The Man From America: Pains and Gains of Starting Over


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In The Red Shoes, the famous British film of 1948, the main character, Vicky Page (Moira Shearer) dances as the principal ballerina in a ballet titled The Red Shoes. In this ballet, she is given a pair of red, cute and shiny shoes by a creepy shoe maker. For any professional ballet dancer who has sworn all his/her life to dancing, the shoes are all you need as they evoke grace, vigor and elegance. But the shoes are also cursed because you cannot take them off unless you are ready to die. When you are wearing them, all you could do is dance. When you are not, you are dead.  After the ballet performance, we see how this story of red shoes begins to play out in Page’s life.  She is torn between the devotion to Julian Craster’s love and her career to continue dancing ballet.

The audience knows that Page leaves the Ballet Lermontov Company to support her lover, Craster, who was fired by jealous Lermontov. We can also validly agree that yes, she did the right thing by following her love.  What we perhaps can’t agree on is the need for her to go back to Lermontov to put on the red shoes again. Some would argue that it’s because she hasn’t been dancing professionally since she left, thus longed to get back into her career and keep up her passion for dancing. Others would argue, on the other hand, that she lacks the courage to start over.

But who likes to start over? No one. After long years of efforts…… then success, fame, wealth and other accomplishments, the idea of starting over is hard and it takes bravery and divine nodding to do so.

We detest the option of starting over because of:

  •  Shame – We mind what people will say about us. With a fragile self esteem, we are susceptible to the burden of shame. Our feeling of shame could emanate from our reluctance to take accountability for  what went wrong in the first place, or it could be that we just can’t face the idea of going back close to where we first began  10 , 15, or 20 years ago. We resolve to dealing with situations by faking and living a life of illusion.
  • Using time to measure-We count the number of years it took us to achieve the lost fortune and thought ‘gee, I’d be wearing a lot of gray hairs before I could ever bounce back!’
  • Admitting failure is hard– It sucks to admit failure. It makes one feel vulnerable and further reinforces the sense of shame.  Michael Morpurgo scores it right when he says “admitting failure is quite cleansing, but never pleasurable.”
  • Lack of self knowledge– This is our inability to reflect deeply on the circumstance that is calling for the need to start over. Human beings are different, and it’s true that some people don’t have the capacity to engage in a deeper reflective thought on where things went wrong. They may suffer serious depression, thus, avoidance might be their tactics of dealing with the issues.
  • Fear- This is the chief among them all. Fear is particularly dangerous because of its multiplier effects. Fear opens doors to mostly all things against success.  (We’ll go in-depth on this).

Why starting over is particularly hard for African immigrants:

When I was growing up in Nigeria, there was a man in our compound called ‘Baba Ilu-Eebo,’ the literal meaning would be ‘father from the West’, but I know this is far from best interpretation. ‘Baba Ilu-Eebo’ generally means ‘the man from overseas’ and in this case it means ‘the man from America’. He had no family members stopping by his place to say hello. He was living a fairly adequate life: in the upper range of working class. He was always in and out by himself except when he’d stop by Odan tree to play Ayo Olopon (popular board game in most African countries) with the men in our compound. I can’t remember his real name since no one ever called him by it.

What I do remember is that there were always chuckles and eyes rolling by folks whenever this man walked by. I also remember that Baba Ilu-Eebo never got the kind of respect that other overseas based people from the town got. When I was matured enough to understand the ridicule and asked why, I was told that he was living in America for a long time and then returned home to start over.  Those who lived in America and only visited intermittently got cheers, hugs, and a lot of kneeling and bowing.  Whenever they arrived to visit, ha-ha … they landed big! They would come with lots of goodies ranging from cool cars for their parents or for themselves, and all kinds of give-away like bags, shoes, watches, and other cool stuff for their extended families. We the extended neighbors would get foreign candies or cookies, which was fair and good enough.  Though these visitors with goodies were also from overseas and permanently living there, they were never teased as the men or women from America.

The story of the man from America explains the major pressure African immigrants abroad particularly in America faces. Apart from the admirable responsibility of supporting families back home, the very real and direct pressure is that you can’t afford to fail.  For if you fail, you are going deep down, which makes the idea of starting over a dreadful one.  Moving back to Africa struggling even among the people we love is not always an attractive option.

But hey life is what it is. We are given this world; we didn’t make it. It comes with rocky roads and flat ones. it oftentimes comes with wet roads, but at times very dry ones. To ensure we tread it gently, some of us even prepared big. We mapped out the route we’d better take whenever we head north, but alas, we found ourselves in the south despite all arduous preparations. And since we didn’t come with a manual in our little tiny baby hands when we were born, it’s okay to start over if we could retrace our steps and gain the courage to do so.

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Life is beautiful, but it could hit so hard that starting over might be a necessity.

With the two stories above, we gain perspectives that two major forces might hinder us from starting over: the internal one such as the one faced by Page in The Red Shoes and the external one such as the one faced by the man from America. Let’s continue on this category next week. Please visit.


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