african ATLien.

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Drizzles of rain tickled my nose, tapped on my checks and bled into my clothes. My glasses were also speckled with the precipitation, enlarging the small dots into blurry radials. I could see very little, but the bass thumping in my chest and the music waves whizzing by my ears as I listened to Andre 3000 and Big Boi perform “Bombs over Baghdad” enlivened me.

I was surrounded by thousands in Centennial Olympic Park, the heart of downtown Atlanta, my hometown, the city which tugs and pulls at my emotional strings. We were all gathered in a space that in 1996, was the sight of a horrific bombing during our only time hosting the Summer Olympic Games.

During the last weekend of September this year, we reclaimed the space. We gave it a host of dear, heartfelt, intangible, unforgettable memories. We flooded our psyche with melodies of songs we hadn’t heard in years which conjured up thoughts of old friends, new relationships, going away to college, partying recklessly as a 20-something or teenager without a care in the world. We lavished in the revelry, our own Southern Coachella, a homecoming for many of us, of remembering the deposits that the south and everything it encompasses to the totality of a person. Our traditions, our sounds, our people, our essence.

And yet, this was in Atlanta, the city which I have an complicated, intricate and distanced relationship with. The city which I abruptly severed my 28 year long affair and entanglement of emotional, mental and spiritual frustration a year prior to dance into the sunset of Madrid. This was the same city where I was experiencing a music high of a lifetime, a set of hours which I will one day candidly and fondly tell my offspring about. It was the same city.

It was the same city I longed for in low moments while in Madrid those nine months. The city which when I closed my eyes while overcome with tears in my shoebox sized room in my flat, the window pouring in sunlight which stung my eyes when I peered out of it, I could see the familiar places, people and things I sordidly missed. I could smell the fried chicken, yeast and cinnamon rolls from Mary Mac’s wafting near my nose. I could taste a vanilla milkshake from The Varsity, red velvet cupcakes from Camicakes or a slice of pizza from Fellini’s Pizza.

It was the same city whose traffic on 285, 75, 85, 78 and 20 could cause even the calmest, namaste person to have an episode filled with rage. The same city where Blackness became equated with success, affluence, higher education, entrepreneurship. The same city where I went to elementary, middle and high school, college and grad school. The same city where I learned how to drive, first fell in love, made and lost a numerous amount of what I thought were forever friends. My spirit was first formed and vitalized and born in this city, in the same city.

As precious as all these stakes of nostalgia bear to mind, it’s the same city where I ravaged with the duality and double consciousness of being both an African and American, where I struggled to discern which side I most identified with, my father’s Nigerian roots or my mother’s Southern roots by way of Alabama.

It’s the same city where all during my years of schooling, I was teased and stigmatized as a dirty, ignorant African, an African booty scratcher. Less than because I had a name which was unpronounceable and commonly misspelled. It’s the same city where I internalized the shame of being different and disassociated, tried to pretend that I wasn’t just American because of my name, the marker, one of the few tangible ties to my culture and heritage followed me everywhere I went.

It’s the same city where I learned from a young age what it encompasses to be a Black southern woman and how in many ways, there was a direct incongruence to what it meant to be an African woman. I was both, I always was both, but how do you reconcile feeling confused when both sides are critical of each other? When both sides sorely need to inject some understanding and a meeting of minds with each other but instead pit themselves against each other at the hands of White supremacy and anti-Blackness, unbeknownst to them?

It’s the same city where I listened to my Dad speak in Igbo to his friends on the phone or at Nigerian parties yet didn’t bother to teach myself or my sisters even one word. It’s the same city where I learned none of my Nigerian history and instead had to take pouring over old, musty encyclopedia during library visits at school to grasp even an inkling of my heritage and even still, only knowing very little because I never traveled there, never seen Nigerian soil with my own eyes.

Atlanta, Georgia, the new South, the home of the Georgia red clay, where Martin Luther King, Jr. grew up and where Major General William Sherman lit a torch to the city during his infamous March to the Sea. The Midnight Train to Georgia, Georgia On My mind. Yes, this city.

The same city standing on the shoulders of years of mounting racism, which you can still see the glimmers of if you look in Cobb and north Fulton counties. Yes, this city. The same city where I chronically felt a gaping hole for knowing the other side of myself, knowing intimately what it meant being African on more than one level. It’s the same city where I wondered what it would feel like to mix and mingle with my Dad’s side of the family, the Nigerian side, but the burden of being separated by the Atlantic Ocean became all too real quite often. It’s the same city where I had to default with being a Southerner became just enough because it was the only culture I had access to through lived experience.

The horn of the South, the new mecca for Blacks, yes, it’s this same city where I watched my father succumb to the pangs and throes of assimilation, telling every person he met his middle English name instead of his proper, first Nigerian name to be accepted. It’s the same city where I pondered the same and eventually did the same, making sure to tell people to pronounce my name the American, incorrect way and linking it to my middle name which was more common, more acceptable. It’s the same city where I thought loading myself up with degrees, accomplishments, credentials, skills and qualifications would make people forget that I was different once they looked at my name. I though i could forget I was African. I thought they could forget, too, because it brought me too much shame, embarrassment and unprocessed pain.

The same city. Atlanta, yes, this same city.

Whilst I stood amid the drizzles, speeding up as each successive thumping of the bass in my chest and jumped up and down, wildly failing my arms to the beat, I stared at the buildings that glittered behind us. Behind us as we stood, a sea of faces, feelings, emotions, adjectives.

I pondered all these complexities. And I left them at the feet of the stage. I left them there. I left them there as a nod to acceptance, a nod to knowing all I had grappled with in the past, fully knowing they wouldn’t be grapples of the future.

I left them there, where they still lay, unbothered, meddling in the grass, becoming foot fodder for all those who may walk by underneath their feet.

I left them there, I let them go, I separated myself and there, in Atlanta, is where my fears, my insecurities, my doubts, my confusion over both sides of me will forever remain.

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spirit in sevilla.

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After a (quick) six-hour flight back from Atlanta to Madrid and a nearly hour trek from the airport back to my flat, I was locked out.

I called my landlord and struggled in a conversation to convey my frustration. I called two other numbers my flatmate had given me in case of instances like these, people who supposedly had extra keys, but neither people could help me. And my flatmate, was still on holiday for Christmas.

Finally two hours later, I managed to get into my flat. I threw my suitcase, carry on bag and purse on the living floor and stared around at the place I had desperately missed those past three weeks.

And cried. I cried for the place I used to call home not feeling the same. I cried for the man I loved who had abandoned me. I cried about it all.

LIttle did I know that feeling, that emotional response, would be the precursor for a month filled with other losses, both big and small, and the grief that often accompanies losing things.

Losing friends wounded me the deepest, I found. Although somewhere in my subconscious I knew my friendships with people back home would change because I was going to change, nothing can quite prepare you for when it happens. These were people who I had seen over the Christmas break, people who noted the distance and how different I had become and instead of acknowledging it and using it as a bridge to deepen our friendship on another level, used it as a beginning point of saying I was being “different” or “brand new” or “haughty.”

But these were also people who sold me before I left on how they would keep in touch and come visit me and be along for the ride for what was sure to be a difficult transition…and left me high and dry. These were people who I didn’t hear from for months after I’ve moved and didn’t understand how hurtful that can be and how you don’t do that to someone you call a friend.

And even in knowing this, I still beat myself up about it. I still blamed myself for basically being a victim of circumstance, of life shifting in different directions, of growing pains that make our heart, souls and spirits ache intensely.

It didn’t stop there though.

The icing on the shit cake the month of January was getting fired from a new full-time teaching job last Wednesday–after only starting the job three weeks prior. The reasons offered for my termination were shifty, shady and unsubstantial. I determined almost immediately when people have determined they don’t like some aspect of you, whether it be your personality, countenance or your appearance, they’ll create false platitudes to get rid of you. This, unfortunately, had been the case with me.

As much as I wanted to unfurl my aggression and my anger, I used the steam to book a trip to Sevilla, the south of Spain, that same evening—only two days before I would leave. I opted to travel by bus since taking a plane or train would be too expensive, given this was a last minute trip.

Within 24 hours, I’d found a central, yet affordable hotel and made a terse list of the sites I wanted to see while there. I mapped out everything on Google Maps to determine whether or not these sights were all within walking distance from everything (and from my hotel). Rather important because I didn’t want to spend money on using taxis as a means to get around.

The downside of bus travel, other than the obvious discomfort, is the length of travel time. I left Madrid early afternoon and didn’t get to Sevilla until 9 p.m. Because of this, I was so exhausted and could only muster up the strength to grab a quick dinner, drink some Cava and fall fast asleep.

The next morning, I mapped out my day to include visits to the Catedral de Sevilla, the Real Alcázar de Sevilla and La Giralda, all a ten-minute walk from my hotel in the bustling, trendy and hip Santa Cruz neighborhood, teeming with cute tapas bars.

streetside

After paying my admission fee, I passed through the main area of the cathedral and almost instantaneously, my breathing slowed.

I peered up at this above me and could only muster “Wow” in a whisper to myself.

cathedral 1

cathedral 2

This quickly became a spiritual epiphany for me, which might be cliche given that I was in a massive church, but hear me out on why this in particular was such a powerful moment.

I stand at almost six feet tall, at 5’10,” so there’s very little I find in my everyday life that is bigger than me. Most of time in my everyday life, I tower over everyone and everything. But being in that massive church where I was so small, a mere speck in the cathedral’s vast being, reminded me of God, his omnipotent nature, how He is so vast and widespread and how none of us mere humans can even begin to encapsulate him into a tiny, neat container that suits us.

This was quite a convoluted realization to stumble upon, being that in the given moment, religion and spirituality are a murky mess in my life. I was raised Christian, converted to Catholicism five years ago, but despite that, stopped self-identifying as a Christian mid-last year because I didn’t think it was an accurate depiction of where I was in terms of my spiritual life.

My spiritual life has been hanging on by a thread since last September. I felt abandoned and forgotten by almost everyone when I moved and I especially felt abandoned and forgotten by God. In my mind, there was no point in spending concentrated time praying to a God or attending mass when I didn’t even feel His presence.

It was so clear I was supposed to move here and living abroad was apart of my destiny, but why had I uprooted my life to navigate such difficulty? It didn’t make sense to me. I stopped praying. I stopped meditating. I was angered whenever people threw unhelpful platitudes about “trusting God” or “just pray about it” when doing both of those things hadn’t yielded me anything but the palpable feeling that I was indeed alone and dealing with everything alone.

But this weekend, I was reminded in spite of all the loss I experienced the first month of the year and how difficult it has been, that God has surrounded me by love. He has strategically allowed me cross paths with people and form genuine connections, because it was needed. It was needed for me to survive and thrive here. That is His gift to me. That is His mercy in action. By token, I know I’m a strong and brave woman, but there are sometimes where I feel like none of that and need the reassurance, encouragement and support of people who believe in me and love me.

There are some amazing new people, people I never expected to be in my corner, who are now by my side. But when you focus so much on the negative, it’s hard to see the joy, the positives, how despite deep suffering there are people rooting for you. People who need your suffering to have purpose and meaning more than you because their hope and faith hinges on it as well.

The love encircling me is what I will try to meditate on and pray about in the many, many moments of weakness and difficulty that will continually arise in this expat journey. Love is what I hope will keep me grounded, instead of defaulting to being negative and feeling defeated and depleted. And love, rather remembering the abundance of it I have in my life and where the source of it derides from, is the greatest gift of all the beautiful city of Sevilla could’ve given me in just two short days.

Give love. It always comes back to you.

spanish building

awake and anti-assimilation.

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I don’t think I’ve ever really known how to blend in, how to not to stick out from the masses, how to not be less unidentifiable from the next person.

My first mark of differing identify, my name, prevented me from ever really being just like many of my other classmates, neighbors, church members or friends. And when I hit my grow spurt at the tail end of my sixth grade school year and shot up as tall as the oak trees that lined my family’s house and shrouded the sleepy house from the strong, unrelenting summer rays in Georgia during the scorching months of June, July and August, there was yet another reminder that I wasn’t made to blend into the crowd.

I became the tall, lanky, socially awkward girl with the weird, African name. And I hated everything about myself, too. I rejected each of those sentiments that made me a constant source of crazy questions, condescending looks and stares and an overall sense of discomfort. I would’ve much rather been average height with a “normal” name like Ashley, Brittany or Nicole.

These are thoughts that I had nearly two decades ago, and I never expected to feel even a tinge of those thoughts, to feel in some childish, silly way wishing I didn’t have to stand out, that I didn’t have to get the more than usual amount of stares.

But isn’t thinking like this, in a way, a bit natural, especially when I walk around in this city that inspires me and takes my breath away in both big and small ways each day and there are no faces that don’t look like mine?

Perhaps, and perhaps the months leading up to moving to Madrid, a period when I slowly began to realize that I was rejecting every notion that told me that it was wrong for me to revel in being both a Black American and African, served a greater purpose than even I considered.

Because the racial affronts I’ve faced here in just my past three weeks have blown my mind, partly because I’ve never had to take into account how Blacks (and Africans) are viewed outside of the States. And to be honest, living in Atlanta can have one thinking one way about how race and race relations are.

In my 27 years in Atlanta, there weren’t many moments where I had to consciously confront the pain, isolation and feeling of being othered that being Black and/or African brings because I was constantly interacting with those who were just like me and looked just like me. I wasn’t one of a few within a sea of a majority.

I’ve had people ask me bluntly to my face if I’m African or Latino, and yes, in that, “What are you?” tone of voice accompanied by a quizzical expression. I’ve been asked hair questions and had unwarranted hands mingling in my hair. I’ve been called “morena” which is supposedly a term of endearment for women of color. I’ve been referred to as “my sister” by other Africans as I pass them by on the street. This makes me smile.

Went I went out on a Friday night two weeks ago, an older Venezuelan man who was drinking solo in the corner a young, hip bar in the city center, approaches me, after noticing me dance as I waited for my food and asked where I was from. After I told him I was from the States, he matter of factly states that I have “skin like Obama.” I nodded and smiled unsure of how else to respond. I shared the story with many people who thought it was hilarious. I just thought the entire interaction was weird.

Last week I was asked if I spoke Nigerian. I responded kindly, with a smile, that Nigerians speak English and ended it there. When I got back to my flat later that day, my feet planted firmly on the floor as I sat on the edge of my unmade twin bed, I sobbed because it was yet another stark reminder how many people here and period just don’t “get it” and how I don’t feel like it’s my role or responsibility to forge that bridge of understanding and lack of ignorance.

Being outrightly othered can wear you down.

I’ve had several conversations with people about racism and race relations in Spain because I needed an outlet to vent my frustration. One person told me that it wasn’t really an issue, and that if I was confronted with being called “negrita,” supposedly the slang word used to refer to Black people that I should shrug it off and not take it personally.

But wait.

Shouldn’t I be able to determine what or what shouldn’t offend me as a woman of color? How is it anyone else’s role outside of people of color what or what shouldn’t offend us in these cases?

And that’s when I knew that it “not being an issue” was code language for covert notions  lurking in the shadows or—If it doesn’t affect you personally in your day-to-day life then of course it’s not a big deal and can surely be ignored.

Especially when already, in terms of other minorities here I’ve seen small shreds of oppression that bother me. For instance, there is a huge Chinese population in Madrid, many of whom are business owners of shops in the barrios throughout the city.  These shops offer everything you could imagine in one place for an affordable price. Many Spaniards refer to their businesses as the, “Chino,” which literally translates to The Chinese in English.

Does anyone else see the glaring issue with this?

But I hear it often: in casual mentions of where people will pick up items they need on the weekend or after a long day at work. And although, once again, I was told that the term was not offensive and was okay to say, I can’t help but put myself in those shoes.

What if there were shops with everything imaginable under one roof called the “Africano” which literally translates to “The African” in English? How is that not offensive? On what universe is it not offensive to refer to a store solely as the nationality that owns it and not what is actually sold there?

I digress.

Before I moved to Spain, I made a silent vow to each day, be proud of who I am, my heritage, where I came from. One way I’ve consciously done this is insisting that people refer to me with the true, proper Nigerian pronunciation of my name, versus the Amercanized pronounciation I have gone with for years, to coax myself out of my previous heritage insecurity. Often I slip up and default back to the latter pronunciation because it’s comfortable and familiar, for others, but not me. In those instances, I feel silly, because people wonder why I say my own name differently. No one knows how much of a personal struggle that has been for me all my life though, so I can’t become too fixated on what others think.

Although being “me” here, being one of the few brown faces, is down right uncomfortable, unnerving and clearly establishes me as different, I won’t tone it down or adjust or code-switch or attempt to blend in solely for the sake of not having to bother with answering the many questions that continue to flood in.

I’d much rather deal with the anguish of being authentic versus the anguish of being a fraud.