Mine is a story of acceptance and self-love. Together, they translate to the greater kind of love.
Acceptance is me not wishing that my breasts spill over when I cup them. Acceptance is me not wishing that my waxologist tells me to come back every 4 weeks instead of every 6 weeks. Acceptance was telling my classmate that my father washes his car with our pet elephant when he asked if it was true that in Nigeria (he said in Africa), animals lived with humans. Acceptance is what my experience in the United States has been all about.
My story has many acts, scenes and chapters but in summary, I have come to appreciate my roots and accept the fact that though annoying, one African takes the shot for the entire continent. In this light, I aim to portray myself as the embodiment of Africa because if I act up, it means the entire continent acts up. Not quite a good generalization, but it is really what it is. Acceptance is also what I wish my fellow countrymen had because way too often, I see fellow Nigerians come to America and totally lose themselves in the rubble.
Being in America has opened my eyes to the excesses of Nigerians as well as the false misrepresentations of America as the holy grail (God, please into your hands I commit my F-1 visa). Most of all, being here has also made me realize that I am Nigerian because in Nigeria, all I knew was that I had to sing our National Anthem and recite the pledge in school every morning. Never for once did I realize that I had this one for all mandate, this trophy of being Nigerian.
I view Nigeria as my sanctuary and placing a purity ring on my country meant that she was meant to stay incorruptible till the end. Time and time again, my conversations with Onyeka end with the conclusion that our people generally lack a sense of pride in our culture. How won’t this be the case when we lack pride in ourselves as individuals? I find it pretentious when my fellow countrymen in America suddenly forget that some behaviors and norms are better practiced here (or not at all). Alas, some of these negative practices and lifestyles are making their way across the border to my abode, something I have come to reluctantly accept over the years. With bouts of silent prayers, I yearn for a generation of Nigerians with a longing for cultural preservation and an overall sense of pride in Nigeria, no matter how the media construes her to be.
Let me not get started about being African because all I knew was that my country was in this continent called Africa. It was a pretty rude awakening to stumble into America and assume this new persona of being “African”. It was hard. I didn’t have the slightest consciousness of what being “African” meant. I answered way too many “how is Africa” questions before I resorted to the approach I shared with you earlier; the one that basically tells my interrogator “please keep quiet if you have nothing better to say. Google is your friend (or is it really?)” This constant defense of my roots in America has made me appreciate my African-ness, even giving me pride on certain occasions like when I was the only African in my graduating class last year (in my major).
Majoring in Biomedical Engineering for my undergraduate degree (an engineering field that is NOT the norm for a lot of Africans in America) has constantly shown me that distinguishing oneself is more than just a personal effort. It takes an entire support system of people who encourage and believe in you. It takes a lot of guts not to fall to what is considered mediocre and even in the few times you do, you have to ensure you rise above it. My days in Drexel University were spent toiling and broiling until towards the end of that race, I realized that I needed to look up and try to enjoy life.
It was in these moments of “looking up” that I made what I consider a family. It was in these moments that I realized what an incredible support system I had. Truly, it was in those moments that I understood what it felt like to be surrounded by love, by people who through your cracks, loved you unconditionally. And it was in those moments that I realized that my greatest mandate from God was to love these people back, whole heartedly.
Learning to love people from different backgrounds, different races, different ideologies and different belief systems may be something most people deem incomprehensible and unfathomable. Seeing people ONLY as the color of their skin in my opinion is the worst way to live life. We all have so much to learn from each other, whether it is how to live or how not to live. Being in a 4 year college away from home taught me to respect people’s stories and see everybody as a trophy of unique experiences, many of which I may never know or understand. And that is perfectly okay.
It is okay not to know my entire story or the entire story of the person next to you. It is equally okay not to be intrusive or overly inquisitive about people’s lives. But what is not okay is ignoring people’s stories when they choose to share with you, neither is it okay to mock them or scoff at them for those unique experiences because they are different from yours. It is also not okay to turn a blind eye to everyone around you, assuming that you have borne the most pain, had the greatest joy, lived the best life or distinguished yourself in the best way possible. What is not okay is pretending that you are in a world of your own and there is only one story to be told or heard.
None is equal. None is greater than. None is less than.
My Story. Your Story. Our Story.
Just. Pure. Acceptance.
By Emem Okoh