I first left my home country when I was a wide-eyed 16 -year-old and headed off to a highly selective pre-University programme in South Africa that selects students it hopes will become a new breed of African leaders.
Currently, I go to a small, liberal arts Women’s College in Northampton, Massachusetts.
At the college, I am a Study of Women and Gender and African Studies double major as well as one of leaders of the African and Caribbean Students’ Association.
Because of my active involvement in the institutions, I have spent a lot of time talking and thinking critically about Africa.
I have spent long nights writing lengthy papers about why Africa is still colonised or caught up in the frenzy of heated discussions with friends about whether or not feminism as understood in the West fits into African contexts.
Beyond the critical thought and revolutionary texts, a rather unwelcome by-product of my education has been that home has also become a mystical space that my subconscious sometimes paints as a static, unchanging place that was waiting for me to fix.
Being away, it is easy to defend the continent. It is easy-when irritated at an ignorant remark made by a westerner, or completely frustrated by the consistent failure of the American college dining hall to season its fish fillets-to proclaim with passionate fervour that I will return home.
It is easy to assume the role of expert when thinking through issues unfolding at home and to forget that I am a young, student far away from the implications of the political, economic and social happenings that have me fired up.
I am currently in the country of my birth, enjoying the last summer as a college student.
Being home, these days, brings with it a sense of a strange sense of loss. Loss of time with would-be friends. Loss of place, a strangely clearer sense of what my place should be.
For any young African who is studying abroad and aspires to return, there is nothing quite like coming home to remind you how small you are.
It makes you realise that all those nights spent writing essays in defence of this distant home can essentialise, romanticise and trivialise home.
Home can become this ill-spoken-of place that you constantly defend that, you begin to breed in yourself a sort of saviour mentality.
Home can become this distant thing to be saved-a wild, unravelling epic in which you cast yourself as a heroine for desiring to return. But who in the world are you?
More humbling is the realisation that home has not been waiting on the edge of its seat for you to arrive, arms held out in waiting for something you could never possess to give it.
Home is dynamic as ever, bending, breaking and correcting itself.
It is brimming with possibility you have very little to do with.
Although you had to leave, it is filled with people who never left-experts who have spent their time thriving in and in spite of all the aspects of home you hope to contribute to changing.
Remember home is not your little project. It is not waiting or frozen in your absence.
The home you left behind is not the one you will return to.
Feel your way in. Fall into place where you are meant to. Home has changed, and so have you.
Return as much as you need to, for as long as you must. Settle as necessary. Never count yourself greater for having left. The greatest experts are “on the ground”.
So, whenever you come home, do so with your head bowed. Take your shoes off at the door, be confident to speak and share the perspectives you have learned, but be quick to listen. Learn how exactly it is that home needs you. n