Declaring my independence!!! I boarded my flight to United States of America on the first of October 2004. I don’t believe in coincidences, but it’s the same day as Nigeria’s Independence Day. On 1 October 1960, Nigeria became a self-governing country, free of British control. A parliamentary form of government was established, it only lasted for six years before the first military coup overthrew the civilian government.
There were many republics and military interventions before General Abdulsalami Abubukar became head of the new military administration in 1998. Nigeria was crumbling, but Abubakar succeeded in restoring the country’s credibility and status.
It was very symbolic to me. I was claiming my own independence from a life of poverty, qualor and from going nowhere. It was one small step to get on the plane and one huge leap toward achieving my dreams.
Many Nigerians are still not truly free, they are trapped in lives of grinding poverty.
Why am I so fortunate? I am Onyema Benigna Ajuogu, a child raised under extraordinarily impoverished conditions. A girl who (like so many before her in the village of Umudihe) would be destined for a life of oppression and despair, living day to day, never veering from the routine. I was a girl with a dream, but more than that, I chased my dream and with persistence made it come true. I was getting my freedom. I Onyema Benigna Ajuogu will no longer be trapped by circumstances.
As I sat on the plane, flying for the first time in my life, I felt certain that my personal Independence Day was coming, too. I had a powerful sense of freedom and a hope like nothing I had ever felt before.
Numbers are significant to me – I always see numbers as a connection in nature. My leaving Nigeria on October 1, it being Nigeria’s Independence Day, this was more than a coincidence. It was on this morning that I realized that this Nigerian Independence Day, was actually the day of MY departure for freedom!
I remember looking out of the window of the plane at the vast Atlantic Ocean. It seemed endless as we passed above it: forty-one million square miles of water covering 20 percent of Earth’s surface. It was amazing to see from thirty thousand feet above its surface—so free and flowing, just as I envisioned the rest of my life to become.
I smiled, knowing that in the United States of America I would have freedom to dream and freedom from limitations that held me back before. Freedom to achieve my dream of flying, freedom to go beyond planet Earth.
I arrived in America at the Atlanta airport on October the 2nd, 2004. What a feeling when I disembarked! It was more than another country. It was a whole new and different and exciting world. I can’t tell you how wonderful I felt getting off the plane and looking around at what seemed like millions of people and planes taking off and landing every ten minutes.
I gathered up my bags and went through customs. My joy and cheerfulness suddenly turned to a harsh reality. As I stepped out into the airport and onto American soil, I realized I have a problem. But I also did not want it to alter my excitement.
“It’s not a problem,” I said silently. “All right, it is a problem, but it can be fixed.”
“How?” I asked my inner self.
“Not sure. Let me think,” I kept saying to myself.
The problem was, there I was, stepping out of customs totally alone and with no plan or means of going any further. No one was meeting me at the airport. I had no money for a bus or cab fare, and my university was in another state, hundreds of miles away. I was stranded at the Atlanta airport! I know it’s really brave for a young girl my age to travel for the first time to a country she only heard of, and without any money, contacts or support. I faced reality and although the picture didn’t look to great I knew I came this far and I would make it.
Perhaps I should have been afraid to be alone and far from my family, but in my mind I had conquered the biggest obstacle—reaching America. In contrast to Nigeria, the opportunities in America appeared so much greater. My excitement was almost overwhelming in spite of the mess I was in.
The fact is that my excitement about coming to United States of America meant that I needed to minimize the predicament I was in now, and my fervent belief that God would help me deal with whatever circumstances I faced. I was so excited just to be going to a place where I could discover so many things, I hadn’t even thought about leaving Atlanta for Tuscaloosa. Some more solemn reflection might have made me avoid the plight I was now facing. But in some ways this is a metaphor for my life: my faith and passion comes first and overrides practical considerations. Sure there is a downside to that, like arriving in United States of America and having no money. The upside was that I reached United States of America, I have to live my life to the fullest, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. A few difficult hours at an airport were nothing compares to living out my dreams.
I also have to admit that there is a part of me that enjoys stepping into the unknown. It is one of the reasons I love the concept of spaceflight. The way I see it, arriving in Atlanta with no money is nothing compared to landing on Mars, or any planet for that matter.
I had no idea how much trouble I was in. I kept rolling ideas over in my mind, trying to develop some scientific equation that would get me from here to where I needed to be.
Huh.. Scientific equation? please be sure to grab your copy of “Escape Velocity- Journey of hope”. We all share the same hopes and dreams and I respect that.