In a couple of weeks, I’ll be travelling to my country of origin, Nigeria. It’s been 5 years since I was last there, and although I have yearned for this trip for a while, I am flooded with many different emotions as I prepare for it. There are numerous relatives to visit, questions that I will be faced with as they try to fill in the gaps of the years apart, as well as an expectation to act and carry myself a certain way. I can’t deny my high level of excitement right now, but as a British-Nigerian, returning to the motherland can be an overwhelming experience.
Travelling to Nigeria brings about an identity crisis for me. Whilst the country has always felt a bit like home, I face constant reminders that I am an outsider. If I’m not being asked if I can understand my family’s native language of Hausa, which I actually speak fluently, I get asked when I plan on coming to live in Nigeria. At times I can be ridiculed for my accent and pronunciation when speaking Hausa, despite all the efforts I make to sound as authentic as possible. I have a great deal of pride that I am able to converse and communicate in my parents’ mother tongue, and only ask that others back home recognise the effort I’m making, instead of pointing out my occasional grammatical errors. Talking to those that are also British-Nigerian, I know I’m not the only one to deal with this. I think it’s just part of the culture to just say things without really thinking about the impact your words can have. Whilst trying to make me feel prideful about my heritage, those that ask such questions are indirectly making me feel as though I may not quite fit in, and perhaps never really will.
The one topic I know that will come up repeatedly is marriage. It is a focal point in many African cultures and Nigeria is one of them. Relatives will give their unsolicited opinions on why it’s best to get hitched young, telling me I shouldn’t waste my time as I don’t want to be “too old” when I finally do reach that moment in my life. Very little advice is given on the qualities I should be looking for in a potential husband, or even the truth about what marriage is really like. The main goal is to have that picture perfect wedding to be showcased all over Bella Naija Weddings, a popular Nigerian wedding blog, and to be talked about all over social media. Although it can be a tiresome topic, I do remain respectful of my elders and politely, yet reluctantly, engage in such conversations. Although Nigeria is not made up of one homogenous group of people, one thing we all agree upon regardless of the tribe is the importance of respect in our society. Nigerian culture places a great deal of emphasis on respect, particularly to those that are older than you. This is a part of my culture that naturally, I have grown to carry with me everywhere I go. However when back in the motherland, it can be difficult to deal with when the same respect is not always granted to you, simply because of age.
Going to Nigeria comes with an expectation to appear a certain way too. My battle in the past in terms of dressing has been with the fact that I didn’t use to cover my hair, as is expected of Muslim women. Being told “You aren’t in England anymore” did not encourage me to make the personal decision to cover my hair, or even to understand the importance of the act. In true teenage fashion, this only made me a little more determined not to conform. After all, it’s not required by law anywhere in Nigeria that you must wear a headscarf as a Muslim woman. At the time, the sheer fact that I did not wear a headscarf back in the UK made me feel that wearing a scarf in Nigeria only to take it off later, was hypocritical and dishonest of me.
As a British-Nigerian, it can sometimes be difficult to know where you belong. I live in a country where the majority of people don’t look like me, and I could face being told to “go back to your country” at any moment by those that wish to spew hate. Yet, I don’t know where home is for me. I know I will always love Nigeria but at times I’m not sure if it’s really there to welcome me with open arms, without the constant reminders that I’m different. However, I would love to go and experience life in Nigeria for a year or two, fully embracing the lifestyle for more than just a few weeks. Despite its challenges, returning to my native country is a worthwhile experience. I get to be around people that look like me, reconnect with family, indulge in all the food possible, as well as continue to explore and understand my culture and heritage. On the other hand, regardless of my complex relationship with the country I have grown up in and the identity struggles I have faced, the UK is where I always want to come back to wherever I am in the world. It’s the only home I have ever known; my immediate family is here, as well as my friends and they are what make my surroundings home for me.
Written by Aisha Rimi