…..'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 4; expatriate life (breaking out)

What's this about?  Look here!

Keeping busy was important to psychological and emotional health whilst living in Nigeria. That is part of why the expatriate community clubbed together (see yesterday's post). Remember, this was the 1970s.  Even the cost of a trunk call to home countries had to be weighed against life and death.  No mobiles, no internet (crikey, no computers!)... Letter writing and journaling became a daily activity.  The hobbies of card, matchbox and stamp collecting took a serious turn.  During that time I had only the Kodak Instamatic camera (hence the poor quality of the photos you've been getting!) but I used it as often as I could.  I had to pay for my own film and processing.  This was managed by earning money working in the father's office.  Mainly this was typing and filing duties, but I was also permitted to gain experience in technical drawing (under strict supervision!), wages and accounts, even radio operations.  This was how long distance communications were maintained.  

"Benin to Auchi, Benin to Auchi, are you receiving? Over..."

My chats with Emmanuel and John the gardener, as well as other Nigerians, had me wondering why more effort was not made by expatriates to move beyond the insulation of the club and house parties.  Yes, business life was excruciating for many of the engineers and surveyors, oilmen and bankers and such.  Absolutely nothing could be done without 'dash', that insidious system which works along the lines of 'if you want me to blink, it requires this many Naira...'

There was one long-term expat with whom I found a good rapport who mentioned that he had once been involved in The Nigerian Field Society.  The Benin branch had ceased functioning due to stalwarts departing and newbies lacking in interest and commitment.

With his help and two or three others though, we managed to revive the NFS. 

I was the appointed secretary and would write letters to various places to enquire as to whether groups might visit.  The museum and the zoo were there for the wandering, but to do so as a group and with a guide explaining things in rather more depth added much to our visits. Our focus was to learn and absorb as much as possible of Nigerian history, culture and natural habitat as we could.  

It was with the NFS that we got back-shop tour of the Benin bronzeworks; our resident archaeologist Patrick was able to give us deep insight to the value of the Benin Walls (that's a better link than I gave you before!) as that was the focus of his PhD work. That's him left, enjoying the ever safe and tasty banana and bread. He had the sweetest tooth and it was Mac3 who reminded me that Pat used to make his tea syrup-like with endless spoons of sugar. Strange, the snippets which stick with us!  

In the background here you see a group round a table; the villagers had put on corn to roast and were demonstrating how over-ripe, lightly fermented bananas were used as leaven for our favourite bread.  (I have tried in vain to find that particular recipe.) There was also snake, porcupine and other such joys for the brave to try out.

We had tours of wood mills (mostly mahogany and iroko was harvested and floated down the Benin river to the Niger and then on to Port Harcourt); production tours of palm oil and rubber; we experienced the dug out canoe and village life; learned about Juju faith and something of its practice; visited anomalous savanna (a patch of grassland in the middle of jungle); we watched birds, butterflies, beetles and bugs...

Juju dancers (left) and shrine (right).

Oil Palm

Savannah resident praying mantis

...and using them to reach a village

...can you see the butterflies buzzing in front of us here - little blurs by our knees. At this spot we were having to swat them away!

Dipping one's hot and tired feet was a risky business.  I mentioned bugs.  Bilharzia was a possible threat.  Then again, so were a million other things.


  1. So, burning question remains. What didn't you do or learn in Nigeria? Not a facetious question, I'm sure you were excluded from much of the daily life outside the pale, but you did keep as involved as any teenager in the lives around you.

  2. Life has changed so much in the last couple of years as far as communications and photos are concerned .
    You had to consider if a photo was worthwhile before you took it and developing was such a expense and I remembering looking forward to the photos and they all came out black sometimes they didn't charge you mostly you were charged something.
    When I was a child my world was very small everyone I knew lived close by now i know people all over the world, computers have opened things up a lot.

  3. Hari OM
    Joanne - well lots actually! When I look at all the things missed and how I might do things differently now it starts to twist my head...

    Merle - isn't that just it? It would be so easy to forget how constrained we were and how it forced us to so much more stay in the spot! I'm glad I have got to meet you this weay....

  4. Oh Yam, your photos are amazing. They are a look at days gone by, a piece of history so to speak. But do tell, the first two photos in your post, the one on the right. It looks like some enchanted place with a giant woodland creature looking on. I love it! It would make a great book cover. Can you tell it has sparked my imagination?

  5. Such memories! I led such a boring childhood!


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