Defining home is difficult – for me. Out of the 36 states in Nigeria, I have intimate relationships with four. My relationship is with Port Harcourt, the town where I grew up, the town where my parents live; with Umuahia, where I had my secondary school education; with Ibadan, where I had my University education; with Lagos, where I currently live, working as a Graduate Intern at Ernst & Young Nigeria. This might not be far from Taiye Selasi’s postulation that one shouldn’t ask where one is from but rather, where one is a local of. This would tell us so much more about who and how similar we are.
I have left pieces of myself in these cities and their memories are deeply entrenched into the fabric of all that is me. My experiences cannot be taken away from me. That I carry within me. Where I’m from comes from wherever I go. How then can I call only one place home?
She proposed a three-step test that we can use to find out where we are locals – three “R’s”: rituals, relationships, restrictions.
Mine is a case of internal migration. I have been forced to migrate in almost every new phase of life and my experiences in these cities were born out of rituals, relationships and restrictions, much like the three-step test Selasi suggests in her TED talk, ‘Don’t ask me where I’m from, ask where I’m a local.’ Maybe giving an idea of the story of my migration will give a small clue to who I am.
I was born in Port-Harcourt and spent a good portion of my first decade there. Still, I never really knew Port-Harcourt because there were restrictions. I was a little girl and my cousins who lived in the city were not less than twenty minutes away walking distance. It was home because I had my family there. Many years later, with my parents still living there, I do not really consider Port-Harcourt home as such. But the people who shape part of my emotional experience are there. I talk to my parents almost every day. I ask questions about neighbours I have known all my life and church members and family friends. Whenever I go back, I am greeted with waves and nods and smiles from known faces who know little of the real me. Ekene, the barber on one hand and Pius, the former barber. There is also the woman Mummy warned us never to buy anything from because she once sold us spoilt loaves of bread at night. Her shop still stands somewhere like a leprosy to be avoided.
Mama Chukwudi had a beer parlour at the turn that leads you away from my street; I had known Mama Chukwudi all my life, her son Chukwudi and I were the pioneers of the nursery school I attended – MARRIS DAY CARE CENTER – now a nursery and primary school, in a completely different location. Whenever I went home and took the turn, I knew that I had to stop, wave at Mama Chukwudi and wait for her to ask, depending on the phase in my life: “How is Umuahia?” “How is Ibadan?” “What level are you in now?” – This stopping and making small talk had become ritual.
In their way, they all knew me. Mama Chukwudi, Ekene, Pius, that trader woman, another woman who sold bole in front of her shop, the mallam who has a kiosk beside them and many others. In many ways too, they didn’t know me. As with memory, migrations and movements, a lot changed with them, as with me, as time progressed.
Every time I go back to Port-Harcourt, there is always a change. A new shop, a new face, a new life, a new death. Mama Chukwudi died of cancer two years ago. This home is not constant but in it, I have experienced Rituals, Relationships and Restrictions.
I spent the ages of 10-16 in Umuahia, Abia State. My father heard about this missionary school where they taught IGBO and felt that was the right place for me. He had failed to teach my siblings and I the language as my parents communicated with us in English and sprinkles of Igbo. I think my dad felt guilty about this and bundled me to Umuahia where I would be taught Igbo. Not surprisingly, my selected guardian was the Igbo teacher, Mazi Okendu.
Umuahia made me feel I was not Igbo enough. I could not pronounce the “gb” in Igbo names or the “kp”; like Gbaruko and Okpara. I have tried to write about Umuahia several times and what it meant but each time I try, the words fail me instead when I talk about Umuahia, I talk about my friends – Uju, Ngozi, Uce, Ozi, Chisco, Ij Nwoye, Ij Ndubueze, Oti, Blessing, Sis Chioma.
Umuahia was the low-cost Housing Estate where my school was located. It was the green check gown we called our day wear. It was the white shirt and turquoise blue gown we called our school uniform. It was the pink and black pinafore and baker-style caps we wore on Sundays. It was music and choir rehearsals. It was love letters passed in secrecy. It was rice and beans on Tuesday evenings, pap and moin-moin on Sunday mornings and spaghetti on Saturday mornings.
Umuahia was the foundation for love, honesty, loyalty and true friendship. Trace the maps in my heart – maps of love, loss, hurt and betrayal and they will lead you to one strong root: Umuahia. Still, the images fail to become words but it remains there, a strong part of my life.
NWA AGBO|ADOLESCENCE 2019 – ARTBYREWA
Ibadan is the city that really pulls my heartstrings. Even though Ibadan was and is still a breath of fresh air; it stinks of lovers who left. Lovers who called you Mother – in different dialects.
I wrote the above in my journal when I travelled to Ibadan few weeks ago. I spent five years of my life in this city studying for my LL.B degree – which I am very proud of.
My first year experience came with a fat share of CULTURE SHOCK. There were those Hijab-wearing girls who covered every part of their body. I remember not entering same cabs with them. I never knew Yorubas were also Muslims. The “thing” they called soup – it broke me. The special broom for ewedu soup. The surprise in realizing that some people had no idea what Isam (Periwinkle) was. The wonder on their faces when they saw your pot of soup with plenty traffic: Kpomo, okporoko, meat, fish. It seemed like a sin to them. There was my shock of having to say “Thank You” three times, or more, to show that you’re really grateful.
Ibadan was a different world, different from anywhere across the Niger. The six years of my life I spent at the boarding school in Umuahia did not prepare me for IBADAN! Ibadan gave me love and heartbreak. Ibadan made me thirsty for my history. It brought out the Igbo girl in me and it was obvious as I got tired of the stereotypes pretty quick. Ibadan (deepened my love) opened my heart to Wole Soyinka, Christopher Okigbo and Chinua Achebe in a more intellectual way – to think they walked the very same campus grounds I walked.
Ibadan broke me. Ibadan stretched me. Never to be the same.
Old Oshodi in Lagos | Ayeola Ayodeji
Lagos is my present. Lagos was a decision. I knew I had to crawl or run or fly my way into this city. Literature brought me to Lagos. Work also brought me here (I currently work as a Graduate Intern with Ernst & Young; an International Accounting Firm) but it was really Literature that solidified my decision. I wanted to experience all the book readings. I wanted to go to Terra Kulture. I wanted to go for spoken word events. I wanted to meet people. I have met Ayobami Adebayo, Titilope Sonuga, Lola Shoneyin, Odafe Atogun, Sefi Atta, Chika Unigwe, Molara Wood. Lagos is Nike Art Gallery. Lagos is my monthly book club meeting at Bogobiri.
Lagos is like a toxic boyfriend. He treats you like crap, gives you shit every day, never really cares about you. Lagos is chaotic, disorganized and exhaustingly busy but despite all of its unhealthy habits, you can never truly get over him.
Lagos is hell. Lagos will abuse you. Yet you stay. It is the irresistible magnet. Lagos will molest you. Yet you stay. Lagos will try to KILL you. Yet you stay. My integration process was terrible. In February, I was robbed on my way to work and in the month of July, I had a terrible accident on the Ajah Bridge – I rolled out of a moving keke and a third of my skin was mutilated. I still have nightmares about that night and in the nightmares, I do not survive the accident. In between all of those, I had a million and one other adventures.
Sometimes I think I will not survive this city.
Nigeria is a country where your ethnicity supersedes your experiences. My friend Amaka, who has lived in Ibadan all her life, is still very much seen as Igbo even though most of her life experiences are rooted in the West and she is more Yoruba in talk plus ways than anything else.
I am an Igbo girl and inasmuch as my birth certificate reads “Ngor-Okpala” as my Local Government Area in Imo State, Owerri; the recollection I have of my village is that of the annual Christmas pilgrimage. However, the last time we did that was in the year 2014. I do not speak the Owerri dialect neither have I really lived there.
Home could be a person. My friend thinks this could be an incredible burden to place on another – especially in a situation where you are the only one with a full understanding of what this home is about. Therefore, when it comes to a person, the feeling of being at home has to be mutual. The door has to be open: Always.
All I have to call home are my experiences and the people I talk to on a daily basis, the people who shape my emotional experiences: My parents in Port-Harcourt, my brother in Calabar, my sister in Owerri, my best friends in different states. I have a home in several friends in other places and memories in a few other towns. But isn’t that the story of me and all of us?
People make homes. People shape our emotional experiences. But. People change. People leave. People die. Home is not a constant. And isn’t this really the definition of home?
This essay was first written in 2017 but never published. A lot has happened since then. I finally met Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (The absolute love of my life) – INSTAGRAM PICTURE HERE
I have lived in Bayelsa, Yenagoa for a year since this essay. I was posted to the Nigerian Law School, Yenagoa (November 2017 – August 2018).
In Yenagoa, I made amazing friends. For this essay and its purpose, I will talk about Kamo Sende and Nkem Osunkwor. Kamo Sende, a passionate Benue State man has made Benue home for me in a way. Whenever there’s news about Benue on TV or any social media platform, I think of Kamo. Kamo is currently serving in Kano State but lives in Abuja.
Nkem is originally from Anambra but has lived all her life in Benin City. Now Benin City is not just a state I pass through when going to Lagos. Benin City is Nkem and my cousin who just got married and now lives there.
My brother is no longer in Calabar as he is now undergoing the compulsory NYSC in Enugu, Nigeria. I have visited Kwara State – I spent four days in the NYSC orientation camp – Yikpata camp. I visited Abuja and spent few days there – Call to Bar preparations.
I am currently in Lagos.
Lagos is still the constant.
Lagos is home.
- Chimdinma Onwukwe
Featured Photo: Jacob Lawrence – The Migration Series.