Between Two Worlds by Amanda Amaeshi
When I was in Primary 7, my class was tasked with creating a personal project on an aspect of ourselves. I chose to do my project on Nigeria. It was an obvious choice, especially since I was the only black African in the class. However, as I did my research (by scavenging through myriads of web pages and interrogating my parents) it struck me just how little I knew about the country. Embarrassingly, I felt – and have always felt – like a tourist, asking questions about what things are, how things work, why things are the way they are – when really, the answers should be second nature to me.
I got a good grade on that project, in the end. My teachers praised me for my rigorous research, and my friends and classmates marvelled at “fun facts” about Nigeria. Sure, now I knew that 1 in 7 Africans come from Nigeria, and that Nollywood is the world’s third biggest producer of movies. But I felt an uneasiness within me, an uneasiness that has remained even now, four years later, when, for example, I explain to people how besides English there are three main languages in Nigeria: Hausa in the north, Igbo in the southeast, and Yoruba in the southwest. I cannot speak any of these languages.
From an early age, my parents have always made me chant something along the lines of: “My name is Amanda Ihunanya Amaeshi, and I come from Amaimo in Imo State in Nigeria.” But it hasn’t really meant much to me. After all, I have lived in Britain my whole life (almost 6 years in England, and 10 years and counting in Scotland) and have only visited Nigeria a few times for no more than a few weeks each visit. Even though I sometimes wear Nigerian attire, listen to Nigerian music, and eat non-spicy Nigerian food, I honestly don’t feel much of a connection to Nigeria, or at least not as much as my parents do.
When I think of Amaimo, my parents’ childhood village which I’ve visited a couple times, I think of the golden sunsets and the tropical palm trees – but the word “home” never comes to mind.
I’ve been immersed in British culture from birth. I understand how life here works a lot more than I do in Nigeria. Still, I don’t feel entirely 100% British, since, unlike around 80% of the British population, I’m not white. I might not have needed to assimilate into the country, but you can’t tell that from just looking at me. At the end of the day, I’m still black, and my family isn’t from here. Although I wouldn’t revoke my Nigerian heritage or change my skin colour in order to align with a majority-white-British society, sometimes I still feel that I don’t truly belong in Britain either.
When I think of Amaimo, my parents’ childhood village which I’ve visited a couple times, I think of the golden sunsets and the tropical palm trees – but the word “home” never comes to mind. Yet as I go about my daily routine through the grey-stoned, grey-skied town of Dunfermline, a place that I know like the back of my hand, I don’t feel the same kind of connection that others around me do – I don’t feel at “home”. I’m stuck between two worlds, an outsider hovering unsteadily between two very different places. If only there was a map that could locate and direct me to a place of true belonging, to “home”.
Recently, I’ve been trying to summon back the inquisitiveness I had about the country in Primary 7 and actively learn more about it – not for the good grades or admiration from my teacher and my classmates, but for my own sense of self-worth and belonging. It isn’t easy, but I must persist. I don’t want to be seen within the extended family community as that grandchild – the eldest grandchild – who’s supposedly become entirely “British” and abandoned where she comes from. I don’t want to be constantly shown up and ridiculed by my younger cousins who know the ways of Nigerian life and the Igbo language so much better than I do. I don’t want my future generations to miss out on such a rich culture, just because I couldn’t be bothered to try. I have to try. After all, my Nigerian roots, although I may not always see or appreciate them, have played a significant role in shaping the person I’ve become.
The name “Amaeshi” means “My lineage shall not end.”
My parents are part of the IgboAmaka society in Edinburgh, a community of Igbo Nigerians from across Edinburgh, the Lothians, and Fife. Although I initially didn’t see the point, I’ve come to realise that this group helps my parents to continue being part of a culture that, for the past 17 years, they haven’t been fully immersed in. So, as well as going to events and parties with my British friends, I will continue to, hopefully more often, attend Igbo parties too. There, I can interact with other British Nigerians of my age, many of whom, having spent most/all of their lives in Britain, are presumably also in the same boat as me. And, as well as learning French and Latin at school, I will stop purposely making other plans in order to not attend the fortnightly Igbo language classes run by the IgboAmaka society.
Plus, we now have a family house in Amaimo, where my dad grew up. Over time, it could become home, but I don’t know yet. But for now, it’ll mean that we’ll visit Nigeria a lot more often. It’ll be something that I’ll be able to use in the future too, with my children and grandchildren – that way, my heritage and my ancestors’ heritage will live on and continue to prosper, which is fitting since the name “Amaeshi” means “My lineage shall not end.”
Perhaps I should’ve been taken to Nigeria more often than the four times I’ve been, but instead of lamenting over lost time, I should make more of an effort to learn how to cook Nigerian food and how to braid hair, which are both still currently a mystery to me. All whilst still appreciating the life I have here in Britain, remembering that though I may be different, those differences don’t make me any less British: those differences simply make me more than just British.
I’m a British Nigerian – I should see this as the blessing it is, and I should be proud to be both.
Amanda Amaeshi is 15 years old, and an aspiring journalist from Dunfermline, Fife. She’s a writer and editor for her school’s (Dollar Academy) student magazine, The Galley. She won the 2017 Young Reporters for the Environment competition, writing about food waste. Amanda is also passionate about youth social action: she was a Year of Young People 2018 ambassador, and she currently sits on the Girlguiding Advocate Panel. You can find her on twitter @amandaamaeshi.