Twenty years is a long time not to have visited one’s country. It is a long time not to have visited ones place of birth. Twenty years is a long time to have stayed away. My absence wasn’t deliberate. It wasn’t planned. I didn’t set out on a voluntary exile. I had wanted to visit, but somehow, I have not been able to get myself into doing so. Things happen: I had difficulty obtaining an Alien Registration Card (green card); and without a green card, attending school became a problem; and without decent education, finding decent jobs became difficult. As you very well know, even after conquering those huddles, you just might lose your job. Once you lose your job, your sanity becomes shaky and in doubt.
Once the aforementioned happen, other unintended consequences are likely to follow: You might lose your home; lose your car, default on credit card and other loans; and then run out of money to tend to immediate family members. Pray you don’t owe child-support payment. Or back taxes. You may even lose your medical insurance. And if you think those are bad, wait until your immediate and extended family members in Nigeria, or elsewhere in Africa, start demanding money for their own upkeep. Mother is ill; dad needs medication, sisters and brothers needs money for tuition and books.
Before you know it, life begins to snowball; it begins to spiral out of control. Before you know it, it is five years, ten years and then twenty years. You begin to wonder. And in the process, you may lose hope and lose faith and lose handle on your dreams — assuming there are dreams left to pursue. You lose yourself in this wonderland called the United States of America. America is such a biting and unpredictable place. For most people, if they didn’t achieve their dreams within 7-12 years of getting here, all might be lost. Though they could dream again if they have the energy and the vision and the will to dust themselves up and then climb the mountain, and swim in the ocean of life.
To be sure, their dreams will change; their hopes and expectations and joy tempered with. Such is life in America — a land where twenty years can pass in a twinkle. Or, in a yawn.
A few months back I met a Nigerian who came to America in 1970. He briefly visited home just before the 1976 military impasse. For him, Nigeria is a very distant past, a land of his ancestors. But in all practicality, Nigeria is no longer his home. He remembers Nigeria only because he was 35 when he arrive the shores of New York. Ironically, he hates it when his children refer to themselves as African-Americans. He tells his children and grandchildren that they are Africans, Nigerians. Nothing more.
That is his fervent wish. He’s told me time and time again: “I am a Nigerian, deep in my heart, I am a Nigerian; but how do I find my way back?” I didn’t know what to say, I didn’t know what to tell him. I don’t know. I really don’t know. I don’t know how to help him retrace his steps. But is retracing his steps necessary?
And then there was the lady I met on my way to Phoenix. She was somebody in Nigeria. She knew everybody — all the military and civilian hotshots — but somehow, she fell for the pull of the western world. She left it all and moved; first to London, and then to Los Angeles. Twelve years later she is yet to find her bearing. Fading beauty, gloomy disposition, monotonous life, single-motherhood, neck deep in debt and all the associated negatives of life in Yankee has taken a toll on her. Not yet thirty-nine, but you’d think she is fifty. How to remake her life and retrace her steps is her paramount concern now.
As for me — after twenty years of living in the United States of America — here I am in Nigeria. After three weeks in Lagos I set sail for Ibadan, Jos, and then to Kaduna before flying south to Port Harcourt, and then to my village by road and by canoe. Everywhere I went personal and human security is lacking. And there doesn’t seem to be a method to the general madness.The roads and bridges are bad. The lights are out. It is hot. Mountain of trash everywhere. The open and stagnant gutter. It smells. The air is filled with unknown substance that sometimes makes me delirious.
I couldn’t help but wonder, I couldn’t help but ask: Is this the Lagos of yore? Is this the Garden-city? Is this the Nigeria I knew as a boy and as a teenager? Is this the cradle and the Mecca of the Black race? Is this my homeland? Whatever the answer, whatever the condition, I have come home. I have returned home. I have returned to my people and to my land. I am back to my country, for good or bad.
Time will tell.