Attack of the greedy relatives – an isolated incident?


With the exception of one of my mother’s brothers who lives in Italy, all of our relatives live in Nigeria.

(There is one cousin of my mother’s who lives in the same city as us but his story makes me ill so we’ll just ignore him.)

It has been hard growing up so far away from our cousins, aunts and uncles. My sister and I have always envied our cousins for being able to hang out with each other and share things with someone who has family ties yet isn’t a sibling. Perhaps my sister and I have romanticized what it would be like to have female cousins to hang out with but I still think it would have been fun.

So, when we go to Nigeria, we’re always excited at the thought of the interactions we’ll have with our family because we only see them once in a blue moon. When I was last in Nigeria 14 years ago, I was surprised and hurt by the reception we received from our cousins. Like other Nigerians who live abroad and have family back home, we regularly do our best to provide for the family in any way we can and of course when we were going to Nigeria we packed gifts for our relatives. What really disappointed me though was the greed that most of my cousins showed.

First off, these cousins that we didn’t really communicate with in the almost eight years that we had been in Canada suddenly sent us letters a couple of months before we were to land in Naija. These letters were less of the “how are you doing?” variety and more of a “here is what I expect you to bring me from abroad” list.

Of course, they wanted brand name things: Levis jeans, Casio this, Sony that. This was pretty funny to me because we did not grow up with brand name items. My dad liked to tell us that we can buy brand name items when we’re paying for them; in the meantime his job is to provide us with clothing that fits and is in good condition. Sometimes he would give us the money he would spend on an item, say, a pair of jeans, and if we wanted to add the money we earned babysitting to it so we could afford the brand name item, well that was our decision.

So, we got our cousins what we could and off we went.

You could tell some were surprised and disappointed that they didn’t get exactly what was on their list. We explained that we didn’t earn much babysitting and what we brought was what we could afford. We tried to explain that we ourselves don’t wear brand name stuvs because we can’t afford them but we might as well have been talking to a door for all the understanding we received.

I am a big accessory fan so I had those cheap earrings and rings that I had brought with me, nothing fancy or too expensive. One of my cousins asked for a ring I was wearing, I gave it to her, then another asked for a bracelet or earrings, no problem, I handed it over. But then as the weeks went by, I noticed that things I hadn’t been asked for suddenly weren’t where I left them. I never discovered who was taking my stuff but by the time we left to return to Canada all my costume jewelry was gone.

I wasn’t mad that they were taken; I would have given them freely if they had asked. I was more angry that they thought that it was somehow their right to take something that didn’t belong to them, that they didn’t ask for. I was also angry with what I saw as a sense of entitlement among my cousins, a feeling of “She lives in Canada where money grows on trees so it’s our right to decide what is our own share of her belongings.” I am not making this up o, it was obvious that what I was to my cousins was a source of material things. Not one of them asked me what life was like in Canada, none of them had any interest in our life or how school was, or anything like that. These are people we hadn’t seen in eight years! We tried to talk about life and school and other things and really, unless we were giving them something, nobody was interested in talking to us or even hanging out with us. I didn’t expect this from family (I need to stop romanticizing these sorts of things!).

I haven’t been back since, but my sister went to Nigeria seven years ago. One of our second cousins behaved the way you would expect someone to behave towards family and my sister and her really bonded, but the rest of the female cousins had the same attitude they had in 1994. My sister had a pair of flip flop sandals (nothing fancy o, just plastic) and they were the shoes she wore all around the place. She kept them under her bed when she wasn’t wearing them but every day at least once she had to go searching through our grandmother’s house to see under whose bed she would find them. And the people who kept taking them saw absolutely nothing wrong with that, and they never asked her for them.

To some these may seem like petty things but when you’ve grown up feeling like you’ve been missing out on this family connection, on big noisy dinners with relatives everywhere, it comes as a real blow when you realize that these people that you spend time thinking of and missing for who they are, really don’t care about you or think about you unless they know you’re headed their way. Then all they care about is what you will bring for them.

It’s not just the cousins my age or younger who have this behaviour, even some of our aunts and uncles are the same way. They send us messages via their children to ask our parents to buy them this or that. Despite the help that my parents provide through the year. It’s like they think we’re a bottomless pit of money.

When my grandmother visited four years ago, I was happy because I thought it would be good for our cousins, uncles and aunts to find out how we live and grandma could report back to them. Some things that surprised my grandmother while she was here were:

  • the fact that my sister and I each had two jobs
  • my brothers, who were age 16 and 18 at the time, had part time jobs
  • both my parents worked at least 40 hours a week and weren’t home during the day
  • the family didn’t always eat together due to conflicting work schedules
  • due to work hours in retail, some of us would leave home before 8am and not return home until 10pm

Grandma found it hard to deal with the fact that once the vacation time given by our respective employers was up, she was left alone most of the day. Back in Naija our cousins would often spend the whole afternoon at her place during the summer, just sitting there hanging around because school was out. None of my cousins worked part time during the summer, and grandma assumed it would be the same here. She expressed sadness that we were always working and she felt bad, but we told her that that’s just the way it is here. If you want to make it, if you want to gbadun (enjoy) and still accomplish your goals, you better be willing to work. In our case, if we didn’t work hard during the summers, we wouldn’t have money for our next semester’s tuition, so that was good motivation. She was surprised that we were paying our own tuition (my cousins’ parents paid their tuition).

Anyways, all of this long story to say that if there was one thing I could get some of my cousins who are truly clueless (despite our attempts to explain it to them) to understand, it would be that while life here is good, we work hard for it and we don’t scoop money off the ground like they think. We may have access to more “gadgets” and conveniences in general, but they have access to a nice extended family network and the support inherent in that, and this is more important than material things. They actually get to enjoy their summer vacation because they don’t have to worry about working or not earning enough money for school.

I also want my cousins to know that we’re doing the best that we can for our family back home, and some of said family members should really learn to live as if we don’t exist as an additional source of income because my parents won’t always be here to contribute and help out: at one point they’re going to have to learn to live within their own means.

And the next time we visit? Please pretend that you actually see us, not dollar signs or presents, when we meet. That would be nice.

Is my family unique or do those of you abroad have some greedy relatives too? For those of you in Nigeria who have family abroad, or who have friends with family abroad, what have you witnessed in this respect and is there something your relatives abroad aren’t understanding?


15 Responses to “Attack of the greedy relatives – an isolated incident?”

  1. Funny enough I was just writing a post with the same subject line but a bit different…girl i am relocating back to naija cos I cant work this much all my life biko….

  2. 2 stbloke

    hmmmm… I do sympathise with you on this one. I am one of those lucky to have family members who were brought up not to expect anything from no-one. When I return from trips I have to practically beg them to come pick up their presents from the family house. My family members aint all that wealthy but i think my grand-father taught our parents self sustainance and independence quite early. You may have to seek a bond between yourselves and relatives your age; especially those whose academic level is as close to yours as possible- exposure is key. Oh and watch your stuff when you come home, its family, ‘your stuff is our stuff’, especially when its fine. Next time you are home give me a ring… I’ll set them straight on your behalf… lol

    nuff said

  3. 3 Oya

    Some family members are like that and some are not. Those who are have not contacted me for years since they know say I no get money. My cousins that are not like that e-mail me once in a while just to see how I am doing. Its tuff though because I remember when I was in Naija I thought money and “stuff” was everywhere in America. I would say things like “When I get to America, I will do this or buy that or get that…..”. Basically America was the solution to all money problems, but I was still very young then. So I try to tell people how it really is over here. Most are understanding but for some, unless u are talking to them while handing them a wad of cash it goes in one ear and out the other.

  4. Most of my cousins are here or in England except a few distant ones who we don’t know anyway. I haven’t been back to Nigeria in a while but when 2 of my sisters went back for their weddings, my mom was with them. They too had not been back to Nigeria in a while and mom was scared that people would take advantage of them, so she was their body guard. lol Mom discourgaes any form of familiarity from those distant cousins.
    My mom has one sister whose hands never stay by her side, I remember when we lived in lagos, she’d come to visit with one suitcase and leave with three. She’s the only one of my parents’ siblings combined that’s never left our hometown more or less the country. Her daughter one time called my mom for money for her HS finals, my mom sent it come to find out that it was a lie. Needless to say, my mom has banned my aunt or her daughters from calling ever.
    I also have an older distant cousin who calls and asks for money ALL THE TIME, I always thought he was agbaya 419er. Turns out I was right. My sister send some money to my dad through him, and guess what? Dad never got it. I warned her but she won’t listen.

  5. my dear, you are not the only one. For the most part, everyone knows a couple of “cousins” like that. fortunately for me, my cousins are waaay older, I’m not even on their level- i’m talking 20 years age difference.
    My younger sister is my albatross, although her case is quite understandable, that’s what younger siblings do. However, I have told her that if she “obtains” any of my stuff without my knowlede, I’m not buying her any thing when next I come back home ( and she knows I would do it!). still, I cant find my green cami and it was with me when i left to come back here!
    I have friends that do the same thing too, but I just put them on ignore- i have no obligations towards them!

  6. 6 Uchendu

    Bring these people to America and see how they’ll do for themselves. Take for example, the case of my idiot brother-in-law:

  7. 7 sherri

    i have heard tons of stories like urs o, but i can’t relate.

  8. 8 sting

    I understand how u feel but a lot of people in Nigeria have the misconception that money grows on trees in America or wherever as long as it’s not Nigeria. Unfortunately some people who live here help to perpetuate the myth. My sister’s ex husband has been known to take $10,000 home and just blow it away in a couple of months. How would these pple know that he worked hard for that money? Of course he’s trying to make himself look like a “big man” so he’s not going to tell them he suffered for that money.

    It’s unfortunate that ur cousins don’t really care about u guys besides what they can get from u. It is what it is. I’m sure there are some people who don’t act like that.

    It just made me remember when one of my friends when to Saudi for summer vacation and when he came back he “forgot” to bring something back for another of our friends. That guy got so pissed, he kept saying “even if it was a handkerchief, he couldn’t even bring anything back”. Dude, there are plenty of handkerchiefs in Nigeria, but no, he wanted the one from “abroad”. LOL…..

  9. 9 Oluwadee

    Greedy family members.
    I believe its the parents that encourage the children. My mother taught me well, n so I never bugged my family members abroad.
    now that i am now abroad, I refuse to b bugged by greedy family members.
    Family of no family, its d same principle in life; most pple r just interested in what u have, once u have nothing to offer, they stop caring.

  10. Ok your post was a mirror image of my family back home, I havent been to naija since we moved to texas 19years ago but my parents go on the regular and always cousing that i havent laid eyes on since i was 9years old, some I have never even seen sef write and ask for stuff. At the age of 17 i remember one cousin, that was then married and in her 30’s emailing me to ask for money because she and her baby didnt have food. I showed my mom the email and my mom got livid. The girl had hit up my mom for money earliar that month sef.
    I understand things are difficult in naija but things are difficult everywhere, money doesnt grow on trees. Even telling some of my cousins this they find it funny, I always hear “even if its hard in yankee, its still better than here, or i rather be suffering there than in naija.” I sometimes pray that they get visa so they can come see if it is really easy here.

  11. 11 aeye

    Your post is totally my family, extended family, and non-family members when I go back to Naija. It is like I am the Americanized-black-Santa-Claus to them. I used to take a few things and even give some t-shirts to the younger ones. But the past two times I have gone, I have not brought anything for anyone. I really don’t have money for that, and if I give one cousin or friend or stranger something, that just opens up for jealousy and more asking questions why I gave so and so, but not them.

    I think one thing that is even worse than the gifts is the random people wanting to be in pictures I take with my camera. I don’t know most of the people asking for me to “snap” them. And it was never just one picture. I likely won’t see them again since I just came across them randomly. It’s not so bad now with digital cameras and being able to delete pictures of strangers, but it used to be a really annoying use of film.

  12. 12 Nicky


    I am also in the same situation like you.
    I too have relatives who are greedy.
    I live in US,and back home my greedy relatives think money is grown in tree.
    I really understand how it feels,but we cannot change the world.
    It is natural to miss relatives and expect good things from them when you are far.
    But they may not feel they same way and if it is like that I feel We have to live our lives,our lives should not be controlled by others.Be happy find other ways so that you are happy and live your live happily.You cannot make every person happy,when you meet them next time and give them gifts do not ask what they wanted say that is what you were able to afford and do not expect anything in return.It is your life and don’t waste your time thinking about people who see you as a Tree made of money.

  13. I understand what you mean. The last time I went home, relatives that I didn’t know were all coming to ask me “what did you bring for me?” and I was thinking, “Gosh I’m not a free gift shop!” It must have been worse for you though, because they didn’t even care to befriend you because you are family, just because of material stuff. It’s painful, especially when you had hopes of being friends.

  14. …it hurts so (very) much hearing stories like these. It tempts me to continually defend our fatherland…..’cos i know life here is not as bad as (quite a few) ’tis being projected.

  15. 15 meeee

    lolll, I lost my top…backup…my top developed legs and ran out of my suitcase into thin air. Situations like yours are mostly common around realtives that are not too ‘literate’…using that word loosely tho. they may have gone to uni or poly’s oh, but somn is missing. peeps think u have a tree in obodoyinbo where u pluck money lollll

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