NIGERIA- After a year in Lagos doing a 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 of what life would be in Enugu. I hadn?t heard of any Pinoys there. But a friend, Guiller, who had worked in Enugu for 3 years, assured me that it was fine and peaceful. So there I went 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 really 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 had known each other back 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 married to a Nigerian (hence the term Niger-wife), who had been living in Enugu for quite a while. I decided to look for her bakeshop. To my pleasant surprise, it was within walking distance from our lotto office.
I decided one day to pay her a visit at Faye's Bakeshoppe at Ogui Road. Only her Nigerian staff was 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 (here)?"
"A dey, " a Nigerian staff member replied.
She then called out, "Auntie, your brother is looking for you..." (In Nigeria, 'auntie' and 'uncle' are terms of respect for somebody older than the speaker, even when not related by blood.)
I looked into the kitchen and saw an onivocha (white-skinned) woman looking at me in astonishment. She was a typical Pinay, petite with Chinese eyes and as old as my mother.
"Filipino?" she asked.
"Eyyy, chinike (oh my god!)," she shrieked as she came to cheerfully hug me. As we were making the usual kumustahan, I sensed 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 had finally met Doc Fely Maglasang-Chioke, a retired doctor, now a full-time businesswoman baking cakes and pastries and doing catering. She?s well known in Enugu as a pesky, fighting oniyocha 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 three children are also American citizens, she has chosen to stay in Nigeria.
After the death of her husband, she decided to retire from medical practice and put up her modest bakeshop. She?s running her business by herself since all her children are now working overseas.
I was so glad to meet Nang Fely. When I got sick of malaria and typhoid fever, it was she 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. (Good, so long as it?s free.) I am also her official taster ? the first to taste her trial hamburger, red-bean hopia and peppered chin-chin, a kind of doughbread cut into small pieces and 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. It was my first inter-state travel outside of Enugu. Though I was uptight over security, Nang Fely, with her usual Waray flair, said that she has traveled several times to Anambra and never had a problem.
There, I met other Filipina Nigerwives, at least four couples. I was also introduced to Nigerians who had studied and finished Engineering and Medicine in the Philippines. They have 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 -- Jaime of Pepsico, Nang Fely, and I. Because of our varying schedules and Nang Fely being almost always fully-booked in the weekend, it?s not very often the three of us can get together. But after nine months in Enugu, we were finally able to have a Sunday lunch together at Jaime's house.
Through Nang Fely, we met 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 who was in Enugu 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 Gold and Country Club, but I never had time. Sayang.
Nang Fely rues the Filipino's lack of entrepreneurial interest in putting up business in Nigeria. She narrated that before 'pure water' became a hit in Nigeria as a poor man's packaged water, she had already thought of doing it in Enugu, using the regular 'heat sealer' that can be bought commercially. But because she was still active as a doctor then, she was not able to pursue it, until 'pure water' business arrived in Enugu from Lagos and became a big business.
Nang Fely 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 preferred just to be employed, take their money and go home, unlike Lebanese and Indians who made big bucks trading in Nigeria.
She said she would 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 Nigerian Electric Power Authority remains stable in Enugu. At her age, this feisty Waray is still thinking of expanding into other business ventures in Nigeria.
As my time in Enugu winds down, I?m feeling sad at the thought of leaving Nang Fely and Enugu. At this writing, I haven't told her that I?ll be leaving for vacation next month and won?t be back in Enugu.
I have come to like it here. It?s 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, Nang Fely?s cakes and pastries.
So, Pinoys and Pinays traveling to Enugu, drop by Doc Fely's Faye's Bakeshoppe at 84 Ogui Road, Enugu. She makes special hamburger, tasty pastries, and great cakes for all occasions.
?Kachifu? (That?s Igbo for ?goodbye.?)