So what is The Alejo Project?
Alejo means ‘guest in Yoruba. In Alejo Project (#alejoproject), we tell the undiluted stories of foreigners who have moved to Nigeria. This project tells first-hand stories of their own Nigeria and is curated by The Village Pot; an online platform for uncovering food, culture and travel stories across Africa. Click here to read the first edition of the series and HERE for the second one.
The diversity of Nigeria attracts people of all shapes and sizes and for all colours of reasons, including pink! One British woman, Sarah Potter, came to Nigeria for five months in 2016 to assist Run for a Cure Africa in raising funds for Cancer.
The organisation provides stable and accessible healthcare to women in Nigeria. For over a year, she had worked remotely with the group and took the opportunity to visit Nigeria during the annual fundraising run and other events. Armed with very conflicting information about the country, she held on to hope that there had to be positive experiences especially because she had friends who were living very vivid lives here.
Coming to Nigeria
Coming to Nigeria was not easy. Sarah remembers how difficult it was to find positive stories about Nigeria. She says, “the stories mostly focus on what might go wrong, or scare stories about bribery, corruption and kidnap.” From across the ocean, she was somewhat scared of the security situation especially since her first visit to the continent of Africa was precluded by these horror stories. Knowing that she had Nigerian friends helped ease her concerns and opened her eyes to the side of the country that the media had failed to announce. It is later, that she will become dismayed by how poorly the spotlight shines on what she describes as “the endless hospitality and friendly nature of Nigerians.”
“Outside the airport, I could not see anything. I walked into the middle of a sandstorm and there was little Sun for the next few weeks.”
When she eventually arrived at the airport in Lagos, a previous trip to another country had prepared her for the worst of what to expect. So, despite being nervous, she sailed through and was able to navigate customs. Her friends welcomed her with warmth and she was eager to explore the city of Lagos. As she walked into the renowned Nigerian humid heat, she could see nothing. A sandstorm was making its way through the state and for the next few weeks, the sun will come out very scarcely.
Nigeria quickly grabbed Sarah’s heart and she believes that it was because she was willing to explore what the country had to offer. “Nigeria is not perfect,” she recalls, “but what country is?” In her words: “When I tell people I am going back, they exclaim. But my response is always, ‘of course I am going back’. The fact that so little is provided means that there is a creativity and ingenuity to how people navigate their everyday lives that i have never seen before,” she says. Daily challenges like poor power supply, she believes, allow Nigerians to navigate their communities deeply irrespective of their social strata. She even points out an up-side to the lack of constant power supply. She says, “When we did not have light, we stayed up and talked through the night without interruption. This is rare these days but it allowed me spend quality time with my Nigerian family.” She also appreciates the outward portrayals of respect which are embedded in Nigerian daily cultures. “I love the fact that people greet with ‘good morning’ and ‘good afternoon’ and it is something I have picked up, even though people look at me strangely when I say that in the UK.” In her words, “people connect more in Nigeria than in the UK. Having a full house all the time with people coming and going without notice was a big change for me. But I appreciate that when people ask who I am an why I am here, they really want to know and they ask from a good place.”
Favourite Memories from Nigeria
The small team at Run For a Cure Africa proved to be more than just a circle of friends, but family. In fact, Sarah credits this year’s race day as one of her favourite memories. She says, “we had dealt with all kinds of challenges leading up to event and on the night before the race, we were glad everything had fallen into place.” However, the skies would have a different plan. “As we set out from The Palms, Lekki in the morning”, she says, “the heavens opened and a rainstorm kicked in.” Despite the inclement weather and flying marquees, Sarah also praises the entire team of volunteers for ensuring that people had a memorable race. She says that it was raining and people were running through streams of water but “everyone had a blast.” She continues, “at the end of such a long day, we had a birthday party by the lagoon fuelled by small chops and my favorite, suya.” According to Sarah, this was a perfect day in Lagos.
As she slides on from the events of the race day, Sarah does not miss an opportunity to talk more about food. “My favourite Nigerian food is Suya, I could eat that for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day” she says. Perhaps the fact that she feels it is so Nigerian and quite unlike anything she can find in the UK makes it all the more appetising. But it is more than just the taste that makes suya so memorable for Sarah. She says, “I love the process of chatting up the suya sellers, even though they always seem to busy preparing their suya and not interested in talking to me.” The spices are also a major attraction. “I love taking extra suya spices home,” she quips.
“On my first day in Lagos, everyone else got a big plate and I was given a small bowl of yam porridge. I was confused. When I asked for the rest of my food, the response was a surprise” she says. “Oh we didn’t think you would eat it!”
Nigeria’s Biggest Surprises
Sarah’s love for food becomes even more evident when she describes her biggest surprises. “I love the fact that whenever I walk into a Nigerian house a plate of food arrives within minutes, stacked high with all sorts of rich and satisfying goodies” she reminisces. Her exploration of the food was a major part of getting to know and understand the Nigerian people and cultures. However, the biggest surprises were those that Nigerians had of Sarah rather than those she had of the country. “On my first day in Lagos, everyone else got a big plate and I was given a small bowl of yam porridge. I was confused. When I asked for the rest of my food, the response was a surprise” she says. “Oh we didn’t think you would eat it!” was the response. She prides herself in her adventurous spirit and ability to try anything and Nigeria was no exception. She continues, “my friend’s mother in-law was amazed that I was willing to try egusi soup, okra soup, moi moi, small chops, jollof rice and spicy stew.” No wonder she had taken several cooking classes in many people’s kitchen by the time she was returning to the UK.
Making New Memories
While she is currently back in the UK on a short contract, Sarah believes her stint with Nigeria is not over. “I will be back in 2017”, she says longingly.
Alejo means ‘guest in Yoruba. In Alejo Project, we tell the undiluted stories of foreigners who have moved to Nigeria. This project tells first-hand stories of their own Nigeria. Would you like to recommend someone to be featured in Alejo Project? Send us a message on our Facebook, Twitter and Inst