I’m pretty sure I have sleep apnea, but I’m not sure I am willing to go through what I am sure would be an amazing adventure at an Abuja sleep clinic. I’ve had a few acquaintances go through sleep clinic adventures in Seoul and they paid around a grand for the experience. That seems pretty steep for a nights sleep in a room with wires hooked up to your body.
You can judge the level of care at a hospital or clinic by measuring how long it takes for the nurse or technician to decide “fuck this, these suction cups at the end of these sensor wires are never going to work on such a hairy bastard. I’d better go get the razors”. That’s the kind of problem solving I look for at a health care facility.
You begin to tire of “trying again”. That suction cup you are trying to apply to the hairiest part of my chest WILL NOT stay put until you shave the hair, and you finally have to say, “listen dude/dudette, you’ve given Plan A all it’s worth. Hit the clutch and move this shit into Plan B”.
In Abuja, I’ve only had to seek out the services of one hospital. My visits have been for relatively easy things to diagnose and treat. Every expat in the expatosphere has been to the hospital for things like traveller’s diarrhea, parasites, and malaria countless times. The poorer the region, the more you will visit the hospital. Seasoned-to-a-crisp expats hardier than myself just know what to ask for at the pharmacy. They’re the people you listen to when you want to know what it’s like on the front lines in Syria, Yemen, South Sudan, and Northeast Nigeria. I will never reach that level of expatitude. In fact, you very rarely meet an expat like this in Toronto, Ottawa, or Seoul. These cities – cities that I have spent most of my life in – and cities in the rest of the developed world ultimately annoy the seasoned veterans of expatidom. For example, they’d be required, by law, and enforced by the law to get their prescriptions filled at a licensed pharmacy where only prescriptions from a doctor are accepted. Their distaste for such order would depend entirely on how much medicine they’d stockpiled for their return “home”.
Soon enough, the law, order, and queuing of “civilization” gets to them and they long for a return to places full of corruption and lawlessness. I admire that, and I will discuss that more at a later date because I’m also trying to figure out what we’re going to have for dinner.
I have always been well away from any of the extremes our species has on offer. Seoul is exceptionally safe and easy to live in. The “grizzled veterans” I’d met in Seoul were imposters. They were aggregators of funny stories and anecdotes acquired from genuine grizzled veterans they’d bumped into, over the years, at airports, functions, and hotel bars in bubbles like Abuja, Tel Aviv, and Islamabad.
Abuja is a bubble in the truest sense of the word. Travelling outside the city limits immediately puts you at risk of nefarity. Even inside the city, travelling by taxi, bus, or on foot is, in my opinion, foolish and should be avoided entirely. Car doors should be locked immediately and at all times because even police officers have been known to open unlocked doors and plop themselves down in a vacant passenger seat threatening arrest unless a bribe is paid. A small bribe is often enough. In most cases, the costs of a few meals is all that needs to be paid, but you never know who might try and open the door so it’s best to keep the windows closed and doors locked. There are other petty sorts of crime, of course, but they’re vastly less stressful and dangerous than the happenings in the sorts of environments the grizzled frontline expat feeds off of.
The grizzled expat don’t always look grizzled. The age and condition of ones skin isn’t a good indication of grizzliness. When I refer to the grizzled expat, I am speaking about people with grizzled psyches who are mostly jaded and cynical. And while I am jaded and cynical, I have never had to plead for something. I have never had to plead for reinforcements, assistance, or my life. Expats who have been in situations where pleading is required easily reach grizzly expat status. The less you plead, the less grizzled you become. It’s as simple as that, really.
All told, I follow the life of most expats. We live in safe or relatively safe environments and we’re shielded from most social negatives (this is especially true in places that don’t speak your language). Ignoring a ragged panhandler at an intersection in Abuja is about as easy as ignoring one in Seoul or Toronto.
The difference is the size of the bubble and the restrictiveness of movement. It is easy to explain how the restriction of movement affects an expats experience. In Seoul, there is zero restriction of movement. Quite literally, any street at any time of day is safe in Seoul. Street smarts are still recommended, but I would argue that Seoul is one of the safest places to live on earth. Colombo was also really easy to move around; though after dark I wouldn’t recommend walking through a shanty. In contrast, movement in Abuja is highly restrictive. It’s not restricted in the sense that there are curfews or roadblocks. It’s restricted in the sense that you have to drive everywhere, and there aren’t many places to drive to. I do not walk anywhere in Abuja. I simply do not recommend it at all. I have acquaintances that walk to the local fruit market, but they’re older and grizzlier than me. They might scoff at my caution and call me a pansy, but I’m OK with that. I also try and avoid driving at night. Roads become so much more dangerous at night if only because most streets aren’t lit, and the headlights of many cars don’t function properly. I am the quintessential cautious family man expat. Grizzly expat I will never be. For one, I am married and have a child. Grizzled expats rarely find success in long-term relationships and seldom live with a partner. Please note that the vast number of single expats do not enter situations where they need to plead, therefore they will never achieve grizzliness. For the most part, expats are content putting themselves in situations where they complain with other expats about where they are expatting. Head on over to any expat haunt and you’ll be sure to hear conversations full of gross generalizations and petty complaints.
Greener expats will use phrases like “back home” a lot, for example “There are no good salons here! Back home we have so many!” I know this because I was that sort of expat for my first few years of expatidom.
But that shit gets old real fast for long-term expats. For the most part, most expats are expats for only a few years and then return home to “normalcy”. The ones that stay on slowly begin to realize their gross generalizations and armchair solutions to local problems weren’t as spot-on as they once thought they were.
That’s the beginning of a period of gross generalizations directed at other expats. That’s pretty much where most expats find themselves if they’ve been expats for a while. The suburbanesque, expat, cushion. To go from this stage to grizzled expat is often difficult. Most grizzled expats dove head first into frontline positions straight out the military or university. Even in Nigeria, most of these grizzled individuals don’t often visit Abuja. Their preferred hub city would be Lagos, and they’d spend most of their grizzled tours of duty in cities like Port Harcourt and Maiduguri.
Sometimes I regret choosing to be an expat for so long. When you are younger, the pros to being an expat seem more valuable than the pros for returning home. But as you get older and pass milestones like marriage and children, you begin to question how valuable those pros were compared to the pros of returning home to stability after only a few years of expat life. The regret is irrational for people like me though. My child, a milestone, has a Canadian father and Korean mother. The subtle craving to return home to stability has, over the years, become increasingly complicated and scary with regret turning into resentment and resentment sliding into mild passive-aggressive depression. I still love being an expat, but from time to time I will wonder what life would be like had I rejected being an expat altogether. The result of such wondering is of course that my life would have been worse off. I truly believe that expatidom was the correct choice and so I am not headed toward an extreme life crisis; except that I do think I have sleep apnea, but I am just too damn lazy to seek treatment.