A Week In The Life” is a weekly Zikoko series that explores the working-class struggles of Nigerians. It captures the very spirit of what it means to hustle in Nigeria and puts you in the shoes of the subject for a week.
The subject of today’s A Week In The Life is a 21-year-old cleaner. She tells us about the tedium associated with her job, her plans to attend the university, and why she’s not ashamed to post about her job on social media.
It’s 4:50 a.m., and I’m just getting ready to leave my house — official resumption time is 6:00 a.m., but because I live on the mainland and work on the island, it’s normal for me to leave home by this time. I can’t afford to be late for this job because it could be worse and I could be unemployed.
In this Lagos, we’re all hustling one way or the other. I work at the bank, a privately owned business, so I have to show up early to finish cleaning before customers start to troop in at 8:00 a.m. In this line of work, you have to find ways to balance the early hour commute and your faith. So the first thing I do when I get to work around quarter to five a.m. is to pray my Fajr prayers. I think Muslims who live on the mainland and work on the Island learn how to navigate this balance.
Once I’m done with my prayers, I start my work for the day. My office is a five-storey building, and each cleaner is responsible for a floor — this means you have to sweep, mop, wash the toilets, clean the glasses, tidy up the offices and ensure that you’re on top of the cleanliness of that entire floor. Whatever tasks you have to do, you must be done by 8:00 a.m. before the first set of bank customers arrive.
Over the course of the day, I monitor the surroundings and tidy up any litter customers may have discarded. I re-arrange stray deposit and withdrawal slips. I empty the bins of discarded bank receipts, and I monitor the toilets and ensure that they’re still clean. Additionally, I’m on standby in case of any work that comes up.
These are the tasks that I have to repeat several times in a day, at least, until when I get off at 6 p.m., after which I start my journey back to the mainland. If I’m lucky and there’s no traffic, which is rare, I’ll be home by 7:30 p.m. Otherwise, I’ll get in as late as past 10:00 p.m. Even though it’s late, I feel safer at night than in the morning because I get to see other people on the street. I guess what they say is true: Lagos is the city that never sleeps or more like the city that sleeps very late.
I’m lucky enough to have a job I can wake up to resume every day, which is helpful because Nigeria is a mess. I’ve been unemployed before, and I know how difficult it can be to stay home without doing anything.
The day started off scary: I had to trek to my bus stop alone. Because I leave my house early, and my bus stop is quite a distance from home, I have someone who volunteers to walk me halfway until it’s safe enough to go alone. My area is full of bad boys who can just seize your phone. I’m usually scared because I don’t have power for wahala. The alternative would be to take okada to the bus stop but the early morning price will finish the little money I’m managing, so it’s better I just trek.
As I was going to the bus stop alone today I just kept praying for God’s protection. The road was empty and quiet so I held my breath and prayed inside my head. I didn’t breathe until I saw one more person on the road with me. I’ve never been happier to see a stranger in my life. At least if something happened to me, someone would be able to help or call for help.
Work was pretty much the same: clean, mop and tidy surroundings. After I was done with morning tasks, things slowed down considerably. At some point I even found myself comparing my 9-5 with my side job of cleaning people’s houses over the weekend. For that one, I’ll wash plenty plates. Then I’ll sweep and mop everywhere in the house. I’ll also wash the bathroom and toilet and ensure I scrub the walls, the water closet and the surroundings. Then I’ll face the room and arrange the wardrobe and fold clothes. If there are dirty clothes I’ll wash and spread them when I’m done. I always make sure that by the time I’m leaving that house, I’ve spent over 5 straight hours transforming it into a paradise.
If I had my way, I’d clean only new apartments for people who want to move in because cleaning houses is way more tedious than my 9-5. At the end of the day, I also realise that I should be grateful. The country is hard and the extra ₦1500 — ₦2500 I get paid every Saturday for cleaning houses is better than nothing.
I’m at home by 7:30 p.m. today. In addition to the fact that I had a crazy long day of Lagos traffic, something interesting happened at work. While running an errand for a bank staff at the supermarket, I got into a small change wahala. The supermarket attendant told me she didn’t have change and was grumbling about the big money I gave to her. In a bid to help her, and because I wore my cleaners uniform to the store, her colleague tried to call my attention by saying, “Hey Cleanway” — which is my company’s name.
I felt weird.
I was wondering if that’s my name and why she didn’t say “hey young lady” or “hey sister.” Why did she have to call me like that? But again, I shouldn’t have been too surprised because I’ve gotten used to people looking down on cleaners. You’d greet people and they’ll not respond. Supermarket attendants also won’t attend to you properly. I’ve mostly trained myself not to be bothered by these things because I understand the society we live in can be somehow.
I also console myself with the fact that I won’t do this job forever. It’s only a stepping stone until I get to the next level for me. I’ve made a promise that when I leave this job, I won’t treat people anyhow or make them feel bad for doing menial jobs. As long as it’s an exchange of service, everyone deserves respect, whether they’re wearing fine cloth or not. The same respect you’ll give someone driving a car should also be extended to people doing manual labour.
I know many people who ask me how I’m surviving on a cleaner’s salary. The truth is that I’m surviving. Last year, I was working as a nursery school teacher earning ₦10,000 per month. Out of the money, ₦9500 would hit my account because the school would remove some silly charges. With this job, I’m earning at least three times that which is an upgrade.
I remember staying at home for three months during the pandemic and not getting paid because in private schools, no work, no pay. As a teacher, my salary barely paid my bills but now I can take care of my needs, save some money and even send some money to my siblings.
This job has also changed my perspective. Working in the office environment and seeing young bank staff who are well to do and struggling for their future motivates me to do more. I’m currently waiting for admission to study computer engineering at the university. I don’t know where the money for school will come but I will rough it. I also don’t know where job after graduation will come, but I will still attend university. If I don’t get a job, I’ll be self-employed. Inshallah.
As I was telling my colleague today, this job is tough. Some people complain that we don’t go on leave and that we get only weekends and public holidays off. But to me, because I’ve worked other jobs where I got only Sunday off, and even worked on public holidays, this job is the best for me — it pays my bills and keeps me motivated. I can’t in good conscience complain too much.
I don’t know how it was for previous generations, but peer pressure in my generation is crazy. This is one of the reasons why I post my pictures on social media wearing my cleaner uniform. I hope it motivates someone to understand that they’re doing fine at the stage of life they are. As long as they’re trying their absolute best. I appreciate being honest about who you are and what stage you are at in life.
Today, my colleague was shocked when she saw me posting photos of myself in uniform on social media. At first, I thought it was because of the company’s policy, but it turned out to be because of the nature of the job. According to her, menial jobs and social media don’t go together. I just told her that people would either like or hate my picture and they’ll be fine.
My motto is to be grateful in whatever situation you find yourself in. God sees everything and one day, you’ll get to live the life you truly want.
I take comfort in the fact that my future is bright. I’m going to be useful not only to myself but to society at large. There are a lot of people who need hope, who need someone to reassure them, who need charity and I want to be that person. I want to put a smile on people’s faces. I also want to expand this cleaning service to become a cleaning company while combining it with a fruitful career as a computer engineer. Most importantly, I want my story to be the reason why people in my generation aren’t afraid to express the fullness of their humanity.
Until that time, I’m going to put my head down and do the work. Tomorrow, the hustle continues.