Discover more from Wandering the Grey
I don't know where home is
Today, I’m sharing a feature piece from my magazine Untethered—that is available now in print, or digital. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever written—funny, deep, vivid, vulnerable—it dives into a tension that many of you have felt—reconciling the spaces between where we come from and where we find ourselves.
PS—I’ll be publishing on Sundays going forward. Perfect for some light reading over your lunch or downtime.
My autocorrect is trapped in a perpetual battle between two warring worlds. On my phone, spellcheck melts away extra ‘u’s, earning applause from the American aisle. But on my laptop, the words snap back into shape, prim and proper like a British professor. And with my countrymen? I tell my stories in Nigerian Pidgin, where everything is hilarious by default.
This linguistic tug of war mirrors the rumble within me, sparked by the simple question: 'Where are you from?'"
I can answer this question in many ways that are factually true but incomplete. My passports tell a different story to my birth certificate. I’m always American in airports—the blue shield protects me yonder. In London, my operating system reverts to Teenage Tobias and words like “leng” and “peckish” spill out of my mouth. In the past, I would simply answer “Lagos”, but I got tired of explaining to foreigners that Nairobi is three thousand miles away from Lagos, and our languages are about as similar as paint and pasta.
I haven’t lived in Nigeria for thirteen years, and as I spent five months traveling on sabbatical, I got the chance to ask the question time and again—“Where is home, really?”
Is it Lagos?
The city that nourished me with fourteen years of deep belly laughs and frustrating bouts of daily chaos. A place where someone accused a snake of stealing $100,000, and meant it unironically. A hub with a vibrant heartbeat that smacks you awake the second you step outside the airport—the welcoming waft of humid air and the morass of people “greeting” you. Here, distinct scents range from the seductive aromas of roadside suya kebabs and smoky party jollof rice to the pungent, sour reminders of urban life, in sharp contrast to the sanitized, sterile air of many American cities. People who dance through everything—fuel scarcity, funerals, weddings, births. Where talking drums and vivid aso ebi outfits reward curious ears and eyes. Where you can go from not knowing about a wedding to dancing with the couple in a custom-made traditional outfit within a few days. The incomparable feeling of being completely understood with ease. Lagos makes a compelling case.
Or is it San Francisco?
The IRS seems to think so. For the past seven years, my zip code has pencilled me within this city’s limits. The city that transformed my career prospects—from an underpaid, idealistic lab intern to a highly paid software engineer. But there’s more to the story. Eminently walkable streets. Curvy hills that elevate and depress you in space while showing off gorgeous views of the Pacific Ocean. Sidewalks adorned with various textures of human poop. White sneakers on every block but not enough feet in heels. Fifty square miles of big-bottomed corgis and Teslas with finicky door handles. Beautiful parks where people sunbathe in 59 degree weather. Fantastic food if you’re willing to bore a hole in your wallet. A culture of fitness fanatics—hikers, bikers, skiers, climbers, runners—and supremely laid-back vibes. It's been home for a while, but maybe that season is over?
Could it be London?
A city that thirsts after football like my own parched heart. The three months of summer mania when a certain hot stranger illuminates their sad skyline. The witty banter. Emergency umbrellas that are hidden in plain sight but stealthily unearthed when furious drizzles of rain visit. The crippling winter. Pubs that serve ales and tales for the ages. A city with a very strong and perceptible African culture—afrobeats pulsates through the city, you hear it on buses, trains, even pharmacies. The luxury of choosing between hundreds of Nigerian restaurants and barbers. London’s flirtatious glance is elite, but how can a tropical baby survive on a measly three months of sun?
How about Barcelona?
A place with a penchant to enjoy life with all dramatics included. People who talk with their hands and enunciate with their whole body. The juxtaposition of the ancient world—tiny, cobblestone streets in the old city—and the newer, Eixample barrio with its distinct hexagonal grids. A rebellious spirit born from their fight for independence and surviving multiple attempts to burn down the city in its history. The courageous hands that rebuilt from the rubble. Montjuïc Park that blessed me with sweeping views of the city. A global crossroads—I made Swedish, Ivorian and Colombian friends in one week. And of course, the pinnacle was attending mass at the cathedral of football when I watched a live match at Camp Nou.
Where else might it be?
It’s not Lisbon. My six-day trip there was pleasant but wholly insufficient to form a real opinion. Although, I must confess I peeked at home prices there and imagined escaping to Costa de Lisboa. Ask me again in twelve months. I pinky promised a friend there I would return.
What about the Asian countries on my tour?
Could it be Bangkok? A foodie heaven that has corrupted my idea of how much good food should cost. Three dollars buys the bus fare for a ticket to aromatic heaven in Bangkok. Tom yum that hits every desired note—sour tickles, kicks of heat, divinely fresh herbs, umami blankets of fish sauce. I mean, what else could I possibly want in a dish?
Or Bali? An island that extends an open welcome to creatives and all peoples. No one asks for your ID at the door—come as you are. Be transformed by the natural habitat and warm welcome of the locals. You feel the open, accepting spirit as you zoom past rice fields, sit by gorgeous sunsets, and appreciate the natural beauty. Bali was the only place I visited twice on my trip, and I hope to spend three months there someday.
But wait—am I mistaken expecting home to be a physical place visible on a map? Is home the gentle pump nestled within that gifts me extra wafts of air when I’m running low? The sense of peace I feel in certain environments that transcends nationality, language, and culture?
Lagos is technically my home. It has always been and it always will be. Nothing could ever match the feeling of dancing to Wizkid’s Pakurumo at a Nigerian wedding —rich aunties dressed to the nines cooling themselves with jewelry-encrusted fans, uncles doling out dollars on the dance floor, the nearly-thirty crowd reciting the lyrics with heartfelt aplomb, the overzealous, serving staff dancing like he’s trying to win a lucrative contract. The rest of us dancing with attitude—serving hand gestures, warm eye-rolls, sass, sauce and smiles. The knowing look when a cute stranger tasks you to show what you’re made of. The silent gulp before you regain control and flaunt your peacock feathers.
Hips are usually controlled by the minds that own them, but in Lagos, the drums of Konko Below compel old and young to the middle of the dance floor. In Yoruba language, Lagbaja invites everyone to meet him down on the ground. Barring medical complications, a crowd descends in unison as the beat sultrily guides dancers through the decline. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Those of weak knees are allowed to stop where biology places limits. Then, you come back up at the same pace you went down. The whole time you’re basking in your proud elegance, feeling yourself, carrying your shoulders as if you own the damn place—it’s a quintessential Yoruba activity (we are notoriously proud people who have main character energy. Some might say a touch arrogant👅).
In Kuala Lumpur, my friend and I begged a closing bar to let us in for five minutes to dance to a classic Nigerian song that blasted on their speakers as they closed out. Without a modicum of shame, we went in, danced and sang at the top of our lungs. I would never do that for Drake or Ice Spice.
But, I have no plans to live in Lagos, so home has to become something more personal—an invisible pouch I carry with me. A feeling, either fleeting or deeply ingrained, that nourishes from within. My family is spread out, and aside from my parents, we all live in different places. So, home might be the few, sacred moments when we’re all together, even if just once or twice a year.
Through the bustling streets of Lagos, the relaxed monoculture of San Francisco, the cultural richness of London, the spirited flair of Barcelona, and beyond, I have sought the elusive concept of ‘home’. But the notion has transcended mere geography—it’s the moments of laughter shared with family, instant bonding with strangers, the sights, tastes, and sounds that resonate with my soul, the sweet, long embrace that nature offers. Home is a rich mélange—blending together people, places and precious memories.
As I sit on my brother’s couch in New Jersey, reflecting on the scattered pieces of my life, I realize home isn’t tied to a single place. It’s a perceptible, unmistakable feeling. I know when it’s absent, and when it’s present, I bask in its grace and depth. I could feel at home at an afrobeats party on the moon. So, instead of wading through options like a multiple-choice exam, perhaps I should embrace the beauty of the feeling when it arrives. Home is to be felt and cherished, not intellectualized about.
How has your idea of home changed over the years? Tell me in the comments :)