Third World: Where Culture Meets Culture

Urban development

I am a first-generation immigrant caught in a clash of cultures but I do not wallow in identity crisis. Although I know where I come from, the pieces of the puzzle that spell out where I am going are the hardest to find.

I am from Nigeria and now, I am from The Netherlands. In the Netherlands, people ask me, “Where are you from?” It is not because I speak Dutch with a foreign accent.

Waar komt u vandaan?”

Den Haag.”

Ik bedoel het land van uw herkomst…”

“I’m originally from Nigeria.”

There are layers of meaning in this exchange. For me, it is freeing to imagine that I’ve just been asked, “What’s the time?” and then to reply in the same tone and with the same emotions with which I would say, “Three o’ clock.” Chasing rainbows is for kids, adults know that when sunlight and water droplets kiss at an angle, a rainbow appears, but not for long.

Does racism exist? Does the sun shine in winter? I choose to see myself as a person, not a colour. In this way, perhaps people will also see that I am a person first; my colour is incidental. Niggling debates about the brownness of my skin, the flare of my nostrils, the strange hair plaits I call Ghana braids, and the location of my tail, would cease. Yes? Maybe not.

At the same time, Dutch people are tolerant, forgiving even of foreign traditions. They will accommodate you and help you out by quickly switching to the English language. They broadcast American TV series and movies in English and subtitle in Dutch! But until you speak the language and adopt their customs, you will be the stranger on the street admiring their beautiful homes, the view that they allow you see from their wide front windows with blinds drawn aside.

Say what you will schatje, this is as much my country as it is yours. Home is where the heart is, they say—my heart is in Nigeria and my heart is in The Netherlands. You’d better believe it, my heart is big enough.

untitled

The uppity houses in Archipelbuurt and Willemspark, the Halal shops, Western Union offices, and neon signs blinking, Simlock Verwijderen vanaf €5, in Schilderswijk, and the international organisations in Statenkwartier, reveal the multicultural character of The Hague. I cannot imagine living anywhere else; ik voel me helemaal thuis in Den Haag en ik zal hier wonen blijven.

 

I love-hate the sun worship that is the Scheveningen beach craze in summer and the Unox Nieuwjaarsduik Scheveningen 2013Nieuwjaarsduik in the middle of winter is a feat for the brave only. Cycling past the medieval Binnenhof, home of the Dutch parliament, a sense of national pride overtakes me. They say that God created the world, but the Dutch created The Netherlands. From North to South, we have mastered the sea and our dikes laugh at its waves. This to me is the “silent” pride Dutch people wear on their sleeves.

                                                                                  Binnenhof 

Wherever I am in the world, my ears pick out Dutch from a mix of Chinese, German, French, and Spanish, a comforting sound that makes me feel as if I am wearing a black turtleneck sweater over a pair of jeans and orange clogs, and I am holding a cup of tea, watching the sun light diamonds in the snow.

Riding in the tram in The Hague, my ears make out Yoruba or Igbo or Bini. It is also a comforting sound. I feel as though I am at a party in Nigeria, shaded from the sun’s heat by bright canopies. The food on display can feed the entire street and since our conversation must compete with the music, we shout in one another’s ears.

Many times people ask me to choose. I imagine they are holding up cards, and I am supposed to pick the joker. This then is the joker: it is not that one country is better than the other is, but rather one country is different from the other. I exist in my sub-culture assimilating the best of The Netherlands and Nigeria. It is a third world where many immigrants live.

When in Nigeria, my eight o’clock is my eight o’clock. I may have been born in African time, but I have grown in European time. Time is a fixed resource. My value of your productivity and mine plays out in the premium I place on your time. When in The Netherlands, I will not deny you the pleasure of a spontaneous visit to my home. Although your appointment isn’t pencilled in my agenda, I will not open the door a crack and stare at you as though you are wearing a Martian suit.

Here in The Netherlands, I will not snap the biscuit tin shut after you take one biscuit. But, I will also not smoke fish in my oven until my eyes water and the fumes wear the extractor out, forcing my neighbour to call the housing authority and fire service. When I wake up at 5 a.m., I will hum good morning Jesus, good morning Lord, instead of singing with Pentecostal gusto, so my neighbour does not bang on my door.

It is in the marrying of cultures that I arrive at my destination. They say home is where the heart is. My heart is in Nigeria; my heart is in The Netherlands. You’d better believe it, my heart is big enough.

So, how have you found living in a city where the language, customs, and the way you look, expose you for the familiar stranger that you are?

© Timi Yeseibo 2013

Nieuwjaarsduik (New Year’s Dive):  An annual tradition in The Hague taken by some 10,000 people into the icy cold waters of the North Sea by the Pier at Scheveningen Beach.

Fast Facts about The Netherlands: http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/countries/netherlands-facts/

 

Photo Credits

Title: Urban development
Original image URL: http://www.flickr.com/photos/38659937@N06/6887749481/
Photo credit: Frans Persoon / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

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Author: Bas Bogers
Original image URL: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bogers/4790162426/in/photostream/

Title: Unox Nieuwjaarsduik Scheveningen 2013
Author: Maurice / Haags UitburoOriginal image URL: http://www.flickr.com/photos/haagsuitburo/8334513758/

Description: Panorama of Binnenhof
Page URL: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AThe_Hague_Binenhof.JPG
File URL: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/0f/The_Hague_Binenhof.JPGAttribution: By me (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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32 thoughts on “Third World: Where Culture Meets Culture

    1. Jean, I think I understand your ambivalence a little. It would seem you are more Chinese-Canadian than Chinese. But this post was written in 2012. Have your feelings changed since then? Do you think they ever will? Thanks for sharing. I enjoy the way you write, which makes for a great read for me.

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      1. Well, I still haven’t been to Asia yet.

        The touchstone to my “roots”, are my parents. My father currently has cancer and is 85. So, at this time it’s what I would instinctively feel what I (or any of my siblings) have chosen to integrate into bits of “cultural” legacies –whether it’s food, abit of language fluency, etc.

        For instance, when I go travelling elsewhere away from home for several weeks, after awhile I miss certain home dishes that I cook…which are same dishes I liked as a child and they are peasant Chinese food dishes, specific cooking techniques. That’s a very visceral response, a cultural-emotional touchstone that’s not completely Chinese nor completely European in sensibility.

        Hope I’m making sense here. Would I change? I’m open to that but I can’t pretend the reality that I was born in Canada and lived in Canada my whole life. Most definitely that leaves a permanent imprint on how I experience and see things from a certain perspective.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yes, you are making sense. I digress a little. I heard about an elderly Dutch immigrant in Canada, who with deteriorating health became less and less coherent. She ‘switched’ to her native Dutch language at a point although she’d been living in Canada for over fifty years, having immigrated in her twenties. She completely ‘forgot’ how to communicate in English.

          It made me think that we shaped by the dominant culture we experienced in our formative years, although we may grow to experience and imbibe others. For example, my preferred palate is for dishes that are similar to dishes I enjoyed growing up.

          It would seem that home is where the heart is, and your heart is big enough to embrace Canada and China, though one may dominate on a given day. I’m sorry to hear about your dad.

          Liked by 1 person

    2. Asia is my dream.
      Lived in the Philippines for three years. Fell in love with the place and Asia in general. When I think of exotic , I think Asia. I have friend who dream of the US and Europe, bit they are always startled when I start rambling about Asia.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Asia is as diverse as Africa, and since I have lived in only The Philippines, I wouldn’t want to form an opinion about Asia yet.

          But still, I would say both. There are lots of unique cultures and amazing scenery.

          The Philippines for example has countless exotic Islands and Mountain Ranges, friendly people tasty dishes amongst other things.

          I really have a strong desire to explore other Asian countries. Singapore, Hong Kong, China, India, Nepal, Malaysia and many others call me. And if travelling were free, I would spend all my days touring the countries of Asia and Africa. I believe there are so many unique stories waiting to be harvested. The West have had enough focus, there is great beauty in most of these places often ignored.

          Liked by 1 person

  1. Well written, lively. The post sings with your heart of 2 blended identities. I’ll be having a series about being Canadian in …a frickin’ huge country. Might take me awhile to churn out the series. So far only 1 post awaiting in the wings for reveal..meanwhile a 2nd one I’m cobbling slowly away.

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  2. Ah…I love this post. I enjoyed this so so much. This sits at the very top of the kind of stuff I love to read…and write.

    Sensational post. I am too satisfied to talk further.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you’re satisfied Samuel, although I wish you’d say something more.
      I thought you liked your 100-word stories best 😉 just kidding. Your posts are informative and entertaining. I enjoy reading them too.

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  3. Timi, I know you wrote this as a blog post, but it sounds like a poem too. I just can’t shake that.

    I love how you’ve re-defined ‘third-world.’ It’s a survival skill that one must adopt. But beyond survival, it is necessary to (in your words) ‘marry two cultures to arrive at your destination.’ For real, who says you have to choose?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Migration continues to rise, and as they say, the only constant thing in life is change. The “third world” is my haven. People, governments, etc, ask us to choose… but no matter what we sign on paper, our hearts remain big enough.

      @sounds like a poem, I’ll take it as a compliment, thank you Sharon. I love poetry, but writing in stanzas constrains me!

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  4. I think it’s beautiful that your heart is ‘big’ enough to love two countries and appreciate their cultures despite their differences and weaknesses. People are always going to persuade you to choose. “It is not that one country is better than the other is, but rather one country is bigger than the other” -this right here says it all. This is a TOP write.

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      1. Lol, Tomi, I’m really laughing hard!

        🙂 “It is not that one country is better than the other is, but rather one country is bigger than the other” Okay, Nigeria has more land mass than The Netherlands does, but Dutch citizens enjoy a higher per capita income- one country is bigger than the other! Don’t mind me jare!

        It’s nice to know that you see beauty in my attempt to embrace another culture. Yes, people ask us to choose. Governments ask us to choose also. Here in The Netherlands, the debate about dual nationality rages on…

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  5. Love these photos. You’ve a great affection for your fatherland and I applaud you for it. A few of my childhood friends who left for the UK at an early age, then got married to whites, don’t see “home” the way you do. They have a far lesser regard for Nigeria.

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    1. Thanks Uzoma. Nigeria can sometimes be a tough place to love. Somewhere on my blog, I wrote about rebuffing & embracing the advances of Nigeria. What made your friends “check out” may also inform their outlook.

      I’ve been fortunate to live a “good” life, both in Nigeria and The Netherlands… it is easy to love when things aren’t that bad…

      You’re right though, I have great affection for Nigeria & long to see her take her place of honour among the nations. And no matter what I experience now, I find that in my writing, I construct metaphors from experiences that shaped the first half of my life in Nigeria 🙂

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  6. So, you now live in the third world?! That kinda sounds nice to know something other than the derogatory reference to poor African countries is The Third world.
    We like it or not, the new reality is the Diaspora worlds where occupants have large enough hearts to love and hate two homes are the same time.
    Sadly, people in the single home hold prejudices and a very narrow mind. I am not only talking about host communities in foreign lands but even with cities, we are doing a poor job of accommodating one another.
    All in all, it is good to know you’re strong enough to survive it.

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    1. Lol Charles @3rd World, I guess it’s no more when in Rome do like the Romans, it’s when in Rome, be like the best of the Romans, but also be the best of yourself!

      Thank you for your comment. Yes even within cities of a country, culture meets culture. A friend from the south who wanted to do business in the north discovered that she had to dress like women from northern Nigeria before she could get one foot in the door. She grew to love it though and continues to dress that way wherever she finds herself.

      Learning a bit of the language & understanding the customs of the adopted city where we live may not totally eliminate bias, but helps to soften the ground. I know saying yayade in the north, and miguo in the mid-west of Nigeria respectively, has broken the ice for me in what could have been hostile encounters 🙂

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  7. Those Harry Potter castles, Timi! lol 😀

    Living in the United States has paid off in certain ways: I now know AND understand more about racism than I ever would’ve known if I were in Nigeria, and I know that we’re all the same regardless of color or accent. Really.

    I was talking with my boss the other day about how racism affects the statuses of African-Americans, Asians, and whites and we both came to a conclusion: there is a shift in paradigm in how our present generation views racism. I guess what I’m trying to say here is that you’re strange or foreign because your educational background and economic power dictates where you stand on the social class ladder. Where you live, how many degrees you have, and how much you make is now the biggest identifier of how “foreign” you are.

    At least in my personal experience…I can’t speak for others. On that note, me I feel like I own this America o. Ain’t nobody got time for another person’s headache! lol

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Those Harry Potter castles aka Binnenhof, house the Dutch Parliament lol! I guess they make ‘magic’ there 🙂

      Paradigm shift in traditional racism in the case you describe seems like “social class-ism.” These attitudes have been with us and will probably continue to be that way. I like your mind-set, “Na you get America, biko!”

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    2. And the unique thing about this is Rasicm in the US is different from what it is in other countries.
      Like you, I learnt so much about being black when I left Nigeria for the Philippines. The interactions is always amazing and when I hear friend stalk about their experiences in different countries, I draw similarities and enjoy the uniqueness of each experience.

      Don’t want to spam, but I am currently having a conversation on this and other related issues on my blog. You should check the series out. It’s unique.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Being Nigerian in Nigeria, means dealing with tribalism, unfortunately. Yes we learn about what our blackness means when we leave these shores.

        Thanks for letting me know about the series. I already checked out the story about being mixed race in Ukraine. It’s a peek into another world, an eye opener.

        Th

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Thanks for stopping by. One of the reasons I decided to embark on the series is to peek into other countrise with the eyes of a foreigner. From the contributions I have already, and the ones I’m expecting, my eyes truly have been opened.

          Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re welcome Robin. It’s a cliche but true, the world is now a global village and we have more opportunities to learn about different cultures… and perhaps be more accepting.

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