I went to my local African hair shop last week Saturday, and my favourite sales-person/shop-owner was effervescent. To be honest he always is. He is one of those very few sales people who never tires of smiling. He is never unnerved by London customers’ relentless craving for attention and their sometimes reasonable, sometimes unreasonable questions. Mr Johnson wears his salesmanship like insulated leather gloves on a cold, cold winter’s night.
Mr Johnson is also like one of those annoying husbands who locks the front door on your way to a football game, only for him to do an about-turn halfway down the street. Why? To re – check the front door. And then halfway into halftime, with football fans chanting and swearing, and sweating all around you, he checks again with you, to see if he REALLY locked the door.
Yes. Mr Johnson is OCD like that, pedantic and particular.
He calls me Esam. Instead of Esame, pronounced as spelt. And I don’t bother correcting him. Usually I stop over on my way to or from work, or when I pop in for groceries. But last weekend I went for a different reason, to check how much further the Naira has fallen.
Guess how much the naira is? he asked
How much? I asked.
WhaaaaaaaaaT! I said, as my mind raced. I was calculating how much I had in my account, my meagre savings, and whether it would be best to send it all to Nigeria now that the rates have hit the roof???.
Meanwhile Mr Johnson was loading me with financial info, about the Central Banks recent attempts to contain the free fall and offering some solution on how the Naira could be rescued. And then he said, ‘Maybe you can tell me what is really happening in your country, Esam.?’
I stared blankly at him, unsure how to answer. Just then a woman came in to send £500 pounds, another man £100. People were pouring in, to check how much further the Naira has fallen and to send random amounts to Nigeria to complete the project they abandoned since Abacha died or to send to the relative who has been bugging them for money since they arrived in Jand or to buy that goat they promised Ete Bassey since 2005 when he celebrated his 60th birthday.
So the value of the pound has risen and we Londoners are going crazy. But this pound craziness is an old sickness.
Take for example the Nigerian student, who comes to study in the UK; (I read in the Guardian that Nigerian students have recently overtaken their Indian counterparts in the UK) many of those students, especially those from more humble homes (monetary wise), are seduced by the pounds. Its exchange rate, into the dollar, or Naira, remains its most compelling force. Even the Euro, the Pounds biggest competitor, has yielded more grounds under the weight of this wide – wielding, far- reaching, overarching, taskmaster.
So how then, given this incredible lure, do you expect a broke-ass student, to turn a blind eye to a job that pays, say £7 an hour (which is a reasonable average wage across London). If they work 10 hours a day @ £7 an hour, they will make £70 and with an exchange rate of say N260 to a £ that translates to N18,200, for one day’s work. They will work very long hours, everyday, until the monotonous grind, halts them, sometimes without ceremony.
Hear me now. Let us love the £s, but let us love commonsense more. Let us not confuse what the pound is; it is a cold heartless cotton paper , devoid of humanity, it has no sentiments. It is bliss to have around, but when it’s gone, it’s gone. It leaves no emotional residue, no remnant of concern; it doesn’t say ‘Oh! Hang on a minute; I think I love the cosiness of your bank account. Or ‘Mate! You look like a train wreck; I will take pity on you and multiply myself in your account’.
If you are a student and you quit school because of a £1000 job, you will always have a ceiling on how far you can go. If you find yourself calculating how much you will have in naira, remember that you are still living in London and that with £600 a month you will struggle to find a decent studio or a sub-let (face me I face you). So apply commonsense, give yourself a chance to be more.
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