In an exclusive interview with Punch Newspapers, a Hungarian lady, Emese Doktor and later renamed to Ibukun Afolabi, popularly known as White Naija Girl, who is married to a Nigerian man and decided to hawk sachet water on the streets of Lagos in a bid to feel the pain Nigerians feel, has spoken out on her experiences in the country, life in Lagos, embracing Nigeria’s rich culture and more.
Below are excerpts from the chat;
Can you give a brief background of yourself?
My husband gave me a Nigerian (Yoruba) name, ‘Ibukun,’ which means ‘blessing.’ I am originally from Hungary. I live in the United Kingdom at the moment. In 2008, I came to the UK, where I met my husband, Gbenga Afolabi of MagnumN3. I studied Business and Management. I also hold degrees in German and French languages. When I first came to the UK, I could not speak English, so I had to start learning it from the beginning.
In 2012, I decided to start a blog, the whitenaijagirl.com, soon after I got married. Initially, I wanted to write a book, but my husband advised me to start a blog instead so I could reach more people. I started to write about my experiences as a ‘Nigerian’ wife. Soon, many people — men and women – in relationships with Nigerians started to contact me, asking different questions. The blog became quite successful. Finally, I visited Nigeria in the middle of October last year. I stayed for a month. It was during that period that the video of me selling sachet water was shot.
Was your visit to Nigeria in October your first trip to the country?
Yes it was. But here in the UK, I have had contacts with a lot of Nigerians. The church I attend in the UK is predominantly a Nigerian church. I have always been inspired by Nigerians and their way of living. I love the culture, food and their attitude to life. I also love it that Nigerians take education seriously. My husband is a film-maker and I produce most of his films. When we came to Nigeria; that was when I noticed how hard people in Nigeria are working and how much they needed to struggle on a daily basis to earn a living.
What was the inspiration behind the video of you selling pure water and drinks on the streets of Lagos?
It is because I saw these people doing this every day for a living. And I wondered why they had to live like that in a rich country like Nigeria. That ‘pure’ water video was done because I wanted to experience what Nigerians are going through, to empathise with them and to go through what they are going through. I realised that it is really hard. And I wanted people to know about this. In the UK, when you have a child, you get child benefits. In Nigeria, there is nothing like that. It is difficult for the women hawking ‘pure’ water. It is really a difficult job. I wanted to raise awareness about their plight.
These people need help from the government. They don’t have to risk their lives on the road doing such a job. That was purely my inspiration. It was a great experience, I felt their struggle, because it was hot, you could see me sweating. The load was very heavy. At the beginning, I could not take off the bowl from my head. It was hurting my head even though I had the scarf on. I am planning other projects to raise more awareness about the difficulties every day people face. For me, what I did (selling pure water) was not so extraordinary. What is extraordinary is that people are doing this job daily for a living.
That thing (bowl of sachet, bottled water and drinks) on my head felt so heavy and I only carried it for less than an hour. But those people who do it for a living actually do that for about eight to 10 hours a day. They are the real heroes, not me. I did it for less than an hour because we attracted a little too much attention so we could not carry on. And that was at the time the police were really after people selling on the streets. So, we were a little cautious so as not to get into trouble.
Were you scared at any point?
No, I was not scared. People only gathered there because it was something different, they do not see a white lady doing that every day. Two female hawkers gave me and a friend their goods to sell for that period. They were very nice. We gave the two ladies all of the money that we earned on that day.
How much did you make?
I even told my husband that we made so much money that I might just change my career from film-making to hawking sachet water. We sold all the sachet water in the container quickly, then people started buying the bottled water as well. I could not remember the exact total amount we made but I think it was between N2, 000 and N3,000 in approximately 20 minutes.
White Naija Girl and her Nigerian hubby and son
Tell us about your Nigerian family?
I met my husband in 2011, and we got married in 2012. We have two children, a boy and a girl. My husband is from Osogbo in Osun State. My children have been there. They live in Nigeria at the moment. They have been in Nigeria since October with my mother-in-law, their grandmother, because I want to ensure my children know where they are from and for them to have a rich mind. Currently they are getting some education from their grandmother. My four-year-old son attends school in Lagos and speaks Yoruba fluently. My daughter is 19 months old and she has been in Nigeria for only a few months. But she is obviously still little and does not speak the language much. I want them to know about their culture.
How do you feel that some Nigerians don’t know much about their culture?
I am a little bit disappointed about that, because Nigeria has such a wonderful culture; the family ties are so strong and they care about each other. It is just so beautiful. And when I see some Nigerians who don’t want to learn their language or about their own culture, it is such a shame. We should encourage our children to speak our local languages and to know a lot about our culture and people. Although I think things are changing for the better now. I know some people who wanted their children to learn English only, but now they are getting teachers to teach their children Yoruba.
What makes Nigerian culture different from others, like in Hungary and the rest of Europe?
Hungary is a very small country, it is next to Austria, and we are quite westernised. There is not so much difference between English and Hungarian cultures. One of the things I always like to emphasise is the family ties. In Nigeria, the family is important, they are so close to each other, and somehow that is fading away in Western cultures. I want my children to come back to me when I grow older. I love that bit so much.
Many Nigerians complain about hard life in the country. What do you have to say to Nigerians who want their children to study abroad?
To be honest with you, there is nothing wrong with getting a good education abroad, but we always need to try and give something back to places where it is really needed, and Nigeria is that place. It is okay if you want your children to school in the UK or wherever, but you always need to make sure they bring something back that can help make Nigeria better. I believe that even in Nigeria, there are good schools.
What are some funny and weird things about Nigerians?
This is a bit funny in some cases: no matter how bad a situation is, Nigerians would say, “It is well.” Sometimes, it sounds crazy, even when the situation is horrible. So, sometimes, when my husband says, “It is well,” I would just say, “Do you know what? Just don’t say anything!” But it is amazing though, I love the positive attitude.