By Joy Ehonwa.
It’s been over 5 years since I “passed out” from the NYSC programme, but I still remember it, and the months following, just like yesterday. Like many young graduates, the search for my dream job took me far from my parents, and with each new job came a new place of abode and sometimes a new city altogether. I’ve lived in homes where I wasn’t allowed to have visitors, stayed up cooking till 11 p.m. even though I had to wake up by 4:30 a.m. to prepare for work, was forbidden to wear trousers, and constantly walked on eggshells, wondering if someone was mad at me. I have been called an “angel”, a “witch”, “a joy to have around” and a “hypocrite”. I have lived with people who couldn’t bear to see me leave, and people who couldn’t wait to see me leave.
The reality for a lot of young people just starting out is that living with people is almost inevitable. Romantic relationships are only one kind of the many we need to survive. Your relationship with the people you live with, and even more importantly your relationship with yourself, play a huge role in shaping the person you grow into and the quality of your life. So, I thought I’d share a few things I’ve learned about living in people’s homes.
Start planning for your own place immediately. Yes, you are comfortable there. Yes, it’s your favourite uncle’s house. We know your parents would never hear of you living with friends or, God forbid, living alone. The thing is all that can become history in the blink of an eye. There just isn’t any guarantee you’ll be living there till you get married. Find out prices for the kind of place you’d like, start saving and have a few ideas about friends you can share a place with. Something will necessitate your leaving that house someday. Whether it’s a wonderful new job with a 3-hour commute, or a venomous aunt who can no longer stand the sight of you, the day will most likely come when you’ll need to move, and you don’t want to be unprepared.
Do your share. You may not be blessed, like I once was, with someone to tell you “this is what my mum likes, this is what my mum doesn’t like”, but do your best to find out what is expected of you. Buy stuff for the house, do your chores, feed the dog. If no one assigns you chores, find yourself a few and do them faithfully. That way, whether your efforts turn out to be good enough or not, you’ll have something priceless: the gift of a clear conscience. You may not know now how much you might need it; it is indeed amazing how quickly things can turn ugly.
Be resilient. Sometimes, the answer to the challenges we face living under peoples’ roofs is not to up and run. There are times when conflict gives birth to closer relationships and builds character, so just grit your teeth and bear it.
Learn. If you adopt an attitude of humility, you’ll be surprised to find that your mother didn’t teach you everything. Is the woman of the house Martha Stewart? You can learn how to be the “hostess with the mostest”. Is your cousin a fashionista? Learn a style trick or two and spice your wardrobe up a little. By living with people in their homes you can learn how to balance career and family, spend wisely, handle in-laws, keep a sparkling house, discipline kids, submit to your future husband without being a doormat, and many other things “you never knew you never knew”.
Be yourself. Don’t let these experiences take away the essence of you. If you have to leave one home for another, don’t assume that you can’t hug Mrs. B because Mrs. A never let you hug her. Open your heart and accept each family as they are. No matter how bad the trauma was where you’re coming from, don’t let it shape you. You have to make a conscious effort to do this, because you’ll hurt innocent people if you don’t.
Don’t burn bridges. Do your best to leave each house on a good note. Even if you were treated badly, work at forgiveness and hold on to the good times and the ways in which you became a better person during your stay. It may be hard, but you’ll find it’s worth it.
After months (or even years) of living in people’s homes and maybe moving from place to place, you finally get your own apartment (oh, the bliss!). Take time to savour it. You can celebrate loudly or rejoice quietly. But do it. It doesn’t have to be a party. Invite friends for a sleepover, watch TV at 2 a.m., read by candlelight, and stop cooking with garlic if you really don’t like it and were only doing it because you had to. At least in this aspect of your life, you have come into your own. Congratulations, enjoy.
About the Author
Joy Ehonwa is a writer specialising in documentary scripts. She is passionate about self development and relationships. You can read her blog at www.anafricandiva.blogspot.com, send her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow her on Twitter @joysuo.