For Svetlana Fedorova, Nigeria holds an allure. Though fully Russian and a religious tourist to Synagogue Church of All Nations, Lagos, she has literally found family in a Nigerian home, and would love to come back again and again. Svetlana and her friend, Anton Aksenenko, who are currently back in Russia spoke to Gboyega Alaka of the incomparable hospitality of Septuagenarian, Mrs. Grace Adamu, who took them into her home, fed them Nigerian meals and practically adopted them as her own children.
While many Nigerians continue to lampoon their country for everything they consider bad or not going right, and while many are desperately seeking a way out to the so-called developed countries to enjoy better life, it sure would come as a pleasant surprise to see foreigners, especially from those choice destinations, who are loving Nigeria just the way it is, and willing to give up all they’ve got to come live in Nigeria or at least have a taste of “it’s fascinating life.”
Two of such people are Svetlana Fedorova (Lana, for short) and her friend, Anton Aksenenko, from St. Petersburg, Russia, who have found Nigeria so alluring, that one says she has “visited four times in six years,” and the other says, but for his family back in Russia, he is willing to give up his job over there and relocate to Nigeria.
For Lana especially, Nigeria has become like a second home, particularly since she discovered ‘family’ in the very loving Adamu family, who live not too far from the globally renowned Synagogue Church of All Nations. That was on her third visit in 2017.
She had been lodged in a nearby hotel on the same street where Grandma Grace Adamu has her home and drink/provisions shop and gradually an attraction that eventually bonded into something akin to family evolved.
“I always wanted to have a taste of the Nigerian life from the inside; to see the life of the local people (outside the artificiality of the hotel); and I had even prayed about it; so when Mama told me, ‘Next time you come to Nigeria, you don’t need to stay in a hotel,” I felt it was a dream come true, a prayer answered. I thought, ‘This is the Lord speaking’, so even though I was supposed to go back after a month, I extended my stay to two months: so I ended up spending one month at the hotel and one month at her place.
“And it wasn’t a particularly difficult decision for me to make because I’d met her several times at her shop and found her a pleasant old woman. She would always greet me with so much cheer every time I passed by her shop to my hotel from church; I’d also met her daughters, Esther and Ruth; visited her place; and found that they are a really nice family.
“Let me also say that I enjoyed every bit of my stay with the family, which is why, as you can see, I am with them again. Even though we’re lodged in a hotel, I spend a lot of time with mama and the family. Her hospitality, the food and the atmosphere of a home away from home is incomparable,” she said smiling.
This visit in December is Lana’s fourth visit. Even though she had promised Mama in 2017 to come back soon, she on this occasion had to escort a family who needed miracle healing from ‘the man of God’ at the Synagogue.
“My friend here, Anton Aksenenko, has a younger brother who is disable right now due to an accident. His wife is my friend, she told them about The Synagogue and the healings taking place there, and we believe it is possible for him to rise up and walk again. So as soon as we saw the church programme online, we decided to come over. They requested me to accompany them because they know I am familiar with the place and speak better English.”
Asked if her first visit to The Synagogue was also precipitated by some kind of illness, Lana answered in the negative. ‘I didn’t come because I was ill. Back in Russia, I minister with foreigners at the Christ Embassy Church branch in St Petersburg, Russia, where I serve as an English interpreter. I came specifically to tap into the blessing of the church and receive more anointing.” She had seen so many wonderful activities taking place in the church via satellite television and wanted to experience it live.
She said her first visit was on the invitation of a friend; she lodged one night at a hotel, which she can now neither recall the name nor area; and the following morning, she came to the Synagogue and lodged at the church facility.
Did she have any foreboding on account of the negative stories flying around about Africa and Nigeria in particular?
Not at all, she said. “I was always watching video clips about the prophet (TB Joshua). My very first time, my expectations were positive and high. I didn’t think anything bad, because it was like God was leading me. And everywhere I’ve been, I have met good people.”
What about the stereotype that Africa is a whole wide jungle, where wild animals, kidnapping and Boko haram and killings are the order of the day?
Her answer again was, “No, no, no. I came to Lagos and I knew from my findings that Lagos is a big city and I know that you don’t find wild animals in big cities.”
When told that Russians coming to seek miracles in a Nigerian church negates the stereotype of atheists that most Nigerians have of people from that country, Lana said, “Not really. Russia is mostly orthodox Christians. The atheist impression was before; now we’re Catholic. It’s just that most people there call themselves Christians but they’ve never really met Christ. We have churches, but not so much like here in Nigeria.
Aside the good people, another major thing that has continued to fascinate Lana is Nigerian food, especially as prepared by Mama. Because she had once sojourned in India, she has been used to spicy foods, hence had no difficult adapting to Nigerian foods.
“Here in Nigeria, you have your own spicy foods and special dishes, which I have found to be very nice. I like egusi, soup, Mama’s egusi is fantastic; I like vegetable soup, plantain, yam, white rice and stew, jollof rice, fried rice… I enjoy eating egusi soup with semo.”
At this point, Esther, who had been quietly observing chipped in: “She also drank garri, ate coconut and bread,” while Lana in turn nodded in agreement, muttering, “Very nice.”
But she does not eat eba. She couldn’t quite get round to that, she admitted.
Asked to appraise Nigeria, having seen her from the outside and inside, Lana said, “I love the weather, although it can be really hot, I love the food, and above all, I love the people. Everywhere I’ve been, the people have been nice. And mama here, and her daughters, have been fantastic and good ambassadors of their country.”
Of Anton however, Lana said, “My friend thought coming to Nigeria was a dangerous adventure. He expressed fears about terrorists, Boko Haram, poisoned water and stuff. He practically knew all the negative things there are to know, but I allayed his fears.”
Of the perceived inadequacies, Lana says, “The world is not perfect. Nigerians should just take it easy on themselves.”
One more thing, Lana’s boyfriend is a Nigerian. “His name is Gideon Ayowa from Benin City. We’ve been together half a year. We met at the Champions’ Camp during the Word Cup in Russia. Because of my competence in English, I was assigned to the group as an interpreter and there and then, we became friends.”
But for family, I could come live in Nigeria – Anton Aksenenko
ALTHOUGH Anton’s sick brother and mom were not available on the occasion of this interview, he volunteered that they had been in Nigeria for two weeks and had as a matter of fact been enjoying their stay.
Speaking in his smattering English and interpreted by Lana, Anton said he hadn’t seen anything unpleasant to him thus far.
“I think it’s nothing really. I’m yet to see or experience anything that’ll stop me from coming back. Everything I’ve seen, I’ve found fascinating. I particularly like the communal life; I like the mentality. Everything is very simple, and the people are friendly and open.”
Asked if he didn’t think the poor state of the roads offensive, Anton said, “Nothing much. In Russia, we have bad roads as well, especially deep in the country. So it’s nothing like we have not seen or experienced it before.”
When informed that Nigerians always thought developed countries like the UK, USA and Russia are perfect places, with everything in place, he shook his head and said, “Not really. The life in Russia is pretty much like life in Nigeria. We have few megalopolises like Lagos and they are very developed, with lots of jobs, big money etc, but if you go deep into the countryside and villages, there is poverty also.
“Actually, I am surprised at what I’ve seen so far. Before coming, I had a different opinion. I was full of fear. My friends were worried and were afraid for me. But I’m fine, and I’ve seen that there is nothing to worry about.”
In the two weeks that he had been around, Anton had also tasted Mrs. Adamu’s cooking and has great words for Nigerian food. “I like egusi. It’s my favourite.”
Anton made some friends. He was spotted returning from Ikotun market with mama’s daughter Esther and another. But for the language handicap, he said he could have made more friends. He noted however that the markets in Russia are cleaner, more spacious and the items have price tags, unlike in Nigeria, where you have to haggle.
He announced with a note of sadness that he would be traveling back to Russia that evening. And then he said, “To be honest, I don’t want to leave. If not for my family, I could leave Russia and come and live here. Serious.”
Eventually, Anton’s mom and his brother had to go back to Russia as officials at the church told them they were not in line and needed to go and re-apply from their home country before coming.
‘All I do is make them feel at home’
MRS. Grace Adamu speaks on her hospitality to Synagogue Church visitors and how several of them, including Lana and Anton have come to adopt her as their Nigerian mom.
Mrs. Grace Adamu is in her early seventies. A mother of seven and a widow, greatest asset is her cheerfulness, generosity and openness. She lives in a modest three-bedroom flat on Olusesi Street not too far from the big church but could be found mostly by her little shop, where she sells soft drinks, snacks and provisions. From that spot, she would regularly exchange greetings with passers-by, old and young, Nigerians and non-Nigerians, a good number of whom are religious tourists to the big church. Little wonder, most of them end up warming up to her and adopting her as their Nigerian mother.
Asked why she takes total strangers into her home, Mrs. Adamu says, “Why not? God says all human beings are the same, whether black or white. I have many of them who have taken me as their mom. And it’s not limited to white people. I have them from South Africa, Sierra Leone, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mali, France, even Nigerians who come from outside Lagos. I have Malian children, who are based in France.
“As I speak with you, I have a young man from South Africa, who has lived with me for about five years. Now he is my son and we have lived well together with my other children. When he first came, he couldn’t eat Nigerian food, let alone prepare them. He hadn’t even seen yam, since he said it does not exist in South Africa. But now, he cooks virtually all Nigerian meals, including egusi soup, vegetable soup and prepares semo to go with it. Many of them have also invited me to come and spend time with them at their different bases in Europe. In fact, the Malian recently sent me money to process my passport and visa to come and visit her in France.”
What does she do that endears her to these strangers, Mrs. Adamu says, “Nothing. I just welcome them and show them love. I make them feel welcome and at home. That’s all. When they’re passing by, I greet them and they greet me back. I also pray for them that God will grant them whatever it is that brought them to Nigeria. Sometimes I invite them to my house and naturally, I offer them food. Often they express delight at the meal and sometimes, they even specially request that I prepare it for them. And when they go back, they are always calling to ask after my health and welfare.”
Does she charge them to stay with her, like many in the neighbourhood who have converted their private homes to lodging facility?
To this she screamed “Noooo! Why should I? That’s Lana sitting there; you can ask her if I’ve ever asked her for a kobo for staying with me. It is something I am happy to do and I’m happy God is using me to make them feel at home.”
Mrs. Adamu hails from Kwale in Delta State, while her late husband was of the Igala tribe in Kogi State.