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Why I am at AUN – Alexander Chirila
I can only begin by saying that I love it here. In order to understand how I arrived at this conclusion, it is better to start at the beginning: my first reaction to a positive response from AUN was an obvious one—obvious, at least, to someone brought up in the relative comfort and security of the United States. I thought, “hold on, this is Nigeria we’re talking about here: a third world, West African nation that is primarily known for a bloody civil war (Biafra), poverty (the majority of people live on less than 2$ a day), civil unrest, rampant corruption, and religious tension. Headlines from Nigeria aren’t generally comforting, and it doesn’t help that, as an oil-producing country, Nigeria is likely to be at the forefront of the next global energy crisis…” As you can imagine, I had quite a few second thoughts. A curious idea then occurred to me: I did not want to dismiss an entire country filled with a unique culture, heritage, perspective, and people, on the basis of headlines that may not accurately represent the soul of the place—nor did I want to miss out on an opportunity to experience the genuine spirit of a country so far removed from what I knew and understood. I was looking for radical change, a shift in my own perspective that would give me new eyes.
When I arrived here, I expected a period of adjustment characterized by the usual symptoms of culture shock. I expected to miss the United States and its endless commodities and amenities; I expected to feel obviously alienated and confined to the university community, an expat among expats, shuffling back and forth between my gated compound and the campus. Instead, I felt honestly relieved to be away from the plastic and glamour, entertainment and ignorance of the developed world—a bit harsh, you might say; and don’t take it to mean that I have no regard for my home—but there is an openness here, an unfiltered breath of life that, despite the challenges endemic to the environment, offers the chance to really and truly give something of yourself. The people are welcoming, the community vibrant, and the landscape brilliantly natural.
If you apply your will in the right way, within the context of this environment and with an understanding, appreciation, and respect for its people and their way of thought and life, you can accomplish great good. Moreover, you will be thanked for it—not until I received the sort of gratefulness that you encounter here did I realize just how rare true and sincere gratitude is. Nor is gratitude the only sincere emotion you will experience. There are problems here, yes; but there are dimensions to those problems that are glossed over in more fortunate countries. Do people here live under 2$ a day? Yes, most of them—but they live as they have lived for many generations, their character unencumbered by conditions that would corrupt a society used to the luxury of a higher standard of living. If all you know of this place is what you’ve seen on a commercial for UNICEF, you may believe it characterized by unbelievable sorrow and anguish; and while those qualities do follow on the heels of conflict, war, and disease, they are far from the most dominant elements. Is there religious tension? Sure—but not to the degree that the media would have the citizens of other countries believe. Christians and Muslims work hand-in-hand to preserve peace, and they are often more capable of civil debate than the American Senate. Yes, there are groups that, animated by social unrest, commit acts of appalling violence; but they are not allowed to reign over a lawless state. Yes, there is corruption, and fraud is an unfortunately common alternative to a stable work ethic—but the people are eminently reasonable. Where you would have no recourse to discussion or negotiation in countries overwhelmed by bureaucracy and the unwavering governance of debt, Nigeria is a place where you can actually discuss terms with both businesses and individuals. I am healthier, nourished by food that would cost an arm and a leg in other places, if one were inclined to seek an alternative to preservatives, artificial flavors, and red no. 6.
The roads are poor, yes, but I have traveled freely around Adamawa State—on a motorcycle, no less. I have visited villages where the children have scampered laughingly around mothers cooking on open flames and fathers casting handwoven nets into the Benue River. I have taken as friends and companions a number of Nigerians who have since astounded me with their intuition and heart. I have clothed myself in kaftans that are far more comfortable in the heat than the machine-sown clothing I labored to bring with me. Here, at AUN, I have found a fulfillment that I did not expect—I went from doubting whether my teaching would be as effective in Nigeria as it was in the States, to learning that I could positively affect lives across boundaries of nation, race, and creed.
I wouldn’t trade my experiences here for anything, and I certainly intend on staying.