I want you to come with me to a living room in Camberwell sometime in the year 2000. You open the door, and at first, it seems like any other normal British family. But wait. Over in the corner, there’s a girl sitting on the floor with her father, eating with her bare hands, actually, I stand corrected, she seems to just be eating with her right hand. That’s me. Twelve-year-old me. I am enjoying every handful of my pounded yam and Ogbono stew…..smacking my lips together…..I am trying to paint you a scene that resembles my version of paradise & I want you to experience it with me. Anyone looking objectively at the scene would have concluded that this girl was somewhat ‘bush’, or perhaps just really, really hungry and hadn’t eaten for days.
But my own narrative? I’m African. I’ve always been African. And I’m pretty sure it’s that ability to be able to confidently eat with my hands that helped me survive growing up in a predominately white school in Blackheath, away from the hustle and bustle of Camberwell Green and Peckham Rye, and that gave me the confidence to never be ashamed of Africa; my home.
Then why was it, I had never been to Nigeria?
Why was it that the first time the soles of my feet touched African soil was only in 2014?
Let me take you on a quick and condensed journey back through time so you can understand where I am going with this.
As I have said before, I love Chimamanda Adichie. But it wasn’t until I read her books that my desire to know my homeland grew greater and greater.
I call it my homeland because I guess I am supposed to call it that. But in reality, I shouldn’t even be entitled to use that word. So I will stick with calling it Nigeria for now until I have earned that right.
Although I was raised in a home where culture proceeded from our mouths and where it was adorned on the backs of me and my siblings, I never really had an insight into the wider Nigerian community, outside of my home, friends and occasional family celebrations.
The first real insight I actually got into Africa was my visit to Ghana in February 2014. I had no expectations when I landed. But truth be told, the fact I had no expectations made me nervous. What made me even more nervous, however, were all the stories I had been sold before I left, all the movies I watched on Nollywood with my mum and all the adverts I saw that showed the impoverishment of Africa.
I soon saw that there was nothing to be nervous of. Africa was anything but simply impoverished. Yes, there was poverty, I would be lying if I said there wasn’t. But there was also wealth, something which was rarely shown in the media.
As I landed and went through all the necessary checks to leave the airport (and yes I did give them 10 cedis), I looked up and was surrounded by a magnificent dreamy golden light streaming through the bare branches of the large trees.
The dust particles were illuminated by the sun as they flowed freely through the warm air.
I could feel the soft, gentle warmth on my face as the sun set all around us. The people were so warm, so much so that their smiles could warm the coldest of hearts. I can’t even begin to explain to you how much I felt at home then, and this wasn’t even Nigeria!
Fast forward to this year, when I was in New York and I was sitting in a circle of about twenty people from all over Africa. This was the first time I really felt like I didn’t belong. I felt like an imposter.
Everyone around me was doing all these wonderful projects to help their local communities and I genuinely felt like I hadn’t accomplished anything for my continent. It made me feel bad. But not bad in a sense that you forget about the feeling in a matter of seconds. Bad as in guilty.
Here I was living in London, with no concrete plans to see how I could help those back home, whilst my peers were fighting tooth and nail to try and get children in Africa educated. Subconsciously, I must have been relying on others to come to their aid, which in hindsight was stupid of me because having listened to those around me in New York, it was very clear that no one could ‘help’ Africa the way it was needed other than Africans themselves.
I probably wrote this out of selfishness more than anything, because I don’t want another Nigerian Independence Day to go by, where it doesn’t give me the sense of feeling at home, where often time is just a word, people cross the road wherever and whenever they want and taxi’s rule the road even in hail and rain. I crave for that feeling, more so I want my children to see Africa not just as a continent but as home! Because in order to be best you can be, you have to know your history.
Would love to hear your thoughts on Africa and if you’re not African would love to hear about your feeling of belonging or what home means to you.
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