by Enyinne Owunwanne
“Where are you from?”
When strung together, perhaps four of the most daunting words in the English language to me. A very simple and pure question. Yet to many, including myself, one that warrants an insanely complex and exhausting answer.
If you want to know where I was born, then “I’m from Rochester, NY.” But there’s something about me that implies otherwise – my mannerisms, my choice of slang, the way I move my body when the music hits me right.
So let’s try this again. If you want to know where I grew up, then “I’m from Kuwait.” The problem with that is, I’m clearly not from Kuwait. Whatever that means. And I’m still very much so growing up.
So now we’re back to the drawing board. Perhaps what you really mean is where are my parents, and ultimately ancestors, from. Easy enough. “I’m from Nigeria. Ndoki land. Akrika and Akwete.” But I don’t speak with a Nigerian accent. Yet alone our local language. Nor do I conduct myself in a manner that only living in Nigeria for a prolonged amount of time can form you into.
I’m not from here. Nor am I from there. But I’m clearly from somewhere. So for decades, the answer depended on the audience, in an attempt to answer the question in the easiest manner for the listener to understand, as opposed to where I thought I actually considered to be home.
But as I got older, that changed. The more I visited my respective homes, the more I realized that there would always be a feeling of displacement – regardless of whether I was in Rochester, Kuwait, Nigeria, or even my fourth adopted home of New York City, where I resided for the entire of my adult life, until recently.
14 months ago, I moved to where I just knew I would be able to confidently identify with as home. The country of my parent’s birth and upbringing. The country where the majority of my cousins, and uncles, and aunties reside. The country were my grandparents, deceased and alive, were born, raised, and lived the entirety of their lives. I moved to Lagos, Nigeria. A country that eventually proved to be further from anything that I had ever known, or considered, to be home.
The posturing. The corruption. The lack of infrastructure. A city full of chaos – spatially, culturally, logically. A city overridden with gender warfare – sometimes subtle, many times not. A city full of an unprecedented level of tribal animosity – often in gest, yet often enough not. My new normal consists of “bucket baths”, more champagne than water, frequent electricity outages (if there is actually electricity), and everything available on-demand (if anything is actually available). Oh, and VIM! Man oh man is there VIM!
I often complain that nothing works here. Literally, nothing. Yet someway, somehow, everything here seems to work. I often complain that the day-to-day nuances of living in Nigeria is exhausting beyond words. Yet every night I go to sleep and wake up the next morning, refreshed and ready to do it all again. I most often complain that I feel so far away from home. Knowing fully well, that I’ve never actually felt closer to home.