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A serene well-patterned series of natural beauty in landscape interlacing an intricate network of similar structures arrested my sight as the Delta flight in which I was airborne was touching down that fateful Sunday morning the 26th of June 2006 precisely. That was indeed the first significant visual impression I had of America in person.
I lecture English at Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone in a small West African former British colony neighbouring Liberia, both countries being for over a decade embroiled in bitter civil war, but now trying to restore peaceful democratic and economic reconstruction and development. In fact we in Sierra Leone just concluded two rounds of general elections in which the government was changed peacefully, except for isolated skirmishes in some parts of the country. I have mentioned Liberia as most Americans ought to more easily recognise it as its destiny has been so closely bound to America from it’s very foundation. Besides, Liberians have the same speech patterns and share the dollar as their national currencies with Americans. But Liberia has much in common with Sierra Leone since we share certain ethnicities, flora and fauna as well as belonging to two regional bodies, Economic Commission of West African States (ECOWAS) and The Mano River Union (MRU)
Thoughts of America have always been lingering in my mind. But I never thought that it was going to be my lot so soon to be visiting the U.S.A through Louisville outreaching four other strategic cities as guest of the State Department, amidst 17 others from various parts of the world, India, Nepal, Palestine, Tunisia, Jordan,. Turkey, Congo Kinshasa, Togo, Cameroon, Brazil, China, Mauritius, Philippines, Vietnam and Serbia.
My earliest links with America came through fiction as well as biographies of great Americans. Films often shown by the then United States Information Services (U.S.I.S)in Freetown., broadcasts by the Voice of America (VOA) such as music request programs hosted by Liberian Yvonne Barclay, program linkages for Sierra Leoneans in America to talk to friends and relations back home hosted by Sierra Leonean Ted Roberts furthered my acquaintance with America.. Glimpses of life in America were also got from more regular features and news programs. The U.S.library formed a great resource that greatly enhanced my knowledge, familiarity and yearning to get to America. .But my yearning was by no means an annihilating affair as it is for many young Africans who would do anything just to get to America, many getting swindled of a lifetime’s earning and becoming so frustrated that suicide seems to them the most likely option. Mine allowed wide room for disappointment. I had hoped thirty years ago upon graduating from Fourah Bay College of coming over to the U.S. to pursue a master’s program in mass communication which was then my most favored career option. Seeing that time was fastly going against me, I had to opt for the post-graduate Diploma in Education at the same Fourah Bay College. I then went straight on to a Masters course in African Literature which considerably expanded my interest and knowledge of that area. When later I published Folktales from Freetown it became like an harbinger preparing the way for me. It got stocked in many University Libraries in the U.S. as well as the Library of Congress.
Links with the U.S embassy I could say go back to well over thirty years during which I have been a member of its library. There, I have seen countless films telecast and witnessed live events as they unfold such as the last American Election. The facilities have always been open to us to host writers’ conferences, poetry readings and other cultural events. I remember some fifteen years ago being part of a discussion group on a two- volume American short stories collection with film renditions of them for almost four months under an American moderator. I think it was the most sustained study of American culture I have ever undertaken. That on hindsight must have been my preparation for eventually teaching American literature to Final year students of F,B.C. which I have found immense joy in doing and I am equally gratified that great interest has in turn being developed amongst students in that area. I have gone ahead to develop manuals to complement my lectures amongst which are: The Development of American Literature and Langston Hughes:: Life and Works in Celebration of Black Dignity.
Parallel with these have been three lectures I gave at the embassy to mark two important events in America: Black History Month and American Independence Celebrations. I remember six years ago on taking over that final year class anticipating with relish teaching a whole set of fascinating American novels, plays and poetry. Little did I know that such endeavors would soon blossom into – a visa without much fuss, the quick elevation to an international visitor sharing thoughts and ideas with other international visitors and accomplished professors for 30 days on about 20 or more contemporary American writers, visiting sites of cultural interest both in Louisville as well as 4 other selected cities, San Francisco, Berkeley, Cincinnati, Washington D.C. and a quick peep into a patch of Indianapolis under the excuse of dinning at a restaurant before embarking on that musical and symbolic cruise down the Ohio so reminiscent of Huck Finn’s own exploration down the Mississippi with his black buddy, Jim, in Mark Twain’s fiction.
Imagine how joyful and expectant I felt when my invitation was confirmed and frantic efforts to prepare for the trip started. I had to travel overnight by road to neighboring republic of Guinea which because it has saved itself from strife has been operating consular services for Sierra Leone for the past eight years. After five days through the intuition of a young Fula friend who accompanied me, we crossed over just in time to escape an impending national labor strike, armed with a U.S. visa-ed passport.
Two weeks later I was then air-borne first for London en route to the States. As our Astreus plane was descending on the runway a new world was beginning to open up to me. I used the day’s transit in Gatwick to the fullest traveling by train and bus up to Campden accompanied by another friend, Rosemarie, seeing many sights of interest which were only known to me through books.
The next day the long flight on Delta landed at a waiting Cincinnati airport. Our papers were examined with much dispatch as more hands were available and free. If it were not for the thorough orientation I received at the embassy I would have been shocked at the rigorous checking I had to submit to, taking off almost everything apart from clothes. But a face of America was already unfolding. Old people who in my country would have retired long before were gainfully engaged in ensuring that their country is kept safe and secure in this age of terrorim. Young as well as old officials discharged their duties with thoroughness, firmness whilst being conscious of their duty to be courteous and hospitable to visitors,
So when I arrived at Louisville airport I had matured in traveling traversing escalators with ease until I espied this bearded bulky man bearing the expected University of Louisville banner in his right hand and a portfolio on the other. I marveled at how quickly we recognized each other We beamed out in smiles as we closed in and embraced each other. I knew he was Dr. Tom Byers, Director of the SUMMER INSTITUTE ON THE STUDY OF AMERICA. I was touched immediately by his simplicity and humility. We waited and received another delegate whom I immediately recognized had traveled in along with me without my harboring the least thought that we were both bound for the same event. Dr Byers introduced us to each other. He was Ayao from Togo. Dr Byers then helped us along to his vehicle. We were driven past buildings all in uniform symmetry and in accord with the well-terraced and tended gardens which were like the meadows we should expect to see in the garden of Eden. Dr Byers kept showing us important buildings as we drove past until he led us into the newest dorm, Kurtz Hall, which was going to be our residence for the next six weeks. It smelled new. The surrounding well-tended gardens were constantly watered through nozzles by a crop of young smart boys in their red t-shirts and black shorts trimming the hedges and the carpet of greenery with quiet efficiency.
I was almost immediately struck by the harmony with which nature intermingled with architecture all over the campus. The brown-brick-like box structures with terraced roofing patterns all seem to be harmoniously blended with the green-carpeted parks surrounding each with adjoining tarred car parks with squirrels frolicking with reckless abandon in this nest of soothing beauty to heal or divert the mind.
The University of Louisville a state supported research university was a municipally supported public institution for many decades prior to joining the university system in 1970. As a public university it is mandated by the Kentucky General Assembly to be a “Preeminent Metropolitan Research University” enrolling students from 118 of 120 Kentucky counties, all 50 U.S. states, and 116 countries around the world..
In line with its noble mission and the mandate given it The University of Louisville has been making rapid strides inb various areas. The University of Louisville Health Sciences Center is now among the most innovative medical research centers in the United States, having developed the first 100 percent effective vaccine against cervical cancer in 2006, the first fully self-contained artificial heart transplant, the first successful hand transplant, and the Pap smear test. U of L is also credited with the first civilian ambulance, the nation’s first accident services, now known as an emergency room (ER), and one of the first blood banks in the US.
Since 1999, U of L has made the largest gains of any university in National Institutes of Health research ranking, with its NIH funding increasing 277 percent and its rank increasing 30 places As of 2006 among public U.S. universities, the melanoma clinic ranks third, the neurology research program fourth, and the spinal cord research program 10th in NIH funding.
U of L is also known for its successful athletics program. Since 2000 the Cardinals are the only NCAA team to win a BCS bowl game, appear in the men’s basketball Final Four, College Baseball World Series, and win a national championship in Track and Field
The University has three campuses::
-. The 287-acre Belknap Campus three miles from downtown Louisville housing seven of the university’s 11 colleges and schools.
– The Health Science Center situated in downtown Louisville’s medical complex and housing the university’s health related programs and the University of Louisville Hospital.
– The 243-acre Shelby Campus located in eastern Jefferson County houses the National Crime Prevention Institute and the Information Technology Resource Center.
Humility, simplicity, conviviality and sense of humor seem qualities in abundance everywhere, on campus as well as all over the city of Louisville and its environs.. There was an always eager willingness to help whenever it was sought as I was always prone to do when I suddenly found myself lost in an ever meandering network of roads and highways all marked with multiplications of similar-looking landmarks.
Transportation seems a very efficient and dependable network of arrangements which could always rescue you from any untidy situation.. Just wait for a bus, announce yourself and your destination, Besides a whole set of brochures detail various routes to help you find your way around. Much concern is shown for the aged and the disabled by the many special facilities for them.
But the government needs to show much more concern for the health of its citizens. The health of one’s citizens is too delicate and important a matter to be entrusted to private business. That is the greatest benefit and assurance of life and motivation for greater work a government, more so of the greatest land on earth can give its people who are working so hard to keep it great. The cost of medical care and food also requires serious attention. Access to higher education has to be democratized to open access to minorities as well as lower income groups. The work force should be always adequately remunerated to enable them live a decent and honest life without waiting for varying tips which might well be a subtle way of stimulating corruption.
But of all I commend the effort everywhere to document, exhibit and celebrate or mourn each and every significant achievement, talent discovered, or tragedy in the nation’s history. These are preserved in the multitudes of museums, the permanent as well as on-going exhibitions of one thing or another, the medleys of statues, monuments and edifices to amaze, amuse and cultivate visitors. There is also the awesome immortalization of two favored pastimes into a whole industry. Horse- racing and horses and carriages are maintained as sports as well as tourism to add to the weekly showing-off of vintage-cars in astonishing numbers.
I should also commend the large display of philanthropy which has endowed many museums like the Smithsonian, Churchill Downs. and the countless foundations motivating and rewarding hard work, creativity and a whole host of talents. It is indeed a very worthy principle to work hard so as to leave the world a much better place than you met it. No wonder this land has grown so fast so well so soon to the envy of those who cannot do as well.. Keep it up but always remember to spread that spirit of humility spiced with magnanimity whilst remembering that the rest of the world who are mostly least endowed need love, understanding and support from you.
write by derrick williams