I’m sitting at Ice Cream Factory (ICF) in Phase 1 waiting for my friend to come scoop me up. I promised to help her with a presentation tonight and in return she will pay for the Belgian waffle and cafe latte I’m about to have. I normally don’t help my friends for food but when you are on minimum wage, you try to convert opportunities handed to you to either food or money.
My bill of N2,800.02 is what I need her to pay. People on minimum wage must think this is exorbitant. N2800 can pay for a few meals so they would never spend that on a snack. When my friend arrived, we spoke about how my coffee tasted divine. There was a scoop of vanilla ice cream in it. I passed the cup to her so that she could feel the coffee and melted cream, swirl around her tongue.
While still in my caffeine delight, I said, “God this is amazing” and she said, “You know, a lot of these people don’t even know what this tastes like”. We sat for a bit so that I could talk about how miserable I’ve been since I started the challenge. I was miserable when I had to cook my beans, I was miserable that I’ve been so tired all week, that I haven’t read or watched a TV show before bed like I normally do. I am miserable that my back hurts because I have to walk with my heavy backpack. I am miserable that my phone battery is bad and my phone dies all the time so I can’t post as much about the challenge as I would like. I am miserable because I feel that the lack of money has taken away many of my choices.
For me, this is just a challenge but for millions of people, this is real life, and unfortunately, it might be until the day they die. A nice cup of coffee is a luxury. A scoop of ice cream is a luxury. A waffle…I’m sorry what’s that?! And the list goes on and on and on. Even when it comes down to the basics, so many people cannot afford the essentials for a decent life.
I have been walking a lot to save on transport and I like walking. It is one of my favorite things to do- to just wander and explore. I feel very grounded when I walk. With every footstep, I feel that I am alive and I am meant to be where I am at that very moment. I feel like I am part of the universe and it gives me great joy and comfort. In the last 11 days, I have had sparse moments of my usual feelings of connectedness. I feel off-balance. I’m not walking for pleasure, I am walking because I have to save money.
I wonder how much time low-income people spend mulling over their feelings. How do you respond to hardship when it is all you have known? Does being born into it and having to live it everyday prevent you from intuitively knowing that it is wrong?
When people ask me how I am getting on with the challenge, I tell them I am exhausted. Having money brings a lot of perks that you take for granted. For example, I used to eat out a lot because it saved me from having to stand in the kitchen to prepare my own meals. On most of the nights since I started the challenge, I haven’t had dinner. I’m too tired after being in Lagos traffic. My sleep monitor says I have been sleeping for an average of seven hours each night but I feel like I just took a nap whenever I wake up. I will buy a new phone when I’m done with the challenge. Real minimum wage earners will have to save for a long time to get one.
I read somewhere that Nigerians polled as some of the happiest people in the world. There must have been mass delusion in the air when that poll was taken. As I walked to ICF, I saw tens of people trooping out of the Lekki gate. At first, I felt like I had just stepped into a stream of people. You know how it is when you are walking into oncoming human traffic; you need to figure out your own lane. Once I found my footing and my brain had caught up with my legs in deciding my path, I started to pay more attention to the people who crossed my path. There were two young women selling boiled groundnuts. Three girls walked by, carrying Agege bread on their heads. They seemed to be chatting away happily. I wondered if they had been at school earlier in the day. The men and women looked very focused on getting to the bus. I guess they had worked really hard all day long. I thought, ‘Nigerians clearly do want to work. Maybe they are just not getting the right breaks? Maybe they just keep getting dealt the wrong cards?’
While my legs are strong enough to walk the 45 minutes to my friend’s house, I came to sit here, eat something sweet, drink a nice cup of coffee because its been too long; and to just take a moment to recognize just how deep in the hole we are.