Strong African Man


From Nigeria to America, Ashley Amukamara’s father worked tirelessly during her childhood, but he always made time to spend with the family during the holidays. From left: Ashley Amukamara, Ernest Amukamara, Alyssa Amukamara.

Strong African man. I’ve heard that phrase my whole life. In my family, we joke about my father’s invincible outlook against the forces of nature and humanity, but looking back on his childhood, he had no other choice. Be a strong African man or die trying.

My father grew up as a prince in Nigeria, in a country where forests were lush, where resources were supple, and where cultures were volatile. I know what you’re thinking: a prince? With all the perks? Not exactly. His “royal” childhood consisted of war, chaos, and death, not the typical upbringing of the average American. Having just gained independence from Great Britain, Nigeria was in shambles. Military groups battled ruthlessly for power, and ethnic groups continued to fight over cultural differences. War raged throughout the southeastern region of the country as rebels created the Republic of Biafra to fight against the national government. Funny thing about African wars: everything shuts down. No food, no supplies, no anything – royalty or not. Many wonder how one survives in these conditions. You hunt, plain and simple. My father would catch anything – rats, snakes, you name it – and roast them over a roaring fire, just for the purpose of survival. To add insult to injury, war wasn’t the only thing that plagued my father’s childhood, for Africa isn’t known for its kind, nurturing living conditions. America, we have it easy. Most of us don’t experience much death in our immediate family during our youth. My father didn’t have that luxury. Nine siblings, two parents, three deaths. Complications from albinism, complications from sickle cell anemia, complications from disease. Complications, complications, and more complications, yet no doctor to call, no hospital to help, no possibility to survive. However, the tragedies that shook my father’s childhood failed to oppress his dream, a dream to succeed in America.

In case I haven’t stated it before, America, we have it easy. We are offered countless opportunities to succeed in this great country. Not in Nigeria. The only opportunity for receiving proper schooling is found in cities such as Lagos or Abuja. My father boarded at a school hours away for the sole purpose of being educated, the purpose of eventually surviving in capitalistic America, and the curriculum wasn’t and still isn’t student-friendly. Take a textbook. Read the whole thing. You have two weeks. Then, you can experience the immense pleasure of taking an exam over the entirety of said textbook. Welcome to third-world educational standards.  Overcoming this obstacle, my father was able to complete his college (high school) education. Fast-forward to 1989: my father arrived in America with nothing but a backpack. Stereotypical but true, nonetheless. Starting anew, he applied to many colleges, eventually being accepted into a county college in New Jersey. Throughout the next decade and a half, he would move on to higher level universities such as William Patterson University and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and become a Nurse Practitioner. However, the journey to this achievement proved to be long and difficult. While attending school, he worked multiple jobs, performing the “undesirable” tasks of the medical field in order to pay for college. Feeding people, dressing people, cleaning people – nothing but complete work ethic for fifteen years.  Nevertheless, twenty-four years after his arrival in America, he has a loving family, a well-paying job, and a dream home. Not only has he become a Nurse Practitioner, but also a businessman: he co-owns an Urgent Care in the Atlanta metropolitan area. My father’s metamorphosis never ceases to amaze me and goes to show that with hard work and relentless determination, anyone can make it in America.

I look at my father every day. I see him as a distinguished citizen, yet I also see a hunter, a fighter, a warrior. He maintains the characteristics of an American, yet I notice the small things that differentiate him from many others: his reaction time, his physical abilities, and his raw power. My father is fifty-three – he can catch insects from mid-air, climb a tree, and bite through bone. No effort, just habit. He has taught me to be the best I can be, and I look to him as my father, as my inspiration, and as my strong African man.