On Feeling Human

Several years ago I found myself perplexed by a quandary. On numerous occasions I experienced a feeling that I couldn’t name.

The feeling was good. Whenever it came upon me I felt as though life was something special; more special than before.

When the feeling first came I do not recall the day or time. It was somewhere in the early 2000s. One of the earliest, was aboard an Ethiopian Airlines flight at Dulles Airport.

The event itself was nothing significant, though as mentioned above, how it made me feel says it all.

They May Forget What You Said, But They Will Never Forget How You Made Them Feel

Up until needing to cite a source for that quote I thought it was from Maya Angelou. Quote Investigator tells us, it was Carl Buehner in 1971.

Nevertheless, we cite it for it’s relativity to this post. When a flight attendant on Ethiopian Airlines comes to you, as you are seated, waiting for your flight to depart and she speaks to you in Amharic, you remember how that made you feel.

Imagine you are waiting in a parking lot in Kaduna, Nigeria while your wife is shopping in the market. An old man comes to you and speaks to you in Hausa, fully expecting you to speak Hausa back to him. You remember how that made you feel.

Imagine you are driving your brother-in-law and his wife to Enugu in Nigeria. You do so because, his gout won’t let him drive himself to get his prescription filled. On the way back to the village, one of the drive belts break. Later, you find yourself sitting in the driver’s seat of the Four Runner with your feet dangling out the door at the mechanic’s shop. Your brother-in-law talks in Igbo with the mechanic who is replacing the belt. Suddenly, Bro Emma (short for Emmanuel) tells you the mechanic asked “why is this man ignoring me?” Bro Emma explains the mechanic has been speaking Igbo to you telling you not to start the car. You remember how that made you feel.

Imagine you are crossing the street a few months later in Durban, South Africa. You are in South Africa because Bro. Emma invited you to visit his family in Johannesburg. A friend from the USA asked you to purchase an iklwa, a short spear made by Zulus, for him during your trip. While crossing the street that morning in Durban, you hear a woman speaking. Since you do not understand her, you think she is speaking to someone else. As you reach the sidewalk, you realize she was addressing you. You tell her you have no idea what she is saying. She explains that she is from Zimbabwe and she thought you were Khosa. She was saying good morning. You remember how that made you feel.

Years later, again in Nigeria, your wife’s parents ask you to drive them to the village from Enugu. Not only do you feel honored to drive them, you realize it gives you an opportunity to get a new loofah sponge, since they grow naturally there.

When you wake the next day, a Saturday, you eat breakfast and go loofah hunting. At a house which someone wore out, you come upon an appealing growth of loofah worth considering. While you are deciding which one you want, a young woman approaches. She asks what you are doing. You explain about the loofah. She tells you that the house was their family’s former home. She inquires as to who you are. You explain about your wife. She tells you her name is Cordelia. She informs you that her father, Ifesinachi, wants to meet you. You gather a few loofah and walk with her to their house.

Early morning sunlight streams in through the front window of the house into the parlor. The earth tones permeating the environment seem to make the room that much more soothing. Cordelia invites you to sit while she goes to get her father. Soon enough Ifesi appears. A short, brown, ancient man sits in a chair nearby. He speaks to Cordelia in Igbo. She tells you that her father speaks no English and he has asked her to bring “kola” for you.

In Nigeria they have a saying:

Hausa grow kola, Yoruba trade kola, but Igbos REVERE kola.

The kola brought explains exactly what is meant by reverence for kola. Essentially, Cordelia broke kola down. There are numerous ways in which kola can be shared. Simply wash a fresh unbroken nut and put it on a plate. That is kola. However, kola can take many forms. Kola can be a simple soft drink. This morning we received was kola running on all cylinders.

On a wooden platter with a turtle carved into one end were the kola happenings: kola nut, of course, aki inu (bitter kola), alligator pepper, Seaman’s schnapps, and garden eggs. Any one of those could be kola by themselves.

When the shell was flipped up on the wooden turtle carved into the surface of the platter, “ground nut” sauce was revealed to be within. Ground nut sauce is peanut butter mixed with pepper.

The ritual of sharing kola involves saying a prayer before the kola is eaten. The famous “onye wetara (wetera?) oji wetara ndu” translates as “who brings kola brings life” in English.

Cordelia was somewhere either in the kitchen or another place. We began to consume the kola. A shot of schnapps was followed by either a lobe of the kola nut dipped in ground nut sauce or one of the other in the wide array of kola available. It was almost impossible to not say daalu (thank you in Igbo) or onwula (in the local dialect.)

We sat there in the early morning light consuming the kola in silence. A fresh alligator fruit was presented to me for my later consumption.

Was the room glowing with the early morning light or was it the schnapps? Who to tell.

Eventually the feeling began to take hold. In my mind the question materializes: “What is this feeling?” The room being bathed in golden light is more apparent. A shot of schnapps never did that before. Was it the combination of all the kola? The presence of this man who we had never seen before? A man who treated us with all the importance of a valued friend? All of the above?

When you leave there is still that question in your mind. What is that feeling? You remember several instances of it imposing itself on you before. The significance of each incident is how ordinary were the circumstances when the feeling came upon you. One second you are having an ordinary day. The next you are bathed in an extraordinarily good feeling.

This time with Ifesi was different. The way in which it affected you means you have to get a answer to the question: “what is that feeling?”

For several months the curiosity of the sensation lurks in the back of your mind. How do you identify a feeling you seem to have never experienced before, let alone know how to describe?

In our search for an answer, we came upon the book by Amy Jacques Garvey entitled “Black Power in America: The Power of the Human Spirit.” Could it be the power of the human spirit we wonder? No. That seems too biblical, too christian.

We come across a version of the “I Have a Dream” speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The book has illustrations of passages from the speech. One in particular still resonates with us: “we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.”

Close. Eloquent even. No cigar.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. makes another entry in the “name that feeling” sweepstakes. It was in the June 20, 1965 edition of the Jamaica Gleaner , where we read how, a few months after the assassination of Malcolm X, Dr. King and his wife Coretta Scott King landed in Jamaica for a vacation. While there, Dr. King became the first international dignitary to come to Jamaica and lay a wreath at the newly built shrine of Marcus Garvey.  During his remarks at the University of West Indies Dr. King states, “In Jamaica I feel like a human being.”

There we have it. In Jamaica Dr. King got that feeling. No other description fits. Simply feeling human. Ubuntu. Seeing our humanness in others.