Navigating life as a woman in the world today is interesting. From Nigeria to Timbuktu, it’ll amaze you how similar all our experiences are. Every Wednesday, women the world over will share their experiences on everything from sex to politics right here. This is Zikoko’s What She Said.
This week’s #ZikokoWhatSheSaid subject is a 40-year-old Nigerian woman. She talks about being married to a man she loves but feeling like a single mother, why divorce is not an option for her and the one thing that made her happy in the last month.
What’s something about life you’re enjoying?
This phase I’m in. My birthday is coming up, and I got the best news a few days ago.
Want to share?
Yeah. I just got a loan to purchase my first home. It’s something I’ve spent the last five years praying for. When I saw my approval email at 3 a.m., I couldn’t contain my joy. I’ve worked at a law firm for six years, and I’m currently at a managerial level, so the loan will be taken out from my salary over the next 15 years.
Congratulations! I know buying a home is amazing, but what exactly makes this moment so significant for you?
I lost hope in being able to do big things for myself, like affording a house, towards the end of last year. Three of my very close university friends decided to go on vacation with their husbands and kids. But I haven’t been able to afford a trip outside Nigeria with my family since 2012, our first and only holiday.
I believe in living life according to my pocket, but I felt disappointed in myself for not giving my two kids memories I didn’t have as a kid.
What kind of memories?
I just want my kids to never have to wonder why I couldn’t provide certain things their friends had.
My parents had nine kids; seven girls and two boys. They weren’t rich enough to always cater for us, so I hoped I could save my kids from the need to pick and choose what they could get as treats and when.
I hated begging my dad to give me money to braid my hair in secondary school. It upset me to see other girls walk around with their neatly woven cornrows.
My daughter has never had to stress about her hair, but she’s asked me questions like why we don’t have a house where she can play outside. And she’s just eight.
What did you say?
She ended her interrogation with “Mum, that’s what I’ve been praying for every night.” I just told her I’m praying as well.
Some people may look at it as her being spoiled, but to me, that’s just a girl hoping her mum can give her a safe space to run around. Right now, we live in a rented apartment, and I don’t feel comfortable with either her or my son playing outside. Everything ends on our tiny balcony in Port Harcourt.
What stopped you from meeting up with your expectations?
The one thing I can blame myself for is choosing to have my kids before leaving the country. If I could go back to being 28, I’d tell myself to push for getting a master’s degree in Canada and a residency before getting pregnant.
Even when I had a miscarriage with my first child, I wanted to get pregnant again to prove I was capable of carrying children.
Why did you feel that way?
I honestly don’t know. My mum had a miscarriage when I was seven and was able to have my brother within the next year. Maybe I felt I had to do the same.
I also didn’t want my husband to feel disappointed because his mother started to come around too often. She claimed it was to check on me, but a part of me doubted it. It’s not like she said anything. My own expectations of myself played on my emotions.
But you wanted to move to Canada before the first baby, so why didn’t you try again after?
My husband didn’t believe we needed to live outside the country. He’s an engineer who thinks he can somehow fix Nigeria’s issues. It’s been 11 years since our first child, and he’s barely been able to support us as a family.
Was travelling something you’d talked about before getting married?
Yes. I was clear on wanting to move to Canada for my master’s and hopefully build a family there. I was open from the start. And he was also fine with moving to Canada for better opportunities as an engineer after his master’s degree in Cyprus.
So what changed?
When he graduated in 2012, he decided to move back to Nigeria. He didn’t particularly enjoy being in Cyprus and felt he could get better job offers here, and possibly set up an engineering firm to earn even more money.
For someone who’d trained outside the country, we expected ₦300k would be the minimum offer from companies. As for his company, the plans never came through. It was one dead-end deal to another. He was an intelligent man, but I quickly realised he wasn’t smart enough to translate all of that intelligence into money.
When he finally got a job with a decent compensation package in 2014, the company was in Lagos. It was far from where we lived, but I couldn’t tell him not to take it.
Besides, I thought his job was temporary. But when three years went by with no concrete feedback on a savings plan for Canada, I knew I had to just give up on it.
He never said Canada was out of the plans, but I felt taking that job meant he was no longer interested in us trying. And I didn’t want to tell him not to take the job after two years of searching.
Why didn’t you consider moving to Lagos?
Living in Lagos was never my plan. I wasn’t going to uproot my whole life because he found a job. I had a job where we lived, and I wasn’t willing to give that up either.
Did you ever try to initiate the migrating process on your own?
Yes. After my second child in 2014, I tried applying for my master’s. But I didn’t get an admission offer. After trying twice, I gave up. I figured the best thing to do was make it possible for my children to travel.
I’ve accepted my husband is more interested in himself than me or the kids. We’ve tried visiting him, but it costs much more for me to travel with two kids. And because of his job, he only comes around for holidays, like a visitor.
How did you come to this conclusion?
When he visits, all he does is wake up to watch football without considering I may need help with the kids. I can’t even remember the last time I got a birthday gift from my husband, all I get is a “Happy birthday” text. We’re practically strangers because we don’t talk about much beyond what the kids need financially.
Have you talked about the distance?
I’ve asked him to search for a job in Port Harcourt, but he’s adamant there are no better offers out here. The conversation typically ends with the kind of network he wants to build is in Lagos.
Before he got back to the country in 2012, it made sense we were in a distant marriage. Whenever anyone asked why he wasn’t at school functions or even when the kids asked why their dad wasn’t home and never picked them up from school like their friends, I could easily tell them he was in a different country for his master’s degree. But the current distance doesn’t make any sense. Lagos isn’t the only place with good jobs.
And you’ve brought up this conversation?
Too many times. I’ve also asked about the business he planned to set up, but he keeps saying building a network takes time. It’s been eight years since he moved and nothing has happened. I just think he’s become too comfortable with his salary and doesn’t want to admit that to me. But I can only get answers if he wants to open up to me.
Before I started my loan application process for my house in 2020, I brought up the conversation about moving back to Port Harcourt for the sake of our marriage. That’s when he told me about the property he bought in Lagos as an investment.
And that was news to you?
Yes. He wasn’t consulting me on the plan, he was telling me. At that point, I just let him go on and on about the blocks of flats he wants to build. What more was there to say? I stopped sharing my plans or asking him about his after that. There was no point.
I’m really sorry.
Thanks. Before I got married, my mum warned me about marrying a Delta man from Warri. She’d done the same and felt my father could’ve given us a better life if he worked harder.
She felt most men from his tribe were the same: laid back and never cared for their families. It’s not that my father didn’t love my mother, but she felt her life would’ve been better if she hadn’t spent so much time working to make up for the financial needs of nine children with his menial earnings from farming.
But you convinced her to trust your decision?
Yes. I told her the man I’d found was different. But clearly, he changed along the way. When my mother died, I decided it was best to focus on myself and the kids rather than forcing someone to be different.
I didn’t want to end up in that same regret before she passed in 2018.
Why not get a divorce?
I still have some hope. I’m living life as a single mother in my head, but I’m hoping he decides to change. And if he doesn’t, I’ve been actively putting money aside for my kids. I’m putting them in the best schools because I want them to get into a university abroad.
You’re taking on the financial burden alone?
No, I make sure he covers the children’s school fees and our house rent. He’s always willing to compromise on the standard of the school or house, but I put my foot down or add my money when he makes things difficult.
When it comes to running expenses like food, clothes and extra-curricular activities for the kids, I cover that.
And who takes care of you?
Me. Canada didn’t work out because I wasn’t as strong-willed as I am today, but I still want my life here in Nigeria to be comfortable. That’s why getting the loan that’ll help me purchase my first house is so significant to me. It’ll be my first asset.
People have questioned me for buying a car and house for myself, but I’m proud of it. Though things are tough right now, I’m holding on to what my life could be like in ten years: travelling, cars, homes and two kids who have lives I could’ve only dreamed of. That’s all that matters to me.
I really hope you get everything you’re hoping for
I will. I may be achieving all of this later than my friends, but I can’t focus on lost time.