Hope all is well in your world, see you sometime but I don’t know when yet!
That was my newsletter covering the first few months in Port Harcourt Nigeria – I have one more newsletter that I will post soon – check back in a week or so to get all the news – from 1996 in Nigeria.
Do you save letters that people send you? I always do and I think a lot of people do although nowadays we usually send email which is quicker but not quite the same.