Life Abroad

His American Dream

How many years have you been here in the US? I’ll be precisely 5 years in the US at the end of this month of September 2002. I have met a few elderly folks who have been here a while, but what makes them uninteresting is the fact that they go back home fairly regularly – like me. I have been home 3ce in the time I’ve been here.

Why am I walking down this road? I met Egbon finally. He’d always been a name to me, a skinny looking lad in the falling apart picture album with all the graying photos at my old friend’s place in Surulere, Lagos. My friend and I have known one another since the mid 70s and I have been hearing of his brother, the eldest in a family of 8, since that time. All I heard was that he had traveled to the United States and was hardly ever in touch with anyone.

What makes Egbon so fascinating? He came to the US 28 years ago and has never been back. Not once. Can you picture that? He doesn’t look any different from the gangling young man that I saw in the photo album. He says he has a metabolism that burns off all the weight hiding in American food. But he has grays all over now in his late 40s. He says he grayed early, just like others in their family.

Egbon’s case is even more astounding when you consider he traveled in the ’70s when Nigeria still had the oil wealth and everything worked and those who traveled out to get the Golden Fleece always returned home. He got the Fleece, but he decided to work a while to gain experience in his accountancy field. And the years passed. And Egbon forgot all about home.

His accent has been affected of course, but he confessed the occasional American still detects a hint of accent. And you and I know what some of them do when they notice you have an accent. They suddenly find it difficult to understand what you’re saying. Egbon says he simply starts speaking like he’s talking to a deaf person, picking his words and emphasizing each one slowly. It always works like magic and clears up their ears. It’s a game some of them play. You need to play them right back. I tried it. It works!

Egbon can’t understand my puzzlement over his disinterest in going home. He says he won’t know anything back there. Besides, what is he going back to, he asks? He doesn’t understand the system anymore. He doesn’t even keep in touch via the news sites. He doesn’t know anymore. This is the society that has taken him in for so many years… This is home. I finally met Egbon and although I cannot even begin to see myself one day becoming like him, no way, I understand his right to live his life as he wishes.

How long have you been in America?

More importantly, how long will you be in America?

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