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Trip to Nigeria an emotional one for Ogunleye

Posted May 15, 2006

LAKE FOREST, Ill. - When he last visited Nigeria as a 13-year-old, Adewale Ogunleye had little interest in learning about his parents' homeland or his family's royal African bloodlines.

LAKE FOREST, Ill. - When he last visited Nigeria as a 13-year-old, Adewale Ogunleye had little interest in learning about his parents' homeland or his family's royal African bloodlines.

"I couldn't really appreciate it," said the Bears defensive end, who was born and raised in New York City. "I wanted to sit in air-conditioning, enjoy my cartoons and get back to my friends."

Defensive end Adewale Ogunleye is entering his third season with the Bears.
Fifteen years later, Ogunleye packed a different set of priorities when he traveled back to Nigeria in late March for an eye-opening two-week journey.

"I was so mad that I didn't have more time to spend there because there was so much to see, so much to do and so much to eat," he said. "I was just soaking up Nigeria as a whole. Going there was really good for me as a man right now, seeing where my parents are from."

Ogunleye's grandfather was the king of Emure, a small city about two and a half hours from Lagos. Even though his parents moved to the United States before he was born, the defensive end is still a prince of the region and was referred to as "Prince Adewale" during his visit.

What made the trip so special for Ogunleye wasn't the royal treatment but the reception he received from his extended family. He was shocked to see 30 relatives at the airport to greet him and another 50 waiting for him to arrive at his hotel.

"It was a really good experience," Ogunleye said. "It was quite emotional, seeing how hard it was for my parents to come here and leave all their family. I shed a couple tears just because I thought about how hard my parents have worked.

"When I went there, I saw how much family they have and I saw the love there. It was like I never left. My aunts and uncles treated me like their own kids. My family was acting like they've known me all my life."

Wanting to give back to the Emure community, Ogunleye donated what he termed "a significant amount of money" to about 70 students ages 13 to 26 to help them pay for school.

Ogunleye enjoyed the trip and would like to clear up certain misconceptions about Africa.

"You see the Discovery Channel and you think it's going to be all safari and giraffes," he said, "but Nigeria is an industrialized country. It's a big country with oil. I compare Lagos to New York City or Chicago. It's a big city with a lot of people.

"When you're here in the United States, you kind of think that America is the center of the universe. But you realize that the United States is not the center of the world. There's so much more that we need to see and go out and learn, and it was a learning experience for me."

Asked to identify the biggest difference between the United States and Nigeria, Ogunleye said:

"We take a lot of things for granted. They don't take anything for granted. They don't take running water for granted. They don't take electricity for granted because sometimes it goes out.

"We take waking up and having hot water in the morning for granted. There, that's a luxury. I really think that the biggest difference is that they cherish everything and every moment."

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