For the last 30 days, I have been living on the Nigerian national minimum wage. I have been doing this to raise awareness of the falling standards of living in the country. N18,000 is roughly USD$49.7, GBP £35, and EUR €44.
These are the 11 things I learnt while existing on approximately US$1.8 a day.
Right before I started the challenge, I went to the bank to get my N18,000 in hundred Naira notes. Sales attendants generally have a habit of not having change. Change is such a scarce commodity that most times you end up parting with it. Since I am on a strict budget, every little helps!
Now, I get a kick when I can see them starting to formulate the words, ‘I don’t have change’, and then I whip out my change with a smirk on my face.
Last weekend, I went to Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) with a friend who had a health emergency. He didn’t have health insurance and couldn’t afford other private facilities. We spent the entire day there because we needed to wait for the doctor to arrive first. After he arrived around midday, he made a long phone call and then went on to have lunch before finally deciding to attend to my friend. While we waited, we saw how people who arrived at the accident and emergency unit were treated with a blasé attitude.
Not a single attendant rushed with a stretcher to pull people out of cars and ambulances. Every attendant I saw wore flip-flops and seemed very relaxed when it came to helping patients. We interacted with some very kind nurses and doctors but being pleasant doesn’t save lives. As long as you can’t afford high quality healthcare, you better be in constant supplication to God about your health.
Meat and fish are quite pricey on my budget so I’ve decided to stay off it completely. I make one meal each week. Luckily, I have steady power supply to be able to store it. The average minimum wage earner does not. I made sweet potato and sauteed ugu in the first week and beans and potato porridge in the second.
The trick is to wait till you are absolutely starving before eating. That way you don’t get bored of having the same meal every day.
I have been walking long distances to save on transport. This means I’m getting in that Vitamin D and working those muscles at the same time. I have very little to snack on during the days so I’m eating only at meal-times and drinking lots of water to stay hydrated. Just look at me glow!
I thought I disliked bargaining until I started living on the minimum wage. I only bargained as a matter of formality and sometimes it never worked because I really wasn’t interested. These days, when I bargain, it comes straight from the heart because I really need it. And it seems to work!
I bargain for everything now – the bus, keke rides, crayfish at the market – nothing is off limits.
Right before I started the challenge, a few of my friends teased me that my style was a dead giveaway that I didn’t belong on the bus. Well, I’ve been riding dirty with this baby.
The difficulty of the public transport system in Lagos is further compounded by the weather. Whenever it rains, the city of 21 million people gets flooded quicker than it takes to cook a small pack of Indomie. Unfortunately for me, it’s rainy season right now and I can’t afford a raincoat or boots. Every morning when I wake up, I scan the skies for any signs of rain before I step out.
On my way to work the other day, I was sat next to this young woman who legit has three boyfriends. One’s name is saved as Sugar Bunny on her phone, the second one is called Moyo Union and I wasn’t sure what the third one is called. Once she got on the bus she took out her phone and called each of them one after the other to say her sweet goodmornings to them.
While, I’m doing my best to eat meals I have cooked myself, it is not always possible. I got these roasted plantains for lunch on Monday because Boli is usually a winning snack but these ones were unripe and tasted horrible. I now know that the trick is to always look out for the softer bright yellow ones. In some places it comes with a pepper sauce or with palm oil and fish. It’s filling and yummy if you get it right.
Because I only make one meal each week, I thought it would be a good idea to have Akara and Agege bread for breakfast every now and then. As a treat, I had it on Monday and it cost me N100. I thought I could have it again on Wednesday for breakfast but after the long journey to the office, I arrived late (9:50 am) and missed the goodies.