Dear African in the diaspora

Dear African in the diaspora,

I write African, but I truly address this to Zimbabweans because our experiences are too wide and varied to lump into one descriptor. I know nothing about the Ghanaian experience, or the South African, or the Congolese experience. We are so diverse, but you know all of this already. I thought it important to state this anyway.

Dear African in the diaspora, or you who are thinking about joining the diaspora, if you do not know this already, know that this is not easy. People at home think it is, but it really is not. My father used to tell me the grass was greener on the other side. Nothing about being so far away from home is easy. Leaving home, and your parents will be the most difficult thing you ever do. You will be excited and terrified. I know I was. The shock of it insulated me from the fear, but I was scared. People will envy your fear. What a strange world we live in, that people will envy you that being afraid. You will feel alone most of the time, and everything will feel unfamiliar and hostile. When you first get here, everything will feel hostile, not in an overt way, but a subliminal implied way. Many things you experience here will be implied rather than explicitly stated.

You will feel this hostility in the absence of your family- if you are coming with them, I know that too, will be difficult in its own way. Perhaps harder. If it is hard enough to come to a place like this alone, I cannot imagine how hard it must be to come with other people who may not be glad to see you change. Because change is losing yourself, and then finding yourself, and you can be certain you will lose some part of yourself here. I imagine, as you change and as they change, they will watch you change and be helpless against it. I hope they do not give you a hard time about this. I hope you do not give yourself a hard time about this.

Everything you are leaving behind will take on an absurd simplicity. Home is best. Music from home is the best music you have ever heard. If this is not true now, a year after you arrive, it will be. Some truths take time.

This song has been my own experience of this. Would these words speak to me quite as deeply if I had never left home?

Nothing about this is easy. You will miss the voices of your own people. I pray my people write more books. These keep me company. I hope you find your own to keep you company too. Books, music, poetry and friends. I hope wherever you are or wherever you are going you find one or two people from home too. Wherever you go you carry some of home with you, but these people will show you these parts of yourself when you forget, because when your culture clashes with the latest iphone in the Apple store, you may find yourself begin to forget. When they cannot understand what you are saying because you have an accent, you may hear your voice and how you shape words begin to change, despite yourself.

When the pressure of the burden of responsibility you carry with you on your head and in your black body becomes too much, the voices of your friends will temper you. You carry with you the hopes of an entire people, and their expectations are heavy with that hope. I pray that you do not have to carry them alone.

You must read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah. If her words do not feel prophetic, then they will educate you on what other people’s experiences are.

There is poetry that can express some of what you will experience. There are books too. Here are mine:

‘Diaspora Blues’ by Ijeoma Umebinyuo


here you are

too foreign for home

too foreign for here

never enough for both

I hope you find at least some of these things. Whether or not you do, know that you are never alone. Nothing about this is easy, but I believe in you. You are thinking about this difficult decision, and that thoughtfulness will take you places.