Nostalgia: Why I can’t go ‘home’ again.

I remember going to our hometown from Awka.

My father, bless him, was always excited on these trips. He would enchant us with stories of walking long distances in bare feet to fetch water and swimming in rivers, the games they played along the way, the palm kernels he collected, shelled and sold for pocket money. Sometimes there was a new story and at other times it was simply a rehash of ones we had heard many times before. His voice pitched in the juiciest parts of the story, he swivelled his head to ensure we were listening to every word. My mother would cut him off with a reminder to keep his eyes on the road.

These days I know the journey took all of 45 mins to an hour tops, but it seemed much longer then, especially when we got stuck in Onitsha traffic.

I passed the time watching for shapes in the clouds; here a rabbit, there an elephant’s head, and God’s hand waving. Sometimes, they just reminded me of pounded yam made from the newest, whitest tubers, the kind we ate during New Yam festivals. My stomach would grumble and I would focus on hawkers tapping on the windows of our car and take the deep breath needed to interrupt my father.

My mother always bought sensible things like loaves of bread and bunches of bananas with their accompanying groundnut parcels for people in the village. If the traffic jam was particularly bad, we could have some Gala to stave off hunger. There were always sweating bottles of water in the car which had started out the journey a little more than cylinders of ice. We weren’t allowed to have the ‘omiyo-omiyo!’ sweets that their sellers announced with piercing whistles.

Soon, we would leave the bottleneck behind, my father speeding to make up for lost time. We were allowed a respite from trapped air behind windows wound up to dissuade theft, my mother resting her fingers from clicking the air conditioner on and off.

The breeze would lift the hairs on my arms and make me smile. There was always a thick liquid sliding down my arm from having whichever sister was near me at the time resting on my shoulder; I never slept in cars. I didn’t mind the saliva by then. My mind was on the one thing which my dad never failed to get us: a local snack from his childhood. The hawkers sold it straight from the fire in front of the failed airport leading to the Igwe’s palace in our hometown.

He called it ‘Ie-iee’. They were the larvae of palm tree beetles roasted over a wood fire.

Before roasting on sticks
What they look like afterwards - except these have no heads.

We would bite into them, feeling the fat from their bodies dribble down our chins in a fragrant stream. It is like biting into al-dente pasta, but the taste is nothing that I can describe. It’s like if chicken and fish and lamb and game are combined in one capsule. The crunchy heads were the best. I liked to eat those last.

Sometimes, he also bought us ‘Kwoi’ or ‘Akwa ogazi’, eggs from a guinea fowl and taught us knocking games that helped you claim other people’s eggs. Of course he always won. He gave the eggs back to us and we ate as many as we could before my mother could catch us.

***

When I left home, I was a ‘girl’. I met my husband here. I had my child here. And so anytime I think of home, I am alone. I am young. My grandmothers are still alive and the clouds are pounded yam. I know who I am, there. I eat and breathe literature, I am confident I will win the Caine Prize before I am 24 and my voice is strong. I have not yet lost my way. I have not yet been knocked about by life.

I know that going to Nigeria with my husband and my son is the reason I have been having nightmares.

In them, I am walking on familair road and the sunlight is on my face. I have just stepped in cow dung on Works road. I turn around laughing as I normally do. My husband should be by my right but he has disappeared. And yet I know he is there somewhere. It’s as if he has stepped behind the curtains hiding this world from another just like it.

I might be laughing one minute with my friends and the next, I am trying hard to remember something important that I have forgotten and I keep coming back to this …forgetting. I know on waking that it’s Tot. I never see Tot in any of the dreams. It is as if he never was.

I like to think I am a realist. I know that my brain is trying to create a world where my past and present are married and coming up short; it’s like that film Inception when the sub-conscious know there is foreign body and seek to exterminate it.

I cannot blame my brain. It cannot make memories where none exist; this will be Tot’s first time in Nigeria, yes, but it will also be a first for me too. It will be my first time there as a mother with all it’s added responsibilities and traditions and unspoken rules and expectations, expectations, expectations. I know how to be a mother here and I know I can be a mother anywhere else, especially in Igboland. I’ve witnessed it done often enough. But after decades of watching from the outside, I know it will seem as if I blinked and woke up in someone else’s body in a play I haven’t rehearsed for, where everyone expects me to be the part.

And that’s why I can never go home again.

Home as I know it, no longer exists.

26 thoughts on “Nostalgia: Why I can’t go ‘home’ again.

  1. Wow! Your writing just kept me engaged and I wanted to read more and more and more. I wish you hadn’t mentioned what the snack really was because now all I can think of is roasted baby arthropods. You’ll create new memories. Home will be wherever your family is. I left Nigeria as a girl too, so I think I understand where you’re coming from. Totally enjoyed this though. I want more.

    By the way, is this part of the book your’e writing?

    1. You say ‘Home will be where your family is’ and that’s just the point. My family – me, Hubs, Tot – are here.

      It’s part of (one) book, yes, but not in this form (here it’s supposed to read rough, like the shards of broken memories. Like when you try to narrate a dream without stopping to think about it). This book isn’t out for a looooong time though.

  2. Ohhhhhh. You sound so sad! It IS kinda sad. Sad but so, so true. And I know it strikes a deep chords in all of us who have had a similar path to yours, geographically speaking.

    Sometimes I wonder how to explain to all the people I’ve met since I came to the US (including my husband) about my life, my childhood, my experiences, and the way they have made me me. The good and bad things I’d seen, done, or seen being done. The trees I climbed, the violence I witnessed, the fears I had, the farms my parents ‘forced me to work’, the extreme chores I did, the races I held with myself, the dreams I had, the dreams that died, the songs I sang and how they made me feel.There are really no words good enough.

    Our children will hear us describing our lives just as your father did, without a real, deep connection to our experiences.
    Sad, but true.

  3. Dis piece is awesome!!! I don’t know why I always get “sold over” whenever I read literatures like this…..maybe its because of my mum’s blood flowing in me……by d way, those larvae, they are called “edible worm” in my own part of the world….these parts that will forever hold my childhood captive. I’ve never eaten it before….I guess my inertia hovers around sight and principle…..a worm!! Anyway, I guess mine is a case for another face. I love this story, I connect and identify fully with it. I’ve finally concluded that parents all over nigeria (at least my generation) are all the same!

  4. is this a part of the book cos am already itching for the whole package. I always knew u had a good prowess in writing . There u go girl. You are doing great.

  5. Ok this made me sad, you write so so well, “our wife”. I feel your pain. Like you I met my husband outside “home”. Shoot home for me has too many meanings, moved around so much, and even Nigeria sef, no matter how much I act like it is, spent more time outside Nigeria than within Nigeria😦 For my husband and I, though both Igbo, we are from different villages, My people are in Lagos, his are elsewhere. Going “home” wont be the same, it wont make sense to go home for dec, and barely spend 2 days at my village, and spend majority in this other foreign Igbo village, that I’m supposed to smile on the outside and call home😦
    I dont think the past can be merged with the present, but more so the future can be created, and yet another phase starts…God will help us all nwannem.
    Meanwhile I completely forgot about akwa ogazi till this post, havent had that since I was a kid! Love it! much tastier than regular eggs! Never had the larva though, loved the special flies that fell and was roasted though.

    1. Oh you understand. And I think you mean the termites no? They came out with the first rains and then shed their wings. You scooped them off the ground, roasted and ate them. God, what are they called in Igbo again?

      1. Kai yes termites…enyaaaaama! now that I think about what it was, but its still so good. Infact maybe I’ll save it, and make a silly request to my hubby when I’m preg, so he’ll think I’ve officially gone mad!

        Aku mkpu!! What season do they come again, they were soooo good!
        A friend managed to bring in some udala for me into yankee, I have been awaiting it like a million bucks! Its been sooo long, last time my mom tried for me, the silly custom lady threw EVERYTHING into the trash bag😦😦

        Udala to to to udala!! (2x)
        Nwunye nna mu
        Udala
        Zuta udala na-afia
        lacha lacha lacha
        hapu nwa na-enwe nne
        nwa na-enwe na-enwe nne
        udala

        LOL

      2. Oh gosh! Now that’s a song I remember! Does anyone remember the accompanying story?
        I might need to start an ‘Igbo folklore’ page you know. We need to document things so we don’t forget.

  6. Enchanting! Such vivid memories. All of us, whether born in Africa, America or elsewhere will always carry memories of our childhood. I remember that after our beloved mother died, daddy told me, “How great it would be to have all of you (we were a family of nine children)at home again, living on top of the hill” there in Louisiana. Knowing we all were married and had families of our own, I answered, “daddy..that will never be.” One cannot go back. It is the faith in God and trust in Him that gives us the strength and the will to reach for whatever He has in store for us. The ole saying, “It takes a heap of living in a house to make a ‘home’ is so true” ! The only “bugs” I remember were the weavils mom sifted from our cornmeal before she made the bread. Protein is protein I guess ! anyway.

    1. I feel your daddy’s pain. Children always grow up and away and I guess having all nine of you back would have made the pain of your mother’s loss somewhat bearable. But I hear you. We can’t ever go back. It’s sad though.

      Still, I guess it’s a good thing I’m a writer. I can always kinda go back. And as for those weevils, WHAT?! She could have sold it to my people and made a fortune, LOL!

  7. This is so touching. I guess home is always a definitive topic for most of us. When you’ve moved around a lot like me, you learn to carry your home in your heart. What never fades are memories. You take pictures, talk about them, dream about them, just to keep them alive.

      1. lol…i know…..but come to think of it…..talking about all the things i miss will only make me drool on my pillow and probably shut down your blog for the day by the time i’m done typing..so i stick to the one word that says it all…..

  8. Touching. Things may change but dont you worry the people remain just the same. You will only be shocked if you have forgotten that. I’m sure you havent.

    I loved the crunchy head of termites too but nay! i could never eat the abdomen. yucky.

    Please tell me you still remember all those Ibo folklore??? Write them naa. All those mbe stories….now that’s nostalgia for me

      1. i believe i still remember a handful of them….just in case u develop writer’s block….which i doubt u will, and praying seriously u dont, knowing how good u are….lol….i’ll be keeping an eye out…

  9. Somehow you said everything i hoped to say in ‘Years Away From Home’ http://wp.me/p1uFW0-1T in fact, better even. our longing for home is quite similar and i often wonder if we are forgetting home or if it has forgotten us- i hope it is the former…. your blog uplifts me,,,, Thank God we can still find a way to love igbo things… e luka. #TotallyInspired

  10. After moving around quite a bit myself I think I am really good at shutting off the nostalgia. I tend to plan ahead to prepare myself for the new ‘home’. I would say that all my preparations and planning ahead was never enough to prepare me for the surprises. I find your post healing because I have just realised that shutting off the nostalgia isn’t a bad thing after all.

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