…..'A sense of humour lends you poise, it gives you balance and it helps you to bend without breaking'…..

(HH Pujya Gurudev Swami Chinmayananda)

Menory Lane - Knowing Nigeria... Lesson 3; expatriate life (insulation)

Picking up the potted history...this chapter began here.

Living in a country such as this brings experiences that would otherwise have passed one by.

The Benin Club, for example. There would have been a time when this was exclusively for expatriates, but now (fifteen or so years after independence) more affluent Nigerians also attended.

It was a place for business men to mingle and murmur, for their wives to arrange their pecking order and for the kids to play safely with minimal supervision. Food could be taken (club 'sandwich' was a firm favourite - never mind two layers, the BC often added a third to theirs), and drinks.  For the adults that was mostly Star Lager (local) or a well known imported Dutch brand.  For the kids it was non-alcoholic 'chapmans'.

It was also the key centre of entertainment outside the home.  Cinema under the stars (with lots of refreshment breaks due to power outage or reel breakage); bridge groups; chess groups; of course there was the pool...and the golf course.

Even the worst of us became reasonably proficient as this exercise was taken at least twice weekly. (That's mother under the blue thing.)

I had not played before and have rarely lifted a club since!  Not that I didn't like the game. In fact I rather loved playing, but back in 'the real world' course fees tend to be prohibitive. In Scotland (home of the game) there are the established links courses, which are free to play so an occasional round was made in later years...
I digress.

Outside the club, socialising was done almost entirely in each others' homes.  This could mean being exposed to things such as Croquet.  Oh yeah, there's a game to drive you as crazy as golf...

There were 'table' evenings, involving jigsaws, cribbage, whist and such like. 

Yours truly became part of a madrigal group. We did very little singing.  We were all playing recorders.  I was able to play all the various sizes and owned four (sopranino, descant, treble and tenor) and one other in the group had that flexibility. There were eight of us in total, but only five of us were die-hards, attending every session.  It was a weekly meet except when we were preparing for a performance.  We would entertain at the club mostly, but once in a while got invited to big events. Such as a visit by the British High Commissioner from Lagos.  That still looms large in memory.  I can recall being rather overawed by the presence of the man.  Everyone was on tenterhooks. Which meant we were focused; the 'set' went smoothly and was very well received by Sir Martin.

Certainly a high point in the time I spent there.  Photo right shows four members of the group. Patrick on the left was an archaeologist and his wife Lisa, a music teacher, was the driving force of the group; Chris and Liz were from the USA, both missionaries. Chris not only looks like John Denver, he could play the guitar and sing like him too! Mac1 had been learning guitar and with such influence on either side of me I also picked up this instrument.  It became clear there was no threat to anyone you could name, but it was useful round the odd campfire and barbecue as the years went on.  (Another thing that dropped away after the shift to OZ.)

It is an interesting thing, expatriate life. Particularly in places such as Nigeria.  This life was a 'hangover' from colonial times but it could be no other way really.  It was partly for familiar language, partly for familiar customs; a cohesive expatriate unit became as another tribe on the cultural landscape. It had its own level of politics though and there is no question that being forced to form relationships with folk whose path one would never cross outside of that country was a growth experience.  

Expatriate communities are necessarily there to insulate the group from the fierce external world. At risk of repetition I tell you; Nigeria was not an easy place to be.  That did not stop this inquisitive little bunny from wanting to explore. A way to do this arose...


  1. Although I have never experienced life in an 'expat' community (working in Oklahoma there was only one other Brit in the town so one had no option but to integrate, and language was only marginally a problem) these posts about Nigeria ring true and vivid.
    Cheers, Gail

  2. This is so interesting, Yam, and really a view into a vanished world. However from my limited experience I think expatriate life in general is still full of people having to learn to socialise with people they would never meet in any other circumstances.


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