Reunion in the Village, Part 2

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  • Published on November 7, 2022
  • Last Updated December 22, 2022

Faith Adiele returns home again to Nigeria, this time with a PBS crew to film her story. Halle Barry aids her through customs - read how here.

Twelve years after first visiting Nigeria, during which I met my father and siblings, I returned with a PBS film crew. I had signed on as the subject, narrator and writer of a special that documented the stories of three American families with roots outside the US — one Chicano, one Vietnamese and mine, half Nordic-American, half Nigerian. The purpose of the series, called My Journey Home, was to show how events that happen outside America are intimately connected to life here. As I hadn’t been back to see my family since that first visit, it seemed like a sign.

After spending a few days in Washington state interviewing my mother, visiting what had been my Nordic grandparents’ farm and filming my toys and family albums, the film crew and I headed back over the mountains to Seattle and the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. That’s when the trouble began. The first hurdle was the director pulling out of the project just the night before, after her teenage sons decided that “Africa” was “too dangerous” for a visit. The second was getting our 14 bags of camera equipment onto the plane. The third was getting them off.

To my disappointment, we landed in Nigeria in the early morning. I love arriving in the tropics at night and experiencing the thick slap across the face the humidity provides as I descend the jetway onto humid tarmac. That gorgeous, smelly, sweaty southern hemisphere welcome, complete with palm trees and neon lights in the distance. I always relive the adolescent moment I fell in love with Mexico and Thailand, the moment that was enough to convince me, a decade later, that Nigeria, too, was home.

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Still from My Journey Home: Faith arriving to Port Harcourt, Nigeria to see her family. PBS

This time we rushed through the fluorescent corridors of the new capitol’s airport — my previous visit to the capitol was Lagos — in the clutch of expats: Everyone from Nigerian women in faux furs corralling small herds of well-turned-out children to Northern businessmen with embroidered caps and layers and layers of gleaming damask and bored hipsters with British accents, bodies tightly encased in head-to-toe denim outfits pressed and distressed within an inch of their lives — everyone working their cell phones as if Africa hadn’t a sunny minute to spare.

While awaiting our “fixer,” the cameraman and I stood guard over the 14 equipment bags, watching passenger after passenger negotiate his or her way past the phalanx of uniformed soldiers and out into the press of humanity. Before long, we were the only ones left in baggage claim, which suddenly felt riskier than trying to make our way through immigration services alone. We wheeled our train of carts toward the rows of steel berths, which gleamed like autopsy tables. The officials took one look at the cameraman, my wide eyes, the 14 bags, and it was like Christmas. Their cheeks quivered with the effort it took to not burst into fits of giggles.

Winding up, the soldiers threw open case after case, pointing to the thick gray foam protecting the camera equipment. “All this will have to be removed,” they barked, warming to the performance. “We need to make sure you’re not smuggling anything underneath!”

The cameraman nodded to his left, right and center, trying to answer soldiers all demanding to know why he had so much expensive equipment, and did he intend to sell it here in Nigeria on the black market, and what was he implying — that Nigeria has no good cameramen or camera equipment of its own? Was that what he’d come here to say, neh? My cameraman fumbled to unlock a suitcase a fourth soldier was shaking madly. He pointed out the features of the boom a fifth held accusingly before him. Eventually he caved.

“This is about her,” he pleaded, pointing to me. “We’re filming her. She’s an important writer.”

Like a giant, one-eyed creature, the crowd of soldiers swiveled in a single, synchronized movement to stare at me before crowding closer.

“Who are you?” the shortest, most authoritative one questioned indignantly. “Why are they making a film about you?”

By then I was wondering the same thing. “Because I’m coming home,” I choked out.

And then I remembered and slowly raised my finger. “One minute,” I said, rummaging through my bag, thanking whichever saint protects travelers that I had a copy of Essence magazine, which my mother had expressed-mailed me. This copy, unbelievably enough, contained an account of my first trip to Nigeria twelve years ago — with pictures!

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Still from My Journey Home: Faith in her family compound in Nigeria PBS

“See?” I handed the magazine open-faced to the tiny leader. “This is me in the US, where I was raised.” I turned the page and pointed, “here I am with my brothers and sister in Nigeria.”

“Ah.” They fell silent, leaning forward to study the photos. They ran their fingers over the pages, lips moving softly as they read. In the leader’s hands, Essence exhorted readers to Get Gorgeous! while Halle Berry promised an exclusive on The Year That Changed My Life!

“So you’ve come back home,” the leader said, acknowledging the magazine begrudgingly.

He snapped his fingers and equipment re-sheathed itself, cases slammed shut and locks engaged. Three porters appeared in long red coats to carry our bags. The soldiers reassembled themselves into a gauntlet lining the path to the door. As I crept cautiously forward, they leaned in, hands clasped behind their backs, and nodded. “Welcome, sister,” they said. “You are welcome.”

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