In Chapter 30 of Americanah, the character Obinze is attending a party in England. Alexa, one of the guests, claims that England should “remain a refuge” and that people who have survived “frightful wars” must be allowed in. Alexa asks Obinze if he agrees and Obinze begins to think to himself.
Alexa, and the other guests, and perhaps even Georgina, all understood the fleeing from war, from the kind of poverty that crushed human souls, but they would not understand the need to escape from the oppressive lethargy of choicelessness. They would not understand why people like him, who were raised well fed and watered but mired in dissatisfaction, conditioned from birth to look towards somewhere else, eternally convinced that real lives happened in that somewhere else, were now resolved to do dangerous things, illegal things, so as to leave, none of them starving, or raped, or from burned villages, but merely hungry for choice and certainty.
Obinze has risked a lot to travel to England and live in the country as an illegal immigrant. Often when we think of an illegal immigrant, we imagine someone who as experienced a large amount of trauma. We imagine someone who now lives without love, family, friends, shelter, food and money. However, people leave their countries for many reasons. They leave to be with the people they love. They leave to create a new destiny for themselves. They leave to prove that they can. They leave because they are people like Obinze, people who are “merely hungry for choice and certainty”. They want to make decisions for themselves whether these decisions turn out to be fantastic decisions or terrible decisions. They want to have some certainty in their future, safety and security, certainty that is not imposed or determined by circumstance.
One can argue that Obinze and Ifemelu become expatriates. One could even argue that they are nomads since they seem to be continuously escaping (or running away from) choicelessness. “Why would you leave this town/region/place?” is a question that we repeatedly ask privileged people. Perhaps we should be asking “Why aren’t there enough choices for you here?