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.

What’s your earliest memory of money?

My daily allowance in primary school. Every day, I‘d get ₦500 to share with my younger brother. But I’d save my own half of the money for two weeks and return it to my mum. After collecting the money, she’d laugh and pray for me.

Why were you returning the money to her?

I was nine years old and saw how she struggled to provide for us; I wanted to make things easier for her in my own little way. My mum was once a trader, but she got robbed around the time I entered primary school, and had to start roasting corn to make money. 

My dad, on the other hand, worked at a beverage factory but it wasn’t stable. He always feared he’d be laid off due to constantly changing company policies. 

When was the first time you made money?

2014. I was in JSS 1 when I started hawking uncooked corn for my mum. Some context: My dad had been laid off and was now working at a transport company where he made little. My mum became the primary provider, so my siblings and I had to assist whenever we could.

I was out to hawk every day after school with my older sister from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. I’d go out with ₦900 – ₦1,200 worth of corn on a tray and usually did three or four trips within that period. This brought about ₦3k in profit, and my mum gave me a percentage — usually ₦300 or ₦500. 

What did you spend the money on?

I saved most of the money in a piggy bank, and I often used my savings to help out my mum whenever she complained about being broke. I spent some of my money on myself, though — from snacks and soft drinks to okrika clothes.

I stopped hawking in JSS 3 after we started hearing kidnapping rumours in our area. My mum didn’t want to risk it.

What did you do next?

I got a job serving food at a restaurant after finishing secondary school in 2019.  My salary was ₦10k/month and I made between ₦1k – ₦2k extra in tips weekly. I stopped after three months because the male customers kept trying to sexually harass me and the owner didn’t care. 

After that, I moved to another restaurant where I also served food, but my salary was ₦7k/month. I didn’t make as much from tips either, but I felt safe. The owner was a woman who didn’t let her customers try rubbish with her staff. 

I worked there for about five months before I left to start JAMB lessons. The lesson fees were ₦6k/month, but I couldn’t continue after the third month because I’d exhausted my savings. Thankfully, I managed to pass JAMB.

So, off to the university?

The lockdown happened and kept me home for a few months. But I wasn’t idle. I worked in a hotel as a receptionist, and then as a bar attendant. It paid ₦15k/month and I made even more working at the bar. 

The hotel was running “codedly” because it was during the  lockdown and no one was supposed to be there, but we had Yahoo boys who came regularly to drink. I made extra money by increasing the price of the drinks. If something cost ₦1,500, I sold it for ₦2,500 and pocketed the extra money. I can’t remember how much now, but I made so much at the bar.

Foolishly, I left the bar after three months.

What happened?

I got into a relationship with a guy who didn’t think a lady should be working at a hotel and bar. He promised he’d get me another job, but that never happened. He gave me money — between ₦15k – ₦50k — on several occasions, though.

It was from these monies I gathered ₦60k to pay for admission acceptance when uni resumed in 2021. But the relationship ended when admission came. He didn’t think I’d be faithful in school, so he ended things. I was only able to afford school fees with my elder brother’s help. He sent me ₦200k — all his life savings — to help complete the ₦220k fee. 

Did you try anything to make money in uni?

Well, I dropped out of uni after a year. During that time, I relied on whatever amount my elder siblings sent to me.

Why did you drop out?

In 2022, my mum’s pastor told me and my mum about an opportunity to travel to Egypt to work as a house girl or house manager, and make as much as ₦300k/month. The plan was that someone in Egypt would sponsor my passport, visa and travel costs. In exchange, I’d pay them everything I make in Egypt for a year and seven months.

I was quite sceptical about the plan; I’ve heard stories of people who travel abroad to work and end up in prostitution. So, I initially refused to do it. But my mum reminded me there was no money to keep me in school. I saw a point in her argument. 

I didn’t have a source of income, no potential boyfriend to sponsor me, and my brother could go broke at any point. How did I expect to start raising ₦200k? Plus, ASUU was on strike again and it looked like I was just sitting at home doing nothing.

I had no other choice. I agreed to travel to Egypt.

What was the process like?

I applied for a passport and visa and did a lot of medicals — especially COVID tests. I was also screened for HIV, diabetes and pregnancy. They don’t take pregnant house managers because the job involves cleaning and taking care of children, and pregnancy means you can’t do as much. 

The whole process took about three months. My sponsor paid for everything, so I don’t know how much it all cost. That said, I know that sponsors make a crazy amount of profit from bringing people in. There’s no way they spent so much that you need someone’s full salary for over a year, but that’s how it works here. 

So, you travelled to Egypt in 2022

Yup. I arrived at my sponsor’s three-bedroom flat with several other girls she’s sponsored also living here. Everyone only eats once a day in the house. When you’re lucky, you eat two times. The usual meal was one loaf of bread, a tea bag and some sugar. Sometimes, we’d cook Nigerian rice and stew with chicken and share it among ourselves.

I stayed there for eight days before I got my first job as a cleaner. The jobs are pretty easy to get —people are always looking for help. Most of the house girl or cleaner jobs in Egypt require moving in with your bosses. I only get to return to my sponsor’s house for brief periods of time. But the jobs aren’t fixed contracts; I can decide to stop working with an employer at any time.

How much did the first job pay?

EGP5,500/month. The exchange rate was ₦35 to an Egyptian Pound then, and it came to ₦192,500. I kept EGP300 of my salary as a living allowance because I had to send the rest to my sponsor. 

My feeding was handled by my employer so my allowance went to small expenses like jackets and socks for when I’m cold. Then, I’d gather whatever was left of the allowance — usually ₦15k—  for a few months and send money home to my mum. She wasn’t pressuring me to send anything; I just did it because I wanted to help out.

What was the job like?

It was pretty decent. I cleaned for a Syrian family of two who were nice to me. Syrians are actually really nice people. I’ve worked with two of them, and they treated me well. Anyway, these ones gave me a room and bought pads and perfume for me. Sometimes, they tipped me if they thought I did a good job. I worked long hours — from 10 a.m. to midnight, but their kindness made it easy.

I was with them for five months. The woman of the house gave birth and became cranky. One day she shouted at me and asked me to leave. She said she didn’t want to see me again. So, I Ieft.

Did you find another job?

Yes. I found another within four days. Though this one was both cleaning and nanny work. The pay was also EGP5,500/month, but I left after 12 days. Taking care of babies is stressful and the madam saw I couldn’t do it. So, she just paid me for the days I worked and I left.

My next cleaning gig paid the same amount, and I spent seven months there. I never went on holiday once because my madam’s children always wanted to see my face. I finally left because my salary kept getting delayed and my sponsor wasn’t having it. Salaries are paid on the 26th here, and if I don’t send money to my sponsor that same day, she’ll call and start swearing at me. It was my sponsor who insisted I find another job.

Why were there salary delays, though?

My madam was a stay-at-home wife — most Egyptian wives are — and all the expenses were on the husband. I think they struggled with paying their children’s school fees and paying for my services, which caused the delays. I left the job in November 2023.

My next gig was supposed to pay EGP6,500/month, but I only worked for 10 days. I fell ill and my employer asked me to go home to get treated. By the time I returned, she said I should go back because she didn’t have money to pay me. 


Thankfully, I got another EGP6,500/month gig with a rich family of seven in January 2024. My job was to clean and basically take care of whatever they needed. They had two other black women working for them — a Nigerian and a Sudanese.

I worked with them for almost five months, and I was able to pay off my debt to my sponsor in March 2024, four months earlier than I was supposed to. I felt like I was finally financially free. 

How did that happen?

You see the family I was working with? Their money is long. They could just wake up one day and travel to London for a few days. They also had multiple luxury cars.

The husband was a health worker, but he didn’t work anymore. He stayed at home during the day and only went out at night. He also always moved with cash. The Nigerian maid told me he was into money laundering. She understood Arabic well and had worked with him for a year before I joined. 

One day in February, the husband returned from a trip with a few bags. One of the bags contained chocolates and gifts, which he shared with everyone. I tried to help carry the bags inside, but he instructed me not to touch one of the bags. He took that bag inside himself. Later that night, his wife asked me to go inside the room to take their child’s pacifier. I saw that same bag in the room and got curious. I opened the bag and found lots of dollars and pounds. I’m not sure what possessed me, but I took some of the notes. When I later counted what I took, it was about $1,200.

Did your employers notice?

They didn’t. I hid the money in the visitors’ toilet downstairs just to be safe. I knew they’d kill me if I was caught. It was stealing, but I was just desperate.

I didn’t even touch the money for a few days because I was worried they’d look for it one day. I understand a little Arabic, so I consistently eavesdropped on their conversations to see if they’d talk about any missing money. Nothing like that.

I got the chance to take the money out of the house some days later when they travelled. Normally, they searched every maid leaving the house for holiday to be sure we didn’t take anything. But they travelled ahead of us and couldn’t search. 

I finally took the money out and hid it in my sponsor’s house. I didn’t tell a soul, not even my Nigerian colleague. You can’t trust Nigerians in this country. They can snitch for no reason.

Was that the money you used to pay off your debt?

Yes. I first changed the money to naira because there was no way I could explain having dollars. I did the conversions small small, though. It was risky to carry all that dollars to change. Then, I called my sponsor and told her I was ready to pay off my balance. At that time, my outstanding debt was about ₦700k. She probably thought a man gave me the money to pay off my debt because it’s normal here.

I also sent ₦100k to my mum because she was ill at the time. I told her my employer had dashed me the money. I also sent my brother about ₦200k to buy a laptop. After paying off my debt and sending money home, I had about ₦200k left in my account.

Did you have to move out of your sponsor’s house after paying the debt?

Nope. My stuff is still there. She has her issues — especially when it comes to money — but we got along well because I hardly owed her. I know how she treated others, though. I once saw her beat up someone because they hadn’t paid for a month. 

People get into those money issues when they try to send more money home. They’d ask the sponsor to loan them a month’s salary so they can send home or sort out some things. When they delay in paying back, it becomes an issue. 

Curious. Do you know anyone this sponsorship thing didn’t work out for?

Yes. Several ladies I know are back in Nigeria because they couldn’t handle the pressure. In 2023, I met a lady in a hair salon; she’d just come into the country. The next thing I heard about her was that she wasn’t in the right mind and couldn’t work anymore. Her sponsor eventually called her family to pay for her return ticket back home.

I see. So, where are you at now?

I’ve collected my full salary without having to pay anyone for two months now. I left my former employer’s house recently because they claimed I didn’t complete my work one day and refused to pay the full salary. I’m at another job now, cleaning and managing the house for a family of three. My salary is EGP8,000/month, which is around ₦300k.

What are your monthly expenses like these days, since you don’t have to pay your sponsor?

I know I can’t do this work forever, so I’m saving for whenever I need to leave and look for something else to do. Right now, I have about ₦350k saved in a separate account.

Have you considered when you might stop?

I  think I’ll do this house girl work for another two to three years to gather money. It’s one of the easiest jobs to get in Egypt. That doesn’t mean it’s not hard o. It’s really difficult. 

There’s also the risk of the police catching and deporting me. I was supposed to get a one-year work permit when I got here which would be renewed every year, but my sponsor didn’t do it. I hope to do that next year. 

It costs $1k to get the permit and about $200 to renew it every year. I’ll also have to pay for the two years I’ve already spent here.

What do you imagine will happen after?

I plan to take a software development or cybersecurity course after the third year. Maybe I’ll also look for a job I can do thrice a week, so I have more time. I can’t do much about future career plans now because my work doesn’t give me any extra time. 

Do you plan to return to Nigeria?

It’s in my plans, but I have to learn a skill first. Even people who finished university don’t have jobs in Nigeria. Not to talk of me who didn’t finish. Dropping out of school is my only regret, but I have to move on.

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

Land. I feel like owning land in Nigeria is a good investment choice.

Can you rate your financial happiness on a scale of 1-10?

4. I’m making good money, but I’m not satisfied with the level I’m currently on. That number would be a 6 if I was in another country like the US or Canada and making like $5k/month from software development or working as a travel nurse. 

That’s another thing I want to do if I had the money — study nursing. I believe I can do that well. I just generally have big dreams, and I hope I can achieve them someday.

If you’re interested in talking about your Naira Life story, this is a good place to start.

Find all the past Naira Life stories here.



Zikoko amplifies African youth culture by curating and creating smart and joyful content for young Africans and the world.