This Is Us

On Teaching Your Body How to Find Home in a New City

Our bodies know when we’ve arrived somewhere new

NLS Bwari, Abuja, Nigeria. Photo: Mofiyinfoluwa Okupe

The first thing I felt was the heat.

Suitcase in my right hand, I stepped out of Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport only to be met by an angry sun intent on singeing my skin with licks of heat my body was completely unprepared for. It is by no means cold in my Lagos (yes Lagos is mine, at least it feels like it); our heat is just of a different kind. It’s wetter, more humid, more accommodating. It feels more like an overbearing hug as opposed to this one, which felt like a slow strangling. I already missed my Lagos.

This place is too quiet for my head that finds an oddly enchanting beauty in cacophony. Here, the roads are smooth; tarred perfectly such that the car that drove us didn’t have to gallop and bounce as we moved. I am used to roads that make you swear under your breath as your body is flung and tossed in the car. Look at that level of dysfunction, finding excitement in potholes and the gbas gbos of horrible roads. Home is home, no matter how home is. Discomfort, after a while, morphs into comfort or at least a dull ache you know to be a friend. Even difficulty becomes familiar enough to feel like ease.

I was terrified of coming here. Okay, maybe terrified is a slight exaggeration, but I certainly wasn’t looking forward to it. The school had delayed and delayed, and the initial enthusiasm I forced myself to muster died a slow and final death. Coming here felt like an inevitability I fought with the knowledge that I would lose. So I didn’t bother to fight it. I packed my bags, selected my favorite books of poetry, wrote a farewell letter to my lover, and traveled into the heat.

Our bodies know when we move.

The soil feels different on our feet. The air is different in our lungs; our bodies know. If there’s anything I’ve become an expert at, it’s listening to my body. Spending a few hours here, I immediately knew that shea butter was a necessity, not a suggestion. My tub of Vaseline was about to become an accessory I couldn’t leave the house without. My lips would crackle in this place. I knew. And sometimes, you try to prevent the inevitable, and your body just smiles and shakes its head at you. You will soon learn that you cannot lie to your body. With care and compassion, you must help your body find home in this new place.

I will tell you what to do when your body starts craving home.

First, breathe.

In the beginning, this new air will feel alien, strange in your chest. You will not like how it tastes on your tongue, and you will long for the air you have always breathed. Teach your body that this, too, is air. That this too will sustain you, keep you alive, keep you walking long enough for your feet to carry you home. Just breathe, baby, breathe.

Second, laugh. At yourself. At your friends. At all the corny jokes you hear. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Surrender to a certain childlike humor where everything tickles you. You will need this to fight the longing that may begin to gnaw at your insides. A good laugh will bring light into your face and cause you to shake off some lethargy. Laugh. Let joy erupt from your face at even the smallest things.

Finally, marvel at the new world around you. Take everything in with wonder. Even the things that you think are ugly have some kind of beauty hidden underneath. Make it your mission to unearth that beauty. Speak positively about this new planting. Do not exhaust yourself by comparing every single thing to home. Let things be.

Mary Oliver said:

Instructions for living a life.
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.

It is my third day here, and my skin is still not used to the heat. But I am breathing easier, and I can feel my feet settling into the soil. I am starting to feel grounded. That it is not home does not mean you cannot flourish.

So, darling, go ahead and flourish.

We will always have words 🤍

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