spirit in scotland.

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I left my heart in DC bleeding, throbbing, still beating some weeks ago when I journeyed to London and then a four-hour train ride north to Edinburgh. I left a part of me back in the District, the place I’ve grudgingly called my somewhat home the past year and a half.

I left you there yet you caught up with me. The ghost of you traveled with me across the Atlantic and never left my side.

This was my first trip in a long time, 16 months to be exact. I know because I’ve been counting the days and lamenting my discontent with having to stay put in one place, having to stay put in one place where I never wanted to be. Watching airplanes whiz by above my head, dancing and mingling with the clouds as I rode the Metro on the way to nowhere. Seeing planes slowly became painful and a steady reminder of something I loved — travel — I could temporarily no longer do.

But it also reminded me of you, of how you were no longer in my life. How everything about you is just a distant memory, an afterthought, a realization I’m more comfortable stuffing down and repressing rather than reliving. Somehow travel became about you, too.

And so as I spent seven days surrounded by complete strangers from all over the States, people who in that short period of time I grew from becoming apprehensive and nervous about opening up to, sharing intimate parts of myself and bonding. I thought about how every person we grow to love, every person we let in our hearts and minds and lives ultimately starts off this way, someone we view with apprehension, unsure of if they’re worthy of a slither of authenticity, of our truest, nearest and dearest selves. I thought about how often the ones we love morph and shift back into strangers, how we go from effortlessly showing our ugliest shadows to not showing anything at all. To not calling, not emailing, not texting, not seeing each other anymore. No embraces, shared laughter, conversations into the wee hours of the morning. No more confessionals.

I thought about how I have nothing tangible left of you anymore. It’s like you were never here. Like you didn’t completely change me or my life. You’re just gone.

My first full night in Edinburgh, as I lounged in The Emmaus House, a bed and breakfast and spiritual haven for many, I shivered although I had on at least five layers of clothes and rocked back and forth underneath the plush duvet on my bed. My entire body ached and my head was the temperature of a thousands suns blazing. I imagined what you would say to me in that moment. If I had been sending you a flurry of Google Hangouts messages, like I used to do whenever I traveled and had a new adventure solo.

Nneka, get some rest. Drink some water. Take some medication. I’ll check on you in the morning. Goodnight. Sleep well.

I feel like shit but I can’t sleep.”

“I’ll talk to you in the morning. Bye Nneka.”

“-_-“

When I went to Lindisfarne two days later and walked along the dock as close as possible to the LIndisfarne Castle and atop the overlook point to look at the glittering, dazzling North Sea below, the wind violently whipping past my face, I thought about how I would’ve detailed how amazing that moment felt to you later on. How I might’ve dubbed it a “top life day” like I did last year in the short 36 hours I spent in Paris. I thought about how you probably would’ve wanted to hear my voice filled with excitement and get all the little nooks and crannies of all the details.

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The food. The glorious food. The fish and chips I had twice. The pints of hard cider. The cheap wine I drank while painting late at night. The delicious food at the bed and breakfast. Chips and curry sauce at midnight.The Nepalese food I had at a restaurant around the corner from the bed and bed and breakfast twice which rivaled any Indian food I’d had in months. The last dinner my last night in Edinburgh with the glass of French rosé and the awestruck views of Edinburgh up on Calton Hill late at night, sharing a sacred moment of singing and standing in silence with the bunch of new (spiritual) friends I’d made.

Lazy lounging. Sitting around the fire laughing and joking while drinking cup after cup of Earl Grey and eating Scottish shortbread. Writing very little and allowing my thoughts to settle. Letting my heart be as loud as it dared to be and silencing my thinking mind for seven days. Being honest with myself. Remembering a decision I made over a year ago to apply to a PhD program in London, not receiving funding to go this fall as planned and having to defer. Remembering when you told me it wasn’t right for me but I didn’t listen. Finally letting go of that dream because it was never quite the one I wanted.

Pentlands. The Pentland Hills. The roaring wind which made my eyes teary so that I could barely see the beautiful views and the cows. I wanted to go back to the bed and breakfast and sit lazily again. Sit on the couch, as I had been doing all week, and staring into space, letting the voice of my heart flood me over and over again until I drowned in beautiful truths and clarity. I stayed a little while, long enough to take a five minute stroll past a golf course, wooded area over a rickety bridge and into a clearing where I shared some of my heart’s deepest stirrings. Declared the clarity. Stated my desire going forward to live an integrated life where everything I do is a reflection of who I am, my heart, my interests, my passions, my zeal, my bravery, my courage. Letting go of resisting my calling as a healer. Feeling ready to fully step into that role and how it may manifest.

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How could I deny that you weren’t here in all these moments? You were here. Your spirit was everywhere. You were with me and perhaps you’ve never left in that sense.

People often talk about losing someone you love being something you heal from. Something you eventually get over and learn to focus on other things. But when your love for someone is so deep, so intricately etched into my heart as you were, I think the only compromise I’ve been able to make is a knowing, a deep knowing, that I’ve found my own ways to cope with my grief over the loss of you, your presence and the huge space and now void you’ve created.

I can’t call or text you anymore because you won’t answer. You stopped answering a long time ago. I can’t email you because my words will be lost in cyberspace never to be received. I don’t use Google Hangouts anymore because there mere thought of logging on and wishing and hopping you’d message me sickens me and makes me feel pathetic to a degree I’m not comfortable with admitting other than in these words.

I came back to DC after a renewing, restful week in Edinburgh and regathered my heart. I found it barely beating in a puddle of blood in the same place I’d left it. In gathering it I had to admit I don’t love you any less than I did before.  And also with gathering it, I had to admit that my love, my love for you, has faintly translated to an all abiding spirit that accompanies me, whispers to me in the stillest moments and wills me to remember that I am enough, I am cherished, I am worthy, just as you frequently told me yourself.

nneka in nyc.

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A heavy heart with almost deadened hope wasn’t the only baggage I boarded a nearly full eight-hour Megabus trip to New York with a month ago. Weeks prior to booking my ticket online and packing for my first trip outside of the DMV area since I’d arrived there two months ago, a friend invited me to a brunch amongst other women writers and bloggers. I heartily agreed and was somewhat excited to attend the function, but I didn’t let on to her or myself just how anxious I was for both the brunch and the prospect of being back in a city that both intimidated and frustrated me.

In 2013, I had visited the city that never sleeps twice, once to visit with a friend originally from Atlanta and a second time to get in quality one-on-one time with one of my sisters and a cousin before I jetted off to Madrid. Each time, I couldn’t reconcile the pantings of insecurity, panic and stress surrounding being in a city which was so fast-paced from what I was used to. And I genuinely saw no beauty in a city littered with trash, animated people and pronounced accents and rats the size of domestic cats either strolling the night streets in the ominous shadows or peeking up from the subway tracks, annoyed the subway riders were acting as spectators to their everyday life.

I remember feeling out of place no matter where I went. I remember feeling overwhelmed with the subway transit. I remember leaving each trip knowing the city was a nice place to visit, for a few days, but not somewhere to spend a prolonged period of time, let alone to live.

Knowing intimately these feelings which were strongly attached to NYC, it explained my hesitation to be fully excited about another trip there, especially since I knew I’d have no supervision or a hand to guide me around the city this time. I’d be alone— completely alone, to fend for myself and to navigate the bustling streets steadily teeming with either the quickened strides of NYCers, their voices which carried with enthusiasm or the yellow cabbies aggressively swerving or stopping to pick up their latest customers.

And there was reverse culture shock, the ongoing process of repatriation, which was also humming in the background. I carried that with me on the bus trip— sitting next to a curly-head younger girl who curled up in a ball, her back touching my thighs and her behind every now and then nudging me in the knee — a deep-seated sense of grief and loss. My grief and loss seemed to grow as the days egged on, instead of lessening or subsiding in intensity. Living in Maryland and exploring DC felt futile, forced, disingenuous and certainly wasn’t this new adventure which was exciting.

I felt like a fraud each time I hopped on the Metro or the bus in Maryland or DC. I tried to pretend I was a fiery ball of enthusiasm and sparkles and optimism and courage. But the truth was I felt dead and empty on the inside. I felt lonely, misunderstood, stuck in-between, desperately trying to make sense of the transition I found myself slugged in the middle of. Job leads continued to run dry. Attempts to freelance continually were dead-ends. My sense of purpose felt continually morose and full of melancholy.

I kept hearing no — from prospective employers, from family members to emphasize and listen to the complex feelings I was harboring and trying to process, from not feeling outside of myself and like my efforts even had any sense of purpose. I kept hearing no from people and sources and circumstances outside of myself, so naturally, I took that to mean the Universe and the Holy Spirit were saying no. Perhaps no meant to re-evaluate, to think deeply upon whether my decision to come back Stateside had been an honest and methodical decision, to contemplate why I was here and what I was supposed to do in the meantime until my life was rooted in sense and order, instead of confusion, doubt and frustration.

No had become my mantra. No had become the answer to every attempt to become social, to meet new people, to make new, lasting connections, to not succumb to what felt like depression but was instead the most intense bout of grief and loss I had felt in my entire life. When had I become that person, that woman, who had started telling herself no, instead of yes, instead of belief, instead of hope, instead of faith?

But NYC, oh New York City. I gathered my baggage, including my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual baggage and dragged it behind me at the conclusion of a seven-hour bus ride. I trotted through throngs of people, danced around hot dog stands alluring my nostrils and found the subway. I loaded my Metro card and made it to my sister’s vacant apartment who had graciously agreed to let me stay in her absence. My body was drowning in a pool of sweat once I made it there and my calve muscles felt like apple butter, but I had made it.

And through the next two days, I continued to make it. I continued to find my way around. I found the suffocating feelings of isolation and loneliness and despair sliding away from my consciousness and skittering away from its residence in my spirit. It was as if coming to the city I had been so afraid of, the city which terrified me, the city which I had thought was nemesis, had invigorated me. It had reminded me of all the growth, the tears, the difficulty, the fucked situations I had endured in the year since my past visit. It reminded me that yes, I was currently suffering and struggling and felt there was only so much I could further endure, but the period I was entrenched in had purpose. My pain, my discomfort had a purpose. All the no’s I had been hearing had a purpose and a place.

And it reminded me while in Madrid I had these same feelings. How this journey, in some ways, had felt harder, impossible and indefensible, but yet it was the same. It was so the same. I had walked this path before and while that path had been trodden with hard answers and truths, the path had throttled me forward, pushed me further into myself, emphasizing how it had always been a journey of one, a journey of self, a journey towards miracles.

My tendency as both an expat and now as a former expat has been to blame those people and situations and circumstances for not understanding, for not being supportive, for not providing the help and love and compassion I needed. My tendency has been to look outside of myself for consolation, for validation, for truth, for reassurance, to escape an unfathomable amount of insecurity. But this journey I’ve been on the past year, this journey was a solo journey, it was a trip for one. The lessons were for me to grasp and learn and internalize and grow from — alone.

I returned from that trip from NYC renewed. My alone time since then has had a different flavor. I’ve started teaching English again for a small language academy in Virginia, four times a week. I’ve made a few new friends. I joined a writing critique group. I got a Washington, DC library card. I spend less and less time feeling sorry for myself and stuck in the throes of sadness. And although I still have many questions, many wonders, many doubts, many fears, although my life still feels like it is in limbo and rife with chaos and uncertainty, I’m finding it easier, day-by-day, moment-by-moment to attempt detaching from any outcomes, to surrendering to the Universe and the Spirit. I’m finding trust and peace and unbridled hope to be more and more to be a logical intention to steadily make.

I know there are miracles left to be unfolded here, right where I am, and I know, now, that these miracles could only be imparted to me in the space where I’m resting in my solitude.

No more fighting the focus on me, my life, my spirit, my spiritual work, my spiritual practice, I’m being called to, here, in this moment, any more.

lovely leaving.

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As the overpowering scent of chlorine invaded my nasal passages, I held my breath and tiptoed through the locker room at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia. My mother had enrolled me in my first, official swimming lessons and although I’d been “swimming” for years, she thought I could use special instruction from those who actually knew what they were doing— lifeguards.

That first summer, I had to be around eight or nine, started a yearly tradition of summers filled with quickly changing in the girls locker room with the slick, sticky and ancient tiled floors, holding my breath so the chlorine and bleach smells didn’t give me a headache, as they always did when I was submerged in the water, panting, blinking furiously and trying not to complain from the burning of my eyes. 

Many, many, many times, although I was being guided by my instructor, I felt out of control, powerless to the depths of the water. Often, even when my instructor explained to myself and my classmates what we’d be doing and demonstrated, it seemed so easy, but when I attempted it was a complete flop. My most vivid memory of such instance is when I was a teenager and almost finished with all the levels of swimming courses. This class was strictly on diving in the deep, twelve feet end. I scrapped my knees on the side of the pool several times, streams of amber trailing behind me as I attempted to touch the pool floor. 

This past weekend when I celebrated my 28th birthday in Palma de Mallorca and spent the bulk of my Saturday sunbathing and frolicking in the Mediterranean Sea at Cala Major beach, I had a deja vu moment. It was one of the few times I ventured out into the water alone and thought I had my footing, but the aggressive waves slapped me back. Once this made my bikini top fly completely off and I was rendered topless. Another time, I was pushed underwater, the salt water burning my pupils and stinging my nose, forcefully shoving frigid, salty water down my throat and causing me to scrape my left knee on a rock on the bottom of the sea. 

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But I fought and laughed through it. Eventually, I was panting and limping back to the shore, collapsed on my towel in the sand and napped for fifteen minutes, completely drained and exhausted. The waves had not certainly not killed or defeated me, but it had zapped me of any energy I had before. 

Which, ironically, is what I can say about my experience living as an expat in Madrid for the past eight months. There have been countless experiences where I was slapped around, forcefully shoved and left drained and depleted as a result of circumstance. Whether it was weathering delicate (and dysfunctional) roommate situations, withstanding teaching jobs which took everything out of me although I showed up everyday determined to make it work, losing friends from back home and realizing newfound friends I’d made here weren’t the best fit, coming into my own as an adult woman and standing on my own two feet. 

And although none of these things have defeated or killed me, they’ve shed so much clarity on life as I know it and the path I want the rest of my life to continue to take, beginning with leaving Madrid, ending this Spanish journey. In nine days.

To be fair, this wasn’t a decision I made with haste or without much deliberation. I knew at the end of February when I was asked whether or not I wanted to renew my current contract with the Spanish Ministry of Education teaching in a high school. I knew, rather, that I wanted to return home, to stop forcing myself to be someone I wasn’t or enjoy a job or country I’m not happy in. 

So, leaving, for me, is two-fold. 

I’ve spoken at great lengths about the racism I’ve been affronted with in Madrid, and it’d be wholly dishonest for me to say it wasn’t a huge factor and not wanting to continue to live here. I’ve expressed at many junctures the frustration of being both a Black American and Black African here. I’ve either received empathy from those who agree with the racist notions which abound in this country or those who are so engrossed in their privilege they don’t even notice it, let alone their participation in the perpetuation of systematic racism and hatred of people of color. 

Privilege is the main thing which irks me about all the micro aggressions and othering I know to be by-product of long-standing ignorance and racism, rather those who just don’t seem to get it, even other people of color, and tell me I should take the respectability route. Those who suggest to me I act as a bridge to cultural understanding and undertake the (unwanted) burden of shattering stereotypes and incorrect, negative cultural and racial assumptions. 

I’ve arrived at such a place of pride about Blackness and my Nigerian heritage, and no, my existence has never and will never be to be an ambassador or tolerant of the ignorance of others. I don’t have to be understanding of White privilege. I don’t have to be understanding of why people think the way they do about Black Americans and Black Africans and give them a pass. I won’t accept being told I’m “overly sensitive” or that I have a “chip on my shoulder” or I should “stop reading into every little thing.” I won’t be told just because I look different and have a different name to expect to be treated differently because of the curiosity of others and to be open to it. And I won’t. I simply won’t. 

 I’m not here to assuage guilt, make myself understood or to constantly explain myself, and I’d much rather not live in a country which I feel is committed to misunderstanding me and people like me.

On the flip side of the coin, my vocation is not to teach. This I know undoubtedly after trying (and failing) to transition to what I Initially thought would be a complete career change before moving. I’ve taught adults, I’ve taught children, I’ve taught really young children and I’ve taught teenagers in my short TEFL teaching stint. The lessons and insights I’ve gained about myself are truly endless, but one thing I know overall is writing is not something I can run away from. To run away from my vocation, my calling, my purpose is akin to running away from myself.

And yes, I can admit my move to Madrid was pre-meditated as an escape, a flee, running away as fast as I could. I ran away from a lot: the familiarity (as well as predictability and boringness) of home I had grown tired of, family issues, constant disappointment with friends, a pathetic (and nonexistent) love life, impending doom about the direction (and shape) my writing career was taking, exhaustion from being broke and my talents and passions not being valued and appreciated. 

I thought the magic solution would be to move thousands of miles away to start over from scratch. Of course I had goals. I wanted to finally become fluent in Spanish and relish in the Spanish culture and…la la la la la la. Instead, what I have found is that the things I ran from never disappeared but morphed into a new form. Because you can’t run away from yourself or your problems or your issues. You have to dig deep and conquer them, conquer your demons. 

After going through endless changes with teaching: being fired, dropping classes which weren’t a good fit for me, payment not being on time or the proper amount or not receiving it at all, dealing with shitty language academies who just deemed me yet another native English speaker and treated me with no decency or respect for my time and what I had to offer. 

I found myself after finally getting a coveted position with the Spanish Ministry of Education in a high school, where I was finally getting paid a steady, livable amount and working 16 hours a week in a rather lax working environment, that I was still not happy. 

My coworkers were everything I’d wanted in colleagues: genuine, kindhearted people. They respected me as native English speaker and treated me as such. They valued my knowledge and wisdom about the many idiosyncrasies of the spoken (and written) English language. There was an open door policy where I could express concerns or issues I had with certain classes or students. 

And yet…there was a gaping hole. A longing for more. A decided feeling there had to be more for me to look forward to, to be excited about. 

After a few weeks, mornings became a new routine of dread. I’d sleep later and later to avoid getting up and slugging through teaching classes I didn’t want to teach. Several times the teachers would forget to send the groups of students to me in the library where I held my English classes, and I’d be holed up in a room for hours at a time, with only the birds outside the windows bordering the room and the echo of my own voice to talk to. At the end of each day, I felt drained and dragged myself back to my flat, ate lunch and passed out for siesta. Rinse and repeat for the four days a week I worked. I was living for the weekend…again. This was exactly the kind of pattern and mentality I had wanted to escape in my old life. 

At the end of February when I was asked to renew, I knew the answer would be no, but yet I hesitated. How could I give up this Spanish journey so quickly? I’d told so many people I’d probably be here for years. What would people think if I packed up just shy of a year? They’d think I was failure. That I was rejoining the ranks of everyone else, caught up in the working grind. That’d I’d somehow been wrong about choosing to be an expat in the first place. 

But then I just said no. A still, sure, strong, no. I said no, and felt for the first time a months, a peace I had been longing for. I knew I could put an end to all the fighting, forcing myself to fit the mold of an English teacher when I knew my heart had never been in it, that I’d pursued it for the wrong reasons. And that all this time, the only thing which had given my transformation, this journey, any meaning in the first place were my words. 

My writing. 

I needed to tap into another part of me I hadn’t known existed to write honestly, vividly, vulnerably. Moving thousands of miles away had finally given me the courage to write from the heart.

In nine days, my Spanish journey may be ending, right at the nine-month mark, but this new direction is spiraling out into something uncharted, uncertain, unknown, yet incredibly beautiful. I will be moving to Washington, D.C., a city I fell in love with last summer weeks before I moved to Madrid. I knew it’d be on my short list of places to live in at some point after spending time there and things have worked out amazingly for me to live there post-Madrid. 

I am leaving. But it’s not the messy, storming out because I’m angry, leaving. It’s the walking towards hope, wonder and newer horizons. It’s clean slates. It’s creating an optimum life fit just for me. 

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more in milan.

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Sweaty armpits, visibly dry skin on my legs and calves, a flushed face full of tears and hands shaking with rage.

I was willing myself to walk, each painstaking step, as the Castello Sforzesco in Milan, came into view on my left side. And as much as I wanted to marvel and admire such a beautiful structure, my view of the castle was obstructed with tears which fluttered freely from my eyes and my experience of taking it all in was ruined with the rage I couldn’t shake.

“Please take me to get my things,” I asked, calmly, for probably the tenth time in the past few minutes. When my Couchsurfing host ignored my plea and carelessly continued to rattle off random information about the castle’s history, my rage and panic and hysteria only festered and grew into something big. A big ball, a ball of fury, something which I knew could soon unravel and mount into something messy, frightful, dangerous and unsafe.

“Please…take…me…to…get…my…things,” I repeated this time, with my teeth clenched. When he continued to talk, ignoring my frustration, I flung myself into full conniption mode.

“I’M GOING TO CALL THE POLICE! TAKE ME TO GET MY THINGS! I DON’T WANT TO GO INTO THE CASTLE!”

At this point, onlookers were staring, wondering who this crazed American girl, screaming in English, was. Why she was disturbing the otherwise tranquil mood surrounding the castle. Why I was disturbing the peace with my antics.

But none of them knew what I had endured for the past five hours. I had arrived at Malpensa airport after a 6:25 a.m. flight. I had slept for a total of an hour and half the night before, because I had to get up and take two buses to get to the airport. I had trekked to the city center on another bus once I was in Milan, a bus ride which took 1 hour and 15 minutes, because of traffic, instead of the 50 minutes I was told. I’d waited for two hours soaking up free Wi-Fi while stuffing my face with pizza margherita, a prosciutto, mozzarella and arugula sandwich on focaccia and apple pie while I sipped my first authentic cappuccino.

I was exhausted. And for some deluded reason, I assumed once I’d arrived in Milan and was with my Couchsurfing host, they’d understand that and would let me shower and nap in peace, then take me out for aperitivo in the late evening.

But once I arrived to my couch surfing host’s house, which smelled of musk, dingy, week-old socks, filth and shisha, I knew I’d picked the wrong adventure for my first trip to Italy. Minutes after dropping my bag, I was told to walk with him to a nearby McDonald’s where we picked up four other people from Poland. They came back to the flat with us and also dropped off their things.

We were all rushed to be ready to go, impatiently so. And once we were out the door, the host began talking his shoddy English, which mostly sounded like incoherent mumbling. Most of the time while he talked, I just nodded and smiled. I had no clue what he was saying nor did I care.

We went to the famed Fashion District, then to Plazza Duomo to see the cathedral so massive and beautiful it didn’t look real. We hurriedly sped through these places and countless others, while the host corralled us through at his speed, ignoring we might want to stop and look a little longer, take photos, grab a drink or a snack. Whenever I suggested stopping to do anything off his pre-set itinerary, he vetoed it with a suggestion of his own. It felt like I was on a high school field trip with my chaperone instead of on a weekend jaunt to one of the cities I was crossing off my bucket list.

About four hours in, after walking non-stop at the pace of someone else, not being able to voice my opinions, not being able to leisurely take everything in, I gambled and started searching for somewhere to stay for the weekend on AirBnB. And then the other four people ditched me to do their own thing while leaving me with my lackluster host, and I ended up screaming at him in public because I was delirious, exhausted, hysterical and annoyed with both myself and him for testing and pushing my own limits.

And limits, boundaries, expecting more, expecting less, all these concepts are things I suppose I’ve been subconsciously learning about all my life, although within the past year as I’ve started to come into my own and disassociate from my identity which was constructed for me (versus me constructing it myself), it’s become especially prominent and pressing.

I knew before even confirming my first (and last) Couchsurfing experience it wasn’t really something I wanted to do, but after desperately searching for someone to stay within my budget and finding everywhere feasible booked, I succeeded to my desperation and chose the Free.99 route. It cost me my comfort, the freedom of exploring a new city on my own, doing things at my own pace, steering away from a set plan and instead roaming and being open to what pops up, what comes up, what might seem appealing and rolling with it.

Just as damaging as pushing the limits, your boundaries, the level of comfort you dare not press past, can be, I believe there is delicate balance between what you may think are really your boundaries and personal comfort (and guarding these while listening to your intuition) and what is instead masquerading as fear, fear of the unknown.

I’ve found, repeatedly whenever I thought clinging to my familiarities was the safer or the more “rational” choice, I’ve been astounded by the Universe’s response when I acted in courage whilst trembling in fear. In these cases, choosing the safe option was just an illusion. I was just scared. Scared to fail. Scared to have to deal with the repercussions, the fallback, what people would say when and if I did fail. How I would feel about myself having attempted and not succeeded.

Before I moved abroad, I battled many, many, many doubts and even after I moved, I’ve steadily battled whether or not packing up and relocating my life was a good decision. Each time I got deep in that rabbit hole, the Universe showed me a reminder. Or something amazing happens to alter my perspective, something incredibly beautiful, something beyond what I could have ever imagined. And in those moments, I wonder why I have been rewarded with such a beautiful life.

I had a moment like this as I looked down from my hotel room in Milan late at night, after the wretched couchsurfing experience earlier that day. The streets were dark and the only light bouncing down on the streets below were from antiquated lamps lining every block. There was a soft whisper of a car or two whizzing by, but for the most part it was really quiet. And still. I had to remind myself I was in Italy. How years ago being there, in that moment, was only a mere thought, and how miraculously it had become reality, my reality.

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The Duomo, Milan’s renowned cathedral.

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The Galleria, located in close proximity to the Duomo, adjacent to Plazza Duomo.

Only it wasn’t a miracle. And it should’ve never been something deemed impossible or unreachable. Each of us, it is my belief, are destined to walk a certain path in our lives, before who we are and who we become is even a thought. We might grow up in an environment where we’re not encouraged to dream, to hope, to reach for something larger than ourselves. We internalize this thought process and it follows us into adulthood.

But sometimes, quite often, the Universe has a way of catching up to us, of redirecting us back on track for our life journey. That’s what has happened for me anyway, since I began this expat journey. When I first received my passport five years ago, the flame was ignited for me to be a citizen of the world, but somewhere within me, I know that flame was just waiting for the optimum moment to be set ablaze. I was never meant to stay put in one place forever. I was meant to see the world, moments at a time, and share my insights, my lessons, my struggles, my suffering, my enlightenment as I did, while growing and helping others to grow, too.

This life I am living was meant for me. And your life that you are living, beyond the throes of the 9-to-5 hustle, beyond just living to pay your bills, beyond doing everything right to make everyone but you happy, is yours. It is yours and you only get one. So live it. Without restraint. Without regrets. Without looking back.

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liberation in london.

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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.

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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? 

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home and hearts.

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My hair fluttered in the wind behind as I walked, the leather jacket I’d purchased at Zara on a street minutes away from my flat in Madrid briskly brushing past my hips and tailing my body. I rolled my suitcase with my right hand and clung to my black carry-on bag as I exited the Marta train station, where my mother waited for me in the family car–the car I  had driven many a time when my car was in the shop or decided it was having an off day. 

I had arrived home, in Atlanta, for an almost three-week stay. Coming home had been a loaded gun and for the most part, I was exuberant and giddy with enthusiasm. The last week before I left Madrid had been one filled with bouts of sorrow and the resolve I would most likely not return to Spain after the Christmas break. In fact, somewhere deep in my mind, I fathomed I would only return, as my roundtrip ticket I had purchased months before was non-refundable, to gather my belongings and shed my woeful attempt to living abroad and starting a life full of travel and adventure. 

Maybe I had not been fit to make it here, I thought over and over again before boarding that 10-hour flight to Atlanta. I looked around at the sights, the long Metro ride to the airport, the nearly two-mile trek to the gate to board my flight and imagined how life would be if I just gave up, if I just said goodbye to a long held dream of mine. 

And so I pondered these possibilities, how giving up must feel and knew it had to be like this, as I rode home and half-way listened to my mother gab about the goings on in the neighborhood, my mind elsewhere. Giving up sometimes doesn’t follow a lack of attempt, but instead a good fight which withers into situations, people and leaps that just don’t work. What I didn’t have the answer to is just how life would feel back in my hometown after having such an intense three-months away from the comfort and sameness which had characterized my entire existence. 

But twenty minutes later, after almost running into the gray stucco home I had grown up in, the house where life as an adult strangely mirrored my growth and development as a child, I stared into the room previously known as mine, my mouth agape. My mother thought my speechlessness equated to my gratitude for what was a complete remodel of my room, but it was the finality of how much had changed, how life had continued to zoom ahead without my presence there felt real, tangible. And it was horrifying. And isolating. And strange. 

Over the next few days, I visited with friends, people who I felt like I used to know but instead only felt an eerie amount of distance from. They talked to me about their jobs, complained about gas prices and the latest drama in Atlanta. They laughed and smiled at me, asked me questions here and there about Madrid, but only, it felt different. I felt like I was just a visiting friend, someone who didn’t belong and an outsider to even the people I knew the most. 

These sights were familiar. The smells were familiar. The people, the faces were familiar. 

But the only difference was I wasn’t the same. Only three months had passed since I was no longer in the United States living my day-to-day, drab, monotonous, predictable and lackluster life. In that short time, I had shifted. I had become more conscious. I had become more in-tune with my spirit, my soul, my emotions, my conscience, what made my inner-being smile. 

My life was no longer about grasping to make ends meet between rising gas prices, the bills that never seemed to end and overpriced nights out in the city, but instead about rushing to the Metro to catch the train before I had to wait another three or four minutes. Or rushing to the bank to deposit my money before they stopped accepting deposits at 2:30. Or shopping for one at the grocery store and separating meals into tupperware containers so I didn’t have to cook during the jam-packed weeks. Or staying up (and out) too late on the weekends and sleeping until three or four in the afternoon, the taste of alcohol lingering on my tongue when I awoke and memories of a fun night out reverberating in my brain along with the slight throb of my head from a hangover. Or lesson planning for all my classes, laughing at my students when they laughed at my shoddy Spanish. 

Life had become about me, about marching to the beat of my drum and doing what felt best, in every moment. Authenticity. My life had authenticity, something I no longer felt the need to prove to anyone, even myself. And reflection. Slowing down. Basking in the moments of silence. Pausing to have a cafe con leche in that extra five minutes versus being glued to status updates on Facebook, new videos or pictures on Instagram or my Twitter timeline during my lunch break. 

In that time, I remembered why I began writing in the first place, why it had become so important to me and I knew leaving behind Journalism was never the answer. The answer was pursuing writing that always meant something. To be true to myself and to remember my words had a higher purpose than scoring me validation, admiration. 

So, I knew, almost instantly that leaving Madrid behind wasn’t the answer. There was still so much to uncover about myself left. Because home isn’t necessarily a geographic location. Home can be within the warm embrace of a person. Home can be a temporary setting away from the norm. Home can be anywhere your mind feels free, where you feel you can best breathe, whether it be a spare closet you escape to in stolen moments or the high rise condo overlooking a metropolis.  

So here I remain, here I will be, here I will live until I know, without a doubt, what makes sense for me, for Nneka and no one else. 

I am home. 

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Sunrise in Conde Casal from my morning commute to work.