MADAM, ARE YOU BACK ? Living in Nigeria.

Madam, Are You Back? is a small ‘window’ into what life is like within a poor, corrupt city of West Africa , from the perspective of an expatriate.   Port Harcourt is situated in the Niger Delta, in the tropics.  Despite being in the oil rich region of Nigeria , most of the people in this predominantly Christian area are very poor.  The area is part of the region of Biafra that suffered huge deprivation during the Biafran conflict.   

It is an account of personal experiences, commenting on the small things that demonstrate the differences from a Western lifestyle, in a country that is very resource rich, but the people are kept poor by corruption and poor management and where very little of the huge amounts of money made by the Government is re-invested in the country, and in particular that area.   This anecdotal account of experiences and incidents observed are often viewed from a humorous perspective, but also describe much of the way of life and the people of Nigeria in that area of the country.   

Nigeria is not everyone’s ‘holiday’ destination because of the dangers associated with living and travelling in the country.  Local people are frustrated by the conditions they have to live under and use force to fight those in power, or those that they see as creating their problems, yet nothing seemed to change.  

Signs on the streets and business names with amusing spelling and terminology are illustrated throughout. 

In Store Price: $AU35.95 
Online Price:   $AU34.95

ISBN:  978-1-921118-97-5
Format: B5 Paperback
Number of pages: 296
Genre:  Non Fiction


Author: Debbie Cashmore
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published: 2007
Language: English


About the author

Debbie Cashmore was born in Western Australia and spent her childhood on a farm in Hyden before attending secondary school as a boarder in Perth .


She pursued a career in teaching, gaining a Bachelor of Education and Graduate Diploma of Physical Education. After resigning from teaching she obtained a Graduate Diploma in Business and worked in administrative positions until returning to teaching computer studies in technical colleges. She continued working as a trainer in computer studies and mining inductions for businesses in Perth .


After marrying, she joined her husband on overseas postings. Two years living in Port Harcourt , Nigeria provided ample material to write a book – a dream she had always nurtured.


This is an anecdotal account of the life and experiences in a country so different from Australia .


Debbie may be contacted at the following email address:


“Do you want the good news or the bad news?”  

When asked that question I am never sure which I want to hear first, so I asked for the bad news as it could only improve.

“We have been offered a position in Port Harcourt .”

“Where’s that?” I inquired.

Nigeria .” (I think I heard myself gasp). “But the good news is…I haven’t said I will take it yet.”

That conversation was the commencement of what was to become a two-year stint living and working in Nigeria .

Nigeria had always been one of those places heard about on the news, where people are conned, robbed and assassinated. It seemed to me that ‘human life’ and ‘respect for others’ in Nigeria were given little value, and that political, religious and tribal unrest was a daily event. Nigeria was the home of the confidence tricksters I had already been exposed to through numerous emails written in block capitals asking that I reveal my bank account number so that huge amounts of money could be deposited for safekeeping. A percentage of the total would be given to me, as my reward for ‘helping them’. Once given, all I would have to do was wait for the money to start ‘pouring in???’. Anybody who has been caught in this type of con finds that they lose a much greater amount of money than they were ever likely to gain.

Apart from all the negative media reports, I knew very little about Nigeria , so decided my education had to begin in earnest, just in case we did agree to go there. Initially I dusted off my old school atlas and discovered this large West African country was situated just above the equator. I was pleased to see that Port Harcourt was close to the equator, so it would be warm all year round. That was my first positive. I had no idea how many more there were to discover.

Port Harcourt is the ‘ Oil City ’ of Nigeria , situated on a delta on the perimeter of numerous oil fields. Gas flares from oil refineries and oil fields surrounding the city are clearly visible, particularly at night as their glow lights up the surrounding area. There are many businesses based around oil exploration. Living costs are higher in Port Harcourt than in many other parts of Nigeria because expatriates have tended to pay a higher price for goods and this raises the cost of everything for the locals as well. The influx of non-locals looking for work has provided the area with a mixture of people from many of the different tribes in the country.

This would be my first experience of being an expatriate wife, living in a country where I was unable to work and would have many of my activities restricted. Consequently I wondered what I would do with my time and started dreaming up projects to occupy my days. My concerns were for our safety and health, considering tropical diseases, the quality of the food and how I would deal with a radical change in my lifestyle. Many others were living there and I knew I could too. My feelings were of excitement, coupled with fear of the unknown and perhaps the likelihood of being shot!

I promised family and friends I would write and tell them all about our experiences…which has led to an affection for the people of Nigeria and the birth of this book.

Read a sample:

1 - The Pre-contract Trip

Before accepting the contract to Nigeria , Stewart visited Port Harcourt to check things out and help him decide if he wanted to accept the position. Stewart’s flight arrived at Port Harcourt International Airport , after departing late afternoon and flying from Perth via Singapore and Paris . He had an eighteen-hour wait in Paris , before leaving there at midnight to arrive in Port Harcourt at six in the morning, two-and-a-half days later.


This schedule was not conducive to a very good state of mind or coherence. He certainly was not expecting the ‘welcome’ he got. Unfortunately, nobody had informed him that perhaps on a first visit to Nigeria he would be better advised to fly to Lagos , arriving in the country the evening before. At Lagos , it is a relatively easy trip through passport and customs control, because of organised company assistance within the arrivals and customs control area of the Lagos airport.

Arriving in Port Harcourt and disembarking to join a rapidly filling queue, Stewart handed his passport to passport control. It was obvious it was his first visit, so they knew they had a ‘fresh’ one. He was asked a few questions about who he worked for and why he was visiting Nigeria . They took his passport and told him to stand behind the passport control area. Dutifully he did as he was told, after all he wasn’t about to upset any of the officials at the airport. After about ten minutes, someone came up, gave him his passport and told him he could go and collect his baggage. In retrospect he realised the action taken was probably a ploy worked out by those in the ‘know’ to identify him to everyone working at the airport as a ‘fresh fish’[1] and easy pickings.

After collecting his bags that eventually came through the carousel, he then joined the next queue to customs control where everyone had to open at least one of their suitcases. By observing the people in front of him, Stewart quickly ascertained that those who moved through the fastest were surreptitiously handing across some money.

As we had friends already working in Port Harcourt , Stewart decided to take some extra things, which he would leave with them. If we subsequently accepted the posting, at least we would have some ‘supplies’ already there. If we didn’t accept the posting, then our friends would most surely be able to use them, so it wouldn’t be a wasted exercise.

Stewart’s bags contained

1    A medical kit, after having a large number of immunisations, he was also required to carry the medication needed to prevent and treat malaria and any stomach problem he may be unfortunate enough to pick up.

2    Curry pastes and tinned tuna.

3    Books.

4    Clothing and toiletries.

Eventually it was his turn and he opened his case. The customs official immediately homed in on the cans of tuna, stating with authority that this could not be brought in.

Stewart asked, “Why not?”

The reply was mumbled and incoherent. However, having observed the routine Stewart quickly offered a US ten dollar dash[2] to settle the problem. Whilst the customs people did all this very surreptitiously, because of course it is not allowed, the intent was clear to all passengers. There was no intention to find any contraband. Payment of a dash was a quick way to get through; non-payment meant you would be held up and hassled for as long as possible.

Breathing a sigh of relief, after being told he was allowed to move on, Stewart had walked less than ten paces to the exit of the departure area, when he felt a tap on his shoulder. Turning around he was faced by a higher-ranking officer who requested he accompany him to his office, selecting at random one of the cases to be brought with him and leaving the other outside unattended. The officer closed his door and Stewart was on his own in the room with him. Once again he had to open his case, and this time the medicine pack was seized upon.

“Are you a doctor?” he asked with hands jingling in his pocket. “These are illegal drugs, this is very serious.”

Stewart, by now, in his jetlagged and frustrated state and feeling anxious, was not thinking particularly clearly and could visualise himself lying in squalor in some prison, like in the movie Midnight Express.

As he was in a very jetlagged, exhausted and stressed state, Stewart thought that the officer’s hand in his pocket meant he had drugs there and was going to plant them in his luggage. Although the Nigerians speak English, it is rather difficult to understand them as they talk in a singing, lilting way. Their turn of phrase is different to the way we speak, so trying to understand them and make oneself understood is fraught with difficulties, especially as in this case he was not going to ask directly for what he wanted. It was obvious he was trying to convey some message.

Stewart soon realised money would again solve the problem. Once again this fresh fish, not being prepared (with smaller change in an easily accessible pocket), opened his wallet to unintentionally expose a large number of euros. Immediately he was told to give fifty euros, which was reluctantly and apprehensively handed across, thereby ‘settling’ a totally uncertain outcome. Feeling suitably fleeced and exceedingly peeved, Stewart was free to take his case and go.

As he walked out from the customs area, the baggage tag official checked the bags with the airline tags. This is something they always do to make sure you haven’t taken someone else’s bag, and usually involves taking the tags off your bags and keeping them, without actually making sure the numbers correspond. The tag official asked to use Stewart’s pen to sign the ticket to make it look official. This duly done and after more delaying tactics Stewart realised he also was trying for a dash. This fresh fish had HAD ENOUGH and just pushed his way through to the outside to look for the company people he hoped would be waiting to meet him.

Eventually, he was ensconced on a bus with his luggage, but was then left to wait for three hours for another person who was held up with a problem with his passport. This man, having come to Nigeria many times before, was not jetlagged or out of his time zone. He knew the system, but was not prepared to ‘buy’ his way out, therefore he waited instead of settling. For Stewart, having travelled without sleep for over fifty hours after departing Australia on an afternoon flight, and seven hours out of his time zone, it was not a great welcome. It was the first of many times he really wondered what he was doing there. It is amazing that we ever accepted the contract!

Once at the company base he was given a room in the guesthouse. These rooms were somewhat old and neglected and he realised very quickly that the cupboard obviously leaked water when it rained, so clothes were not unpacked. He showered, changed and spent the afternoon in the office meeting people and finding out what projects were under way.

[1] Newcomer to Nigeria

[2] tip or bribe

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