The Nigerian experience is physical, emotional and sometimes international. No one knows it better than our features on #TheAbroadLife, a series where we detail and explore Nigerian experiences while living abroad.
This week’s subject on #TheAbroadLife received a trip to London as a birthday gift when she turned ten. Since then, she’s been to 34 countries, from Namibia to Eswatini. At the moment, the US is her home. But will it be her last stop?
Where are you now?
I’m currently living in Washington D.C. in the US.
What’s your travelling history?
Interesting question. The first time I travelled was when I was ten years old. It was the first birthday I was celebrating without my brother having a party too. Our birthdays are really close, so we usually had our birthday parties together. When I learned we’d be having separate birthdays, I was really excited about it. I was expecting a party, but my mum came up to me one day and asked if I’d like to go to London for my birthday. I was like, “Of course”.
It was my first time out of Nigeria, but only one of many.
What was the experience like?
The memory is somewhat faint right now, but I remember going to a toy store with an entire floor dedicated to Harry Potter. My mum wouldn’t let me touch anything because, in her words, Harry Potter was witchcraft. I hated not being allowed to even look, not to talk of buying a book. It sucked more because I really loved books. But the fun part came when I found out that my cousin with whom we were staying had a library card. I could use it to visit the public library and read as many books as I wanted. I also remember being fascinated by the buses and trains, how chill they seemed. Growing up in Lawanson, Lagos, I wasn’t used to that.
We stayed the whole summer and I came back to Nigeria with enough clothes and “stuff” for me to be hip in school the following week, and it wasn’t until five years later that I was able to leave Nigeria again. This time, to the US.
Your family must really love travelling
Yes. Everyone is very well-travelled and it’s actually encouraged to travel as much as we could. The London trip wasn’t something we could afford on a whim, but my mum squeezed out resources, and it was worthwhile.
Tell me about the trip to the US
My mum wanted us to have the Disneyland experience, so she planned it out. The park experience was golden. I think I threw up at a point because I had motion sickness sha. But it was a lot more “outside” than the trip to London.
Where did you go next?
My mum got a job in Namibia, and because my siblings and I were in boarding school in Nigeria, we had to travel every holiday to see her. We did that for about a year and a half, till I graduated from secondary school.
After that, I went for an international baccalaureate at a boarding school in Swaziland — now Eswatini — and I was there for about two years.
Eswatini? What’s it like?
It’s one of the last two Kingdoms left in Africa, and it opened my eyes to just how diverse Africa really is. The school is quite international, so I was able to meet people from different countries in the same place. I became popular very quickly for being a “loud” Nigerian, as I was tagged. It’s because everyone else was so chill. The only people who had my energy were the Mozambicans. I’d say they’re the Nigerians of Southern Africa. My stay at the school helped me learn how to identify different African countries based on their accents.
There was also a sharp contrast between the food in Namibia and Eswatini. Namibia has a lot of wildlife, so they tend to eat a lot of meat, while Eswatini is more lush and green, so their food is heavy on vegetables. After graduating, I went to America for college.
What did you expect from America, and what did you find?
I wasn’t expecting anything I hadn’t already seen in some form. But this time was still different. My school was in a small town in Indiana, so it was very Midwestern. I’d been to New York before then, and the contrast is huge. The town was a lot more country-like, and the population was older and much more white.
Because it was a small town, there was really no public transportation. Unless you had a car, it was hard to go anywhere far for the things you wanted to enjoy. It wasn’t until much later that this student couple started a delivery service that really saved our lives. A while after, someone opened an Indian restaurant, so things got a bit better.
I got pretty cooped up very fast, so I started taking any chance I could get to catch a break. I did everything from exchange programmes to internships and volunteering. Eventually, my degree programme ended, and I moved to Washington.
Because of my travel history, I’ve always wanted to work in international policy affairs. So, I got a job in that area, and it required me to move to Washington. Also, my mum had moved to the US by this time. She was staying in Maryland, less than an hour from D.C. by train.
Tell me about D.C.
Coming here was a breath of fresh air, to say the least. First, it was a lot more culturally diverse for my travelling spirit. There were a lot more black people. In fact, Washington D.C. used to be called “Chocolate City” back in the 70s by many black people because it had a predominantly African-American population. But the black population is not as high as it used to be because of the high price of houses.
I have a lot more food options here than I did in Indiana. There’s Thai, Mexican and Indian food, so I no longer need to carry pepper around. I also love that even though it’s metropolitan, it’s not as bustling and crazy as New York. The roads are bigger and cleaner, there’s a lot more greenery, and the people are a bit laid back.
Tell me more about the people of D.C.
Washington is a transit city for most people because of its political nature. There are many diplomats or people who work in important government positions here. In fact, you could meet someone who works for the president in a park and have a chat with them without realising who they are. Their stay often changes with the political seasons, though. But for me, D.C. is home now.
What’s your favourite thing about the place?
I’d say the greenery. Maybe it’s just the part of D.C. I live in, but it’s just so beautiful. You need to see it for yourself to appreciate it.
Will this be your last stop?
Even though D.C. really feels like home, I can’t say for sure because that travelling spirit hasn’t left me yet. I’ve been to 34 countries, and I still want to visit many more. I actually have a list to track my travel. I haven’t been anywhere in South America and some parts of Southeast Asia, so they’re definitely in my travel plans.
Hey there! My name is Sheriff and I’m the writer of Abroad Life. If you’re a Nigerian and you live or have lived abroad, I would love to talk to you about what that experience feels like and feature you on Abroad Life. All you need to do is fill out this short form, and I’ll be in contact.