GIDI GIRL IN DIASPORA
Diaspora; Jews living outside Israel (1) the dispersion of the Jews beyond Israel (2) the dispersion of any people from their original homeland.
Before I begin, let me first state that I did not know the meaning of the word ‘diaspora’ until July this year when my sister proclaimed that I would become one of the many Nigerians “living in diaspora”. Of course, I never thought I’d be living in diaspora until I received the admission into graduate school in the desert of Arizona (or Arid-zone-a, as I like to call it in my head). Just like the name, it is Arid (another new word I had to learn; thank you Google!), a desert with desert weather, desert heat and desert dehydration. I arrived in mid-August, arguably the hottest month of the year and I have never been more miserable in my entire life, I’ll explain why later.
Life is full of experiences, you learn something new every day; about yourself, your friends and your environment. One vital lesson I’ve learned here is; water is life! Really, you cannot leave your house without water or you’re calling dehydration, dizziness, hallucination, diabetes, cancer and probably death upon yourself. Ok I was kidding about the death and terminal diseases part but dehydration is real! Once I missed my bus stop and had to walk an extra 20 minutes to my destination (I had finished my soda), and by the time I got home I could almost swear that I’d travelled to the Himalayas and back because the exhaustion was incredible. Yes maybe I exaggerate a bit too much, but it took a while for me to start seeing the world in other colors beside yellow, blue and green.
Speaking of buses, well that has been an experience as well. As a gentle bred Lagos girl (i.e. Ajebota child), I’ve spent the past three years driving around my beloved city in the car my father ‘loaned me’. Now while I’m no stranger to the very reliable means of road transport in Lagos (danfo, molue and okada), it was still very strange not having a car and moving around in buses only, especially when the bus systems are completely different than what I’m used to. Google maps cannot estimate the arrival time of a danfo, it can’t even tell you where their stop is because their stops are everywhere! I am happy to report now that I have mastered the use of the bus, I know where to pay and I don’t extend my bills to the bus driver anymore (I never actually did that-well I did it just once).
One thing that the buses here and in Lagos have in common is the wide array of strange people, but then, there’s strange and there is strange. I once got on a bus where one passenger decided to uphold the law, at least his version of the law and tried to drag me in it. All I can say about that experience is “Won o ran mi wa bii wa ku”, loosely translated in Yoruba “they did not send me here to come and die”. I simply put on my earphones, turned my face to look out the window at the interesting, starless desert sky at 9pm, anything to save my life.
Ahhh the people, very interesting set of people Americans are; they never stop talking! I pride myself on being a curious and inquisitive person, but these people beat me hands down. If they’re not asking about something, they’re talking about something, whatever the case, they’re always speaking. Now this might not seem like a bad thing, in truth it really isn’t, but for this Yoruba Lagos girl that is used to people fast talking about “important things”, a 10 minute dia(mono)logue about the humidity in Florida isn’t particularly interesting to me; I’ve never been there and I don’t know what it feels like. I have to admit though that I like the people, always opening doors for me, holding the elevator for me, answering my numerous questions and saying “oh, you’re fine” at every corner when I’m confused about something. Yeah, they’re good people.
One thing I have really enjoyed is meeting people from other continents and other African countries. My favorite would have to be the Indians, they’re a very interesting lot (and they are a lot). In each class I take, the demographics are the same; 60% Indians, 30% other countries, 9% American and 1 black (African) me. With these numbers it’s not very hard for me to fade into the background and just watch everyone else do their thing; and it is very fun watching them do their thing, I even came up with titles for each group. The Indians are the silent mafia, they don’t talk much to those outside their group, they are always in groups and they’re super intelligent (which is why I had to worm my way within so I can pass the class without stress; don’t judge me). The 30% others, they try too, depending on their country of origin; most international students pass more, mostly because they’re highly motivated I think. Finally, the 9% Americans, small in number but still manage to out talk the rest of the class; they’re the ones whose voices you hear every week telling stories about their dogs or the time they spent in Europe. Very interesting set of people they are. I have a whole series on funny moments I’ve had interacting with my Indian friends I’ll share later; I hope they’re funny to you as they are to me.
Now here’s the part most people would naturally expect, the reactions of American people when you tell them you’re from an African country. When asked, I usually say I’m from Nigeria because I like to be specific, but all they hear is ‘Africa’ even when I don’t mention that obvious fact. Here are a few of the reactions I’ve received when I tell people about my country of origin;
- My class instructor: so where are you from? Me: Nigeria. Instructor: that’s nice. Your English is so good, where did you learn it from? Me: we were colonized by the British, our official language is English. Instructor: I did not know that. Me (in my mind): but it’s 2015, how could you not know that????
- My first time in church: Hi! Where are you from? Me: I’m from Nigeria. Him: interesting. Hey so we have another member who was raised in South Africa, He speaks Afrikaans, I don’t know maybe you speak that too…..Me: He’s from South Africa, Nigeria is in West Africa. I don’t understand any bit of Afrikaans, also the South Africans don’t like us much these days. Me (inside): oga mi, that’s too far na, the whole of Africa does not speak the same language.
- Still in church: Hi, I heard you’re from Africa. Me: yes, I’m from Nigeria. Her: oh yes, my son worked there in Nigeria in the bush near ‘Los Lagos’ (I tried to correct her, but she’s Mexican so I let it pass). Me: oh really, that’s nice. I’m from the city, I’ve never been to that area but I have heard stories. Her: yes, he was a doctor doing his training there. He said most of the ‘bush women’ come to deliver their babies at the last moment; they don’t spend more than an hour in the hospital before they leave with their babies. Me (inside): that’s my Naija women for you, we don’t have time for nonsense.
- Yet another church member: Hi, where are you from? Me: Nigeria. Her: oh that’s great. I’ve been to Africa once. Me: oh where? Her: a village in Kenya, do you know it. Me: no I don’t, Kenya is on the other side of the continent, and I’ve never been. Me (inside): but I never mentioned Kenya!!!
- A classmate, complaining about the heat: it’s so hot out here. Me: yes it is! Hottest weather I’ve ever been in. Her: but you’re from Africa, isn’t it hot over there. Me: it is hot, but not like this desert. It’s humid and gets cooler at night. Me (inside): really! Not every African country is sharing a border with hell. Haba!
Well I only spent three months there; I’m back in my beloved city for 3 weeks and men do I love being here. A lot hasn’t changed but much has happened. I’d be lying if I say I don’t miss the place, somehow it has grown on me. Last last sha, there’s no place like home; and Lagos will always be home.