Such a simple question. Everyone is asked this question and for some of us...especially for me it can be strange to answer. I am African American but I am not from Africa and I don't know anything about Africa or the country where my ancestors are from. I am American but people that look like me have not always been treated as first class citizen or at a time even as a person. Worth less than cattle. So where do I come from and where do I belong or as I was asked in Nigeria, "Where are your people from?"
According to the DNA test I took back in January 2015. I am 31% Nigerian. So when my sorority, sister Dr. Bassey-Akamune said that she had a medical mission to her country...I was all over the opportunity to join her. Honestly I didn’t even know what a medical mission was or how I could be useful. I knew it involved community service and I definitely know how to serve. I knew that this medical mission was my ticket - Home.
I started at national airport and headed to Houston to meet up with my travel companion Korlu, a nurse practitioner, from Liberia. Dr. Bassey-Akamune made sure everyone that was traveling for the mission had a travel partner. I was so uneasy leading up to the start of my travel with all of the unknowns of Africa. Everything that I’ve heard or seen about it on television made it seem like such a scary place. I had all of these thoughts swimming in my head. Plus all of the things that I had heard or read about specifically about Nigeria. This made for a few sleepless nights as I tried to talk myself out of going.
I am certain we all remember those emails requesting monies from all of our distant cousins or that inheritance sum that was coming my way. Those seemed to be plentiful back in the early 2000s. This coupled with my terrible geography knowledge - Where exactly is that terrorist group that took those girls and terrorizes its own citizens? Lord knows I don't want to be anyone's new bride. Not to mention, I just not a fan of flying period. By the time I arrived at International Airport Houston, to say that I was happy to see Korlu is an understatement.
Meeting up with Korlu really felt like, holy crap, this is really happening. Next stop - Lagos.
Just in boarding the plane in Houston I noticed that I was different. My skin color, my accent, my eyes, my mannerisms. The entire plane was full of Africans and my assumption is that they were mostly Nigerians. The people in my immediate vicinity were all friendly to me. I was so excited I was talking to anyone who would listen. The plane ride was uneventful other than for the fact that I made myself sick by accidentally taking an antibiotic (you know for all the scary things that can happen to you...according to the doctors selling me my yellow card) instead of my regular daily meds. It was dark in the cabin and I misread the bottle. Spent an hour vomiting and dry heaving in the bathroom. Not fun...not fun at all, but I am still excited that I am a few hours away from Lagos, Nigeria.
We touched down and we are in Nigeria - Lagos to be exact! We are here! Immediately, I went into "be on guard" mode. Some of the stories and things to look out for really get you worked up and I was on star trek enterprise - Red alert.
We needed to find our way out of the airport and to our point of contact, which was not easy. No signage in the airport and we deplaned after everyone had cleared...cause nature calls when it calls So we were lost in the airport for about 15 minutes with people telling us different directions to go - all of which were wrong.
Finally we find border patrol to clear customs. What I immediately noticed was that lack of order or at least the type of order to which I am accustomed to in the states. Poor or no signage and lines that resembled 50 Christmas carolers at your door when you open it and all of them singing different verses to the same song. I saw it and just couldn't imagine how they would get to us, but somehow they did and it didn't take that long. I learned right away that "order" works in more ways than the one that I know.
The paperwork they gave us on the plane was wrong so we spent time filling out another document. The only thing that I am thinking about are our things being left on the luggage claim. Well not my things cause I don’t like checking my bag and try to avoid it at all cost. However, Korlu had a ton of medical equipment and medicines for the mission work and we didn’t want anyone to “liberate” her bag.
About thirty minutes off of the plane and we have cleared customs and now have all of our bags. Now we can’t decide whether to exit the airport or stay and wait for our escort. What would you do?
People are coming up to us, asking us if we want a ride or need a phone and we are understandably nervous. I don’t want to leave the airport until we make contact and Korlu is like let’s go look outside...where it is even more crowded and chaotic.
My phone is supposed to work when we arrive. I cleared everything with my phone company before we left. Of course it isn’t working and that is stressing us out even more. We have no idea where we are, we can’t call anyone for help, and strangers keep approaching us. Then a man with a bright yellow phone says, "use my phone to call your number". We do and our escort is waiting outside. The relief is immediate. Of course nothing is free and I had no Naira, so I gave him the smallest bill I had which was $5. Thank you man with the yellow phone!
The only thing we had to recognize our escort was a photograph we had received over text message before we left for Nigeria. What if he didn’t look like his picture? How would we recognize him? Fortunately for us the Commander Ituen, retired from the Nigerian Navy, had the warmest smile you could imagine. We recognized him right away.
We are here. Welcome or Emedi in Efik to Nigeria.