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