My First Encounter With A Racist Was On The World’s Oldest Ship

A fine photograph of the MV Doulos. Photograph by Reuben Goossens 1999

By Nimi Princewill

It was the tail end of the year 2002, when the world’s oldest passenger ship at that time- MV Doulos, suddenly showed up in my town (Port Harcourt, Nigeria). “Were they lost? or were we headed for another round of slave trade?” I naively queried, as an eleven year old who was getting up to speed with History classes. MV Doulos, wasn’t exactly as glamorous as the Titanic, but it was certainly worth the hype.

Schools within the town, took turns visiting the Doulos ship which was said to be two years younger than the Titanic, but still going strong, and was on a mission of ‘bringing books to the people.’ Their target audience, was obviously the young academic population.

How I Luckily Earned Myself A Free Pass To MV Doulos

As a Junior Secondary student of a highly religious school which was owned by the Methodist Church of Nigeria (where stringent rules were adequately served for consumption morning and night), I had obtained the “permission stick” as it was fondly called, to give my trip to the toilet the required official covering to steer clear of punishment. En route the toilet, I walked passed the Principal’s office, but stepped backwards to greet, since the door wasn’t entirely shut. What I saw was rather strange, amusing and remarkably stunning! Madam Principal, had cunningly transferred the contents of her Guinness Small Stout into a Coca-Cola bottle, and was on the verge of concealing the empty alcoholic beverage when we had an epic eye contact!

What transpired afterwards, I won’t entirely recount here, but fast-forward a little… I was unnegotiably selected alongside the brighter kids, for the much anticipated excursion to Doulos (regardless of my faulty grades and poor social skills), and just so we’re clear, she wasn’t blackmailed into doing it, at least, not exactly!

The Racist Attendant

Being a desirous kid with huge Hollywood dreams, the reality of walking into the world’s oldest ship, wasn’t anything short of a slice of heaven. Lots of white people roaming free, “If only they knew how much I love them,” I muttered to myself. About three or four white men (of which one was either Korean or Japanese) stood by the hallway, ushering visitors in with a handshake. While waiting for my turn to grab my own portion of the pleasantries (being the last and the most excited person in the queue), I noticed the Korean/Japanese attendant was a bit reluctant to give a firm grip or maintain eye contact with the people he shook hands with. He barely even touched their hands! My excitement had lessened at this point, and developed into a silent tantrum. Not knowing what racism was all about as an eleven year old, I made up my mind to teach him a lesson.

Finally, it got to my turn. I shook hands with the other nice white guys and they responded with a gorgeous smile (what’s more terrific than that?). The Japanese/Korean guy was next. As usual, he hardly made eye contact with me, and was about withdrawing his hand after barely touching mine, when I held on firmly to it with the strongest grip my tiny muscle could afford, squeezed his fingers a little and hurriedly walked into the hall with an evil smirk on my face and without looking back. I couldn’t help but imagine the shock on his face, wondering what the heck all that was about. Deep down, I knew I had done wrong, but a better part of me still felt quite satisfied.

Bio: Nimi Princewill is a Nigerian-born writer and social reformer.

Twitter: @princewill_nimi

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