A Journey through Race, Language and filtering through Colors

I am in the airport struggling with my heavy luggage through the customs, he took my passport, stared at it for a long time then made a call.

I stood there waiting in front of the glass window. My visa is still six months to expire, so I wondered what could be the problem.

After much talking on the phone, he came out of his cubicle and told me to follow him.

I followed.

Now in another office that looks like the office of his superior, he left me there and went about his business.

This man took the passport again and look this time at me then at the passport.

This doesn’t look like you, he said in Russian.

To ease the tension a bit I smiled and answered, It’s me!

I made my passport 4 years ago, in the photograph the Nigerian sun was still evident on my skin and I was without a fro.

I explained to him why that dude on the passport is still me talking to him and brought out my document to further prove that

He smiled and said-You guys all look alike.

And by “You, “ he was referring to blacks.

Now I was on the other side of the cubicle waiting for my flight.

I have gotten used to being the only black in most public places here, so when I looked around and saw again, I was the only black standing in the queue, I just took out my sun shades, wore them and gave that Idris Elba looks- only that my chicken arms ain’t like his.

So I stood there pondering on what he said-You guys look alike

The problem with being different in a homogeneous society is that you are always confused at some stuff. Is it is directed at you racially or was it just a compliment?

Throughout my 6 years here, my struggle was understanding the meaning of compliments or questions I am asked.

When my classmate asked me- what a banana tree looked like? That struggle came again.

I wanted to show him through my phone what a banana tree looks like, but another part of me refuted and asked the question “Why is he asking about banana and not guava or mango??”

Is he being racist? Or just curious since Banana doesn’t grow around here?

Thirty thousand feet in the sky, I became a translator. My seat is just the way I wanted it; close to the window. The captain announced in Arabic and English, it was an Arabian airline though most of the passengers were Russians.

The Russian lady close to me was struggling with the menu written in English, I explained carefully to her in Russian what each meant.

She then asked what part of America am I from.

I told her Lagos.

Lagos? What city in America is that?

I am a Nigerian, and I am travelling to Lagos.

Wow nice, she said.

-You guys speak English over there?

I was getting furious and confused as she smiled waiting for her answer, that moment came again.

Is she being racist or just blatantly ignorant?

I sipped my cocktail, smiled and told her-Yes we speak English not Afrikaans.

Welcome to Dubai!

Just as we got to Dubai, we switched roles, the Europeans suddenly became the minority, with Arabs everywhere speaking English and Arabic.

They were quite a lot of Blacks moving around the airport.

A family was coming out of the duty-free shop and from how they spoke boisterously and in pidgin I knew they were Nigerians.

I felt a little at home, here I wasn’t just black, I am also Nigerian.

One interesting thing about flight connecting airports like Dubai is that they give the image of an ideal world. You see all kinds of people, race and personality travelling to different places; English speaking Indians travelling to New York, Africans speaking fluent Russian travelling to as far as cold Siberia of Russia, Chinese man speaking Nigerian pidgin with a Nigerian both on their way Guangzhou, China.

I later met a guy from Angola, he was also from Russia but for another flight.

We Spoke in Russian as he couldn’t understand English and I don’t speak Portuguese.

A Russian saw us and soon we became like a family of three having a short moment of Trinity, he was so glad to hear us speak in Russian. At this moment we were one race.

Our appearances were absent, we were bonded deep in the language we spoke.

My next flight was in 3 hours, I waved the Russian goodbye saying “до свидания” as he left for his flight to Greece.

As we stood in the queue, the flight was from Dubai to Lagos, a man stood there in between us with his red passport, he was the only white man in our midst, I watched from a distance and I could see me some few hours ago in Moscow.

Now I was no longer just a black man, but a Nigerian, now carrying the identity “Nigerian” and standing with other Nigerians holding the green passport.

Are you a Nigerian? Where are you flying from? The man in a brown suit asked.

“Moscow”, I replied, he was having a connecting flight from New York.

All boarded now and another conversation started.

The woman to my left wanted to sit close to the window which as you now know from the beginning of this story is my favourite spot, she was a bit old and I gave her that space without thinking much of myself.

She was so glad.

Thank you, my son, she rested her head on the window and slept for 3 hours of the 5-hour flight.

She woke up with a conversation.

What’s your name, my son?

Mayowa Ma.

Wow, Yoruba, I thought as much, the way you spoke with respect, I knew you had to be Yoruba.

The remaining half of the journey, she told me about her son that she went to visit in New York.

Her Yoruba wasn’t like mine, she spoke clean no English words in between her Yoruba. That reminded me of how long I’ve been from home.

Finally, welcome to Lagos! The Captain announced.

It’s 6:45 am and I was now in another different world. A homogeneous world, everyone is just black, and no one carried it like a like badge of honour. It was a bit awkward.

Where are the whites here? The Arabs etc? Just a few on another queue waiting to get past the immigration.

The word “Foreigner” now sounds strange in my ears.

A quick thought from a poet came to my mind:

So, here you are
too foreign for home
too foreign for here.
Never enough for both.

Citizens to the left, Foreigners to the right, and I almost went to the right.

Damn this is your country, boy! You’re a freaking Nigerian now! I woke up to a new reality.

This is home and you could feel it from the kind of entropy here, Yoruba words and phrases tossed everywhere around the airport.

But I am not home yet, I just got to Lagos and a flight left to where I once lived-Kaduna, the northern part of Nigeria. The flight was for the same day, in another two hours I should be boarding.

So nu da sua!

We’ve just landed in Kaduna and the oven friendly sun here welcomed us.

I switched back to Hausa language, and replied the slim looking man who was asking if I wanted to buy suya meat

Nagode aboki, ba na so!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *