The Baggage of a Migrant

lone walker

From: Getty Images http://www.gettyimages.com

My migration was saddled with discovery, the discovery of race. I had grown up in Nigeria as a girl, but in the UK I became a black girl, not a black British type, but a black African type.

I was plunged into a discourse of race and had to cut through the layers of labels and stereotypes to find myself, other times finding safety in the streotypes; using them as a camouflage.

I learned that you weren’t just born Black, you had to live Black. I learned that it is possible to “be” Black; it is in your nuances, your speech, your taste. In fact, after time the icing to a story or the determining factor of a joke being funny was hinged on if the character(s) was White or Black. When a friend tells a story of something that happened at the train station, I wait a second or two and then I ask;  Was she black? Was he white? A black group of girls? A white group of boys?

I learned that what a black person did miles away could have a bearing on me.

I had first encountered England in Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist, and then in the movies and tales from relatives. My enthusiasm of learning in such a great country was quickly dampened by reality.

I am one of the lucky ones.  I came at an age where I could never forget being Nigerian, as well as able to adopt, even if shabbily and temporarily, a different culture. The unlucky ones like my Rwandan friend end up existing between two worlds, two cultures. Not accepted into one due to years of absence, and not feeling completely at home in the other.

I assumed the title ‘Immigrant’ and I saw and heard my fate constantly debated on the news.

But being an African girl, offered me no refuge in my dignity. It didn’t matter that I paid international student fees and got no help from the government, I was seen as an outsider not an explorer. An outsider in search of greener pastures.

A parasite feeding off others resources.

 I was dumb; I sounded different. I was blind; the meanings were different.

Read more immigrant stories here

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Education, marriage, motherhood?

I have recently graduated from the University. Now, if you’re African and a female then you know what is next on the pre-written-cannot-be-edited-or-tweaked-carved-in-stone list for you. Yes you guessed it, marriage.

Aunties and their friends, family friends, well wishers,  practically everyone -like they’ve attended a meeting and decided on the next agenda for your life- teases, jokes and not so jokingly asks  you for the man, a suitor, your boyfriend. Your mum calls you for talks, looking earnest and serious as she prods “so what is your plan?” “give me a name, let me start praying”  “there is no guy you like or that has shown interest in you?”.

Now, if you are single and have no idea of getting into a relationship let alone getting married any time soon, you know this is a dilemma. Explaining yourself is likely to fall on deaf ears, explaining how you intend to pursue your career will only produce suspicious stares followed by lectures on how you’re not getting any younger.It is funny how my brother had graduated some years ahead of me, living with a girl he truly loves and no one is pressuring him about getting married.

While I haven’t decided yet if I am a feminist, or even dissected the difference between Western and African feminism or Black feminism as the case might be to see where I fit in, I definitely know I won’t go along life ticking a list that has been written on the bedrock of so called culture.

Being African by birth (both parents are African), I believe what I instinctically do should culminate what being an African woman entails, not me having to follow a set of rules passed down  and policed by a society steeped in patriarchy. Thereby reinforcing its view on what an African woman is expected to be.

Times are changing and if we all lived by culture without so much as amending it, twins in Calabar will still be getting killed, 19 will be considered too old an age to be single, women won’t be voting or owning lands or wearing trousers or riding horses in straddle. Yeah, ridiculous right?

JUMPING THE BROOM

Jumping the broom is a cultural practice that can be roughly traced back to the 16th century if not even farther in history.  Its origin or time of origin is uncertain. There are also different beliefs about how it started.

Though it is true that the slaves practised jumping the broom ,this custom didn’t emanate from slavery as is popularly claimed and also supported by the Hollywood film ‘Jumping the Broom’. The slaves only practised it in honour of their tradition and also because legal marriage was inaccessible to them.  Some have claimed that this custom started in Wales where couples jump over a flowering broom (shrub), others attribute it to the Romani gypsies and some are adamant it started in West Africa from the Ashanti group of Ghana who waved broom over the head of newly-wed couples to ward off evil spirits.

While who started it or where cannot be ascertained, the custom is known to have been practised in Africa, Wales, Scotland, amongst Romani gypsies, in England, America and some aboriginal or shamanistic cultures. The symbolism attached to this practice varies according to cultures though similar. To some it means crossing from the old life of being single to married, to others it signifies the bride’s promise to clean the house, a reminder for the couple to work in unity, to represent the couple’s new home and to decided who makes the decision, a honour bestowed on the first to touch the floor after jumping and in some tradition, the highest jumper (usually men). The straw of the broom also symbolizes  family and the bind, the hand of God holding both families and the couple together.

This culture has seen a decline because of its popular association to slavery most modern couple avoid this so as to forget the horrors of slave trade but it is still practised by many as a form of cultural heritage. The decorated broom is normally placed in front of the church or reception so the groom can jump over it on their way out after the ceremony or in front of the their new home.

http://www.celebrateintimateweddings.com/ceremonybroom.html

http://www.bbc.co.uk/northamptonshire/content/articles/2004/08/05/pagan_wedding_feature.shtml