Whatever it is, the fact is that contrary to my kinda negative portrayal of Nigeria in a previous post and my rush to leave it a few months ago, I now miss it. I miss Nigeria. I wish I didn't though. It would be so much easier to turn my back on it, what with its Boko Haram and Ebola and a plethora of misfortunes and calamities and dangers and problems facing the country every day, plus the impending elections in 2015 that many predict will cause even more bloody unrest.
Good ole' Nigeria: My embattled country
But I lay down at night and wish I was back in Abuja.
There are two major factors that draw me back to Nigeria, one of which is my profession. Yes folks, being back in England has humbled me career-wise. Where in Nigeria I was top of the food chain thanks to my impressive British education, training and experience; impressive portfolio of previous work, impeccable British accent and the confidence that comes with knowing your country values you and wants you, which shines through and makes you even more attractive to prospective employers and clients; in England I'm having to start from the bottom again, not that I was ever even at the top to begin with.
My almost three years abroad has knocked my professional trajectory back down a few pegs, but more than that is my own perception of self. I feel less wanted here. My colour, my experience, my time spent abroad in an unsavoury country, all of that has merged together to give me an inferiority complex, which I presume is written all over my face as I sit in waiting rooms waiting to be interviewed. The chip on my shoulder must be so big right now. Sometimes I even talk myself out of a job before applying: "Nah, The Guardian wouldn't want me, I didn't go to Oxbridge and I'm the wrong kind of Black."
Bad News: They didn't want me
Actually, regarding The Guardian newspaper, despite its credentials as a liberal, left-wing publication and champion of minorities, I went to its offices in London for a job training/interview stint years ago and was blown away by how male-white-middle-class the whole office was. There were maybe two white women, no brown or Black faces and everyone there were of a certain 'type,' the type that go to Starbucks and order Fairtrade organic lattes, wear distressed jeans, spent a year in Africa working for a charity, are vegetarians, want to live in Brixton but send their children to private school and buy modern art. I felt so out of place there (I'm not a vegetarian and Africa to me is a reality, not a facilitator of my yearnings to be a good person) and it must have affected my performance because I didn't get the job.
I don't wish to play the race card, in fact I hate it when people play the race card, but I'm afraid that after returning from Nigeria - where I felt so good about being me; so wanted, celebrated even, for being me; where I rubbed shoulders with the movers and shakers of society and met and worked with important people, where all that I am was cradled and nurtured and upheld as wonderful (I could also spell better and type faster than most people out there too, I felt like a superhero) - the British job market has being a slight shock to the system. I started to question my abilities. Maybe I'm not as good as I thought. Or maybe I am and they just refuse to see it and give me a chance because I am Black.
Race relations in the UK is miles better than what it is in other non-African countries of course, and there are vast swathes of England where your colour doesn't affect you negatively, and I can honestly say that apart from two instances when I was in my late teens where I'd visited a majority-white part of Surrey and some silly young men shouted racial slurs at me, one from a high rise building and the other from a moving car (I still think maybe I heard them wrong), I have never faced any overt racism in England in my life.
Sure there are instances when I felt I should have positively gotten that job because I was so right for it, and when I didn't I was convinced it's cos I was Black and didn't pass the 'Can I hang out comfortably with her down the pub after work' test by my would-be employers. But on the whole, I never thought being Black held me back until I finished a Masters degree and still couldn't get a nice journalism job (the kind that came with a business card). Then I went to Nigeria and finally tasted success, then returned to England again and saw that such success is hardly enjoyed by people that look like me, and the Blacks that are successful here are of a certain type too. Damn, I wish I'd gone to Oxford. I had the grades for it, but I didn't pursue it because I thought I'd feel out of place there. It's my biggest regret in life.
My children MUST go to Oxford or Cambridge. It's like the only thing that can guarantee your success if you're Black in the UK.
So I long for Nigeria because I feel ignored and not up to par in England, and having to go from Editor to Office Administrator has been oh so depressing. I feel like shouting out: "Don't you know who I am? I used to chair weekly Editorial meetings you know! I have a Masters' Degree for Christ's sake!"
I work in central London surrounded by huge beautiful office buildings made of glass, and I envy the immaculately dressed ladies in their heels and skirt suits that call such buildings 'My Office,' whilst I wear flats and my colleagues will look at me in wonder if I dressed in a suit. I also noticed that the Black people I see in this part of town are almost always shabbily dressed in jeans and trainers; the Black/minority ethnic service class that serve the white business class.
My Future London office: Amen
Sure I can work my way to the top, but how long will that take? And can I ever achieve the career highs in London that I enjoyed in Abuja? Will a qualified Black woman under 30 ever be the sub-editor of a British national newspaper? I doubt it. Not only are the requirements more stringent in England (the standards are admittedly lower in Nigeria, although this should not detract from my suitability), but there is always a white person that the employer feels will be 'more suited' to the role, or who has the right look or better education or upbringing or experience or looks like the employer's nephew or uncle.
I guess I shouldn't blame them though, like employs like. The subtle and overt tribalism in Nigeria is similar to the subtle and overt racism is in England. But rather than work hard to break the Black ceiling, I just want to return to a country that likes me as I am. A country that will gladly take me back.
I also miss the freedom of being in Nigeria. I don't feel as constrained there. Here if you step out of line even a little bit, even innocently, like for instance parking in the wrong place by accident, you get into trouble straight away, no second chances. In Nigeria things are more laid back, more casual. You can smile your way out of trouble, and rules that hurt no one can be bent (I know Nigeria takes this philosophy way too far though.)
In Nigeria, in a land where anything goes, I felt emboldened to LIVE. Life was for the taking, and if you can get it, it's yours. You could go from zero to millionaire in a matter of days, and the rewards for good work knows no bounds. Generosity of wealth and spirit abound, and you could start a business tomorrow that will make you money immediately, no lengthy paperwork and licenses needed.
In England things are more prescribed and limited. No sudden moves. It's a stay in your lane, paycheck to paycheck lifestyle, and as winter approaches, a grey cloud seems to descend on everyone and we all stay deep in our daily routines; everyone in big black coats under grey skies, all living for the weekend or the next holiday abroad to somewhere sunny.
I also felt thoroughly invested in Nigeria. I felt that I was part of the narrative. I complained with everyone about everything, but deep down it felt good to have ownership over the woes of the nation. Nigeria still being problematic after 54 years of Independence was my problem too, and I wanted to make it better. I had a voice that sounded like everyone else's. Nigeria was mine for the loving, hating, liking. But in England, sometimes I feel detached from the primary concerns of most of its citizens, and other times I am actively opposed to the popular opinion.
The British love cats and dogs and there are several TV programmes and charities dedicated to their welfare, but I care not a jot for pets. Homosexuality is also now normal here, when I left England in 2011 I don't recall homosexual couples being on home improvement, antique hunts and other mundane aspects of British TV, but now every other couple on TV seems to be gay! Then there is the national preoccupation with cancer. Every where you go one organisation or another is trying to fight and beat cancer, but I don't want this disease shoved down my throat every day. Yes it affects many people, but do let's stop going on about it.
Then there's the average British person's love of a good moan. They moan about everything here, and their hate for politicians is so uncalled for, especially when British politicians are actively working hard in their jobs and are genuine public servants, and the minute they do something wrong they're out (did you hear about the journalist who faked a Twitter account to seduce an MP, and when he fell for it and sent back pictures of himself in pyjamas, the MP had to resign?). They should all try living in Nigeria for a week, they'll run back and hug all their MPs. Those on benefits moan that the council won't give them a bigger house, can you imagine? In Nigeria if your local House of Rep member gives you a bag of rice in his bid to get re-elected, you rejoice, here they are bitterly complaining that the free house and free money the government gives them is not enough.
In Nigeria, despite the harsh, unfair circumstances, Nigerians have the best sense of humour about it all. They insult and rain down curses on their leaders, but their patriotism is alive and well. They get up and get on with it, they hustle and they make life work for them. They have terrible habits some of them, but no one sits and complains and expects the government to help them lose weight or stop smoking or give them contentment, cos they know that's not happening.
I also like that Nigerians are on average religious-minded and traditionally inclined; they value marriage, respect, morals and propriety. Even though many sins occur behind closed doors, they are eager to portray a respectable facade. But in England, tradition is receding and nothing is sacred anymore. Anything goes in the name of post-modernity, and my traditionally-minded self cannot hack it.
So there are many aspects of British life that I feel is alien to my experience. Whearas in Nigeria, I felt plugged into every social issue and felt as strongly about certain things that ordinary Nigerians did. I could (and very nearly did) join protests in Nigeria about various issues, but I can't see myself protesting about anything in England.
I visit Nigerian blogs every day and follow many Nigerians on Twitter- I'm avidly keeping abreast of Nigerian news and views because it's more alive to me.
Does that mean I'm not British enough? I guess I fit into my 'Nigerian coat' better than I fit into my 'British coat,' but the irony is that in Nigeria I am more British than Nigerian to everyone else, and in England I'm Black British and that's OK, but it also means I find more people like me on the lower echelons of society than at the top, which is where I want to be.
Could this be a case of the grass being always greener on the other side? Human nature is a funny thing: a few months ago I couldn't wait to leave Abuja, now I'm yearning after the very thing I ran from. Don't get me wrong, England is a fabulous country and I'm lucky to be able to enjoy its many privileges, the NHS being number one. If I could take the NHS with me I would relocate to Nigeria tomorrow.
I guess I want to have my cake and eat it too. I want to to succeed, but in a safe country.
So I'm torn you guys. One minute I want to stay in England and make it work because it will be so worth it in the end, then the next I want to run back to Nigeria so I can feel alive and be called 'Madam' again. Then I think of falling sick in Abuja or of Boko Haram and I thank God I'm back in England. Sigh.