Home Away from Home with Abi Adeboyejo
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For some readers who live in Nigeria, the question of where your home is can be easily answered. If you are fortunate to be living in the town you were born, you have no emotional dilemma to deal with. Chances are, your heart is firmly rooted in your home.
Where then is ‘home’ for the Nigerian who finds himself living in a foreign country? A sense of adventure, opportunities and the search for the proverbial ‘golden fleece’ has led many of us to venture out of our places of birth to seek our fortunes all over the world. Our motives are sometimes honourable, sometimes fuelled by desperation and other times by pure greed. Is home the foreign country we find ourselves or is it good old Nigeria?
I know of a Nigerian family of six who all live in a one-bedroom flat. There are more Nigerian families living like this than anyone wants to acknowledge but that is a story to be told in another article. Both husband and wife work very long hours and earn average salaries. Incredibly, they are content to live in terribly cramped and somewhat unsanitary conditions, raising three sons and a daughter in their living room. They’ve lived like this since the first child was born over 14 years ago. The children have grown used to living in deprivation in a land of plenty.
The children wear really worn (and obviously pre-used) school uniform and wrong school shoes. Their mother buys the cheapest school tights she can find for their daughter, without regard to the fact that they may be orange, purple or red whereas the school requires black or grey school tights. The children never go on educational school trips because their parents never pay the costs for the trips. Their school lunch money is never paid on time and is only paid after the head teacher calls their mum. As if the kids do not face enough awkwardness from being part of a very small group of black children in their school, they have to contend with turning up to school every day looking like a black masquerade. Imagine how uncomfortable it is for the 12-year-old daughter to be undergoing the changes and stages of puberty in the full view of her two younger brothers and one older brother. There’s no privacy in their living room-cum-bedroom-cum-dining room-cum-study.
If this family was truly poor, one would empathise with them and their troubles. The irony of the whole situation is that the kids’ parents have been sending money to Nigeria all these years to have houses built for them. The first house (located in their village) was completed six years ago and is now inhabited by reptiles, grass and unnamed creatures, spiritual and temporal. The second one is in a city, a two-storey block of 20 single rooms, completed last year and let out to tenants at a healthy profit.
While I agree that our ties with our motherland should not be broken or ignored, I struggle to see the rationale behind living in almost abject poverty in Europe to show that you still love Nigeria. Surely, the heart of this family should be the children. Therefore, by providing the children with a decent safe haven their parents will be providing them with a home. If a person fails to provide the basic amenities for his family, not because he cannot afford to do so, but because he feels his home is another country, then methinks his priorities are grossly misplaced.
I applaud anyone who is able to make investments, whether abroad or in their native countries. I also think it is possible for people to accept that their home is where their heart is, and in the case of this family it should be in London, England, United Kingdom. I see no harm in that. It doesn’t mean they are sell-outs, it doesn’t mean they don’t love Nigeria or their relatives and other friends. It doesn’t change the way they feel about their motherland. ‘Home’ must mean two separate things to Nigerians living abroad if we are to achieve any sort of decent lives. I believe ‘home’ must mean our roots in one sense and also mean our safe haven in another sense. We can have both, and not one at the expense of the other.
We’ve all got one life to live and we owe ourselves and our children the opportunity to live good and comfortable lives. After all, what is the point of relocating abroad if you refuse to live in comfort but store up all your wealth thousands of miles away for nobody to enjoy?