“I used to think I was the strangest person in the world but then I thought there are so many people in the world, there must be someone just like me who feels bizarre and flawed in the same ways I do. I would imagine her, and imagine that she must be out there thinking of me too. Well, I hope that if you are out there and read this and know that, yes, it’s true I’m here, and I’m just as strange as you.” – Frida Kahlo
I first heard of the concept of “otherness” in my second year in the University. While studying Literature of the Commonwealth, I’d come to learn terms like the empire, the center, the other, the hegemony and many other terms that would make me try to understand where I fit in in the grand scheme of things. In my third year, I’d go on to major in Literature. I found myself more drawn to Literature of the Other, everything but the West, save for Shakespeare’s plays and Sonnet 116 and Robert Burns’ “A Red Red Rose” (Understandably, I’m a hopeless romantic). I got lost in R.K Narayan, V. S Naipaul and Derek Walcott. I loved some American literature, but only African-American literature. I knew a handful of Negro spirituals and I loved “Sister Becky’s Pickaninny”. Richard Wright’s Black Boy was too sad for me but I loved Maya Angelou’s poems. Of course I loved African Literature. I loved the worlds and the struggles captured. I loved the otherness of New Nigerian writers, especially those who lived in the diaspora. They were “Other” too.
In my own defense, I had never seen snow, so there was no way I could relate to Western Literature, it didn’t matter that I had seen Home Alone a zillion times. But I guess my love for other was really deep-rooted. To start with, I had never been able to fit in. In school I could never quite fit in, even though I had friends. For most part, I was always the youngest or the oldest (yeah, catechism). Even when I had friends I could never keep them. At first I had a mild form of persecution complex and “Everybody Hates Gbemi” days but I soon realized that I would never be mainstream enough to fit into anyone’s ideas of who or what I should be.
And that’s okay.
The fear of the freedom of choice to chart our own paths and make our own choices is the reason we all hide under societal norms and religious practices. They take the burden of choice away from us by defining what we should do and who we should be. So in the end, we are all homogeneous – same hair, same choices, same careers, and same partners and so on. It’s easier that way – when we all walk on the same street it’s hard to miss your way. Or that’s what it seems like.
But some paths are crooked and beautiful, and that’s how God made them. Not all of us should be mainstream- some of us were made to walk the side lines and maybe even backroads. But as long as we know where we’re headed and why, we can learn to trust our intuition. The beauty and genius of being different is in the fact that there are over 7 billion of us here. If God wanted us all to be the same thing, He wouldn’t even have made Esau and Jacob to be totally different people. Trust your path. Embrace your Otherness.