A Beautiful Mess. - My Family Travels

Nigeria. That word meant little to me prior to 2009.  I left Nigeria as a bubbling five old, and barely remembers anything about the country. Yes, I was born there, but that is all I can tell anyone. In the process of trying to be like any other American kid, I had jettisoned any remnant of the culture that was in me. I forgot how to speak my native language which I spoke fluently when I arrived in US. I had in the past tried to disassociate myself with the African continent, as all that I saw on the pages of National Geographic magazine and the news media was poverty, disease, war and refugee. Little surprise that when my mother informed me that I would be traveling with her to Nigeria for a vacation, it was such a bad news to me. That all changed when I experienced Nigeria.

â–º  Finalist 2011 Teen Travel Writing Scholarship

On July 13, 2009 and at age 14, I woke up to a voice telling me we were in Lagos, Nigeria. I leaped out of my seat across my mom and peered through the window to see a place like no other. I saw gorgeous palm trees relaxing lazily, high in the air, side by side. Then I saw dry dirt, the swamps of mosquitoes waiting for their prey, and hundreds of people uncomfortably gathered and clumped together, some awaiting family, some awaiting a family’s money. For a moment, I was dazed. Everybody looked healthy. There was no sign of the poverty and disease that I had assumed would be peering people on their faces.

Lagos was beautiful in a unique way, but messy. I was mesmerized by the sight of hundreds of people that flocked the streets and bus terminals: hoarders selling merchandise, beggars, food vendors and even road side mechanics and musicians! Through the people on the streets, I saw my culture, my background, my history, myself. When I got to my uncle’s home, I saw two little boys, peering at me and wondering who I was. These were my cousins but I never knew nor connected with them in anyway. They were inquisitive, clingy, annoying and part kleptomaniacs but I would not trade them for anything!

A couple of days later, I went to my mother’s village in the south eastern part of Nigeria. This village was hideously beautiful. My grandmother, an old shriveled woman in her 80s, lives in an old ranch that surprisingly had all the trappings of a modern house. I met more relatives who stared at me curiously and adoringly. Ironically, I felt somewhat like a foreigner because some of the food and local culture was strange to me. I was dubbed “Americana” by my relative because of my accent. Americana was not particularly flattering to me as I desperately longed to be like everyone else. I wished I could reinvent myself and become fluent in the language that I had forgotten.

To say the least, this trip changed my life and my perspectives about my birth country. Contrary to the fear that I entertained initially, I felt very much at home and very comfortable in my own skin.  It was a journey of discovering my roots, giving me such inner peace and satisfaction. As an immigrant, I felt like I did not belong anywhere. By connecting with my roots I felt anchored in a rich culture and tradition. Someone once said that if you do not look in the past while moving to the future, you are looking at nowhere. Yes, Nigeria was messy but it was a beautiful mess.


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