Today I am writing about a topic about which you might think I have no experience, but please can I just enlighten you, dear Reader, that I have, through no desire of my own, had plenty! I do not generalise (in general) but eight times out of ten  my interactions with Nigerians have left me poorer either emotionally or financially.

I believe there are more Nigerians outside of Nigeria, than inside, and I suspect that both categories have personally tried to assist me in parting with my money. Almost on a daily basis a Nigerian saint, at the end of his life, would like to enrich me with an inheritance so impressive I would never need to work again. Or, an uncle, unbeknown to me, residing in a first world country would like to pay millions of dollars into my account, via an account in Nigeria, if I could only assist with a few measly Rands to cover the transfer costs.

 I, along with an indeterminate number of “undisclosed recipients” have also repeatedly won the lotto in various countries, all kindly administered by a Nigerian.

Many dying children are helped on a daily basis by a Nigerian who tirelessly collects money on their behalf, often asking me for a small donation. It is entertaining how the same picture of the dying child gets circulated year in and year out. The child never ages, but his fatal disease changes according to our emotional fashion trends.

Apart from their cunning pyramid schemes and get-rich-quick plans, they also love to pay huge amounts of money into my account…. accidently. Then they phone and demand I pay them back, which of course I don’t, but it is rather tiring when they phone you at all hours demanding we refund them. The favourite story is that they thought they were paying the hospital for an urgent heart procedure or emergency brain surgery and if I do not refund them the patient will die imminently and suffer terribly. The story varies, but it always ends the same way: the money gets reversed out of my account and I never hear from them again, until the next time they phone me with their very distinctive accent.

But I digress. I have met many Nigerians I adored. During 2021 we had a big contingent who arrived for medical treatment. They had injuries and diseases across the spectrum. There was a man who stepped on a landmine. His leg was about to be amputated but he got to SA just in time and after three months we sent him home walking! There was a man who was in a bomb blast and a woman who had spinal surgery, three kids all in need of heart surgery, andnd then the most difficult one of them all, the one who complained non-stop, had a complex diet and endless demands while he suffered loudly had… haemorrhoids.

So started my newfound friendship with a nation I had always distrusted, and a while ago, it took on a life on its own. I was sitting at my desk and the untrained eye would think I was working, doing accounts or something important. I was not. I was in fact browsing  the internet looking for a book I can’t find on Kindle. In the middle of my search, Uber drives in and drops  off a tall, pale man wearing a Nigerian outfit,  not one of the over-the-top flashy outfits favoured by the drug lords and pimps, and not the full-on Muslim regalia that some of them sport. No, this was like a long embroidered pyjama thing; very stately in an unassuming way. He was probably in his early 80s and walked into the reception, with a dignified air and at the pace of a textbook headed to Limpopo (for international readers, this is how we say super slow in SA).

He opened his mouth, and like in the classics, he had me at “Hello”. He sounded JUST like Nelson Mandela! I’m not sure how this Nigerian managed it,  but it was like my ears were  being caressed with sweet  pearls  of wisdom from a velvety voice.

 He told us that he tried to book online but something was wrong with “our”  internet. (Old people making bookings online is usually a mess, we’ve learned this the hard way – REPEATEDLY – so we didn’t think too much about this). Luckily, we had space and he started completing the heap of paperwork I make my guests endure before they put foot in a room.

Aha, first problem: he did not know how long he was staying. Anything between a day and a few months he tells me. Remember now, I am so enchanted with this grey old man, that he has me wrapped around his finger. I explain that we can only help him for two nights because we are fully booked after that.

Second problem, he does not have ZAR. Problem solved, I quickly force Mr Nine (our longsuffering driver) to take him to the bank. It does not matter how beautiful a voice or dignified a stature he has, Nigerians’ US dollars simply cannot make it into my account.

For the first two nights he stays without incident. He turns out to be rather lovely and humble, and I find out that he is here to see a doctor I know well. His prognosis can’t be good. I know the area of specialisation of said doctor. The morning after the second night, he takes his usual place for breakfast next to the fire. I bend down on my haunches (you know, the way they train the Spur waiters – apparently it’s a good thing to look your patrons in the eye. I believe Barbara Woodhouse had a similar motto when training her pooches). “Mr Yakubu,” I say, “we don’t have space for you for tonight, what is your plan?”

“Ahhh,” he says, “I have heard you have a spare room in your house.”

He has heard correctly, but I don’t quite understand how this would impact him.

“Now,” he says  (picture the Madiba voice) “I think it best that I move in with your family.”

I said, “No” and that was the end of it. I booked him into Holiday Inn and never heard from him again… is how this chapter should end, but of course I said, “Ahhh, what a clever idea” (strange Nigerian man I have only known for 48hours!)  and so, in moves Mr Yakubu, into our spare room, lock, stock and barrel, “for a day or two” he says.

It was much more than that! Every few days he would extend by another few. In the end I merrily allowed him to pay me in dollars and had no idea whether they were even remotely real. (I also left them under my couch, Pala-Pala vibes and all).

Our spare room is actually more of a little flat and Mr Yakubu got takeaways most of the time. He could not cook. On Father’s day, I felt such pity for him, being all alone in a strange country without his children and grandchildren, so, I invited him to Sunday lunch. Imagine if you will, the lunch table where we have seated my whole crazy conservative Afrikaans family, my husband’s heavy drinking Scottish sisters and him… a tall Madiba-sounding Nigerian.

The next week he proceeded to eat take-aways again until one night,  Husband had to go and help him with the television in his room. When Husband was distracted and weakened by his beautiful voice, he pounced (or should I say pounced on his good soul). “Ahhhhhhh,” he says, “the best day in SA was when I had your wife’s food. Now, every night at 5:30 I smell her food and I know, I do not get to partake.”

I think you know what ‘s coming. Husband and I discussed it, and as we knew for certain that Mr Yakubu’s surgery was booked for certain in the next few days, we would give him dinner only a few times. He was  set to leave for certain, and then he’d have a lovely memory of us. We used the word “certain” a lot while we discussed this, completely forgetting that there is no word in any African language for “certain”. In Africa, nothing is certain. Listen next time when Tswana, Zulu or Shangaan people speak to each other. When they use the word “certain”, it is in English. Only Western people are stupid enough to think anything is certain. Definitely. For sure. Really. Absolutely. Written in stone. 100%. Without a doubt.

On the very next day, I announced to Mr Yakubu that I will make him dinner each night.  I will not charge him, but he will then just have to eat what I cook, which is sometimes really very sad indeed. He was delighted.

He obviously did not leave soon after the dinners started. The suregery was postponed. In fact, he started putting on weight and had to ask the same husband who got me into cooking nightly dinners, to add a hole in his belt to loosen it!

Every night, Daughter 1 or Daughter 2  went up with a tray and gave him his warm meal, made with love. One night, Daughter 1 went. “Ahhhh,”he said “ (remember, Madiba voice right?) “I see the Mommy is putting me on diet, I think you guys must increase my portions.” (Yes really, I am not making this stuff up!)

I was cross for exactly five seconds and then I thought, maybe he is the Nigerian uncle that will one day die and need to leave money to a real person…. and then, who better than me?

He never had the surgery. He stayed and stayed and stayed and had a variety of treatments once or twice a week. He started phoning estate agents just to get out, and pretended to look at houses. Every day a new agent would pitch up, drive him around thinking he was going to pay for their next holiday, while I knew perfectly well that there was a bigger chance of Eskom pulling itself together! He started waiting next to my car, eyes pleading to go for a ride, but I stopped the charity with the bigger portioned evening meals.

Mr Yakubu eventually went back to Lagos where he soon disappeared into the blue yonder. I did not hear from him again. However, all the doctors, oncologists, day clinics etc. make sure I do not forget him… he told them in no uncertain terms, that he left cash with me, his white daughter, who would certainly settle his bills.