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22 June 2009 @ 10:04 am
Coming back from the market, I made my first Nigerian friend. His name was Okonkwo and like many Nigerians, he spoke better English than most Americans I know. Okonkwo was a native Igbo. The Igbo live in Eastern Nigeria and pride themselves on being Nigerian elite. They tend to be the best educated and most Western in their outlook. Unlike the Hausa in the North, they tend to take a keen interest in world affairs. So seeing me, a rare white person in Nsukka, he came over and introduced himself. He wanted to know where I was from and what I was doing visiting Nigeria. He thought it was very funny that I was interested in Nigerian culture because for most of his peers, their greatest desire was to leave Nigeria. I told him I thought that was very sad, and he reminded me that I had just arrived and had much to learn. The lack of political freedom and economic opportunity is the driving force that makes him want to leave. The two are very much connected. With the military government able to sieze anything profitable, the risk for real entrepreneurs is just too high. Working with a military government means always having to watch your back. It's not that Okonkwo hates Nigeria. He has lived his whole life here and has a huge extended family. But the more he learns about the rest of the world, the more he wants to experience it for himself. Sadly, the best and brightest Nigerians all leave home to find success elsewhere. This is called the "brain drain" and deprives Nigeria of one of its greatest resources" its people. Okonkwo was a great guide. Without him, I really don't know how I would have survived. He showed me where to go in the market to get the best stuff (and how to avoid the bathroom pit -- which he was embarrassed about.) He also introduced me to a whole bunch of Nigerian students. They treated me like a celebrity. Before I knew it, I had a multitude of offers for meals and trips.