Monday 27 February 2006

Nostalgia - An unfamiliar emotion

Accepting stark facts
And so this guy came up to us and suggested he was more African than all of us put together, I acquiesced my other colleagues took umbrage.
That signified an interesting analysis of pseudo-Nigerians in Diaspora. I use the qualifier pseudo- because it signifies a kind of attachment that could quite deep or generally lose with regards to how we identify with Nigeria.
It also describes those of us who have not been to Nigeria in at least a decade.
However, the difference was exemplified in the fact that though I was born in the UK, I spent 19 years from the age of 5 in Nigeria, hence missing a good bit of the race and deprivation politics of the 70s and 80s in the UK.
My other 2 colleagues had spent a maximum of 10 years in total between them in Nigeria.
The other guy (Gary) however was born in Kenya, spoke Kiswahili and pidgin English as well as some street lingo that sounded quite foreign to my “sheltered upbringing”, he had travelled through Africa and could even speak passable Yoruba.
What was most instructive of the experience was that I realised that with the African upbringing came a positive and sub-conscious affirmation – my blackness has always been part of me – encounters of racism offer me the opportunity to educate rather than take offence.
Fed him bananas - LOL
One notable case was of a Swede who asked if we still lived on trees; I forgot; you need a quick wit too. I replied, “Indeed we do, when King Carlos Gustav XVI visited, we put him in the highest tree and fed him bananas”.
It is debatable who was most overtly racist in that exchange – the devil however, is in the analysis.
Suffice it to say, I walked away with a profusely delivered heartfelt apologise from a seriously chastised man.
Now, I do not know of any visit of the King of Sweden to Nigeria, but I knew enough to appear plausible and truthful enough to deal with the ignorance expressed.
This also feeds into a crass identification label that people subscribe to where young men of African descent respond to the appellation “nigger”.
It is one thing to covert a formerly derogatory term to a term of association and community amongst us; it is another to understand that those who use that term outside the community do not use it in a positive context.
Then there is the repudiation of the term that retorts – I am a free-born African, what do you mean by nigger – exactly?
Nostalgic, what have I been drinking?
Besides that, I am experiencing an emotion I am not particularly given too – Nostalgia – I must be crazy. I still find people to speak Yoruba to, my uncle commends my African cooking as rivalling if not bettering fare he gets at home, and I am on the verge of losing my roots having spent more than half my life in Europe.
Most recently, I have been looking back at Nigeria and observing the machinations of government and social change. Blogging which journals experience and commentary about Nigeria exposes more of life to scrutiny and debate.
Naijablog for me represents an interesting assessment of issues and ideas that elicit vigorous debate. I have seen very few Englishmen adapt so well to life and culture in Nigeria.
In my case, for all the time I lived in Nigeria, I was viewed as the boy born abroad – it however meant that one had license to break many of those rules that “natives” would be seriously sanctioned for.
Was it precocious, daring, adventurous, irreverent, stubborn and determined, many of us British-born ones had away of beating that system when it came down to it.
One lasting impression I have is when a big-man business partner of mine rounded up all the staff in all his businesses including the one in which I had control and had them locked up for an alleged crime of theft.
I did not have the courtesy of being informed as I had just returned from the UK on a business trip. In the end, I went to the police station and simply told the officer I would not leave till my staff were released.
Somehow, my accent then betrayed me and I was told speaking Oyinbo (English) would not resolve this. It took one of my staff negotiating from behind bars for them to offer to release them on bail.
I signed the release papers having paid out a hefty sum that the papers clearly indicated was a cashless transaction.
I basically got fed up of the prospect of my heightened profile in desktop publishing then forcing me to have to deal with situations like this – greasing palms to get things done.
That signifies how much Nigeria had changed from the 70s through the 80s, when in times before; kids had bicycles to ride carefree into the woods without fear of molestation. Schools went on excursion to all sorts of places as part of the education process.
I could appear in the Joseph musical as Pharaoh bedecked in robes and ornate headwear. Bursaries for undergraduates were generous to a fault. We hosted the FESTAC 77 the Second Festival for Arts and Culture with great fanfare.
Getting a visa to the UK on a Nigerian passport took less than 2 days and a flight to London was NGN 115.00.
By the time I left Nigeria, none of that was possible again, my nostalgia recalls times long gone, and it is probably possible that one can once again make Nigeria what one once experienced many years before.
Suddenly, reality dawns and my comfort zone steals the prospect of an Africa Safari – probably a 2-week visit sometime in the summer.
Did I say Gary was a white guy?

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