A magazine for Africans and friends of Africa...Our Voices, Our Vision, Our Culture

Diary of a Reluctant Immigrant: My Broken Emotional State
By Muntu Chikondi

For me, the strangest thing about being an immigrant is that it was never my intention to leave my country permanently. My trip to England was simply an opportunity to take a break from my life, to do something different for a few years. I had a great life in my home country. I had a decent career, was in the vicinity of my parents, and had a better quality of life than the one I knew I was coming to...The Reluctant Immigrant Series continues ...

The day had finally come: it was time to move in with Mr. Doright. Moving in together had many advantages; for one thing I got to see a lot more of him. It also showed me much about my new environment and my personal state of mind.
The area was far safer than the one I had previously been living in and the house was more of a sanctuary. After months of having to go home to countless amounts of drama, I finally had a space to rest and recuperate. Despite it’s obvious shortcomings (it was, after all, 4,000 miles from my hometown, family and friends) my new neighborhood was made for me.
There are two parks within an energetic stones throw away from my new home. Regents Park and Hampstead Heath are a leisurely 30 minute stroll. We were also a mere fifteen minutes walk from Camden, home of Camden Market and center of the "Goth" universe.
Public transport was also exceptional. I could choose between taking the underground, two different overground lines and several buses to anywhere in London and beyond. I could even be on a train to France in 40 minutes-- minus check-in time and French immigration harassment time. Despite all this hustle and bustle, our block was quiet and peaceful.
Above all this, I finally had a kitchen I didn’t have to share and a willing epicure to feed, so I could cook to my heart's content. I was excited about finally getting to cook or sample the food I had seen on the Food Network and BBC Food when I was in Zambia. After all, this was one of the reasons I came to the UK: to increase my culinary scope. I had so many dishes I wanted to taste and cook now, as several ingredients had been unavailable in Zambia.
As a gourmand I was well served. I had an exquisite Italian restaurant on my doorstep and several cafes (of varying quality) on the block; as well as Italian and Portuguese delis, a Phoenician food hall, an organic butcher and an organic vegetable and health food store. I was in food heaven--just where I wanted to be.
Despite this, such enjoyments were restricted to the weekend, as work was now at least an hour commute each day. Moreover, despite the delicious offers, I didn't jump straight in to taking advantage of the area. Though food was easy to get, I did not go to the park or visit Camden often. To be honest, I was still adjusting to life in London and being so far from my family. I was homesick and lonely frequently. My world revolved around Mr. Doright and he had his own life to lead.
I spent the majority of my leisure time with his friends and relatives, or people from my office. And yet, neither group fulfilled my needs. Although we had been long distance friends for so long, I felt I didn't fit into Mr. Doright's world. I attempted to form hasty bonds with the people I met, but still felt detached because they only knew me in the context being "Mr. Doright's girlfriend."
In the end, I found social interaction tiring and tended to find reasons to stay in during the weekend. Sometimes I spoke to Mr. Doright’s mother in an attempt to feel close to someone, to create a bond. After all, we at least already had one thing common: we both loved her son.
I was surprised to learn the rules of engagement here were so vastly different from how I'd been raised. Though I had lived in the UK before, I had never fraternized with people who appeared to be so different from myself. Their perspectives on life and friendship in particular seemed distant from mine.
I had never thought of myself as a socially inept person, but I began to find myself in several situations where I was at a loss as to how to conduct myself. This is not because the situations themselves were foreign, but because the people were. I sometimes offended without realizing it or my jokes fell into chasms of silence, like a man tumbling off a cliff. Social intercourse became a chore I sought to avoid. At the same time, I craved connection, an understanding with someone, anyone, outside my relationship.
During this time, my interactions seemed so superficial. I appeared to be speaking an alien language each time I opened my mouth. I suspect most people were not really interested in me as a person, but rather as a new part of their social circle; making it, and by extension themselves, more interesting. At times, I was simply the "story to tell real friends" about. I was still healing and wanted, needed, to be heard. Often, in an inebriated state, I would blurt out some personal fact, not so much to shock listeners, but in vain hope that someone would realize I was reaching out. No one ever reached back.
This period in my life was wrought with insecurity and compounded by confusion. I could not understand what was happening to the few social skills I had. Everyone I met seemed to be trying to prove how clever and fascinating he or she was. To put it another way, I did not care to engage in discourses on "transcendental existentialism" late on a Friday night. I was interested in who they were underneath the intellectual jargon. What their life story was minus the special effects. But it seemed rude to ask about real personal issues. People gave you tidbits about their lives and never really opened up. And I was in much too fragile a state to be able to deal with these people rationally, so as a result, I became more and more introverted and lonely.
I made attempts to reconnect with friends I had, people who had known me for long enough to not need an explanation of everything I felt or did, who needed no context when I spoke of my thoughts. I looked to the people who knew me intimately enough to not need guidance when they dealt with me. To do this without going bankrupt, I found a long distance call provider that allowed me to speak to my family and friends in various countries.
This reconnection was not easy. During the last year of a previous relationship, I had been breaking bonds rather than strengthening them. I had been too embarrassed to speak to my friends, not wanting to lie to them when they asked how things were. So I opted to say nothing and go into hiding.
Luckily I always had my family, who were aware of the situation and managed to help me out of the relationship in one piece. I tried to keep them up to date with my life in London and I realized that they had moved on from my life in Zambia way before I did, accepting my new circumstances with great openness. They were happy I was healing, despite my broken emotional state, and they supported me as best they could.
In time, I found the courage to go crawling back to my friends. I spent many a Friday and Saturday night reconnecting with them and began to heal properly. Through a friend from my university, I began to meet people who were not from work or connected to Mr. Doright, and who seemed genuinely interested in me. Thanks to this, my emotional state began to get better.
And as I came to, after years of being in a social coma, I realized that the practicalities of living with someone were far more challenging than I had earlier imagined.