“America? That’s kind of far away, will we come back before exam starts?”
That was the up most question in my mind that day when my dad picked us up from school and announced that we were going to America. It did not occur to me, that we were going with an indefinite return date. My dad quickly cleared up any confusion regarding that, we were going to live in America.
My world fell apart. My aunty Rose said that it would not be so bad, we could come back home to visit any time we wanted, but I knew she was lying or at the very least, wrong. I knew were America was and it was very far away, further away even, than Switzerland where Uncle Charles moved to and we hadn’t seen him since he moved. America? Ahh?!! It was on the other side of the Atlantic and it was filled with strange creatures, like Oyinbos, Akatas and others. An eclectic mix of people, none of whom shared anything in common with me, nothing even as basic as a common language. I had heard that Americans did not even speak proper English. Imagine! As a private school bred and buttered Nigerian that was just scandalous. I mean, what other kind of English was there? It’s not like they spoke pidgin either.
I have never been a big adjuster to change, no matter how sudden or gradual. I immerse myself in the familiar and comfortable and hold on tight, rebelling against any shakeups to my familiar and comfortable existence. In addition to that, I was finally coming into my own at school. My older sister had just graduated and left, so I had finally stopped being known simply as ‘the other Osilama’ and was beginning to hold my own among my peers, I was even made a prefect! Our family was comfortable, happy. My dad was not a politician, so he had no reason to run from Nigeria’s changing political climate. I did not understand why we had to leave, my life was good.
Transplanting into another culture is always a bit intimidating and scary. In this case, I was crippled with fear. I cried and begged my dad to leave me behind. I was afraid of leaving my family, afraid of losing my friends. I was afraid that I would never fit into this brand new world, that I would always be the stranger, the African girl, the only one among a sea of people, who actually spoke proper English.
More than that though, I was afraid that I would become a stranger to my own family and my own friends. I knew that it happened. I would move to America and begin to talk funny, forget how to speak Pidgin English and what little vernacular I knew. Then, even if I was ever to see my friends and family again, they would all stare at me in confused horror and / or amusement, every time I spoke. I could see the future and it was not pretty! In America, I would always be the African girl who sounds different, looks different and just could never quite blend in. In Nigeria, I would become the American girl, who could not speak pidgin and could not make ukodo, yet who insisted that she was Nigerian. Every time I get on either side of the ocean, I would have to start all over again, readjust to semi new friends and react a little late to changes and updates. Moving to America would simply get me stuck between two worlds, not really an American but no longer quite a Nigerian.
All this of course, was ten years ago. Today, I feel as American as Apple pie. I no longer speak ‘proper English’ but ‘American’, my sentences peppered with “cain’ts”, “ain’t’s” and “ain’t no'”s. I have replaced Pidgin English with Ebonics and peppery egusi soup with garlicky chicken noodle. I have even caught myself enjoying Boston’s rigid winters and colorful falls. Ironically, my Nigerian-ness (is that even a word?), is probably one of the greatest factors in making me an American. In a country where everyone looked different and spoke differently, with an abundance of racial, national and ethnic identities, my African, Nigerian, Edo / Uhrobo identities, quickly mixed in with the rest, making me simply, one of a million strangers that are Americans. Ten years after my trans-continental relocation, which I was sure would scar me for life, not to mention destroy my life, I have fully become American. One in a sea of people, with impossible mixes of ethnic, racial and national identities, I have simply blended into the waves.
A few years ago, my dad finally insisted that we had to go to Nigeria, if only for a visit. It had been 10 years since we left. I had lost touch with all the friends my teenaged minded thought that it would love forever and I only spoke to a few of my cousins and only when they wanted something.
I had not wanted to leave, but now, I was hesitant to go back. Africa? Ahh!! It’s on the other side of the Atlantic. A far away place, filled with strange creatures, like aunts and uncles who expected you to brutu, bending a knee down to the floor in the traditional show of respect, when you greet them. It was dull and boring with constant heat and no electricity. All I know of Africa was that NEPA was always ‘taking light’, there were no KFC’s or Dunkin Donuts on any corner and the untarred roads were paved with poor, starving, orphaned children. How would a sophisticated American, such as me, ever survive such deprivation?
My first trip back was in the middle of December, after Boston’s lower than low winter cold, being greeted by the burning heat of Harmattan in Lagos made me feel like I was landing in Jupiter. I was greeted by the old familiar languages as well as the old comfort of speaking them. Pidgin English filled the air and I understood every word and every gesture, even picking up on the new slang’s and phrases. The people were a strange sight as well, they were all black and looked like me and they spoke with an accent I now only hear when I speak to myself or to my immediate family. As they all laughed at my funny American accent and insisted that I ate food so spicy that I needed jugs of water on hand, I knew that Nigeria also, would always be home. In Nigeria, it is our similarities in heritage and racial identity that seal our fates as Nigerians. I had simply and easily blended into a sea of people who looked exactly like me and who, despite my slight American tendencies, shared my most basic traditional ideals and values. More than ten years later and in just an instant, I had simply reverted to being a Nigerian, screams of “ay, NEPA!” and all.
I don’t know, I guess you could call me a Nigemerican.