Landing in Amsterdam after some time in Freetown is similar to landing on Earth after having lived on Mars and realising that you left your clothes in the spaceship. I know that that comparison makes no sense at all, but hey, this was what came out of my brain.
The cigarette smoke wafting through the glass doors at Schiphol airport, using diseases as swearwords (cancer whore, sufferer-of-thyphoid), tiny shorts on old ladies, a man with an assortment of beer cans on a bench in the city park, supermarkets that don't accept cash anymore; last year it fed an identity crisis. Dismay, loss of connection, a strange detachment from a culture that one cannot actually detach from and loss. Loss of a place to belong to.
I thought Freetown was going to be it. A place where I could pick and choose between opposite values, where I could shed my inherent prejudice, my Western vision (arrogant and self-centered and ilogically logical) replaced by an African view of life.
Oh, how wrong I was. I remembered driving through an SLPP rally on Lumley beach. Hoards of ravers in green, drunk, dancing, slamming cars, massive mania on a sticky night fed by political fire. Me, the always outsider, observing, floating away. Thinking, I really don't belong here. Looked at the others in the car, all Sierra Leoneans, all with neutral expressions. Thumbing through a phone, staring out the window, they surrendered. To everything, always. It was just me who was resisting.
I felt so out of place that I broke. At parties I was often scared to dance, worried that they would look and see whether 'the white girl could shake her ass,' or steer clear from the aerobics class I used to love, just because I thought that the women hated me. As I thought that they hate mixed-race girls. Instead of going out, being with people, I stayed in and read books. Watched anime. Wrote. Retreated into my own world with carefully picked impulses. Started working from home a lot more. No people staring, no questions asked. No beingoverchargedandtalkingKrioandthengettinglooksandthenpeopleaskingmynumber x6879.
If I did bump into people at those rare occasions that I went out, I'd get frowns. "Are you in town?" me, shuffling, "yeah, I've been keeping a low profile," what a euphemism! What should I say? I am experiencing a 12-part identity crisis and I don't allow myself to feel sorry for myself because really, am I not the luckiest person on earth? Should I tell them that I never thought I'd be able to live from writing and now that I do I feel like a fraud? What about all those people with real problems? Whose siblings die because they've been taking antibiotics for every single cold? Or those who have to choose between eating dinner or sending their kids to school? Or...
And then, Amsterdam. Where complaints deal with a name change of a public square (Stadionplein), or dog poo in the park, or Ramadan (such a, how did she call it- useless tradition), or Muslims (women haters!), or the metro (too hot), or cycling (saddlepain), or sitting (the new smoking), or standing (sore feet), or living (too .......
I take a deep breath. The world overwhelms me. I think of an old Limba lullaby my father used to sing me. And I look at an old lady carrying a heavy bag of groceries, her white hair neatly combed, bulky shoes to protect her sinking feet. No one should dare give her a hand, she's old, but not dead yet. As she would say. And I smile, from my eternal cloud of observation, I smile. It's good to be back.