Sunday Magazine

Agonies of living in one-room apartments

• I almost murdered my neighbour for sleeping with my wife


• Stealing of pants, bra, boxers, water, food others common feature


• I vowed to give my children decent accommodation, says Victor


• I lost thriving relationship in 28 rooms, 2 toilets’ house –Dorothy

 

 

Face-me-I-face-you is a term for a specific type of residential real estate in Nigeria, where a group of one or two-room apartments have their entrances facing each other along a walkway which leads to the entrance of each apartment. CHIJIOKE IREMEKA reports on the drama usually associated with these accommodations found in urban centres

 

Miss Dorothy’s will never forget in a hurry what she went through at Imoru Street, off Akala Street, Mushin, Lagos.

 

She dubbed it the most embarrassing moment of her life. Of course she would not as it ended her thriving relationship with her boy friend, Jimmy Elesho whom she visited in 28 – room face-me-I-face-you apartment with only two toilets.

 

On the day of the visit, she was in an expansive mood. She had imagined the warm and cozy feelings she would be treated to when she meets and embraces the love of her life. However, she was oblivious of the misfortune lurking ahead. This eventually put paid to the cheerful mood. Suddenly, the unexpected happened. Her monthly menstrual cycle which the Yoruba of the south West call ‘Visitor’ appeared.

Because she was not expecting it, she did not prepare for it. The unexpected visitor really messed her up as her clothes was stained with blood. She did not have her sanitary pad. What to do? She hurriedly left to keep the appointment. She did not bargain for what she met as her host denied her access into his apartment.

Jimmy Elesho, a Muslim was observing his prayers According to her boyfriend, a woman seeing her monthly flow will not enter his house, let alone stained with bad blood, else she will besmirch his house, which has become the abode of Allah at that moment.

 

Sadly, his Christian girlfriend wouldn’t understand what he meant by that and pleaded with him to allow her to come in and clean up herself, but to no avail. Her boyfriend, who wouldn’t afford her the luxury of coming into his spirit-filled room, left her to seek another option.

Conversely, the next option on the mind of this young lady was to turn to the toilet, which happened to be her last resort but it was then she realised that she had come face-to-face to a face-me-I-face-you apartment to experience the tales she had always heard from friends and foes regarding this special apartment.

 

Of course, as one would expect, the two toilets serving the 28 rooms were maximally being utilised at that moment as there was a long queue of people with their ‘poti’ (poo buckets) waiting for their turn to use the lavatory.

 

In a clearer picture of the situation, if each room in this building has, at least, two occupants (husband and wife), it’s expected that about 56 tenants will be sharing this toilet facility. If three persons (husband, wife and child), it means 84 persons to two toilets, a hard reality to live with.

 

However, Sunday Telegraph learnt that this is the reason almost all the female tenants in face-me-I-face-you apartments have their poo buckets in place as alternative mobile toilets.

 

They defecate in their respective rooms or other hidden corners at night or early in the morning and discharge when the toilet is less busy. She was in pain but in such an apartment, everything must be done on a ‘first-comefirst- serve’ basis, otherwise a fight would erupt.

 

Not even her fellow women, who saw her situation, could help as everybody on the queue has one engagement or the other to catch up with, while others may be pressed as well, and wouldn’t allow shunting in any disguise. She whined in her pain until it got to her turn.

 

She entered and helped herself, cleaned up, and left without entering her boyfriend’s room. This, she said said drove the last nail in the coffin of once a thriving relationship, wondering what manner of man would allow her to go through such pain and embarrassment. It was, indeed, a long day for her. Her boyfriend minced no words when he said she wouldn’t enter his room.

 

Though, he felt for her but he couldn’t just help the situation. “I have never been this embarrassed in my life. That was my worst, first and last experience in the face-me-I-face-you apartment. I don’t think I can withstand what I saw there and there was no need for a continuation. The relationship suffered some silent moments and died a natural death.”

In spite of this pain in the neck, the popular maxim, ‘When desirable is not available, available becomes desirable,’ explains why many Lagosians or residents of urban cities find themselves in a face-me-I-faceyou apartment no matter how much they dislike it.

Again, face-me-I-face-you or Face-to-face is a common architectural style in major urban settlements in Nigeria; the flats are low rent and are commonly rented to the lowincome earners due to their affordability. In this type of architecture, the toilet(s), bathroom(s) and kitchen spaces are usually shared among tenants.

The shared bathrooms and kitchens are referred to as ‘general bathroom/toilet/kitchen.’ Sunday Telegraph’s investigations showed that these buildings have been in existence for a very long time, arguably since the days when Africans moved away from building huts.

The buildings were initially to occupy large families with many wives and children, and as time evolved, when those children grew up and sought greener pastures to other places, the rooms became vacant.

It was learnt that in order to kill boredom, the Landlord (father of the house) decided to bring in other people who needed accommodation, in exchange for a token (rent) which is paid monthly.

The face-me-I-slap-you sobriquet of tenement houses arose out of the constant wrangling and conflicts which occur among the occupants. This housing system is popular among the middle and low-income earners.

 

Consequently, this has become a saving grace for new comers to Lagos, who do not have the means of making a choice of decent accommodation.

Those with the means choose where to live but those on a voyage to escape hunger from their respective villages, have no option than to go to a face-me-I-face-you apartment, pending when they would be able to avoid bungalows.

Victor Ibezim, who belonged to this category, left his village to escape hunger, his experiences in several face-me-I-face-you apartments he lived in earlier made him vow never to allow his children to grow up or live in a face-me-I-face-you environment.

He swore to give them decent accommodation and good food which he didn’t enjoy as a child. His experiences traversed Mafuloku, through Oshodi and Oba Palace, Old Ojo Road among others. For Victor to go to work on time, he has to wake up as early as 4:30am to defecate and take his bath before others start waking up.

 

Sometimes, he has to bathe outside in the dark and if he fails to wake up early, then he has to go out without having a bath. Recounting his experiences, he said: “I saw hell.

 

Then, I did not have anything in my room. I used to go to my neigbhour’s house to watch films – Jackie Shan and Ninja films. I received all manner of insults there. We will be watching a film and my friend’s girlfriend will come and ask us to go.

 

“When the insult was becoming unbearable, I started saving money. I later bought a brand new sharp television with an indoorl antenna. The indoor antenna didn’t receive good signals. At one point, my friends said I should bring a wire and connect mine to his TV’s booster, which I did. So, before going out, he will switch on his booster because of me.

 

“But this didn’t last long because his wicked girlfriend would always come and switch it off when she observed that I was watching a film with my wife-to-be. She would claim she was going out just for her  to go to the gate to gossip.”

 

This, again, prompted Victor to start saving for booster and outdoor antenna, which he bought afterwards. He got a long pole and mounted the antenna to the point that the images of his television were very clear. He, also, bought a video player and his friend’s girlfriend became envious of them and started picking quarrels with him.

 

He continued: “On a number of occasions, she quarreled with my wife. One day, she fought with my wife over where to dry clothes but my wife dealt with her. When I came back and heard the story, I wanted to beat up her boyfriend but neighbours said her boyfriend was innocent.

 

“Since then, it was from one quarrel to another. They reported me to Alhaja (Landlady). Alhaja started her own trouble. One day, I was so pressed (purging) and I rushed to the toilet to ease myself. I saw a bucket of water in the bathroom but no one was there. Not knowing who owned it, I removed the water and entered the toilet.

 

“It was then when Alhaja came screaming, ‘who removed her water’ and I told her I did. She started calling me all sorts of names but that didn’t bother me because I was dying there. She came without minding that I was naked and opened the toilet’s door and the neighbours were looking at my nakedness.

 

“You know say, do me I do you God no dey vex.

 

So, another day, it was my water that Alhaja removed. I remembered what she did to me. I went and opened the toilet’s door. People shouted but I wasn’t bothered. She started raining insults on me. “I didn’t respond because she did it first and allowed people to see my nakedness. But that action landed us at the Makinde Police Station. I said within me that I will pretend not to understand, or speak Yoruba or English except Igbo.

“So, when the police called me out and asked what happened, I started speaking Igbo. They asked me to speak English but I couldn’t. They spoke Yoruba and I didn’t respond. So, they told Alhaja to take me home and settle with me since it’s a family matter. “That was how I escaped detention.

 

After that, Alhaja started chasing me up and down and it became worse when I was unable to renew my rent. Every morning, she will be knocking at my door. I gave her a date but I wasn’t able to meet up. And at this time, she came knocking, I was inside but I refused to answer.

“She called and called, Victor, Victor but I didn’t respond. She said ‘I know you are inside, come and pay me.’ I had no money on me then. She carried a chair and sat in front of my door and said she will sit there until I come out. I remained inside until, luckily, someone called her and she left with the hope to come back. Then, I came out and disappeared till night. Later, I got her money and paid her.”

 

Also, other type of crimes and lifestyle of certain people in this type of apartment include peeping at women while bathing, door-to-door stealing, coveting people’s wives and husbands, impregnating young girls in the compound, fights, stealing of pants and bra, boxers and singlet as well as stealing of people’s water, and food.

 

More so, due to their poor financial status, majority of young girls trained in this environment join both full and part-time prostitution in order to carter for their needs, while the boys though talented do other shoddy jobs to survive.

 

At Araromi Street, Off Anifowoshe, Ikeja, Lagos, Bukky Aboderin, a seamstress said: “I hate face-me-I face-you but I’m managing because that is what I can afford. Some neighbours don’t clean the environment very well. Sometimes, you will see all these disgusting green things on the ground and bathroom. Some people will clean the compound, others will litter it.

 

“People steal as little thing as water here. One day, I fetched water to bathe and went to the bathroom with it. I left my sponge in the room and by the time I came back to the bathroom, the water was gone and not that alone, they stole my food in the kitchen. No privacy at all. I can’t wait to get a better place.

 

“My sister lost her husband in this apartment and she is not the only person. A young lady and her husband were being nice to set a trap for him and he fell for it and got her pregnant.

 

And that was how my sister lost her home. If they were in their own flat, this wouldn’t happen. Some of these ladies don’t wear pants and a bra when they wake up. They will come out and brush their teeth and be bouncing their breasts. “They wear bump shorts here and you know that men are moved by sight. They tie faded wrappers and you will see their real bodies.

 

They even tie torn wrappers too. Some will wear a show belly and peeping breasts tops. When they come out without a bra, you see the shape of their breasts and nipples. Some of them do this purposely to seduce men. “So, this may make one to start lusting after another man’s wife. And when you make passes at that person and she responds, the deed has been halfway done.

 

And because the doors are facing each other, you can easily sneak into someone’s room and do what you want.” The case of Mr. Ozinga Idu, a graduate of Political Sciences at Lagos University (LASU), Lagos, is like the case of a dog eating the bone hanging on its neck.

 

According to him, he almost murdered his neighbour when he discovered he was sleeping with his wife without recourse that he (Idu), was the one who brought him to his house and fed him.

 

He said: “This is the boy I helped and brought into my house. He was there at my wedding and we ate together. Even when I travelled, he still visited my house but didn’t know he had an ulterior motive. It didn’t happen once or twice. It was becoming too much before an elderly woman told me this. “She gave me a condition for telling me. Such was that I will promise her not to take what she is going to say too far.

 

She said I shouldn’t throw away the baby with the bath water. Though I didn’t get her initially, I promised her. “When she broke the news, I felt like committing a murder. Initially, I sent her packing and for five months, she wasn’t with me. The only thing that saved her was that woman.

 

“She kept on talking to me, saying that I betrayed the trust she reposed in me. She advised me to bring her back and she told me what to do. And I can tell you that it worked, and is still working but it is not for me to tell you that.”

 

In another development, a careful wife and a mother, Mrs. Ngozi Franklin, at Baruwa Street, Old Ojo, Lagos, had to send her cousin, Joy, packing and warned her never to return. She has, since then, cut herself off from close female friends, who came in disguise to wreck her home. Joy was lusting after her husband in their two-room apartment in face-me- I-faceyou.

 

Each time her husband is at home, Joy will embark on emergency bathing. The apartment is such that there is a small opening between the two rooms. It joins both rooms. So, Mrs. Franklin positioned a wall mirror there for herself but her cousin will go there naked to make-up only when the man is around.

 

Mrs. Franklin’s bedroom is such that when you open the door, you will behold the mirror. It was in that corner that Joy used to ambush her husband. Sunday Telegraph learnt that she has been doing this for long and the husband has been telling his wife to send her away but his wife wouldn’t listen until she discovered what she was doing. She confronted her husband but her husband reminded her of the countless times he had asked her to send Joy away but she wouldn’t listen.

 

“But you should have told me what she has been doing all these while. Did you do it? Please, baby, tell me, did you do it?” I screamed. “Thank God you didn’t. My heart palpitated. I felt relieved after my husband’s ‘No’ answer.

 

That was Joy’s last day in my house,” she quipped. Mrs. Franklin went out for an engagement and it appeared Joy didn’t know when she returned thinking it was business as usual. Again, she went to bathe and after which she wore only G-string pant, no bra and was painting and titivating herself before the mirror, when Mrs. Franklin opened the door.

 

According to her, she didn’t shake, thinking it was her husband. But when she realised it was the madam of the house, she quickly picked up a towel hanging on the door to cover herself.

 

The rest was the story for another day but that was the last day she spent in that house. She continued: “After Joy, came another person, being friendly to me and visiting me. She used to come around almost every morning to say hello. I didn’t know why she was doing so.

 

One day, my husband told me that she came, and I asked my husband what she came to do. “He said she wanted to rest a little before going out.

 

As is our tradition, my husband offered her a drink. And because I go to work before my husband, she always seized that opportunity to come to my house in the morning. But what made me end that relationship was when she visited my house under the guise that she was coming for me, wearing a transparent nightgown without a bra.

 

“When I came back and my husband told me and asked me to beware of her friendship, I confronted her again and ended that cupboard relationship. I have seen a lot and I am not ready to lose the Love of my life to any woman.”

 

Speaking on why many go after their neighbours’ wives or husbands, a relationship expert, Dr. Caroline Osakwe, wondered why a woman should go and discuss with another woman or other women hers’ and husband exploits in bed, wondering why a wife should be discussing her husband’s love life with another woman.

 

She noted that when a woman whose husband is not good in bed hears that her neigbhour’s husband is a tighter in the bedroom, if she is starved of good sex, she will begin to make passes at the man with an intention to lure him to bed to do what her husband doesn’t do.

 

She said: “I have heard a lot of women discussing in the compound. This one will say, my hubby’s manhood is big and good at the job. They will mention different styles they do with their husbands and even how long they can last together. Some will say that they like it through the back and others will say they like it when their husbands suck them.

 

“So, those whose husbands are not doing all these will begin to look at those men who do it for their wives. They become your friend automatically and begin to visit you to familiarise themselves with your family and you are there shining your teeth that she is your friend. No she’s not; she’s looking for your husband’s memorable experience.

 

“And once she succeeded in getting your husband down once, it will continue until you get to the point where your husband had to make it open and, perhaps, make a choice between the two of you. Pray that he chooses you; else, you are a victim of yourself.

 

“What I have equally discouraged couples who live in such apartment is to avoid wild sex, where the woman or the man will be screaming on top of her voice. By your action, you are telling others that your husband or wife is extra good and they would like to have a taste of your husband’s joystick and or wife’s honey pot.”

 

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