It is my third trip to the clinic in a month. The third time is indeed a charm. A sharp prick is followed by an extended sting as the nurse pumps the inoculation into my arm. Then I’m required to wait 30 minutes under observation lest I develop a bad reaction to the live vaccine. In the three trips to the travel clinic, I’ve received malaria prevention pills and been vaccinated against measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, hepatitis B, and now, finally, yellow fever. Now that I’m armed against all the scary diseases of Africa, I’m ready for my trip to Nigeria and Ghana. I’m ready to go home. The battery of precautionary vaccinations are merely a practicality, I know, but the sheer number of precautions combines with a certain guilt I harbor about being cosy with my life in the US – so cosy as to have let 4 years go by since my last visit home – that I feel a bit embarrassed.
I have not been idle and completely negligent of my home, however. Part of the reason I have not returned recently is that I have been in training. After two degrees in engineering from MIT and four years of practice at a semiconductor company, it dawned on me that the storytelling I have loved as much as technology need not be relegated to a hobby. What if I went back to school for a couple of years to learn to make films? I could make films about Africans! The more I thought about it the more it seemed like a good idea. So off I went to the USC graduate film production program.
Two years later, I was putting the intense and exciting film training period on hold and stepping back out into the real world and an engineering job. I was also hungry for a “real” film project. Catching up with my host family from my MIT college days, they reminded me of the day we first met. They had picked me up from Boston’s Logan airport as I arrived from Ghana and had driven me to MIT. When I exited their car I had uttered in wonderment, “My first step at MIT.” I had sensed that that step would change my life, and indeed it has. Why not make a movie about that, my host family suggested.
So here I am. For a year now, I have been filming the lives of a number of students who arrived at MIT from Africa in August 2011 to pursue their thirst for knowledge. I reached out to them on the chance that they might open their hearts to a stranger across the oceans, and share their lives with me over four years as they grow from teenagers into adults while striving to become engineers in the world’s best technological university. They have been generous beyond my imaginings. I am deeply grateful for their generosity and courage. I am determined to do their story justice by telling it to the best of my ability. Which brings me back to the topic of vaccines and journeys back to West Africa.
I am headed to Nigeria to follow one of the students’ journeys this summer. After a year at MIT, he is back in his home country for the summer holiday teaching robotics to high schoolers. I knew I had to follow him there because I believe that is part of the story of African youth today. He is part of this citizenry of African globe-trotters that are catalyzing the continent’s renaissance. I’m headed out to capture this piece of the story. Wish me luck.
August 8, 2012