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Shifting Sands

Philly cream cheese

Philly cream cheese (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When Jeff broke the news we were moving to Lagos, I attempted to research some of the ways in which my life would change.  Jeff had been living alone in Tripoli for a year and was joyfully anticipating not having to do anything for himself at all (that is a direct quote).

Not surprisingly, the results were alarming. Lagos tops the polls for the world’s worst city in which to live or work in a number of surveys based on  different measures such as ease of movement, personal safety, pollution, amenities, health care and housing. Although these points are valid, we are able to avoid most of the downsides, unlike many Nigerians. A company provided driver makes travel less intimidating and safer. Police guards on the gate to the staff housing and the razor wire/electric fence combination provide an element of security. The two generators on site prevent aggravation from constant power outages and every room has an air conditioner. Even the turkey living on the vacant lot next store is still alive, looking defiantly plump and fearless.

One factor that cannot be escaped, however, is the staggeringly high price of imported food. Some of the web sites I visited featured interviews with expat wives who mentioned the price of food and other goods but nothing prepared me for the shock of that first grocery trip. One $US is currently exchanged for 157 Naira. Jeff examined our grocery receipt when we arrived home, penniless, to find that the frozen garden peas were $US 10, 250g of Philadelphia cream cheese was $US 11, four brown onions were $US 6 and a lettuce was $US 7.  Recently a friend was shocked to be charged $US 2.50 for one small orange. This was at a large supermarket, not one of the many specialty stores catering  for expats.

As a result, our eating and shopping habits have undergone a dramatic change. We buy local fish and chicken supplemented with South African beef and pork. One of the local ex-pat stores does sell Australian beef and lamb but I was too scared to check the price. On the way back from the supermarket last weekend, we passed a local food stall and jumped out of the car to stock up on much cheaper fruit and vegetables. Security risk be damned, we wanted that cheap lettuce!

Overall, it is much less expensive and healthier to give up processed food and enjoy local meat, fruit and vegetables while living in Lagos but I do miss Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and Tim Tam biscuits! Preferably in the same bowl.

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