A Passport to Summer

Posted Saturday, 02 June 2018

When I think of summer, I imagine an idyllic stretch from June through August. I picture hot, hazy days by the pool, ice lollies, and children frolicking over freshly cut grass.


I just reread my diary from 2017. Our family’s summer months involved none of those summery things. Except for a short visit to Abuja, we spent last summer in Lagos, all day every day. My children and I barely even crossed the Third Mainland Bridge. We stuck close to our house and got rained on a lot.


The few days our family spent in Abuja were great. We love to travel within Nigeria. We took the kids to the zoo and to a theme park. We enjoyed the slower pace of the capital city. It felt calm, like Lagos during a fuel scarcity.


I was there for a special reason, however. In early 2017, my Nigerian citizenship by registration was approved, not an easy feat. Even procuring the application form for citizenship is tricky. Filling it out is a challenge then your submitted paperwork can languish for years, unprocessed. I somehow passed through the gauntlet, along with 89 other women married to Nigerian men.


In Abuja—citizenship documents in hand—I applied for my first Nigerian passport. I was terribly nervous. I was required to ask the Oga at the Top of the passport agency to sign my forms. I was so anxious that my heart raced as I spoke to him and my legs gave way, leaving me hanging off my astonished husband.


“Get a hold of yourself,” my husband whispered.


The thing was, I really wanted a Nigerian passport. My husband and children can trace their lineage back to Delta State. Yet whenever we entered Nigeria, I stood in a line apart with all the other foreigners, separate from them. It wasn’t right. Nigeria was where I lived, worked and raised my family. I was all in.


Soon my passport was ready. We drove across the border into Benin Republic and I got my first stamp. A few months later, returning from graduate school, I transferred in Frankfurt for my flight back to Lagos. I was so proud that I walked around holding my green booklet in front of me before the plane boarded, trying to gain the admiration of fellow passengers. I marched up and down the rows of seats waiting for someone to congratulate me on being a Nigerian.


No one noticed. I realized they were all Nigerians and had Nigerian passports, too. So I walked back and forth in front of a trio of Lebanese men. I was dismayed to see they also possessed Nigerian passports and couldn’t care less about mine.


The trip back was uneventful. A man preached loudly before the plane took off, imploring Jesus to keep us from crashing. The woman sitting next to me ate an entire tin of shortbread cookies before the drinks service. The passengers burst into enthusiastic applause after a smooth landing. They took light several times at Murtala Muhammed Airport and the luggage belt kept stopping. When I exited into the terminal, my husband stood outside, telling a man with a stack of worn 1000 notes that he didn’t need money changed.


“Welcome back,” he said, hugging me. “Did you have any trouble with your passport?”


“Nope,” I said.


“The kids are waiting up for you. Let’s go home,” he said. So we did.


Mona Zutshi Opubor is an Indian-American and Nigerian short story author and memoirist. She is studying for her MSt in Literature and Arts at the University of Oxford.


Follow her on Instagram @mopals5

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