Africa! A continent immensely vast, but stained with the mark of poverty. Africa! A continent so rich, but lacks infrastructure. Africa! A continent with another face that only one part of humanity knows. Africa! The face of wisdom, hospitality, and wealth.
Meet Chidi Amadiume, a biology major and a future fashion photographer. I must say, this young man’s demeanor has always intrigued me; very mature and focused for his 19 years of age, a bit sarcastic at times, but it’s all part of his humour. Intelligent and well-spoken, he exudes the upbringing his mother has given him. Most people usually have either a left or right brain; but very few of us have both. His passion for medicine and photography stretches even further into music and television. It may be odd that a biology major is very much into art, but it is simply who Chidi Amadiume is.
Born in Enugu State, Nigeria; Chidi grew up in Kenya and Mauritius. When he was only a baby, his mother moved with him and his sister to Kenya for work. “A part of me is Kenyan”, says Chidi. He seems to still have a strong connection with those two countries; they have built the foundation of who he is today. This background enabled him to connect with different cultures. From a young age, Chidi was always surrounded by people from different nations, from the wonderful people he met at his mother’s office, to the children in the international school he attended.
At age 11, Chidi’s family moved to Mauritius. A highly multi-racial island in the Indian Ocean; a melting pot in its own right. It is composed of East and South-East Asian, Indus, Chinese, Creoles (African) and European descents. As I asked Chidi how it made him feel to be in that type of environment, he simply said, “I found it really cool. For example, I really got into Bollywood when I got to Mauritius. I mean I didn’t really know about Indian culture until I moved there, and then, it became a thing for me to watch. I was exposed to the music also.”
Chidi gave me a verbal tour of the beautiful Island of Mauritius. As he mentioned, in Mauritius different religions each have their own specific holidays. So out of their calendars they get to pick at least 4 or 5 of them to participate in. As a result, there were holidays every once in a while, and you’d get to see big festivals. For example, during the Ganesh festival where there is an immense display of culture, the Diwali people hook and pull massive sculptures from their bodies from morning until late in the day when they arrive to the Holly Lake Grand Bassin. “It was very crazy to see. At first I was like ‘oh my God is that really hooked to their skin!’ I didn’t understand why they were doing it. But I learned about it, and I found it very admirable”, said Chidi. He learned to appreciate the many cultures surrounding him; I saw his eyes light up when expressing his thoughts. It seems to me that Mauritius is also part of him.
Being surrounded by different cultures and having a home away from home, I asked Chidi if he ever felt out of place. He responded, “I felt a little out of place at school sometimes, because there were only 6 African kids at my school, but the thing is we did have an African community. All the African kids went to the same Mauritius school, so our families by default started to know each other and hang out. And in a situation like that, you don’t feel out of place anymore.” It simply became his new normal, and in a way this is the foundation that enabled him to have a smooth transition in America.
It is sometimes hard to believe how young Chidi is, but then, again his journey screams growth. By the time Chidi was 17 and off to college he had already lived in three different countries, and fluently spoke two different languages (English and French). His past reflects his present. Since I met Chidi I have always seen him with friends of different cultures. His comfort zone is adapting and connecting with worldwide individuals. At a young age he had visited multiple countries during summer vacations, including: South Africa, England, Germany, France, and the United States. Seeing and experiencing a different way of life enables one to stay humble, and to know a world beyond what you personally knew.
Chidi’s world and way of life is very common in Africa; especially in middle class Africa. It is unfortunate that this Africa that many of us know, is almost foreign or nonexistent to many in the West. See, we grew up with a stereotype of Africa. Often times we are asked the most provocative questions about our continent. The most common one is, “Have you ever taken a ride on a lion?” “Do you live on trees?” But the irony of it is, I have lived a better life in Africa, than I ever lived in America. The reason why many of us young Africans found ourselves here, is for our studies and better opportunities in a future career.
Like Chidi, I was only 7 months old when my family moved from Tanzania to Morocco. I must say I had a wonderful childhood there. I attended Paul Cezanne, a French school that a lot of international children attended. I was also raised around those with a different skin color than me; but to my siblings and I, that was normal. I grew up with so much pride for my country Guinea. Manika was spoken at home, we often ate African stew at home during lunch time, and our family history was a constant reminder of who we are and where we come from. Self pride was taught. I have never internally thanked my dad like I do today. Seeing worldwide discrimination from the West today humbles me. Seeing certain African Americans struggle with identity simply because their own history has been taken from them, makes me realize how fortunate I have been.
Becoming an Interviewer/ TV Personality is a calling for me. I was that little girl with a notebook asking my Dad who is father was. My father was born and raised in Faranah, and his father was raised there as well. However, my great grandfather was from Beyla. My roots belong to the ethnic group Koniaka to be precise. My great grandfather fought along Almamy Samory Toure during colonial times, while we were fighting against colonization in our land. My great grandfather on my mother side was the chief of his village in Dentilia, Faranah. Stories like these aren’t made up, they are still held by our Grio (historical elder). When you come from a line of dignified individuals, you can stand tall and walk with your head held high. Like actor Courtney B. Vance mentioned in “Finding Your Roots” with Henry Louis Gates Jr. when finding his own history, he said, “my back is a little straighter. You know where you're from, you know who you are and where you’re going. You gotta know where you’re from.” This is what our generation needs at the moment. They need to know that they have a long history before the boat ride their ancestors took centuries ago. They need to know that their history is valued. And last but not least, they need to remember the prideful ancestors that fought for them to have a better life.
While speaking to Chidi about how our continent is viewed, he mentioned, “They overgeneralize like Africa is one country, when it’s not. It’s almost like Africa is considered a weird species. Almost like we’re dehumanized. And that is what most Americans are exposed to, and that is what they think”.
There was a time in the 80’s where many young African intellectuals went abroad to study, and came back to serve their countries. My father obtained his Doctorate in Philosophy and Social Sciences in Germany at the University of Leipzig, which is the same university Angela Merkel attended. Chidi’s mother obtained her degree in Russia. This group of young Africans were present during the time most African countries gained their independence from the West, and as a result many had a clear vision of the impact they wanted to have in their country, and the change they wanted see. This same group of young Africans have eventually exposed their children to a diverse world. An educated and proper world full of endless opportunities.
Chidi’s mother has always wished he would pursue medicine. I remember having a few laughs with Chidi about Medicine being the #1 field of study in the average Nigerian home, as Business, Economics and Finance are the chosen fields of study in the average Guinean household. The wonderful thing about this is that Chidi loves the medical field. He mentioned, “Medicine is something that I have always been interested in ever since I was a child. Growing up, you get to experience things, you see the world, and you get more exposed to certain things. And obviously it changed from doctor, to architect, to interior designer, it went around full circle and it ended up back to doctor just because I really like science; I feel like I have always been a science student”. Chidi also added, “I enjoy science and I also enjoy art, it’s just about finding the balance between the two. I would like to be a neurosurgeon or a world-renowned photographer, whichever comes first”.
When I speak with Chidi, I hear my own voice. We are young Africans with a dream. Young Africans millions of miles away from our loved ones. And we are young Africans with a future.