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Celebrating America's Independence in its birthplace

By Vision Reporter

Added 8th July 2010 03:00 AM

JULY 4, is an ordinary day in Uganda, but not for my American friends. I was reminded of this when I visited a certain location last Sunday and there were preparations for special celebrations — America’s Independence Day.

JULY 4, is an ordinary day in Uganda, but not for my American friends. I was reminded of this when I visited a certain location last Sunday and there were preparations for special celebrations — America’s Independence Day.

By Mary Odeke

JULY 4, is an ordinary day in Uganda, but not for my American friends. I was reminded of this when I visited a certain location last Sunday and there were preparations for special celebrations — America’s Independence Day.

The star spangled banner was hanging and red, blue and white dotted the compound. It brought back special memories of my first visit to America.

It was the middle of summer when I landed at the J.F Kennedy airport. The July heat was the worst, I do not think Sahara gets close. You are safe in air conditioned space; stepping out is like a suicide attempt. Nevertheless, I was excited!

The airport was extremely busy. People were rushing to and fro; catching flights, arriving and others in transit. Men and women swiftly picked up their luggage and walked to their cars. There were no crowds loitering or cramming at windows with welcome-back bouquets.

Others waited for the train which arrived more or less on time and soon they were choo-chooing off.
I was destined for West Philadelphia, where the famous Fresh Prince was born and raised.

I took a walk in the neighbourhood and the image of his mother wagging her finger came to mind “you’re moving in with your auntie and uncle in Bel-air” — there was every need.

The buildings were tired. The streets corners were filthy. Poor people picked through the trash. Black youth wheezed passed on skate boards and bicycles, spewing obscenities.

Cigarette butts carpeted the pavements and broken sewers let up their water onto the roads. This was certainly not the America I had envisioned.

As I explored, The City of Brotherly Love unraveled like a butterfly cycle; from the dilapidated sections of West Philly to the elaborate posh settings in the suburbs and the metropolitan Centre City.

I found its rich history particularly captivating. I visited Congress Hall, the birth place of “These United States of America”, the site where delegates from all of 13 colonies (of America) met in the Assembly Room of the Pennsylvania State house to create the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution on July 4, 1776. I got goose bumps just walking through the hall.

An aura of reverence washed over the rooms. The artifacts were preserved as though the meeting had just taken place.
I also visited The Liberty Bell which is an international symbol of freedom, it hung in the State House in 1753 and summoned the Pennsylvania Assembly to debate the Stamp Act and other burdensome actions by the British Parliament — George Washington presided over the debate. I learned that Philadelphia was the first state to be marked out in America.

When July 4 rolls around, you want to be Philadelphia because that is where it all begun. There is a festive mood all around; family barbecues, fireworks, parades and so much pride in the eyes of people walking by.

Philadelphia is known for its artistic murals which are beautifully painted on walls all over the city.

The rocky stairs in front of the Museum of Art got me excited. Anyone who has watched the movie, Rocky, starring Sylvester Stallone as a boxer, would remember the flight of stairs that he jogged up and down while training for his big fight.

I found out that Philly was the first major industrial city; it had the first and second banks in the US. It had the first zoo in America, the first hospital in the British North American colonies. Betsy Ross, the lady who designed the first American flag lived here.

Apart from its history, Philly has a wealth of ethnic restaurants; African, Asian, Indian, American, Mexican, name it — your taste buds will not be disappointed. In case you are in the area, try out the ‘Philly Cheese Steak’ signature to Philadelphia alone.

It is a long piece of bread sandwiched with fizzled beef and garnished with onions, cheese and spices tailored to ones taste.

The incredibly long and winding queue of people who have travelled from far and near to eat the steak serves to show its popularity. Unfortunately, my African pallet betrayed me, I did not have fireworks going off in my mouth, but I was glad I tried it.

Ladies, take the bus, the train, or even Philly car share all the way to Franklin Mills. It is a huge shopping mall in which you can shop till you drop and the best thing about it is, there is no tax on clothing.

Your children will thank you for taking them to the Please Touch Museum, a place where little children pretend to do big people things like riding the bus, shopping, and farming while burning some energy. It is fun and educational all at once.

If you happen to visit the East Coast, stop by Philadelphia and learn all about America in a fun and hands on fashion.
Happy belated July 4.

Celebrating America's Independence in its birthplace

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