What is it like being a Jamaican in Nigeria?

Xavier: What is it like being a Jamaican in Nigeria? Hi, I’m Xavier Murphy, the founder of And today, in Jamaicans to the world, I talk to Carmen Latty, a Jamaican living in Nigeria. Hi, Carmen. Welcome. How are you?

Carmen:  Hi, Xavier, thank you very much. I’m fine. Thanks.

Xavier: Good. 

Carmen:  What about you?

Xavier: I’m doing good. I’m happy to finally get someone from Nigeria so this is just really great. My question is which part a Jamaica you come from? (Where in Jamaica are you from?).

Carmen:  Yeah, I’m from Fairborn Clarendon. That’s way up in the bush, the hills of upper Clarendon between Johns’ Hall and James Hill, and Kay Valley.

Xavier:  Nice.

Carmen:  But my maternal parents are from; my mother is from Tweet Side.

Xavier:  Yes. And you and I spoke a little bit about tweet side, that we know some people there. My mom is from there. So, we could even be family and do even know it.

Carmen:  We could even be family. And I think I went to school, primary school with your mom in Tweet Side. So, we never know. I remember my mother telling me, don’t marry any Clarendon person because you may marry your family. So, there we go.

Xavier:  And my relatives said the same thing. You cannot marry anybody in tweet side because, you know, that’s what they grew up being told. Because you may marry someone of your cousins.

 Carmen:  [unclear 01:48] So we’re in the same boat. 

Xavier:  Yes. And which high school are you representing?

Carmen:  Well, naturally, if you’re from Upper Clarendon, represent Clarendon College, I notice you have a lot of Clarendon College people, and a lot of Clarendon people. I don’t know how you choose them.

Xavier:  I don’t know, it just so happened that a lot of Clarendonites are travelers, and they seem to be a lot of explorers. Every second person is from Knox and Clarendon.

Carmen:  Yes. I think it’s a spirit of exploration. You know, we were brought up to be curious. 

 Xavier: Right.

 Carmen:  And I think that, that is what guides our moving around so much.

Xavier:  Well, that’s great. Well, represented. My next question is this one? How did you get to Nigeria?

Nigeria Skyline

Carmen:  Well, as I said when we spoke before, usually if you find a woman this far from home, she must have followed a man. Let’s put it fifty, fifty, you know, adventure love. I was engaged to someone who was a Commonwealth scholar to the University of Lagos, and after a while I said, Okay, let’s let me get to Nigeria and see what happens. But I’m no stranger to Nigeria. I was here for almost a year in 1974. Spending time in Unica with my sister who was married to a Nigerian.

Xavier: Oh, so going to Nigeria for love runs in the family.

Carmen:  You see what I mean? Actually, that hadn’t crossed my mind, but it would appear so.

 Xavier:  How long have you…?

 Carmen:  And I’m still here for love after 29 years.

Xavier:  Twenty-nine years! Wow, that is a good long time. So, your knowledge? 

Carmen:  Yeah (Yes), it’s twenty-nine totally adventurous, exhilarating, disappointing, you know, sometimes scared but fantastic years. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Xavier:  Good. Good. Good. So, my next question is about the Nigerian people. You’ve been there 29 years, tell us a little bit about the people. 

Carmen:  Nigerians are fantastic people, when they get to know you and when you get to know them. My experience: because I’ve been in the corporate world for so long, you know, in education and so on. And so, it means that you would not meet the rank-and-file Nigerian. But what I did when I arrived in Nigeria, I spent one year just traveling east, west, north and south, just studying the sociology of the country. What makes them tick? How do you get along with them? How do you introduce yourself? How do you just generally work with society? Helped me discovering that, you know, they are really wonderful, warm, loving people. But you have to know them. Because remember, Nigeria has so many tribes and so many languages, 380 languages, and so many tribes. You have to be able to balance your emotions and your dealings and everything to match each person from each state and each tribe. Because I find that they have different temperament. And so, if you don’t know them as individuals, you could mess up.

Xavier:  That’s amazing that you have traveled north, east and west and met all these different tribes. Let me ask you a question. Have you come up on the Mafa people? Have you come upon on Mafa?

 Carmen:  No, no, doesn’t ring a bell,

Xavier:  Ok, because I did my African ancestries, which is different from, and it tells me I am related to the Mafa people, which they say is in the north, north of Nigeria.

Carmen:  North of Nigeria? No, but you’ve excited my curiosity. So, I’m going to go, look for that one.

Xavier:  Okay. And did you get curious enough or have you looked at your people? Because I know we’d be surprised to know that quite a few of us have ancestry directly to Nigeria.

Carman:  Well, actually, my mother’s ancestry is from eastern Nigeria, the riverine region, and they left Nigeria through Bonny Island. Bonny Island is bight of Biafra into Montego Bay it became Gardner. They lost their African identity. So that’s as far as I’ve been able to trace my mother’s ethnicity to, but my father is not African. 

 Xavier:  Oh, I see.

Carman:  All of that is covered in my in my autobiography, which I wrote last year, “Dare To Be”.

Xavier:  Oh! and I know you write, and I know we’re going a little off the track of my typical questions. You know, folks, you need to know, even though I’m calling her Carmen Latty, Carmen is well-decorated. You know, it’s Dr. Carmen to, I guess a lot of folks here. She has written books, you know, very influential there in Nigeria. And so, we can get your book on Amazon Carmen?

 Carman:  No. I’d make it available, you know, on request.

 Xavier:  Okay.

 Carman:  Not Amazon, but I can tell you privately how to get it.

Xavier:  All right. No problem. And folks in the comments. I’ll be sure to add information there so that you could find out. All right. I going to move along, Carmen, and I’m going to talk about food. 

 Carman: Okay.

Xavier:  What is the food in Nigeria like? and what would be the dish you would recommend that we try?

Carman:  Now as a Jamaican. Nigerian food: first of all, all the ingredients that we use in Jamaica are here in Nigeria, so I cook Jamaican food in my house and everybody who works for me through a cooking course of Jamaican food. I don’t have saltfish, but for the Nigerian foods I personally like Eba. But then, I am from Clarendon, I grew up on cassava. So, I like Eba, and Eba I eat with any other meat. You know, what the typical Nigerian soup, it would be Eba with vegetable soup, or eba with egusi or something like that. I mix it up a bit. 

 Xavier: Okay. Is eba white yam?

 Carman:  No, it’s cassava. It’s what when I was a child, we used to call turn cassava. 

 Xavier: Hmm. 

Carman:  You remember? Right. So, I like eba, I adore pounded yam, which again, I knew as a child growing up in Jamaica. But I’m just too small for pounded yam. I would sleep for quite a few days if I had a Nigerian size pounded yam. And pounded yam is served with a Nigerian soup. Again, it goes with vegetable soup, eddykikon (uncertain spelling 11:16] from akroavon and so on, and so forth. As a Jamaican, you can manage because you can cook your own Jamaican foods.

Xavier:  All right. So, let me ask you this, because when I visited Nigeria, I asked if there is any yellow yam? And it didn’t seem like yellow yam was one of the favorite yams. So, have you found yellow yam?

Carman:  I saw yellow yam in the east once, but never again. It’s this white yam. But then Nigeria has the nicest yam in the world. It’s just the white yam I know, and I know old yam and new yam.

 Xavier:  Right.

 Carman:  It’s fantastic. I like yam. It’s the same yam you pound anyway. 

Xavier:  All right. So, I’m going to go back a little bit to people for a minute here. Right? We talked just a little bit. When I visited Nigeria, the temperament of the people seems a little similar to where it’s like. Either I like you or I don’t like you.

Carman:  My brother, it’s not similar, it’s one and the same is either I like you or I don’t like you. You know, the Jamaicans say my spirit nuh (don’t) tek take (tek) yuh (you). 

Xavier:  Yes.  

Nigeria Street

Carman:  The Nigerians say, I don’t trust am. But I think one of the reasons I have been able to settle and get along so well, it’s not every time the tact and the diplomacy helps. You have to say it like it is, or, I don’t understand it. And if I don’t understand it, be prepared for anything I do to you. Just let me understand. As I said in a paper to the Flair Newspaper some years ago, there’s a Nigerian in every Jamaican, including myself. 

Xavier:  I saw that temperament as I drove around and whatever it’s like, the facial expressions; you’re like, listen, it’s like, if they like you, they like you if they don’t like you, you goin know. (You going to know)

Carmen:  No, if they don’t like you, they don’t like you. And I tell you something. I don’t speak any of the major languages or any even of the other ethnic languages. But the Nigerian Pidgin, everybody speaks Pidgin and Pidgin is another form of Jamaican patois.

Xavier:  I see.

Nigeria Village

Carmen:  You know, we will say, me a come, (I am coming), and here we will say, a deh come (I am coming). But it’s the same walking in the opposite direction, and I’m calling you and I say a deh come.

Xavier:  I know some of our words are sprinkled with African words.

Carmen:  Yeah, I’ve been able to manage because I understand Pidgin very well, you know, and the lingua. When the Nigerian says, a no go, come kill myself, or (I can’t kill myself for you). And when you’re talking rubbish and they say, weh ting you da talk, (what are you talking about). To manage certain categories of staff, you must know some pidgin. I found that I get along better knowing some pidgin. Of course, when I talk it, everybody laughs because with the accent and the pidgin and whatever.

Xavier: Let me ask you this question. When folks learn that you are Jamaican and I know you’ve been there twenty-nine years now, but when they find you’re Jamaican, what is the typical reaction?

Carmen:  I remember when I came to Nigeria first and I said, I’m Jamaican. The first question is how come you’re not Rasta? They expected me to have locks on to be Rastafarian and so on, but we have a fair number of Jamaicans in Nigeria. You know, Jamaicans came here in three phases in the 1800s during amalgamation, part one and part two, and then post-independence in the last 50 years. So, I’m one of the third generation in Nigeria. And after they ask you, oh, how come you’re not Rasta? The next question would, of course, the international question; because I found the same thing in Japan in 1984, is, sing Bob Marley for me.

Xavier:  Let me ask you this. You had children in Nigeria?

Carmen:  I brought him from Jamaica. He’s an important product. And when we arrived at the airport too; he looked around the airport. And I remember he said to me, Mummy, are there no white people living in this country? and we all just cracked up. Then we drove into a petrol station and there was a sign free air, and he then turned to Osita who was a friend that met us. And he said, Uncle Osita, so air is not free in this country? You have to buy it? But I tell you, he had a fantastic upbringing in Nigeria. Nigeria allowed me to bring up a much better child than if I had stayed in Jamaica with him. You know, that growing up in the seventies; seventies baby, you had to be very careful with those children because they could get totally warped. And bringing him to Nigeria it gave him such a wild experience that even a week ago we were talking about it, and he said, Mommy, thank you. I had a fantastic childhood.

Xavier:  Great, great.

Carmen:  He went to school he came back, he said, Mummy, imagine you can buy 10 naira rice and five naira meat, you know, all those things. He had never seen anybody going to the standpipe, and he was anxious to carry a bucket and to fetch water. He had a really, really fantastic upbringing.

Xavier:  Great. Great. Let me let me ask you this. Is there a custom that when you got to Nigeria, there is a local custom that you said, you know what? This custom is kind of different. Do you remember custom that you said, you know, it was kind of different?

Carmen:  I’m thinking, you know, these Nigerian people can dance, I tell you. Every Nigerian can dance and sing.

Xavier:  I’ve seen the videos. I’ve seen the new dances every week. There’s a new dance. 

Carmen:  Yes, that was intriguing. The next thing was the size of weddings and parties. I mean, who goes to working with 3000 people? 

Xavier:  Wow.

Carmen:  And if you go to this wedding with three thousand people and you haven’t brought your own crowd, then nobody talks to you, and you don’t have anybody to talk to. So, you would just be sitting there, and everybody will be looking at my fingernails and wondering, are they natural or are they made? and so on, and nobody talks to you. And when you catch their eyes, they look away from you. Going to a party, to a wedding, to a funeral, you better carry your own entourage if you want somebody to talk with. That I find to be very curious. And it still exists. So, no, I don’t go to any weddings because I can’t manage that crowd.

Xavier:  Right.

Carmen:  The last wedding I went, I remember standing at the lobby of the hotel and waiting for my car one hour just to come from the car park to the lobby to pick me up because of the traffic, the wedding traffic. And I said, no, I’m not going to do this again. 

Xavier:  Wow.

Carmen:  But it’s fabulous. I mean, the dressing and the music and the food. And I never seen a people who love food more than Nigerians.

Xavier:  Carmen, that is just wonderful, Wonderful. I’m going to move on to the same wedding type of question, right? And I move into that part of it. So let me ask you this because I’ve seen these Nigerian weddings and I’ve seen it in film and the dancing and so on. And it is just so, so amazing. But the films you all push out Nollywood as they call it. It seems that there’s a new Nigerian film, as you say in Jamaica as you quint (before you know it) there is a new Nigerian film,

Carmen:  Man, everybody here is a movie star. But I don’t watch a lot of Nigerian movies.

Xavier:  Right.

Carmen: In the early days when I just came here. I used to laugh, and I say, in other films, when you shoot man, you hear gunshot and him dead, in this Nigerian one, when you shoot him, him dead and you hear the shot after him dead.

Xavier:  They’ve gotten better. I think the films have gotten better

Carmen:  In the early days. The movies had a lot more to it, you know, a lot more to it.

Xavier:  Right, right. So, the music there. The Afrobeat has gotten big and dancehall reggae has gotten big there, were you surprised by how huge reggae and dancehall and the fusion?

Carmen:  No, no, because, as I said, Nigerians are party people, they love life, they enjoy life, and, especially because of the relationship between Nigeria and Jamaica, especially in the last 20 years. And Nigerians travel a lot. They travel all over the world every nook and cranny and they bring back things. They are great imitators, and they mimic you and they enjoy life. And so, because of that, music and film is an endemic part of their culture. And I really love it. I enjoy it.

Xavier:  Great, great. I’m getting close to winding down; very intriguing. But the question I have for you is this, What would you say is your biggest adjustment when you move to Nigeria? Because I would say this, the one thing I know I could not adjust to is the traffic

Carmen:  Traffic; that is the biggest challenge. As a matter of fact, it has me more housebound than COVID.

Xavier:  Wow, wow.

Carmen:  I think that says it. I live in normal life two hours from Lagos. But getting in the traffic, it could take me up to seven hours to get home. 

Xavier:  Wow.

Carmen:  Yes. 

Xavier:  Wow. 

Carmen:  I’ve been caught in Lagos traffic, a journey that should have been half of an hour. You have been to Nigeria, from Lagos to Ikeja, technical that should be a 30-minute ride.

Xavier:  Yeah. When I came there, I went to the market and it took us what should be I think half an hour, took us three hours to get to the market.

Carmen:  You were going from Echoey to Balogun Market, which is in Lagos Island?

Xavier:  I don’t remember where, but I think you and I discussed it and you said it’s probably there. 

Carmen:  Yes, its Balogun market. And that’s under normal circumstances, a 30-minute drive find somewhere to park. And it’s not just the vehicular traffic. The human traffic is equally heavy. 

Xavier:  Yes.

Carmen:  Try walking; try walking on the sidewalk and you know what I mean? 

Xavier:  I’ve been to China, and I don’t think I’ve seen more people in a city, than the amount of people I saw in Lagos.

Carmen:  But there are other cities where you can walk. I lived in north central Nigeria and worked for nine years Ilorin, Kwara State and in Kwara State you could drive around Ilorin in half of an hour corner to corner. But it’s Lagos that the traffic is really kill dead.

Xavier:  Wow, wow. Let me let me ask another question; I hate the comparisons some time, but I still have to ask the question. Cost of living? What’s the cost of living like, there in Nigeria?

Carmen: Xavier, I’m going to say this at the risk of being taken to task; the way we foreigners can live in Nigeria, we could not afford it in our own country. Because you can have a driver, a gardener, a cook, a butler, a security man, and $200US can cover the cost for the month. The cost of living, it depends on where you live and your lifestyle. But when you consider it and it really bleeds my heart when I know that seventy percent of Nigerians live below the poverty line, you know, that is what got me into philanthropy. But the cost of living, it depends on how you want to live, you know, 

Xavier:  Right. 

Carmen: How you want to live. If you want to have a big belly, which is a sign of wealth and prosperity, then you eat that amount. You want to, you know, look average. It depends, but the majority of the people here really suffer, they really suffer.

Xavier:  Oh, man.

Carmen:  I wish Jamaicans would wake up; Jamaica is a beautiful country. They have so much going for us, but the way I have lived in Nigeria, and I came from a luxurious lifestyle in Jamaica. It would have been difficult to sustain it so continuously in Jamaica.

Xavier:  Let me ask you this question in terms of; if there is an event location, something; if I visit Nigeria, you would say you must see or visit or do this. What would that be?

Carmen:  It would be Badagry. The Heritage Museum. Badagry is the last point that the people who were captured to go into the Americas and the Caribbean as slaves, that was where they left from. There is a museum that it tells the story very vividly. And the sea Judbe gate of no return. I wouldn’t miss that folk museum and a tour of Badagry at all.

Xavier:  Okay. I went to the point of no return in Ghana.

Carmen:  In Ghana, yes. 

Xavier:  Very.

Carmen:  Emotions. 

Xavier:   Yes, the emotions, and as I talk about it, I get goose bumps because it’s; you remember the emotions, yeah, very emotional.

Carmen:  I live 30 minutes from Badagry. And, you know, when I went to reminisce, I go to Badagry for the day and just tour the museum and just look around, you know. But the way we are in the West about slavery and all of that, it’s not a similar sentiment here, it’s different, but it’s really a reminder of where you came from. 

Xavier:  You said different, could you explain a little bit in terms of how different its viewed there; I don’t to go too deep, but because it probably is an intellectual discussion that you and i can have offline? but, give us a basic idea.

Carmen:  That’s for another time. But I remember the first time I went to Badagry, and I went to one of the smaller museums’, and the fellow; he was very happy to tell me that my father was a slave trader. He caught slaves, he caught people, he sold them to the ship, and he made so much money, and so on. And he was very happy to tell me the story. And I said aren’t you ashamed of yourself and he said no, it was the economy of the time. Whereas I left feeling bitter, he was feeling joyous, you see? Because his grandparents made a lot of money. And for him slavery was a matter of economics. and you know, it was difficult for me as a black person to hear that coming from another black person. that’s what I mean by different.  

Xavier:  I see. Because, when I went to Ghana and we were touring the slave castle there, I always mess the name up; the gentleman apologized to us. and he said listen, we didn’t know where we were sending you, and we had no idea what your fait would have been, we had no clue. And very apologetic before we started the tour. And so, that view was interesting for me, you know, to hear that point of view.

Carmen: The Ghanaians will apologize, but it’s not the Nigerians fault, they don’t teach that history in this country. So, all of this history that we know, and this American history and Caribbean history, it’s not taught in Nigeria, so, you know, somebody will tell you; my people sold your people. As if you are a stone, you have every right to be sold. but it’s because of the way the history is taught. Ghana is, you know?

Xavier: A little different?     

Carmen: Emotionally connected to the Caribbean differently.

Nigeria Wildlife

Xavier: Well, Carmen, I appreciate the time you have spent giving us a little taste of what Nigeria is about. Any words of advice for anyone that is thinking of mooning to Nigeria? before my last question? this is my second to last question.

Carmen: I feel very secure here. Back in Jamaica I’m one of three million, here I’m one of one hundred and eighty, two hundred million. So, it’s more difficult for people to find me. But if you want to move to Nigeria you have to have grit, you have to have gusts, you have to have determination, you can’t be fearful, and you have to be prepared to work bloody hard. 

Xavier: Okay. alright, good piece of advice there. So, here is how I typically end. You know some Pidgin; the Pidgin language, or, you know, so how do you say goodbye in the most informal way in one of the languages that you know from Nigeria? And you are going to teach me how to say it.

Carmen: I’m thinking, it’s just evading me now. 

Xavier: Alright!

Carmen: But, if it’s in the night and you’re leaving then you know, its odaro, meaning good night, or something like that. that’s the Urogo language.

Xavier: I will go with a dark, because I know we are on two different time zones here, so, Carmen, thank you again and odaro.

Carmen: A gone, see you.

Photos  – Deposit Photos

About the author

Xavier Murphy