It’s springtime in Nigeria and construction abounds, with all the traffic snarls you expect in any major metropolitan environment. Lagos, Nigeria’s most populous city with nearly 8 million residents, bustles with thriving commercial and tourism trades. The city is also home to the country’s top financial institutions and major corporations, and has one of the highest standards of living in Nigeria. Famous throughout Africa for its music scene and as the center of the Nigerian movie industry, Lagos is sometimes called ‘Nollywood’ — short for Nigerian Hollywood.
Although it’s a scene 5,300 miles away, it is one that is quite familiar to Chidumebi Ikechi Njoku-Browne, who hails from the Igbo Tribe in Nigeria. The first-year Alvernia political science major came to the United States in 2007 after spending most of his life in the former Nigerian capital. His mother is an executive with a Nigerian oil company; his father a member of British Parliament.
“My life in Lagos was always full of noise, mostly from the heavy traffic,” says Njoku-Browne, who is only half Igbo, the other half English. “There was never a dull moment there — one day, I would be walking to school and see birds flying overhead, and the next, I would come across a random camel outside someone’s gate,” he says.
“Sadly, there is lots of corruption in the Nigerian government, and the North is dealing with its own branch of Islamic terrorists who call themselves Boko Haram — their agenda is to impose Sharia (Islamic) Law on the entire country and get rid of Western education,” he says.
A seasoned world traveler who has been to every continent except Antarctica, and is fluent in no less than five languages — Ibo, Hausa, English, Yaruba and French — Njoku-Browne recalls fondly some of his time in Nigeria. “I had lots of friends but tended to spend most of my time buried in books, whether novels … on history or science,” he says.
To balance the hustle and bustle of city life, Njoku-Browne’s family spent some time in their rural ancestral village. “The village was a lot quieter, there was a lot more foliage, and people were a lot friendlier there than in Lagos,” he recalls. “Sure, the phone signals weren’t as good, but I enjoyed having a lot more room to roam and have fun. Plus, the food tasted a lot better and didn’t smell like exhaust fumes.”
Preserving his Igbo culture
Njoku-Browne left his home country six years ago with his aunt and uncle, who moved to the United States for better opportunities and to pursue an American education. Before enrolling in Alvernia, he spent some time in a boarding school in Maryland and admits that making sense of America came with its own set of challenges.
For one, he had to adapt to a much more technologically based society. “Electronics are a lot bigger part of society here than in Nigeria, and I had to learn all these new things when I got here, like Internet terms and Internet culture in general,” he says. “The food, accents and social norms were also adjustments.
“Some of the challenges for me included dealing with people’s different views from my own, the different spellings of words such as favour and favor, and people calling football soccer!” he says.
When it came time for college, Njoku-Browne chose Alvernia because he wanted a small, quiet campus that would allow for more one-on-one interaction between students and teachers. “Alvernia just seemed to be the most accommodating school on my list,” he says.
To bring some of his native culture to Alvernia, he recently hosted a Nigerian cultural meal on campus, which consisted of jollof rice, plantains, bread and fruit drinks.
Cooking his native foods helps Njoku-Browne feel more comfortable far from home. And he admits it’s sometimes hard not having people around him who understand and can talk about what life is like in his home country.
To reconnect with his roots, despite the tense current political situation in Nigeria, Njoku-Browne says he goes back to visit as often as he can.
His future plans include graduate studies and eventually, a doctorate in paleontology. “I am particularly interested in teaching people about the history of the Igbo people and their ancient religions,” he says. But for now his Americanization continues, and with it his appreciation for the country’s people, places and peculiar spellings!
By: Elizabeth Shimer Bowers