Even though many of the students I’ve spoken to did not know where Nigeria is on the map, many of the older ones did, especially the academics. That provides some occasional comfort, especially when the Nigerian person they knew was one of the well-behaved ones.
I met a Ugandan during the first orientation at Brown University who asked Omar and myself. “What have you Nigerians done? You guys are everywhere. Anytime I get into an argument involving politics with anyone here, especially in public. The first question they always ask is ‘Are you from Nigeria?'”
Yesterday, I met a new student who is from Benin Republic but whose parents were migrants from Nigeria. My first seatmate on the plane from Nigeria to London was a Nigerian girl from Delta state who is studying in a University in Boston. On my way into campus cafeteria today, I met a young American student who says his room mate is Bolaji from – you guessed it – Nigeria. That’s not all. Tola, who was last year’s Yoruba FLTA to SIUE is also back on this campus to begin her Master’s degree programme.
And today, while walking around the Foreign languages department with the Palestinian Professor Tomari of the History department, checking into my new office and meeting the staff of the department, he asked me if I knew a Nigerian by the name Nwakama. I said “Obi Nwakama?”, and he said “Yes, that’s him.”
“I do actually,” I said, “but I’ve never met him.”
Obi Nwakama is one of the names I’ve heard over and over again within Nigeria’s literary circles.
“He lives in St. Louis,” he said. “We almost always talk politics. I like him because he’s sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.”
“I didn’t know that. I always thought he was in Nigeria.”
“Maybe one of these days, I hope we can take a trip down there together.”
“That would be nice. I think Eugene Redmond lives there too. Do you know him?”
“Yes.” he replied. “He used to teach on this campus. But now he’s retired.”
I first met Professor Redmond in Ibadan in 2004 when he came to promote Drumvoices Revue, a periodic anthology of poems. I met him again a few years after then, only to hear that he had stopped being on the staff of SIUe.
Of course I’d like to go to St. Louis again – the land of Miles Davies the legendary trumpeter.