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.

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