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.
The subject of this week’s What She Said is a 25-year-old Nigerian woman who has travelled to over fifteen countries alone. She talks about how this love for travelling started, the way she’s stigmatised at airports and in hotels, and her dream to attend aviation school.
What was growing up like?
Life was good until I turned seven. When my parents were together, I travelled abroad every holiday, including Easter and mid-term breaks. I was happy. Our house was always so lively because of the parties we had, and I had a lot of friends.
However, things changed when my dad started beating my mum. Eventually, he sent her away. It was just me and my dad for a while, until I ran away to be with my mum.
After my dad sent my mum out of the house, he instructed security to never let her in again. The day I ran, my mum had come to visit me, and when security informed my dad she was around, he ignored them.
I remember taking my shoes, sneaking out the back door and running through the compound to the gate. By the time security realised what was happening, I was outside the gate. I hopped into my mum’s car, and she drove off.
A few days later, we had to return to pick up my school uniform and some other clothes.
Wow. How did your dad feel about you running away?
He wanted me to come back. He even bribed me with gifts. I would collect them but still not go back to his house.
There was a time he sent me to live with his sister in the UK. I wasn’t going to school or anything, just staying with my aunt. Eventually, my mum came to the UK and took me back with her to Nigeria. I don’t know why, but he just wanted to take me away from my mum.
I’m not his only child. He has a son with another woman, but we did not grow up together and I barely spent any time with him partly because he is nineteen years older than me. Up until 2014/2015, I told everyone I was an only child.
How did your parents eventually settle fighting over you?
I made my decision and stopped accepting anything from him. The only thing he did for me was pay my school fees. At a point he even stopped funding my baby girl trips, but my mum did for a while until she couldn’t anymore.
What are these baby girl travels and why couldn’t she fund them anymore?
My baby girl travels are the trips I take out of Nigeria every year. My dad stopped funding them when I was 10 and my mum continued. My mum sold jewellery, clothes and even drinks.
Then in 2012, she stopped because the country got worse. Business wasn’t as good anymore, so she couldn’t afford the trips.
How did you cope with that?
Well, I had just gotten into university and knew I had to continue the lifestyle by myself. I started looking for loans, but nobody wanted to give a broke student money.
Growing up, I was usually given expensive things or taken to luxurious places. Once you taste luxury, you would do almost anything to keep it. There are places I can’t eat because I don’t feel comfortable. I never used to eat street food because my mum told me that I would get food poisoning. The first day I tried it in university, I actually did have food poisoning. I only recently started buying roasted corn outside. When I was younger, we used to plant corn and roast on the grill ourselves.
When the loans didn’t work out, I started looking for jobs. I reached out to one of my dad’s friends who helped me get a job as a personal assistant to one of his friends. I had to remind him about his meetings and schedule his flights for him. It was a remote job and he paid me ₦99k a month.
Why 99k? Why not 100k?
He said 100k was too much money for a young girl, so he removed the 1k. When he relocated to the US, he started paying me in dollars.
How long did it take before you could travel again?
It took two years before I could go on my next trip. In 2014, I travelled to three different countries in one summer because I asked my aunt for money. Luckily for me, she had enough money to spare, so she agreed.
When she asked for the cost of the trip, I increased the price. That’s how I was able to go to London for a week, Dubai for four days, and Paris for two days.
E for Enjoyment. Did your aunt keep funding your trips?
No, she didn’t. I picked up three other jobs as well. The same friend of my dad’s that helped me get the PA job called me up one day and after asking me a few questions, asked for my email address.
I lied a bit and claimed I could do some of the things he asked, so I had to do a lot of research on the job. When I checked my email, there was a job waiting for me. The email contained three documents. My job description, payment information and an NDA.
What was the job about?
If I tell you, I would have to kill you. The second job was because I was recommended by the first company. Both jobs paid in dollars and helped fund my baby girl lifestyle.
Where are the places you have travelled to?
I go to Abuja steadily. My excuse is to buy kilishi and suya, but it’s actually because I just need to be on a plane. Dubai is my second home, Greece is my third and London is my fourth. I have also been to the US, UAE, France, Russia, Jamaica, Rwanda, Serbia, Italy, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, China, Mexico, Bahamas, South Africa, Kenya, and many more. I love to travel because I love being on planes.
Are there countries or cities you’ve wanted to travel to but couldn’t?
Nope. There are, however, places I want to go but would not want to pay for the trip myself. I want to go to the Maldives or Santorini, but I’m waiting for my next significant other to pay for the trip for me.
Another way I’ve been able to travel so much is because the men I have dated usually pay for some of them. The goal is to travel to all the countries in the world.
Wow. When did you discover you loved planes so much?
One day when I was about five or six, I was on a solo night flight. It was the period my dad sent me to live in the UK with my aunt. Since my mum was not coming with me, I travelled alone. There was a lot of turbulence and people crying, shouting and praying that the plane shouldn’t crash. I wasn’t scared. One of the flight attendants came to sit with me so I wouldn’t be scared, but I told her not to worry and she left.
The seat belt sign was on, but I took off my seatbelt and started walking around, holding on to chairs the way I saw the flight attendants do. I even went to people crying and tried to calm them down.
The flight attendant saw me and yelled at me to go back, so I did. When we landed, she asked me why I wasn’t scared despite all the turbulence. I told her that I felt safe, and I knew planes crashed, but that particular one wouldn’t. I listed all the possible reasons why other planes like it crashed and why the crash rate was so low.
She took me to the flight deck and I saw the captain, the first officer and all the buttons. The flight attendant told him what I did, and he made me sit in his chair and put his cap on my head. I cried because I was so happy. At that point, I knew planes were my obsession.
That sounds so cool. That means you’ve been travelling alone for a while now. What’s that like?
Well, people are constantly asking strange questions.
At the embassy, they ask how I pay for my trips. Before I divorced my now ex-husband, the process was easier because I’d just say he was the one paying for it.
A lot of my flights are paid for by the company I work for, and I usually fly first class or business class. Getting visas that way isn’t really difficult because it’s a work trip.
My personal trips are easier because I have a very long travel history that started when I was a child.
I never feel safe travelling alone because men have harassed me physically and verbally. They assume I’m a prostitute because I travel alone. At the airport, people call me ashewo.
When I check-in at the hotels, the hotel staff ask if I’m expecting anyone else even after I’ve told them I’m travelling alone.
It does sound exhausting. I’m so sorry. Now, what’s next for you?
I am saving to attend aviation school. It costs about seven million naira, but it is my dream.
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