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Samuel Kolawole On Going Home

The "On Going Home" series offers a glimpse of what returning home means for authors who have spent three months in the U.S. as part of the International Writing Program's Fall Residency. This installment comes to us from Samuel Kolawole:
Samuel Kolawole (photo Thomas Langdon)

On the Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt to Abuja, two Nigerian men argued over where to put what in the overhead luggage compartment. The argument soon turned into a shouting match. Passengers sprang out of their seats, and while some tried to restore calm, others took sides — debating on who was right or wrong. The cabin crew mediated conversations between the two men. Several minutes later, we were airborne.

It was disheartening to realize that I had not witnessed people argue or fight in months, but I was somewhat excited to go back to the chaos and the energy of my homeland, even if it was only going to be for a short time. 

I was not going to stay longer than three weeks. During my follow-on residency at the Island Institute in Sitka, Alaska, I received an email offering me another opportunity to advance my career beyond the shores of my country. I decided to take it. I had carefully mapped out how the next three years of my life was going to look like and things were working out pretty much as I planned. Staying in Nigeria was not part of the plan.

Samuel leads a high school class in Alaska, during is time at the Island Institute.

I have never hidden my ambivalence about Nigeria. While I consider myself to be a proud citizen of my country, I have come to the distressing realization that I will likely never be completely at home in Nigeria. As an artist, home is not only a place of life trajectories, experiences, and relationships, but also where you are allowed. Home is where you are encouraged to wander into the realm of possibilities, where your creativity finds the space required to flourish, and your work is celebrated and rewarded. My country hardly ever gives me that so I traverse different spaces. The importance of one space, however, cannot be downplayed at the expense of the other.

There was a time when living in Nigeria was what I needed as a writer. The water, the air, the noise, and the experiences I inhaled nurtured creativity within me. Living in Nigeria made me the writer that I am. Even now the umbilical tie to my motherland is still intact. However, these days I see the world as my constituency. I can call anywhere home.

The United States was my home for several weeks. There, my work flourished. I remember telling myself, this is the kind of space I need right now in my life. In America, I received and I gave. In America, I had one of the most rewarding experiences of my life 

A lot was happening when I returned to Nigeria. The country was battling a major fuel crisis. There were rumours of an impending attack on Abuja by the Islamic Insurgent Boko Haram, and the fall of the naira against the US dollar had just begun. I had unpleasant experiences, but I also had good ones, like attending a friend’s amazing art exhibition. I heard the story of how she organised the exhibition against all odds. Her imagination and resilience blew me away, the same imagination and resilience that has shaped me as a writer. 

I am writing this piece from my new home, this new place where I am studying towards a graduate degree in writing. Here I am discovering new books. Here, I have been blessed with the opportunity to interact with a vibrant community of writers and work under the supervision of a supportive faculty. Here, I am happy to stay till I find a new home.

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