Leaving after 18 months, Clementine Wallop pens an open letter to the country she fell in love with
After some time as your guest in Abuja, I wanted to thank you for teaching me:
Patience. If you’d told me I’d spend a year of my life waiting for a Nigerian visa, I might have backed out of the plan altogether and never made it to Abuja. I am glad I stuck with it. Now, if anyone wants to help with my next visa …
To thank God. Whether you have faith or not, this is a philosophy worth taking with you through life: be grateful for what you have. One night when I had no power, no water, no phone, no candles and my air con unit caught fire, a friend told me I should thank God my house didn’t burn down and that I had somewhere to sleep. She was right.
That a day can only be improved with a proper greeting. Say it with me: “How is your day?” “How was your night?”
The kindness of strangers. It made such a difference to hear people shout “I hope you’re enjoying Nigeria” at me in the street.
That the British Airways luggage allowance is a target every time you fly. However hard you try, there’ll always be someone with more than you (it might even be me).
That if someone passes you a baby on a plane, not to worry, just to give it a cuddle and wait for someone to take it off you again.
Your names — Christmas, Paradise, Endurance, Peculiar, Loveth — are the most beautiful around.
Always to light a candle when showering in a windowless bathroom. The day you forget is the day your power cuts when you have shampoo in your eyes.
Not to ask, but instead to admire, how a car got to Lagos from California still sporting US plates and bumper stickers. My favourite ever was the car claiming on its bumper to be driven by a Texan policeman, though what he was doing moonlighting as a Lagos cabbie is anyone’s guess.
Exactly where my limits are with pepper. The answer is somewhere after suya and before goat’s head soup. Don’t push it any further.
That akara (fried bean cakes) are God’s own breakfast. That eating three akara is fine, four is filling, five is piggy and six is unacceptable.
How to dress properly. I will never again think holes, frays or missing buttons are OK when out in public.
Overdressing is not a thing. Too many sparkles are not enough, pink is always better than black.
Politics is in everything. When your rubbish bin disappears under election posters, when every taxi driver knows which ministry the former governor of Rivers State should take on, then you know you’re in a place for political animals.
That no avocado tastes better than the one from your garden tree and no orange is better than a green orange from Benue State.
That a road trip is never complete without a tyre change.
That anything can be bought and sold. There’s a margin for everything so long as you’re skilled enough to find it.
To express gratitude, not annoyance, when someone says “Clementine, you have added – you look so fat.”
How to kill a cockroach in seconds.
That, unless you want to do the above, to check behind the shower curtain before you get in.
The true meaning of the word traffic.
That it’s OK to dance badly so long as you dance a bit, and that it’s OK to have people tell you while you’re dancing that you’re a terrible dancer because everyone knows oyinbo cannot dance.
The romance of Nigerian English. Never again will someone clear glasses from a table with the words “let me decongest this” or park the car saying “let me find some road that’s unencumbered”.
There is no journey a Toyota Camry cannot take on.
That if you need to feel relaxed, there’s Calabar. If you need to go wild, there’s Lagos. That if you want to see history, there’s Kano. That if you want natural splendour, there’s Plateau State or the confluence of the Niger and Benue at Lokoja. There are many Nigerias in Nigeria.
It doesn’t matter what it says your occupation is on paper because it’s all hustle. In my time here I have been a writer, a business advisor and a playschool teacher. I do not yet have a catfish farm but it must be a matter of time.
That what’s in the news should not cancel out the million things that make this country great. You are extraordinary.
My regards to your families,