I’ve had a stress headache for about 2 weeks now. Plans have gone horribly awry due to bad organisation of others. The control is totally out of my hands and everything’s gone tits up. I’m having to totally recalibrate the path I thought I was on and the 6 months ahead suddenly look drastically different because of the hopes and dreams that I’d attached to this trip.
It’s so strange how much you don’t realise you want something until it’s in front of you. Before November the idea of Nigeria was in my mind but in a distant future kind of way. In a when I’m older kind of way. When I’m ready to fully embrace the whole of myself kind of way. This trip meant more to me than just work. Although it’s true to say that the idea of being around fellow creatives in my homeland was the cherry on top – this had so much emotion and hope attached to it that the only way I can describe the way I feel now is…lost.
Lost in a my loss of of opportunity to learn more about who I am, where I come from… It’s so hard to describe the mixed race experience to people if they have no connection to it. I guess in some ways it lies alongside the immigrant one. I was speaking to a friend of mine recently who has to wait til next year before he can apply to be a UK citizen and listening to his frustration at not feeling like he’s settled or fully accepted felt familiar. Don’t get me wrong, I am in a much stronger position than he in terms of stability and work options – it’s that lack of belonging that I related to.
And why is that? Why do I feel so uncertain of my place? I was born in London, raised in Wales and Bristol. I have a home here. My life is here and yet still I feel so frustratingly separate. Code switching during various interactions, checking my behaviour to make sure it doesn’t catch a nervous look, trying to contain parts of who I am – it is exhausting. I try really hard to be my authentic self in every situation I’m in and not pander, but sometimes I do without realising.
I didn’t even realise what this feeling was until I went to Ghana. I don’t have as many friends of colour as I would like; few Nigerian ones (I am actively looking though soooo holla at your girl!) and have predominantly moved in white spaces so I find myself limited. I was actually mortified when someone said to me recently…wait, your Nigerian? So why don’t you know anything, you seem like the kind of person who would be interested in their heritage. (Cue heart breaking within chest). I’m so embarrassed to not know anything about myself. I consider it…myself an utter failure because of it. The part of me that removes me from the place I was born in is the exact thing I know nothing about.
That is what this trip meant to me. I wanted to document every feeling, every food, every traditional story. The dancing, the music, the mannerisms, I wanted to drink it all up and soak it into my bones and come back and share as much of it as possible because I know I’m not alone in this feeling. I know there are others having this same experience, on this same journey, with the same questions as me and I wanted to bring back some distant echoes of understanding.
So yes, my fingers have been bitten down to the nib with stress. I have a pit in my stomach that won’t go away and I feel like this screw up has let down any potential person that my trip might have been helpful to (Lol, ideas of grandeur much?!)
However, I am going to rope swing from that slim silver lining and look at these impromptu free days as a Ngaio holiday where I can spend my days reading, writing and getting ready for the next adventure.
If anyone reading this has any Yoruba/Igbo stories / links / books / recipes / people / podcasts / symbols / fabrics that I should check out please please share. I may not be in Nigeria yet but it doesn’t mean I can’t piece together some cultural understanding over the next few months. Everything I do devour on this little journey of self understanding I will write about. That will be my challenge – so if I don’t write for a while, poke me.
I begin this personal journey by finishing Black and British: A Forgotten History by David Olusoga.