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  • Desola Olaleye

There’s No Place Like Home

Between the Two My Heart is Balanced, 1991 © Lubaina Himid

My latest essay has been published in The Republic. In this essay I describe my experience of emigrating from Nigeria to the UK at the age of 10 and how navigating two cultures led to my hybrid identity. In the early years of my life in the UK, I began to understand the meaning of taking responsibility for one's life. This responsibility included determining how to manage pain in my life, the pain from losing what I defined as 'home' and from striving for belonging. Accepting my inability to firmly take root in one environment, following my emigration from Lagos to London, has made me feel at peace with my hybrid and incomplete identity.

Here’s an excerpt from my essay:

I do not recall crafting and nurturing dreams of my own while living in Lagos; I simply had fleeting desires. The year we left Nigeria, I would turn ten and finally experience the customary family celebration to mark one’s first decade and usher in the next phase of life—‘you’re a big girl now’. Alas, the tradition escaped me, and in the place of a grand tenth birthday party, I was uprooted and left to pick up the pieces of adjusting to my life as an unwitting emigrant. Amid the severe disruption and sadness, I learnt an important lesson. Becoming an emigrant at ten years old is more life-changing than a lavish Lagos party held to mark the milestone.
When I arrived in the UK, I had just completed Primary 5 (or Year 5 in the UK). To ensure I could complete my final year of primary education, my parents worked tirelessly to enrol me into a good school in north London. I recall an occasion where my mother was told by a White headteacher that they could not admit me as a student because they already had ‘a tall Black girl’ in their school. In Nigeria, being one of the tallest girls in my class came with privileges such as being chosen by the teacher to wipe the blackboard, but in the UK, I was regarded with fear.

Please read the rest here.

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