A new breed of African expatriates, breaking stereotypes of illicit trade, is venturing into many businesses in the city. They are creating fashion brands, getting into modelling, restaurants, beauty salons, starting African stores and garment manufacturing units. Prince Franklin David had late last year started a women-only beauty parlour, the first in the city to be run by an African, with friend Jenny Brown. The parlour in Malviya Nagar mostly caters to African women and specialises in the weaving of hair and fixing of artificial hair.
“When I first came to India two years ago, I realised that there is a huge African community here. While there were several unisex African salons in the city, none were exclusively for African women who wear weavons as they do not have long natural hair,” says David. “Indian women drop in at times to get their hair woven and have artificial nails,” he adds.
The walls of his salon are adorned with weavons and balloons, and the shelves are bursting with beauty products from Africa.
Jenny Brown says that of her clients, the Africans are fussier. “African women are more fashion-conscious than their Indian counterparts, who, I feel, are a bit traditional in their approach. I am friendly with many Indian women in the neigbourhood who are my regular clients now. They have opened their hearts and homes to me,” says Brown with an eye on Hindi songs playing on a small TV at the salon.
David, like every Nigerian in the city, is a fan of Hindi films. “I am a great admirer of Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. As a stylist, I like Shah Rukh Khan’s hair,” he says.
Emmanuel Ekufu, another Nigerian, also belongs to the new breed of African entrepreneurs. He lives in Gurgaon, has a unit in Vanarasi that manufactures silk saris, and exports them to Africa, Europe and America. “I got into the business because the dress that women in Nigeria wear is similar to the sari in several ways,” the 33-year-old explains. “Many Nigerians want to start businesses in India, but visa restrictions stop them from doing so. While perceptions about Nigerians are slowly changing here, visa norms should be eased,” Ekufu says.
There are about 5,000 African expatriates in the Capital, mostly Nigerians living in places such as Arjun Nagar, Malviya Nagar, Uttam Nagar, Dwarka and Kingsway Camp. And the growing number of African establishments is leading to a new African sub-culture in the city. There are more than a dozen restaurants run by African expatriates that serve authentic Nigerian cuisine, such as jollof rice, stew and a variety of soups such as egusi, okro and ogbono. “I have about 40 Nigerians every day. This is where they come, eat and bond with each other,” says George Christopher, who set up BNG Corner Restaurant in Arjun Nagar in 2010. “I am loving my life in India,” Christopher, another 33-year-old, says.
There are several African stores in areas such as INA and Kingsway Camp that sell African spices, dried fish, Nigerian palm oil and the popular Digger and Ugu leaves, apart from Nigerian movie and music discs. The Shiloh Global Worship Centre, an African church in Saket, is a spot where hundreds of men and women from Africa gather on Sundays and sway to gospel music.
“I am not a party person, and do not go to café and bars, but this the place where I go and meet friends and fellow Nigerians,” says Ekufu.
Ugochi Latoya Igwilo came to India in 2009 to study interior designing at a university in Noida. She now works as a design consultant with a Gurgaon-based firm. She says she has more Indian friends than Nigerians in Delhi. “My father has always thought highly of India’s education system. I have found that Delhi is a good place to hone my skills as an interior designer. I often stay at my Indian friends’ places in Faridabad at festivals such as Diwali. People in office, too, are very supportive,” Igwilo, who is 21 years old, says.
Does she feel safe in Delhi?
“I generally travel by the Metro and move in groups. I try to be more careful in the city after the recent gang rape on a bus. I feel more comfortable in my hometown Lagos,” says Igwilo, who also works a model for various fashion brands.