Diaspora Depression

Diaspora Blues by Ijeoma Umebinyuo captures my feelings perfectly.

A curious thing happens when you leave the place you grew up in. After a few years you start to feel homesick, but you become unsure for where.

It doesn’t take long for people to acclimatise to where they live. For some people it may feel like it’s taken years, but it hasn’t really. You just failed to notice when the word “innit” became a regular part of your vocabulary. You didn’t realise that you’d made the trade-off of cocoa tea for Twinings as easily as you stepped out of the plane onto new soil, green fig and saltfish for fish and chips, DBS for BBC. The transition was seamless, and maybe you didn’t catch it until it was 5 years too late, or maybe you were like me, when you caught yourself talking about the weather with a feeling of horror and dread. That something was being done to you, that your culture was becoming more diverse internally, that the definition of you was being transformed may have escaped your notice until now but it has not escaped mine.

The curious thing is that the transformation is never 100% completed. I have been here for 8 years and my accent is still described as “lilting”, like there’s a cheerful song in the lazy way I say my vowels, my questions ending just a little higher, my sarcasm just a little lower. Yet I know I say words that would have people scratching their heads back home, not for ignorance but for unfamiliarity. Why is “camp” an adjective? Why is a “mug” an idiot? Why is the train the tube? I don’t know, they just are. These words were presented to me and inserted into my vocabulary without commentary, and now float amongst words like “dekdek“, “boug” and a host of other colloquialisms that are moot here. And yet those words aren’t as immobile as one would think; I suddenly used the word “koudmen” the other day because I simply didn’t have the English slang for what I needed, nor did I have the English word at the time (syndicate). It felt right but was not.

I have not been able to adjust to the speed at which people do things. I am not slow, I just wasn’t raised in a way to believe that haste is necessary. I still watch with amusement at people who run for buses in a country where buses are often a minute apart, and still hold back a smile when people prostrate themselves as an apology for being late. Nou pa ni pyes pwoblenm. I would have been late anyway.

And yet I have become unbearably British. A feeling that has extended past my birth certificate and passport, past the hospital I was born in (UCLH) and past my current address. I can talk for England about the weather in England. It’s raining now in case you were interested. I’ll queue where there aren’t queues, and glare at people who do not do so. Nothing is more soothing to me than a warm mug of tea and my humour is so self-deprecating that it takes some people a lot of convincing that no, I don’t really feel that way about myself. I actually quite like myself. It’s called sarcasm you muppet.

So now what? Where do I go from here now that I celebrate my home being independent from the place I call home every year? What do I do when Jounen Kweyol isn’t a holiday? Do I go to work in a wob dwiyet? How do I explain to my friends back home about the ongoing political disputes here, when I know nothing of the ongoing political disputes going on over there?

How do I go home when home is either a tube or a plane away?

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