“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.
This week’s “A Week in the Life” subject is Mimi Faith, a female painter thriving in a male-dominated industry. This means dealing with gender stereotypes and misbehaviour from male clients. One thing keeps her going though: her ambition to own a home in Lagos.
If I have to work on the island, I’ll wake up around 4:30 a.m. to beat Monday morning traffic. If I’m working on the mainland, I can wake up a little later. But I never sleep past 6 a.m.
When I wake up also depends on whether I’ve already inspected the space I’m supposed to paint. If I have, it’s ji, ma sun, because I’ll have to leave at first light. But if I’m just going for inspection, I don’t have to rush so much. I’ll sha still get my handbag ready, put in my scraper, measuring tools, pen and paper, along with all the other tools I’ll need for the inspection.
All that doesn’t matter today because I don’t have any active jobs. So I’ll step out of my house to scout new buildings in my vicinity, or the ones under renovation. I’ll go with my brochures, colour palettes, pictures of designs and measuring tape. Depending on who I meet there — engineer, owner or site supervisor — I’ll introduce myself and find out if they already have a painter.
Most of the time, they tell me they do, but it doesn’t stop me. I’ll show them I can do designs most painters can’t because I’m not a regular painter, I’m a decorative painter. Last last, if I don’t get to work with them on a particular project, I’ll try to build a relationship so they can keep me in mind for future jobs.
I didn’t get any jobs today, but we move. Tomorrow, I go again.
People are always surprised when I walk into a site, introduce myself as a painter and pitch my services. Today, an engineer shouted, “You say you’re a painter? Are you sure you can climb ladder?” I’m a woman in what people consider a male-dominated industry, so the disbelief isn’t surprising.
Some don’t believe me even after I show them photos of my work, including photos of me at work. Most of the people I meet on building sites give me small jobs to test if I can actually do what I said I do. Some ask me if I’m the one who actually does the painting or if I want to collect the job to outsource it to men. When I finally get the jobs, the site supervisors will keep coming to make sure I’m doing as I said.
Thankfully, most of my jobs come from social media and referrals. Since I post about my work consistently, and I’ve done work for many social media connections, my online audience trusts my work. At 10 a.m, while I was at a site close to my house, someone reached out to me on a Facebook mutual’s recommendation.
Their compound wasn’t too far from where I was, so I quickly headed over there, inspected the apartment and negotiated payment. It’s a quick job that won’t take more than two days so I spent the rest of the day buying paints and prepping the building for tomorrow.
I worked on the apartment all day and lost track of time. It was only until my boyfriend called that I realised it was already past six. When I was on the bus, I realised how tired I was. All that was on my mind was the kind of deep sleep I’d get when I got home.
My boyfriend gave me the massage of my life, and I slept off before I knew it.
Pinterest got me into painting. And it was even by mistake. I’ve always liked do-it-yourself (DIY) crafts. Two years ago, I was trying to decorate my house and needed to install wallpapers, so I went on Pinterest for inspiration. Before long, I started looking into wallpaper installation classes online. Soon after, I followed a guy on Instagram, who would eventually train me.
But the turning point was seeing the painting design he did in his corridor. I fell in love with it. That’s when I knew I wanted to become a painter. Even though wallpaper installation was easier to learn, I quickly got bored.
Today, I went to finish up yesterday’s work and had to face the hardest thing about my job: painting ceilings. It’s not that I’m short o; it’s just everyone is taller than me. When I’m painting high points like ceilings, my neck and shoulders scream in pain. But I push through the pain because I chose this work, so how woman go do?
By 2 p.m., I was done and the owner of the apartment was happy. Job done; smiles guaranteed. On to the next one.
When I first started painting, I met a lot of nonsense men. I quickly realised safety was — and may always be — an issue. Most men contact me to come and inspect their space, but when I get there, they’ll be like, “I been just wan see you”. When it’s not madness.
I’ve tried a few things to prevent situations like this. Sometimes, I ask for photos and videos of the place to be painted, so I can gauge how serious they are. But people don’t know how to take pictures or record videos well. Some are so bad I have to go and check out the place anyway.
There was a guy who reached out to me to check out his place. We fixed an appointment, and when I got there, he started telling me things like, “I don finally see you for real life.”. What’s my business? You called me for painting and you’re now telling me to sit down and talk and go out on a date. I just carried my bag and started going back home.
Sometimes, men even ask for a date as a condition to hire me.
My own is let it end in talk sha. Let nobody come close to me or touch me. So I go with a colleague if I have a bad feeling about a potential client.
What really pains me is how people assume I get jobs automatically because I’m a woman. When in reality, people are always doubting me, especially when it comes to pricing. Very often, I hear things like, “Na because say you be woman, na hin you dey charge this much?” Some people think they’re supporting me or doing me a favour.
Male painters don’t go through all these shalaye. They just negotiate, do the work and collect their money. When it’s my turn, people will be doing plenty permutations.
We move sha, because for me, every job is an advert. I want someone to walk into any room I painted and ask who painted it. I focus on doing excellent work, exceeding expectations and getting referrals. My online presence is helping me very well, and some repeat clients still call for me no matter where they are in Nigeria.
To be honest, I’ve been fortunate. When I was starting out, a Facebook friend hired me to repaint her apartment. While I was painting, she went live on Facebook and was broadcasting to her friends. Someone noticed I was standing on an inverted bucket to reach the ceiling and offered to buy me a ladder. I thought it was a joke, said thank you and kept it moving. Omo, after I finished, the person said he was serious o, that I should find out the price and let her know. He later sent me the ₦35k for the ladder. That was one of the most touching things anyone has ever done for me.
Today, I locked down a contract for a building on the island from a referral, as usual. I start work next week and should be done in three to five days. It’s a big deal for me because it’s another chance to show that I sabi this work. I’ll use this weekend to rest and recharge. Next week, I’ll go there and kill it.
Stuck in traffic heading back to the mainland, I had the chance to reflect on my work. Normally, I feel like I’m not doing enough, but today, I feel fantastic. I’m just two years into this career, and it surprises me how much I’ve grown. I want to be the best I can be, and I know I can do anything I set my mind to — except cook egusi sha.
I’ve worked with women who’ve achieved a lot — women like the one whose house I’m coming from. I see women rent, build and buy houses in expensive areas of Lagos, and I know I want to do the same. The one that pains me sha, is when they say my work ethic inspires them. I dey inspire you, but na you dey build house for Lekki. Please.
By the time I get home around 8 p.m., my boyfriend has prepared dinner — rice and stew. But it’s not enough. It’s been a long week, my body is paining me and the weather is cold. I want a massage and plenty cuddling.
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