Hey everyone, seems like forever since I posted about a trip. This one is about the Land of the Free (America!!!). I’m not sure that I have many tips to share, probably just pictures, but we’ll see.
My first time was in May 2002, I was 16. I was sponsored by Unicef/Unesco to attend the United Nations General Assembly Special Session On Children, New York, as a speaker at a side event the NGO I was a member of was holding. If you check out this link and scroll to Nigeria you’ll see my name there (those that know my government name). Actually the conference was meant to be in September 2011, but then 9/11 happened (sad times) and it was postponed.
Fun fact: If you google my government name, the first thing that shows is a conference I attended at the UN. Cool huh?
I had left school straight from WAEC chemistry practicals, directly to the airport. For some reason that I cannot remember, I was traveling alone, but my mom was already there so she met me at JFK in New York.
It was a very exposing experience, sitting in at UN sessions, meeting so many people from all over the world. I remember I made friends with this girl from Kenya, she was so pretty, with such long hair and a really big derriere. I stayed at the Vanderbilt YMCA hostel just a few blocks from the United Nations, so I just used to walk there all the time and my mom was at some kinda Airbnb setup, not sure what it was called then, but she was renting a room in someone’s house, while the person was there of course and I went to visit her once. Also my Aunty Nkem (Tales by moonlight lady) was staying at some hotel, I stayed there the night before the side event, to write my speech, which I wrote all by myself, wish I could find it.
We interviewed Maryam Babangida at her hotel and NTA was there to cover it, they also interviewed us outside of her hotel, and when I got back to school everyone said they saw me on TV and my principal said she saw me on CNN (still dunno if that’s true, but that’s what she said). I got back to school the morning of my first WAEC exam, my closest friend then (Happiness) was really worried, she thought I was gonna miss it. (Such a sweet girl, she was the best person to me back then).
My mom stayed longer than the conference, but I took one day off to go shopping with her. We went to Jamaica avenue in Queens and that is when I realized I hated shopping. Frankly walking around from shop to shop is the most tasking and confusing thing ever for me. There were just so many options, I couldn’t even pick anything, she was the one who ended up picking most of the stuff for me. I do remember buying this gold swimsuit that I felt was really cool and pretty back then but now I realize it was something like a born again sturvzz. I also went to wholesale jewelry shops and just picked a whole bunch of stuff to share to my friends at school (was a an all girls school).
Sadly I don’t have any pictures at hand from this trip, it was such a long time ago, they are probably all with my mom.
The next year (September 2003), I was selected amongst thousands of members of the Peaceways Young General Assembly to represent them at the DPI/NGO Conference Workshops: The Next Generation Speaks Out: Young People On Fulfilling the Promises of the United Nations, see page 7 of this document. This time I left after Orientation from Uni in Ghana, and was sponsored by Gen. Yakubu Gowon.
I travelled alone again, and this time had to find my way from JFK airport to the Vanderbilt YMCA by myself. I asked questions when I landed and decided on a shuttle bus to the centre (it was just more convenient and cheaper than a cab). By this time I was 17 so in my mind I was a big girl. I stopped a few blocks before the hostel though (mistakenly) and ended up walking the rest of the way. By the time I got to the hostel my arms were really dead from carrying/rolling my bags and no one even helped me *tears* (British people are definitely nicer when it comes to helping with bags, American’s will just talk your ears off, hehe).
Ellen Brogen, the founder of the Peaceways Young General Assembly, was at the hostel waiting for me (had never met her), where we shared a room/bunk bed, and had to shower in the general bathroom down the hall. Wasn’t a bad experience and because it was a hostel and rather central, I made some friends and got to wander around the streets of New York at night and by myself (I tell you I felt I was a big girl, fortunately nothing bad happened to me).
The event was great and enlightening, I made lots of contacts (some contact cards I still have) and my speech went well. I wasn’t even really nervous, by this time I was very good at public speaking, after my experience in Turkey and other events in Nigeria and the one I just spoke about. My speech was on what children and youth face in Nigeria and what part we can play in helping the UN fulfill it’s promises.
The first time I had eaten American style food (large sizes/portions) was in Chelsea in London at some restaurant Big Easy that this American Couple (Connie & Michael) we had adopted when we used to live there, took us to. The children’s portions there were humongous, yet when I went to buy pizza in New York I was shocked when it was ready and given to me. It was so large, and so cheap, there was no way I was gonna be able to finish that. I ended up offering every person I saw in the hostel some pizza, just so I didn’t waste it.
My Aunt got her friend to meet me at the hostel and take me shopping at Times Square and he also took me to watch a movie. I shopped so much, ate a lot and walked even more (boy does that man walk fast, and with my tiny legs it was a challenge), New York streets ain’t for little kids, by the time I got back I was so spent.
Anywho, this second trip to America (The Land of the Free) was my first official time traveling completely alone and I fell in love with it and indeed felt so free.
Getting back to Nigeria, I had to make a courtesy call to Gen. Yakubu Gowon to thank him for his sponsorship and fill him in on how the conference went. After which, I was interviewed on NTA’s A.M express. That was an experience and a half, being interviewed on national TV and actually getting to see myself this time. (I had been on TV a few times before, but at a much younger age, so it wasn’t really special to me, besides they weren’t interviews, was just me on a children’s program). I wish there was a way one could get the tape, alas it will just forever be a memory.
I think that’s all for my first two trips to America, I have a couple more to write about in subsequent posts.
Have an awesome week.