I’m going back to Nigeria.
Ah, I heard that sudden intake of breath. You’re thinking “poor chap’s finally throwing in the towel. America’s sucked up and dumped another one,” right? You wish! Sorry to disappoint you, I’m only jetting out for three weeks and I expect to return by the first week in August. I’m a tough nut to crack. It will take America and Americans a lot more than what’s currently being hurled at me to get me scampering, my tail tucked between my legs. Ha ha!
I have to thank Kole Ade-Odutola for suggesting this piece. I had been foraging fruitlessly in my folder of ideas for a subject gripping enough to be worthy of your interest and mine. None was forthcoming. Not one of the many articles abandoned at different stages of completion looked like it was willing to be continued. And then Kole brought to my attention the most obvious thing, the very issue that has been occupying my every waking moment and creating a mental distance between my keyboard and the ideas rampaging like the wild windswept sea in my head. Going home! Goodness, the very thought!
Have you ever listened to the sound of footfalls when you get off the plane at the Murtala Mohammed Airport? That’s the sound of relief. “I’m home and I can do as I please. This is a place I understand and nothing can befall me here. Nothing I can’t handle. Armed robbers, crooked cops, corrupt government officials…I know about it and I can deal with it.” The sound of relief is the sound you hear at the airport as people march down the long hallway to the checkout counters…This sort of relief tastes good because you only get it at home!
People go home to get married, attend funerals, naming ceremonies, graduations, all sorts. I’m not going home to do any off these things. I’m just going home because I can! Don’t you love the sound of that? It’s my own little fall-back leverage in America. I’m going home because it is there and when people have a home someplace, that’s what they do eventually. They go there. I may chase some dreams while I’m there. I may promote a new book, find some long lost friends, explore the possibility of cultural and business interactions across borders, but these are not things that matter. I’m just the kind of guy who has to go as regularly as possible to rein in his sanity. I’m going home just because I want to!
Intriguing as America is, (this I have said elsewhere), there are times when you just want to get away for a while. Even Americans jet out occasionally to Paris, England, Australia in the name of a vacation. I have had enough for now. It’s time to get the battery souped up afresh. That’s one of the many things American citizens can’t do. When they get overwhelmed by the deluge of information, advertising, people and whatnots that this huge system generates, they can’t just pack up and go home! This is home! I can. And that feels good.
I have kept in touch. Oh yes I have. I know Lookman has two kids now. Ofuafo and Tonia are still single and I ask you men out there why! A mosque now occupies the soccer playground down the street. You have to pay through your nose to eat a chicken part at Mr. Biggs. Hakeem Bello is a big time editor at Daily Times. Things change, yeah. But some things remain the same. Jahman still runs the Arts Pages at The Guardian. Toyin Akinosho still spends all the money he makes at Chevron promoting and facilitating cultural and artistic events. The Lagos wing of the Association of Nigerian Authors still meets monthly, although many of the faces and names are strange to me. The movie industry is making a conscious effort to acknowledge there are problems that have to be addressed internally before they can speak to the world…The things that have fallen through the cracks I will pick up when I get home.
Going home. It’s incredible how good that sounds. We’re all strangers here. They call us immigrants, but I don’t think I’m that. I’m just a guy in transit, temporarily displaced. And home…home is the place to be for a while. I need to get back in synch with the “Mama Put” at that amala place in Shitta. I need to run the world just to get on a bus. Bidemi…I miss the bottle of Coke and limp meat pie served with that glow-in-the-night smile only Bidemi can muster at her Kiosk 7 at the soon-to-be-sold National Arts Theatre in Surulere. I miss Tade Ogidan’s ritual early morning sneezes. I miss the fuzzy signals hitting the TV aerials from the television stations. I miss the sun that comes out and retires predictably, so predictably you don’t need any weather report to map out your week!
Ah, I feel for those of you who can’t just pack up your stuff and tag along with me. I feel for you. As for the others who – for reasons beyond the scope of this piece – cannot hop on a plane to go see the good old country again, even for just a few days, I will think of you when I’m there. I will think of you when I get assaulted by the customs men sniffing loudly for the non-existent contraband. When the area boys yell “father before father!” as I scurry quickly into the car away from the airport, I’ll think of you. And when I get that “we missed you so much!” hug from my younger ones, I will wish you well, knowing you can see me with the eye of your imagination and you can dream along.
Going home. The excitement has been welling up within me since I booked the flight. I’m going direct and cheap. No stupid stop-over for four hours in some out of the way country where my Passport gets no respect. I’m going home again. I’m like a kid, day pass in hand, running free in the greatest amusement park yet to be conceived by the imagination. I’m going home! That’s where the heart is! That’s where they await, all the people and streets and sounds…All the patriots who remain behind to continue the struggle to make our dear nation a better place, they await.
It’s incredibly taxing preparing for a trip to Nigeria. Suitcases to buy and fill with gifts, engagements to schedule or cancel, the most affordable ticket to order, and the sheer anxiety that grips you when you contemplate the stories you’ve heard. There have been days when the madness in Nigeria got so extreme you couldn’t help but feel relieved to be out of there. Some friends went home recently to get married and were robbed by the men of the underworld. You may know the story of the younger brother who organized with hoodlums to come rob his elder brother and breadwinner of the family who was visiting from the US. Big brother Olusesan Ekisola sent me a news link a few days ago of a warning by the police that armed robbers now work in cahoots with the airport taxi drivers and travelers should beware…Yeah, what else is new? Home is the bed of roses with an unusual amount of thorns shooting out of it. You try to keep your itinerary and locations secret in the hope of reducing the risks. Some call it hell. I call it home and I’ll gladly go burn in it.
I may be making a huge mistake putting this online. As it is, despite the quiet preparation of the past few weeks, I already have the traditional excess courtesy of friends who want to send all they can to people in Nigeria. And what is it with Nigerians and wristwatches? Someone was going to give me 24 to take home. 24! And I already had more than enough from others! Is something going on here that I don’t understand? Is there such a huge market for timepieces in Nigeria? No one seems to be trusting me with dollars. Wonder why. Must be the Moneygram effect. You can send me dollars, dear reader. Just kiss it goodbye before you do!
Visitors to this website who love reading the sampling of literary flowering on the Writers Write pages are in for a good time though. I hope to track down all the writers known and upcoming just to make those pages more interesting. Now, this is just between us. Don’t tell anyone this site won’t be updated for a while. I will try to do it in Nigeria, but I know what I went through last year to get Internet access just to answer important emails, so I’m not too optimistic about that.
Have you ever wondered when you will begin to see this country as home? I’m a lost cause there. I’m a creative person. We tend to love our culture and country too much – Ask Olu Oguibe why he wrote “I’m bound to this land by blood.” The word “Alien” written on my Residency Permit is perhaps most apt. That is exactly what I am here. I have felt like one of the Psychlos in John Travolta’s recent theatrical bomb, Battlefield Earth, come to planet America…And it’s time for E.T. to go beyond “phoning home.” I’m going to that place where no visa is required of me for entry. Listen to the musician, friend: “No place be like my country, no no no, no place be like my country, no no no…”