No matter how long, how many years or decades you live in a foreign country, as an immigrant, chances are you’ll always miss home. You’ll always miss certain things about home: the music, the people, the languages (yes including the ones you don’t understand), the regional accents that make you smile the minute you hear them, the food, the clothing, the hair styles, the familiarity.
It was a culture shock when I first moved to the United States, but then came Arizona. Who would have thought my home away from home would be a desert. A relatively diverse desert. Arizona actually has a pretty big African community. At least the Phoenix metro does. I went to a church full of Nigerians. There were also ethnic food stores around, so even though I still missed home, there were hints of it here and there. I knew I could go to church every Sunday and see and hear that familiarity. I knew a friend or a friend of a friend would throw a party where we’d all be reminded to be on time (meaning no African time- I’ll explain this in a later post) and YET we’d all still show up late. I knew the party would have jollof rice with goat meat or fried rice. Puff puff. Buns. Meat Pie. Yum. I knew we would all get down and dance to African music (By the way I’m so happy P-Square is back together. )
Then I graduated from ASU and moved to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The cold wasn’t the only thing that surprised me. The unfamiliarity did. I had to drive an hour and a half to get to the nearest African grocery store and they sometimes didn’t have what I wanted. Then I moved to Missouri. Things got better (the nearest African grocery store is about 20 minutes away and the owner is Nigerian.) I still miss having an authentic African community around, people who understand my quirks and jokes, people who shout out and break into a dance when Tekno comes on. People who eat pounded yam or eba with their hands and love drinking Vitamalt at every social gathering. I mean EVERY. Bottom line, it’s the small things, which brings me to this past weekend. I went out for dinner while on vacation in Nashville. We decided to take an uber back to our place. When I got in the back seat of the car, I noticed a Ghanian flag hanging on the driver’s rearview mirror. He greeted us with a Ghanian accent. (Cue angels singing!)
The ride back to our place was about 15 minutes but it was more than enough time to get to know him. He had moved from New York to Tennessee for work. He works in the army (big thank you to him for his service) and would like to be a ranger. He moonlights as an uber driver because he wants to properly use his free time. He speaks six languages. (I’m jealous). Like me, he has a big family. Six siblings. I’ve got five. His father is Ghanian and his mother Nigerian. (Yay for intercultural marriages). He’s proud to serve in the U.S military even though this isn’t his birth country. He’s prouder still to be an immigrant. Proof in the fact that even though he has lived in the U.S longer than I have, his Ghanian accent is still as sweet as ever. Every word from his mouth oozed with African pride.
We both laughed at the fact that whenever many Americans hear we have relatives in Nigeria they immediately assume those relatives are in dire straits. “Are they in danger?” “I hear Boko Haram has taken over the country.” (Side note, they have not. Having said that, asking that question is like asking if all of Missouri was destroyed when chaos erupted in Ferguson). We laughed about “419”. It’s what we Africans call the email scam in Nigeria. You know, those emails where some so called Nigerian Prince asks for $100 in exchange for $1,000. Why are people still falling for it? Finally we talked about what most African children and their mothers often talk about: the fact that he’s still single and his mother won’t stop pressuring him to get married. (I immediately pictured an African woman in her buba and wrapper saying in a thick Nigerian accent, “when are you going to get married and give me grand babies? I’m not getting any younger you know.”) That was our last topic before he dropped us off.
Our conversation was more than enough to make my night. More than enough to make me smile from cheek to cheek. For a few minutes, I was home talking to someone who sounded like me. Someone whose jokes I didn’t need to work hard to understand. Someone who made me feel completely and totally at ease because we share something. We are foreigners. Immigrants. It was a reminder that not only is home where the heart is, but that a little familiarity, in any situation, goes a long way.