Everyone has a homeland. Every.One.Of.Us.
Some of us were born in our homelands, some families made the decision to relocate, some chose to flee their homelands for various reason – maybe for safety or opportunities elsewhere. Then there are some that had no choice in the matter a precarious place to reside. Now forever caught in a position between two places and never fully part of either.
The 2015 Medical Mission to Cross River State, Nigeria an area where several ethnic groups reside. The Efik people were the focus of this medical mission. Many of the volunteer doctors, nurses, and students were from the Calabar area and spoke the Efik language fluently.
We helped so many people and couldn't help but feel the sadness for all of those that couldn’t be helped. The work was exhausting. There was not one day when we all didn't want to pass out by the end of the day. As tired as we all were, it was as if the organizer, Dr. Bassey-Akamune, worked on another gear than the rest of us. I am honestly not sure if she ever slept.
Work began at the hotel with the counting and sorting of medicine - every night. We were breaking down larger bottles into individual dosages for those that would need it. Then with the villages assigned in the morning, we were split into two groups with our own set of villages to support. Once at the villages we would setup areas for registration, seeing patients and a pharmacy. Dr. Bassey-Akamune warned all of us especially the doctors and nurses that this was field medicine and to not have expectations of what we are used to back in the states. Even with the warning..,we still weren't ready.
I understand poverty. I know what it means and even at a time how it felt. As soon as I entered the villages I gained a better understanding of poverty and its many levels. The poverty that I once knew looked nothing like what I saw in Calabar. At any moment the power would fail. It was so common that there would be no pause in the middle of a conversation when it occurred. We entered into to hospitals and clinics that had no power. Can you imagine having a doctor teach CPR in darkness? Yet everyone was focused on the lesson not the darkness.
Poverty & Pride.
The pride in culture and tradition was not lost because poverty was present. There were no heads hung low or spirits broken by this condition. I didn’t understand. It went against everything that I knew. How can these people be so happy and proud?
What is your British/English name?
My friend explained to me very passionately about the time a fellow Nigerian asked him for his British name.
"Why would you ask me for my British name? I am Nigerian! Why would I have a British name? Would a British man have a Nigerian Name? Would you ask a British man what his Nigerian name is ever? No? My name is Offiong. I am an Efik man with an Efik name" He said it with both pride and disgust.
What’s in a name?
When I arrived, until I spoke it was assumed that I was Nigerian. I remember walking up to and introducing myself. The beautiful older woman asked me my name and then she said…Where are your people from? I learned at that moment from my name she would know the area in which my people to include my ancestors were from. It would have told her what language I should be speaking. It would have given her my ethnicity – my tribe.
WTF is my name? WTF happened to my name?
I immediately felt sadness as I realized what I and people that look like me had lost. Seeing these people speak their language while telling the stories of their ancestors all lost by the slave trade. From that first day, I decided that I needed a name. I let folks know that I was looking for a name and I received many suggestions. Most of which were either someone's favorite or their actual own name. They were trying but they didn't quite get the significance for me.
On October 23, 2015, I was adopted in the Ikot Anwatim village in Calabar Nigeria, by the village Chief. There was a small celebration for the entire mission group and at the end, I was given a name and village to which I would always belong.
Edemawan (phonetically - ee-dam-ma-wan). The literal meaning is born while the father was away from the village or born away from Nigeria. Being given my name at the end of the celebration was a complete surprise. I was busy taking pictures when they called me up. It was emotional for me. I learned early on that the Efik people are strong, so I shed no tears, but I felt pure joy and worked to hold them back. It worked out that I was wearing my love t-shirt that day. I loved every moment of that day...especially the way it ended.
-That's all I got.