HOME AND AWAY
Every time I walk that familiar road to the train station after the end of lectures and the usual small talk has been made, I think of one thing only. I think of going ‘home’ to the apartment I share with my brother in Birmingham. A few months prior, home was most decidedly my family house in Abuja, nestled within the quiet confines of Maitama, home was my grandmother shouting through the kitchen window ‘Nne won’t you eat something?” every time I passed by, like clockwork. It was passing by that window on my daily journeys away from the four walls of my room, like clockwork. A few months even further back than that; if you can imagine it, home was a one-bedroom flat in the heart of Lekki in the city of Lagos Nigeria where I spent a year in service to my country. It was rust coloured water that carried the pungent smell of their shortcomings and mosquitoes that buzzed their melancholy tunes all night long. it was frantic calls to my mother at odd hours of the day as a reminder of my other ‘actual’ home when homesickness threatened to overwhelm and throw me over the edge of manic anxiety. I have come to realize that home is not a thing that stays fixed, it is not a physical space exclusively as we have come to associate it with. It is as much a state of being.
We leave home and engage in this completely uncommon ritual in nature, travelling. Human migration is as old as time, people have moved for as long as people have had legs I suppose. People travel from one place or the other for a legion of reasons. My people have a saying that just as all the fingers on the hand were not created equal so it is with man. Just as it is with man, so I think it is with travellers. For ease of comprehension, travellers can be roughly divided into two categories. Those who travel because they can afford to do so and have the desire to do so and therefore do so, then there are those for whom travelling is a last resort, usually with no funds and with no choice in the matter they leave behind familiar lives for existences lived out at the mercy of others. As Brah put it so eloquently “The question is not simply about who travels, but when, how and under what circumstances”
We shall call the privileged travellers‘ nomads’ and the not so, ‘migrants’. Two words that signify the same thing, the movement of human beings. However, whereas the terms nomad conjures up visions or free-spiritedness and heroic non-conformity (positive connotations), the other brings to mind border patrol and denied visa applications (negative connotations). This article about the ‘forced return’ of Boko Haram refugees is a good example of the divide that has been created between different forms of human migration. Boko haram, if you are unaware, is a militant terrorist group operating in Nigeria and a lot of their operations were carried out in the northeast of the country which borders quite close to Cameroon, hence the pilgrimage to a neighbouring country. Juxtaposed with the retelling of ex-pat experiences and the story shifts significantly. They speak in terms of unbridled acceptance with one quora contributor stating that “Living in Cameroon as an ex-pat was not always the easiest, but I was grateful as I had more resources than that of most Cameroonians”. This calls to mind for me Sara Ahmed’s harkening that such a theory creates or aims to create a hierarchy of perspectives on migrancy, suggesting that there are better and worse ways of being a migrant. It also fails to account for those who do not fit neatly into any of the categories but careen between Nomad and migrant, people such as myself. I am nomadic owing to the privileges of wealth because of which I can travel to any country of my choosing to study, it is a luxury as compared to others who are not so privileged, whose sojourn to other lands in pursuit of education is spurred on by necessity. For example, there are states in Nigeria whose school buildings do not have a roof, an indication of just how dire the situation is in such areas, one can argue that they have no choice but to seek better education in the institutions that peddle them. That being said, this my place of pride as a Nomad is not fixed, I am also a migrant because the millions of forms I had to fill in during my student visa application all say that I am, the stamp which joined the other stamps in their inky accusation of my otherness, tells me that I am. The baton is ever-shifting, from nomad to migrant to refugee to nomad, paying no heed to the boundaries sought to be set by such dismissive and reductionist narratives as the one that seeks to separate travellers into ‘worthy’ and ‘unworthy’.
I close my eyes and I think of fear, a thick ball of fear, stuck in my throat. Pulsating in a rhythm that seems to dictate the pace of my heartbeat. I think of frantically deciding what to take, mementoes of a home I will most likely never see. I imagine crippling uncertainty, neutralized by the instinct to stay alive. I think of why I would even still want to leave. I conjure up images of nights as dark as ink and days that didn’t appear any brighter. I think of running and not looking back and not thinking about a destination or the fact that all my running may be in vain. I think about impossibly weary feet that somehow manage to keep moving and an empty belly that had stopped sending signals of hunger to the brain as it knew there would be none. I think about making it too far to give up, I think about the horrors that await back ‘home’ and a people that don’t seem to care. I think about coming all this way only to be turned back. This is what I imagine fleeing home to be like. This is what I imagine the lives of Boko Haram survivors to be like. This is what I imagine when I think about being without a home, of having to create new homes that will forever be founded on the brutality of what has led me away from home. I imagine all of these things and it makes me wonder why anybody would turn me back. It makes me wonder why anyone would imagine that there is anything that their land possesses that would cause me to undertake such perilous journeys if I did not have to. It makes me wonder if anybody else wonders just as I do.