Where Do You Call Home?
Home they say is where the heart is. Once upon a time in my life, I contemplated the essence of this statement, tossing the words around in my head till they no longer made sense. I used to believe that home for me could only be one place – Lagos, Nigeria. However, I never fully understood what it meant to identify as Nigerian till I moved to the U.S.
In my interactions with different people from different cultures and of different nationalities across the world, one of the easiest ways to identify myself is Nigerian. I grew up there, spent my formative years there and still have family there. I am in every sense of the word Nigerian. Simple and short, no argument about that. I’ve had to temporarily forget my Yoruba, Calabar and Bini heritage, sweeping it under the rug because it is now of little relevance except when in strictly Nigerian settings. Also, how do you explain tribe to the average Westerner without coming off as former jungle inhabitant. I have come to identify as Nigerian, a blanket identity much like Indian or Puerto Rican or Vietnamese, which isn’t indicative of the several sub-cultures it is consistent of.
I have lived overseas for a while now and am now accustomed to being asked questions like ‘Where are you from’ – which could be Chicago, Normal or Nigeria, depending on how I feel. The questions don’t always end there, as some go on to ask my personal favorite, ‘Where are you originally from?’, emphasizing ‘originally’ to indicate that my faux American accent isn’t very convincing, and that they can tell I come from somewhere not in the States.
But I have started to reconsider these answers. Yes, home is Lagos, but home is also Normal and Darien and Ilorin. I lived in Ilorin for about a year during my national service and I had the most amazing time. That year marked the start of something significant in my life and I will always have fond memories of the city. It was home for me at a time, albeit briefly, I still have ties there and it is a place I know I can feel at home any day even though I haven’t been back since I left. Darien is where I go on vacations and it feels like home. Normal is where I started my American journey and I will always think of it as home.
When I first moved to the U.S., I was far from excited about the new beginning and life that lay ahead of me. I was scared, jittery and worried that I was maybe making a mistake. I was sad to be leaving my family, friends and trading everything familiar for the unfamiliar and unknown. This wasn’t the first time I had to do such but as expected moving to a whole new country is a different ballgame from moving to a new city. I had visited multiple times in the past and knew I wanted to live here at some point but when the time came, the thought of moving hinted a finality that scared me. I said goodbye to Lagos with shaky fingers, an unsettled mind and lots of questions and thoughts. Nearly four years later, I have successfully created a home for myself here, one I am not ready to leave just yet. I have since settled in to the routine of life here and with each passing year, memories of my life in Nigeria have started to blur. I am so comfortable where I am now that sometimes, it’s hard to imagine the life I once lived in Lagos. These days, I contemplate where I want to settle down and have my family and it’s still a split decision. In the past, when asked where I wanted to settle, I would answer Nigeria without missing a beat. Now I’m not so sure. I want my children to experience the Nigerian-ness that formed and shaped me into who I am today; to not only identify because of their mum, but to understand what it truly means to be Nigerian. I also want them to reap the benefits of being American and be eligible to take advantage of all the opportunities this country offers. I want them to feel like they belong in both places.
It’s been a journey to get to this point where I can wholeheartedly refer to America as home, but I have finally arrived. I know now that home is not one place but is wherever my heart is. Maybe one day I will identify as American or Nigerian-American. But for now, I am simply a Nigerian living in America.
Home could be where you have family, a place that holds very fond memories for you or the place where you feel most comfortable (and I don’t mean your living space). Where do you call home?