It was in 2001 as a sixth grader that my father told me and my younger sister that we would be travelling to Nigeria for the first time. My parents immigrated to the United States in the early 1980s to pursue higher education and better oppotunities, so all my life I heard stories of my brilliant, beautiful aunties and a wealthy uncle that I could only imagine. I personally wanted to meet the grandmother who seemed almost legendary to me.
Besides the new experience of international travel, the impact of landing in Africa was overwhelming. The first thing you notice is the inescapable humidity and the stares from natives who could easily recognize foreigners. As we travelled by road to the rural villages, the tropical landscape was awe-inspiring like a scenery you only see on postcards. But this was not some exotic, uninhabited island useful only for celebrity honeymoons; this was my home.
Amidst the undeniable beauty we encountered, the instances of endured poverty we witnessed were numerous. Few people had running water in their homes, electricity was supplied a few hours a day unless one was fortunate to have a generator, yet there was hope for a brighter future for the developing country. Comfort came in the sense of community. Families gathered in the light of a kerosene lamp to have dinner together and exchange stories of their day. It is at such occasions that one feels like they truly belong and are able to build lifelong bonds with relatives and new-found friends.
It was Christmas season, the most joyous time of year, when citydwellers travel back home to the village for the festivities. Nigerian, and more specifically Igbo, culture in its in rawest form was displayed before me. I have seen respectable re-creations at cultural events in America, but none could compare to the authentic: the masquerades in colorful costumes and women in traditional attire dancing to the rhythm of drums. Never have I seen such a spectacular exhibition of heritage passed down through the generations; a legacy that I must continue.
My first trip to Nigeria was one of the most memorable events in my life thus far. The hope that the people have inspire me to use the opportunities that I am given to contribute to the country. I aspire to become a medical doctor and to one day practice in Nigeria, providing care for those to whom basic health care was not previously accessible. I want to work through an organization like the UN or PeaceCorp, or establish my own hospital in Africa. Perhaps, this is an idealistic plan, but just like the stars that overlook my village, my dreams are bright and innumerable.
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