WHERE DO I BELONG?
By Celestina Aleobua
South Africa, Nigeria, Canada; the three words I use interchangeably to describe where I’m from, depending on who’s asking. I’m Nigerian if a South African or a Canadian asks, South African if a Nigerian asks, and from Canada if someone from anywhere else in the World asks. It’s complicated at times, but my reason for claiming multiple nationalities, and using them interchangeably, is simply to give the most simple and straightforward response to “so where are you from”. Although, I admit, it would be nice to claim just one country, a country I can support patriotically during international sports competitions, a country whose government I can be proud of, a country in which I can invest in long-time friendships, settle down with a family, etcetera, etcetera.
Growing up in South Africa was tough. I remember one of the first days of high school where we stood in a group introducing ourselves. I was introduced to a guy who seemed intelligent, he was well spoken and said he was into poetry. When it was my turn to introduce myself, someone else chimed in; “oh yeah, and she’s Nigerian”. Apparently this was absolutely hilarious. I watched, confused as everybody snickered, including the well spoken guy, which confused me more. No matter, I was used to it from Primary School and figured it was just something I’d never understand. The first bout of xenophobic attacks happened in 2008. People from countries neighbouring South Africa, Zimbabweans especially, were being killed by mobs for apparently “stealing their jobs and their wives”. I remember someone asking me if I was scared. This question confused me. I had lived in South Africa my whole life. Didn’t I belong?
When I moved to Canada in 2009, is when I can say i began to truly feel Nigerian. I schooled in an international school where the Nigerian population was well represented. I felt among, and was exposed to so many beautiful cultures that it felt as though we were living in our own exotic island surrounded by a sea that is the rest of Canada. The lack of judgement for being either Nigerian or South African (it didn’t matter which I claimed) allowed me to grow into my own without shame. It was honestly the best period in my life so far, and I though that perhaps Canada is where I belong.
In 2011, hopes were high, and I set out to start my undergraduate degree. Unfortunately, having not figured out a plan for my future, I picked a program I had little interest in. However, I just wanted to finish, I had to, and so pushed myself for four years. And here I am, almost at the finish line. At the last class of a Geography course I’ve been taking on South Asia, we were split into groups to discuss both positive and negative future prospects we could predict on the region, based on all that we have learned. A member of my group pointed out the growth and export of IT specialists as a positive, and another member chimed in “oh yeah, and a negative is that they come and take all our jobs”. My eyes flew and met hers. She took this as a cue to explain her point, her explanation was lacklustre, and at the end of it I was just as enraged as before. In general, job opportunities are scarce everywhere because of the exponential growth of educated youth. Being a native does not mean that you are entitled to a job. It also does not mean that if you decide to travel out of your country, you should not be given an opportunity for the mere fact that you are non-native. Aren’t employees hired based on who the best candidate is, or has the memo changed?
I am a few weeks away from my university graduation. Once again, I had high prospects for Graduate School. After six years living in Canada, I should be able to apply for permanent residency, and reduce my school fees by two thirds. This, was the plan. However, immigration rules recently changed. I would have to either work in Canada for a year in a job that requires more than an undergraduate degree, or I would have to complete a Master’s degree before I can finally apply for permanent residency. So I applied for grad school. I called the administrative officer last week to check on my application (please pray for me!) and was informed that the program only accepts five international students.I was shocked and confused. So after paying triple the local fees to complete high school in Canada as well as university, there are so many barricades to me going further than that. According to Canada, I do not belong.
I’ve always said that a passport is what one uses to “pass the port”, and of no other significance. Claiming to be a Nigerian, raised in South Africa, and living in Canada has always just been a cool story to break the ice (depending if I have time to tell the story), and not much deeper than that. I take pride in all three countries, but if to belong to a country means that by some criterion, certain people do not belong, then I’d rather not belong as well.
“So, where are you from Celestina?” – Planet Earth, now hire me abeg”.
Culled from http://cdawggydawgg.tumblr.com/