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 19-year-old woman who is struggling with loneliness in London. She talks about moving to a new country without friends and family and how that has affected her outlook on life.
First things first, where are you?
I’m in London for school. I came here for my undergrad in January 2020 and I’m done, so I’m waiting for my Masters, which starts soon. I started my pre-degree in Lagos, at a school called Aptech, and then I came here to complete it.
Was that always the plan?
The plan was UNILAG, but that didn’t work out. I didn’t get in so I decided to finish my pre-degree, write JAMB again, go to UNILAG, and then come to London for my second undergrad. Along the line, I just decided I didn’t want to do the UNILAG plan again. I thought, “If I missed my cut off mark by two points the first time, maybe this is God saying I shouldn’t go to UNILAG.” So, I decided to leave.
What were your first impressions when you got to London?
I get lonely a lot. I dealt with loneliness a lot in Nigeria, but I could just get up and go to a friend’s house and I would feel less lonely in that moment. When I got here, I had a new surge of excitement. Everything felt different.
My friend came to pick me from the airport and I stayed in her family house until recently. She stayed in London for all of four days after I landed and then went back to the US. She was only around for the holidays. And that’s when the loneliness started again. There was nobody I could relate to on a personal level.
Everyday, I would come back home from school and just begin to cry. I hate cooking, but a lot of the time I would just get into the kitchen and begin to cook to distract myself. I also watched a lot of television just to feel like I was in the company of others. I tried looking for jobs outside and in school and every call and email I got was a rejection.
I started having group video calls with my friends in Nigeria everyday. A lot of the time, we wouldn’t even say anything for hours. It was just nice company. They were the only people I could talk to. At some point, the calls stopped. Everyone got busy.
That’s sad. How have you coped with it since then?
It’s been terrible. During lockdown, my social life took a downturn. I made my first friend before lockdown. She wasn’t just a party friend. We would usually sit and have deep conversations. But you know how when you make a new friend and you don’t spend so much time together, you might drift apart? Lockdown happened and we sort of drifted apart a bit, but we got back together and we’re really close now.
I started listening to a lot of Frank Ocean and Lana Del Rey.
Did it get depressing?
I wasn’t depressed. I was just lonely. I figured out that there’s a difference between depression and loneliness, and I accepted that I was just really lonely.
When did lockdown happen?
For me, lockdown happened earlier than the government imposed it. On a Monday morning in mid-March I went to school really early and I met an empty classroom. Nobody was there. Not even my teacher. Then I checked my phone and I saw an email saying that the government had cancelled classes. I freaked out, went back home, and decided not to go anywhere for the next few months. That was when lockdown started for me. In retrospect, I think I should have enjoyed the few days before the government imposed lockdown.I journaled every day of the lockdown just to help my mind.
So you finished school online?
Yes, and that didn’t give me the chance to make any friends.I graduated with a first class during a pandemic though and I can’t be quiet about it.
Congratulations. So when did you start going out again?
Before going out officially, my aunt used to send me to corner shops and I used to get really scared of catching the virus. The first time I officially went out was with my friend. We went to a park together on May 16th and got really drunk and high, but I haven’t seen her again after that.
Is that the only friend you have in London?
No, I have two. Before lockdown, me and this friend I already talked about went for a party and took a picture together. She used it as her WhatsApp profile picture and some guy who knew her from work, said I was really pretty and asked for my number. She asked me if she could give him and I was like, “If he has money, sure. I’m not looking for friendships where poverty will kill the both of us.” It turns out he does, so she gave him my number and we started talking.
At first, it was just supposed to be transactional sex. He’d pay me and if we both wanted sex, I’d collect the money. We were meant to go on a first date, but lockdown happened.
We just continued talking over the phone and texting, but you know when you talk to someone every day and get to know things about them, you get close. We talked for about three months and then one day, he just ghosted me and we didn’t talk for about one month. I totally forgot about him.
Then one day, I was doing my project and I just saw this random long email and it was basically him saying he was sorry, he had a mental breakdown and just decided to ghost everybody, and he knows I’ll probably never want to speak to him again. I was just sitting there, smiling and reading the mail. It felt good. That was the best thing I’d seen all day. I’d stopped talking to people because they ghosted me but this one just felt different. We agreed to meet at a park and that was the first time we met. It was nice.
How about the transactional sex thing?
We have sex but I would not call it transactional. He gives me money. He’s my rich friend. We talk and share problems with each other.
Cool. What’s your daily life like now that you’re done with school?
I work at a pub. You’d think you have people skills until you work in hospitality. Right now, I hate people. Almost everyday, my manager comes to tell me to smile because people are complaining that I don’t look approachable. I look at people and want to break glasses on their heads because they’re so annoying.
I’m almost always on night shifts. Today, I have a night shift, which is why I have the audacity to wake up by 12am with a hangover. On days like these, I wake up, pray and then just play with my phone and watch time pass until I’m ready for work.
On most of my off days, I see my rich friend.We typically just go out for drinks and talk. Sometimes we have sex. Sometimes I call my friends in Nigeria to give them updates about my life. My life is pretty boring for a 19-year-old.
What do you do at the pub?
At the pub where I work, there are no specific roles. Some days you could be running drinks, some days you could be the host, you could work at the table, you could dispense and some days you could be cleaning tables.
I hate cleaning tables and running drinks because I’d have to interact with people.
Men are disgusting when they get drunk. They call me over and start trying to get me to smile and then when I give them a small fake smile they get really happy and start saying stuff like, “You’re so pretty when you smile” and all of that. It’s super annoying.
I don’t get as much free drinks and tips as my colleagues, but oh well.
What do you hate about being in London?
The fact that my friends are not here. No one ever tells you about the loneliness that comes with being abroad. I wasn’t prepared for this. It might have been different without the lockdown because I was going out and meeting people but, it is what it is.
What’s the best thing about being in London?
The best thing about being in London is that I can do almost anything I want without having to take permission from my parents. For instance, I got a belly button piercing. There’s still a lot of things that I can’t do because I need money from them. For example, I’d like to visit Lagos for one week. I just want to be at a place that feels like home.
What’s the most British thing ever?
The rave culture. You’ll just be wondering why there is a party in the afternoon with green and red light and white people music.
Do you want to come back to Nigeria?
I don’t want to come back to settle down in Nigeria. I want to come back for holidays and meet my guys, not settle down.
Do you think London is a place where you want to settle down?
No. Maybe somewhere in Europe, but not London.
London is great but it’s so expensive.You’re walking down the road and you don’t know what you’ve done, but believe me £20 is gone. Apart from that, it doesn’t feel like it could ever be home for me.
Do you still cry because you’re lonely?
Right now I want to say it’s a combination of loneliness and stress. At work, I just go into the toilet, sit on the floor, cry, clean my eyes, go out and continue working. But yesterday I cried before I slept. Everyday of my life, all I try to do is not cry.
Do you think it might get out of hand at some point?
I don’t think so. I have my moments. I wasn’t crying two weeks ago. But sometimes, I just switch moods. That’s just what’s wrong with me right now the moment, when I figure it out I’ll get back to normal.
I’m doing all this adult stuff on my own, you know.
I have also learnt to tell people that I love them. That helps me appreciate the people I have around me.
I’ve had friendships that ended recently because of trivial issues and that’s just made me appreciate people more.
What’s a Nigerian reality that affects your abroad life?
Paying rent every month. I’m just thinking if we had to pay rent every month in Nigeria people would be under bridges.
This might be strange, but another thing is getting flowers. The first time I got flowers, the Nigerian in me was like, “What is this nonsense?” But outwardly, I was gushing and I didn’t even know.
Do you get a lot of flowers?
My rich friend gives me flowers.
I forgot to talk about my modelling “career” in London.
I want to hear about it
I was so excited to come to London because I had other options. Dubai, Malta and Mauritius were my other options. But I chose London because I thought I’ll have more opportunities to model here.
I even stopped going for castings in Lagos like 8 months before I was to travel. Then I got here, sent my snapshots to so many agencies, and walked into some agencies as well. And every single time I got back home or got a response mail, the only thing I could do was convince myself not to cry. I stopped trying though. I’m too stressed.
Yeah. Transitioning from an adolescent to an adult is really difficult. But it’s worse when you’re doing it alone. I think going to a whole new place without family shows you life from a whole new perspective and you can’t ever see life the way you used to.
One year ago, we left Nigeria for an 80-day adventure across West Africa. Something is coming. Unshared stories. New perspectives. Limited series. 10 episodes. Jollofroad.com