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Teenagers in Lagos

Tubing teens

‘Hey, mom. How far?’

Since we moved to Lagos, my son has discovered Pidgin English and the spicy barbecued beef sticks sold on the side of the road.

‘What’s up with you?’

‘Can I go to astro-turf after school with the guys?’

‘Actually, I’m afraid that won’t be possible today. There’s a curfew and…’


I explained that security messages popped into my phone all afternoon. I wasn’t grounding him – the government was: everyone had to be off the roads by 22:00 because of the elections the next day. And traffic on the road between the school and our home was building up. We’d been advised to avoid the area if at all possible.


‘Can you get on the next school bus please and come straight home.’

‘Uh, Mom, I’m at Mathew’s house.’

Mathew’s house is even further along the blocked road than the school. I scramble to get the drivers turned around. They’d been on their way to pick up my husband; he’ll have to get a ride home with a colleague. The boys pile into someone’s car still determined to get to astro-turf. My driver will intercept them and get Alex home. In the meantime, my other teenager calls and wants to go to the movies with some friends. I go through the same story.

‘But the drivers can come and get me.’

‘The drivers also need to be off the road by 10 and they’ll never make it if they have to pick you up after a movie.’ She gets on the school bus.

In the end it took Michele over an hour and Alex more than four hours to get home (a ride which under normal circumstances takes 20 minutes); the other boys never made it to astro-turf and the driver only got home after midnight. They had to extend the curfew because people just couldn’t physically get home on time.

My teenagers here in Lagos don’t hop on a bike or public transport. They take privately arranged school buses, and are taken around by drivers (ours or one of their friends’). In our family, the four of us share one car and a driver which means the kids have to plan and get organised – quite an achievement for teenagers.

The need to coordinate with others and plan ahead does get claustrophobic, but it doesn’t really stop them from coming and going as they please. On average, I’d say that my kids lead quite normal, teenagery daily lives. School dominates their days – they leave home at 6:45 and if they have after school activities they get home between 17:00 and 18:00, and then they have homework. On weekends, they hang at the mall, go to the movies, go-karting or paint-balling. Mainly they travel in packs; practically every Friday there is a party at someone’s home where they take over the swimming pools and communal areas, then mobilize spare beds and couches for sleep over’s for the few hours they actually sleep.

My 16-year old daughter goes to the clubs or restaurants during the weekends where she meets up with kids from the other international schools. They stick together as a large gang which makes it quite a safe environment (and my imposing driver is only meters outside the front door). Security is an issue here – we need to always know where they are – but I don’t worry about her being on her bike alone at night or being driven by someone who has had a drink too many.

And, yes, there are some experiences they just cannot get here. They can’t learn to drive a car, though my kids have learned to drive our speed boat. They don’t have access to competitive team-sports in top clubs. Nor can they can’t get a part-time job. We try to give them these ‘life lessons’ during the long, 2.5-month summer holidays. Teaching them to clean their rooms and help in the house is hard when you have full-time help. They’ll have to learn that the hard way, I guess, when they live on their own.

But, as a parent, there is a real advantage to having teenagers in Lagos: we see more of them than we would ‘back home’. On Sunday’s we fill the motor boat with kids and take them down to the beach hut where my husband takes them out water skiing, wake boarding or tubing. They play football or swim, and then join us for a barbecue lunch. Often, they participate in our ‘grown-up’ discussions on politics or world news… The kids and their friends are still a big part of our lives and, even better, they seem to even like being with us.

So life as an expat teenager in Lagos is both similar to, and different from, life in Europe or North America. Luckily, our kids both say that they wouldn’t pass up this experience – even for their bikes.


2 Responses to “Teenagers in Lagos”

  1. Christian Rust says:

    I went to German School in Lagos from 1976 to 1983. I had an absolute blast in Lagos as
    a kid. I lived in Ikeja, Ikoyi an Oregon.
    My favourite places were the Ikoy club, Badagry Beach and Tarkwa Beach. When I returned to Germany I never told any of my new friends any of my stories from Lagos- no one would have believed me…

    • Hi Christian,
      Thanks for your comment. I know what you mean about people not believing you. Do you think the world has gotten smaller lately? Would people believe you now? I always feel I have to defend Nigeria when I say I live there. News is always bad news and I sort of feel I have to prove why I am so happy there. Strange. How do people react now when you say you were there as a kid?

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