A few months ago, I received a mail from a reader asking me for the English names of some items she had come across in a Northern Nigeria market. A few mails back and forth and I decided that I definitely had to interview her so that I could share with you some of her natural lifestyle practices. Easy to incorporate into your daily life and it will make a big impact not only in your life but also in the environment. The first thing you will probably notice is that Katharine is very tall. Lol! Actually, you will notice that she is an Oyinbo so we are making her an “honorary” Natural Nigerian! Make sure you read it all, she shares some really interesting things about how we can live Naturally in Nigeria.
Hello! Please introduce yourself (or like my Nigerian folks like to say, let us meet you!)
Hi! My name is Katharine. I’m from Ireland but have lived most of the last 14 years in Africa. I’ve been in Nigeria since August 2014.
Have you always led a natural lifestyle?
No! For most of my adult life I have lived reasonably healthily, but have more recently been challenged to think more about the foods and products I buy eg, what’s in them, how they were made, how they would affect my body or the environment etc
What made you change?
Living in Africa has had a big impact on my life. I have been saddened to see how many people want to leave their own culture behind them and embrace a Western lifestyle. There are so many good things in Africa! I want to learn about them, to encourage Africans to embrace their natural heritage. Many of our products and habits from the West are not good for our bodies, our skin, our health, for the environment. I want to consider purchases that I make, to ask myself, is this good for my skin? Is it good for the environment? Was it produced in an ethical way? Can the packaging be safely re-used or composted or will it add to the growing piles of plastic we see daily?
A key moment for me was a few years ago, when an African friend developed a really bad rash on her hands from using a cream to make her skin white. It prompted me to learn what I could about simple, local, cheap, natural toiletries, to pursue a natural lifestyle, and to share what I was learning with others.
Has it been difficult/expensive maintaining a natural lifestyle in Nigeria?
It has not been expensive because I am using local items that I find in the markets which are cheaper than imported, packaged western goods. It has not been difficult to find good things, I’ve had great fun learning about the wonderful natural products you have here.
Where have you learnt about a natural lifestyle? (Books, internet, experience?)
Here are 3 books that have really helped and inspired me: “No Impact Man” by Colin Beavan; “The Zero Waste Lifestyle” by Amy Korst;
“The Urban Homestead” by Coyne and Knutzen. They are all very readable and are full of stories and ideas on how to live a natural and responsible lifestyle, even in a city. Last year I did a Permaculture Design Certificate which gave me an opportunity to think through how I would like to live naturally in Nigeria. The internet is also a great resource to find and share ideas and to meet and learn from like-minded people.
What are the local things that you have found work for you?
I’m loving that I can make all my own toiletries eg toothpaste made using local “nzu” clay, or an easy shower scrub using oil and salt. Nigerian black soap is fantastic for washing anything – dishes, hair, clothes – and because its natural, the water can be re-used for watering the garden.
Your coconut oil is great for cooking, for the skin, for teeth (eg oil pulling), and of course you have wonderful shea butter here!
I love the fact that I can buy these things “to measure” in the market so that there is no packaging waste involved. I bring my own empty boxes/bottle/small cloth bags so that I do not have to use a “leda” plastic bag.
And as for natural food – wow! There are so many wonderful nutritious ingredients available – acha, tamba, bambara groundnuts, tiger nuts- the list goes on!
What have your main obstacles been in trying to maintain a natural lifestyle in Nigeria?
Sometimes it is hard being different! This might sound funny because obviously I am different being white, but still, people say things like “we don’t do it like that”, or “you should do it like this”. Also, when not many people are living in a natural way it can be hard to work out how to do this lifestyle.
Any words of wisdom or advice for others?
Don’t be ashamed of your local African cultural practices. Ask your parents and grandparents how they did things – food preparation, skin care, remedies etc. These traditions are gentle on the earth and gentle on our skin, and we need to gather this information before it’s lost. Consumption at a western level is not sustainable – we need to learn from you and your ways.