Do they understand? (L)

I am a Nigerian. Apart from the four and a half years I spent in London for my degree, I have spent all the years of my life in my country. In the early 1960s, there was an American scholarship for Nigerians. But you must pass an aptitude test to get the award. I signed up for the test. However, on the test date, I got cold feet when it came time to go in and sit down for the test. I was more than afraid of exposing myself to the wave of violence in the US that people read in the newspapers. I definitely thought my friends who had taken the test and passed had made the mistake of a lifetime of voluntarily going to the US. Despite my concerns about their safety which I was all ears, while expecting learning to be threatened, they all graduated with flying colors. There were, however, reports of a few near misses.

Twice, once in the 1970s and again in the 1980s, I got the US visitor visa. Apparently my feet were still too cold to travel. I naturally dislike violence. But despite all my fears, I will be staying in the US for a while now. My arrival this time has a lot of appeal. My status has now improved considerably. Also, if I may add, I was looking for the elusive love. I still find it elusive. Most importantly, I take the opportunity to publish a Christian religious book. The contents were revealed to me in my sleep over a period of years. I need to let the whole world know what’s in the book.

Comparing my expectations of life in the US with what I actually found filled me with disbelief. Perhaps unjustly, I couldn’t help but compare it to life in London in the 1960s. Here in the United States, the government is almost completely withdrawing from the lives of citizens. At the time, university education for British students was completely free. In addition, they received monthly grants to cover daily expenses. The amount of the scholarship received increased if the students got married or had children. As a foreign student I was not eligible for any support. But without me applying, the British Council Office in London took it upon themselves to find out which students were not covered by the government grant. The unbelievable story is that without my filling out an application form or writing a letter, the British Council paid my dues in full, except for the Student Union dues. I dropped out of my studies because my mother wanted me back in Nigeria. I will always be grateful to the British people. Not only that, my medical care was free, including prescriptions. Even a doctor came to my house when I first got hay fever and my cough was persistent and severe.

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My host here in the US has been here for decades. He had thought all was well until I showed him life on the other side. Even though you have health insurance here, you still pay when you see your doctor, especially for your prescriptions. Bad luck if you were hospitalized; you have to pay your bills, which can run into the thousands of dollars. Who cares how you manage all that, because unless you work for the government, you’re a goner. And further; and further; and further. The late President JF Kennedy, in one of his speeches, urged citizens not to ask what the country could do for them. Rather, they should care about what they can do for the country. At first glance, I took it as a call to determined patriotism at the time. However, it gave me a different meaning when I knew of some people’s living conditions in the midst of obvious abundance.