Oyeyemi on Nigeria, Africa

Helen Oyeyemi, author of Icarus Girl, reflects on what it’s like to be African and not know much about Africa.

As a Nigerian brought up in Britain, I admit that when it comes to Africa, I just don’t get it. I can examine modern Africa for hours, years, my whole life; saw open my head and cram it with rolls of statistics, death rates, birth rates, gross national products, and still not know where it is that I come from, what my country’s problems are and have been, and how they can be resolved. These aren’t the words of somebody who is familiar with the colourful emergencies of Africa, the necessities of trudging to the well and back, swaying under the weight of clean, bucketed water in the absence of the tap variety, or, to borrow Emily Dickinson’s phrase in a more pragmatic context, “growing accustomed to the dark” with the heaving of an almighty sigh as the electricity is cut off. Again.

Rather, I have the muddled perspective of someone who is in a Nigerian cultural framework but not of it, being carried along by a culture at a distance from its source and its pervading influence. I’m a mix of first- and second-generation Nigerian – I was born “back home”, where I feel more comfortable in my skin, but I am still often baffled by certain Nigerian ways. I find Africa in the weirdest places, with the jolt of someone waking up in the middle of the night and catching a glimpse of themselves in the mirror across the room.

Thanks to David for the link.