About Growing Up African…In Africa

I always thought that growing up in Africa was special. I was right. Some people may argue that it is relative to the part of Africa you grew up in or the kind of family you came from. I think that may be true; however, there are still some generic experiences which I guess we can say are somewhat ‘exclusively African’.

I grew up in the commercial city of Aba, Nigeria — the Enyimba City. Let me take you on a drive through of the city of Aba. Driving through the city, it is not uncommon to find heaps of refuse at various ‘strategic’ spots in the streets. The foul odour from the heaps would be something which you would never be permitted to escape, it would literally descend on you like a cloud of smoke which you almost can’t get away from. This causes most of the city to look very dilapidated, dirty, and highly underdeveloped. (A motor bike speeds across). How can people drive so terribly?!? My God! Oh, I forgot…there are no traffic signs. That is, if we disregard those standing rusted poles which are only mere memories of a traffic sign that was (as we continue our drive, nostalgia begins to set in). Ouch! Was that a pothole? Yes, you guessed it. A famous Nigerian comedian rightly said: “In Aba, you can’t even dodge potholes; you just choose the ones to enter.” What I find funny about that remark is that it possesses no element of untruth. You would also notice how everyone is moving very briskly (a bit too briskly if you ask me, but hey). Aba is a fast-paced city which perfectly embodies the ‘snooze, you lose’ phenomenon. In all my eighteen years of living, I have never met such an ambitious bunch of people in one place, at the same time (these Lagos people are still learners).

The ambition of the citizens of Aba is one major observation you would make from your first few minutes/hours spent in the city. It almost seems like everyone is a Fortune 500 CEO who’s rushing for some meeting with investors from Omidyar Network. By 7am on workdays, all roads are blocked by the plethora of cars and kekes which envelop parents going to drop their kids off at school, employees/employers rushing off to work, law enforcers heading to their assigned quarters, and so on.

Growing up in the city of Aba has been one of the best things which could ever happen to me. I grew up around a lot of poverty, corruption, hunger, lack, disease and death. But that’s just one side of the story; here’s the other part. I grew up surrounded by love, wealth, integrity, happiness, and vivacity. I guess that is typical of every other society. Most of the values I have developed are as a result of the experiences I had while growing up in this very special city. Aba has been that cradle which shaped me into the awake, alert and ambitious man I am today. For example, one value which is held in highest esteem is respect for one’s elders. I was reminded of this the hard way when I was in my early teens.

My mother had just got me this Nokia C1 phone which, amazingly [at the time], had an earphone jack! I was beyond fascinated with my new friend — my music playlist which had all been downloaded from waptrick.com. Everywhere I went, I had my friend come along with me. I was a loyal friend; paying attention to nobody else as we walked along the streets. I had my ears filled by the edges of my earpiece which flushed in tunes of mostly Chris Brown’s music. I walked past older people without saying a word…there was no way I was going to notice them with music blasting in my ears. Until one day, as I was casually strolling along my street to purchase a tin of milk, something interesting happened which reminded me of my African roots. As usual, my ears were filled with music as I strolled along; ignoring everyone who I passed but one. This old lady was passing me with a bag of newly harvested yams in her right hand and her left hand gently gripping her waist while she swayed from side to side as she walked. I was about to pass her without saying a word until she grabbed my phone from my left hand and smashed it on the floor. She basically said: “You rude child, you cannot even greet your elders. It is phone that you would know how to hold and carry about like a spoilt brat. *hiss*” (Note: Original statement was in Igbo language, the first language of the people in South-Eastern Nigeria which is where the city of Aba is located). This is one experience which I would never forget because it brought me back to the reality of what growing up in Africa is like.

Growing up in Africa, you will have to come to terms with the fact that almost everyone is your parent and can admonish you. You will have to come to terms that no matter how mean they are to you, you cannot argue with them because “The Bible asks us to honour our mother and father; with no conditions.” You will have to come to terms with the fact that there is no demarcation between the nuclear family and the extended family; you all have the same blood. You would have to come to terms with the fact that you CAN be severely caned by your biological parents, communal parents, teachers, or simply well-wishers should you misbehave. You have to come to terms with being required to ‘report’ to the village every Christmas with gifts for all the members of your extended family.

However, growing up in Africa is really not so different from growing up anywhere else in the world. I had the same struggles that the average kid growing up would normally have. I had my high moments when I felt like I had everything I needed right there with me. Times when I filled myself with a nice dish of fufu and egwusi soup; times when I enjoyed hearing the sound of the drums playing during traditional festivals; time when I listened to the latest music from P-Square, WizKid, Omawumi…; times when I enjoyed hearing traditional folktales from my grandmother under the rays of the evening moon, and so on. Some other times, I hated being African, being called African, not having Disneyland nearby, being treated inferiorly in my own country because I am not an oyinbo (a white foreigner), not knowing how to speak English language properly, etc.

Regardless, I am proudly African. Growing up in Africa may lack the luxuries you may have while growing up in more developed continents, but it is equally special and should not be disregarded. I have even become prouder of my ‘Africanness’ because having powerful young African minds as classmates at the African Leadership University has reignited that spirit of hope in me. I can see a brighter future for the continent. I can see our kids growing up in a different Africa; I can hear them telling stories of their African upbringing with an undertone of a deep sense of pride of being African…of growing up African, in Africa.

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