From Nursing to Hairdressing: This 43-Year-Old Mum Is Living in Debt

May 9, 2022

Every week, Zikoko seeks to understand how people move the Naira in and out of their lives. Some stories will be struggle-ish, others will be bougie. All the time, it’ll be revealing.


Between 1996 and 2014, today’s subject on #NairaLife worked as an auxiliary nurse. Her highest salary in that period was ₦12k. Today, she works as a hairdresser and lives on loans she repays every week.

What’s your earliest memory of money?

1995. I was 16 and decided to turn my hairdressing talent into money. My parents separated when I was two and my younger brother was 11 months. We first lived with my mum because we were kids, but my dad took us back after a few years. I only had the chance to visit my mum during the holidays after that, and it was during those visits I found out I was a natural at hairdressing. My mum had a neighbour who made hair. I used to stay at her shop watching her. Then one day, I tried to braid a friend’s hair and did a fantastic job.

By the time I turned 16, I decided to stop making people’s hair for free. I bought a poster and put it outside my mum’s palm wine shop. At that time, I charged as high as  ₦100 to make people’s hair.

Sweet.

Because hairdressing brought money, I switched from going to my mum’s place only on holidays to going every weekend. My dad dropped me off on Fridays and picked me on Sundays, and by Sunday, I’d have made ₦1,000. Sometimes, my dad “borrowed” the money. Other times, I saved.

By 1996, I was in SS2, and I decided to stop and train to become an auxiliary nurse instead. 

Why?

I’d loved the idea of being a nurse since I was a child. Seeing people in nurses’ uniforms brought me joy that I couldn’t explain. 

How did you become an auxiliary nurse in secondary school?

I had a classmate who was also training to become an auxiliary nurse. She took me to a hospital that had a vacancy, and they took me in. I can’t remember how much, but to learn, I had to pay the hospital. My dad paid for me. On weekdays, I went to work after school, but on weekends, I worked full shifts. My job was to assist nurses, so I treated wounds, gave injections, etc.

11 months into my training, when I was in SS 3, I got pregnant, so I decided to stop. I also dropped out of school. I moved to live with my mum so she could take care of me during the pregnancy period, and I decided I still needed money to take care of my child, so I used the little money I’d saved to buy raw rice, beans and garri to resell. I made a profit and restocked multiple times, and that’s what I sold until I had my child in 1997. When the child was six months old, I decided to go back to auxiliary nursing. This time, at a different hospital. 

Why?

I wanted to start afresh somewhere I could learn comprehensively. The auxiliary nurse training is a three-year programme, and I’d only done 11 months at the first place. Starting afresh was an opportunity to refresh my memory of what I’d learned before. I started in 1998 and graduated in 2001. During that period, I survived only on pocket money from my mum and hawking medicine.

Hawking medicine?

By 2000, one of the doctors at our hospital asked me to work at his pharmacy from time to time. Being there made me realise people were always buying medicines, so I gathered all the money I could find — ₦8k — and bought medicines to start hawking. Because I didn’t have a license, I only sold painkillers and common vitamins, but the market moved well. 

What happened after you graduated?

The hospital hired me. My first salary was ₦8,000. Every month, I invested a bulk of the money into my business. So whenever I was off work, I was on the streets selling medicines. As time went on, my business grew, but I had to stop hawking in 2002 because I was pregnant. This time, with a different man — my husband. 

When did you get married?

That same year.

Where was your first child in all of this?

Mainly with my mum. I was always at work, so, she just helped me take care of the child. By the time I got married and moved in with my husband, the child didn’t come with me because she preferred being with my mum, so I left her there. 

A few months after I gave birth, I started hawking again to complement my salary, which was now about ₦10k. My husband was an okada rider and didn’t make too much money too, so I had to keep making as much money as I could to keep the family fed. 

By 2008, I left my job for another hospital. This one paid ₦12k. We pretty much lived hand to mouth with nothing to spare until 2013 when my husband passed away. 

I’m so sorry. 

Apparently, he was poisoned. Oh, by the way, my mum had died somewhere along the line too, and my daughter was now living with me, so I was a widow with two children to care for. It was difficult to do with my ₦12k salary. At some point shortly after he died, our rent expired, and I couldn’t afford it, so my two children and I had to move to stay in our church. 

How long did you stay there?

Two years. So I went to work in the morning, hawked medicine in my free time, and then, started making people’s hair in front of the church building. That’s how we survived those years. I still managed to put my children to school through that period. When they weren’t in school, they were in the church waiting for me to get back. 

By 2015, I met a new man who I was sure I wanted to settle with, and we got pregnant. We decided to move in together, but housing in the area where I stayed was too expensive. We couldn’t find anything cheaper than ₦160k per year, so we moved to a different area where we found a place for ₦70k. Because of that move, I quit my job.

When did you have the baby?

That same 2015. First, we survived on the money from selling the rest of the medicine I had. When that was done, I started making hair again. This time, with more energy. I put posters all around our house, bought a stool, combs, hair creams, everything. The money I was making still wasn’t enough, so I took a ₦50k loan from a loan company when I was about to have the baby. That’s the money we used to buy baby stuff. 

What does your husband do?

He runs a Baba Ijebu gambling shop. I try my best not to be the complaining wife, so I won’t push him to do illegal things for money, but he doesn’t bring anything to the table. He makes about ₦600 daily. He uses the money to eat. That’s all. It’s not like he’s not trying or he doesn’t care for the family, but I think he can do better. He gives me money only about two times a month. And when I say, “gives me money”, I mean ₦200 or ₦300. 

Whoa. Let’s go back to 2015. 

Between 2015 and now, my hairdressing business has grown very slowly. There are a lot of hairdressers in this area, and people pay much lower fees than they paid in the other area. I’ve had to supplement my hairdressing income by selling stuff. At some point, I’ve sold puff puff, but now, I sell bags of pure water and drinks. I even bought a container for ₦30k to use as a shop one time. But after some months, the owner of the land came and chased me away because they wanted to build their house, so I sold the container for ₦35k. I eventually found a shop where I pay ₦3k monthly as rent.

How much do you make on an average month?

₦30k. This is from hairdressing, and water and drinks selling. 

Can you break it down into expenses?

I’ll try. Here’s what it looks like right now. 

₦54k for debts?

I haven’t been able to survive on just my income for years, so I take a lot of loans. When I finish repaying, I take another loan. Between 2021 and now, my first two children have gone to polytechnic. I pay their fees and send them occasional stipends. 

Right now, I’m repaying loans from two different loan companies. From one, I collected ₦100k and pay back ₦5,500 every week. From another, I collected ₦150k and pay back ₦8,000 every week. 

What happens when you can’t pay back?

I borrow from people who have their shops beside me. We’re friends, so they can lend me the occasional ₦2k. 

Do you have any plans to get out of this situation?

If I can repay my loans and make some bulk money to stock my shop with lots and lots of drinks, I believe I’ll be on a path to becoming comfortable. I don’t want to have to borrow to restock my shop. It’ll continue the cycle. In fact, the reason I borrow most of the time is to restock my shop, but I never get to it because other things come up and take the money. Right now, there are only two bags of pure water and 2 crates of drinks in my shop. It’s how I’ll repay my loans and get that bulk money I don’t know. 

What’s something you want right now, but can’t afford?

Stocking up my shop. 

And your financial happiness on a scale of 1-10?

Two. It’s bad, but I’m thankful to God for the little things I can do, like sending my children to school. 


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