Where am I from? If you had asked me this question when I was younger I would have said France. I remember also saying I’m 50% French, 25% Congolese and 25% Beninese when I was about 6. Back then I didn’t realize how important it is to understand and embrace your cultures.
My father is from the Republic of Congo and my mother is from Benin but was born and raised in Brazzaville (Where they met). I was born in Lens (France), but sometime after my birth we went back to Brazzaville. We stayed there until I was 4, then we came back to France (Lille) when the civil war started in 1997. When we lived in France, we traveled to Cotonou every summer to spend the holidays with my maternal grandfather and my cousins. I remember us, (around 10 kids) playing altogether, eating beignets with gari, playing with the neighbors, just being kids really… Unfortunately, when my grandfather died in 2001, we stopped going there.
In 2003 my parents decided to go back to Congo, in Pointe-Noire. These were the best years of my life!!! I was able to reconnect with my Congolese culture and truly understand where I am from. My mom grew up in Congo so she is more Congolese than Beninese making me have more ties to my Congolese side. We came back to Lille in 2007 for a year, then in 2008 when I was 15, my sister went to study in Canada and my dad didn’t want me to stay in France so decided I come to the UK. I chose the UK because it wasn’t too far from home (Lille at the time. It was home because my parents still lived there) and it would be easier to travel back to France. Now I’ve been living in this country for 10 years and I love it!!
It is weird to say that I feel at home in Congo and the UK?
Congo is the place where I transitioned from childhood to adolescence, I met some of my best friends there, had my first parties, first kiss etc. Plus I eat almost every food, talk the Congolese slang and I understand 2 of many languages spoken in the Republic of the Congo (Kituba and Lingala). Unfortunately I don’t speak any of them. My parents only spoke French to us, but they spoke both languages to each other, hence this is how I was able to learn them. When people speak to me in Kituba or Lingala whether it’s in Congo or not, it makes me feel proud of my heritage even if I reply in French. To be honest I wish my parents had spoken to us in our native language as I was already speaking French at school.
In the UK I transitioned from adolescence to adulthood, I had to learn another language (Let me tell you, it wasn’t easy!), I went to high school & university here, had my first apartment, driver’s license, and I see myself speaking English to my children. I truly feel at home in both countries, the only difference is that in Congo, there are my roots.
So where do France and Benin fit in all of this ?
I hold a French passport, speak French, eat French food at home (Definitely not British) but somehow, I don’t feel as strongly about France as I do of the other countries. And I haven’t lived in the country for a very long time, I just go there for the holidays or to see my friends and family. After a week of being there I just want to go back to England!
Then for Benin, I didn’t go there for 10 years (2001 – 2011) and I haven’t been there since 2012. I don’t speak or understand any of the languages, I don’t really like the food and don’t know the culture very well. So Benin is definitely in my blood, but the Congolese side was definitely more put forward.
So yeah, I’m a 25 year old woman, originally from Congo/Benin who grew up in France but has been living in the UK for the past 10 years. I embrace this mix of culture which has made me the woman I am today…