When you choose to live away from your parents and your friends, you must accept not to see them when they die.
Bye Bye Africa is a 1999 film about Haroun, a Chadian film director living in France. At the beginning of the film, he receives the dreaded call from home: his mum has died. The story that follows chronicles his struggle with identity, country, family, love and cinema on his trip back to say goodbye.
Before Haroun leaves for Chad, his friends visit to pay condolences, and at the end, grief-stricken, he gives a speech to the room. “Dix ans, dix ans”, he laments. In ten years, he hasn’t seen his mum, and now she’s gone. The hardest thing for him to accept is this: “when you choose to live away from your parents and your friends, you must accept not to see them when they die”.
I’m moving to London. In fact, I’m here now, telling anyone who cares to ask that I have moved. My mum is amused by this, but the way I see it, I just need to do the paperwork. If I was born into a different country, or if this was a different world, it would be easier to just settle in. Telling myself I’ve moved forces me to stop procrastinating and allows me the fiction of starting afresh with the new year.
I watched Bye Bye Africa on my first night here and mused over how different migration is for me because of the internet. Leaving home is not as final as it was for Haroun. I still rent an apartment in Lagos and can afford to return at will. Everyone I know is inside my phone and I can be as plugged in as I want to. Nothing changes about work, except my productivity. I’m leaving to find a better life, but I don’t have to give up my old one for it.
Haroun’s film really made me think about the consequences of migration for my identity and connections back home. As for my identity, I’ll always be Nigerian. No matter how far I travel, it’s too late to be anything else. And my work is on the continent, so I’ll always be connected in that sense. But distance is distance, and something always gives. I’m choosing to live away from my parents and friends, and — Haroun’s right — I must accept not to see them when they die.
But at least I can call.