Home: we love it even when we don’t like it.
The first time was somewhat deceptive. Yes, all of the above was true. I was smitten by the sun, enamoured by the atmosphere and brown-skinned beauties, with rose-tinted glasses on for the reality of life.
At seventeen, I had a lifetime of making up to do. When you grow up in the diaspora, sensitive and nostalgic, you over-compensate, convincing yourself that all your ideas and dreams of Mother Africa were true, determined not to be ungrateful, not to be one of those children that hold their roots in disdain. Upon return in 2019, I wrote. My pieces are indicative of a well-trained child, who appreciates all her parents gave her, and every blessed atom of history and memory that flowed from my ancestors down to me.
I wrote with love. I was in love. I was at home. It was the truth, but not the whole truth.
The second time around, the novelty had worn off. Three years later, I knew what to expect upon landing in the airport in Lagos, the air was that familiar hit of warmth and the people were the same jolly, bustling and demanding country fellows.
The second time, the charm was there, but dwindling. Charm receives no oxygen in a place where people can casually describe ‘struggle’ as part of the national identity.
It is a prosperous country where fast food and supermarkets are for the upper class, and electricity is not constant. Streets overflow with rubbish and every pair of eyes sizes a crowd up, not as compatriots, but as competitors for life’s scarce resources.
We reminisce about the glory of our people — my parents speak about the good old days when there was constant running water and the roads were not so potholed and when trains would run.
But then my father explains that if the roads were less dangerous, then there would be no one to take flights, and if trains were more available, then who would invest in haulage? And you know, there is talk as to whether the former Vice President has a lucrative business importing the generators that are a must for the population’s lack of electricity.
This land is my land, where people with intellectual disabilities roam the streets in tattered clothes, and a cult’s commune, the highest spiritual centre of the universe has its own bus stop on the Ibadan-Lagos expressway. How many cupped hands are waiting to be filled in the land where peace and justice shall reign?
The elders sit back in comfort, dignity and glory in their old age, reaping the fruits of their youthful labour, while the new and young take over to carry on their good work. I interviewed my grandmother, and she spoke about the days of her youth, how she would earn her keep as a teenager and buy herself clothes twice a year. I ask her about now. She doesn’t hesitate. ‘Nigeria is spoilt now, what young person could afford that?’ she says it in the same language that proverbialises to young people the fact that when elders speak, their mouths don’t smell. It is the truth, simply spoken.
I have listened to podcasts dedicated to analysing whether or not my country of origin can be officially written off as a ‘failed state’. It does leave me to wonder — perhaps the country is failed, a colonial project gone wrong, the first to go down in history as unfixable.
There can no longer be dreams of going back to give back, this is laughable. I am told not to be silly enough to think that I could expect the same living standard in Nigeria that I am used to abroad. They tell me not to think about it, that I did not develop the muscle of tenacity that is required to live in Nigeria from a young age.
But what is that pesky hope inside of me? When I hear predictions for growth and start-ups that are truly set to change the world?
It is miserable to lose the rose-tinted glasses I once wore. The world was exposed for its less than technicolour reality, and I heard the silver spoon banging against my teeth once the soundproof headphones came off and I could hear the cries of a suffering nation.
It is a sad thing to not be able to feel the love you want for something you so desperately want to love unconditionally. Even if nationalism is an embarrassing condition, I need to cling to something for a sense of who I am, not in this country where I was born but that never held me as a baby and that grows colder and colder with each year.
But with familiarity comes the comfort within which we can criticise our dearest.
How we look with eyes full of love, but eyes that are not blind to the flaws of our beloved.
How, like a complex family relationship, we love relatives even if we don’t like them.
Perhaps this reckoning with the deformities on my home’s body is proof that the gap has been closed and belonging, ugly and raw and with room to criticise, has been found.