March 13, 2015|By Dr. C. Frank Igwe (Philadelphia, PA)
UIU 2014 was my third go ‘round, so I guess you can call me a veteran at this point. Each time it gets better, and I learn a little bit more about the culture, while appreciating just how sacred it is to have shared ancestry with a thousand other attendees, whose forefathers may have gathered for community festivities hundreds or thousands of years ago…much like their descendants do every year at UIU. There is something comforting about being around people who can correctly pronounce my name, Chukwudi Igwe, or know the ancient, and yet familiar call and response:
From the moment that Yours Truly hopped off the plane, it was like a reunion, as I hugged and laughed with those that I had met at the conference in previous years, and made friends with those that were attending for the first time. It gave me a chance to practice my spotty Igbo with the fellas…
..and with the ladies
My Igbo goes downhill for there (Don’t judge me). Numbers exchanged, expectations declared, and the fire lit, as we looked forward to whatever the weekend held.
UIU 2014 began slightly differently than years past, as we were treated to a comedy show with 4 hilarious comedians that honestly brought the house down! If you were there, then you KNOW what I’m talking about. Everyone looked fly, the room was packed, with no seats in sight. NaMo Skee is still the funniest host to do it (I swear, when I get married, I’m forcing him to host my wedding), but Yvonne Orji straight SHUT. IT. DOWN. I’m putting the UIU planning committee on blast right now: You HAVE to bring her back next year as a host. That alone will be worth the price of admission. Black Girls (read: Igbo) do indeed Rock!
I don’t even have to promote the parties, because you have two eyes that you can use to check out the pictures on the UIU website for yourself (www.umuigbounite.com). PACKED! With beautiful, FRIENDLY people! Yes, man…YES! I got to kick it with Dj Obie, DJ ECool, and DJ Ola, as they played all my favorite Nigerian jams, and was in the mix to witness some of the hottest Nigerian artists doing live performances! Shout out to K-Cee and Phyno. #areyounotentertained? #encore #UIUwewantmore
***SPECIAL shout out to my alobam, my brothers of Kappa Alpha Psi. Let’s do it again next year***
It goes without saying that it was a hit, socially. However, the main reason I come to the conference is to rub elbows with like-minded professionals, and learn about Igbo history, and how certain cultural norms came to be. It needs to be said that one of the most understated things that UIU does for ndi Igbo is that it sounds the call to gather…and WE COME. We come from the North, the South, the East, and the West. In fact, we also come from different Nations! While we are together, we link up with other Igbos who reside in our neck of the woods, that we didn’t even know lived in the same city or town as us, prior to the conference. I operate in the health care industry in the City of Philadelphia, and the UIU connections I have made with other Philadelphia health professionals have proven to be invaluable. We help each other with an encouraging word, casual get-togethers, a heads up on soft leads, or actual hard leads which translate into tangible revenue growth or job opportunities. It would not have happened if we hadn’t heeded the call to gather at UIU, and meet/network with our people, whether they hail from Abia, Anambra, Enugu, Imo, Rivers, etc.
Whatever our home State, the more we talk, the more we realize that we are from the same place, and although our informal conversations often meander, they become more focused when we attend individual conference breakout sessions. Speaking of which, the most entertaining breakout session by far was the one regarding love and relationships within the Nigerian/Igbo community, hosted and led wonderfully by Yvonne Orji and Gold Okafor. For a while I thought I was the only one with parents who had no tolerance for me having a girlfriend until after graduating from college, only to turn around the day after graduation asking, “When are you getting married?” #checkplease LOL! The struggle is real, and I was glad to see that I wasn’t alone at UIU! Amidst the levity, we discussed the perceptions, and misperceptions, between the male and female sexes while dating. The women swore that Igbo men are cheap, and the men countered with Igbo women being materialistic. All in good fun though, in a safe environment that was conducive to pose hard questions, which may otherwise have gone unsaid, and consequently unaddressed.
UIU also reinforced the significance of the traditional wedding, and the bride price, which is shared with all of the women from the bride’s home village. It spotlighted the importance of the process, and hammered home the point that you are not only marrying the woman, you are marrying her family, and her entire village. This makes divorce is an absolute last choice, because there are quite a few people who will move heaven and earth to help you keep the marriage together. The bottom line? Make sure you love her, because in our culture, it is hard to break the band of marriage. This served as a touchstone moment for me, and underscored the necessity of choosing wisely. Ndi Igbo – you heard it here first: I am only getting married once!
However, after it was all said and done, the most poignant breakout session for me, was the one dealing with the Biafran War (re: Half of a Yellow Sun movie) lead by Drs. Sunday and Esther Okeiyi, from Oloko, Abia State. You see, my father (Dr. Godwin Igwe) served in the war, and still rarely talks about it. My mother (Rose Igwe) sometimes tells me harrowing stories of the killings and bombings, and having to run into the Owerri bushes to flee advancing Nigerian troops. The UIU breakout session added more contours to the narrative of the war. It illuminated how families were torn apart, forced to pick up and run with a second’s notice, or else get mowed down from the gunfire of war planes. How starvation was used as a weapon of war, on a scale that had not been seen on Earth up to that point. I didn’t know that the international organization, “Doctors Without Borders”, was created as a result of the Biafran War. I also didn’t know that the Biafran War was the 4th deadliest war in the history of the modern world. There were so many rich layers to this breakout session, settling questions that have long gone unanswered, such as what is the deal with Igbo’s always building houses back in their village. It seems disparate, but UIU taught us that it all ties back to the Biafra. How? Well, we learned that Igbo’s in the North and in the West were evicted from their homes during the war, and after that, we vowed to ALWAYS have a house in Igboland, so that no matter what comes, we will never again be without a place to stay, or call home. That was deep to me.
I learned all of this at UIU. This is my history. This is your history. This is OUR history. There is so much more I want to say about various other breakout sessions, but I’m sure you’re growing weary of reading by now. That’s okay. These memories belong to me, and will remain with me always. I urge you all to come to NY/NJ for UIU 2015, and create your own memories.
I’ll definitely be there. The only question left is will YOU?
Dr. C. Frank Igwe is President of Moravia Health, a full service Medicare & Medicaid Home Health Agency, licensed by the State of Pennsylvania. You can find him on facebook here.