I know it’s been a while. I’ve had a lot going on. 2013 was quite a year – one that I’m not likely to miss but will always remember for how much it grew me.
Why am I writing now? Well, I don’t really have much else to do. I’ve sung through about 4 musicals (Les Mis, Rent, Chicago and Wicket, in case you were curious), played my computer game (The Sims 3) for over three hours, and I’ve run out of credit on my phone to make any more international phone calls.
In Nigeria, it’s a few hours to 2014 and, admittedly, I’m depressed. I’m alone in a city with no friends or community, no furniture in my apartment, save for a very hard mattress, and feeling overwhelmed with sadness at having to spend yet another festive season away from my family (who – as usual, due to geopolitical circumstance – is separated across several continents). I would say that I’m used to it, and it’s probably true; but it doesn’t make it any less difficult, especially with all the music, laughter, and raucous I can hear happening outside my window.
So, yeah, I’m not in the highest of spirits. But I’m determined over the next 90 minutes to work my way back to the optimism and positivity that propelled me so far ahead of where I was just a year ago, that I now have the luxury of complaining that I’m alone in a brand new city, doing work that nourishes me, and with really bright prospects for 2014.
I’m choosing, right now, at this very moment, to not let my ambitions, my personal drive, my impatience at achieving the goals I’ve laid out for myself, diminish my gratitude for all the positive things that have transpired in my life this year. I’m choosing to remain the positive spirit that believes things are what you believe they will be, that I am in control of my thoughts, my outlook, my destiny.
It was about two years ago, I looked at my partner and told her that I wanted – no, needed, to move back home. I missed warm weather, dark soil, tactless conversations, and loud parties. I was tired of people asking me where my accent was from, or thinking that I’d been named after a character on Cartoon Network (yeah, “Dora the Explorer”, don’t get me started).
I missed greeting people in different languages, having fellow Nigerians laugh at my bad pidgin, being made fun of for being the first daughter – a fact they could tell instantly from my name. I missed fried plantain, african music, annoying aunties that poked you in the ribs, and called you fat while hugging you. And, most importantly, I missed being able to be close to my parents, who I’d watched age so fast over the years via the occasional low resolution photo. I was tired of the weight of the Unite States’ xenophobia and racism crushing me, my family, my dreams.
The day I told my partner it was time for me to go home, I knew I would be choosing to swallow the poison of Nigeria’s thick sexism and homophobia for the sake of experiencing the affirmation of being with my own people: women whose curves looked like mine, who didn’t “eew” at food I liked, who walked with the same grace – as though we each balanced pails of water, golden crowns on our heads, masculinity whose gyrating hips to afrobeat I recognised, however entitled, domineering, flawed.
I don’t regret moving home. Not even for a second. But it hasn’t been easy.
I have no idea how I’ve actually survived in Nigeria as a ‘single’ woman (who isn’t the daughter of a governor, or the wife-to-be of a rich suitor) and managed to position myself for professional success in an environment in which over 70% of women don’t even own a bank account, and men think it’s improper for a woman to travel alone.
I have no idea how I still find the courage to correct strangers when they erroneously refer to the fiance who “put a ring on it” with male pronouns. “She… she’s in Boston,” I say, each time, before holding my breath for either backlash or a barrage of questions at having “met a real one.”
I have no idea how I’ve experienced the amount of blatant exploitation, devalue-ing, and frustration from leadership in the development sector in which I work (which resulted in my near homelessness for over 2 months, waning mental and physical health, and personal finances – but I can’t even get into it), and still come out, relatively okay.
I mean, there was one night I stayed up, out on the street, till 5 in the morning, because I had no place to sleep, and no one to call. I remember crying to my sister on the phone, stating over and over again that I couldn’t do this anymore. I couldn’t. I remember she kept saying to me, “You can. You can. You have. You already have.”
A dear mentor recently said to me, “If there’s one theme I feel that describes your year it’s Resilience.” And you know, sitting here, thinking about everything that has happened to me – so much I can’t even write about – I’m encouraged by her observation, and the fact that she’s absolutely right. Yes, the Love from people in my life was encouraging. But, at the end of the day, “I” had to get up in the morning; “I” had to face Nigeria on my own; “I” had to go home alone, with no one’s shoulder to cry on; I had to learn to comfort myself and. just. keep. going.
Resilience. That’s how I got through the year. That’s how I’ve made it this far. Resilience. That’s how I left my home country at the age of 17 and moved to a physically and politically cold place that could never learn to pronounce my name, let alone recognise the pain of having needed to leave your family to make life better for them in the long run, maybe.
Resilience. And perhaps a bit of stubbornness. That’s how each of us continues, persists, even through the worst of circumstances.
And on that note… when I take a step back, my ‘circumstances’ aren’t all that bad. In fact, they’re pretty great. I’m sitting on my own bed, in my own apartment. Yeah, it’s empty. Yeah, mosquitoes are biting away because the landlord still hasn’t fixed a broken window and they’ve decided to have a party on my legs (cause, oh, I also have no blanket lol), but! After being homeless for so long, I finally have a place that’s mine. And what’s more…
I said I would move to Nigeria, continue to hone my craft as a storyteller, media, and communications professional, and I am doing just that.
I said I would find a way to be closer to my parents (who still aren’t in the same city, but now a 45-min vs. 8-hour flight away), and I did.
I said I would always take big leaps, I would always live out loud in love, and in hope, and I have. I have. I really have.
I’ve been kicking myself for not having the emotional capacity to write about my experiences in Nigeria so far (aside from my cockroach post, which was just so necessary given how many sleepless nights those critters cost me!); I’ve been hard on myself for not being ‘stronger’, maintaining high spirits while adjusting to a completely new terrain, all by myself; but I’ve been ridiculous – I’m human! And we all deserve to experience the full spectrum of our emotions. That is the only way to honour our individual journeys, by being honest about where we are. It doesn’t matter what things we didn’t accomplish along the way; all that matters is that we’ve kept on.
Love was my revolution in 2013, but so was resilience. Love kept me hoping, reaching, but Resilience kept me going.
So tonight, I celebrate my accomplishments against all odds, and my will to continue even when things get hard. I celebrate my courage to persist on a path that is NOT easy, because I know I’m doing what I’m meant to do. I celebrate the LOVE I received from everyone that cheered me on from afar – friends in the US, UK, fans and followers of my work. It is in part because of you that I’ve been able to stand my ground in the face of an environment that has many times attempted to silence me, force me into submission and conformity. I celebrate my rebel, my non-conformity, my humanity, and my convictions. And I celebrate my audacity to strive for more than just surviving, despite all the media propaganda that suggests queer Africans like me are simply lucky to be alive.
Nigeria, I love you. But come the morning, I will conquer you. You’re not even ready.
Nevertheless, till then, the seasons best wishes to everyone, and a very Happy New Year to all.