IMMIGRANT IN A FEARFUL COUNTRY

I would like to say that Nigeria, Africa is a peaceful country. I would like to say there’s no crime, death or corruption. However, I can not say that because Nigeria is notorious in America for its less than stellar behavior. 

When, I was living in Nigeria, I was unaware of this reputation. I don’t know when this image of Nigeria came about. Was it before the early 80’s or after my migration to America? There are only six incidences that stood out in my young mind that made me unhappy with my country. The rest of my five years living there, I was midly a content child when I was not battling malaria and tapeworms. I’ve listed below several unhappy memories.

  • A few thieves attempted to murder a man, were lined up against a barrel and executed. Adults, children were allowed and encouraged to witness this justice. I am happy to say I refused to join the crowd. I was told what happened from family members.
  • My cousin who couldn’t stop stealing, keep getting pepper put in his eyes, nose and mouth by family members. That however,  didn’t stop his crime spree. 
  • A ceremony was done near my mother’s village where a dead woman came back to life. I was present when it happen. I never want to be around anything like that again. 
  • The men would go off to fight/ do spiritual ceremonies and lock all the women, children in the compound. I wasn’t always thrilled about going to my mother’s neck of the woods.
  • My Grandfather’s funeral lasted 3 days and no one was allowed to cry until the 3rd day. Even as a child, I found it odd and unnatural. There were professional criers in attendance.
  • Men who didn’t pay taxes, could only escape a prison sentence by wearing Western clothes. A childhood friend father learned this the hard way.

Other than those few incidences, snakes, and fear of death, Nigeria was a truly beautiful and peaceful place to live. I would spend my day with my peers swimming in rivers, eating sugar canes, fishing, stealing fruits from neighbors/relative fruit trees, getting sassy with adults, trying to peek in on my teenage uncle while he tried to get it on with his girlfriend, with my siblings and age mates. He was wild, but so were we. Going to other compounds to compete with neighbors and distant relatives to see whos compound was the best. Eating bugs on sticks, and other animals I am to embarrassed to name. Attending church service to watch my sister lead the choir or drama team. The list is endless of the amazingness that was Nigeria in the early 80’s. I can’t begin to talk about the scenery. I enjoyed most of these adventures with very little adult supervision. 

Sure, I had a fearful mother who was very much a helicopter parent . However, coming to America was a different animal. We left the dirt land for the concrete jungle. If you think Nigeria is scary, you don’t want to be in the mind of a child living in America for the first time. If it was not a story of a child being abused, kidnapped or killed by a family or stranger it was always something. What ever unrest there was in Nigeria, it was nothing compared to my experience in America. I am not saying Nigeria is not going through social and political issues. However, things magnify when you are across the pond. The propaganda is real. America is also a pretty terrifying country to live in, to the point where I’ve advised my sister and her husband to try for Canada.

There was no escape from judgement and assumptions, living America. I don’t know if things might have been different if I lived in a different state, but New York children were brutal. In school, I was shun by the other African students and told bluntly that I could not be one of them because I seemed American. This was said with looks of distain and distrust. It didn’t matter that I was born back home and still spoke my dialect fluently. I was told I didn’t look African. How exactly should an African look? I tried to argue my case, but fell on deaf ears. Now looking back, I realized that they were also feeding into Western stereotypes of what we should be. Supposedly I broke a mold, that I was unaware that existed. 

After years, living in America as I got older I started asking questions. There were these invisible barriers I was unable to cross.I was getting a lot of “No” and rejections without an explanation or solution. I spent the majority of my years in America living in ignorance. By the time I fully understood the mistakes my family made I was already broken. I was fearful, my esteem was low, I was angry and resentful. I was an foreigner, without a home. I didn’t belong to America because the citizens, government and family members reminded me everyday. I didn’t belong to Africa because I hadn’t been back and could only remember a handful of relatives. I was stuck in limbo, my identity was being pulled in two different directions. Neither were comforting. 

I never felt or tried to fit into American society except through survival mode; food, clothes and shelter. I was fearful of going back to my beautiful country because of all the propaganda I ingested over 3 decades. What’s a girl to do?  I’ve always in the back of my mind been proud of my heritage because it made me feel different, I however didn’t know how to express that. I didn’t have others to share stories or ideas with. I didn’t understand how important it was to find others like minds or join the conversations of belonging, until recently. I spent most of my life in America in my own head, as my own companion. 

I don’t know if I was always an introvert, or if America made me so. I am learning to own my stories, tell me stories…be my stories. There’s someone else out there who is also looking for the strength and encouragement to become fearless and own who they are. Africa made me, but America shaped me. I won’t be who I am without either. Good or Bad, it was and is all a blessing. As I continue to fight my inner demons, I continue to strive for a fearless life. Where I am constantly present. Nigeria is a very beautiful country filled with  intelligent and generous people. No matter what story you are being fed, if you have questions or concerns it’s better to find out for yourself.

I am planning a trip to Nigeria in 2018, for the first time since leaving. I can’t wait to go back and retrace my childhood roadmap. I am sure it looks a lot different from what I remember.

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