A Week in the Life is a weekly Zikoko series that explores the working-class struggles and victories 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 massage therapist. He tells us about the stereotypes that plague his hustle, how he deals with sexual assault but why he loves what he does anyway.
I don’t have a schedule because every day is different and I work Sunday to Sunday. Sometimes, I wake up at 4 a.m., sometimes, at 5 or 6 a.m. If the previous day was very busy, I may even wake up by 9 a.m. Like today.
My schedule is very tight and it gets overwhelming pretty quickly. Yesterday, I worked till I was sore, so I needed to rest well. When I wake up at 9 a.m. today, the first thing I do is to pray. After prayers, I check my phone because nine out of ten times, prospective clients DM me on social media. They prefer to text than to call, so before I prepare for the day, I make sure I catch up on messages.
I’m a freelancer, but I’m associated with spas in town. I pay these spas a percentage of my earnings per session. This is how booking works: People text me to introduce themselves and check if I’m available. While discussing with a prospective client, I reach out to the nearest spa to find out if the requested time slot is free. If it’s not, I have to work with the client and the spa to find a more suitable time.
Sometimes, people want private service in their homes, hotel rooms, offices, lounge, et cetera. These sessions cost more than spa sessions because of logistics — I have to transport my mobile massage kit to their location, and it takes more time to move to and from their location than if they come to the spa.
There are a few terms and conditions clients have to agree to before the booking is confirmed. One, the payment. Two, they must be available at the time slot they’re booking. And three, if they want to cancel, they need to reschedule or cancel at least three hours before the time. Advance payments are non-refundable.
I charge from ₦20k upwards for spa sessions, while private service fees start from ₦30k depending on the duration of the massage and the distance.
I always leave for the spa at least one hour before an appointment so I can relax and get set before the client comes in for their massage. If it’s a first-timer, I explain the procedure and walk them through the process so they can be relaxed. I also ask them if they have any allergies.
When we’re ready, I get them to dress down to their comfort level; a professional massage therapist does not use the term “undress” or “naked” because the profession itself is already oversexualised. I show them to the bathroom and leave the room so they can get ready. By the time I return, they should have laid face-down on the table.
I have two appointments today: a spa session and a private session at 12 p.m and 4 p.m. respectively. The client at the spa is a man who needs a deep tissue massage, while the 4 p.m. is a woman who needs a Swedish massage at her apartment in Wuse.
Swedish is the mildest kind of massage that involves long strokes in a therapeutic manner, while deep tissue massages require slow, deep strokes with a lot more pressure. For carrier oils, my favourite oil to use is almond oil, but it’s very expensive. I also use mustard seed oil and coconut oil. For essential oils, I use lavender or mint oil. Essential oils are very potent and should be used in tiny quantities, only a few drops at a time. They need carrier oils to dilute them. If I have a handful of coconut oil, for example, I only need a drop of essential oil.
In my experience, women ask for Swedish massage more while men are more likely to request deep tissue. It could be that men’s skins are tougher and they like to feel more pressure. Only one man has ever asked me for a Swedish massage.
I also offer hot stone massages, pre and post-natal massages, head massages, feet massages, reflexology and aromatherapy, but Swedish and deep tissue are the most requested.
Just as I’m about to close for the day at 6 p.m., a lady DMs me on Instagram to ask if I can come to massage her in her apartment in Kubwa. I could use the extra cash, but Kubwa is far from where I live (in Jikwoyi). I’m very tired, so I ask her to reschedule for the next day. I’m pretty flexible with my job, but I try not to be too available because massaging people takes a lot of concentration and effort. If I don’t rest, I’ll burn out very fast.
When people hear I’m a massage therapist, they automatically think I’m a sex worker. People ask me all the time whether I offer “happy endings”. I don’t.
I’ve been called a prostitute or porn star several times. We live in a society where a lot of things are sexualised; we give a sexual connotation to many things. Also, many people had their first encounter with massages from porn. So there’s a mindset that that is how we massage therapists behave exactly as they are portrayed in porn.
A big part of my job is trying to help people unlearn such stereotypes and see the benefits of massage. My job is to help people relax, offer relief to aching muscles, and generally, make people feel better. There’s an art and science to being a massage therapist.
Unfortunately, sexual harassment and assault are common occupational hazards. While massaging today’s client, she grabbed my crotch and was surprised that I wasn’t hard. According to her, she was good looking, so why didn’t I have an erection?
I told her, “Madam, I’m only doing my job. You’re paying me for a service. I don’t know you from Adam, so why would I want to risk my image, name and freedom to do something stupid?”
Being a massage therapist is a very sensitive job. The fact that someone can pay and trust me enough to put themselves in a vulnerable state means a lot to me. It involves a high level of trust, and I can’t take advantage of that.
Also, one bad review can ruin my reputation. Navigating incidences like this is very dicey, so I always try to keep it as professional as possible. Even mere gossip can ruin me. Nobody likes to be harassed, that’s why I’m always on my guard. The way I see it, I’m a soldier. What soldier goes to war without being prepared? I cleared the woman and told her not to try it again.
I massage all genders, but the majority of my clients are women. Unfortunately, I also get to meet homophobic people. Someone might say, “A man touching me doesn’t feel right”, and then, request a female massage therapist. I’ve also had heterosexual men request a male massage therapist. Either way, I’ve learnt to respect people’s choices and only go where they sent me work.
There are body parts I never touch. I don’t touch men’s genitals. I only offer breast and yoni massages — “Yoni” means vulva — to a very select pool of clients. And it depends on my intuition. For example, if a 21-year-old lady asked for a yoni massage, I’d say no.
Today, I massaged three clients, two men and one woman, all at the spa. By the time I got back home, I was too tired to even eat, so I just slept off.
While I was waiting for my 10 a.m. client today, I started reflecting on my career. I’ve been a massage therapist since 2017 even though it’s not something I expected to be. I studied mass communication and was a journalist for a bit after graduation. But in 2015, during a trip to Abuja, I had a five-star stay at a hotel with complimentary spa treatment, and my life changed. For the next two years, I learnt massage therapy on the side.
I didn’t exactly like my job and the workplace, and I’d been planning to leave anyway. After I left the job in 2017, things became very tight for me, but one day, a friend whose feet I used to massage, suggested I do it full-time. She referred me to a physiotherapist who trained me professionally.
In 2018, I got loans from friends, bought a massage bed. I was using a Blackberry previously and it was very limited. So I bought an android phone as well. Then I dived into massage therapy full-time and started building my practice. In 2022, I’m well on my way to fulfillment.
Nothing satisfies me more than people expressing gratitude after I’ve massaged them. It’s one thing for people to pay for a service, but it hits different when people are so grateful that they pay me nicely and refer me to new clients. The day a celebrity client paid me 100k for a one-hour massage session, I couldn’t contain my excitement. I also got a tip!
There’s nothing I love more than seeing people feel better. Massage therapy helps fight depression and insomnia, encourages stress relief and boosts the immune system. The best compliment anyone can give me is to tell me they feel lighter and better after a massage session. When I see a client snoring on my massage table, it means I’ve finished work.
My ideal future would be to own a spa, get an international certification and travel around the world.
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.