October 26th, 2013 - Exactly 11 years since we stepped foot in JFK airport and missed our connecting flight from Laguardia to Hartsfield-Jackson, because we were randomly selected to be searched. Exhausted and hungry from the journey, it was the first time anyone had ever asked me if i spoke English. I had just responded to her question in English, so it took me by surprise when in response to my response, I got asked if i spoke English. This was to be the first of many times my English speaking ability was questioned. I had always been the weird child who got on my mother's case for not teaching us any native language. This is a woman who is fluent in Igbo, Hausa, Etsako, Ishan and can understand Bini. Coming to America speaking the only language i knew and barely being understood made me even angrier at my parents. There were many fights about this, until I decided to call a truce over the issue and stop crying over spilled milk. I resolved to just carry on with my heavily accented Nigerian English. I wasn't always nonchalant about it and had a brief period where i refused to talk to strangers (even at work). I actually had someone ask me, if i couldn't speak because i just wouldn't respond to his questions. They were stupid irrelevant questions IIRC.
Anyway, that was then. I got slowly got used to the huhs?! whenever i spoke, struggled to pronounce 13 and 30, learned to say learned instead of learnt and replaced my British spelling with American spelling, and my British words for American words - boot was now trunk, take-away became to-go, trainers became sneakers and lorry became truck; said underwear instead of pant, while trouser became pants, and resigned myself to the fact that shimi and underwear no longer meant the same thing. For the first two years i was in this country, i HATED it with every fiber of my being. My life was comfortable in Nigeria. I had days of being irritated by the American accents i heard around me, very high pitched, nasal, and just plain annoying. First day of class and people sharing their private lives with you like you are their long lost friend. That baffled me because as we all know, Nigerians are very private people because they all think someone is out to get them and put san san in their garri. I hated it. I hated the overfamilarity of Southerners and having to smile at everyone i passed. I struggled with looking people in the eye because while Nigerians take it as a sign of disrespect if you look older people in the eye, Americans felt you were shady if you didn't make eye contact. I couldn't get used to professors who insisted you call them by their first names. I had to get rid of my discomfort at not having to "greet" every older person that came my way, regardless of whether i knew them or not. Years of good home training going down the drain. I guess a smile and a hi would suffice.
I started learning how to drive in SS1 with a stick shift but never finished that process. Got here and a couple of months later every morning for 10-15 mins, my dad would teach my sister and I how to drive. After about a week or so, he figured we were ready. Well, that was very debatable as i failed the driving test 3 times and "didn't pass by much" on the fourth try. My sister passed on the second try, so that got my dad off the hook as he didn't have to drive us around anymore. I would like to think we were a danger on the road that first month, but we didn't get in any accidents, so there must be a God. A few years later, i was the one doing the teaching and i taught my brother how to drive. Fun times! We still have good laughs about those very memorable days with me banging on the passenger side door while fearing for my life.
I don't know exactly when things changed, when i stopped hating America, maybe it was after i resigned myself to the fact that i was not going back to Nigeria and that this was now my life, but my unhappiness at being here went away. I woke up one morning and there was light. Will and Grace was my saving grace those first two years. It was the only thing i looked forward to all day in school. I knew no matter how bad my day was, whenever i got home i would watch Will and Grace and laugh. That show saved my life. I will always love Jack McFarland. Always. I also don't remember when people stopped saying huh?! when i spoke or asked where i was from as soon as i uttered a word, but it stopped. Maybe 3, 4 or 5 years after i had being here? I really don't remember. I never tried to change my accent. I was too lazy to make the effort it takes to do that. I just spoke. As long as i was understood, i was perfectly fine. To this day, i think i still sound very Nigerian, although some people would like to argue with me on that and it baffles me because i hear myself. It leaves me to wonder what they are hearing. I get the "you have a slight accent or i detect an accent" comment from time to time. I like to think these people haven't being around Nigerians much because there is nothing slight about my accent. Maybe I have become one of those people who have an accent of indeterminate origin to the untrained ear
2004 -2006 were years my heart literally ached from missing Naija but for one reason or another, i never got to go. It's 2013 and i still haven't been back but i stopped missing it a long time ago. As time passed, home stopped being Benin-City and became Atlanta, that was a change that snuck up on me. But my identity as a Nigerian has never wavered. I struggled to keep up with the new Pidgin English slangs. Being a blogger and reading Nigerian blogs helped. I still remember asking people what "washing" meant. Till today, i hear a new slang, if i don't understand it from the context, I will definitely ask. I wondered what alanta was for a long time, and was laughed out of house and home when i pronounced it Atlanta. I still think my pidgin is on point, although i was recently teased on my "weak" pidgin. Seriously?! I was accused of not using the right accent to speak it. I personally don't agree. I am an Edo chic, we and waffi people own pidgin. It doesn't matter how long i have been out of Nigeria, my pidgin will always be on point. Leave that matter.
11 years later - It doesn't feel that long. My sister tagged me on instagram this morning on a picture that said, living the American dream, then she said happy anniversary. I don't think i would have remembered otherwise. My brain is full with a lot of things. I don't know about living the American dream, but i am living a dream, alright. Although this dream has been more like a nightmare than anything else. Hell on earth on hot wheels. Medical School. This dream that i single mindedly pursured from day 1 of entering this country. When my dad suggested Nursing, i don't think i paid him any attention for even a second. I wanted to be a doctor. So i sacrificed having a social life to study and make those A's. My life was Class-Library-Work, a triangle i never deviated from. I volunteered, did research, joined organizations, ran for positions, and did everything i could to make myself competitive for med school. I had a goal i was working towards and it helped me deal with the crap i encountered along the way. I had a goal, i was blind to everything else. Even when i had my first encounter with a back stabbing snake friend from hell, i dusted myself off, tuned everyone out and kept my eyes on the prize. I made it in and it's been nothing like i expected. It's been a hellish experience that has brought me to my knees and laid me flat on my face. Med school has been hell on earth for me and if i had to do it over, i wouldn't do this again. I have no clue what i would rather do, but this is not an experience I should have gone through. My mind agrees with me.
11 years of being in God's own country and i feel like i am in mourning. For what, i am not exactly sure. I don't regret coming here. I don't think my independent spirit and liberal views on certain issues would have done very well in Nigeria. I don't think i would have felt I had a choice not to get married, seeing how your worth as a woman is still defined by your marital status in Nigeria. Maybe i am mourning all these years because they have been spent in the pursuit of medicine and I haven't lived and i am starting to realize that maybe it isn't worth the sacrifice after all. Maybe.
*I have the worst headache known to mankind and i sat here and typed this novella of a blog post. I deserve a medal. If you actually read it to the end, you deserve a medal too.
*Yes! I got here 3 days to my birthday, you can imagine how that birthday sucked! Not a single friend. I had to go get immunization shots too.
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