Johnny Just Come: My first month in America

It has been a crazy four weeks here in Boston! A roller coaster really. I have had my plate full with integrating at MIT and The Boston Globe. At MIT, I have the opportunity of taking classes as an observer and I am even allowed to cross-register at Harvard Kennedy School (Wow, right?).

I want to tell you more about Boston, but I’ll confess, I have not been on my best tourist behaviour. Outside of these three wonderful but crazy-busy places, I haven’t had the time to visit many places except the malls for some warm clothes (Boston is cccold!). I don’t yet have a feel of Boston, the feel that will help me describe it authoritatively to you. In other words, I remain a ‘Johnny Just Come,’ a term Nigerians affectionately use for newcomers. But I’m working on changing all of that this month, I promise.

I can tell you about Washington though. I was there for a week to meet with the lovely people at the IWMF and had a few days to myself. I took advantage of the free time and visited the cool TV girls, Malika Bilal and Femi Oke, hosts of The Stream on Al Jazeera network. I shadowed Malika for a day and got to see the show’s behind the scenes. It was thrilling to sit at the pre-meetings, makeup sessions and rehearsals. I watched the show from the control room and got dazzled by all the lights and buttons. And then I got to sit with the team for more meetings. I have always admired The Stream, and the team there didn’t let me down. Everyone was welcoming. From the social producers to the researchers, they eagerly explained their work to me.

At Al Jazeera with Malika Bilal

There’s more. I branched at the offices of National Geographic (the museum and the publication), which have left me stunned to this day. Impressive interactive technology, history and science merge perfectly to give a wonderful experience here. If you are ever in Washington, I highly recommend a visit. There I met with the delightful Lori Cuthbert, a senior editor who I spoke to about future writing opportunities. (It has always been a dream to be published in Nat Geo.)

National Geographic offices in Washington D.C

And then I went on to have a really fun time with the warm team at Voice of America’s Africa Division. The experience transported me back home for a few hours because I once again heard a cacophony of Nigerian languages, and it was pure music to my ears. I enjoyed observing editorial meetings with the senior editors and another one with the Hausa team. Unexpectedly, I was interviewed by TV journalist Salem Solomon who’s from Eritrea. I had a good time on set talking about the Eritrea-Ethiopia tension and the future of democracy on the continent (I will share the link to the interview in coming posts).

With Grace Alheri, a veteran broadcaster at Voice of America, Hausa Language service

Finally, I was a proper tourist in Washington. I walked past the White House and had a little tete-a-tete with Philipos Melaku-Bello, an activist who’s camped outside the House for 37 years. Then I visited the Lincoln Memorial where I was moved to tears by the legacy and story of this one man, so big, who, even though he refused to acknowledge it, has a big role to play in the emancipation of enslaved African Americans who were forcefully carted to the Americas, exactly 400 years ago this year. I saw a beautiful statue of Martin Luther King at the MLK Memorial and wondered at the determination, the sheer doggedness of this leader. I sat on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, directly opposite the Reflecting Pool and asked myself “How did America go from Lincoln, from MLK to where it is now? And what are the consequences for all democratic nations in the world?” There have been many consequences certainly for Central American and African migrants who are finding it so hard to seek asylum here.

Lincoln Memorial

Martin Luther King granite statue at MLK Memorial

Speaking of Africa, I wrapped up my stay in Washington with a trip to the Museum of African American History. There is one word for this place: Mind-blowing. The sobering but illuminating history of slavery, segregation and the struggle for civil rights gave me a clear understanding of contemporary racial issues in America. The country has come a long way from those dark days, but there is certainly more work to be done.

The emancipation proclamation was issued by President Lincoln

As I said, I will tell you all about Boston and what I am up to here in the next post. Expect to read about proceedings at detention centres and how trophy-hunting in Africa (majorly by Americans) does next to nothing for the economy. For now, if you’ll excuse me, I will go check out the gym at MIT. I hear it may be free.