A Week in the Life of a Hostel Caretaker Enduring Occasional Tenant Madness

April 19, 2022

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 the caretaker of a hostel close to a university that houses 45 self-con rooms. He talks about the chaos of his job, managing difficult tenants and his dream to japa one day.

A week in the life of hostel caretaker

I usually wake up around 6:30 to 7 a.m., but sometimes it can be earlier. My family and I live in one of the rooms in the same building where I work, and I work seven days a week, so I can’t separate work from life. 

Tenants usually wake me up for one thing or the other. Sometimes it could be that water finished overnight and a tenant is calling me first thing in the morning because they have to bathe and go to work. So I have to get up, put on the gen and pump water. Or maybe someone’s shower got blocked and I need to call a plumber as soon as possible. There are 45 self-contain rooms in this building, so problem no dey finish. But thank God this morning is problem-free so I can sleep till 8 a.m. 

My daughter is at her grandma’s for the holiday, but immediately I rise from the bed, my secondborn — who is just a few months old — starts crying. My wife gets up and carries the baby. 

As the hostel manager, my responsibility is to make sure the compound is neat and well-maintained. Since every tenant pays an annual service charge upfront, I also have to make sure they’re comfortable. If there’s a socket that suddenly stopped working, I call an electrician. If someone’s having trouble with their lightbulb or kitchen sink, na me dem dey call.

I spend my days in the compound doing almost the same things 24/7, and it can get boring, but how man go do? Today, I’m happy sha. A former tenant came in the afternoon and we chatted for hours until nightfall. It’s been a long time since I last saw him, so the gist was plenty.

TUESDAY

My job is easy these days, but it wasn’t always like this. When I got employed in this building last year, I saw pepper. In late 2020, I got hired to care for this building. It was a new building that was taking tenants for the first time, and management made a lot of — I don’t even know if I should call them mistakes or just negligence. 

The problem is that first of all, they built this hostel as if they were building it abroad: three columns of apartments facing each other, but they now sealed the small corridors in between with a plastic roof. And they didn’t stop there. They wanted to make the building shine-shine, so instead of leaving space for small breeze to be flowing in front of the building, they went and covered everywhere with glass blocks which ran from the ceiling to the ground floor, covering every inch of space. Without any air conditioning system.

While the hostel building looked fancy from the outside, the way they built it wasn’t practical. The self-con rooms are small and have only one window each. But the builders put solar panels and inverter in the building, and that’s what they used to market the rooms. All 45 rooms were taken in two weeks. But small time, problem started coming.

When tenants paid their one-year leases and service charges in December 2020, the harmattan hid the ventilation problem in the building. Also, it was dry season so there was sufficient sunlight to power the solar inverters. Everybody had fun. 

Until the heat came in February. NEPA stopped bringing light and the inverters started running down frequently. Hot air was trapped within the building with nowhere to go. Tenants complained, but building management didn’t say anything. After some time, the tenants transferred their vex on me. I tried to explain to them that none of this was my fault, but since I was the only representative of the building management on-site, na me collect all the complaining and insult. It was the most difficult time of my life because I lived in the same building as the tenants and was suffering the same problems. I asked the manager to buy a backup generator for but she ignored me.

Then one day, after NEPA refused to bring light for two days, the inverter went off in the middle of the night, around 2 a.m. Water also finished because there was no light to pump. Nobody could sleep. Almost all the tenants came downstairs to protest. They hurled insults at me and emptied the waste bins at my doorstep. There was nothing I could do except hope and pray that morning would come quickly. 

When day finally broke, I called the manager and showed her what was going on in the compound. I was ready to quit at that point. Luckily, she sent money for a backup generator. I don’t know why Nigerian business owners like to wait until everything is falling apart before they act.

In March, the heat became unbearable. The owner of the building sacked the manager and hired somebody more proactive. The new manager finally brought masons to break the huge blocks of decorative glass and installed windows in their place. Finally, we could breathe fresh air again.

WEDNESDAY

Human beings can be funny, but I understand that we can’t all be the same. That’s why I do my best to be patient with people. Before tenants move into the building, they sign an agreement form that contains rules and regulations. But me I don’t know if they don’t read it well. After moving in, you’ll start seeing tenants doing anyhow. and if I didn’t have patience, I’d be fighting everyone every day. 

Like this guy that lives on the top floor. There’s a shed outside the gate with two drums dedicated to waste disposal. But this boy came downstairs and scattered his trash all over the place. I asked him why he behaved like that, and he just told me, “No vex,” and ran back upstairs. I’m not even going to let anything steal my peace of mind today. I’ll calm down and clean up the place. 

By the time I go back into the compound, I realise I’m not even angry again.

THURSDAY

Even with the occasional madness, I enjoy this work. E no dey stress me at all. But I wish it paid better. I’m raising a family of four, and I’m the breadwinner. I have two daughters: a toddler and a newborn baby and I don’t know how we’re even roughing it. It can only be God.

I usually tell my younger friends to think of settling down, but this thing is hard. The friend that visited me on Tuesday, who has more money than me, said he’s not thinking about getting married until he gets to around 35 because he wants to make money first. And I can’t even blame him because this country is somehow.

Before this caretaker work, I was a porter at a hotel. The salary was chicken change, but I used to get so many tips that I could go months without touching my salary. And my previous oga was so impressed with my work that when my current madam wanted to start renting this building out, he recommended me to be the caretaker. 

I no longer get any tips, but at least I’m not worrying about rent. I also have more time to spend with my family, so nothing spoil.

My current madam lives in the US, and she normally says she likes the way I’m taking care of her building. And sometimes, like today, I wonder if she’ll just invite me and my family to japa to the abroad since she’s so impressed. But my wife thinks I’m a joker. Anyway, I’ll keep doing my best and hoping for the best. One day, I’ll see better opportunity that will change my life.


Hi, I’m Ama Udofa and I write the A Week in the Life series every Tuesday at 9 a.m. If you’d like to be featured on the series, or you know anyone interesting who fits the profile, fill out this form.

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