The threat of malaria, the gravity of the AIDS crisis, the restiveness of youths in the Niger Delta, religious and ethnic violence, corruption and the political class, and the collapse of basic infrastructure; these are some of the challenges that hamper Nigeria’s bold strides to rub shoulders with the league of developed nations. Headlines lament this deplorable state and street talk is awash with such stories.
While some of these concerns are interspersed in this blog, their attendant remedies are not always the primary focus. In this blog, I chronicle the struggles, adjustments, acceptance, and denial of a returnee trying to resettle in Nigeria. In short, my life the way it hit me when I first arrived.
I grew up in Nigeria during the seventies oil boom, the middle child of a middle class family. I had a happy and sheltered childhood. Idyllic days were spent being chauffeured to and from school, and special evenings were reserved for watching Mickey Mouse on the giant screen at the country club. Life was good. The concept of a malnourished child, a picture that is synonymous with suffering in Africa, was foreign to me. I never saw that kind of child.
The early eighties was a period of rising prosperity for my family. We moved to a bigger house that had a large compound for our growing fleet of cars. Even today, these possessions remain indices of wealth in our country. However, by the nineties, galloping inflation caught up with my family. As our purchasing power dwindled, so did our fleet of cars. My siblings and I got jobs and joined the masses hustling for a living in the big cities of a Nigeria different from the one we grew up in.
2000 heralded a new dawn and I moved abroad. I took in another culture the way one chews on a new delicacy—cautiously at first and then voraciously as the sensory nerves on the taste buds heighten pleasure. Sojourning for nearly a decade, I grew to appreciate a system that seemed to work. Despite this, my fit was usually in question as if I was a hastily sewn fringe to a perfect garment.
Returning home, I was caught in a world that I could not fully define. Sometimes I embraced life in Nigeria and other times I rebuffed her advances. Here I was in the country I loved, with the people I missed, I was not a foreigner, but I was no longer as Nigerian as I used to be. This was my country, I understood the culture, I knew how the system worked, or did I?
I am not alone. Returnees deal with paradoxical feelings for their native country and the ugly or beautiful realities of global capitalism in their host country regularly. Children born in the diaspora experience varying degrees of curiosity for the land their parents moan about. Exile literature captures the passion, ambivalence, grandiose notions of the homeland, and disenchantment with their new society that those who left feel.
Consider an excerpt from David Diop’s Africa:
Africa my Africa
Africa of proud warriors in ancestral savannahs
Africa of whom my grandmother sings
On the banks of the distant river
I have never known you
But your blood flows in my veins …
An excerpt from Tanure Ojaide’s Immigrant Voice in When it No Longer Matters Where You Live,1 captures the conflicting cultural identity and world view of people scattered in the diaspora.
America na big photo-trick to me.
If say big thief no boku fo home
And they no give man chance to live softly,
America no be place to live for one whole day.
The streets de explode kpa-a like Biafra,
Dead body no de fear anybody:
You no know whether the person saying “Hi”
Want to shoot, rob or rape you.
Neighbour no de, friend no de except them dog.
You de for your own like craze-man de pursue dollar
Which no de stay for your hand – they say na capitalism
When dollar the circulate, circulate without rest.
…beggar, thief, poor poor, all dem de boku
sometimes I cry my eyes red for night in bed
Wetin my eye don see for here pass pepper
It is true that the Nigerian landscape offers many reasons for sober contemplation, but within the dim picture, I found moments of patriotic pride, quiet amusement, and downright hilarity. Glimpses of our heydays managed to peek through ominous clouds, an indication that lost causes can be found.
I hope that as I take a poke at some of the unique challenges and joys of living in Lagos, Nigeria, my stories will tinkle your sensibilities and resonate with everyone—those who work tirelessly to keep Nigeria afloat and those who have come back home to make their mark.
It is also my desire that friends of Nigeria all over the globe can commiserate with us as we continue to take wobbly steps towards mature nationhood. Nigeria: the future is still pregnant …
©Timi Yeseibo 2013
Ojaide, Tanure, When It No Longer Matters Where You Live (Calabar: University of Calabar Press, 1999). http://www.tanureojaide.com/poetry.htm
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