In My Father's Steps
College my first exposure to real live blacks! came as quite a shock. When, on New Year's Eve, my uncle threw me out of the house, and a coup ended democracy in Nigeria for the next 16 years, I pulled the covers over
my head and proceeded to flunk out of Harvard. When I awoke from my daze
months later, I found myself in the Thai forest head and eyebrows shaved,
about to ordain as a Buddhist nun.
After my return to the USA and successful graduation, I dreamed about
meeting my first Nigerian, a security guard who taught me how to pronounce
my surname correctly. Suddenly, wherever I went, I encountered Nigerians,
all of whom spoke reverently of my father. When, unexpectedly, I was
offered a yearlong fellowship to the University of Nigeria, I scurried home
to consult my mother. Handing over my father's love letters and instructive
messages to me as a child, she cheered: Go!
Enthralled by the optimistic young Turk recounting the lived history of
African nationalism and 60's race relations on the page, I left for Nigeria,
determined to retrace his own return home after a decade spent schooling
abroad. I found a country straining beneath harsh military rule and the
corrupt legacy of colonialism. Narrowly escaping clashes between soldiers
and university students sparked by worldwide IMF and World Bank protests, I
discovered to my surprise that by African standards, I'm considered white.
As news of my arrival spread, I met my father whose chest is home to both
a pacemaker and a bullet for the first time. Cultural misunderstanding and mutual suspicion plagued our attempts to reconcile. Once I learned that
I an only child for 26 years had three teenage siblings, I redoubled my
efforts and was rewarded by my father the chief's pronouncement upon
introducing us: "This is your sister from America. You love her." My
sister resembled me so much that villagers mistook me for her spirit double,
a pale ghost returned from the netherworld. Together we traveled to our
ancestral village, where I visited war sites and tried to uncover what had
happened during my father's 14-year silence. On New Year's Eve, I was
crowned princess of our clan.