“Auf Wiedersehen”….”Auf Wiederhoeren”: Phone Calls From My Father
My father calls me on a weekly basis. He asks me if I am alright, then if my mother is alright. He might share news about the progress of the Ijaw, his ethnic group that is seeking a fair share of Nigeria’s oil wealth. My father is very happy that Goodluck Jonathan, an Ijaw, is now Nigeria’s President. It’s kind of like the equivalent of Barack Obama for the Ijaws. They never thought that an ethnic minority from the Niger Delta could become President. My father is grateful that he lived to see this happen. But more than anything, he wants to see me come to Lagos. He was deported when I was just a baby and has only seen me in pictures since.
My father and I speak German. Often, we end our phone calls with German Farewells. My father says Auf Wiedersehen, which means until we see each other again. I say Auf Wiederhoeren which means until we speak to each other again. This is indicative of my ambivalence about meeting my father in person.
Recently, my father contacted the Nigerian High Commission Employee who helped me find him. He was crying and asking her to convince me to visit Nigeria as soon as possible. She called me and demanded to know why I haven’t been saving up for the last six years to go see my father. I explained that my income has been precarious and I have to support my disabled mother, who really can’t be left alone, particularly since she ended up in the hospital at the beginning of this year. The odds seem to be stacked against me ever seeing my father. At this point in time, I cannot afford to buy a plane ticket to Nigeria. I also don’t know who would take care of my mother is I had to go to Nigeria to see my father. But even if these two huge issues were resolved, I still don’t know if I would go.
I want to visit Nigeria but I am really wary. Actually I’m downright terrified. This isn’t simply the fault of Western media. I can blame books, mostly written by Nigerians, like Chinua Achebe’s The Trouble with Nigeria. I can also blame Nigerians and other Africans for telling me horror stories: I have been told that if I go to Nigeria I might catch malaria, be kidnapped and held for ransom by area boys, be kidnapped and sold into slavery, be robbed and killed, be cursed by evil witches, or become a human sacrifice for cult members. This all seems pretty extreme but considering that I don’t know anyone in Nigeria other than my father who is poor by Nigerian standards, I don’t know anyone with the means to guide or protect me if I travelled there. And this is where the troubles of Nigeria directly affect me. I would feel much safer travelling to other African countries. If my father lived in Senegal, Ghana, Rwanda, Kenya, or Ethiopia I wouldn’t be so afraid because these countries regularly receive Western tourists and their citizens don’t have an international reputation for being liars and inherently corrupt.
But, I would still love to go to Nigeria. Lagos which has a vibrant arts scene. I dream of going to Lagos, seeing my father for the first, and probably last time, and hanging out with musicians, painters, playwrights, poets and novelists while visiting NGOs working on human rights, ecological rehabilitation, and literacy. Nigeria might have a reputation for corruption but it is also one of the most artistically creative nations south of the Sahara. I would love to see this, and be part of this.
The truth is, I think what I fear the most about going to Nigeria is seeing the poverty. I grew up poor by Canadian Urban standards but that doesn’t compare to the poverty my father lives in. I worry about being devastated by guilt. I’m not to blame for my father’s or Nigeria’s poverty. It’s not my fault. But I still can’t get my head around the fact that just because I was born here I have access to so much, clean water, free education, reliable electricity, waste disposal, safe roads, so many things that I take for granted. It’s all so unfair. And if my father had not been deported he would have had access to these things to…and I would have probably gone back to Nigeria long ago, in the company of my father, protected.
If I want to ever see him in person, I need to go soon. I am hardly in a financial situation to go as I support my disabled mother and have no post-secondary education but where there is a will there is a way. If only I could feel safe going and not worry about coming back somehow less than I was when I left. If only I was confident that this would be a positive experience that would not destabilize me but strengthen me.
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