Not all leave Africa from poverty as saints. Not all of us appreciate the chance at a better life and opportunity. There are those of us that squander it all, becoming insufferable for one reason or another.
If anyone deserved to be run over by a truck, I would have been too self-centered of an egoist to notice that everyone around me was lining up for the chance at chucking me head first into the street. Just think of that guy you hated in high school, the jerk who couldn’t stop talking about himself, how amazing he thought he was. Remember how he annoyed you and your friends. I was him and getting worse.
I had completely forgotten the beatings I suffered from teachers in Lagos for missing a homework assignment. I had lost that desire to perform consistently if only to avoid the lashings of a cane. I forgot that I used to have to fetch water from a well in Ikeja because the tap went dry. Even as I write, I remember the riots at Mile 12, the hungry days eating gari with sugar and peanuts, all those times I used to cry, and that desperation in me to ensure that I made a difference in the world.
I came to the United States and became something else.
I once told a classmate to build a statue of me and worship it. I used to physically push people that would let me get away with it and asked, “wanna die?” That's how I said hello to people minding their business. And good lord, I lied. About everything. My virginity, the number of friends I had outside of school, the reasons I couldn’t hang out for more than an hour, you name it, I was making it all up. And it was evident.
I spewed these hate-me-now justifications hourly. A shame. I thought being black in the United States meant being hard as nails, ready to fight. I was trying to be something that I thought was expected of me. I was doing a terrible job at being a human being.
“Yes. But I smarter than you,” I would say. Or, “I’m probably going to go pro in soccer. I can’t waste my time playing for them.” Even though I knew, I would get run off the field by a division 3 college team.
Best yet, I consistently repeated my ode to the film, Zoolander, “I am really, really, ridiculously good looking.” It didn’t matter that no one else agreed. It was my duty to force my perspective on everything unfortunate enough to exist around me. Inanimate objects weren’t spared either if they were shiny enough for a reflection.
And when someone figured me out and challenged, “you are really insecure.”
I would smirk and ask, “how can perfection be insecure?” Later spending hours on my myspace account, staring at mirror pics of my bare abdominals. I even had the duck face on.
Yup! I was that guy till I turned 18 and my father told me I had to go back to Nigeria. I had some immigration documents to sort out. Thus, I de-matriculated for my freshman year spring semester in college. I would be gone for six weeks that would forever change my life.
I did not want to go back to Africa.
If my perception of home was to be indeed correct, I should have been enraged that progress hadn’t been made, instead of directing my anger towards the possibility of being in a house with no power. I dreaded the lack of my comfort.
I should have left with an open heart. I regret that I did not arrive with the intention of embracing Ogbomosho, the small village where I was born. I look back and know it would have been fulfilling to learn how I could give back to the community that made me. Especially now that I have fallen in love with art and photography, I wish I planned on representing the mud huts, thatched roofs and goats running free in the streets near old cars.
Instead, I imagined seeing my cousins who I used to visit every summer. They didn't have much but had more than we did. Of them, Idowu was the prize of the whole family, the brilliant one. He was creating his toys and appliances, from scratch, by the time I was five.
Once, because he had to get the wrinkles out of his clothes for school, and my uncle couldn't afford a generator, Idowu sought out some discarded metal. He welded parts together, cut up some wood, made hot coal, and fashioned a working iron. He looked right as rain for school the next morning. I should have been excited to tell him about the sort of opportunities awaiting a mind like his abroad.
Idowu and I could have spoken about his difficulty finding work despite his genius. Instead, I was looking forward to leaving enough hints that I had become the new high achiever in the family. That I was the one now considering a career as an engineer, in the United States no less.
I wasn't thinking about reconnecting. I had no intention of being another African at home. I was intent on reminding everyone that I was better than them. I even had a new accent to prove it.
On the flight over, I was pissed but interested in checking on the houses my father had built since I left. I believed I would receive a royal welcome akin to that of Prince Hakeem´s from the movie, Coming to America. All those lies I was telling in high school, I had no idea that I started believing them.
This may not sound as ridiculous as it should to you, till you learn that Nigeria is an oil and resource-abundant country. There are Nigerians who live like sultans. They own jets and mansions the size of country clubs. I still didn't have constant power at my home in Lagos. But my teenage self forgot about all that.
I was awaiting what the average American would expect from Africa.
As soon as I landed at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, I immediately complained about the smell of the place. But! I will never forget that indescribable feeling. Even a jerk can’t ignore it. There was this burden lifted off me. Though I would continue pretending to be something I wasn't, I didn't have to anymore. I was home.
But bless your heart if all you know of Africa are those infomercials trying to guilt you into donating 5$ a month because some malnourished children are too weak to wave flies from their faces. You think it´s the poverty that will make you a better person. You are mistaken.
Africa is not just starving children and a safari. It is not just civil war and corruption. It is not just a lack of education and running water. Africa is every facet of life, coping with all the bests and worst of humanities extremes. It is the great character and heart that you find bearing all the madness with dignity. It is above all else, the questions it forces you to ask yourself about what means the most to you.
I was wrong. No one gave a damn where I had just come from. There were fast food restaurants everywhere, malls and even movie theaters. If you can afford it, you can go to Lagos right now and lack zero amenities. I saw more luxury cars in Ikoyi than I had ever seen concentrated in any part of Queens or Long Island. There are segments of Victoria Island, Lagos that would give the Hamptons a run for its money. I was nothing.
When I used my new accent to order pizza, no one flinched, some rolled their eyes. When I told people about my life in New York, they shrugged and continued with their conversations. Lagos is westernized and way beyond pandering. I was making no difference in anyone’s life.
Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.
- Theodore Roosevelt
My cousin Idowu apologized that he couldn’t find the time to see me. He doesn’t make money, but he works about twenty hours a day, going from town to town offering free health care. He takes the rare paying gig if it ever comes by. Kehinde, Idowu’s sister, had a baby and was opening a shop. They were working towards earning ten dollars a day. That is the dream. There I was, thinking that I would just show up, and they would coming running. I already rehearsed my annoyed reactions to all the attention that would never come.
I was crushed and missed them.
The farce, my catch phrase during my junior and senior year was, “I am too good for life.” I exited the middle of many conversations with that smug mantra. In Nigeria, I realized I forgot what life was. I remembered that life is pain and doing everything possible to survive. I took a moment to thank God for my great fortune, living in Queens because my life shouldn't have been any easier than my cousin’s.
But see, self-growth doesn’t happen right away. You need a chance to reflect. I had come to a realization, but that was not enough for reflection. I thanked God and went back to being selfish.
I kept commenting about how much I could afford to people who I knew could afford nothing. I got into a loud argument with the security guard of my community. I kept getting my car stuck at the gate that leads into the main road. He tried telling me it was a safety risk, to which I screamed. “Stop talking to me, I have way more money than you and own three of the houses here.” It was one house, separated into three parts available for rent.
He should have punched me in the face. The man was doing his job, and I was wreaking havoc by my second week. Being inconsiderate is a lonely place. If you do and say things that hurt people, I advise that you reconsider your approach to human interaction. Be selfish about it, be better for you.
Be more compassionate. I don't care how young you are, stop bullying now. Because there will come a time when you grow up a bit, and these memories will haunt you. It's not fun trying to block out a huge chunk of your life.
Alas, as it always is, those who would stand to benefit the most from this advice probably do not think they are doing anything wrong. I have been there.
If you don't change for the better, one day, you will notice that you are randomly screaming when no one is around because you can´t believe the person you used to be. At some point, you will feel miserable about it. Take my word for it, and do yourself a favor. Commit now, to being a force for good.
A key turning point for me, in Lagos, was when I was introduced to a guy I will call John. John was a University student like myself, attending UNILAG in Lagos. On our second day hanging out he took me to a tiny dorm room on campus filled with twelve guys, each taking turns on three laptops.
This was to be my up close and personal encounter with the infamous of Nigerian culture, the story of us you are likely to be more familiar with. I was in a room with those who fleece innocent people of life savings. They are predators that mask themselves as princes online.
I never understood how anyone could fall for those tricks till I saw a documentary about it.
I couldn't believe it, how another human being could so easily prey on the weak. If you are looking for love, they come with affection. If you are looking for investment, they come with the sure thing. Whoever you are, they come for you and leave with everything. If these predators could find a newly widowed mother, they would salivate.
The most infamous scam is simple. And some in the room mentioned their success with it. Someone sends an E-mail claiming to be in a jam. He assumes the identity of a politician, a prince, a king, someone with power. The predator states the problem. Money that is rightfully his, millions, is stuck behind some bureaucracy. He is in a rush, aggrieved and needs your help. His issues can only be solved by your cash.
The predator asks you for assistance and promises you a share of the millions once the money is free. Even if you are skeptical, he sends you pictures of fancy cars and an exotic life. You have no idea what Africa is like, so you may take his word for it. Once you are done transferring over thousands of your hard earned dollars, in come more problems.
He needs a bit more money for one reason of the other. A few more thousand for a share of guaranteed millions seems like a no brainer because you are already too deep in. Eventually, more obstacles show up, and you keep pouring money until you start asking questions. That’s when the predator vanishes. Boom! You are out of life saving.
Seeing the real life, honest, and desperate people these scams affected, I wanted no parts of it. And assuming everyone around me were idiots, the a**hole in me rose again like the phoenix, this time trying to do some good. I tried warning them. I thought that I had some information that they weren't privy to.
“Be careful o. You guys are a big deal in America right now. You are on the news, and they are talking about catching you people. The FBI is taking the 419 (code for scams in Nigeria) very serious now. Maybe they are tracking you.”
“How can they find us,” John laughed. “Shay bhi na Nigeria we dey? Na dem Sabi!”
One of the fellas was nonetheless worried. He asked about which scams were being talked about. Emphasis on which. I told him.
He was relieved. Apparently, the room was beyond that ploy. It was ancient to them. They were blending in on dating sites and had new scripts to follow.
John asked for pictures of my girlfriend at the time, said they had a new and improved scheme. It would be more convincing with everyday pictures from a private Facebook account. They brought me in to help; I was getting in the way with my righteousness rants.
It was hot, the metal nets on the windows were meant to keep mosquitoes out but had holes in them. There was a creaking fan wobbling in the corner. It was a hot and busy workshop, that authentic dank of an African city. I was still trying to save the room, convinced they would certainly end up in jail.
Another of the fellas got tired of my preaching because Africa is also grit.
“O boy, we must chop (we have to eat-survive),” he said.“No momsie, no posie, wetin we wan do (without parents, what are we going to do)?”
“But you can get arrested,” I protested.
“If the FBI wan come here, make dem come but I no go die for here (If the FBI want to come, let them, but I will not die here),” John added in jest, making a few laugh. “Shay I fit get am (Can I have it)?”
“No, I will not give you her pictures.”
I remember there was one student who was doing his homework in the corner. The dorm room was his. His family had money. He wasn’t desperate. He allowed his friends to scam out of his place, sharing his Wifi.
I went to sit with him and asked what he was working on. He chuckled at my attempt at dissuading the scammers. We spoke and hit it off. We joked about his two girlfriends and how he was considering marrying them both on the same day. But we couldn’t ignore what was around us.
He told me many of his friends had already been arrested. Once the computers log off, scammers tend to figure out other illegal schemes of making money. Existence is the impure hustle for plenty of Africans. Not that drug dealing lifestyle supplemented by government assistance. Just the wilderness of an industrialized jungle and no mercy.
“The people that can make enough money. They can bribe. They will not go to prison. And if you no get money. You what you risk before you start,” my new friend said.
“Nah. There is always a way,” I said. I wish I dropped the American Accent. It is much easier for me to express the depths of my sentiments with the Nigerian one.
He said, “It is not that they like it. Some of them are in my class. That one over there has the top marks since JS1. But hungry go catch am (He will go hungry). We no dey Yankee, just because a person smart, no mean say he go find work. You fit work tire but na suffer you go suffer. (We are not in America. Just because someone is smart and works hard doesn't mean he will find work. You are going to suffer)”.
These students were my age, backed against a wall, doing whatever possible to survive. It all seemed so commonplace. It was a far cry from the dorm rooms I was accustomed to in the United States.
I hadn't walked into the underbelly of life in Lagos, everyone sort of found their way. There is no welfare to rely on, no section 8 housing, no social security. It´s a cruel world, and you are on your own. The hunger to achieve, by any means necessary, is in the Nigerian blood.
Most students of Nigerian descent that I knew in the United States were top of their class. Not me. I was disappointed that I was so passive. Before I de-matriculated from University, my proudest achievement was skipping classes to party.
I saw my past and what could have been. If my father hadn´t sold practically everything of value he owned for a plane ticket and a chance, I too would most likely be relying upon a friend with WiFi. It was another opportunity to count my blessings, that I still had time to turn things around. Thank goodness.
I had boozed away my first semester in college. By this time, my default away message on AOL Instant Messanger read, “soccer, sex, weed, parties and maybe books: in that order.” That’s what you saw every time you scrolled over my name. I thought I was the badass.
I bragged that I only attended 20 percent of classes per week.
I was implicitly banned from the second floor of my dorm building because I made George cry. It was over a girl. He liked her. I kissed her. I was a prick. Because a few hours before he saw it happen, George came to talk to me about her. I told him that the girl was not attractive enough for me, that he could have her. I have never seen anyone weep that much, without a death involved. The entire floor came to console him.
And while this was happening, there were boys my age, digging for dinner from heaps of garbage, running all types of hustles and risking their lives in every way imaginable. Even my dad had told me his stories of when he too waited for neighbors dragging out their trash. My most remarkable achievement was making Goerge cry.
“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.”
― Kahlil Gibran
Thinking of Idowu and the students in that room, I was reminded of the many in Africa with an idea, a gift, or desire. They wish that their hopes would see the light of an opportunity. I should have been studying, making the most out of my great luck. Instead, I was trying out all sorts of bad ideas for the first time and was ruining my life. Africa humbles you into the submission of your superficialities and lack of direction. You cherish what you have for the sake of those without.
But you wouldn´t change your character completely just because you feel lucky. It's not enough. That is not where the magic of Africa lies. I still was determined to be regarded as more important than everyone I met.
But Africa does not relent. In the middle of our stay, my dad drove me to an old friend, Ladi. We both attended the same primary school. He was wealthy and would let me borrow his Nintendo 64 games even though all I had was an Atari video system. The gap separating what our parents could afford was incredible, but it never came up, granted we were kids.
I missed him and wanted someone I could connect with, someone I could share stories of old times with. I found it difficult to make lasting connections since I left Nigeria. I feigned composure as we got nearer to his house. I couldn't wait to see him.
Ladi´s compound is so large. It is borderline criminal. The gate man swung the iron gates open. There were five luxury vehicles parked on the side.
I grinned, thinking of how happy Ladi would be to see me. I imagined his servants bringing us drinks to the shed where we used to play ping pong as kids. The thing looks like a closed-off cabana, surrounded by trees, the size of a small apartment but it is used only to house a ping pong table.
We were made to wait a few minutes, in our car, before one of the maids apologized that my old friend wasn't home. I didn't believe her. I asked for a way to get in touch with him, but the maid said she had nothing she could give me. And just like that, I was knocked down a peg.
No one in Ladi’s family came out greet us, though we were certain someone was home. The workers of the house were far too attentive.
I thought I would at least be received by Ladi’s mother as her son´s long-lost friend, who made it to the United States. No one cared. Not only was I not getting the attention I wanted from strangers, old friends and family seemed to have moved on without me.
My father commented, “they can´t even come out for us. What? Because they have all these cars?”
Status is everything in traditional Africa.
We drove away from Ladi’s house, and I remember being impacted by something that should have been ordinary to me. Perhaps it was a goodness sparked by jealousy.The destitute are very common place on the destroyed roads and packed markets of Nigeria, but I especially noticed the contrast when leaving Ladi’s home.
I saw that there were beggars, children in tattered clothes and street vendors all huddled in the shade of high fences with barbed wire. It was exceptionally hot that day.
The wealthy owned property fit for royalty and those with nothing were comfortable borrowing relief from the shade of the construction meant to keep them out.
I remember there was a woman breastfeeding her child next to the filth of a puddle mixed with mud, plastic bags, and broken glass. It rained like mad the day before. There were many like her, lined up, young and old, laying around garbage.
The woman was fanning roasted corn, her trade, and holding her tiny baby. They both looked haggard and tired. She couldn't have been making for than $2 a day. There she was, hiding from the sun, in front of a tall fence like Ladi’s. The wall was attached to a gold gate with lion head handles. The owner certainly had enough to shelter and feed every single person outside his/her home for year. Easily. Such inexplicable poverty juxtaposed immediately to an exorbitant amount of wealth. How can such madness coexist so very near each other, I thought.
“Africa is not a country, but it is a continent like none other. It has that which is elegantly vast or awfully little.”
- L. Douglas Wilder
When in Africa, coming from a place of privilege, you start to notice things that just don't seem right. The injustice unsettles you. I do not care who you are unless you are a complete sociopath, you notice, and it bothers you. You may not be immediately moved towards a revolution, but you are more aware of the details that a camera can never capture.
You watch how long the open gutters run, how they pulsate with steam, muck, and grime. You see the sick on the road and know that there will be no ambulances with blaring sirens rushing towards rescue. You see an old man lifting bricks. He looks well defined. But you know that the density of his muscles have come from many years of what western prisoners would consider hard labor. You think about it. You guess how old he was when he began lifting stones meant for machines and then find that his sort of work doesn't come with a pension.
In Africa, you reassess what you consider fair. And STILL! This is not what changes you.
My last week in Lagos, I met Tosin. His family rented an apartment close my house. I had seen him around while I played soccer with guys from around the way. Tosin was seven and was extremely curious. I turned my nose at him every day until one day I was alone, and there was no one to impress.
He ran up to me, persistent as ever, dirty as he always was. I ignored him, pretending I didn't notice till he tugged at my sleeve. His fingertips were stained with grease. I checked to see if he left a mark. But Tosin has that smile that shatters a million hearts. He was almost naked, only in ripped underwear, and barefoot, not unlike thousands of other boys where my house is.
“What is your name,” that sweet boy asked me.
I answered, already taken by his genuine warmth. He was skipping around me in a circle, relieved that I had finally cracked and spoke to him after weeks of trying. He wasn't begging for money. He wanted nothing from me but my company and a conversation.
“There are so many men and women who hold no distinctive positions but whose contribution towards the development of society has been enormous.”
“Bayo! Is it true you are from America,” Tosin asked, now dancing.
He screamed. He asked so many questions about things he had heard, and I could tell that the momentary escape meant the world to him. I still tear every now and then remembering how happy he was, just spending time with me. I get more emotional as I recall the things he would say.
“Where are your shoes? You know I cut myself trying to walk around here barefoot,” I opened up to him. We were playing football. Everyone was barefoot. I wanted to show that I was just as tough and ended up with on open gash 5 seconds later.
“I don't have any. The one I have is for school and my aunty won´t let me wear it if I am not in school.”
“Where is you aunty now?”
“She is inside. Do you want to say hello to her?”
“No.” I was infuriated, how dare she? People with shoes ought to wear them.
We continued to speak, and some people that had come to know me were screaming at Tosin from afar, asking him to leave me be. I waved my hand at them to let them know it was alright. I dropped the American accent and spoke freely. At that moment, I did not matter. And I had never been happier. I just wanted to hear all the things the boy had to say.
Tosin told me about his friends and a girl he had a crush on. He was shy and innocent about it. He finished by saying, “one day, I will have plenty of money and I can buy her nice things.” He spoke from the heart and was pure, unlike me.
I rode my high horse without a care for whatever it trampled. I pointed out everyone's flaws, burying insecurities with the same nutrients that made them grow strong. I was ashamed of myself. If he were the one to make it to the United States, he wouldn't treat girls the way I was.
Because girls do not always know that they deserve better, there was freshman that had a small crush on me in high school. I was a senior then.
She caught my eye during a lunch break, I pointed her out to a mutual acquaintance and asked for an introduction. It was awkward for a while, as it always is with these things in high school. I was later told that the freshman was interested. A week later she walked up to talk to me.
She was telling me about something, trying to break the ice, help me out a bit. I wasn´t paying attention. I was too busy assuming the macho, disinterested persona. My eyes glazed over repeatedly till I said to her, in the sternest and most unaffected tone, “I am looking for a very polite way to end this conversation. I don’t know how.”
I didn´t stop to check for her reaction. I turned away, to laugh about it with my friends by the lockers. “Why'd you do that,” Chris asked.
“It wasn't a challenge,” I lied. It would have been better to admit that I confused attracting women with being mean and angry.
Contrast the a**hole that I was, standing next to a human being like Tosin. To think he saw me as the hero.
“But how are you doing in school? You know it is important,” I said.
“School is great,” he beamed.
“Ah! You are a good boy. You like school.”
I didn't mention the fact that there was a strike on public schools in Lagos at the time. Everyone was waiting it out indefinitely. It happens a lot there.
“Yes. But there is something I don't like,” Tosin said.
“What is that?”
“If you don’t bring tissue paper. They will not let you use the bathroom. And my aunty say we don't have enough money for tissue paper.”
“Are you serious? So you don’t go to the bathroom?”
“No. I can’t go if I am in school.”
“So what do you do, when you have to go?” I could hardly hide my panic, as if he were my kid brother, my responsibility.
“I hold it. I have to wait till I go home.”
“Have you ever made a mistake? Because you couldn't hold it?”
“Yes. One time. In class. And the teacher beat me.” Tosin didn't say it to make me feel sorry for him though he confessed to the ground and couldn't look at me. He remembered his harsh realities.
“But I have plenty of friends.” And just like that, he was skipping again.
“Ok. That is good. You have to work hard.”
We spoke for a while, about a lot of things. Even though Tosin was playing in his underwear, he had bigger dreams than I did.
“Do you know what you want to be when you get older,” I asked.
“Yes. I know. I know. I want to be a doctor.”
And that was the moment my heart finally broke. For about five minutes he explained exactly why he wanted to study medicine. Though the world had done him no favors, it was all the same to him. He wanted to help people.
“Have you eaten today,” I asked him.
“No,” he responded at mid-afternoon.
I handed him 5 naira. Which is practically nothing, about five cents. Then I took him to a street vendor to buy him sweets and a roll of tissue. I should have bought him enough boxes of them to last him a year. I had enough money in my pocket to do it. But I didn´t.
Tosin was overjoyed. I had spent about ten cents on him, but he reacted more jubilantly than a room full of Oprah fans during a car giveaway.
He went wild, spinning, running laps to and from our close. He was singing my name, the attention I thought I wanted. How bitter the memory is.
If only he knew that what I gave him was nothing to me. He ran inside his house to call his aunt. He wanted to introduce me to his whole family, couldn't believe his luck. His aunt came outside to greet me with a grin. She had taken the little money I had given Tosin. I despised her for it. She tried to thank me for the money, tried asking for more but I kept responding, “you need to give him back the 5 naira. It is not for you. It is for the boy.”
She kept telling me all these things she needed to buy, but Tosin had warned me. He said she takes money that is meant for him and uses it to buy things for her hair. She gave up after it was clear that I wouldn't hand out any more money.
The fellas I used to play soccer with were starting to gather for a pick-up game. I went to meet them but kept checking for Tosin. He was always staring at me, the biggest smile on his face. He was pointing at me, telling anyone who would stop to hear him that I was such a good person.
As I played soccer outside our compound, Tosin sat by to watch and cheer me on. He asked if he could play but a friend of mine told him to get lost. I did very little to object. Tosin didn't mind. He found a flat ball that has been chewed up by a dog and kicked it around. He chanted as we played.
“I want to be a footballer. Just like Bayo.”
I deserve all the agony I feel remembering that I could have done so much more to affect his life.
Two years ago, on a random day, I couldn't stop crying because I saw all the deploring options for his life, first hand, and did nothing. It wouldn't have taken much to help him carve out a realistic hope for his life.
I could have figured out a way to stay in touch, mentor him. I didn't need all the money in the world to make a difference, yet I stood by and did nothing. Tosin changed my life that day. I found the goodness of heart that was lacking in mine. Some of us need to return home to remember who we are.
However far the stream flows, it never forgets its source.
Africa is not as simple as seeing human beings in poverty and pain, then feeling sorry. It is not what you see that moves you, but rather the how. That human beings have the metal to stomach the worst of reality with a smile. Africa changes you completely by rearranging how you see yourself, the world and the ways in which you can affect it. The experience will thoroughly become you.
Tosin is that great character I spoke about in the beginning. Tosin is Africa. He and all those like him. Because that was the one thing my 18-year-old self found the most remarkable. With nothing, people were happier than almost every westerner I had ever met. Africa leaves you with few excuses of not becoming a better person. It inspires.
And I work my ass off for Tosin and my family, never again will I take life or people for granted.
It hasn't been an instant flip of persona. On the same day I spoke with Tosin, I got in a fist fight with someone in the neighborhood. He was offering to show me around, trying to use New York slang. I dismissed him. He shoved me. I swung at him. Then taunted him after the fight was over by walking past his screaming family members. He had the last word by launching a glass bottle at me to the backdrop of darkness, a roaring crowd and kerosene lit lanterns hanging in the air.
But I didn’t want to be that guy anymore. Nothing could compare to that feeling that I did not yet completely understand, the kindling of my life´s purpose. I wish it had been enough. I wish life didn´t necessitate that we take things day by day, making progress bit by bit. I still had a lot of stuff to learn. I owe Africa everything.
I returned to New York, immediately more focused. But my selfishness morphed and evolved, evoked for different reasons.
I graduated with a Major in Economics, two minors and an MBA in the next three and a half years. I was always working and taking summer classes. I was playing around with business ideas, losing a lot of money but trying to make something of myself. I worked hard. But I can still recount countless stories of atrociously arrogant behavior done after I left Nigeria.
It took a long while but eventually I would find salvation in endlessly pondering on what sort of imprint I would like to make on society. I admit that I am driven by a need for atonement. Plus, I believe that the person I was always mean to be is glad that I am no longer trying to be someone else.
As time passed, the closer I came to discovering myself, the more I would contrast my experience in Africa with all the things I was yet to change.
Life is growth.
The adventures have not stopped with my visit to Africa. Eventually, I would stumble right at the point of my passion. I would eventually quit my job, detach myself from the model of American ambition. I jumped into a life of travel, defining life my way. The world continues to teach me hard lessons. In 2015, I was forced to do more growing by Being Black in Spain.
You don’t have to go to Africa to be a better person. I´d say any bit of traveling will always teach you something.
The a**hole had done quite a bit of maturing but was still lying to himself. I met the girl of my dreams in Spain, and she did a lot to help straighten me out. I’d drop out school, focus on my dream and dealt with the challenge of being the only black person for miles in tiny Spanish towns. Coming out of that experience helped fix me into the person I am today. I am But it wasn´t easy.