April 2006, Nigeria: The Embassy, Visas, and Pressure

so we spent 2 full days at the american embassy in nigeria trying to get an answer about the next step my dad and i should take in order for him to be able to visit me and our family in the US. my dad was deported from here before i was born. he has since tried to apply for a US visa. he has always been denied because they say there is insufficient evidence that he will return to nigeria after his stay here, even though he has a wife and four children there. my dad thought that my status as an american citizen would impact the amount of respect and helpĀ he could get at the embassy. wishful thinking.

one day we waited in a line for an hour, only to be told that we’d have to come back tomorrow and wait in a different line. the next day we went and told that we were an hour early for the line to even start and would have to wait. once that line formed we waited an hour for some decent guesswork advice, but then were told to go take a seat inside to speak with an official. we waited 3 more hours inside and when we finally talked to the “official” he told us that he wasn’t sure and to just go to the website that is posted on the wall outside the building where we waited for the first guesswork answer. it’s real fucked up there and it doesn’t make any sense. a lot of government, politics, social structure just does not seem logic based. probably because they have just not been stable long term in quite some time.

“it was kind of sad to be at the us embassy with my dad. what a place of heartbreak. how many bad memories there? seeing the runaround and silly rules, it was so dumb. but i guess i needed to experience it firsthand to see what it took to make him give up. it really was ridiculous, i could definitely see how it could break your spirit…

“i really, really enjoy these days going around just dad and i. it started to frustrate me earlier knowing how much time we were spending at the embassy. i had to talk myself down from that feeling of being used. it’s weird how that still comes up when all i want in the world is for my dad to be able to come now.”

the “being used” thing is really tough for me, and i’m still dealing with it quite a bit today. basically most people who live in nigeria would rather live anywhere else than in nigeria, and they have a very idealistic, distorted view of the richer countries like the US and UK. not everyone, but it’s prevelant. and like i’ve been trying to say, it’s very hard to get out of nigeria. my dad doesn’t ever want to live here in the US again, just the opportunity to visit. but a couple of my brothers and mommy were very interested and almost pushy to get me to help them come over. and that’s so tough for me. not only can i not financially support someone else at this time (nor do i know if that’s what they’re even really asking me), the pain is still fresh that yeah, i lived in america and you think it’s much more wonderful than it is, but you had dad. and now i feel a lot of pressure to extend an invitation to them to come visit or stay here. everything about that makes me want to run away.


April 2006, Nigeria: Tragedy, Terror, and Panic

it’s at this point that i have to let it all hang out. this is where you’ll start to see how my brain works. this is where it comes down to the core parts of my being that i’m scared to show. but these experiences were integral to my trip – it’s impossible to tell about the trip without them.

maybe it’s too much starting over (sweet lord how i miss that show!!), maybe it’s a hidden wanting to believe in some sort of mysticism or something, but i’m working on this theory that my life began out of an incredibly sad and tragic situation and i feel like i somehow, in my youngest years, internalized that and took it on as my worldview. i’m constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop, and that stops me sometimes from participating in life.

my dad saved all of the letters that my mom ever wrote to him, and let me tell you, it was a stack about three or four inches thick. he first brought them out just to look for some documents about the last time he applied for a visa. the first time i saw them, i only read a couple of my grandmother’s cards and saw my birth telegram and some other things. here’s what i wrote that day:

“i really liked today and i feel like i’m learning to cope with the heat a little better. that and the relational fatigue. it’s so tough for me to pay attention and stay engaged with people and not want to just zone out on the television or run away. but today was better. i’m learning not to give so much power to the panicked terror that comes when things aren’t going as i want them to go.

“the terror. i feel like i’m at the point with it that ralee talked about where it was hidden away in a box and now i’ve taken it out, put it on the table, and look at it sideways. i didn’t realize how tied i was to it and how the way i presented it made it ok for people to let me have it.”

that part sounds really abstract, even to me rereading it, so feel free to be confused…

“but i don’t want to live that way forever. but some of it i realized could very well be based in my childhood. i’ll have to look once again at trust-vs-mistrust and that stuff. reading over grama’s letters today made me realize just what a sad time it was, how tragic, how devastating for everyone. it’s awful. and from those young memories i have with my mom’s terror and tragedy, it’s no wonder i took it on and made it my worldview.

“to think… there was a plan at one time for my mom and i to move to nigeria… and that my mom was taking those art classes not only for herself, but to help dad with his business. all of that is just so heartbreaking. and i know that God doesn’t make mistakes, but that sure was a lot of shit that got dumped in my lap. i feel like the brunt, the biggest loser, in all of this and it really sucks. but then what about mom? she got her life flushed down the toilet, too. it really is so tragic. and that’s what i came out of…”

ok, i need to do a sidebar and say this: it’s really hard to edit and organize a journal. when i write, it’s very stream-of-consciousness. so i have to figure out what to omit, what to include. what goes in a different conversation. i worry a lot about being understood, yet i’m so guarded. so i don’t know what kind of background information to give. it’s tough. but i’ll say this: i’ve been dealing with depression over the past year. i don’t believe it’s chemical, i believe that my past is getting in my way and screaming to be re-examined (i.e. – why do i look at life as tragic?). it has caused a lot of tension with my mom because i have ill feelings toward her from childhood that i need to figure out. and it was a huge factor – if not the sole factor – in making this trip. i knew i’d never move on with my life if i didn’t get to see my dad and nigeria.

“i need to give myself a break. and i need to give my mom a break, too. i guess she told bari (my uncle) that she was scared that i was going to meet my dad and like him better than her. on the one hand, way to make it about yourself again, mom. on the other hand, she has a point. he and i get along great and i like him a lot. i don’t like her so much sometimes. but i love her. and i’m starting to allow myself some true compassion for her…

“i’ve also been thinking about letting go of the past. another cliche making supersense now. it’s linked to getting to the depths of the ‘tragedy’ and seeing all the many ways i only look for proof of rejection/hate/making fun of me/ thinking i’m stupid/ugly/unlovable. that’s me reacting to how i felt when i was little. i know i’m worth loving and i’m making efforts to rebuild my self esteem and confidence and peace. so i have to find new ways to react to those thoughts. and in doing that i’ll slowly let go of the past.”

well, i wanted to just copy what i wrote about reading my mom’s letters but in looking through it, those are words i want to keep just for me. but the jist is that i got to sit down next to my dad and read all of the letters my mom wrote to him. i got to see her optimism (“if we just keep on trying and don’t give up, things will work out for us”), her unrestrained love for my dad, her vulnerability. i read so many of those letters… i started to skip some because they were all alike from certain time periods. gradually i started looking for the dates. i wanted to find the ones toward the end, i was searching for something. and i found it. i found the letter where she broke. i found the letter where she lost hope and became more monotone and hopeless, accepting reality, and telling my dad that if it wasn’t going to work out that she wanted to be granted a divorce so she could look for someone who wanted to be my father. tragedy.

in reading those letters i knew i was looking for a specific letter, but i was really looking for a way to forgive my mother for the person she became. and in forgiving her, i had to look at myself. and forgive myself for reacting to her the way i did. something in her made me want to shut down and self-protect and be invisible. to only worry about whether she was happy, pleasing her, doing anything so i didn’t have to deal with any anger or frustration. terror and panic. but my mom was not a beast. she’s just a woman who took a risk and got her heart broken and world shattered and had to keep going.

it was that night that i had to face the fact that i was wrong about a lot of things. it’s what i was talking about that one time when i wrote from nigeria that my foundation was shaken.

April 2006, Nigeria: A Moment of Clarity

i’m guessing this is the next day after the party (i didn’t date anything):

“it takes a large degree of humility to be here. i thought it was going to be all sunshine and rainbows, but it’s turning out to be one of the hardest things i’ve ever had to do. and i’m learning a lot of things about myself. i’m a know-it-all. i assume i’m always right. people can’t understand me. i rely only on myself, but i am not right/reality based/stable. i have an inner lack of confidence. when challenged, i fight and i get super defensive, yet weepy and self depricating. theres a huge fear of vulnerability, but once i get past it, it’s not painful, it’s just real. it just is. i just am. i’m incredibly defensive. i’m incredibly selfish. my tendency is to run away home if i don’t like something. if i don’t like it, i’m not dealing with it. i’m not. but there’s nowhere to run to here. and everything within me wants to run away home and is counting the days and hours and minutes til i can go home. but i have to stay here and grow and be uncomfortable. and i don’t want to leave my dad. i didn’t expect anything, but he’s more than everything i would have asked for. and i know where i got my temperament and my eyes and my forehead. it’s really strange and trippy to look up and there he is, moving around, looking at me, talking, being mellow.”

my stepmom approached me in what i perceived as an aggressive way to ask me about school. i felt like she totally simplified my situation and used a bunch of religious and cultural rhetoric to defend the fact that she should be the one to advise me about my situation. and she had no concept of the type of depression that keeps you from doing the things you want to do. i got really defensive and aggrivated and left the room. it was my one stolen opportunity to utilize “i gotta GO”. not a good idea.

“it’s very hard for me to relate to mommy. she is very abrasive for me. and i am conscious of the idea that the people that bother you the most often have the most to teach you. i see it a little bit, but i’m having a hard time feeling it. and the fact that i have to show respect when i don’t feel it all just eats me up. self righteous. ordained by God. these things put me off so much but i do have to find a way to just face them with less defensiveness. i shut down so fast to so many triggers. i don’t respect that about myself. i’ve definitely got my own serious self righteousness. and that does have a lot to do with my bad behavior back home – especially with certain coworkers and people i don’t like. and i just have not checked myself, and no one else has checked me in a long time. i would say i have support and that i’m an open person. but it’s all on my terms. i don’t allow for certain kinds of support. and i don’t allow certain people to support me.”

for the record, i did learn to love mommy. i had to get over a lot and stop looking at her like that.

April 2006, Nigeria: The Party

after the goat was butchered, my hair was braided, and i got dressed up in traditional clothes, people arrived for my party.

greetings were confusing for me. first of all, speaking. you don’t say hello, you say “good morning” (or afternoon or evening). which is not such a big deal but it was something i had to think about before i said. and a very common thing people said upon meeting me was, “you are welcome,” to which i would say “thank you.” backwards and two uses of the term welcome. sort of. anyways, then there’s the bowing. traditionally, as a woman, i should bow down on both knees upon meeting someone older than me. but my dad said i didn’t have to do that and people wouldn’t expect me to know that, he said a small curtsy would be fine. evidently a small curtsy is just bending your knees a little. it was really akward for me. curtsying didn’t come naturally and i found myself bowing a lot, which my dad always corrected me on. plus there was the mental tug of war. obviously i see the other women bowing to older people. why wasn’t i expected to do it? i obviously see it, but i don’t have to do it, but why don’t they know that i know that’s what’s customary? so anyways i did a lot of akward curtsy-bowing even though my natural instinct was to hug. and there was also some cheek touching – similar to the european kissing both cheeks, but you really just touched cheeks.
and i never learned anyone’s actual name. anyone who was significantly older was called “mommy” or “daddy”. anyone who was slightly older was called “auntie” or “uncle”. i’m bad with names, much less nigerian names, so that was just fine with me. here are some of my mommies:

anyways, the party was about 40 people and i was overwhelmed. that day was really hard for me just in terms of the sheer volume of people, considering that i usually spend a lot of time alone – and had especially before this trip. i’m easily overstimulated if i don’t just stay mellow. so i tried to stay mellow.

at one point after everyone arrived, everyone gathered around this large table. someone had asked a man to come and videotape our gathering. one of my cousins stood up and began to give a welcome and presentation of all my relatives.

this was the only point where i appreciated the videotape, so i could remember the people and see how they were related. what happened next was a horrifying disaster. for me personally. it was neat.
my cousin says to me that now is the time when my relatives get to ask me any questions they want and some of them might be embarrassing but it’s just tradition so go with it. yeah. so they start with this one mommy who asks how old i am (29), am i married (no), why not (uhhh… ummm… well…). and so i had to go into the fact that i knew that in nigeria that’s old to be unmarried but here it’s not so bad and uhhh… i don’t know… next question. am i a college graduate (no), why not (uhhh… well… i’ve been to like four schools and some of them i didn’t like and i’ve been having a hard time and i’ll be going back eventually… yeah…). what is your career (well, right now i work at a restaurant…).
there were so many things wrong with this that i don’t even know where to start. in the 1 1/2 days i had spent in nigeria at that point, my dad had asked in a very kind and understanding way what the hard times i’ve been having lately were about (these conversations involved lots of crying and vulnerability, which was super uncomfortable me). so he had a good background on a lot of these questions. however, there was nothing he could do at this point to save me from the humiliation of quick answers to questions that were very complicated and emotional and just not simple to me. i took this interrogation very personally and i was starting to get hot. but i just had to take it. in front of all this family i had just met. on camera. like i said, neat.
i was through with this party hours before everyone left. and it felt really almost like an intrusion that i couldn’t leave. if you know me personally, you know about “i gotta GO” – i have a tendency to leave, sometimes without even telling anyone, when i’ve had enough. and i need time to myself in order to process new information. so this day was one of my most difficult there. this is what i wrote when i got some time to myself later that night.
“i’m feeling really hopeless and sad. and earlier i was really angry. everything is coming up here and i have to deal with it in front of everyone. it’s so hard. today i just want to go home and forget i ever had a family. i just feel like i’ll never fit. i’ll never feel that sense of belonging. i’ll always feel outside. and i understand that’s my perfectionism talking. i guess i just thought that this trip would be a magic pill – my instant finished sense of identity. but i still feel like an outsider. and it’s not true. for goodness sake there was a huge party just for me and they slaughtered a goat in my honor! but my belief that i’m defective and don’t belong (the land of cast-offs… reject toys is it?) still overrides the truth sometimes. and i just get so moody and cranky. and i could probably make a habit of crying every second of the day. i’m just really freaked out and i don’t know why no one else is. yet another validation that of course it’s just me. i’m the defective one who’s living in her own fears rather than joining the land of the living. geez, they think they’ve seen crying – they haven’t seen anything. if i felt safe enough i would have a total fucking breakdown… geez so everything was so wonderful but i was just exhausted. then i got the family questions and i had to just take it. lifelong scars, fresh scars, in the spotlight, on tape. total humiliation to be relived again and again in front of anyone who wants to view it. and oh the vile shit that went through my head. i went straight to fuck you, you have no idea about my reality, and you obviously never did give a shit about me, so why are you judging me now? and i just feel that i’ll never be understood. i’m whining and complaining that i can’t feel love. meanwhile they’re living in a third world country. i just don’t know if they can understand… if i can convey this type of pain.”
that was how it felt at the worst times.

April 2006, Nigeria: The Goat

so on the second day my dad wanted me to rest. and i did. i slept a good 8 hours for my first night, woke up for prayers and took another 6 hour nap. he wanted me to rest that day because a “few people” were coming to meet me on saturday.

saturday comes and we wake up, have prayers. dad tells me he needs to go somewhere and i can go back to sleep if i want. great, i love sleep. an hour or so later, my dad is sitting on my bed waking me up. he says he’s sorry he didn’t think to invite me where he was going – they went to pick out a goat.
sidebar: in nigeria, goats and chickens and lizards are like squirrels are in mn. they’re everywhere. so i knew that going to pick out a goat was more than picking out a goat. i figured the goat was for dinner.
so dad asked me if i wanted to come outside and see it. sure, why not? so i go out to find the goat tied up with a rope, alive and well. they made it clear to me that they were going to kill it and asked if i wanted to see.
hmmm…. on the one hand, grody mcbarfbag, hell no i don’t want to see a goat killed in front of me. on the other hand, they did it for me. and when am i going to get this chance again? after some chiding about being an american and only seeing frozen meat in the grocery store, i buckle down and vow to watch. again, if you’re squemish, stop reading now.
so first they bound his feet and then slit his throat. they kind of bled him out over the gutter. after that was sufficiently done, they tied a rope around the neck beneathe the wound to make sure no air could pass. then they unbound the feet and cut a couple of slits in the leg. they stuck a straw-type device in there and began to blow into the goat, separating the skin from the muscle. what used to be a rather cute little billygoat turned into a pretty fucked up goat balloon. the pictures don’t necessarily do my balloon analogy justice, but it conveys the nastiness pretty good. seeing it in person reminded me of a macy’s parade balloon… with its head chopped off of course. then they shaved the goat with a knife, but during that time i was sent to go get my hair done. by the next time i saw the goat, he was in little pieces in a bucket.
and yes i did try it. goat tastes pretty much like beef.

April 2006, Nigeria: Meeting the Fam

“i made it. my dad is real. my family is real. i wondered how i would know him but i just did. he was in the same white traditional clothes as he is in the picture that hangs on the wall in my room. there was the whole immigration fiasco-“

i was detained by nigerian immigration because i didn’t know my dad’s home address by heart and you have to know that before you can enter the country. i spent a long time chasing this official who insisted on holding my passport, and who berated me for not trusting him to give it back to me. i don’t have the energy to go into it, but he was an uncompassionate jackass and made me cry.

“but then the guy led me outside. and i saw dad and he saw me and we smiled. and then we hugged. i didn’t cry like i thought i would. and i didn’t cry like i did with the immigration police minutes before. it’s like this: there’s all of these ill feelings tied up in my fears and insecurities about childhood and meaning and life experience and going and getting there and meeting him. but when it came right down to it, when i saw him, when we hugged… that’s it. everything else is gone. it’s just me and my dad. and it’s normal. it’s fine. it’s good.

“oh the sight of him was crazy though. a picture come to life. and so familliar. i’ve never had that experience before where you see someone for the first time but it’s like looking in a mirror. well, not exactly a mirror for us but the resemblence is clear. our eyes. the vein in the middle of our foreheads. the undereye circles and our cheeks. it’s crazy.

“so i met him and he took me out into the street overflowing with people. we went around some driveway and headed toward mommy (my stepmother) and my brother and sister. that was crazy, too. my pictures i have of them are at least five years old but they look exactly the same. just like the pictures. funke was the first to say hello. it was so exciting that i couldn’t really hear or talk. she introduced herself and it didn’t really make any sense and then i got it. and i introduced myself as if all that was necessary. then i hugged biodun. he looks the most like my dad did when he was younger and he’s super hot but mini. it’s crazy. then i said hi to mommy, who was very vocal and welcoming. she kissed me on both cheeks. then they had the kids take my luggage and mommy and daddy each held and hand and we walked through this crazy mass of people and cars to get back ot our car. that was quite a surreal feeling. plus, people were looking at us. i’m much lighter than them so i’m sure that’s the reason for all the double takes. but bajeebees i felt like a princess or ms america or something – my feeling inside. like, look at me – how lucky am i? i’ve got mommy and daddy and my brother and sister and i’m taking my first few steps in the country from where my blood comes.

“we drove home and i just wondered how people don’t die every minute there. i’ve heard about the traffic of course, but this was seriously come crazy mess. it was what i would consider a highway but there were people everywhere on foot, and too many cars and no clear lanes and little motor bikes cruising between the cars with just a couple inches leeway on either side. people climbing over dividers and running across the road and piling into busses. what the heck? and the horns are not for emergencies only. it reminds me of this multiple choice question that i never forgot on my drivers test – what do you do in order to switch lanes? c. honk and point in the direction you’re going. it was seriously like that and the horn is an integral part of driving. but then i think of it in terms of chaos and rollerskating and how if you’re used to it, people rarely get hurt. and it’s often the new person that throws a wrench in it and gets hurt. i vowed never to drive in nigeria. so wow.

“we drive toward home where we see this market area. agboyi in alapere. our neighborhood. complete chaos to my american eye. little crazy shops on the side of the road selling fruits and veggies and produce and stuff. i don’t even know. motor bikes lined up along the side of the road. i asked my brother about these and he said these bikes are commercial and take people short distances where the busses can’t get to. and the side roads are ludicrous. potholes two feet deep every couple of yards. crazy stuff. but at the same time i try not to judge – thats just how it is here. whole different set of standards. it reminds me a little of tijuana. a whole different world but it is what it is. i’ll never appreciate it if i look through my american lens. so i try to just see what i see and form an opinion later. gosh theres just so much, how will i ever keep up?

“ok, so eventually we get home. we have to pray first and formemost. which means first we sing. they sing nice siongs in that african call and response form with the like… the ups and downs of the notes that is typical in african songs i’ve heard before. it’s pretty. i can’t yet sing along so i just close my eyes and listen. then mommy leads in prayer.”

after that, they cooked me this huge dinner and i sat with my dad and chatted about family and started showing him my pictures. after dinner, my dad started asking me about my “problems”. my pandora’s box of problems. but that’s another story.