LONDON CHRONICLES (4): ACCOMMODATION

The exchange rate between the Naira and the pound (₦565/£) meant that life and living for some of the Nigerian scholars tends towards privation, compared with their fellow scholars from Africa. The Kenyan shilling for instance exchanged at KSh137/£ meaning that they’d have more loose change to play around with from their country, apart from the stipend paid by the scholarship board. He hadn’t been a spendthrift, nor lived extravagantly even when he was single, talk more now that he has family responsibilities, therefore the trouble with the exchange rate didn’t affect him much regarding the much he had in Nigeria before coming over, with which he intended to cushion subsistence with the stipend, unfortunately the freeze on financial transactions using Nigerian-issued debit cards abroad by Nigeria’s Central Bank meant that he couldn’t, without hassles, cash in on the huge disparity between the pound and the naira, as it used to be in the days of round-tripping long before he came to the UK.

He could imagine that those in government and those closer to power, including their children and wards would have things easier, far more than he or any other ordinary Nigerian. These select few would even buy the pound at government approved rates, then sell at the black market, to the alarm of the Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi who ranted as much in faulting the governments’ multiple exchange rate policy, at a forum recently, in one of the days he decided to temper his happiness by updating himself with news from his country of birth. He had been informed of how moneybags had now gone into sponsoring pilgrims, in order to take advantage of the concession given adherents of Islam and Christianity going on pilgrimage to Mecca, Jerusalem and/or Rome respectively, who give about $200 out of the $1,000 allowance purchased at the approved rate to each of the pilgrim they sponsor, while ploughing the rest into the black market for more than 300% in profits.

The exchange rate became a matter of concern for him, because the issue of moving out of his current place of abode had come up. To be fair on his hostess, she nor any member of her family hadn’t asked him to move, or even inferred it from their gestures, but like one of his american course mate had succinctly put it to him, “house guests and fish smell after three days”, he was beginning to find meaning and sense in the fact that the UK wasn’t like anywhere in Africa, where you had as much right as the children born in a house, as a relative living there. Besides his mother-in-law told him, after he’d stayed a week, not to get too comfortable but rather to seek his own accommodation as it’s best not to stay too long at a relatives’, talk more in his situation where he isn’t even close to his hostess directly, apart from the fact that again, it’s the UK, not Nigeria, not Africa. Even in Nigeria, the “all-welcoming” culture is waning, especially in the cities and big towns where hosts easily get irritated when relatives turn up without informing them, or do not give a clearcut idea of how long they’d be staying. He doesn’t even encourage sleepovers, so when he found himself in the awkward situation he needn’t be told to do the needful, as he’d on his own been mulling over the issue, ever before the subtle verbal and mostly non-verbal messages started coming.

The place a cousin to his hostess found for him though close to where he was staying was too far from his school, and thus he rejected it. He could sense that that was when the awkwardness started, as it was beginning to look like he was getting too comfortable staying where he was, to have had the audacity to reject a place found for him. The truth however was that he had other considerations, chief of which was proximity to school. A friend of his who studied in London two years ago had told him it was better for him to stay near the school, and he also didn’t want to hurriedly get a place he’d end up regretting later just because he didn’t want to upset his hosts, who he felt would be much relieved at news even of an impending departure, not just because of anything untoward, besides just having things, including the number of occupants in the house, return to normal.

It hadn’t been easy house searching on his own either. Most times, what one likes won’t be there, and it may take a while to get if not exactly what one wanted, but much of a semblance of that. He found that there wasn’t much difference between looking for a house in Abuja or Lagos and London. The major difference is that in London, the house will come with electricity, water, gas, just about every amenity you need to be comfortable (unlike in most places in Nigeria, where except for electricity, which more often than not is OFF, than ON, you’d have to provide for yourself, almost everything else, without concession on rent), the issue however is the contract. With the kind of money he had, and considering his purpose and length of time he had to stay, what was available included, a five person house with one bathroom, for instance; elsewhere two to five persons (who could either be students or professionals who couldn’t afford the high cost of rent in London) to a room like in a dormitory/hostel with toilets that have “warnings” on them, with or without live-in landlord/-lady, (the last time he lived like that was as a medical student in Nigeria more than a decade ago), and even at that it was two per room in the latter years. Another he saw, that he agreed with was a kind of a hall, that’s broken into apartments.

THOUGHT-PROVOKING TOILET WARNING IN ONE OF THE "HOSTELS" LONDON.
THOUGHT-PROVOKING TOILET WARNING IN ONE OF THE “HOSTELS” IN LONDON.

Finally he settled for one of those with three bedrooms, where each of the occupants share the kitchen and bathroom only. Though the other place his hostess’ cousin found for him, also for three people, a kitchen and bathroom was better, he couldn’t take it because the landlord wanted a twelve-month rent, wondering what would happen if after a month he finds living there horrible. He wouldn’t have minded if he was allowed to pay to stay for three months, hence in that situation it wasn’t the amenities, or cost, but rather the contractual fine prints that did it in for him. The rent may or may not include the cost for the amenities, and even that may be negotiated especially if the tenant feels he may not consume as much energy for instance as outlined in the contract and therefore opt to take care of that personally. When he eventually moved to his space in London, closer to the university, more than a month after arriving in the UK he felt so much relieved though he couldn’t place his hands on the real reason for the relief he felt. His movements hadn’t been curtailed where he left for his place, but then the need for self censorship wasn’t there any longer, in as much as he wasn’t one given to excess and self-indulgence.

He ended up with postgraduate students as flatmates. One from Africa, the other European. The European was quick to cozy up to him and the other flatmate, letting them know they should feel free to share or borrow his things, especially his kitchen utensils, even though he didn’t look the type that would like to do otherwise as regards sharing theirs with them, but he elected to give him the benefit of the doubt. Although he hadn’t been in London past two months, but he’d learnt enough to feel covert and subtle racism, or the better-than-thou attitude most Europeans feel towards Africans, especially by those whose work as aid workers in Africa have helped change the lives for better of mostly children whose story may have been otherwise recounted. Sometimes, he wondered if Africans should turn a blind eye to such attitudes, as long as they get what they wanted, or bring such to the attention of Europeans with such attitudes, in case they may not be aware of their prejudices, he subconsciously noted it down as a point to discuss with an open-minded European, even his flatmate should he turn out to be one, in the coming days. His walk to the bus stop the morning after he moved into his place had some bounce to it, and he did nothing to alter it, he simply enjoyed the moment.

‘kovich

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