Nigerian Ambassador, Ajarat Bada on why cultural diversity is important to her.
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My name is Ajarat Bada and this is my story of cultural diversity. I was born and raised in Nigeria; arguably one of the most diverse countries in the world. Despite colonialism, today, we boast over 500 unique languages and a rich cultural heritage from the remnants of the Fulani Empire in the north, the Ife, Oyo and Benin kingdoms in the southwest and the Nri kingdom in the East. From the colonial masters, we inherited the English language, a great unifier as tribalism still plagues my beautiful country 53 years after independence.
Nigeria, as it is known today, started out as a republic. At its independence in 1960, my father was one of the bright young Nigerians whom the British Commonwealth invited to study in London. He went to law school and this ensured that I spoke ‘proper’ English from the womb. Sometimes I am confused if I should identify with Yoruba or English as my lingua franca since in Lagos, where I grew up, most people also speak Yoruba. My earliest memory of anything is cloud with Yoruba & English words and phrases.
The youngest of nine children, my family brings generational diversity to the dinner table. I have Silent Generation parents, Generation X siblings, while my brothers and I identify as Millennials. I draw from the experiences of this diversity to ensure an optimistic and positive outlook on life. In elementary school, I was exposed to the Ghanian culture thanks to the many Ghanian expatriate teachers who are responsible for me being able to verbally distinguish “work” from “walk”. In high school, I spent six years at a boarding school in a tiny fishing village in Lagos. There, the 1400 of us who had come from different parts of the country, were responsible for raising each other under the watchful eyes of our house masters and mistresses. I have traits of both a village and a city girl within me.
These past three years, after finishing graduate school, I have travelled and met many people from around the world. I have explored North America, South America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia and the lead me to realise how similar we are. The warm embrace of the Qataris is comparable to that of the Cariocas. The Swiss Alps are just as marvellous to behold as the rock formations in Cappadocia. Palau in Istanbul is just as tasty as Spanish rice in Guanajuato. Everywhere I go; I leave a piece of my heart and in return, take a piece of that culture with me. Lately, in appearance, I am a cross between Turkish and Emirati, breakfast consists of goat cheese and a tortilla, and every now and then a few words escape my mouth with a British accent. Living in America also forces one to be a melting pot of cultures. Being a part of One Young World has also been life changing; I have learnt about the cultures of over 100 countries through the friendships that I have made with fellow Ambassadors. I still long to visit Madagascar and Tonga someday.
The Do One Thing for Diversity and Inclusion campaign marking the World Cultural Diversity Day prompted me to watch another movie from a different region of the world. ‘The Other Son’ shed a different light on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Our shared humanity is put to test in this movie. The message of the movie is that regardless of the man-made, physical and ideological borders we draw between each other, we remain one big family, literally.
(Ambassador Ajarat Bada in Cappadocia, Turkey)
Religion was very important for me growing up. I remember my Sunday school uniform being oversized. In third grade, I transferred to an Islamic school, where I learnt the basics of my faith. Despite the recent chaos caused by the minority groups in the North, Nigeria is a unique example of a religious case study. We have just as many Muslims as Christians in my country hence the understanding of diversity of religions was not new to me when I came to North America.
In my solo journeys around the world, I am yet to meet an entirely strange culture, one that would frighten me enough to deter me from embracing it. This past World Cultural Diversity Day, I reflected on my life and the many cultures that have shaped the person that I am. My passport says that I am Nigerian but like my fellow One Young World Ambassadors Nondumiso Hlophe and Dan Ryan, with whom I explored world cultural diversity around the world with on Twitter, I know that I need to look no further than myself to understand and appreciate the beauty of cultural diversity.