My favorite part of holiday parties is the small talk – chatting with strangers and discovering that their younger brother’s best friend is someone you know through work, etc. For Jon and I, small talk invariably includes the details about how we met and married all in 13 months. Last night, my husband described our individual migrations back to Minnesota, his by way of Princeton and mine “by way of Africa.” I love my husband so much, and I love him all the more because he gets me. He understands how crucial that year is to my heart and the person I am now. Even in small talk, he affirms the importance of that detail: I moved home to MN by way of a year in Abuja.
I carry the memories of my time in Nigeria around with me. I carry the faces of my students and the generosity of my friends and the warmth of my church buried in my heart. Little things bring those memories to the surface and I am awash in gratitude for those experiences–and in the heartache of missing the life I lived there.
There’s a draw, an invisible connection, between me and this idea of place. The way I feel toward Nigeria is the way you feel about the house your family used to live in: you know it’s changed since you left, but you’d still like to trace your hand along the walls and feel the memories in the carpet under your toes.
Jon plays a huge role in all of this. In many ways, I was nervous the about the hypothetical situation of marrying someone who had never experienced Nigeria and had no frame of reference for her people. As it turns out, what I needed was not someone who had also lived in Nigeria, but someone who understands its importance to me and gives me space to process it. Jon has never rolled his eyes or breathed a heavy sigh when I drop details into conversation or when I whisper to him, “Hey, that man is Nigerian” while we’re out in public. In the early stages of planning our around-the-world honeymoon, he even suggested we make a stop in Abuja. That’s how much Jon loves me–he’s willing to experience the places I love because they’re important to me.
I have dreams at night about going back to introduce my husband to the ICS family and Abuja Ark community. Dreams about quilting together all the fabrics I have stacked in our spare room closet. Dreams about my daughter someday playing dress up in my wrappers and blouses and head ties, weighted down with stone necklaces in bright colors.
I dream about Nigeria and when I wake up, I am reminded that life goes on–made richer by the people who share in it.