Discovery Innovation Advocacy
Special thanks to the following people and their respective units for helping to make this important trip possible.
Dr. Paul McNamara, Associate Professor College of ACES, UIUC
Dr. Reitumetse Obakeng Mabokela, Vice Provost for International Affairs and Global Strategies, UIUC
Mike Doyle, Executive Director, University YMCA, Urbana-Champaign
Sam Smith, Director of Civic Engagement and Social Practice, Krannert Center
Dr. Stephanie Craft, Head, College of Media, UIUC
David Ivy, Business Admin, UIUC
Because of a lack of organization in regards to paperwork and communication between airline carriers, I ended up missing my flights from Abuja, Nigeria to Sierra Leone, West Africa. For two days, I sat, walked, stooped, and sometimes moaned in the airport, pacing for hours...waiting for someone in charge to tell me and 6 other passengers when we were going to be able to catch a flight to Salone. In the airport, every carrier kind of runs itself, so, if there is a problem with passengers missing a flight on a specific airline, there is no central administrator or manager to rectify the problem. The attendants who were extremely understanding and patient, had to try and get in touch with their supervisor, who would then get in touch with another supervisor, who, in this situation happened to be in a meeting and did not want to be disturbed. The next day was Christmas and there were no flights using this particular airline. This meant that the supervisors of the airline I was flying had to talk to agents of another airline, who, then, made room for us to take off ... two days later. Whew! Did you get all of that? Patience is definitely a virtue to pack with your luggage when traveling abroad. In the meantime, all of us who were stranded stayed in a really nice hotel right across from the U.S. Embassy. I was only in Ghana for two days so this part of the story is not long.
Before I left Accra, I learned some really interesting things about the extremely friendly people of Ghana. They LOVE CHRISTMAS!!!!! I mean LOVE Christmas!!! Now, on one hand, I can appreciate Christmas like some others, but, I was brought up and later developed the knowledge of some things that are positive and not so positive about about the commercialism of Christmas. When I noticed how excited the hotel staff and townspeople were about Christmas, I was kind of perplexed. I had never seen so many black people, in this case, Africans, so happy about Christmas! During one of my evening walks, I heard some Africans talking about it as well. They saw this display as a form of residual colonization. When the staff noticed that I did not exactly share in this overflow of excitement, they asked me why I wasn’t as excited as they were? I stated that although I feel happy during this time of the year, I am not so much into the commercialization of the holiday. I also shared with them that, in fact, some African Americans seek a different type of celebration that is more African focused such as Kwanzaa. There is also the problem of celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ in December when research and scholars have proposed that he was probably born in June. When I told them this, they looked really disappointed and disturbed…like what in the world could I be talking about and also, WHY WAS I TRYING TO RUIN this special holiday for them? I felt bad. I told them that I was not trying to ruin anything for them, just answering a question and said that we can still celebrate life, love, Jesus, hey, they can even turn the holiday music up over the hotel speaker and let’s all just have a great time! Music, by the way, that I heard all day and all night, in the middle of the night and then in the morning! Loudly!!! But, after disappointing them, I did not dare to complain. They love Christmas and I loved their spirit, so, we just went on and had a great time together. People in Ghana just really seemed happy overall to me. A wonderful place for a layover, even for two days.
Through conversations with other Africans during my stay in Accra, I also learned that there are some Africans who do not, necessarily, want African Americans to connect with their ancestors in Africa. They feel that we are still colonized, westernized, and lack the fight to claim our proper place in society and the importance of some of our most prestigious role models, such as Bill Cosby. They were ashamed and disappointed that African Americans did not fight or speak up against the way he was being mistreated during the accusations and trial without much hard evidence, according to them. They stated that we were lazy and did not take full advantage of the many ways one could make money that will secure happiness and success in America. They frowned upon African Americans, basically, coming over to Africa trying to take opportunities away from them. They said that they felt as thought they have self-pride and do not need African Americans' help. Oddly, in this same conversation and in other similar conversations, they were open to African Americans who embraced their ancestry, but, with caution. Sound confusing? It is and can be. What is clear to me, however, is that much of the confusion now and back in 2013, even decades prior, that many people possess derives from a lack of knowledge and understanding of each other, our cultures, and our history. This exchange is indicative of the work, education and healing that needs to be done throughout the diaspora. I appreciated the conversations and accepted that this was the opinion of a small group of people who I had the pleasure of meeting. Oh yeah...once again, the food was delicious and the people were really, really nice!!!