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An “Americanah” Returns to Lagos (P.I): Reflections on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Book – Kanyinsola Obayan

June 29, 2014

The Diaspora

 

After boarding 3 different planes, I am now sitting in George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston awaiting my departure to Lagos, Nigeria. We have been sitting on the plane for almost an hour without moving and the plane is exploding with life with children crying with people talking and walking and smiling and laughing and quietly  thinking—i see them, all of them, clearly distinct and same. I wonder if they can see me too, searching-lost, scared and hopeful, filled but empty–thoughts flying through my head and landing quickly at my feet are so hard to reach, I am struggling to recall memories, who what where when how, names and dates; family and friends; laughs and tears–we used to play ten-ten, listen to stories at night, celebrate birthdays, catch crabs and release them–we used to be young (t)here. I was born there in Lagos, Nigeria and lived there up until May 1999 when I arrived in America and  I have not returned until now, June 2013. I wonder who here is like me…born and returning,  eager to remember everything, eager to know and  understand themselves again…eager to be embraced by Africa.

After boarding the plane I begin to flip through Adichie’s new book “Americanah” and she is writing my life and I’m reaching grabbing trying to recover all that has been lost and forgotten.

page after page after page, ifemulu and I become one. Her anxiety. Her restlessness. Her homesickness. They are all mine. The deep sharp pang of loss unknown that I had come to live with and without lie within Adichie’s book.  Amazed. She seemed to know me so well.

I had always thought myself crazy to be so infatuated by Africa: Home.

Yes, I had grown up surrounded by the patriotic rhetoric of the unwavering American dream before me, but, at some point, and I think it was 16, I became dissatisfied and began searching for a new reality for myself within that dream.  If I think back to what must have done it, it would have to be my name. Oluwakanyinsola. Fifteen letters. It just didn’t roll off everyone’s tongue…many times, it just hung there waiting to fall into the right place.  But it didn’t. So, I first started my search by emphasizing its correct spelling and pronunciation as if its grammar would provide a framework to structure my longing and fill the gaps in my story.

What does it mean to be a hybrid? To live somewhere but long for elsewhere. To grieve what you struggle to remember. To be an African outside of Africa. To be an American without a desire for its dream.  Most times, it means you create a world inside a world: double consciousness. You listen to Nigerian music. You keep Nigerian friends. You watch Nollywood to learn and retain the culture and language.  All because you want to be what you are supposed to be.  But it doesn’t always work out that way because, after all, you are not in Nigeria. You are in America, where no one actually cares if you are Nigerian because  you are still apart of a thirteen percent black minority and to them your name is meaningless. So you help them out and give them nicknames to make it easier for them, and you laugh at their jokes about the length, and you smile at their effort so much that hearing and saying your own name becomes a burdensome task, an irritant. After awhile, you are tired and desperately longing for something, anywhere, that’s not this. Longing for a place in the sun…

June 1st 2013.

I land in Lagos, Nigeria. Life, is spilling everywhere–reaching, yelling, pleading in an old familiar way–onto streets that don’t quite seem big enough, if you are not careful, this city will eat you alive.  “Welcome to the Jungle,” were the words my uncle hurled at me as he picked me up from Murtala Muhammed International  in Ikeja, Lagos. Jungle indeed, I thought. Jungle de vivre….jungle of life.

 

Sunday, June 29, 2014.  1:48 p.m. [GMT]

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