Thursday, November 8, 2012
I finally landed in Africa for the first time in my life this morning around 6:30AM. It was British Airways flight 83, from London to Abuja, Nigeria (after my first leg of New York City to London). The plane was packed, mostly with Nigerians either traveling from England or America back home to what many Black folks across the globe often call “the motherland.”
I smiled long and outwardly as I watched and listened to the Nigerian passengers talk in some of the several hundred languages spoken in Nigeria, or in English, as they jostled for overhead luggage space, their seats, and comfort during this six-hour flight.
I especially looked into the eyes and faces of the elder passengers, as you could see the recent history of Nigeria etched in their soulful eyes, the contours of the skin, the rubbery grooves of their hands. One of my seat mates, ironically, was a young man who was also heading to Yola, Nigeria, my final destination. He actually works at the American University of Nigeria, where I will be speaking, doing tech work for the school’s library. He said his name was Nas (short for Nasir) like the rapper, and he gave me great insight into Yola. He told me not to come with an open mind, not to judge, to know that Yola is a very simple place. His comments made me think of a Nigerian woman, whose name escapes, that I met during the layover in London. When I told her I was going to Yola she was in disbelief. She kept saying, very loudly, “You’re going to Yola? I cannot believe it. Good, very good.” And proceeded to call several people in Nigeria and tell them she was sitting next to an American going to Yola, and how wonderful that was.
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As we approached our landing in Abuja my heart raced. I did not quite know what to do with myself so I fumbled through my iPod and played a range of music in minutes just trying to calm myself: Bob Marley, Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions, The Chambers Brothers, Kendrick Lamar, and Nneka, the dynamic Nigeria singer who I just saw perform in Brooklyn two weeks ago. Indeed, if anyone has articulated what is happening in present-day Nigeria as Fela once did, it is her, Nneka.
I was greeted after passing through customs by representatives of the American University in Nigeria. They were incredibly kind and respectful, would not allow me to carry any of my bags myself, and put me in a vehicle to a hotel where I would get a nap for a few hours before flying, one last leg, to Yola. On the ride to and from that hotel I noticed many things: the police and security forces everywhere with guns pointing at the ground; the numerous motorcycles, called “okadas,” that served as “taxi rides” in and near the airport; all the cab drivers hustling for riders and fares; the many people, male and female and all ages, walking or waiting along the roads of Abuja, quite a few balancing buckets or wood or boxes very skillfully upon their heads; the burning sight and smell of garbage here there everywhere as I would learn many poorer Nigerians simply did this because it takes too long for garbage disposal to happen by the government; the cross-section of outfits, from traditional African attire worn by women and men, to the many dressed as if they are straight from the streets of New York City; and they rhythm and energy of Nigeria, slow, methodical, the people moving as if the world must wait upon them, this cradle of civilization responsible for the birth of the entire planet Earth.
At my hotel I phoned my mother to let her know I had made it to Africa, then I passed out. I was shocked awake just before noon by the loud ring of the phone. My ride was there and I was headed to Yola, my final destination.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org