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The greener grass of somewhere else

By Donu Kogbara
Posted on Thursday, 3 June 2010 14:46

I grew up in the UK – went to school there, worked as a journalist for most of my adult life and had an essentially British mindset. But my roots were Nigerian and I constantly suffered from what an equally-conflicted Asian immigrant friend described as a “sense of elsewhere”.

Not everyone who resides outside his or her ancestral land has this problem, but quite a few do. What a “sense of elsewhere” boils down to is a niggling, nagging, ever-present feeling that there is another place to which you truly belong and should probably make strenuous efforts to connect with.?

This persistent restlessness eventually overwhelmed me and, in a desperate bid to exorcise it, I moved to Abuja a decade ago. I was in my late 30s, emotionally fragile and terribly short of cash but so tremulously full of high hopes and absolutely determined to be at peace with myself. Little did I know that the “sense of elsewhere” can cut both ways and that I would soon start to feel like a sad cliché again and to be haunted by a gnawing suspicion that my soul and this new Nigeria place were not as compatible as I had imagined.

Within weeks of my arrival, the thrill of having relocated to my ‘real home’ had worn off and I began to miss the UK, badly. My brother is – let’s call a spade a spade – just as neurotic as I am. We once had a marathon discussion about the demons that tormented us and concluded that we, rather than the locations we inhabited, were the causes of the alienation angst that assailed us, whether we were in Europe or Africa.

“Wherever we go, we’ll always be unhappy pretty regularly because we, alas, will always be there,” was my brother’s grim verdict. I couldn’t have agreed more. The painful, inescapable truth about some of us is that we are psychological cripples, to some extent, and will never fit in anywhere comfortably enough.?

Samuel Johnson said that “patriotism was the last refuge of the scoundrel”, but I envy people who possess strong, unapologetic allegiances to one country, people who have an unambiguous and passionate attachment to one tiny corner of the globe, people who don’t walk around thinking, ‘What the hell am I doing here?’ I suppose, in a world that is always going through one major disaster or the other, the average fence-sitting victim of this “sense of elsewhere” syndrome does not deserve much sympathy because many of us are, despite our possibly tedious complaints, basically OK.?

Though still based in Abuja, I yearn for good old England every single day. But I know that if I ever get around to relocating, it won’t be long before I start to feel as if I left half of my heart in Nigeria. The trouble with being saddled with a “sense of elsewhere” is that you wind up not being an authentic citizen anywhere.

This article was first published in the April-May 2010 edition of The Africa Report

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