“You’re Nigerian. Yetunde is a Nigerian name,”
Kossi was born and raised in Togo. At the age of 22 he migrated to the US from Canada after winning a green-card lottery, the day he describes as the best day of his life. He’s not married as his family hopes for, but he has a girlfriend. She’s Ghanaian. A “Yankee” Ghanaian- American born and raised, and has never been to Africa.
“Yep, I’m Nigerian. Yep, it is Nigerian.”
“Ah, you pronounce it well, were you born there?”
“Nope, never been either. Going with my father next year. I’m a little nervous,” I laughed honestly.
“Nervous about your home?” Kossi sounded disgusted, and I was positive this conversation was going to take a turn for the worst. Another “you’re not really Nigerian,” conversation was about to take place, and I was ready for battle.
“Nope, not my home. Where my parents and background are from, yes. But not my home. And yes, I’m entitled to be nervous. Different culture, different energy.” I replied.
“So is New York your home?” Kossi’s curiosity continued, but the judgement seemed to have disappeared.
“New York is one of my homes, yeah I guess. My parents live in Mass, and my mother always says home is wherever she is, so I guess Mass is my home too. But I was born and raised in the UK, so that’s sometimes my home too.”
“You have many homes,” Kossi laughed, “That’s a blessing!”
“You might be right.”
My conversation with Kossi continued as we sat in stand-still traffic on Central Park West. He told me that Africa was just as beautiful as America and the UK, I just have to expect the beautiful, and ignore what society puts on Television.
“You know, this stupid idiot I picked up from the airport earlier said she did a tour of Africa. She was white. I was so shocked, Yetunde! Excited even! So I asked her if she liked it, and she said did. And then she showed me her stupid pictures. Only villages! How do you fly into Nairobi, Kenya, and not see the city of Nairobi? Just go straight to the bush! I asked her about the other cities, and she fixed her stupid mouth to say they were run down! Accra is not rundown! Ah, ah! There are tall buildings, and pretty pretty scenery! Stupid woman.”
As passionate as he was about this topic, I had to laugh at his facial expressions and how deep his accent became the more he described the previous Uber customer.
“Perception is everything!” he continued, “Absolutely everything! These people go to back of bush places, and take pictures! Then they come here with fancy photo editing software, and post on the Internet ‘This Africa!’ Hey! Do I go to the ditches and slums of Brooklyn, and take pictures of your smelly homeless people and tell Africans, ‘This is America!’ It’s nonsense!”
The more he ranted, the more I applied his logic, his reasoning, and my new understanding of perception to my own life.
“You care a lot what people think about Africa, Kossi. Do you mind me asking why?”
“Because it’s completely false, it’s not an accurate representation of an entire place that bears the world’s most sought after goods!”
“Do you care a lot what people think of you?”
He didn’t. I’m not sure if I completely believe that, seeing as he was ready to go to war in the driver seat of his Toyota Camry for the continent Africa. But he did leave me with this gem:
“When it comes to you, no one will know you as perfect as you do. Not even your spouse. Nanachi knows me very very well, but not like I know me. But Yetunde, it’s not your job to make everyone know you and see you for who you are truly. When that is your goal, you lose you! People will always see what they want to see, remember that. And remember, always remember that what their stupid thoughts say are none of your business!”
My first reaction to his mini lesson was tell him to apply this thinking to his concerns of what people think of Africa, but I refrained, bid him adieu, and rushed to the gym in my work building, reaffirmed that other people’s thoughts of my spirit do not matter, and my view of myself is paramount. Always.