The conclusion of my first semester back at university in Melbourne has been an interesting personal and social experience. It always strikes me how the years at university have been in many ways a drawn out and personally challenging time in my life. Now on the finishing stretch, I have refocused and reviewed what study in itself means to me, what institutions can and can’t do for me and at the same time trying to subordinate that experience from myself to understand what and who I am and want to become. As many friends take very different life turns around me, the mental provocation has been inevitable and interesting to say the least. And just because we make different decisions, do different things, place ourselves on new unknown paths, it doesn’t mean that the essence of who we are and the people we surround ourselves will end. Rather, it changes and further patterns our experiences and journey through life.
The last month of classes in October was one of the more relaxed months in study I have had so far. I had readjusted and reconnected with the study world, the method, the formula and the expectations. It had only been four months that I’d been back from Brazil but they have progressed rather quickly and seamlessly. The last week of lectures had arrived and the lack of content and irrelevance to marks meant that very few people attended. The lecturer for my African development studies subject (a class I was taking at 9.30 on a Friday morning) announced the possibility for interested students with a politics background to apply for internships in Nigeria, With little knowledge of the what, how, where and when, I felt an i internal fire inside me. Up until that morning, I was content. I could have happily spent the entire summer enjoying the Australian summer and do what I had done for many summers – meeting people, festivals, beach, hitch hiking, camping etc. Yet the notion of being “content” is something that these days comes to signify stagnation and boredom. So in that current mindset, I went about the application process.
Last week I was told I had been selected and that I will be leaving much earlier (in mid Jan not March). I have rerouted myself into discovery mode – and it’s exciting. I began looking up music, literature, history and anthropology of the country. In the past week I have viewed countless youtube documentaries and I am starting to bore people with the array of new facts I have learned about one of the largest countries by population on the planet but one which most know or care little about. With ignorance on the topic aside, I have noticed the negativity that has accompanied the subject of living in Africa. Similarly this happened when I went to live in Brazil, though many could balance this out by referencing at minimum the stereotypical cliches of booties, beer and natural beauty. With Africa I feel that this hasn’t been the case.
“Don’t get aids and try not to die” from a friend, to the more objective advice from the program director of “hyper security” and talk of being “protected in a security bublble” and it would seem that Africa or in particular Nigeria was devoid of anything else. Such negativity reminded me of the ted talks episode I had seen last year, which I encourage everyone to watch, as the curse of the single story. The media is largely responsible, with narrow agendas and a spiral of silence, all is made opaque and access to anything alternative is difficult and tiresome. I don’t want to change the world, but rather promote alternative views. Perhaps that is what is required in the face of global cultural, political and social homogenisation.
What I have learned is that negativity has been the product of Anglo agency (perhaps European). On telling my friends in Brazil that I am going to Africa I was met with jealousy and excitement. Indeed to that country, Africa represents perhaps something beyond violence and chaos but deeper notions that underlie a spiritual, ancestral and cultural pride. Many identified the great differences that exists between Nigeria and say South Africa, perhaps the latter has largely conditioned the current Anglo exposure of Africa. I couldn’t help hope that perhaps one day people in my country Australia and across the other parts of the world will gain this more textured view of Africa. One where the bad is counterbalanced by so much good, inspiration and positive jealousy.
I have set myself a personal goal whilst I am in Nigeria. I want to document something each day about the good I see in that place, its people and its environment. Indeed it is perhaps something I need to do now, and anywhere I found myself. I want to discover the stories of hope and happiness, and that requires me to test myself. I know that my personal focus is crucial to what I get out of life. A narrow focus is proven time and time again to be all too debilitating and dangerous. So as this new turn sweeps through my life, and given that this year is meant to bring about a shift in global consciousness, I feel that I need to share this with others. As the years go by and as my experience of life becomes larger, varied and conflicting it is important not to succumb to being content with the way you think things are. If anything, the opposite invigorates me and my passion for life.
I would love to hear some of your experiences or stories.