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 for today’s “A Week In The Life” is a 200 level university student of finance. She tells us about combining a labouring job with being a student, how her classmates make jest of her and why she shows up in spite of all life throws at her.
There’s no light when my alarm wakes me up by 5 a.m. today. The only source of illumination in the room is from the screen of my phone that has 5:00 a.m. boldly written in front of it. Fumbling against the darkness with the light from my phone’s screen, the first thing I do is locate my rechargeable torchlight. Armed with this, I prepare to start my day.
First on the menu is bathing and brushing — I do this quietly so as to not wake my roommates. As a 200 level student in the university, this preparation could be considered too early for lectures. However, I’m preparing to go to work. In addition to being a student, I juggle a full-time job as a labourer on a construction site.
It’s 5:45 a.m. by the time I’m done getting dressed. I leave the room by 5:50 a.m. and thankfully, because the construction site is a 5 minutes walk from the hostel, I arrive before 6 a.m. At the venue, I change into work clothes and wait for the more senior workers to start trooping in.
During my wait, my colleague informs me that the task for today is setting blocks on the third floor. This means that everyone is required to carry blocks from the ground floor to the third floor, where they’ll be laid. Additionally, today’s payment will be determined by the number of blocks carried —50 blocks gets you ₦1,250. I hear my colleagues making plans to carry 300 – 400 blocks, and I mentally remind myself that my quota is 50 blocks. After all, I can’t afford to overexert myself since first semester exams start tomorrow.
I don’t need an alarm to wake me since I’m up by 2 a.m. studying. My first paper is by 8 a.m. and I have to revise all that I’ve read. After getting in by 4 p.m. yesterday, I was so exhausted that I just went to have a bath and lie down.
Even though I’m grateful for having a source of income, I can’t help but flash back to when things weren’t like this.
I initially started working part-time at a dry-cleaning store. I’d attend lectures in the morning, get back to the hostel by or before 2 p.m. and immediately go to resume at the store. By 7 p.m. I’d be done for the day and back in my hostel. However, when the pandemic hit, the dry cleaning store couldn’t afford to pay me so they let me go.
I was worried and scared, but I couldn’t sit idly without making money. The idea of waiting for my parents before buying anything in school spurred me into action. While thinking of jobs to do, I noticed a construction site behind my hostel and went over to ask them for a job.
On the first day, the engineer on site said he couldn’t allow me to work because it was a man’s job. I had to assure him that beyond my tiny body, I was mighty and could do the work. At the end of my first day, I ended up carrying 12 buckets of sand, 10 buckets of granite, 25 headpans of concrete, and I fetched a lot of water. The payment for that day was ₦4,000. I remember feeling extremely happy to have made my own money.
Even though ₦4,000 is big money, I’m sure that I will make more with education, and that’s why I’m awake and studying.
I check my watch and notice an hour has passed. I have just five more hours until exams officially begin.
I went viral on the internet today. I resumed at the site, as usual, changed into work clothes and started my day. During our ten minutes break, I asked a colleague to snap me so I could update my media on Twitter.
I posted my photo and went back to work.
After an hour, I opened my Twitter and saw 300 likes on my picture. I wondered what was happening. For someone who usually got 20 likes per photo, this was strange. I chalked it up to Twitter people whining me and went back to work.
I opened Twitter again by closing time and saw 7,000 likes on the photo. In my head, I was like, “E be like say things don red.” Between the time it took for me to get to the hostel, have a bath and settle in, the picture already had 10,000 likes. In my head I was shouting, “I don blow.”
The only “downside” now is that I have to call my family and tell them what I’ve been up to. I don’t want a situation where they find out from gossip blogs. I know my dad and brother will take it well, my mum too might not complain. The only person I’m worried that might not take it well is my elder sister because she might say that the job is embarrassing her. Anyhow, I’m not too bothered because I know that the job I’m doing is very legal.
I wrote my second paper today. With every exam I write, I go one step away from my past and two steps into my future. I’ve done a lot of jobs to get me up to this stage, and I don’t take it for granted. If I had to give a timeline of all the jobs I’ve done, it’ll go like this:
Junior secondary school — got paid for copying notes and drawing biology diagrams.
Senior secondary school — worked in a sawmill as a woodcutter.
Immediately after writing WAEC — worked long hours in Katangwa market as a cloth seller and sometimes load carrier for people.
University — worked in a dry cleaning shop.
Now — working on a construction site.
Because I know where I’m coming from, it’s easy not to flinch when people make jest of me for being a labourer. The most painful incident was when my classmate saw me at work and called her roommates to laugh at me. At first, it pained me, but I had to remind myself I was making money from the job;she could go fuck herself.
After we finished our exam today, another classmate asked me if I was so desperate for money that I took up labourer work. I just walked past her because it’s none of her business. No matter what you do people will talk. If you’re lazy they’ll talk. If you’re hard-working they’ll talk. If you’re irresponsible they’ll talk. Even if you’re neutral they’ll talk. There’s nothing you’ll do that people won’t run commentary, whether good or bad. At the end of the day, that’s their business.
I have neither exams nor work today, so I can tell that today will be a good day. I’m finally going to rest. My plan is simple: sleep and catch up on Attack on the Titans [AOT] and Jujutsu Kaisen [JJK]. I can’t wait to see the latest episode of AOT and watch my baby, Eren, in action. AOT fans love Levi Ackerman, but I can’t stand him because he steals the spotlight from my guy, Eren.
I’m also going to catch up on the latest episode of JJK because I can’t wait to see my favorite characters fight.
I can’t lie, I’m grateful for rest days. My life is basically work, school, church on the weekends, and reading in the middle of the night. I have no time for myself to do anything. On days like this, I get to not only unwind but also think about my future. I’m still in my second year of studying finance, but I know where I want to end and where I don’t. I know I don’t want to end up working in a bank. If I must work in a bank I’d like to work at the Central Bank or alternatively, I’d like to thread Okonjo Iweala’s career path. I know that one day, I can become the minister of finance and even go on to become the DG of the World Trade Organisation. At least I know that by the time I’m ready, Okonjo Iweala would have retired. LOL.
My dreams scare me because I don’t know how to get to where I hope to be. Most people I’ve told about my dreams have laughed and said I’m making up fantasies in my head. Even if I don’t know how to reach my dreams, I’ll never stop pushing. I’ll never stop trying. In some part of my mind, I know that fantasies sometimes do come true in reality.
But before they can come to life I have to rest. Today is shaping up to be a perfect day to do that.