Monday, February 17, 2014

Going Global in the Summer of 1970

During the summer of 1970, my new roommate, Kaymu (pronounced as ki-ee-mu) was invited to attend the United Nations International World Youth Conference on the Environment to be held at McMaster University located in Hamilton, Ontario. He had purchased two tickets hoping that one of the other men in the house would be able to join him. Kaymu then decided now that he had a roommate that I should be the first person to be asked to join him for this nearly week long event. Even though I had never flown on a plane before and knew absolutely nothing about environmental issues what do you think I said when Kaymu asked me to accompany him? Why yes of course with no hesitation whatsoever. In my mind, I was about to fast become a global explorer.

Together, we flew right out of JFK Airport in New York to Ottawa, Canada and from there on to Ontario where I attended every single session that Kaymu signed us up for. As a result, we were able to meet people from all over the world that week.

Most of the workshops that we attended focused on issues pertaining to West Africa. Kaymu was fluent in speaking French so he easily made new friendships with youth from Mali, Benin, Ghana, Liberia, Senegal and Nigeria. What a incredible experience that week proved to be for us both. For me, it felt as though I was back at the New York World's Fair all over again.

There was one thing that I was a little uncomfortable with but still unable to escape.

Apparently, you could not really call yourself a program participant if you didn’t advance any questions, make any statements or share any acknowledgement of facts at the sessions. With that being the case, my roommate/mentor insisted that I come up with at least two questions to ask in each and every English speaking presentation that we were scheduled to attend. I did manage to do so despite an initial reluctance.

Later in the year, upon review of some reporting on the event, we discovered that at age 15, I was the youngest person to attend the conference. Overall, the average age of the attendees ranged between 21 and 35 years old. That experience greatly expanded my sense of wonder and excitement about the world in which we live.

Shortly after we returned to New Jersey, Balozi was scheduled to host a dinner at home for Julius Kambarage Nyerere a Tanzanian politician who served as the first President of Tanzania followed by a another dinner for Jomo Kenyatta the first president of Kenya and a prominent independence leader.

Several of us went to JFK Airport to welcome our guests to the United States and then transported them by limousine from New York to New Jersey and then back to the hotels that they were staying at during their brief visit to the United Nations and for their other stops at landmark locations in New York City.