American Generosity

 

I am delighted to give an account of what I have witnessed about American generosity.

Introduction

My first visit to the United States was in July 2003. I was visiting a Nigerian friend to spend the summer holidays with her in New Jersey, where she stayed with another Nigerian friend. During my one monyth stay from 1st through to the 31st July, we visited only diaspora Nigerians, so I did not meet Americans from per se. The generosity during that time was, therefore, taken for granted as the kind of generosity I would expect from Nigerians.

My second visit in 2005 for another holiday with friends from New York to Denver to Las Vegas was pretty much the same, spending time with Nigerian Green Card holders.

My third visit was in 2015, and I was coming to America to receive an award at the annual conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in San Jose, California. It was a short visit; just five days. An all-expense-paid trip and staying in a hotel with all activities and visits coordinated by the organization made it such that there was no opportunity to gauge the generosity of Americans on that trip.

My fourth visit in February 2016 was also to attend another annual conference of AAAS in Washington D.C. This time I experienced the generosity of an immigrant-American family. Originally from Sierra Leone and a medical doctor and his wife, who lived in New Carrolton in Maryland, generously hosted me for two weeks at their home.

I was commuting to the conference daily from their home, which drastically cut down on my expenses. I would have had to pay hotel accommodation if I was not staying with them. The doctor and his wife were so kind and granted me access code to their home. To this day, they tell me, “come any time, and if we are not home, you have the keys.”

My fifth visit to the United States was in March 2018 as a delegate to the 62nd Session of the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. I experienced American generosity from cab drivers who will, after taking a look at the address I showed them, will tell me to walk down the block, turn right, and the address I am looking for is the second building to the left.

From previous experiences at a place that I will not mention, the cab driver could have picked me, set the meter, take a long detour, turn around and dropped me at the address, and collect his fare.

My sixth visit to the United States is the most interesting and most generous by far. I arrived in Monterey, California on 6th February, 2020 as a visiting fellow at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) an affiliate institute of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies (MIIS). The Spring fellowship was scheduled to start in February and end in the middle of May 2020. Although we knew about the corona-virus as at the start of the fellowship, it had not been declared a pandemic.

So, the first month of the fellowship went smoothly. We had our tour of downtown Monterey, old town, the tourist sites, and went for our course lectures and seminars without a hitch. We also had the online courses, which unknown to us, would be the new normal once the shelter in place was declared in California.

Kindness and Generosity

The generosity that I witnessed and experienced manifested when the lockdown began, and I am going to narrate them regarding the persons involved:

Margarita

Margarita Kalinina-Pohl is the Senior Program Manager, Education Program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at Monterey, California. She coordinated the Visiting Fellows Program for 18 years previously before handing over to Jean du Preez.

Margarita was instrumental in ensuring I made good use of my time at CNS. She and Jean organized one of the most visibility-creating events of my career; the Women in nuclear nonproliferation webinar on the 29th of May 2020. The link to that webinar can be found here, and I encourage everyone to watch and listen to it here.

Originally from Kyrgyzstan but now a citizen of the USA, she lives with her husband and son in a beautiful and picturesque house in Carmel, which I was privileged to visit.
 

L-R: Janet, me, Ozge from Turkey, Anastasia from Russia (2020 CNS Visiting Fellows), Margarita

At Margarita's House

Margarita is one of the epitomes of American generosity that I witnessed this 2020 as a visiting fellow amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Margarita sent face masks and toilet rolls, which were scarce at the beginning of the lockdown panic! She would always send messages and call to ensure that I was fine. She took me grocery shopping and paid for all the stuff that I would normally not afford on my stipend. She twice drove me to the pharmacy to pick up my prescription medications and, on both occasions, paid the bills, then paid for other stuff at the International Market Shop on Lighthouse Avenue. She wanted me to have access to Halal products that were sold there. Just before the shelter-in-place, she had offered to take me to the Mosque; however, due to Covid-19 restrictions, we were unable to go.

Janet

Janet Barnes is the lady with a beautiful soul! Janet is a former President of the League of California Cities and an International Rotary member. She is a photographer, artist, singer, poet, writer, a world traveler who has traveled to more than 85 countries. She is a mother of two: a son and a daughter and has two wonderful grandchildren.

She was one of the first people I met in Monterey, even before we visited the CNS Building. My housemate and I arrived in the USA on Friday, 7 February 2020. She from Istanbul, Turkey, and I, from Kano, Nigeria. On Sunday 9 February, we received a message from Janet that she would be available to take us around to see Monterey and the surrounding places. After that, in the first month of our stay, before the Shelter-in-place, she was always on hand to take us out, with the other fellows from Ukraine and Russia.

Janet, it was who took us to many sightseeing tours: The Redwood Forest, the beaches, Carmel-by-the-sea, Big Sur, 17 Mile Drive, Pebble Beach, Seaside, Pacific Grove, Clint Eastwood Ranch restaurant, Marina, her beautiful house in Salinas.

Janet and I at Big Sur, Monterey County, California, United States
 

Sightseeing in San Francisco with Janet and the other 2020 CNS Fellows:L-R: Anastasia, Ozge, Hanna

Even during the lockdown, she found ways to make sure we enjoyed our stay. A typical message from Janet would be:

“Just sent a message to Ozge. Wondering if the two of you would like to go for a drive or walk or something to get out after I get back from bringing the girls at 1000 Johnson House. I apologize for only taking two today, but I think it is the safest thing to do without getting in trouble. I look forward to next weekend if you want to come to my home, if not I understand, and we can do it once the shelter in place is over. Anyway, I hope you are doing well because I know everyone is stark raving mad being cooped up but just wanted to let you know that I would be happy to get you out of the apartment and take you for a drive some time.”

That’s Janet, the lady I dubbed as an angel soul.

When the lockdown was eased, she drove us to San Francisco. We had put our heads together to give her money for the fuel, but she was adamant. Most times, she will pay for all our meals and if we insist, she would then ask us to give the tip.

Betty

Betty Chau Nguyen is the Special Events Manager in the Office of Advancement at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at Monterey. Betty is our first point of call for any administrative issues, even before we arrived in Monterey. When I arrived on the night of 7 February, late into the night, she was waiting at the apartment. She showed me around, gave all the welcoming briefs. She was so warm that I instantly felt at home. With her parents originally from Vietnam and growing up in Canada, she now lives with her husband and daughter in Marina. Betty starts her maternity on 24 August. I am so grateful for all her generosity; my birthday gift, the flowers, the fruits. Betty had her baby on 3rd September; an adorable, precious bundle named Audrey and I got to see her on 16th September when they came calling with more gifts as I prepare to depart for home. Betty's husband, Prof. Phuong Tran Nguyen gifted me a copy of his autobiography, complete with an autograph That I hope to read pre boarding and inflight.

Cover of Prof. Nguyen's book which he autographed for me

The book seems to be easy to read from the first few pages. I am sure I will enjoy it. I recommend it for anyone interested in Vietnam, a country in my bucket list of travels.

Masako

Masako Toki is a Senior Project Manager and Research Associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. A very soft-spoken lady originally from Japan, who now lives in Pacific Grove. Masako has such compassion and is particularly concerned about the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons and very committed to disarmament issues. She was so helpful with my fellow’ project and helped me grasp some salient points on disarmament and the ban treaties. She helped me make very productive use of my extended stay by including me in many webinars and panel discussions. You can learn more on these webinars and issues of nonproliferation from www.nonproliferation.org

Jean

Jean du Preez is also a Senior Program Manager, Education Program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at Monterey, California. Jean was responsible for all our Visiting Fellows Program, including the course outline and schedule of lectures and seminars. He was also my project supervisor, along with Masako and Professor Jeffrey Knopf. He organized our final project presentation and closing ceremony.

At Jean du Preez house during soiree

We also had the last fellows get together with a soiree at his house, where I was able to meet his lovely wife, his son, and their family dog, who took quite a liking to me.

L-R: Jean du Preez, me, Ozge, Anastasia Baranikova, Anastasia Nechytailo and Betty

William

Dr. William Porter is the CNS Founder & Director. He is the Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar Professor of Nonproliferation Studies. When my stay in Monterey was extended due to the Covid-19 lockdown and closure of airports to international flights in my country. I expressed my concern about the special evacuation flights, particularly as they flew from hotspots in the U.S. to hotspots in Nigeria. Dr. William Porter approved the extension of the stay and additional stipend for feeding during the extension.

I wrote an email to him as per below, and his response was so generous and kind:

Dearest Dr. William Porter,

I hope this mail meets you and your family well and inspired by life.

I write to greet you and to appreciate your support, which to me is so overwhelming and feels me with joy and encouragement.

I thank you so much for your approval, in view of the constraints posed by the pandemic, which resulted in such a long extension of the fellowship stay with the attendant financial cost to CNS.

I am equally grateful for the two instances of support today; Jean dropped by the house with a check that is generous, considering this was not planned for. Also, Margarita called me on video to walk me through membership registration into a prestigious organization: The Institute of Nuclear Material Management (INMM) and registration for their 61st Annual Meeting and Conference, which I understand is a much sought after event. I was informed by Margarita that you approved the payment of the membership fee and registration to the conference. This I have done, and I will attend virtually from 12-16 July 2020. I will also participate in the panel of the Summer School on 17th July.

This has made me feel like a CNS Star; getting all the VIP treatment. I thank you for making productive use of my time, while I wait for a safe way to get home.

Dr. Porter, I deeply appreciate your gesture and the support of the CNS. This to me is a lifelong bond to CNS that I will forever Cherish. May the Good Lord protect us and our loved ones during this pandemic.

With the kindest of regards and best wishes,

Rabia

His response:

Dear Rabia:

It has been our pleasure to have you with us.  We are lucky that you will be staying here a bit longer than anticipated.  I very much hope that you will enjoy and profit from the INMM conference.

My warm regards and best wishes.

Bill Potter

Conclusion

Such is the kindness and generosity that I witnessed. I have not included the friendship and kindness of my co 2020 Visiting Fellows. That is a story for another day. This one is about Americans and their generosity as I witnessed it in Monterey, California, United States of America.

In Part 2 of this writing, I will narrate other accounts of the amazing generosity of Americans.

Rabia Said, PhD
1000 Johnson Street,
Monterey, California 93940
USA


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