I have learned a few important lessons recently that I feel compelled to share.
Living in London has been a fantastic experience, as was living in different parts of the United States. I wonder though, does every African outside the continent go through a phase where you become aware of just how 'African' you are? And how do you deal with that? Maybe I'm not making sense but I'll try to explain.
I am privileged to sit in a classroom made up of men and women from different parts of the world, North America, Europe, Asia and Africa. As students in a global health course we spend a lot of time discussing health issues in developing countries and invariably the conversation ALWAYS turns to Africa. It's can't be helped, there are so many developing countries on the one continent. Increasingly though, I am aware of this general acceptance of Africa as the problem to be solved. I know I am not saying anything new, and I am sure that many have said it more eloquently than I am now. But yes, it's now the norm to refer quickly and easily to African problems (even by us Africans), and if you're lucky enough to be Nigerian, the even more problems peculiar to us.
1) What am I really angry about? Is it the British person excited about a mini-sojourn into Africa (I want so badly to say you will know next to nothing about 'Africa' when you come back! - but that's emotion talking); or the now-expert British people, who have spent years on the continent and can tell you 'what the problem is'? I know we can't blame our history but we can't ignore it either...What am I really angry about?
2) Should I be ashamed of my anger? Is it wrong and I'm just being proud? After all, I am not blind, deaf or mentally unable to understand that indeed Africa, my Africa, is full of problems...and Nigeria too.
So I had a chat with a good friend who's a fellow African in the Diaspora (I love this word). Interestingly, our conversation started out differently. Instead I was expressing my frustration at feeling less than sufficient to be called Nigerian! My poor grasp on my beautiful native language, Yoruba, makes me struggle. For two reasons: 1) It is indeed a beautiful language and I simply wish I could express myself in it. 2) Everyone who finds out I was born and raised in Nigeria but can't speak it assumes this look of shock and horror :-[ (give me a break). So in the middle of feeling very un-African, I began to share how I was getting so defensive of this same Africa! Talk about paradox. Her words simply reminded me to give everyone a break. Myself first, you speak the languages you are taught, I wasn't taught to speak Yoruba so I don't speak it, but I can learn. Simple. Then give others a break. For a child growing up in the West, they indeed only get one side of the African story, that is their truth, their reality. Don't hold it against them. Let them off the hook, you'd do the same if you were them. Drop the 'us vs them' attitude, my first identity is as a human being, as is theirs.
Finally, I guess to answer my questions the more I thought about it, the more I realised I am angry because Africans don't need help. Not in a prideful, we-can-do-it-ourselves way, but simply that between us as Africans, we have enough talent, education, passion and money to care for each other. I shouldn't have to come to London and donate to World Vision to rescue starving children at home in West Africa. Is anything wrong with that? Absolutely not, but I should not have to. Caring for my people, who when I was born gave me an identity, should be part of my life. As it should be for all of us... Love is the crux of Christianity, and that is how they changed society and the world then. We are still benefiting from the societal reforms of people who cared years ago and recently. If we stop caring, or simply don't care enough...well, it is a sad future for the coming generations. I am not ashamed of my anger, no. I think instead I can find something useful to do with it.
Writing is important so we don't forget; I'm writing this so I don't forget. History education is missing in schools and where it exists....boring! My understanding of Nigeria was developed by books in London... (chai!) We have a long way to go...it's ok though, I will start in my own small way. Whatever that is, and pursue it till the end.