In 1965 & 1966 I spent two years teachng in a rural school outside Umuahia in what was then known as Eastern Nigeria. Crusaders Secondary School was a boarding school for highschool students, some of them very young. They came from miles around, and some of them did not speak the same languages as others. Basically they spoke Igbo, but classes were mainly conducted in English.
A school in Nigeria, 1965.
We were a very new school and I was there to teach English and French. Basically I was the French Department. I also worked with the Young Farmer’s Club, set up a small school library, inspected dormitories, and all the duties required of a teacher. I helped paint science labs at a neighboring school, judged poetry recitations at a competition, helped the start-up blood donor program in town and taught adults French in town once a week.
There were many new schools in the area. These schools were required to pass school inspections so that students could sit for exams to pass the West African School Certicate program. My students did not sit for the French Exams because they had not received enough background in French yet. But they did sit for exams in English, Igbo, Geography, Sciences, Math, Bible Knowledge and so forth. And so, prior to inspection, a young man from the nearby college came to assist in the science program to teach chemistry. His name was Sam and he was the nephew of our school principal. Sam was a very handsome guy, tall and polite, with a wonderful smile. I didn’t get to know him very well, but he did attended my send-off party I believe.
Ric and David visit my house on the school compound.
Years later, many many years later, I was back in North America, living in Canada. I was married to a professor of computer science (that guy above on the left!) I was in the lab one day, waiting for him to come home. I saw an enthusiastic student printing out a Snoopy Calendar. Now this man was definitely from Nigeria, but I was cautious about approaching him. Eventually I decided to be brave and simply ask him if he was from Africa. (That could have been a dicey question if he was not!) An so when he said “yes” I became braver and asked if he was from Nigeria. I expected this game to continue down to which province, which city, which school, but he was ahead of me and said “Are you Miss Marie?” And sure enough, we were both amazed that we had travelled so far and yet met once more! Sam was starting his PhD in Chemistry, but he was such an outgoing person that he seemed to make many friends. And so he worked hard, graduated and found solid employment in the USA. And that is where his wife came for their wedding. When their first daughter was born they came to visit us. I was so happy to meet her!
Much later we tried very hard for him to become a resident of the USA or Canada, but without success. This was a real shame because he had so much to offer. We were saddened by it all. Eventually he returned to Nigeria and we were able to keep in touch a few times, but it was not easy.
Eventually I tried very hard to locate him on the web and at the University where he taught…to no avail. To my horror, I learned that he had been kidnapped. I was so agitated. In a few very long weeks I was able to discover that he was set free. He contacted me once, but of course his life was a shambles for a while afterwards. His email address must have changed and I no longer heard from him.
And so fast forward to October 2015, and my husband attempted to locate Sam with me on the web. Through some miracle, we discovered a film of his brother’s niece, then her father’s email address, and then this man sent us Sam’s number in Nigeria! The very next morning we were talking on the phone. He is 70 years young now, but sounds like a 25 year old to my ear. To me, this is one of life’s miracles. I have had similar encounters with friends from long ago, but somehow, this one which crosses continents as well as many decades, with the terrible Biafran war in the middle, truly warms my heart. In a photo he sent, his university aged son resembles him so much!!! Life is good.