Nigeria's leading fictional story blog - YouTube, Africa, strength of the Naira, Western countries, sun, Southeastern Nigeria,
Working late in the office I found myself blasting music away on YouTube to keep from sleep that was persistently stalking my poor eyes. As I worked hard to finish a proposal, I could not help but pause to appreciate old and new songs from home – Oruka by Sunny Neji, Tell them by Sunny Okosun, Alingo by P Square, Seun Rere by Christy Essien Igbokwe, African Queen and If love is a crime by 2Face, Kukere by Inyanya…just to name a few (you can tell how nostalgic I am from that list). That was when I realized how much I miss home; how much I miss Africa. A few days back I was talking to a dear friend of mine who lives in Lagos over the phone and he was yapping away about his burning desire to leave the country. I tried to tell him to appreciate where he is, but he would not hear of that. He passionately lamented over the nosediving strength of the Naira, the high cost of living, the lack of jobs, the erratic power supply and stark poverty that gets dressed and visits many in their homes with ‘a daring and rude boldness’.
We had chatted along the same lines in the past, so I knew that I could not possibly convince him. He has very valid reasons as to why he wants to turn his back on Africa and head westwards. What he does not know though, is what lies in the west relative to what he already has at home. I could not help but think of him as I peck away at my keyboard. Years ago, I would never have made this argument. I was like my friend, bent on making it to the west where I believed that I could be more, do more and achieve more. Indeed, that is true…but at what cost? I have a million things that I would love to share with him, but they would make no sense to him in his present mindset. These are things you must experience personally to appreciate their depth and relevance;
1. There is still a lot of freedom in Africa: Despite the pains and troubles that so terribly rear their ugly head at home, Africa is still a very wonderful place to be. You’d be shocked to hear that people in Africa still enjoy a high degree of freedom. You have a say as to how you want to raise your children in Africa…in the West, you are more likely to be told how to raise your children by the government. This is not an aspersion at the West; I honestly enjoy living here, but I cannot help but observe how heavily regulated the West has become. At the slightest opportunity, the government enacts new laws that introduce another layer of control over what you can or cannot do. For instance, a mere cart that you push around has to have a plate number in some Western countries, and that means paying for it. That is what children play freely with in Africa without government intervention.
2. The sun in Africa is a blessing: I was one of the people that would do anything to escape the scorching heat when I was at home. I hated the heat so much that I would climb atop the deck in our building and sleep there (outside), overnight with my younger brother. At the first sight of winter after I had left home, I begged, prayed and cried for the sun as much as I craved oxygen. That particular winter was so cold that several times, I woke up and parked my bags as I plotted to abandon my study and head back to the sun (Africa) where I had just run away from. At the first sight of spring in April, I looked through my window and saw a tiny ray of sunshine peeking out of the gloomy London weather. Like a man running for dear life, I darted out of my room and sped to the last spot where I had seen the sun. By the time I got there, an Indian friend of mine was standing at that exact spot, happily soaking up the cold sun. “You took my spot!!!” I complained bitterly. “I did not see you when I got here, Victor,” she answered with a ravishing smile on her face, and she was right. She was kind enough to swap the spot with me intermittently; we moved with the sun as it shifted from one spot to another. There, I was chasing something that I used to detest terribly – something I was eager to escape for good. Be careful what you wish for.
3. You still have your family around you: I had never gone for a whole year without seeing most of my family – parents, siblings, uncles, aunts and cousins. A month after I left home, I began to find myself battling with depressing thoughts. I wanted to wake up and see my mother’s face…exchange jokes with my father or have lunch with most if not all my siblings. At this point, they were several miles away, and each passing day became hell on earth as I wanted to be around them…sit by the fire in the cold harmattan months and roast yam with my father. I could no longer freely do that as often as I used to – as often as my heart desired because I lived abroad.
4. You will cry for African food: The first night I arrived in London, I searched for something to eat. There was a Turkish restaurant across the street from my hostel. I have to warn you, I love food!!! I really do, big time. I walked in there and looked at the menu with no clue what they were selling. In an effort to fill my ever demanding stomach, I asked the waiter for the food that guaranteed the biggest portion on their menu and he recommended something I have never been able to find out what it really was. I ordered two portions for that matter. As I walked away from the restaurant with two heavy bags of food I could hear my stomach singing praise songs in anticipation of a hefty meal. No way!!! That did not happen.
When I reached my room, I unmasked the first bag and descended heavily on it. I could not tell what it tasted like. My mouth rejected it and my stomach began to growl and quiver frenetically. For a new ‘arriver’, I was not happy to wash twenty five Pounds worth of food down the drains…converting it to Naira did not make me happy at all. And, I was still hungry. One afternoon some years later, a friend of mine from home who lived in Southeast London phoned me. “Can you guess what I am having for lunch?” He asked gleefully. “No,” I replied. “Ukwa (breadfruit),” he shouted into the phone. “I wanted to tell you so that when you sleep at night, you will be salivating in your dreams,” he added. At this point, I had not seen Ukwa in years how much more eat it. Ukwa is a delicacy in Southeastern Nigeria.
While you can find most African foods in London, Ukwa and some other delicacies are a rare find…if at all you can find it. My friend’s mother sent it to him through someone visiting London. I was at work, when my friend told me about the Ukwa. I lived in Central London. It is quite a distance, heading all that way down to the South, so my friend was sure that he would have his left over Ukwa by himself the next day…until I knocked on the door. I could not get the Ukwa out of my mind at work. As soon as I left work, I took the train to South London to get a few spoons of Ukwa. Where there is a will, there is a way.
5. You will change: People respond to nostalgia differently, but the truth is that most of us go through it. Consequently, you see things differently – through a fresh pair of eyes. There were songs I would hardly listen to when I was at home. I thought they were old fashioned…outdated and drab. However, living abroad, I craved them desperately. At home there are places that you hold dear. They represent a time…an era in your life and you could visit those places if you are at home to relive your experiences. When you live abroad, that is not as easy due to the distance. You will find yourself more often on YouTube, playing songs like Oliver De Coque, Morrocco Maduka, Sunny Okosun, Daddy Shokey, Danfo Driver, Mr. Lecturer, African China, Styl Plus and many more. In the absence of a trip to those symbolic places in your life, you latch onto the songs that represent a certain era. They become your medium to connect with places, people and times that you hold very close to your heart. You may find a few specks of tears crashing through the gates of your eyes sometimes, as you walk through that era via songs that bring back deep and special memories.
6. You don’t need permission to visit people: If you visit London or New York, and you find yourself on the train, you will notice how people don’t look each other in the eye. In fact, thy make decisive efforts to avoid one another. You could live next door to someone for years…many years and never say more than “hello” to them and vice versa. Some Africans become depressed about this when they move over, given the connected nature of life in Africa. People are so busy in the West that if you wanted to visit friends and relatives, you have to make an appointment most of the time, if not all the time. People are everywhere, yet they are heavily isolated from one another. Last time I was home, on the plane in Port Harcourt, the person seated beside me was quick to start a discussion, and before I knew it, everyone around was happily engaged…and we did not know one another. Isn’t that beautiful? That is far less common here. In Africa, when you think of people, you could head over to see them; no appointments made and they don’t feel troubled by you. Little ‘luxuries’ like that are things you will miss so badly abroad that you almost begin to choke amid an abundance of air.
It is still a wonderful place out here once you build a network of friends and family. In the absence of that, many pack their bags and head back home. Overall, if you have the opportunity to travel abroad, take it if it is what you desire like I did. However, do know that it is different from home. Nothing will prepare you for that difference until you are immersed in it. If you find yourself at home in Africa, as bad as it can be sometimes, sit back and enjoy what you have…it is not that bad. There is corruption in the west too – police brutality, crime, rising taxes, and rising cost of living. While we strive for meaningful change in Africa, let’s celebrate what we have on our continent for now. Home sweet home…there is no place like home. I am feverishly counting down to my next trip home.
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