Hello folks, all who stop by here. Today I am celebrating my 300th blog entry with a very special guest post from a very special poet and blogger - Adura Ojo. I came across her poetry/writing about two years ago, from the Romantic Friday Writers website and her own blog. Her writing spoke to me because I too, like her, straddle different cultures and continents, and because I did a bit of my growing up in Nigeria, where her roots lie. She has a unique and forthright voice, with the characteristic lyrical lilt of West Africa.
Here she talks about life as an immigrant and 'minority other', the identity issues we struggle with, and her debut poetry collection - Life is a Woman Breaking Eggs.
Over to you Adura, the page is yours.
What ‘Life*’ Taught Me about Identity & the Immigrant Experience
First I’d like to say thank you, Nilanjana for giving me the opportunity to guest post on your blog and to meet your readers. My name is Adura Ojo. I am a blogger, poet and writer. Recently I published my poetry book: Life is a Woman Breaking Eggs. I’m British-Nigerian. I wanted ‘Life*’ to reflect my identity and how I see the world. This was important to me because of life events that helped shape the individual I had become. One of these is the immigrant experience – my main focus in this post.
Life in Nigeria
My parents took me back to Nigeria when I was three. I lived in Nigeria for eighteen years, so a major part of my formative years was spent there up to my first degree and graduation. Identity was never an issue. It was a given. My ethnic group – Yoruba – is one of the three major ethnic groups in Nigeria. I doubt that most of us ever question the ease with which we live in our various countries of origin. Whether you are Indian or Nigerian, you go about your daily business with relative ease. A conversation with the customer service assistant at the post office is not a hassle because you understand each other’s language, local names and use of English.
Life in the UK
One of the things that exasperated me the most when I came back to live in the UK was the need to always have to spell my name. It was a never ending ritual. It was a constant reminder that I was the other. Other experiences included being ignored, not being served, people twisting what you said, pretending to misunderstand what you said, being given an instruction repeatedly though you’ve done nothing that clearly shows that you misunderstood the instruction, - and the one that’s really hard to stomach - people taking your idea as theirs. (Presumably their ears took a vacation when you spoke!) Dealing with one’s experience as the ‘minority other’ can be traumatic. It can leave the individual feeling alienated, unappreciated, frustrated and angry. I experienced all of these emotions as portrayed in ‘The Museum’, ‘Say My Name’, ‘Eggs Crack Easy’ and ‘Zebra Crossing*.’ Racism compounds the diaspora experience because it gives the oppressor power to stigmatize a group of people who are already feeling alienated.
What ‘Life’* Taught Me
Identity is one of those fundamental needs that define humanity. It can also produce conflicts within the individual. The diaspora experience is one of those conflicts, in particular the immigrant experience. Having lived in Nigeria until I was 21, I found myself declared an ‘immigrant’ in my land of birth. British institutions and way of life were strange to me. It seemed like the system was designed to keep me out rather than welcome me in. It took years of grit and determination to not drown in a sea of frustration and alienation. Holding on to my core identity sustained me and provided a shield against the trauma of being a minority other.
As I held on to my Nigerian identity, I also opened up to what I liked about British-ness. The poem ‘French’ was a revelation to me. It was a reflection on my experiences while on holiday in Morocco. I was so irate, so righteously indignant and arrogant that no one in the Moroccan restaurant spoke English! It made me realize how proud I was of my British identity. – That I am as fiercely proud to be British as I am to be Nigerian; and though the winter months alienate my soul and racism still rears its ugly head occasionally, nothing changes the fact I am British. A lot of my humour is British and I share the dark humour that comes with being British. I am Nigerian because it is my soul. It is how I breathe, eat, stand with my hands on my waist and form the words out of my mouth. The biggest lesson from my experience of being ‘the minority other’ is the importance of holding on to one’s core. No matter what happens in the dominant wider society, what keeps a human being sane is their core. Not recognizing or appreciating one’s core identity can be traumatic and in extreme cases contribute to a mental breakdown. What keeps me whole is my identity – all of it. My identity is the sum total of what I accept and what I reject. It is a source of comfort. More than two decades later, I don’t mind spelling my name. I would like it though if people would just say my name before asking me to spell it.
*The book, Life is a Woman breaking eggs is also referred to as ‘Life.’
*The Museum, Say My Name, Eggs Crack Easy, Zebra Crossing and French are all poems in the book: Life is a Woman Breaking Eggs.
Life is a Woman Breaking Eggs is available on Amazon Kindle in most countries.
Adura Ojo is a British-Nigerian author, poet, blogger and a mother of two. She is the author of Life is a Woman Breaking Eggs, her debut poetry collection. She graduated in English Studies at the University of Ibadan. She later bagged degrees in Law and Social Work in the UK. She has professional experience in varied employment roles as lecturer, trainer and mental health practitioner. Her poems have been published in Sentinel Champions, Sentinel Nigeria, The Poetic Pinup Revue, and a number of websites. She lives in the UK where she is currently working on her debut novel and a second poetry collection.
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My thanks to Adura for that very interesting and insightful post. (And boy, does spelling out names resonate with me or what?!) My own feeling is that as the planet becomes smaller and rounder, learning to integrate, assimilate and let diverse 'others' enrich not just the minorities but also the majority will continue to be relevant.
If you have travelled or lived in cultures other than your own, then I/we would love to hear your take.