30,000 feet in the air, I dreamed of what my parents’ homeland is like: the smell, the weather, the people. What was the culture like there? What did they eat? How did they speak? Growing up, my connection with Nigeria was formed through my childhood memories of attending traditional parties, wearing Ankara, helping my mom cook jollof rice, and hearing my parents relive their childhood memories by telling stories of the old country. It was mostly just anecdotes here and there: what their family was like, their school, their childhood friends, the house they grew up in. But I longed for more. Ever since I was a child, I yearned to form short stories of my family’s homeland, that someday I would tell my children my tales of not just growing up in America, but what it was like to visit Nigeria.
Visiting Nigeria was like venturing into uncharted territory, but it fostered a higher sense of pride in myself, my family, and my culture. Landing in Lagos, I immediately proceeded to record everything on my journey, determined to save every minute. It was just me, my mom, and my auntie, so I wanted to save enough memories for my two sisters as well. I hoped that this trip would not only be fun, but unforgettable. I spent the next two weeks with my mother and auntie, staying with a family friend in her lovely home. My auntie let us stay in her own luxurious mansion with her husband, fully-fledged with maids and even a driver to escort us around Lagos. Returning to your roots is hard, but even harder when you haven’t got a clue what to expect. Too often Africa is portrayed as this huge wilderness, with exotic animals and a safari trip for tourists. However, visiting as a Nigerian made me realize an incredible part of Africa that the media shockingly fails to represent: its wealth and its culture.
During our two weeks in Lagos, we attended two lovely weddings and unfortunately a funeral of a powerful matriarch, the grandmother of the family we stayed with in Nigeria. I had never seen a traditional Nigerian funeral before and it may have been one of the most shocking things I learned about my heritage on my vacation. Despite my very big family, I have attended very few funerals throughout my life. This was one was vastly different not just in tradition, but in temperament. First, a Nigerian funeral is celebrated depending on age and how the deceased individual lived. Since we buried an 80-year-old woman with grandchildren, we weren’t in mourning and we didn’t wear black. Instead, we were adorned in the finest colorful Ankara to celebrate the life of their grandmother, not grieve her passing. As we walked to the burial place at the cemetery, we marched on singing, along with a band to lead the way as we prepared to put their grandma to rest. Later, we even continued the night at a reception, with a band, MC, and plenty of dancing to liven up the night.
In my journey to Nigeria, I found not only an entirely different world in Lagos than what I saw in the media, but also a new sense of my heritage and individuality that helped me finally find myself in a community of my people.