Vitabubooks Interview | Nsedu Onyile
Nsedu Onyile's articles on cross-cultural issues in healthcare delivery--language differences, communication problems and discrimination-- laid the foundation for a book. Using the complexities of cultural clashes, Nsedu shines light on discrimination in the fictional story of Minor, a dying AIDS patient still struggling to adjust to western society, and Usukuma, a free spirit whose courage helps Minor cope. Below are excerpts from our email interview on Ten Days with Minor.
Vitabubooks: Ten Days With Minor has been described as a “clash of worlds.” What’s your view?
Nesdu Onyile: I totally do not see the clash. I see different worlds intermingling; differences should not be seen as clashes. If the whole world was the same, it would be a very boring world. In Ten Days With Minor, two very unlikely strangers from very different worlds met and produced the most intense and fulfilling relationships. Instead of clashing, they learned about their pasts, different traditions, and even used meals from different cultures to bind their friendship. They did not agree on everything, but there was respect of each other's styles and opinions; this included Minor's homosexuality and Usukuma's belief in polygamy.
Vitabubooks: Where do the stereotypes come from?
Nsedu: Stereotypes are handed down from generation to generation. As a correctional officer, a co-worker asked me if I would rather have a gay son or a criminal for a son. I said clearly, without a second thought that I would take an independent, tax paying, happy, gay son that does not hurt other people over a criminal. After a brief survey of most other co-workers, it was painful to realize that my response was different than those of every single co-worker. So where do the stereotypes come from? They come from adults with blindfolds on. Most haters ... are frightfully undercover. Adults gossip, laugh at people behind their backs, scandalize other people's names and assassinate innocent characters. Most of the time these people have no self-confidence. They have a lot of failures in their lives and have a need to take attention off their major faults. This bullying often pushes people to kill themselves. Ten Days With Minor is about the total acceptance of another human being. Minor's friend Usukuma was open-minded and accepted Minor's sexuality and health status unconditionally. Minor saw in her what he had never seen in any other person. His life was positively changed, from their first meeting to his last breath.
Vitabubooks: Are there different values at play?
Nsedu Onyile: Discrimination is universal. In developed countries, foreigners are expected to lose their religion, accents, diets and culture just so they can assimilate. [In Nigeria] there are lots of oil workers. None of the locals expect them to speak the language, change their diets, develop a new accent or religion, or become polygamists just to be accepted. These oil workers are there for the benefits of what they cannot get in their countries, like most immigrants in so called ‘developed’ countries who are in search of alternatives. In my book Ten Days With Minor, there are no changes expected or required. There is encouragement to stay the same and accept lives as they are. There are hopes for the future and though Minor expects a different future, he learned to understand and accept the present.
Vitabubooks: Is there a continental divide?
Nsedu Onyile: Continental divide to me is very natural. Oceans, mountains and valleys divide the continent but I do not believe the natural divides control humanity. I believe humans are humans despite their natural environments. Those who cannot accept differences in others will remain the same despite what part of the continent those others come from. In the book, the mutual acceptance between Minor and his friend Usukuma came very naturally. Though she tells him of the strangest traditions practiced in her homeland and he tells her of his strangest sexual experiences, they both are respectful of each other. They spend time eating meals from multiple continents and in dying, Minor's life was almost perfect thanks to the continent of Africa.
Vitabubooks: How can migrants/hosts bridge the gap?
Nsedu: Migrants need to stay who they are. You want to assimilate but you do not want to lose yourself. Keep your traditional practices as you are learning new ones and improve your English speaking ability while focusing on not losing your accent. Every culture has its bad and good practices, so do not accept your new environment hook, line and sinker. If something does not make sense to you or insults your values, it is not necessary to adapt to it. In my book [is] a young female who cannot function because her therapist opened her up to the fact that she was molested as a baby. This is compared to a woman in Africa, whose husband and sons were slaughtered; she was raped along with her daughters as the soldiers rampaged through her village. The African survivor got up and buried her dead, went out and found food for her living.
As an immigrant, one does not have to adapt to a mentality that keeps them controlled and limited. Maintaining the survival mentality that has led us thus far is vital to bridging the gap. I would encourage migrants to join the social networks and make friends with those who touch their souls in special ways. These networks and friendships would be a resource to learn about the new country and also teach the new country about their ancient traditions. In Ten Days With Minor, there are a lot of oral traditions told to Minor by Usukuma in an effort to open him up to her background. She told him about reincarnated soldiers from the civil war; the traditional passage when girls become women upon the origin of their menstrual cycles and the warning signs of the "golden waist chain."
Nsedu B. Onyile was born in Kaduna, northern Nigeria. She was raised in Calabar in southeastern Nigeria and earned a bachelor's degree in English and literary studies before traveling to the United States where she earned a master's degree in nursing administration from George Mason University. She went on to work as a correctional officer for the Washington, D.C. government and is now a trauma/emergent care nurse in Las Vegas.