Sometimes the world swallows us whole. Drags us through the mud in order to just be, live, survive this system which encases us. A world where even the beauty that rises from the very earth we will all return to can become commodified, exploitative junk. I suppose I have always tried to understand it by trying to, somehow, become more than it. Through strenuous work and the success that is supposed to follow, I will rise and settle amongst the dust of this earth with some dignity…some comfortability. Yes, to work, to toil with this city, and to be rewarded with enough money to no longer squint at my bank account but wilfully ignore it because I can, not because I am fearful to face it but the money’s good, you know?
I feel like there’s something about metropolitan cities that does that to you, makes everything feel laborious and so work-centred. Well, let me talk specifically about London, the city where I was born in and stay. Most of the time, everything feels so gloomy, dark, and cold, the packed trains and busy streets and then the office buildings and Microsoft Teams. There is a feeling of hunger here, the hunger to get by and do well, then sometimes the hunger to be someone more than you are while living in this. As a diaspora, I am doubled down by the weight of what it means to exist here compared to existing back home in Igboland, Nigeria. I am aware that I am experiencing a privilege and simultaneously an unspoken task which is to fulfill my parent’s dreams and wishes. My success must give meaning to their separation from their own home country while in search of a better life. I feel at times utterly selfish to despise this city, to list it as reasoning for times I feel depressed because there is so much abundance here, so much compared to back home but this city bears a weight that even its privileges cannot gloss over and that is seen at times on the face of those who live within it.
Moreso, the totality of the world does not lie in London despite how long I thought it did. Sometimes there are parts of us, we are waiting to be discovered not in lovers nor friends but rather in places beyond those that we are accustomed to, nations only an airplane away with cultures that speak more to our spirits than to our minds. Places that make us feel a sense of belonging, even if for a moment. I remember the first time I stayed in Evian-Les-Bains in France and experienced what it would be like to live in nature, I never knew that air could be so fresh, the great body of water that surrounded the town could sway the feeling of the place and the greenery, so large, lush and beautiful, could give me so much peace. It was not just the scenery itself but also the culture, sitting around a dinner table for hours just to talk and drink, trekking up mountains as commonplace as taking the bus and the calmness that such a life demanded of you and how the privilege of that made people act a certain way. It was in the very stillness of Evian that I fell back in love with writing and with the simplicity of the world, I forgot about the Svetlana who operated so easily on the London hamster wheel and found in myself a woman who deeply desired a life of tranquillity, of nature and of love. Whenever I am home in Nigeria, I feel an energy within me that doesn’t come to life anywhere else, it goes beyond being around Igbo people and hearing my mother tongue all around me but there is something in the culture, a vibrancy that shows itself in traditional patterns, drinking a pint of Guinness beneath the harmattan sun, children out in the street playing and teasing, women who I’ve never met calling me sister and brimming with life advice…or is it the beauty of the palm trees billowing us with a warm breeze or red soil beneath my feet, the lizards creeping on red-bricked walls and the 6 am church hymns that blare through netted mosquito curtains? I am weary at times as a diaspora to live in a falsified daydream whereby I see Nigeria as a country that is gorgeous because I get to leave when I want, I don’t have to feel the torment of the government and the hardship that it brews on one’s life. Yet, I also feel that the feeling Nigeria gives me is one of resolution. This is the country where my family tree began and when I am there I am where my grandmother was born, where ancestors I will never know used to dwell, experience life in all its facets, and commune and being. I am meeting a part of myself here that meets creativity, insight, and vibrancy that cannot exist anywhere else for me. As well as anger, frustration, and sadness. It opens me up to more of myself, the other selves, I might never experience elsewhere.
Chinua Achebe once said:
“The world is like a Mask dancing. If you want to see it well, you do not stand in one place.”
This is what travelling gives you.
It makes you see the world for what it is, for its utter expansiveness, and how all of this expansiveness can also be meaningless. It pulls from you a new way to see yourself because you see others in new ways as you explore different languages, different cultures, and different perspectives. As a writer, I cannot truly write about life while being glued to one city, to know it and speak upon it, I must see it. In Europe and Northern America, there is this idea that the world begins and ends here, because of technological advances and the perceived idea of democracy but it is in this robotic understanding of life that people can become immune to the colours of life. Travelling paints’ the world anew for people and you realise that your common normal may not be feeding your soul or may not be the way you want to understand love, or death or food! Go see the world if you can.
Now, it is easy to paint a colourful picture of the world when you have a British passport in hand but not everyone does. As spoken about in my piece on citizenship and dual identities, the bordering of the world is grotesque and limits the advancement of humankind in the sense of their mental and spiritual development. The world is cut off and divided that even our understanding of environmental degradation and inequality is so self-centred and ill-informed. The world is cyclical and connected yet with national borders it is easy to see why it does not appear that way. The history of travelling itself can bring to mind colonisation and slavery and the underdevelopment and thus violence that ensued from it. This piece then should be looked at as one of leisure while I am fully aware of the connotations that surround such leisure, travelling is still a part of life and art that must be spoken about.
Until next time,
Svetlana – Her Tempest Tongue