200-Year-Old ‘No Man’s Land’
The minute hand of my watch unhurriedly ticked its way towards the hour of eight on Saturday, September 22, and one of those most feared brand of buses of the air hovered around a foggy Kennedy Airport looking for a place to perch.
When it finally found one, the pilot announced a welcome of the famous airport to his passengers, said that it was 8am local time and that the temperature of our new home for the next three weeks was this and that.
I didn’t quite listen attentively to the pilot perform his customary ceremonies as l was engrossed in my own thoughts about — ‘this America.’ lt seemed funny and confusing to me that I hadn’t quite made up my mind on what to expect of America, this being my first visit. I guess I had formed my impressions long ago even before I knew I was coming this time, straight and clean streets extremely tall buildings. Winding networks of highways with numerous cars, a quiet but hurrying crowd of people paying little or no attention to nobody in particular. I had expected it all.
But on this watery morning of September 22, I was mixed up. I anxiously wanted to see beyond the confines of customs men and immigration officials. After what looked like an eternity of waiting and queuing here queuing there. I finally pushed my way through the last of the glassy barriers that stood between me and my expectations.
A cold but blissful wind washed across my bare face muttering inaudible words of welcome.
My Anxiety Died
This was ‘the America’ after all and I have no feeling of ecstasy or delight, no scales fell from my eyes, nothing. I saw an ordinary America. It looked normal. One needn’t have expected less of this America that stood before me. Perhaps more, yes more.
My people say that when a fowl (chicken) arrives in a new home it stands on one foot until it is assured of welcome. I am standing on one foot.
I haven’t said yet that nobody has welcomed me to the United States of America. I am only saying that I have cause not to open my mouth too wide as to find it a hard thing to close. With this in mind, I count myself unpresumptuous to say that one expects more of America.
For I asked myself what else would one have seen or expected to see in an extremely rich sub-continent, a world power that is by mistake or design often equal and compared with other nations?
What does anyone expect to see in 200-year-old ‘no man’s land’ built on the sweat of the black man, the shrewdness of the Jew and on the suppression of the Indian.
I expected more, I have seen less. Sure. I didn’t expect a paradise but I had thought that America was rich enough to provide food and shelter for its sons and daughters.
I thought it was rich enough to care for its aged. But I have seen Harlem. I have seen aged beggars on the main streets of Washington D.C begging for a dime to buy a cup of tea.
Sure, there are poor people in Nigeria but they can still carry their heads high with a sense of human dignity and acceptance.
Many people have asked to know about my impression of America. I guess what some of them want to hear is how much of a cultural shock I have had since I arrived in this most advanced nation of the world.
‘I am sure you must like it very much here.’ A fellow grinned generously at me the other day at a luncheon.
He was perhaps expecting me to recount how delighted and privileged I felt for having had the opportunity to visit ‘this great God’s own country.’ I told him passively that I don’t dislike America.
I like America for what it is and for some other reasons I don’t like it all because America has its beauty and its ugliness.
And that makes it equal to all other countries with no basis whatsoever for comparisons.
First published in the Daily Times on October 1979.