When I was a teenager, my parents decided to send me away to their homeland of Nigeria for 2 years. They sent me there to experience the culture and spend time with relatives I’d never met. Make no mistake … I didn’t want to go.
I was born in Washington, D.C., and raised in Maryland. The United States was all I knew. It was my home. It’s where all my friends were. I was living a comfortable – some might say “sheltered” – American life.
Nigeria was a complete mystery to me. It was a world away from everything I was used to. When I arrived there, it was like stepping into another dimension – a place where people spoke differently, dressed differently and lived differently. I was not prepared for such a sudden change, but what average American teenager would be?
To say it was a major adjustment is an understatement. For starters, many in Nigeria don’t have access to 24-hour electricity. That certainly was the case for me. I lived in a rural area my first year there and in a more urban setting the second year. In both places, I couldn’t just turn on the TV to pass time because we didn’t always have power. At the same time I couldn’t just wander around by myself because I didn’t know the lay of the land.
To combat the boredom, I escaped to my own thoughts. I dreamed. I imagined and created things in my mind. My time in Nigeria helped bring out the artist in me and laid the groundwork for my career as a filmmaker.
In fact, my time there sparked the idea for my first feature film, “Nigerian Prince.” It’s about a Nigerian-American teen sent to Nigeria against his will. Sound familiar? Unlike me, though, the main character in my film teams with his Nigerian cousin to scam unsuspecting foreigners in order to earn money for a ticket home. Now, thanks to the AT&T Presents: Untold Stories program, that story is coming to life on the screen and will debut at next year’s Tribeca Film Festival.
Last month, I returned to Nigeria to shoot the film. This time, it was like a homecoming. The place that was once so foreign to me is now so familiar. Looking back, I realize my 2-year stay in Nigeria was an incredible opportunity – an experience very few teenagers ever get. It strengthened my relationships with family. It allowed me to meet interesting people. It introduced me to new foods. It helped me develop a deeper appreciation for everything I’d previously taken for granted. Most importantly, it unlocked my powerful passion for creativity and helped lead me to where I am today.
Faraday Okoro - Guest Author