5 Feb 2021
Journey to the Motherland: A Diasporic Account of My Return to Nigeria (Part One of Four)
Part One of Four
I left my birthplace of Nigeria in 1998 when I was just two years old, with my mother, to follow my father to Britain. Since then, I had not returned, and I retained no memory of my homeland due to my young age.
The Igbo language of my foremothers had not been passed down to me, like twins, it had been due to skip a generation. I asked my mother why she had chosen to stop blessing me with my ancestor’s tongue and she replied to me that she was worried, she was apprehensive. Apprehensive over the sight of me struggling and juggling linguistically with the European and African speech. I was annoyed at this reasoning, as my parents spoke perfect English in addition to their native language, so why was I robbed of the opportunity?
From the moment my brain began thinking in total English, a cultural disconnect began.
This, coupled with the fact that my parents rarely socialised due to my siblings’ autistic condition, meant that, besides food and church, I knew little about Nigerian culture for the early part of my life. I asked my parents multiple times over the years to take me to Nigeria and they would always reply with ‘maybe next year’, and then the next year would come and I would still be on British soil. This continued year after year until finally, at the age of 21, in my second year of university, I decided that I would just take myself to my country.
I bought my return plane ticket and asked my mother to get in touch with one of my relatives in Lagos so that I would have someone to stay with. It was with this that my journey begins…
My African adventure began on the 16th of June 2017. After packing and prepping and preparing and pondering for months prior, I was ready to go, to leave Britain and see Nigeria for the first time in my living memory. I was armed with an arsenal of Nivea cream, biscuits and shoes from Debenhams, which my mum had ordered for me to bring with me, as last minute customary gifts to my extended family. I found the selection of gifts rather absurd, to be honest, and I was amused at the sight of her scrambling to find something for me to stuff in my suitcase, but I guess it’s the thought that counts.
A mixture of emotions fluttered within me on my way to Manchester airport. This was the first long haul flight I had ever taken by myself. At this point, I wasn’t an experienced flier either, as I had only flown a few times, and all had been shorter than a few hours beside the germinal trip I had taken with my mother during infancy. Thus, my novelty to spending hours on end, in a steel contraption soaring thousands of feet above the ground, (almost hilariously) exposed itself when encountered with the phenomenon of turbulence.
Turbulence: the supposedly benign force that likes to pay you a visit in the most charming of situations, just to liven things up a bit during your 10+ hour plane ride. Honestly, every jump of the plane had me terrified that this would be my end, though evidently, I’d lived to tell the tale. The plane would shake and quake at random intervals, and each time I prophesied a gruesome crash. Thankfully, the numerous airborne excursions taken later on in my life have been met with less anxiety. This has chiefly been due to the many trips planned during my year abroad in Italy, which have helped to dull out the menacing sense of doom into light background tension. However, at this point in time, the experience was frightening.
Not to dwell on the negative, I was faced with another novelty, at which I marvelled. Nearly everyone on board was black. Perhaps marvelled isn’t the right word,
but the fact that I was the racial norm offered me a refreshing feel of snugness to my surroundings. Besides the staff and one or two fellow passengers, I was met with a sea of black faces of varying shades. It felt… nice. Nice to be the norm.
Now not to sound ludicrous, but against the backdrop of this, the understanding that I was surrounded by Christians who were praying for everyone’s survival greatly helped to fade out the sense of peril that hung over us all. Nigeria is a very religious country, after all. I imagined myself protected by a sphere of prayers both from the passengers and their families (as well as my own) for a safe journey. Of course, even at the time this sentiment was laughable, but it’s what got me through the flight, and to the other side.
Written By our Commissioning Editor Hannah Uguru – who is an award-winning writer who is passionate about discussions centring black women and the nuances within this identity. Connect with her on Instagram and on her blog.
Header Image: Book cover ‘With Love From Nigeria‘ by Bernard Halstead