the chief of the village. I purposely asked to be taken to where the people of the village live, and it was there that the poverty and squalor once again jarred me. The deeper in we went, the more we saw children that looked like those images flashed across American television screens the past couple of decades: wet or dried mucus on their noses and about their mouths; matted hair filled with red-clay dirt and flies casually landing on their faces and bodies; traditional African huts where a bed is a slab of rock with a very thin piece of cloth or a wooden plank atop it; debris, litter, garbage, everywhere; stray dogs, goats, and even a bull tied down below one of the huts.
My mind struggled to reconcile the image of the king sitting peacefully beneath that tree with that of his village people. And it simply could not. I wondered where the money goes that visitors pay to tour the Sukur Kingdom if not to help these people. I wondered if we had just been hustled by the king and his men just as they are being hustled by UNESCO, as they so plainly stated. I wondered why the king was not providing the basics for these children, many of whom, given his three wives, possibly could have been his. And I wondered why we, my people, any people on Earth, hold on to traditions and cultures that are, in these modern times, so destructive to our very being.
Then I saw her, just as we were leaving. Lying on the ground outside one of the huts. Beautiful Black girl with jet-black skin, almond-brown eyes, curled and writhing in pain on a mat. Flies dotted her body from her to toe and she was shaking. I asked what was wrong with her and was told a mild case of malaria, that she had a severe headache as a result, and could not move. I wanted to touch this girl, hold her hand, hug her, but then I thought of all the warnings given to me from home in America to the moment I touched ground in Nigeria to be careful, to not touch this, to not drink or eat that. So I touched this girl with my eyes. I waved at her with my right hand but never let go of her eyes. And I prayed very deeply for her, prayed she would not die such an early death from this disease, prayed that she would heal very soon. And I felt she heard me, through her eyes, because she smiled at me, even as she was trembling. I placed my right hand over my heart and bowed my head to her, then waved good-bye.
Kevin Powell is an award-winning writer, public speaker, and political activist. Through the years Kevin has written for Ebony, Esquire, The Washington Post, Newsweek, Essence, Rolling Stone, The Huffington Post, and Vibe, where he served as a senior writer. He is also the author of 11 books, including his latest, “Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan, and the Ghost of Dr. King: Blogs and Essays.” Follow him on Twitter @kevin_powell, or email him at email@example.com