The Nigerian experience is physical, emotional and sometimes international. No one knows it better than our features on #TheAbroadLife, a series where we detail and explore Nigerian experiences while living abroad.
Today’s subject on Abroad Life is a Hungarian-Nigerian who grew up in Zaria. She talks about never really fitting in Nigeria because of her skin colour, moving to Hungary for school and to find her dad, and returning to Nigeria because God told her to.
What was growing up in Nigeria like for you?
It was difficult because, early in life, I became hyper-aware of the fact that I look different from other Nigerians. My dad was Hungarian and my mum is Nigerian. They met when my dad was in Kaduna for some big engineering project for the government. He lived in a camp with other Hungariarians who were also in Nigeria for the job. My parents got married and had me, and two years later my dad returned to Hungary because the Nigerian government owed him money.
How did being different affect you?
When my dad left, we moved to Zaria. I hardly ever went to any other place apart from school because my mum was trying to protect me from creeps and kidnappers. I couldn’t even follow her to the market because if people saw a white child, they would assume she was married to a rich white man and overcharge her for everything.
Home was the only place I felt normal. I grew up with an uncle and a cousin who I consider my siblings because they’re not much older than me. They were the only people that didn’t see me as different. To them, I was just a sister.
Did your dad have any plans to return to Nigeria?
When I was 15, I found letters he sent to my mum, talking about how he missed her and couldn’t wait to see her. They were in love. My mum told me about how making calls wasn’t easy back in the day and how she had to go to NITEL just to talk to him.
Eventually, they had a fallout and just stopped talking. They haven’t spoken ever since.
Wow. You were still a kid. What was school like?
I realised that I had something close to an identity crisis because I knew about only one part of myself. To cope, I would make up stories about myself to my friends about how I was a princess in Hungary before I came to Nigeria, how my grandma was the queen of Hungary, and how helicopters used to pick me from school every day. I just needed something to keep the curiosity alive.
As I got older, I realised that being different wasn’t all gloom. I got favours in places where I typically wouldn’t. Because people think I’m not Nigerian, they would break protocols for me, attend to me faster than any other person and treat me with respect. I remember one time in 2019 when I was on the line for a flight and the airline workers took me from the back of the line to the front, waived the fee for my overweight box and checked me in. The disappointment in their faces when I eventually spoke pidgin was priceless.
LMAO. When did you decide to leave Nigeria?
I finished secondary school in 2015 and wanted to leave Nigeria because I didn’t want to study medicine here. I strongly considered the UK until my mum’s friend who lived in Hungary suggested that I move there instead to study medicine. It’s easier and cheaper to get into medical school in Hungary than it is in many other places, and the quality of education is really good. In this period, my mum also reconnected with some of my dad’s old friends that still lived in Nigeria, and they also advised that I go to Hungary.
How did moving to Hungary feel?
It was surreal. One minute, I wasn’t planning on going there, and the next thing, I was about to spend the next six years of my life there. In the few weeks before I left in 2015, I walked in on my mum crying a few times. When I asked her why, her response was always that she was going to miss me. It was cute.
I was super excited to finally go home, learn my culture and find and reconnect with my dad.
What was Hungary like when you got there?
First things first, Hungary is not as exciting as you might think. As of 2015, the Nigerian naira was stronger than the Hungarian forint (Ft). I also quickly realised that the population was mainly old people — a dying population. A lot of young Hungarians emigrate, so the country is filled with older people. In fact, if you’re a Hungarian citizen living in Hungary and you have three children, the government will give you 10,000,000 Ft — about ₦15,000,000, just for adding to the young population.
Omo. How soon after you got there did you start looking for your dad?
Not long after I got there, I visited my mum’s friend who initially suggested the move to Hungary. As we were talking about finding my dad, she said, “Yes, we have to find him. I’ll help you look for him. I believe he’s still alive. I don’t even know why your mum said he has died.”
It was at that moment she realised she made a mistake. She wasn’t supposed to tell me about his alleged death, but she got carried away in the conversation. She reassured me that she believed that he was alive and she would try her best to help me find him.
I’m so sorry. Did you talk to your mum about it?
Yes. Apparently, that was why she was crying a lot before I left. One of his friends who she reconnected with shortly before I left broke the news to her, and it shocked her to her bones. She didn’t tell me because she knew I was excited about it and didn’t want to ruin my excitement. I think she wanted me to find out by myself. It was an extremely tough period for me. I cried a lot, but moving on was easier because I didn’t know him. I was just sad because something I looked forward to so eagerly was now impossible.
Did you eventually confirm that he was dead?
A few months ago, before my flight on the day I finally returned to Nigeria, I took my birth certificate which had his name on it to the appropriate parastatal to confirm if he was truly dead. He died in 2013.
Damn. Let’s go back a bit. What was your experience in Hungary like?
I lived in Debrecen, and it was awesome. In retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t live in Budapest because it has huge Lagos vibes. I’m not a fan of big rowdy cities. I first lived in a campus hostel, then I moved to live with a friend, then I moved to live with another friend. My housing situation was the best thing that happened to me in Hungary. The people I lived with were all Nigerians, and oh my God, it was amazing. We all bonded and became really good friends. I didn’t make many Hungarian friends my age.
First of all, the language.
You didn’t learn the language?
Csak keveset beszélek magyarul.
I only speak a little Hungarian.
I could understand some of what they were saying, but not a lot. But a major reason I didn’t interact with so many Hungarians my age is that I became a Christian after a month in Hungary, and the people around me didn’t share my values. I tried to make friends, but they would eventually get tired of me talking about Jesus.
The Hungarians I was able to make friends with were the ones I met at work. Alongside school, I worked at a daycare, and more of the older adults I met — co-workers and parents, shared my values.
Why did you return to Nigeria?
God told me to. He didn’t tell me why. He just told me to move back, and the state I should move to. Now, I’m waiting for what he wants me to do next.