I am on a journey – to integrate myself.

It includes a journey of grieving.

Now I am grieving for my memories.

Where do you get your memories from? Mine are from what’s left in my head, and photographs. My Nigerian diaries, such as they were, fell victim to luggage limitations. As did many other tactile things we could have brought away. What survived were clothes, documents, music, and some books. I guess it was quite a lot, really. And my mum did manage to fit some expensive kitchen equipment in. You know, the sort of things one buys on never-to-be-repeated journeys to Europe, and will not be able to source ‘back home’.

Today I have with me but a handful of things that are from my African childhood. Whatever I brought away from Nigeria has, by necessity, been whittled away in successive moves.

It’s the life of an expat – or a refugee. The constant juggling of luggage priorities. Money over weight. Weight over money. Money generally wins.

A life of repetitive moving requires that one empty oneself of memories to make room for the huge learning curve around the corner.

Fortunately my father was a keen photographer. My memories would be in worse shape if it wasn’t for the hundreds of photographs that have followed our wanderings.

But I still regret the loss of those diaries.

Oh, and Whiskers. The cat with the gammy leg. Called Lucky at first because I didn’t know of any other name that a cat could be called. Lucky-Whiskers.

I think I started censoring what I wrote in my diaries when I caught my mother sneaking a peek. Poor mum, she was doing it with the best intentions. I was being bullied at school, and wasn’t forthcoming with the details – but my diary had them all. My mum made the bullying stop somehow.

I was quite insensitive to Lucky-Whiskers. He was canny and knew when meat came home from the butcher. My mum would start sharpening her knife, and Whiskers would go ballistic at the thought of meat trimmings for him. I would tease him horribly, running with those trimmings from one door of the house to the other, calling him. And from outside Whiskers would also run from one door to the other, miaowing loudly, demanding that treat. I’d stop when the guilts hit. And give him the meat.

Poor Whiskers. I don’t think I knew how to love pets. He was an outside cat. I can’t recall if we ever, in spite of my family’s fear of germs, got to the point of cuddling. I do remember him curling around my legs purring, so perhaps we did.

That memory impinges on my sense of who I am.

The only writing of mine that has survived the Nigerian years is a highly-plagiarized, full-length children’s book I wrote about five kids, a dog, and their adventures. As were many kids of my age, I was an Enid Blyton fan. I wrote the book as a birthday present for my sister. She has it now, still preserved, bless her! It’s all hand-written, with strips of sticky-tape covering the jacket in an attempt to mimic those shiny laminates that real books were covered with.

Lucky-Whiskers could never have come with us. It was a wonder that we ever had him in the first place. My parents’ maxim was that we couldn’t have pets when we were in Nigeria because, when we left, our pets would have to stay behind. But eventually, kindhearted souls, they succumbed. I can’t recall how Lucky-Whiskers came to be with us. Perhaps a kitten from a neighbour’s cat. He was white with grey patches.

Regarding those diaries. There was stuff in them that would probably make a decent conservative South Asian mother’s hair curl. I convinced myself that some memories in them, like the bullying, were best forgotten. I was after a fresh start.

It’s only now I realize what’s lost.

I did ask if we could take Lucky-Whiskers home. But transporting him would have been well-nigh impossible, requiring huge resources that a poor expat family didn’t possess. Lucky-Whiskers was taken over by a neighbour.

I can’t recall saying goodbye. But I know I did.

This had to happen. I was going home to begin the life that had been interrupted by our Nigerian sojourn. I can’t recall if I cried or not. Perhaps I hadn’t learned to care. Or perhaps, even then, I’d learned some of the uselessness of caring.

I’m glad Lucky-Whiskers was a cat. They look at you with those remote eyes, and you know they’re going to be okay.

There is a single sun-kissed memory I have of the Nigerian goodbye. It happened after we left the school compound where we’d lived for eight-ish years, and drove beside it on the highway. I said to myself, ‘I’ll never see this place again’. I looked long across the sports fields at the school buildings where my classmates were hidden away, preparing for exams.

And told myself I was being melodramatic.

I feel sorry for my parents. We, and the other expats with us, had minimum knowledge of the intricacies of the TCK dance, and very little support in it. I think we acted authentically and to the best that we could out of that limited knowledge.

If only I’d understood then that the Nigerian time was not a mere interruption in life.

If only…

If only I’d kept my diaries.

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4 Responses to “Integrating me”

  1. Great post…I can really relate it! I lost most of my diaries somewhere along the way and fight the urge to ‘hoard’ things now into my adulthood…although I have chosen to continue the transient lifestyle. So many holes and blurred memories exist from my own upbringing and without the aid of photographs, I wonder how much I would remember at all!

  2. jennifer j. saguindan-wassmann
    June 15th, 2012 at 5:14 am

    I, too, can very well relate to your story. I am an asian who lived in the North-Western part of Nigeria when I was 9 years old until I was 18.Just like you, I also lived in a school compound where my parents worked as teachers (so I suppose your parents were teachers too).

    My parents were quite organized about our stuff, so that long before we left Nigeria they had our stuff (mostly our books…..´cause what else do you do in your spare time in the bush but read?) shipped little by little. We had our beloved pets adopted by friends (we had lots of dogs and cats) and our other belongings given to friends. But I do remember being so sad having to leave some of MY own things….things that belonged to my childhood that I couldn´t bring home anymore but somehow still had some attachments to. One of those was a guitar-like instrument. I remember tossing it sadly in a bonfire we made as we cleaned our house for the last time. I burned it because I couldn´t bear the thought of it ending up in a garbage dump somewhere, unloved. I remember watching it as it burned….I watched feeling very sad. Looking back now, I think that thei act of burning my musical instrument sort of helped me bury my past. I don´t really remember missing some material things….but I remember lamenting that I may not see my friends and the very country that had been home to me for a long time.

    Of course, when I went back to my own cauntry I suffered culture shock (like most TCKs). It took me ages until I came to accept that I will never fit in, that I will always be different….and that it´s really okay…in fact, cool!

    Like most TCKs, I felt more at ease living like an expat (didn´t tell my friends, though they noticed somehow), so I seeked places where the foreigners were (which was then easy as I lived in a university town where there were lots of foreigners)….I made friends with them and felt happier that way. So it was not surprising that I married a foreigner too!

    So, I continue to live as a nomad. My husband is not a TCK, but a TCA. I love that my family is multicultural….it makes things easier for all of us. My experiences as a TCK has been a big help to me in raising our kids, as well as in a lot of aspects of my life. Things haven´t always been easy, but they have always been such blessings….I thank God for that!

  3. Hi Jennifer, I can’t remember whether I ever replied to your message above – I was in the middle of an oncology journey with my daughter at the time, so probably not! It was lovely today to read your comment, and hear the story of someone who lived very close to where I grew up! Hope all is well with you – thanks for stopping by.
    Take care,
    Susie

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