“Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition.”– James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room
Today marks my 12th year anniversary in Canada. This is actually the longest I’ve lived anywhere. The other day a friend was remarking on how interesting it was that I’ve lived outside my country of birth for the majority of my life and, indeed, it’s the place where I spent the least time.
In my old diaries I read the euphoria I experienced when I moved to Canada. The hopes of a teenage girl, and the naïveté as well! Acculturating to life in Canada was a lot harder than I’d expected but for me it ended up being an ideal environment for personal growth.
Ironically, living in Canada helped form my identity as an African woman. In my African life, living in an upper-middle class/expatriate community, attending an international school and using English the majority of the time, very few facets of African culture truly interested me in my younger years, except for perhaps music and art. It’s not something I’m proud to admit now but I feel it’s important for me to acknowledge that. However, moving to a Canadian city with a black population of less than 0.5%, I was a novelty; I was expected to be an authority about African culture but embarrassingly I knew very little. It was then I realized the significance of history and the importance of knowing where you’re from, regardless of how long you lived there. After my first year in Canada my thirst for acquiring African knowledge was quite insatiable. I collected as much information as I could, asked my relatives back home to send me books, music, art, etc., much to their amusement. To me it was extremely comforting and exciting to learn as much as I could about my heritage.
But now I think about how I’ve lived away from home for over a decade. I don’t have as close of a connection with my country as I once did, and that made me feel a little bit melancholy. That is, until I read the following from Canadian writer, Neil Bissoondath, about identity and the meaning of “home”:
“My own roots are portable, adaptable, the source of personal freedom that allows me to feel “at home” in a variety of places and languages without ever forgetting who I am or what brought me here. My roots travel with me, in my pocket, as it were, there to guide or succour me as need may be. They are, in the end, the sum of my experience, historical, familial and personal. There are, in the end, my sense of self.”– Neil Bissoondath, Selling Illusions
And from Amin Maalouf ( In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong):
“I sometimes find myself “examining my identity” as other people examine their conscience. As you may imagine, my object is not to discover within myself some “essential” allegiance in which I may recognise myself. Rather the opposite: I scour my memory to find as many ingredients of my identity as I can. I then assemble and arrange them. I don’t deny any of them.”
I like those quotes because they express how I feel and what I’ve experienced. We are all an amalgamation of our experiences and our upbringings so I’m sure I’m not the only one who can relate to them. It makes me grateful to think of myself as an adaptable human being, a cosmopolitan one. Living in Canada has definitely afforded me opportunities of a different sort than I would have received back home and I’m grateful to have Canada as my home. Acknowledging my heritage will always be important to me.