How I bought N200 meal in Lagos

Nigerians are indeed a resilient lot. In the middle of this stinging economy, someone still sells cooked rice in N50 bits and meat in N50 chunks. But before I get to that, I’ll walk you through the journey.

 

ofada-rice
Ofada! As it should be.

It was my birthday yesterday so I thought to wear a new look. I called an old hair stylist and confirmed he was free to make my hair. I drove up to his plaza on Opebi and while I struggled to find parking space, I called him to assist. Then he said he was standing outside but couldn’t see me. When I inquired where, it turned out he had moved to another plaza on Allen avenue (about 5minutes away). I turned the car around and headed to this new place. While walking me from the car, we had an interesting conversation.

Me: So when did you move and why?

Martin: Ha! This is the second place since Amazing Grace o (the Opebi plaza). I was paying 50k (50 thousand Naira) before (monthly). Suddenly, she (landlady/caretaker) said I should bring 80k. Where will I see that? So I moved to one other place, still on Opebi. We no do 3months, court came to seal the building. I didn’t know there was a problem before moving in. We just came to work one morning and saw government people. It was after that I moved here.

This new place is a whole floor milling with people: hair stylists, nail technicians, boutique operators, make-up artists; were the much I could count. Each had their corners and ‘hustled’ customers. Martins’ corner is well defined and partitioned away from others. His space was well pimped with mirrors on the wall, chairs, a hanging TV, standing fan and the usual accompanying salon equipment.

Barely had I sat when a young lady came with smiles, greeted, and asked if I would be making my nails too. I told a polite ‘no’. Another well made-up face came to market beauty products to me. I said, ‘no, thank you’. Before I would finish my hair, four more people came, greeting warmly first, then marketing one product or service; all beauty related.

It was while I sat in Martins’ chair, that the ofada (a local rice delicacy) matter happened. Martin asked a female assistant to get him N50 rice and two pieces of meat. I thought I didn’t hear right. Who still sells N50 food and how far can that go in filling a man? The food came, covered. Then I ordered for N100 rice and two pieces of meat. It came; concealed in black nylon, placed on a plate with a spoon.

When my hair was done, I grabbed the plate and began to eat from the nylon in complete market style. It was so tasty. Then I ate and I ate and ate and continued to eat until my tummy was FULL. I could not believe I paid N100 for this portion of rice. The beef was sizeable and well-spiced too. It was almost finger licking good.

It was when the rice seller came for her money that I found out the meat was N50 a piece. What?!!! Incredulous!!! People, that’s how I filled my food tank spending N200 in Lagos, Nigeria in the year 2016. I always have a bottle of water with me so I didn’t have to spend on water.

Back to Martins. He used to own a beauty parlour in a fairly big space in Opebi. He had an in-house nail technician and about four hair assistants. He ran his own generator and controlled who and what came in his shop. He even had a small boutique section.

In this new facility, everything is shared: space, water and power. They all use a central generator that kicks in when government power fails. There’s a floor manager to whom they direct all concerns. For the two hours or less that I was there, power must have failed about six times. I heard an assistant grumble about the ‘useless generator that ought to be sold’ and how the ‘useless (erratic) supply’ had damaged two of her plugged phone chargers only last week.

Perhaps the most frightening and singular most important new challenge is that: Martins just moved in with competition and there’s little he can control. This is how he copes in this economy.

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In this economy, Chicken is chicken

Have you gone shopping recently? If your barber still cuts hair for the same amount, you should collect the hair he shaves off you at your next cut. And if you are one of those who have a haircut twice weekly, I leave you to God.

 

haircut
In this economy?

 

Suddenly, everyone knows the word ‘economy’. My eleran (meat seller) won’t cut N300 beef again for my children (I’m #teamFitfam now so no red meat for me). Meat pricing begins from N500. My preferred Titus fish is now N400, 450 – the same sizes I bought two weeks ago for N300, 350. Funny, how tomatoes has stayed afloat – the Yoruba kind; not the fat, round, strong, succulent type.

 

Ugu is even worse. Six flowered sticks for N50. To cook a medium-size pot of Edi Ka Ikong these days, you will need to spend at least N500 on buying leaves (in place of N200). Yes, leaves; so you better stop weeding the Ugu and water leaf growing behind your house and ask your children to begin watering them when they return from school.

 

children-gardening
Children gardening. Photo credit: bloominthyme.com

 

Chicken is healthier than red meat, says my fitness coach, so I was at my poultry seller’s on Saturday evening. As I waited for my turn, the woman before me – clothed in full Owambe regalia – contemplated her purchase.

“How much is chicken?”

“N1000 ma”

“Live nko?”

“Two-five, Two- eight ma. Depending on the size”

“Ha! But Sallah has passed nau”

She contemplates a bit. Fidgets with her purse. Some crisp N100 notes she probably sprayed or was sprayed at the party fell out as she took out her handkerchief. She ‘weighs’ the chicken laps in her hand, not trusting the scale. 3 laps make 1 kilo. She eyes the live chicken staring her from the cage, mutters something under her breath and from nowhere says,  ‘gimme chicken wings please. Chicken is chicken’.

 

 

I burst out in laughter. Our eyes meet. She explains, ‘my sister, this economy ehn…we don’t even know where we are going”. I nodded and sighed in agreement. She collected her chopped chicken wings and left. Then it was my turn to contemplate.

This season, I’m trying well-packaged alternatives. Yes. I’m forced to try out brands I have previously walked past on the shelves. If it can save me a few zeros and is decently packed, I give it a shot. An example is Bird’s 400g Custard jar that now retails for N920. The spirit of the Lord has led me to a new brand called ‘Checkers’ which costs N400 in my estate and N320 outside. Same 400g!

checkers-2
Checkers yummy custard

Yes, Checkers turns watery quickly if left unattended to after preparation, but frankly I just ensure the kid is ready to eat before I prepare it.
Creativity is so invaluable these days so I have fallen in love with cooking my Okra soup while counting on my smoked Titus fish to secrete sufficient cooking oil. Yes it is healthier dear friend but perhaps more importantly, I don’t have to BUY palm oil! The market conversations these days are truthfully, depressing.