Thursday, October 30, 2008

A Pinay Nigerwife in Enugu, Nigeria

By: Maynard Flores
in Nigeria since 2006

After a year in Lagos doing marketing coordination job for a Lagos-based company, I was transferred to Enugu State in Southeast Nigeria for an expansion project.

I was full of apprehension of what life would be in Enugu. I haven’t heard of any Pinoys there. But a friend, Guiller, who had worked in Enugu for 3 years, assured me that Enugu is 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 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 pay 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", a Nigerian staff member replied.

She then called somebody. "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 'oniyocha' (white-skin) 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 whispered 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 have finally met Doc Fely (Fely Maglasang-Chioke), a retired doctor, and now a full-time businesswoman baking cakes and pastries and doing catering. She is well-known in Enugu as a doctor, and as a pesky, fighting 'oniyocha'. 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 a modest bakeshoppe. She’s running her business by herself 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 am also her official taster. I am the first to taste her hamburger, hopia and peppered chin-chin, a kind of doughbread 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 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 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 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.

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, she was not able to pursue it, until 'pure water' business arrived in Enugu from Lagos.

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 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 Nigerian Electric Power Authority (NEPA) will remain good in Enugu.

At Nang Fely’s 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 special hamburger, tasty pastries, and great cakes for all occasions.

Kachifu” (Igbo for goodbye)


By: Maynard Flores
In Nigeria since Sept 2006.


Carmelita C. Ballesteros said...


I can see you've 'fallen in love' with Enugu and Nang Fely. Thank you very much for sharing with us this vivid slice of life in Nigeria.

Don Kishote said...

It' s a relief to have a 'nanay' in a far-away state. Considering that i am always in a constant health distress... Things could have gone worse for me if Nang Fely wasn't there in Enugu... May her business ventures succeed...

Daghang salamat, Nang Fely...

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