By Ashley Mma Igbokwe
As a regular 12- year- old Nigerian, I jumped with excitement on hearing that I would be travelling out of the country. Not just to any country, but to America. What?!! The land of the free? The home of the rich? The problem-free abode? I geeked with joy, for somehow, I thought I might transform into a whole new person, and be free from all my worries or problems. I packed a few of my clothes, probably thinking that new clothes would automatically be handed to me at the airport or something. I also thought that I might grow some wings or a couple of feathers the moment I cross the borders. I can’t even explain what I had in mind.
As I stepped into the aircraft, I glanced with awe at the air hostesses with their beautiful smiles, bright red lipsticks, and poised stance. This made my expectation even more unrealistic. Don’t get me wrong. I had been educated, raised right, and taught the importance of hard work. I just didn’t think that anyone needed to work hard in America. I had learned to be kind and generous, but didn’t think that anyone was ever sad, in need of a friend, or poor in America. With this perfect picture in my head, I slept peacefully from Murtala Muhammed International airport, Lagos, to Thurgood Marshall Airport, Washington D.C., excluding layovers, of course.
During the first week of my arrival, while driving down the road with my aunt in her mustard colored jeep, I would say to myself, “I am in America ''. It didn’t seem real. I enjoyed the trees, the clean roads, and the assorted snacks. The weather, not so much. I had arrived in the winter. Back in Nigeria, whether winter or summer, the weather stayed warm, or you somehow found a way of adjusting to it. This warmth definitely didn’t have to do with just the heat, but with the acceptance and comfort felt around everyone. Back home, adjusting to the weather, or anything else was much easier because other people stayed in your business. In Nigeria, the mothers felt obliged to take care of any other child they knew, or even found on the streets. You could be taking a walk on the streets and get scolded by a random woman for not covering yourself properly in extremely hot or cold weather, and then she would take off one of her wrappers-a piece clothing usually wrapped around the waist to clothe the lower body- and hand it to you to cover up. In Nigeria, an old woman wears a double wrapper so that she can use the second wrapper to clothe a naked child if she sees one. Another practice is seeing everyone older than you as an aunt or uncle regardless of their relationship to you. This makes the relationship between all Nigerians warm and comfortable, although annoying sometimes.
It took a lot to adjust to the weather over here.
I still haven’t done so. America is completely different. I have had to learn independence in every aspect of life. A child can roam the streets naked and be completely ignored because it is his / her choice. Next door neighbors barely talk to each other as everyone silently and solely struggles to bring their American Dream into reality.
Although individuals have their part to play in achieving their dreams, society plays a huge role too. Warmth is essential. But while we try to put on our leather jackets and winter coats, the terribly low temperatures of the atmosphere can overshadow all of our efforts.
Since coming to America, I have noticed the extra efforts that people who look like me put into getting the recognition that they deserve; the acceptance, comfort, and warmth that they need from society in order to thrive. I don’t think anyone would be comfortable in an extremely cold place; so, we dress up twice as much just to receive half the warmth.
America has been an eye opener for me. For the first time, I learned about the different Black celebrities who have worked their way to the peak of the mountain and reached the sun, despite the cold weather, and despite the heater being turned on for one group rather than for all. I have learned about legends like Oprah Winfrey who worked her way to the top despite being labeled “unfit for television,” or Barack Obama who broke a barrier as old as The Republic and became president.
Let us, in our color and in our pride, reach out for one another. Let us have double wrappers handy at all times ready to help a fellow one trapped in the cold. Let us provide our Black youths with the warmth and comfort they need to thrive in an environment like this.
I appreciate Black organizations like the Black Entertainment Television (BET) network and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), who award Black excellence and aim to give Black people the opportunity and recognition that they deserve, and I look forward to more platforms with the same goals.
Let us not depend on the temperature of the atmosphere, but in unity, and with the radiance, and support from one another, make our own fire.
So, when I am asked by people in Nigeria, “How’s the weather over there?,” I’m not sure whether they are asking about the ambient temperature or the temperature of people’s countenance. Either way, I reply, “It is not as warm as it is back in Nigeria,” and I guess that answers all the questions.