Brothers Back Home: Our Trip to Nigeria

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    For 11 days, September 30th through October 10th, my family took a trip back to Lagos, Nigeria. For a lot of reasons this trip was extremely important, and everyday I’m thankful that I was able to embark on such an amazing experience .My brother Cole and I both had a lot to say about our trip, so it made no sense to only allow one story. With that, I give you Cole Ezeilo’s experience Back Home.

 

   Ezeilo. That is who I am. That is what I am. That is what’s made me the young man I am today. Before my trip, I honestly didn’t know who I really was.  I knew that I was Nigerian and Igbo because of my father, but I never thought it would make a big difference, especially in the American “melting pot” society we live in today. I am a firm believer that heritage and self-knowledge is the backbone of any man. So the moment I stepped out of the plane in Lagos, Nigeria, I immediately knew what it meant to be a Nigerian. What it meant to be an Ezeilo.

    Contrary to popular belief, Lagos, Nigeria and Nigeria in general isn’t filled to the brim with slimy scam artists that are impoverished hoping to get any money they can find. Lagos also isn’t some rural city where zebras and giraffe’s roam the streets. It’s simply a city that has people everywhere like any other place. But what sets Lagos apart from any random city and the reason why people are so scared of the city is because it’s incredibly fast. And when I say fast I mean fast in every sense of the word. The cars are fast, the conversations are fast, heck, even the days seem faster! It’s simply a faster paced society and the people native to Lagos have always known this lifestyle. On the other side however, when outsiders view the Nigerian society, it makes them uncomfortable because their humans and their natural instinct is to reject change and differences. So prior to my trip, I was simply an outsider looking into my own culture but now I possess the ability to not only adjust to a fast-paced society but more importantly switch between a fast and a slow one. This is what I think makes me unique. The fact that I’m a true African-American or rather, an American-African.

    There’s a certain joy you get when you open your eyes and see family everywhere. It’s truly a humbling experience because you know for a fact, that you’re a part of something much bigger than yourself. I can remember the exact time this feeling hit me. It was during my father’s 50th birthday party on the beach of Lekki, a section of Lagos. All of the Ezeilo’s were up dancing regardless of age or gender with each and every one of our faces painted with smiles. We were able to connect on a different level and many of us had nothing in common except one thing… Ezeilo. I believe it was at this time that my life changed for the better. You see, it’s so easy to say that the people over there that were not taken from the Atlantic Slave Trade are completely separate from us. Especially as a young black man in America, the systemic racism has been set up to disconnect us from our heritage and culture and more importantly, our family. But I’m lucky and blessed to say that I’m part of the large percentage of American-Africans and know who and where I come from.

   So as I got on the plane to leave Lagos, I thought about the knowledge I’d acquired on this trip. This wasn’t information that could be taught in a classroom. This also wasn’t information that I ever could’ve learned here in the states. It was information and care from the family that loved me unconditionally upon arrival and this is of unfathomable value. This is Ezeilo.

 

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Shout out to my brother Cole Ezeilo, the boy that’s gonna rule the world one day. Pop4all.com if you didn’t know already. The following are my words. I hope you enjoy.

 

For me, I knew I was never going to forget this trip when I landed in Enugu State, where my father was born.

After my grandfather’s passing, the entire Ezeilo family was shocked to hear about the hero that was Godwin Ezeilo. He was such a strong figure, saving hundreds of lives in his own lifetime, that his death was almost unfathomable. Because of this, many elders in the family refused to believe the news of my grandfather’s death. With my father being the oldest son of his immediate family, it was his job to travel back to Enugu State to tell his family the news. I came along with him, and what I saw will stay with me for as long as I live.

As I took the brief flight from Lagos to Enugu in the middle of our trip with my parents, I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I knew that the Ezeilos were a big family, but for 17 years this big family had been nothing but a concept in my head. No faces to any names, no memories between one another, and no ways of connecting on a personal level. Is this really going to be like my how dad had talked about it for all this time? Will I be able to relate to my own family?  And finally, what is the true strength of the Ezeilo name? All of this tossed and turned in my head as we finally landed at the Enugu airport. From there, I never stopped smiling, maturing, and learning.

With every step I took on Enugu soil, my family grew almost exponentially. My Uncle Paul, who was the backbone behind this entire trip, took us all around the state to introduce us to all of our family members. Everywhere we went there were more and more Ezeilos, each with an enormous smile and an even bigger heart. Something that really stuck out to me was being in the presence of a living and breathing king  who just happened to share the last name as me. Does that make me royalty? Yeah, I think it does. Following this, we moved all around the state through each  house, apartment, estate, or mansion, where Ezeilos were ready to make us feel at home. I met different  uncles, aunts, great-uncles, great aunts, and an insane amount of cousins. I met governors, engineers, and bankers to name a few. It was like a family reunion, except the entire state felt like being in your cousin’s backyard.

When we got to the village where my father and grandfather and great-grandfather was born, however, I experienced something that I had previously never felt before. To this very moment I can’t truly describe the sensation accurately. It was a mix between an out-of-body experience and a lucid dream, as crazy that sounds. I’ve been walking around and talking to people all day, but for some reason as soon as I touched down on such a significant place in my family’s history, things were different. I knew this was bigger than me, to say the least. The village traditions had so much meaning to them that you couldn’t help but stare at and study every movement the elders made. The Igbo, our language, was fluid, strong, and at some times it felt like I could understand them despite never knowing the language. And every time I shook a hand or introduced myself, I was met with such overwhelming joy.  After these traditions and speeches from my uncles and father were finished, my father and I chanted and prayed over the grave of my great-grandfather, James Ezeilo, the man who built everything I saw around me. It felt like I finally unlocked a part of myself that I had been questioning for so long: what does the name Ezeilo really mean? Well after narrowing it down to a country, a state, a village, and finally one man, I can confidently say that I know where I come from.

Now, there were many more stories and memories I had from this trip. It was amazing in every aspect of the word, and I’ll never forget it. But to me personally, the one experience that changed everything was my time in the Ezagwa village. I know EXACTLY who I am, who my people are, the strength my family has, and the power of being back home. Coming back from this trip, it felt like I had a gold suit of armor with a crown to match. The name of this outfit, you ask? E-Z-E-I-L-O. I dare you to try and stop me now.

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Godwin Ezeilo – A Life of Perserverance, Willpower, and the Strength of Family

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        In today’s world, people are motivated by a variety of things. Some people are driven by the need to perfect their image, while others are motivated by money and power. And of course, there will always be people who are driven by hate and prejudice in order to get what they want. But in my opinion, there is definitely a stronger life force than all three of those combined.  No example of this power was better than my grandfather Godwin Ezeilo. Let me explain.

        Whenever I bring up my grandfather to my dad, his eyes light up like he’s won the Nobel Peace Prize. Whether it was a good story or a bad story, the same smile comes over my dad at the end to show the love and appreciation he had for his father. And regardless of what story it was, the message never changed:  Godwin “Goodie, Papa, Pops” Ezeilo did the impossible to make sure that his family was protected. Whether it was fighting as a Wing Commander in the Biafran Air Force in Nigeria, to surviving behind enemy lines for weeks, all of it was to make sure his wife and 5 kids (one of them being my dad) had the best possible chance at success and happiness. This came to a climax in the middle of the war, as  him and fellow officers were seen as traitors of the Nigerian Government. Thinking quickly, he rounded as many things as he could hold, put his entire family on the first plane to out of Nigeria, and said goodbye to his home country as opposing forces attempted to shoot the plane from below. Others would have given up, but not my grandfather. He had something special on his side.

        Things only slowly got better as the Ezeilo’s moved from country to country trying to evade Nigerian officials. Gabon and Portugal were only a few temporary homes for the family, as Godwin  constantly looked over his shoulder and made decisions to leave at a moment’s notice. Finally, the Ezeilo’s landed in The United States, and things changed for the better. He landed a position at IBM as an electrical engineer , received many degrees in education, and never failed to show his children right from wrong. All 5 of his kids are happy and successful, and they’re even showing the next generation of Ezeilo’s how to thrive in this world and its obstacles.  That wisdom lives in them, and I like to think that it’s growing in me.

         I say all that to tell you all that over the last few days I’ve learned something extremely important. Often I wonder why people act the way they act in certain situations, and specifically what is the strongest motivator that can exist within a person. Although I like to think different, too often in this world I see so many people driven by fickle things like power, prejudice, and profit. With all of this around someone, one has to think that the point of life is to be extrinsically motivated towards a big house, a nice car, and maybe some other shiny things. But after battling Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma for a period of time, my grandfather showed myself, my family, and the staff at his hospital the biggest strength of power. My grandfather was able to stay alive in a severely weakened state for over 6 days without food and water. I remember my family and I being half comforting and half bewildered on his bedside, as none of us could fathom how this man was defying common knowledge on survival in the condition he was in. But on April 28th at 6:45 when our extended family including my grandmother Beatrice Ezeilo was by his side, Godwin Ezeilo decided it was time to make his way toward the ancestors and pass. It was then that we realized that his willpower to live for his family and the ancestors was keeping him alive for so long. After a multitude of emotions throughout the room, the answer to my question was made clear. The strongest force in one’s life is the strength to love your family. That’s why my grandfather was able to provide for his family in rough times, that’s why he made sure to instill the right morals in all of his kids, and that’s why he was able to hold on for as long as he did. It all comes down to family. Without family we’re nothing in this world, so it only makes sense why people can do the near-impossible to provide for the people they love. If our world can somehow move away from the money/power thirst it has and start looking towards the things that matter such as the people around you, I feel like a lot of problems can be solved at once towards a better society.

        But at the end of the day I simply write to honor my late grandfather, who may not have always said much, but always lit up a room with his presence and his infectious joy for the ones he loved. I’ll never forget how warm his hugs were, or how he always made sure to tell everyone “God Bless You” whenever he saw them. But looking back on it, it was always him that was the most blessed, for there is nobody I know and will ever know that was as strong and loving as my Papa Ezeilo. May he rest in peace.

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