Three weeks ago, I hurriedly walked through Heathrow Airport, trying to both push my suitcase and connect my janky iPhone, with the shattered screen, to the complimentary Wi-Fi. My cousins were supposed to be picking me up from the airport, but I didn’t know where they were or where I was going to meet them. After I found a seat in the waiting area and sent my aunt a quick “Where are they?” message on Facebook. I exhaled. I was in the renowned Heathrow airport, the site of one of my most favorite T-Mobile flash mobs and I was gravely unimpressed. it seemed so…regular. But nonetheless, I was happy to be back in London. One, because I fell in love with the city during my first visit in March, and second, because I loved spending time with my Dad’s side of the family and connecting with my Nigerian roots.
I spent a lovely six days eating Nigerian food (chicken stew and jollof rice) curled up on my family’s couch in the living room, wearing pajamas until late in the afternoon. I took a leisurely afternoon stroll with my cousin through Camden Town and peered at the angry travelers at St Pancras International who were hours delayed en route to Paris and elsewhere in Europe thanks to EuroStar.
The next day, I went shopping with my Aunt at Westfield Stratford City Shopping Center and spent far too much money at H&M, River Island, Primark and TopShop. On Saturday evening, my not-so-little-anymore younger cousin gathered a group of his friends and took me out for gin and tonics and late-night lamb kebabs, dripping with a fiery chili sauce and cooling yogurt sauce,with a side of crispy, piping hot chips. We talked (mostly laughed) about the differences in American and British English while walking back to my family’s flat, the air so frigid our breath made a large, puffy cloud in front of us.
Those several consecutive afternoons as I sat propped up in the living room on the couch, watching American television I haven’t been able to watch for the past six months, it dawned on me what a good mental, emotional and spiritual space I was finally in. The fatigue of fighting to adjust to European life had finally settled and dropped to a minimal, almost unnoticeable level. And although the micro aggressions and racial tensions still exist everyday around me, I’ve accepted them as is and rest in being proud of being a Black American and African. No ignorance from anyone can shake the pride for my heritage now.
The past eight months have almost become a blur. Sometimes I can only recall all the memories and challenges and frustrations and nights keeled over sobbing in spurts. I can tangibly separate the different chapters into B.S. (Before Spain) and now, A.S. (After Spain).
I have truly changed. But not in a dramatic, sweeping ways. I’ve turned inward. I’ve deprogrammed all the clutter and projection and pronouncements from other people telling me the type of person I was, the woman I was. The noise which used to drown out my own voice, my own opinions, the sense of trust I’ve come to (now) rely on has dissipated. I’ve forcefully grabbed my identity by its reins and have taken the agency of defining myself, of determining who I am. I’ve sat in silence and pondered this on many occasions. Reflected on how I dealt with troubling scenarios. How I dared to not to be the reactive, explosive, irrational, impulsive person I thought was me and how instead I respond, with composure, to whatever is thrown my way.
Is this what liberation feels like?
And yet, in some ways I still struggle with newfangled bouts of insecurity. They range in intensity and duration, but each time they cause me to question at what cost I’ve obtained this liberation, this overwhelming sensation which cascades and resounds deeply in the depths of my soul and spirit. I scroll through my Facebook, Instagram and Twitter timelines, and I see how the many people I left behind, folks I either no longer talk to or have very little common with since I’ve moved, and I feel isolated and left out. Everyone is continuing along the trajectory society has plainly laid out for them: college, maybe a Masters or professional degree, first big job, engagement, big wedding (with pictures galore), a baby (or two)…
I often feel like I am not doing enough. That this leap to be an expat, a long held dream of mine, to embrace a life of travel and amazing experiences isn’t good enough. People will comment incessantly on a new baby or an engagement or a graduation, but when it comes to living life off the beaten path? Silence. Or as I’ve experienced, people who are so excited and happy for you initially, but later become so wrapped up in their own lives, that they move on and stop wondering what your life looks like on the other side of the world. And this truly feels terrible when it comes from people you really care about. When you go from communication to sporadic communication to no response from emails, GChat messages or calls. When friends and loved ones turn into strangers who you don’t even bother reaching out to anymore because things have really changed. You’ve changed. And maybe they haven’t.
It’s really unfair that society, for the most part, can’t celebrate life choices people make that lie outside the traditional, commonly accepted heteronormative ones, especially for women. The straight path, as I’ve described before, isn’t for me. I wanted to create a life I could marvel at, every day. One that fit my dreams, desires, personality and (desired) pace of life overall. But making this choice seems to have cost me everything.
There are many sacrifices that have to be taken to embrace expat life or one of constant travel. It rubs me the wrong way when people say things like “I’m so jealous!” or “You’re so lucky!” I’m not lucky; You shouldn’t be jealous. I’m not the chosen one. I made a choice (that you can make too!). I took a huge leap and many smaller leaps after then—and I still continue to make tiny hops everyday. Many people have tons of savings stocked away for a rainy day. I budget fiercely on necessities and essentials and spend my extra money on trips. Many people own property and a car. All I own fits into two suitcases.
Liberation, at least mine, as soothing and peaceful and as desirable as it, has come with an incredible cost. I’ve exchanged the normalcy of life as others have deemed it for peace of mind.
But I’m happy.
I know I’ve made the right choices thus far, and my heart is whole and well each day I continue to make steps in this direction. Because, after all, what’s the point of living if you aren’t wholly listening to the rhythm and pitter-patter and gentle whispers of your heart guiding you exactly where you need to be?