It is amazing to me that prior to marrying my Nigerian (Ijaw) husband I was so very disconnected from Africa–the Mother Land of all Africans and African Americans. Once in the course of receiving my Bachelor of Science Degree in Business Management I took an African History course. I had several elective options of history courses in which to choose from, and I decided to take that one. Until that moment, I had known very little facts about Africa except that the first Africans, when captured and enslaved on ships, were brought to America and landed in Charleston, South Carolina. Living about an hour and a half from Charleston in Sumter, South Carolina, I had visited the African Markets where I saw Africans weaving baskets and displaying African garments and jewelry. I enjoyed walking through the African Market and marveled, like the Caucasian tourists were doing that the many items on the rows of tables were wonderful, full of vibrant colors and skillfully constructed. But I had no more connection to its history than many of the Caucasian tourists did, for I did not know much about Africa nor take the time to really learn more or become connected with any Africans. I mean I am not prejudice against Africans at all, but my family, which is extremely diverse consisting of African American, Jamaican, Caucasian, and Italians, did not have any experiences or interactions with Africans in particular.
I remember the first time I saw an African male was when I was a pre-teen growing up in Wildwood, New Jersey. He had come to Wildwood seeking employment for the summer months and stayed in a boarding house across the street from where my family lived. He boarded with a woman that I helped from time to time with her bus loads of people who would pour into her back yard, where picnic tables and umbrellas awaited them for a day of drinking, eating, and activities. They would leave her back yard and walk the five blocks to the beach, only to come back later and party–getting louder and louder as the evening wore on. The African man that I saw coming and going daily was very quiet. He did not socialize with too many people, and often I saw him sitting in his window as the sun was setting for the day, looking out as if he were sad. I wondered why he had come to a place where he did not know anyone. His accent was different, he was much darker in complexion than most people I knew, and not all that physically attractive. So to me, as a pre-teen, seeing Africa through his eyes was sad to me. I did speak to him whenever I saw him, and he was very friendly and seemed overjoyed that I cared enough to ask about his day. I have often wondered what happened to him, and I hope and pray he fared well in America. It was years before I saw another African person again.
Our family use to watch National Geographic all the time, and it was through that program that I discovered things about Africa. We loved watching the African animals in the wild–especially my mother. When they showed the African people, it was usually in the light of various tribes, who did not live in a civilized manner, such as we call civilized, for some of the tribes drank blood from cows and such things. When they showed the other Africans, which had evolved, for a lack of a better word, in their cultural rituals and behaviors, it was in the light of them being sick with AIDS, hungry, starving, lacking medical supplies and attention, walking miles for help and some dying along the way, and needing money, supplies, and missionary help for them to survive. So for years this was what I saw and knew of Africa. Sure, some Africans who could run exceptionally fast and long periods of time did well in America in the Olympics (which we admired), and some African models broke into the fashion industry as well. But in comparison to the many thousands of Africans left behind who faced poverty, hunger, and diseases, those successful Africans who made it were few.
In February, which is our Black History Month, was the time to purchase an African garment and wear it to some sort of celebration to salute our ancestral heritage. It is amazing how we did this year after year, and still we had no genuine and tangible connection with the Mother Land or its people.
When I told African Americans, who were my friends and co-workers, that I was engaged to my then fiancé, some of the first things they asked me is “Is he ugly, for you know those Africans are ugly?” Or they wanted to know if he could speak English, and of course, many of them asked, “Does he have AIDS”. I realize, through my personal experience in my past, and the many questions and negative comments concerning my engagement and then marriage to a Nigerian man, that many African Americans have misconceptions and prejudices against Africans. I told them if they can see the beautiful women and handsome Africans that I encountered in Lagos, Nigeria or see in the Nigerian movies, they would not assume that all Africans are ugly, for they are not! And as far as AIDS is concerned, does not America have many people that have AIDS also. No one should assume just because someone is from Africa that they have AIDS or carry a disease. But many African Americans think like that.
I was so impressed how many languages Africans can speak when I flew to Lagos, Nigeria to marry my husband. My husband speaks Ijaw (his tribal language), Yoruba, and English. Yet, most African Americans only speak English. Sure, we are required to take a foreign language to meet graduation requirements, but once we graduate and do not use what we learn, it is quickly forgotten in most cases. However, Africans live around various tribes and must do business with them on a daily basis–even it if it is to only go to the market and purchase a loaf of bread. Therefore, they educate themselves to other tribal languages in order to be able to communicate.
I observed how many Africans have adapted to their environment very well, for they endure high temperatures in the heat of the day. Once, my husband and I were driving down the rode and there were bush fires along the side of the road. I believe they started because the bushes were very dry and the temperature was high. Along side of those burning bushes, which burned in spots, walked women carrying buckets of water on their head with a baby strapped to their back. If African Americans were dropped off in that spot (along side of those burning bushes carrying a bucket on their head and a baby on their back) and told to endure, I know we probably could not! I came to, not only appreciate even more the many blessings that I have in America by having air-condition daily in my home, on my job, and in the car, but I also came to admire greatly the enduring power and determination of the daily survival of my African brothers and sisters. We just go to our faucets and turn on the water and it flows, but many Africans have to buy water for cooking, bathing, and cleaning and walk great distances (some of them) to get that water back home again.
My marriage to my Nigerian husband and my visit to Lagos, Nigeria has birthed an appreciation and great love for my African brothers and sisters. It is a shame that African Americans are very disconnected from the Mother Land, but look how long it took me to become connected myself. I am one African woman that will forever have one foot in America and one foot in her Mother Land —Africa!