How would you identify yourself when you have lived your entire life in a nomadic manner? I mean, hoping from one country to another after every few years. I bet you would think it is a lot of fun? Well, in my case, it has been both an exciting adventure and one that has also left me wondering and confused about my identity. From escaping, python bites in Africa, to having a near-death experience in Bangladesh, I have definitely come a long way before finally settling in Canada. Therefore, I tend to have what many people may refer to as a blended culture that accommodates all these places. Dont get me wrong but not all experiences have been enjoyable. Nonetheless, pay close attention as I unravel my lifes mystery.
I bet very few people have been to Africa, or more or less, even been out of Canada. Well, you are missing on so much life changing events that, luckily, I got to experience. My family and I moved to Nigeria, Africa, when I was barely two years old. I mean, this is just a story that my parents told me because to be entirely truthful, I did not have the slimmest idea of my first days or year in this country. I was originally born and raised in Bangladesh, Southeast Asia, for two years by my parents who are Bengali natives. My family moved to Nigeria after my parents were posted there. We settled in a rural setting where we lived in harmony with the members of the locals. Now, picture moving from Toronto to a rural village in the middle of Africa. Would you survive the sociocultural shift? Personally, I quickly adapted to these settings and blended in with the natives who were economically underprivileged but were very welcoming. I quickly learned the Hausa (natives) culture including their music and dances which I frequently attended. I vividly recall one evening when amidst the turbulent dancing and jovial festivities, I got mixed up in the large crowd and my parents could not trace me. But alas! While I had lost hope of tracing my parents, I saw my dads friend who immediately took me home. As expected, my mum was pretty furious and wasnt it for my dad, I could have received one thunderous beating.
While I may currently boast of being multilingual, it all came the hard way. Being a Bengali native, it was challenging for me to adapt to the African lifestyle but I eventually succeeded in overcoming all the cultural differences. I was forced to learn three languages simultaneously including Hausa (the local Nigerian language), Bangla, and English. During these learning sessions, I regularly mixed up the words. My local friends, really enjoyed this fuse. I remember one day when we were coming from school and I wanted to greet an elderly lady who lived near my house. However, rather than greeting her, I confused the names and called her a mental retard unknowingly. I bet you think that she forgave me because I was foreigner? Huh! No way. The old woman whooped me with her walking cane and then streamed out a string of words that I could not understand. My friends would later tell me that she was cursing in the local dialect and that I needed to apologize which is did while still receiving several blows of the cane.
One interesting thing about Nigeria is that their literature is still passed on by word of mouth that entails proverbs and dilemma tales. At first, I thought that this was primitive but I came to see the benefits later. Furthermore, the Nigerian arts have also been widely influenced by westernization which is seen as both a threat and enrichment to their culture. Nigerians are also avid lovers of sports which has seen them produce world-class athletes in football, boxing, and on the track. One piece of advice: please be careful when you visit Nigerian game parks. I had a near-death experience when I was bitten by a scorpion and at the same time had an encounter with a python. Nonetheless, the stay in this country was impeccable, and I have always treasured the moments I spent in Nigeria. Sadly, I had to wave goodbye to the wonderful friends I had made in this country a few years later. .
After spending seven years in Nigeria, I finally moved back to Bangladesh. Did I have an idea about anything about my home nation? Of course not! The only ideas of the country that I had were those that I saw in movies and other television programs. At the time, the social media was not as prevalent as today. Nonetheless, do you really expect an eight year old living in a village in Africa at that time to beware of anything like social media? Therefore, I had to go through a lot of hardships in adapting to my own motherland due to my African upbringing but at the same time, it was a good feeling being back to my motherland breathing the Asian oxygenLol! In my first days in school, I was constantly bullied because of my African heritage. Now, isnt that just fascinating? An Asian being bullied by fellow Asians because of having an African heritage. Well, it became quite traumatizing that I had to struggle to fit in my country. Furthermore, I was also not fluent in the local Bengali language which made my first days in school harder given that the education system was different from that in Nigeria. I remember during my first day in school, the science teacher called me to stand and introduce myself but all I could do was to stare at my classmates as they laughed at me. However, eventually, I was able to perform exemplary in my studies and even became a class representative. Additionally, I also won the Japanese Top Art Award, Mitsubishi Ennikka Festa Award in 2012 for showcasing my artistic designs of the African culture. Now thats what I like calling building myself from the ground up.
In Bangladesh, I witnessed peaceful coexistence between Christians and Muslims which was not the case in Nigeria. I visited the Sheikh Temple and touched the famous 150-year-old turtle with the hope of being blessed immensely. I bet the majority of my classmates only see this temple in tour guide blogs or Wikipedia. Well, make an effort and visit the magnificent temple and youll be amazed by the architectural designs and decorations. In addition to the three languages that I was already familiar with, I also learned Urdu (Pakistan language), and Hindi from a favorite anime called Doraemon that was popular among children. I think I can equate the show to the favorite American batman movie sequel. In Bangladesh, there are three types of dances and music styles namely folk, modern, and classical. As it would be expected, I also learned these dances which were entirely different from those in Nigeria. While in Nigeria, I enjoyed watching soccer, but after coming to Bangladesh, my friends and cousins introduced me to cricket which I saw as a mundane event. However as many things end, I became a die-hard fan of the game. Now, I know you are wondering whether I attended any other social functions like the the famous Indian weddings. Absolutely! In Bangladesh, weddings were among the most valued social occasions which I also enjoyed especially because of the dances and food. My favorite food being chicken biryani was very hot and spicy. Equate the chicken biryani to the love of pizza in the American society. Weddings could even have as many guests as five hundred. There is nothing like a small wedding occasion in Bangladesh. During my last days in the country, we visited the Sundar Ban, a major tourist destination where we were involved in an encounter with a tiger that almost devoured us. Were it not for the swift tour guide, I would have become a delicacy to a very huge and hungry tiger.
My stay in Bangladesh was short-lived because four years after settling in the country my family and I relocated to Canada, North America. Having lived only in developing nations, this was an amazing move for me. However, my parents had wished to relocate back to Nigeria. I prayed day and night that the Nigerian permits should not be verified until we had settled in Canada. I know I seem an evil person for that but I really wanted to come and have a totally new experience. If you can fit in my shoes, then you would understand. At the time, I was in the eighth grade, but it was not challenging for me as I had learned how to conform to different cultures. Initially, I had tuned my mind that I had to go shopping for my school uniforms and other essentials but surprisingly, there was no such thing as uniforms in Canadian schools. This is so awesome, I thought to myself.
However, I was presented with a major challenge when people asked me where I come from. Bearing in mind that I was born in Bangladesh and raised in Nigeria, it was and still is quite challenging for me to answer this question without hesitating. Furthermore, being a woman of color has presented me with numerous identity challenges that I never experienced in Nigeria. First, when people ask where I live, and I say to them, Hamilton, Westdale Area,' they nod, but their body language suggests that I am probably lying. Other than my skin color, my name also suggests that I am not a North American native. Furthermore, while my English is quite perfect, there is still an Asian accent that betrays me. Despite having lived in the country for five years now, it is hard for people to believe that I am a Canadian. I think I have all the necessities required by the government to become a Canadian. Or are there specific social acculturations that I must undergo to be accepted by the members of the community? I dont really think so. However, one lesson that I have learned from living in different continents is that diverse experiences can never interact neatly. Having spent my life in three continents even before I was eighteen has affected my identity. On one end, I feel like I have an identity crisis. I cannot fully identify myself as a Canadian despite having lived here for five years because part of me still feels that I am Bengali. On the other hand, while my origin may be Bengali, I also have incorporated too much African culture which also makes me closely linked to this part of the world. Therefore, I can neither classify myself as a Canadian, nor an African, or Bengali because these are all parts of what make me who I am. I regard myself as an amalgamation of all the three cultures.
So far, my stay in Canada has been great. Or has it? On one end, life is really good out here. I mean, the social amenities that were a problem in Nigeria and Bangladesh are now provided like free cake. Nonetheless, I had to endure a few issues during my first two or so years of stay. I remember being at cross-roads with my inner self thinking do I drop all this native lifestyle and accustom to the western ideology? As any timid and naive teenager, I fell in the trap of disowning my culture and embracing whiteness. I had lost my pride in everything I believed in just to fit in a new world. However, after a while, I began to see that despite all the assimilation, I remained Indian, a lesson that people with the same experience can attest. I believe that the experiences in our lives determine who we are but we are supposed to be the masters of our destinies. Does association with a certain race, color, or religion really matter? My answer, No. There does not exist a suitable race or religion, or whatever classification of persons. Despite the weird name-calling and harassment that I may face from time to time, I have learned to deal with it and also share the same with my parents who are my sources of inspiration. I am already used to people calling me various Indian names. Ooh! In fact, I think I actually prefer Priyanka for my nickname which my friends regularly call me. Therefore, while I may still live and associate myself as a Canadian, my real roots are still within me and will remain forever.
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