What Africans in diaspora struggle with most: 'We belong in the aeroplane'

Updated: Mar 21, 2019

by: Edinah Masanga

"We belong in the aeroplane," were the words of my friend from Kenya. We were sitting in a mutual friend's lounge on my first midsummer holiday in Sweden and I had just asked what it feels like, the first return home when one has permanently settled in the diaspora.

He explained that the thing is, once you arrive in your motherland you start longing to return to your 'home' which is now in the diaspora and, the fact that people constantly ask you when you are going back makes you feel that you no longer belong wholly there. But when you return to the diaspora you also have to constantly answer questions about where you come from in almost every encounter with a new person. And that, too, reminds you every time that you are not really from here.

"So you see, the only place that you really belong is in the aeroplane," he said and I have never forgotten his words.

Africans in the diaspora have a permanent longing for 'home' but are not sure which home that is. We long for an identity or for a life where one does not have to be constantly aware of their identity.

My friend, who has been living in Sweden for over a decade, added that an identity is one of the things that an African is most likely to miss when they relocate to another continent. The feeling of not really fitting here (diaspora) and then having left, and no longer really belonging, there (motherland).

Another friend, the beautiful and vivacious Ndey Jeng who has lived in the USA, England and is now living in Sweden talked of the ever longing for what she called the 'African pulse', explaining that there is a huge difference between the social life in Africa and the one in Europe.

"I miss just being able to talk through the fence with a neighbour. Or having friends and family come and go as they please like we do back home. In Africa, the way we socialise is not the same way people socialise here. Everything is so structured and stiff even in the social context," she said giggling.

Ndey went on to say 'the lack of a sense of belonging, to some extent, is always pulling you back: "The things we miss are things we took for granted before and didn't even realise we need them until now. Especially the lack of a sense of belonging and that is always pulling you back."

What Ndey alludes to is not new. Almost every African that I meet is either building or planning to build (in most cases a huge) house which they most likely will never live in until they retire but, I think, building that house helps them to deal with that pull which is constantly ever there.

Often when people are in Africa they have a romantic picture of Europe, that if only they can arrive here all their problems will vanish but the stark truth is that some problems do vanish and others emerge. Welfare problems will surely vanish while psychological problems emerge. And in my experience, it is hard to imagine what it's like until you experience it personally but one thing is for sure, we are all always longing for home.

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