To inspire. To motivate. To educate.
I remember the moment ever so vividly. My father summoned us all to my bedroom. Gloom and melancholy were etched all over his face. I remember the trepidation within my 12 year old self, and soon began to consider all the gloomy possibilities. Had grand-mama passed? Had my father lost his job? Did mammy have a miscarriage? The thoughts relentlessly floated like lightning bolts in my head, until father
finally uttered: ‘We’re moving to London kids.’ I would never forget the way in which his expression transitioned from one of utter gloom to that of euphoric bliss. I turned over to Mama, and she too matched his expression. I concluded that this news was supposed to be good news, and I too feigned a smile. Albeit, a weak one.
To put things in context, several Nigerians, in particular, the lower class members of Nigerian society view England and America (or better still, Jand and Yankee, as they are popularly referred to in my country), as the Promised Land; much like the Israelites viewed the utopia they were heading towards after they left Egypt. With the exception of a trip to Dubai, and 2 trips to London, I couldn’t consider myself a globetrotter 7 years ago, (Not that I’m one now.) so this news was a pretty big deal. As my parents left my room to call up close friends and family, so as to spread the news, I stayed in my room and documented the pros and cons of the news I’d just received.
Sure enough, television was an integral facet of my life growing up. The first insight I’d gotten into British culture was from the much adulated cartoon- Pocahontas. I felt the Brits were nice and friendly, but their attempt to colonize bits of land that didn’t belong to them, struck me as rather awry. Nonetheless, I adored the way English television characters ate their food. Even when hungry, they ate their scones in a pretty manner, taking little nibbles around the edges, before devouring it all. They also drank their tea in a dignified manner, with their posture intact, heads aloft and pinky fingers suspended in mid-air. Not only this, but they looked clean. For 12 years, I’d been surrounded by people who bore
my complexion, some were far lighter than me, but several of my companions and family members were darker. We were all black. British people, on the other hand, were white. In my 12 year old head, their complexion was synonymous to cleanliness. I instantly made a vow to be as clean and hygienic, as soon as I moved to London, in order to ensure that my soon-to-be white friends wouldn’t run away on spotting me, simply because they thought I was dirty. The last thing which really fascinated me about British people, was the way in which they spoke. The fluctuations, the cadences, the pitch and the richness of their voices, was unlike anything I had ever heard before. That became my second vow; I was going to make an effort to study and imitate the Queen’s speech (Needless to say, I still haven’t perfected this, even after 7 years.)
As I systematically wrote down the pros of moving to London, I soon began to feel at ease with the news, until I remembered that I had listed no cons. That was when I began to realise that I just might miss my friends, my school, some of my family members and my home. Instantly, the tears came flooding down. I cried for hours, before falling asleep.
The next memory I have is of our arrival at London. The flight had taken about 8 hours, possibly even longer. I exited the plane with my family, and was instantly struck by how cold it was. ‘We’re in the middle of September! How can it be this cold?’ I said to my mother, but she simply smiled and replied: ‘Welcome to London.’ As I waited for my uncles to come to get us from the airport (seeing as we had no car, and we were immigrants fresh off the boat, or rather, plane), I observed the kiddies gleefully engaging with their parents. I observed a couple literally biting their faces off, and I was compelled to stare. In Nigeria, they would have been regarded as shameless, lecherous fools, and if a pastor had been nearby, he might even have had the courage to separate their sexual antics. After a couple of minutes of observing gnashing teeth, passion and the guy’s mild erection, I instantly looked away. I was only 12 after all. The 1st insight I gained into race and diversity, was borne via my second observation of the fact that England wasn’t filled with white people alone. I mean there were other people of fair skin tone, but they had a different look. They didn’t appear ghostly, nor did they have blonde hair and blue eyes, features that I had begun to associate with British people. These other whites had black hair, some had green eyes, others brown, some were of a more tanned complexion, others weren’t. Some of them even wore headscarves (this, I soon learned, was a hijab) I saw Chinese people, Japanese people, Indian looking people, and instantly I came to the conclusion that perhaps England wasn’t just for the white man. The England I saw in the airport was a very diverse, cosmopolitan, melting pot. For some strange reason, this appealed to me. Perhaps some of my non-white friends would refrain from considering my blackness as dirty.
My thoughts were immediately interrupted, when my mother screamed: ‘OGE!!!!!!’
I felt so embarrassed. I wondered why she couldn’t detect how orderly and civilised these British people were and adopt her conduct accordingly; although I must admit, it was great seeing a familiar face. I quickly rushed over to my mother’s brothers who’d come to take us home, and we all wrapped ourselves in a warm, familiar, embrace.
The second observation I made as I left the airport, was how smooth and pebbled the roads were. Back in Nigeria, several of the roads I’d seen were bumpy, uneven, clayey, and all together unpleasant. I was wowed by the aesthetic appeal of England. Perhaps this was in fact the Promised Land.
As we arrived at our new home, I frowned at the exterior, but squealed as I saw its interior.
It was beautiful!
For 12 years, I’d lived in a flat, and I’d always longed to have stairs in my home. This new house provided that. I quickly ran upstairs to observe the rooms. Mine was pink and very cosy, it was to be shared with my younger sister. My brother’s was blue, and it seemed the perfect colour. My parents had the master bedroom, which was rather quite big. The bathrooms were exquisite, and reminded me of the ones I’d seen in the 7 star hotels in Dubai. The highlight of our new home, however, was the garden. I had never had one of those before, either. My house in Nigeria had been a flat, ours was at the top and 2 of our neighbours lived downstairs. Our compound had been rather small, and after the cars began coming in, at the end of the workday, there was often very little space left for us kids to frolic about. Nevertheless, my brother and I had been very inventive, and we always found ways to keep ourselves busy. Having said this, the prospect of having our own special garden filled him, with about as much joy as it did me. We instantly opened the slide doors and ran into our garden. I rolled on the grass and even dared to eat some. After all, Britain was supposed to be the Promised Land, and so nothing in this new country struck me as dirty. My brother and I ran about as freely and wildly as we could. I felt liberated. Having left my country of birth resonated within me, and I felt as though I could achieve about anything in this new world. The Nigerian education system had instilled in me the value of hard work, persistence and determination. I soon determined to be the best Nigerian British girl I could be. From the age of 12, I made it my utmost aim not to allow my blackness to define me, but rather to gain a skill and an area of expertise that would set me apart, and make me a valuable asset to some corporation someday.
As my brother and I settled down over a cup of lemonade my mother had brought us, I gazed at the sun, which was now becoming a faint, yellowy mass in the distant. It looked so yellow and fierce, just as Nigeria had always been, and for some reason that thought filled me with an instant dose of nostalgia. Soon enough, I felt the hot tears prickling my eyes once again. ‘Stop being such a baby,’ my YOUNGER brother moaned. ‘Oh shut up!’ I retorted.
I stared at the sun for a bit longer, and went in to join my family’s celebrations. I loved the fact that we were all together, all united and all very happy. I hadn’t seen my parents this happy in quite a while, and at that moment, I also vowed to make them as proud as I possibly could, in school and in all my ventures.
I went to bed that night. Merry, full on food and determined. As I slept, I dreamt of a white girl approaching me on my way to my new school, ‘You’re black,’ she said. ‘I am indeed,’ I responded, not knowing whether or not to be assertive.