It is nearly 2AM in Abuja, Nigeria, where I am spending the night after flying here from Yola late yesterday afternoon. From Abuja I head to London, then finally home to New York City after eight long days away. It truly does not feel that just last week I was doing extensive Hurricane Sandy relief work on the ground in New York, or posting a flurry of get-out-the-vote social network messages, or even that I had a big election night party mere hours before I flew here to Nigeria. So much has happened in so little time.
Indeed, I am wired and cannot sleep, even though I need to be up and out of the bed no later than 4:30AM so to catch my morning British Airways flight. I feel this rush of energy because of this first-ever trip to Africa, especially given that I’ve spent the past 3 hours going through every single photo I’ve taken with my iPhone, or the many great photos taken by Nigerian photographer Oluwaseun Famuyiwa. A flood of emotions have swept over me. No, I am not crying, but perhaps that will happen when the plane takes off in a few hours. What I do know is that everyone was right: a visit to Africa changes your life forever.
I cannot imagine what I will feel when I land at Kennedy Airport tonight, but I can certainly say I will never look at myself, Black people, or any human being the same ever again. The Nigerians have taught me much about history, culture, traditions, and the kindness I’ve been given by complete strangers, from the folks at American University in Nigeria, to hotel workers, to the people at the Yola and Abuja airports, and on and on; it has been absolutely mind-boggling. There are all kinds of facts and figures that can be cited about the ugly sides and corruption of this great African nation, but there is no denying the angelic and resilient spirit of its people.
I want to be like them. Now….
That is not to say I want to be Nigerian. Very clear I am an American, African American, with some great differences and great distances between this continent and the land where I was born. I am talking about the reservoir of love and resourceful, against all odds, that many a Nigerian embodies in this magical place. I think about the hit Broadway show “Fela!” and it, and him, and his life, and his music, feel and sound very differently to me now that I’ve come to Africa.
But true story too that Africa was always there inside of me. I just had to come “home” to understand how profoundly that was the case.
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