The Nigerian experience is physical, emotional and sometimes international. No one knows it better than our features on #TheAbroadLife, a series where we detail and explore Nigerian experiences while living abroad.
Today’s subject on Abroad Life is a 56-year-old woman who left Nigeria in 2008 because of marital problems. She talks about her marriage, leaving suddenly, settling in Ireland and why she can’t wait to return home.
When did you first decide that you wanted to leave Nigeria?
I decided that I wanted to leave when it became the only option to escape my bad marriage. I’d lived in Lagos all my life and I was a nurse approaching the pinnacle of my career. But I had to run away.
I became a second wife. I had a child for the first person I was in love with and he ran away, so I started losing hope that I could ever get married especially since I was a single mother. When a suitor approached me asking me to be his second wife, I thought it was a good idea. My friends tried to persuade me not to marry him. They even tried to persuade him not to marry me, but we eventually got married.
In ten years, I had two children with him, but he never really loved me. I found out that he just wanted to tick the box that he’d married a second wife because there was pressure on him to do so. His family also didn’t treat me well.
When his health started deteriorating, I became the person who took care of the family’s needs. He was retired and didn’t have any savings, his first wife had depended on him financially too and she had four children. I started taking care of a diabetic man, his wife and their four children in a home where I wasn’t loved or appreciated. It was too much.
Damn. When did you finally leave?
Before I left Nigeria, I already got a job in Ireland as a nurse. It was in 2008 and I was 42. A former colleague of mine had left Nigeria for Ireland, gotten a job as a nurse and saw the opportunity for others to join him, so he sent forms to whoever was interested. I filled the forms, sent them back and he helped with the rest of the process.
The only people that knew were my sister and very few friends. When I was leaving, I told my husband that I was going on vacation in Ireland. It was from here I had my divorce papers sent to him.
How did that go?
It went very smoothly. No hassles.
Wait. Did you leave with your children?
No, I didn’t. They stayed with a relative until 2010 when they joined me. There was still some uncertainty in my mind when I was leaving, and I didn’t want to take them with me until I was sure that it was the place where I was going to settle. I spoke with them on the phone a lot and visited Nigeria in 2008 and in 2009, so it wasn’t like I was totally cut off from them.
That makes sense. What was settling in Ireland like?
Before I left, even though I already had a job, I had to pass my IELTS. When I got here, I had to do seven weeks of something they call adaptation. It’s a period where you’re monitored to see if you have the skills to be a nurse here. If you pass, you stay. If you fail, you have to go back.
I always like to tell people, if you are not a lazy nurse in Nigeria, working here will be easy for you. The first time I was told that breaks were compulsory, I was shocked. You could burn out easily in Lagos, but here, there are processes for everything. Sometimes, the processes can be overt, because right now I can’t remember the last time I gave injections. You have to get special training for that. You have to get special training for everything.
What’s Ireland like now, 13 years later?
It’s very boring and lonely. There are a lot of people here that want to return to Nigeria very badly but don’t want to be in a place where there’s no security, the economy is bad and there’s no proper infrastructure in place. I’m looking forward to returning to Nigeria at some point and settling there. I miss home so much.
Another person might have a different view of this though. There are a lot of people here that take advantage of Ireland’s social welfare system. People, even Nigerians, come here and make up stories about threats to their lives so they can seek asylum. Those people don’t want to leave. The government houses them and sorts them out, gives them everything they need.
It’s crazy that the more you work, the more you’re taxed, but people can just claim unemployment and have the government take care of them. It happens way more than you’d imagine.
My Irish friends complain about it a lot. They say the government encourages laziness and I agree. People weigh the options: have a job and pay tax or be unemployed and have the government take care of you, and they choose the latter. I work three jobs, and I’m taxed heavily.
How do you cope with the loneliness?
I watch Netflix, play a lot of competitive Scrabble against random people online and go on walks. Occasionally, I visit my friends in other cities.
Do you ever see yourself returning to Nigeria?
By the grace of God, I’ll come back home. If I win the lottery, I’ll go home immediately.
Haha… what if you don’t?
When I retire, I’ll go back to Nigeria.
Do your children want to come back?
They’re Irish citizens, so they have choices. My daughter is in Nigeria. She loves being in Nigeria. My sons are here.
What do you miss the most about Nigeria?
I miss the food so much. I want to be able to step out and buy suya or go to a bukka and eat real Nigerian-made food. We have Nigerian food here, but I miss the real Nigerian food. I miss my friends so, so much. I travel home often, but I still miss them. I also really miss the hustle and bustle of Lagos. The owambes. There’s always something interesting to do or witness in Lagos. You can just stand in front of your gate or on your front porch, and something interesting will happen. Here, if I stand in front of my house, I’d probably be the only one outside on the entire street.
Do Nigerian nurses still have the same opportunities you had?
Definitely. Nursing is a high demand profession so people searching for greener pastures still come here for work. I know two people that have come here in the past year and are continuing their careers as nurses.