The Nigerian experience is physical, emotional and sometimes international. No one knows it better than our features on #TheAbroadLife, a series where we detail and explore Nigerian experiences while living abroad.
Today’s subject on Abroad Life left Nigeria to the UAE after getting a job that paid three times his salary. He talks about moving jobs, making money at a young age, realising that Dubai is not as expensive as people think and feeling lonely because he didn’t find a black community.
When did you decide you wanted to leave Nigeria?
I decided I was going to leave Nigeria in 2018 when I got stressed by the Nigerian working environment. First of all, I had a job as a software developer that paid ₦350,000 a month, but the wahala was too much. I decided to quit. Luckily, I got a new job weeks after that paid ₦500,000 a month
It sounded nice to me too but that changed when one month into the job, they had the audacity to tell me that the salary I negotiated was gross, not net. My salary after tax was about ₦350,000.
I collected my ₦500,000 for the first month, went to meet the owner of the business and told him I was out. He didn’t even ask any questions. He just let me go.
So you were just quitting jobs up and down?
Well, the reason I quit the second job, apart from the madness they tried to pull, was that I’d just gotten a job in the UAE. I saw an application on Twitter and thought, “Why don’t I apply for this?” I got the job at the end of that month, so that’s why I could say “Fuck it” and leave.
How much did that one pay?
It paid in dollars, and it was triple my former salary.
Mad. And so you left Nigeria?
I can’t remember why, but I didn’t leave immediately. I worked remotely for about three months. Me, a 22-year-old at the time, earning that much money in dollars. I didn’t even have as much work as the previous two places of employment. I could actually sleep at night.
Damn, what did that feel like?
It felt pretty good but was also scary. I didn’t know much about living in Dubai or anywhere outside Nigeria because it was my first time leaving the country. I’d also heard that the cost of living there was pretty high and became scared that I would go broke when I got there.
Is that what happened?
Nope. My earnings were pretty decent, even in Dubai. I’m not the type of person that shops a lot or goes out. My routine in my first year was simple — I went to work, got back home, ordered some takeout and slept. I barely saved. Most of my money was going into my feeding.
Was it easy settling in Dubai?
It wasn’t terrible. I had really helpful co-workers who made the transition easier, but I still had a lot of work to do to settle in. It would have been better if I had people I knew around me though.
One thing that stuck out to me was that food wasn’t as expensive as I thought it would be. I lived on Lagos Island before I left, and Dubai food was on the same level, price-wise with Lekki and Ikoyi food.
It was also in this settling period that I realised the most shocking thing about Dubai.
What was it?
There are not a lot of black people there, which is shocking because in Nigeria, you hear a lot of people say they’re going to Dubai all the time. I’d stop and ask myself, “Where are all the black people?”
I don’t just mean there were no black people in official settings oh. Even in the service industry; not so many black people. I could count the number of black people I saw in Dubai in my first year. That’s when I understood the “nod”.
It’s that thing where you’re walking down the street and you see someone of your colour, so you make eye contact, smile and nod to each other. It just happened naturally. It was nice.
Everything was good, but I don’t think I fully settled in until two Nigerian guys who went to the same school as me came from Nigeria because they got jobs in the same building where I worked. That was pretty amazing. We understood each other’s jokes, bonded and became friends.
It was the one thing that was missing. I had white friends, but it just wasn’t the same.
Aw… What were things like at work?
In December 2019, after I’d stayed one year at the job, it was time for salary reviews. I was a high performer, so long before the salary reviews, I prepared a document stating that I wanted a 30% salary increase. When the time came to present the document, they heard my presentation and offered me a 10% raise.
The Nigerian in me jumped out. Imagine earning ₦100,000 and then getting a raise to ₦110,000. That’s not how things worked where I was from. I was also reading a book about negotiation titled Never Split the Difference, so in my head, I was on my negotiation A-game. I asked for more meetings. Honestly, there was a lot of clownery and foolishness on my path, but the conversations kept happening. I was so insistent on what I wanted, I didn’t sense that there was some tension in the air.
They invited me for a fourth meeting, and at that meeting, they fired me. I had bargained myself into unemployment.
Whoa! That’s bad.
The night before that meeting, I prayed to God and said, “God, whatever happens at this meeting, I will accept it and thank you. Whether they agree to my 30% demand or stick to their 10%, I’ll thank you.” I was not prepared for what came my way.
What happened next?
Fear. The thing is, in the UAE, when you’re on a work visa, you have to always have a job. If you lose your job, you have to get another in 30 days or you become an illegal resident. It didn’t help that the job loss happened in December when companies were closing for the year.
I started applying for jobs online and fucked up the applications. At some point, I just stopped and decided to binge watch shows. I didn’t know what to do again.
Wait, even as your time was going?
Haha… yes. One day, I had an epiphany — instead of applying for jobs, I could reach out to people within my network and see if they had something for me. The first guy I texted out of the blue asked me to meet him in his office for coffee the next Sunday. At the meeting, he hired me on the spot.
Hot cake! How many days did you have left before your stay would have expired?
24 days. I was only out of a job for six days.
LMAO, you’re killing me. What was the pay for this job like?
It was 25% more than my previous salary and it had a lot of perks. So, yeah, I wasn’t crazy for demanding a 30% raise.
What was 2020 like?
2020 gave me a bit more clarity. Almost losing my residency in the UAE made me realise I needed to save more. If I was to ever be out of a job again, I didn’t want to be broke. In 2020, I also got serious with my tech startup idea and began putting its building blocks in place. As the year went, I became sure that I wanted to put my all into making my startup work, so I left my job, this time, amicably and focused full-time on the startup.
How’s that going?
It’s going pretty well. This year, I decided that I would rather be in Nigeria building my startup, so I moved back to Nigeria. I know it sounds weird, but Nigerian just seemed like the right place to be right now.
No. I don’t know when I’ll leave or to where, but I’m not here permanently.
What did you miss the most about Nigeria?
The people. The fact that I have people that can relate with me on a more personal level is very important to me.
I also missed church. I was entering a more spiritual phase of my life before I left in 2018, and Dubai sort of took that away because I’m not big on online services. And even if I was, I’m typically at work on Sundays. Sundays are the first days of the work week in Dubai.
What do you miss the most about Dubai?
The peace. I wasn’t stressed by the little things like electricity and food. I could order food by 2 a.m. My living conditions were also pretty decent and I had access to all the facilities I needed. It was a great standard of living.
Hey there! My name is David and I’m the writer of Abroad Life. If you’re a Nigerian and you live or have lived abroad, I would love to talk to you about what that experience feels like and feature you on Abroad Life. All you need to do is fill out this short form, and I’ll be in contact.