A Pinay ‘Nigerwife’ in Enugu

August 5, 2008

After a year in Lagos doing marketing coordination job for a lottery company, I was transferred to Enugu state in Southeast Nigeria for a lotto expansion project.

I was full of apprehension but a friend, Guiller, who worked in Enugu for 3 years, told me that Enugu is fine. So there i was in September 2007, on an Arik plane heading for the hills of Enugu.

After a week in Enugu, I was beginning to feel like I was the only Filipino in this part of Nigeria. Then in December, Jaime Lumbay came as Maintenance Engineer for the Pepsi Bottling plant in Enugu. We knew each other in Ikeja, Lagos where we met in one of those regular Sunday gatherings and Family Days.

Guiller called to tell me about a Filipina doctor who is married to a Nigerian (hence the term ‘Niger-wife’) and has been living in Enugu for quite a while. I decided to look for her bakeshop. To my pleasant surprise, it was just within walking distance from our lotto office.

I decided one day to give her a visit and went to Faye’s Bakeshoppe at Ogui Road. Only her Nigerian staff were there, but the moment they saw me, they asked if I was looking for my ‘sister‘. In Nigeria, a compatriot or fellow-countryman is described as ‘my brother’ or ‘my sister’.

I said yes, I’m looking for ‘my sistah’.

“Is madam dey?”

“A dey”, the Nigerian staff replied.

She then called somebody. “Auntie, your brother is looking for you…”
(In Nigeria, ‘auntie’ and ‘uncle’ is term of respect for somebody older than the speaker, even when not related by blood.)

I looked into the kitchen and saw an chinese-looking woman looking at me in astonishment. She was a typical Pinay, petite with Chinese eyes and as old as my mother.

Filipino?” she asked.

Opo“.

Eyyy, chinike (oh my god )!”, as she came to cheerfully hug me.

As we were making the usual ‘kumustahan’, I could sense from her accent that she was not Tagalog. So I asked where she was from in the Philippines. She said she was born in Cebu, but grew up in Samar.

“Yay, Waray.” I said, as we both laughed.

I have finally met Doc Fely (Fely Maglasang-Chioke), a retired doctor, and now a full-time businesswoman baking cakes and pastries and catering. She is well-known in Enugu as a pesky, fighting ‘oniyocha’ (white-skinned) doctor. In her prime, she was an active officer of Enugu Nigerwives Club (composed of women from different countries who are married to Nigerians), and also a one-time Rotary official in Enugu.

Doc Fely (I call her ‘Nang Fely‘) has been in and out of Nigeria for 25 years. Although she, her late husband and 3 children are also American citizens, she chose to stay in Nigeria.

After the death of her husband, she decided to retire from medical practice and put up a modest bakeshoppe. She is alone in her business since all her children are now working overseas.

I am so glad to meet Nang Fely. When I got sick of malaria (p. falciparum) and had thyphoid fever, it was Nang Fely who brought me to good clinics and also helped to treat me.

When I get hungry during lunchtime, I would go to her bakeshop for a free lunch. Lami gyud basta libre. – D
I was also her official taster. I was the first to taste her hamburger, hopia and peppered chin-chin ( a kind of salted doughbread and cut into small pieces. Good for pulutan).

It was through Nang Fely that I was able to go to Anambra to attend the traditional wedding of the daughter of a Filipina (from Butuan) who is also married to a Nigerian. There, I met other Filipina Nigerwives. There were at least 4 couples. I was also introduced to Nigerians who studied and finished Engineering and Medicine in the Philippines. They formed an association called PHILGRAN – Philippine Graduates from Nigeria.

Nang Fely is also the contact person of the Philippine Embassy in Southeast Nigeria. Once, Ambassador Umpa from Abuja called her and requested her to meet and accompany an arriving Filipina whose Nigerian husband died in neighboring Anambra state. It was the Pinay’s first visit to Nigeria.

There are now three of us Filipinos in Enugu. Myself, Jaime of  Pepsico and Nang Fely. Because of our varying schedules and Nang Fely being almost always fully-booked in the weekend; it is not very often the three of us can get together. But after nine months in Enugu, we were finally able to spend a Sunday lunch together at Jaime’s house.

Through Nang Fely, we were able to meet Ate Mayette, a Filipina from Iloilo who is married to a Belgian expat. She invited us to the Anamco Expat Clubhouse in posh GRA, Enugu to celebrate her birthday and the independence day of Belgium. I was with Roland Rosales, my Pinoy colleague in lotto who was in Enugu that time for a two-week assignment.

Ate Mayette and her husband have been in Nigeria even longer than Nang Fely. She lived with her husband for a long time in a palm plantation in Benin City, Edo state before moving to Enugu. She invited me to play golf at Enugu Golf and Country Club, but I never had time for that opportunity. Sayang.

Ate Mayette, Nang Fely, Roland, Jaime, myself (standing)

Ate Mayette, Nang Fely, Roland, Jaime, myself (standing)

Nang Fely rues about the Filipino’s lack of entrepreneurial interest in putting up business in Nigeria. She narrated that before the ‘pure water’ became a hit in Nigeria as a poor man’s packaged water, she had already thought about doing it in Enugu, using the regular ‘heat sealer’ that can be bought commercially. But because she was still active as a doctor at that time and barely had the time, she was not able to pursue it, until ‘pure water’ business arrived in Enugu from Lagos.

She also told us stories about the late 70’s to 80’s when Filipino doctors, teachers, nurses and engineers came to Nigeria at the height of its oil wealth. She said those OFWs just preferred to be employed, take their money and go home. Unlike Lebanese and Indians who made big bucks trading in Nigeria.

She said she will take a vacation to Cebu this December and try to check if she can attend a training at the TLRC on homemade ice-cream making. She’s planning to introduce a ‘real’ homemade Pinoy ice-cream in Enugu; assuming that the NEPA will remain good in Enugu.

At her age, this feisty waray is still thinking about expanding into other business ventures in Nigeria.

As my time in Enugu winds down, I am feeling sad about the thought of leaving Nang Fely and Enugu. As of this writing, I haven’t told her that I will be leaving for vacation next month and won’t be back in Enugu.

I have come to like Enugu. It is a peaceful place with good electricity. The police are polite to expats (unlike the Lagos police). I will miss the nkwobi, the ise-ewu, the ram suya, Raya’s Chinese Restaurant, quick beer at Polo Park with Johnny, shopping at Roban’s, Wednesdays at the New Haven market, swimming or boating at Protea Hotel/Nike Lake Resort, Abakpa , and of course, the cakes and pastries of Nang Fely.

So to the Pinoys and Pinays travelling to Enugu, please drop by at Doc Fely’s Faye’s Bakeshoppe at 84 Ogui Road, Enugu. She makes great and tasty cakes for all occasions, special hamburger and other pastries.

Kachifu. (Igbo for ‘goodbye‘)
—-
Maynard Flores
In Nigeria since Sept 2006.
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Posted by: Maynard Flores
In Nigeria since Sept 2006.


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