A Cleaner’s #NairaLife In The Age Of Coronavirus

March 23, 2020

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.


This week’s subject is a 30-year-old cleaner who’s doing everything from people’s laundry to housecleaning. Her dream is to one day become a tailor.

When did you first realise the importance of money? 

I can’t remember much, but it has to be from when I was a teenager. You know, what did a child like me know beyond eating and sleeping. 

If there’s anything I remember, it was when I first finished school and I wanted to continue my education. 

You finished secondary school? 

No o. It was my primary school I finished – I was about 14. I started asking my daddy about his plans for my secondary school, and he kept saying “next year, next year”. But because staying at home was making me think too much, I just went to look for a job. 

Did you find one? 

Yes. There was one woman I was helping to sell Agbo and gin. And my daddy now started shouting, “omo Muslim! You’re selling gin!”

I told him: when I wanted to continue school, what did you do? When I wanted to learn a trade, what did you give me?

What did he say when you said that? 

He couldn’t say anything after that. One day, I called him and said, ah daddy, times have changed o. He asked me how and I said, these days no man will marry me unless I go to school. 

That was when he showed some seriousness. 

Did he eventually give you money?

No, hahaha. And I believe he had money, he just didn’t want to spend it on my education. 

What was he doing for a living? 

He owned a vulcanising workshop. As for me, I got a job as a maid somewhere. 

How much did it pay? 

₦3,000. I took my daddy along with me to the place. Then I told the woman not to pay me, but to give my daddy, so that whatever money I make for that year, I can use it to go to school.

One year later, I went to meet my daddy for my money and –

No no no no!

He spent all the money. He didn’t even keep one naira for me. All ₦36,000. That was when I just got angry and travelled to Lagos. 

Where were you living? 

Kwara. 

So you just packed your things and said you were coming to Lagos? 

No oh. I planned with one of my friends. She had already come to Lagos before. One day, after telling my mother, my friend and I came to Lagos. 

But you know what happened? 

What?

While we were on the way, my friend was crying inside the bus. When I asked her why she was crying, she said she hoped that we were not leaving one suffering in Kwara to go to come to another suffering in Lagos.

I later found out the real reason she was crying.

Why?

When we got to Lagos and we started working, her feet starting to swell. She started to spit. 

Hayyy. 

She was pregnant. And the work was affecting her, so she had to go back home. The day she left, both of us cried at the park. I cried till I could no longer see the bus. 

I felt so alone. But me I came to Lagos to hustle. 

Ehya, sorry. 

Thank you. I started working with one woman selling rice and stew. All the Agbero at the bus stop, they all buy from her. Every day, she used to sell one and a half bags of rice. When market is slow, she’ll sell only one bag. 

But I only worked with her for three months. 

Why? 

One day, she slapped me. And that was the day I said I wasn’t going to work again. Then I started selling pure water. I’d buy one bag at 50 then, and make 50 profit per bag. On days I wake up early and sell well, I can sell up to 12 bags. 

I didn’t ask, where were you staying when you came to Lagos?

Someone I did work for, allowed me to stay in their compound. I clean the place regularly for them, and they just let me stay. 

Like a small flat? 

Oh no. It’s like a balcony at the back, but it’s covered. Sha, I started saving to buy a sewing machine, because it’s something I really wanted to do. By the time I was about 18 – I can’t remember again – I’d saved enough money from selling pure water, then I bought a sewing machine. I’d always wanted to learn how to sew. 

Where did you keep it? 

I actually travelled back to Kwara to buy the machine, because that’s where I wanted to start sewing. I came back to Lagos to raise more money, and when I travelled back to Kwara, the machine head had gone. My daddy said they stole, but I know he sold it. 

What?!

When I bought that machine, it was like ₦8,000. Now, it is up to ₦40-something thousand. 

That’s how I came back to Lagos, and I found a place to become an apprentice to learn to tailor. But because the tailoring wasn’t paying me much – like 300 per day – I now started helping people clean and wash. 

There was a period I had to stop tailoring because I needed more money. 

So you were still washing and cleaning? 

Yes. 

What are you doing these days? 

I went back to finish tailoring and I just need money for freedom. I’m also washing and cleaning. 

How much do you make in a week or a month? 

Haha, how will I know? I just know that sometimes, work will come, sometimes work won’t come. For example, for two weeks, I might not get more than one or two jobs. From those ones, I can make ₦5,000 but another two weeks, and I’ll just get plenty of work. 

I just know that in a day, from morning till night, I can spend up to ₦1,000 on food. 

Everyday? 

It depends on if there’s money o. If there’s no money, I can just buy whatever my money can buy and drink water. 

The last ₦6,000 someone paid me for example, I spent ₦1,000 and took the remaining ₦5,000 to the bank. 

You have a bank account? 

Yes. I opened it in 2019. I’ve been saving because I want to rent a house. 

How much have you saved now? 

₦70,000. The place I want to get is one small room, for ₦120,000. There was one woman that I worked for. She saw me sad one day, and when I told her I was worried about getting a place, she gave me money. You want to know how much? 

How much? 

₦60,000. 

Wow.

But do you now know what happened to that money? 

What? 

My daddy, he fell very sick. The doctor said all the smoking and agbo is what affected him. So when I travelled home last time, I spent a lot of money on him, and on my family. 

How many siblings do you have? 

We are seven. The two people before me died. That’s why things were hard for me because if they were alive, they would have supported me. Our last born now, all of us supported her, and she’s supposed to do NYSC now, but because of this corona thing that they’re saying, we don’t know when she will go. 

Tell me what you know about coronavirus. 

Ah, they sha said if we see anybody coughing, we should not go near them. We should also not go to parties or anywhere where there are crowds. They said no Church, no Mosque. 

Good. But do you know that some people can have it, and there’ll be no signs?

Ah. 

As I am, I might have it, and you won’t even know. I may not even know. 

Ahhhhh. So it’s not only people that are coughing. 

Yes. A person can have the virus in their body. They won’t even know, and they’ll be passing it around. It’s like how a person can have malaria, but the signs have not started showing. 

Ahhhhhh. 

A person who has it can talk now, and their saliva will touch something, and when someone like me touches it, my hand will carry it. If I now rub my eyes or touch my nose, I’ll catch it. 

Ah! Ye! What type of evil thing is this? Is God punishing us? 

I don’t know, but I know that if a Danfo conductor catches it, he’ll – 

Ahhhh, he’ll just stand at the entrance of the bus and be spitting on people as he’s shouting! Ah! This thing is serious! Danfo! What about BRT?! God please protect us. So what are we going to do like this? 

To stay at home is the best option. 

And not even go anywhere? Where will people see money? Hunger will kill us. How much food will a person even have to keep? Where will people get money to buy all the food? 

How much do you have saved? 

₦70,000. It’s for my rent. 

Take some of it, and use it to buy food that will last.

Sigh. Shebi they said they kept all the sick people in one place? 

Look at it like this. A sick person enters a car, and the driver doesn’t know. And the sick person uses the hand that they’ve coughed on to touch somewhere in the car, and the driver touches it. The driver then goes to eat in a Buka. And the conductor now goes to eat in that Buka. And carries the virus because he touched the place the driver touched. Can you see? 

Is God punishing us for our sins? What type of evil thing is this? 

You need to be careful. Everybody needs to be careful. 

This thing is scary oh.

Yes. Anyway, what is something you really want right now? 

I really want to get a house. You know you can’t own things if you don’t own a house. I really want to get a house.
Also, I want to go to an evening school. I believe if I’m going to be a good tailor, it’ll help a lot. But it is cancelled until after this corona. But I really want to go back to school and learn small again.  And I want to do freedom from my Oga. 

How much does apprenticeship freedom cost? 

Everything will cost like ₦60,000. But I don’t want to touch my rent money. 

How much money will you make right now that will be enough? 

Ah, if a job will pay me ₦30,000 without moving about too much, that’d be a blessing. 

So, what are you going to do now? 

I can’t think of anything right now. Except for this coronavirus. And if you ask me right now, that what do I want to do and how do I want to do so that I won’t fall sick, you know what I’ll say? 

I dunno. You tell me.

I really don’t know how I’m going to do it. I can only pray for God to have mercy.


*This interview happened in Yoruba. It has been translated and edited for clarity.

Upon request of readers, we added a payment link for people to donate to the subject of this story.

Update (5.15am, 30/03/2020): The sum ₦142,000 has been raised by you amazing people. She sends her gratitude, and thanks you for your kindness.

Check back every Monday at 9 am (WAT) for a peek into the Naira Life of everyday people.
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