Olivia Mutae: The Nigerian Business woman making waves in Paris

I had the sweet privilege of meeting Olivia last year in Paris at her restaurant. I tell you what, it was simply great being able to eat well cooked home food whilst on holiday. Olivia is a warm and accommodating person and  you feel like you have known her all your life in only a couple of minutes.   I was so (and still am) inspired by Olivia’s story.  I am very pleased to be able to publish this write up from urnaija.com (with their permission) on my own blog.   Her story tells our story about life in the diaspora. Enjoy reading!
Urnaija had the privilege to speak with, Olivia Mutae, owner of ‘African Kitchen’, who couldn’t get even a cleaning job about twelve years ago when she arrived in France but now owns a restaurant located at 92, Rue Saint-Maur 75011, a high brow neighbourhood in Paris, France, that has hosted the likes of P-Square, Davido, Julius Agwu, Seun Kuti, Kunle Afolayan, Kuku and Nneka just to name a few.
Davido had a private party at the restaurant and Olivia was in charge of the catering when Julius Agwu was in Paris for his ‘Up Close and Personal’ show last year, 2013, which Seun Kuti also attended as a special guest.   
Olivia agreed to tell us her inspiring story because she believes that if she could make it then anybody else can. After all, for everybody who achieves a feat it becomes easier for others to achieve that feat because ‘impossible’ is no longer an issue. Olivia is in her early thirties, originally hails from Delta State but was born and brought up in Edo State by hard working parents. Her dad worked with the National Shipping Line and that was what got Olivia interested in travelling abroad. Throughout her secondary school days all she ever dreamt of was travelling abroad.
“My first trip abroad was in 2001 and it was to Paris.”
“I fell in love with Paris. It is true what they say, ‘see Paris and die’. I saw Paris and never wanted to leave.” Olivia said with more than a hint of nostalgia in her voice.
After Olivia’s first trip to Paris she also went to Holland to visit an uncle but she longed to return to Paris and that was exactly what she did.
“My uncle had prepared me mentally to be ready to work hard in Europe. That contrary to the opinion I had when I was back in Nigeria, Europe is not a bed of roses so when I got back Paris I was determined to work as hard as I could”.   
“Unfortunately, I only learnt basic French in Nigeria, you know, bonjour, Je’ mapplle Olivia. Nothing much,” She recalled. “Because I didn’t see any reason to learn another language since I thought every white person could speak English”. She said with a laugh.
“So it was very difficult for me when I came back to Paris because I couldn’t speak French at all. I couldn’t get any job, not even a cleaning job. So I enrolled for a programme where I learnt how to speak French”.
At that point she talked about the first person to plant the entrepreneurial seed in her.
“At the school, I met a young lady. She was a teacher from one of these North African countries…, Tunisia I think”,
“She was the one who told me that it’s the mentality we Africans bring to Europe that hold us back because we come to Europe with the intention of doing menial jobs just to make some money to survive”.
“She was the first person to make me realise that I could start a business in Europe and succeed. My mentality changed after I had that conversation with her.”
Olivia, however still had a long way to go from having a changed mentality to actually making a success from her new mindset.
“I got my first cleaning job at Emmanuel Ungaro, a designer’s shop in Paris. I did my cleaning in the morning and went to school at night”.
“After completing my French course we were given work references and I was fortunate to get a job at a supermarket in Paris.
“It was at the supermarket that I practised my French. As you can imagine, it wasn’t polished. No, not at all”. Olivia recollected with a chuckle. “I was speaking French with a strong accent and was laughed at several times by my colleagues”.
“I put in my best at the supermarket and my employers appreciated my services. They didn’t want me to leave but I learnt that in France, by Law, after two years your employers should send you for further training.
When I made a request to be sent for training my employers were reluctant to send me so I quit”.
By the time Olivia quit her job she had worked with them for about three years.
“After quitting my job I wanted to do something different so I started working as a waitress at this Irish pub in Paris known as O’Sullivan. It was very close to the famous Moulin Rouge.
I had the waitress job at night and had another day job but I realised that the night job at the pub was very interesting.
The other thing I noticed was how much money they were making on selling foods, drinks and providing entertainment and that was where I got the idea to set up an African restaurant”.
At this point we asked if she quit immediately to set up ‘African Kitchen’.
“No, I didn’t set up ‘African Kitchen’ immediately.
“I quit and decided to get a better paying job so I applied at Gallery Lafayette and got a job with Swarovski. That was my last job before I quit to set up the restaurant business.”
Did she require any paper qualification to set up a restaurant business in France?
“No, an eatery business is the only business you can do in France that you don’t require any paper qualification for but that is about to change”. She replied.
“However, you need to go for security training, food hygiene training and obtain licence to sell alcohol. For instance I cannot buy meat from just any butcher. It has to be from a designated one who has preserved his meat at a certain temperature.
Right now, I don’t have the license to sell alcohol without food. The license to sell just alcohol (without food) costs Seventeen thousand Euros on its own.”
What were the challenges she faced and probably still facing?
“Finance,” Olivia answered. “The money I saved up wasn’t nearly enough for the project. I had to borrow more from friends and family. I thank God now, however, that things are looking up.”
Concerning present challenges, Olivia said, “my restaurant is located in a high brow area of Paris where you don’t usually have Africans but I want to showcase Nigeria so the challenge is to find a way of introducing people who have never tried Nigerian foods before to it”.
So how has that been working out?
“It’s been fun,” Olivia said. “I’ve been imposing Nigerian food on them. The good thing is that white people are very adventurous and would try anything for the first time. Luckily for us most of them like what they eat and come back”.
Apart from Nigerians do other Africans frequent ‘African Kitchen’?
“Yes, about a month ago, November 2013, we introduced other African dishes like the famous Cameroonian grilled fish, poisson braise and the Zimbabwean Community have had their end of year
party here for the second year in a row”.
So what does the future hold for Olivia?
“As soon as I’m confident that ‘African Kitchen’ can run itself with little or no supervision I intend to set up a coffee franchise.
You see the coffee franchise was my first idea and I got the license for it but I couldn’t find a good location to start off from so I decided to go for ‘African Kitchen’ because I didn’t want the zeal in me to die.
My next step is to set up a coffee franchise business to be known as ‘Alto cafe’ and the idea is to compete with Starbucks”.
Word of advice for budding African entrepreneurs in Europe:
“Dream on!” Olivia advised.
“Don’t ever let your dream die. Persevere and watch your dream gradually but surely come to pass.
Things don’t happen like magic in Europe. Start the day a pauper and become a millionaire before nightfall. No, that’s not Europe. It takes time to build a business in Europe.
As long as the business is legitimate and you work hard to build it with patience success is surely not too far away”.
  culled from urnaija.com

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When Your Spouse Cheats

I was inspired to write this from ….you guessed it! Has anything like this ever happened to you or to someone you know? What was the life truth they learnt from the experience? Anything at all?

The French President Francois Hollande’s love life has been in the news lately. He has been described as the worst President of all time.  The scandal is a complicated web of the women in his life. In reality, the broader picture is of course, the narrative of a cheating President. 

In 2005, Hollande left Segolene Royal, the mother of his four children for 48 year-old journalist Valerie Trierweiller. Now, he is doing the same to Trierweiller as he did to Royal. This is the pattern with cheaters.  Treirweiller, a journalist is recovering from a possible mental breakdown at a hospital in Paris. The new face in the Hollande scandal is the affair with 41 year-old Julie Gayet.  We read that Hollande might have been involved with Gayet since 2012, even more dreadful news for Treirweiller who was an aide to Royal at the time she began to cheat with Hollande.

Cheating is thought to be the chief reason why around 50 per cent of relationships fail. The question for consideration is why do men cheat and what do women do when their men cheat?  A cursory investigation on the Internet reveals the reasons why men cheat are numerous.  Topping the list on all searches is the ego trip men get when they are able to ‘bang’ a woman.

Men in long-term relationships often get bored and in need of excitement, they fall easily for the object of their attention. In traditional African societies mostly the men do cheating but these days, women cheat too. African men are primarily polygamous. So cheating is not a big deal. The impact of Christianity has not changed the mindset of men in any significant way.  Religion is not an antidote to adultery, as some pastors cheat too.

The inability to say no is another huge reason.  Most men find it hard to resist the lures of women, beautiful or not. For some men, the inability to say ‘No’ is to anything and everything in skirt. Call it whatever you like, many men live for the thrill of an ejaculation. They count days from one ejaculation to the next and friendships and relationships are pursued because of the end goal:  the need to ejaculate.

Some men who have friends who cheat on their partners are likely to be cheaters themselves. Cheating is a mentality, a way of life for men who fall under the peer pressure of their friends and may be for those who lack self-esteem. Infidelity can also be an ego boost for a man with low self-esteem. It is a well-known fact that men cheat sometimes when they want to end an existing relationship but they lack the knowledge of how to do it.
In Nigeria, many married men easily string along several university girls at a time simply because they can afford it. University students like their counterparts in the NYSC know the benefits of having a more ‘established’ boyfriend even though marriage (to these men) is not on the table.  For the girls, it is simply an economic inducement – for the time being – till their husbands come along. For some, these relationships carry on even after such girls are married.
Many people argue that men who never cheated in their single lives will most likely never be tempted when they get married. But, nothing in life is predictable. A man might be tempted to cheat simply to get the experience or taste of what it is like to be with another woman. Furthermore, men are stimulated by visuals. A man may be turned on by what he sees. When the woman whose cleavage he has been secretly admiring shows signs of willingness, such a man would easily give in to opportunistic sex. Most men, without blinking would cheat on their partners if they know they can get away with it.

Opportunistic sex can happen anywhere: in clubs, cars, sheds, kitchens, motels, offices and so on. It may be induced by the intake of alcohol and possibly drugs. Men are hunters by nature. Many times when they cheat it is because they enjoy the thrill of a chase. Some men who cheat do so because they thrive on the excitement secret affairs bring. Men like the French president probably see it as a game. A friend just lost her partner of five years because he cheated again. The guy had boasted in the past that he was yet to beat his father who had 17 wives. Little wonder now, he has four children by three different women. A nightmare! 
For some men, it is actually a case that they fall in love with the woman over a period of time and they subsequently cheat. This does not make it right. No man has the right to the unlimited attention of someone that is not a partner or wife.  The flip side is also why do women allow these men to cheat with them? In certain cases, some women do not know the men they are dating are not exactly single.  Many men get women by insisting that they are single, never been married and so on. 

There are also women who prefer dating or cheating with married men only because they enjoy the buzz of dating a man that will never be available.  Other women cheat with men because they enjoy the gifts, money, the ‘awuf’ nights in fancy hotels, expensive jewellery, all expenses paid for international trips and so on.  It is a vicious cycle.

If the truth were to be told, men cheat because of their sexual fantasies. Their wives or girlfriends may be unwilling to perform on them kinky sex or other sex acts, so they start to look out for someone who would be able to do all and more to them. There are also men who are addicted to sex. Even though their wives do the best they can, they are insatiable. They just want more and more. Sex addicts should seek professional help.  But it is unlikely a Nigerian man would ever seek help.  They are pleased when tales of their rascality are told and retold. They love the nicknames they are called and enjoy being the ‘bad’ boy.

There are women who turn the other eye when their husbands cheat. This is because they have been married for decades and they reason, he will always come back home anyway. Other women turn to God in light of such distressful information. Contemplating suicide is not an option. A man would always find a replacement. Remember he has a primal need to ejaculate.
Cheating may be pleasurable for the moment, but most times it has lasting consequences. Heartaches, inability to trust, divorce and the pain and inconvenience that it brings on children and the wider family is not worth it. No doubt, Hollande is not enjoying the embarrassment of being caught, the indignity of being the dishonourable man. But, it is the consequence of his infidelity. 

In this day and age of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections, partners of cheaters should insist on wearing condoms should they have to sleep with them. Married women whose husbands are cheating should look inwards at things they can change to stop their men from seeking ‘hot meals’ elsewhere. Men will always cheat, our mothers tell us. The best way to deal with it is to carry on living and not taking it personally, if it is possible.
 Published in TELL.



Shocking report on the detention of women asylum seekers.

This is one of the reasons I am glad I have a blog. I can help highlight certain disturbing issues especially when it pertains to women and children. This will disturb you. A big thank you to our friends at Free Movement.

A new report from Women For Refugee Women (‘WFRW’) sheds a sickening light on the conditions for women asylum seekers detained in Yarl’s Wood IRC. 70 per cent of the women they interviewed that were guarded by men said that the very presence of male staff made them feel uncomfortable. They spoke about male staff bursting into their rooms when they were undressed or watching them going to the toilet.
One disclosed that she had been sexually abused in detention. Half had suffered verbal abuse from guards, three had been physically assaulted. One described seeing an old woman coming back from the airport with cuts and bruises to her face, saying she had been hit by the guards.
The report is a compelling collection and analysis of the voices of detainees themselves and has received some media interest (for example, in: The CourierThe MirrorThe Belfast Telegraph; and,The Independent).
In 2012, around 31 per cent of women who claimed asylum in their own right (rather than as dependants  on someone else’s claim) were detained.  That was 1902 out of 6071 women.  The report explains how poor screening processes result in women being detained despite being victims of torture or human trafficking.

The Detained Fast Track process was found to cause particular problems for women who had suffered sexual violence and found it impossible to disclose all the details, perhaps soon after arrival or after years of concealing their experiences, perhaps in front of male interviewers and interpreters.
The poor quality of decision making in the Home Office has previously been criticised by UNHCR and continues through the process, with women’s experiences of persecution being particularly poorly understood.  About 25 per cent of men and 30 per cent of women asylum applicants have their refusal overturned on appeal.  The report shows that most of the sample (40 out of 43) had suffered gender-related persecution including rape, sexual violence, forced marriage, female genital mutilation and forced prostitution, either by state authorities or against which state authorities failed to protect them.
According to the report, detention is enormously expensive, costing about five times as much as providing support to asylum applicants outside detention.  On 4 February 2010, the Government reported in Parliament that the average overall cost of one bed per day in the immigration detention estate is £120 (included in these estimates are the costs incurred by incidents such as fires in IRCs and legal fees) (Hansard 2010).
Further, the report suggests that detention is not, in any case, particularly effective in its purported aim of assisting removal, since only 36 per cent of the women who had sought asylum and left detention in 2012 were removed from the UK. Almost two third were released into the community either with leave or to continue the application process. In this study, the average length of detention was two months and the range was three days to 11 months, with the UK one of the few countries in Europe refusing to implement a maximum length of detention.
The research shows that detention is expensive and ineffective, being over-used due to poor decision making in the Home Office and being carried out by G4S (and others) in ways that are ab
usive and damaging.  The use of male staff to guard vulnerable women needs to stop; the abuse of privacy needs to stop; verbal, physical and sexual abuse of women needs to stop; and, the detention of asylum -seekers who pose no risk to the public needs to stop.
WFRW has exposed what’s happening.  Now it’s up to you.