In Lagos, Nigeria, “No wahala” means “no problem”.
“No wahala” is typically offered as a response when there is plenty of wahala.
For example, early on when I was living in Lagos, I could be met with this morning news brought by house staff: “There is no water, Madam.”
This meant I could not shower, and I would be frustrated – the water tank should have been refilled the day before. On realising the bucket, kept filled in the shower to address such eventualities, was empty, my stress levels rose higher.
“No wahala, Madam,” observed my staff, “we shall bring water today.”
On less resilient days, this was met by an explosion.
Lagos life is fraught.
Lagos is a city with an area similar to Australia’s Gold Coast, containing a population close to that of the whole of Australia. The daily grind is like being caught up in a Brisbane rugby scrum, tossed into a Melbourne AFL game for kicking, and then eaten by a Sydney shark.
You can appreciate that in this environment, there is considerable scope for disruption and for wahala.
In Lagos, I ran two small businesses as well as being appointed Australia’s Honorary Consul. I led my consultancy practice Strategyworks with about 10 employees, and also my passion, my social enterprise Ekologika Papers. With about 10-15 core employees and three times as many casuals, we made handmade paper and stationery products from recycled office paper and plants. Small businesses to be sure, but with plenty of opportunity for wahala.
Consider a day in the life of my social enterprise, Ekologika Papers.
Morning: “We have run out of glue, Madam,” said my craft worker, yet we had a large order to fulfil for a weekend wedding. Disaster! “No wahala,” my craft worker said. “I shall take a bike to get more.” We should have had glue in stock, but that was a different story. Where there was wahala, there was also a solution.
Afternoon: “Where are you?!!” That was me, the boss, over loud, on the phone to my salesman who had not arrived for a client meeting.
“No wahala, Madam,” said my salesman. “There is “go slow” – meaning he was caught in one of Lagos’s notorious traffic jams.
“No wahala,” said my client as I relayed the message, “He can come tomorrow.”
In due course, I learnt “No wahala” was more than an expression; it was an attitude to problems. In a tumultuous, unpredictable environment where each day brought the unexpected, this was a survival strategy to stop stress and burnout.
It meant accepting, almost expecting, the disruptions that were affecting our capacity to get things done or even compromising our viability.
Instead of stressing about how the wahala could have been prevented, I learnt to focus on what needed to be done now. I learnt to be self-reliant, resilient, patient and adaptive.
Are you facing disruption in the face of Covid19 lockdowns? Don’t get stressed; how can you respond with the resources you have? No wahala.