Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, Blogger, Speaker

August 26, 2016
by Catherine Onyemelukwe
0 comments

Inheritance for Igbo Women

Inheritance for Igbo Women

Inheritance for Igbo women has been an issue in Nigeria for a long time.

Inheritance for Igbo women has been a long-standing issue.

Igbo Women at time of Aba Riot, 1929.

In 1991 a case was filed by a woman who said she could not be removed from the land that came to her after her father’s death. The Lagos High Court and a Court of Appeal both ruled for the woman.

Eventually the case got to the Supreme Court.

In April 2014 the Nigerian Supreme Court ruled that women have a right to inherit the property of their father. The highest court judgement came after  had also affirmed this right.

Justice Bode Rhodes-Vivour, who read the lead judgment stated, “No matter the circumstances of the birth of a female child, such a child is entitled to an inheritance from her late father’s estate. Consequently, the Igbo customary law, which disentitles a female child from partaking in the sharing of her deceased father’s estate, is a breach of Section 42(1) and (2) of the Constitution, a fundamental rights provision guaranteed to every Nigerian.”

Justice Rhodes-Vivour read the judgement on inheritance rights for Igbo women

Justice Rhodes-Vivour of the Nigerian Supreme Court

Inheritance Rights of an Igbo Widow

There was a second case that started even earlier. That one also concerned inheritance for Igbo women. In this case it was a widow’s right to the land where she had lived with her deceased husband. Her late husband’s family were contesting her right to remain on the property since she had no male child.

The Supreme Court ruled on that as well, giving a widow the right to her husband’s land even if she had no male child.

So I was puzzled by an article a few days ago stating the conclusion again. This time, it was an Igbo Women’s Group celebrating the decision.

They noted that the law had been “domesticated” in Anambra State, one of Nigeria’s 36 states.

I’m no lawyer. As far as I can tell, their jubilation was about the new status being recognized at the level of the state government.

Will the Law Be Enforced?

As one of the articles stated, the law is now clear. Only time will tell if it is implemented.

I gave a talk in London about this issue in April 2015, as part of a conference on Igbo Women. You can read it here.

In my comments I reported that my cousin-in-law Chinedu, who helps me stay informed on village and Igbo affairs, said the same thing. He wasn’t sure the elders, called umunna, in Nanka would respect the law.

Malaria’s Impact Decreasing

Good news – malaria is no longer the leading cause of children’s deaths in Sub-Sahara Africa.

Of course the bad news is that polio is back in Nigeria, and many other preventable diseases are still killing far too many children.

Showing off a bed net

Showing off a bed net. Photo: UNICEF/Adenike Ademuyiwa

The news was reported by WHO – the World Health Organization – in a UN Radio program.

“Since 2000, the number of Africans dying from malaria has dropped by nearly 70 per cent, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

“But despite this progress, WHO said Africa still accounts for nearly 90 per cent of malaria cases worldwide. The disease killed 400,000 Africans last year.”

My Malaria Experience

Have you ever had malaria? It’s like a severe case of flu with chills and high fever. I had it early on in Nigeria, as I recounted in my memoir.

But there are different types. The most severe put me in the hospital for a week many years ago. I had been to Nigeria for Christmas. I was back home in Connecticut. It took a little time for the doctors to diagnose.

Then I was an object of interest for lots of interns and residents!

The photo shows someone trying out a bed net. It’s from the website that has the radio link.

Bassey Etim’s Personal Story

Bassey Etim in NYTimes photo

Bassey Etim in NYTimes photo by Chester Higgins Jr.

Following my piece about race and segregation last time, I want to tell you about a related essay.

The day after reading Affluent and Black, Still . . , I read this, Milwaukee’s Divide Runs Right Through Me. I noticed the author’s name before even taking in the title – Bassey Etim. Clearly a Nigerian.

His experience is like that of some of the children mentioned in the other piece.

“On the North Side that shaped me, there was a resentment, a reflexive skepticism that it took me awhile to understand as a son of Nigerian immigrants. But with experience, I got it. The only white people I saw in my neighborhood staffed the library.”

He says he could picture his own home as a backdrop for a police presence. He was not surprised by what happened in Milwaukee recently – riots after the death of a black man shot by police. Rather, he said, it was to be expected.

In his neighborhood, he said, “Parents tried to teach their children, in the most visceral ways they could imagine, to stay out of trouble.”

For parents of black children, especially boys in their teen and early adult years, today that means, “Be very careful. If a police person addresses you, obey completely. Keep your hands visible.”

Ryan Lochte

Will he be extradited?

Or will his white privilege, his high-priced lawyer, and his fame keep him safe on American soil, even after he damaged Rio’s reputation and embarrassed his country? I love pictures in my blog, but I can’t bear to put his pic here!

Do you think there should be consequences?

August 22, 2016
by Catherine Onyemelukwe
2 Comments

Will There Be Milk for Nigeria?

Milk for Nigeria?

Moo! There are plans for a dairy industry with milk for Nigeria! The world’s largest dairy cooperative is coming. They’ve signed an MOU, a Memorandum of Understanding, with the Nigerian government.

Arla Foods is a cooperative owned by 12,700 farmers from six European countries and the UK. They have a U.S. office and stores, I see from their website. The MOU says they will, “provide enabling organisational structure and trainings that will facilitate the development of the dairy industry in Nigeria.”

Nigerian cow, ready to give milk for Nigeria?

Nigerian cow, ready for cooperative?

The representative from Arla Foods said, “the partnership . . . will promote and strengthen the emergence of a dairy cooperative system in Nigeria thereby giving farmers a strong voice and ensuring efficient distribution of knowledge.”

Will the Milk for Nigeria Go Sour?

That’s a tall order, given the size of the country and how spread out farmers are.

I wonder if they are too ambitious? Do they understand there are not simply different languages like they have in Europe, but different tribes, including nomads, whose farmers have differing customs?

Maybe Arla Foods does have an idea of the obstacles to providing milk for Nigeria.

The agreement says, “The Ministry is expected to support pasture improvements in grazing reserves within areas of operation, attend necessary meetings to review progress compared to targets and support Arla in removing any administrative and bureaucratic obstacles that prevent Arla from delivering on objectives.”

Early days, but still, I’m hopeful that there will be fresh milk for Nigeria.  I wonder how many years before the first product comes off the assembly line?

Anyone besides Lulu remember Samco?

My Sister Granny’s Poem

You’ve read about my group of friends who meet monthly to share some aspect of our lives. We write on a chosen topic and then read to the group. We’re the Sister Grannies.

We are not looking at the writing but the content. And we often have wonderful discussions, in addition to delicious food and plenty of wine!

This morning I found a pleasant surprise in my inbox. Barbara, one of the Sisters, had a poem published online. I love it. So I want you to have a chance to read it too. (The date is confusing; I don’t know why. But don’t let it stop you from reading.) That’s a stock photo, not Barbara!

Poem: Voices I Hear. August 31, 2015.

Fabulous Book Cover

Ainehi Edoro posted this stunning book cover! It took me a few seconds to realize the right side with the red bus is the front cover, the Welcome to Lagos straight vertical title is the spine, and the street scene is the back.

You can read more about the cover and the novel, the second by Chibundu Onuzo, in Ainehi’s blog Brittle Paper.

The Stunning Cover Art of Welcome to Lagos, Chibundu Onuzo’s New Novel

Race and Where We Live

“What we found was that across all income levels, segregation persists – even for households earning $100,000 or more. We decided to look more closely at black families of means, and what we found is that money doesn’t buy integration. Well-off black families live in disproportionately black neighborhoods that are much poorer than the areas where whites of the same income level live.”

Of course the next question is why.

The answers are complex.

In many suburbs, particularly near large urban centers, white families prefer to have mostly white families around them, sociologists have found. People of color are subtly made to know they’re not welcome.

Decades of more overt actions, like red-lining when banks refused to grant mortgages to blacks, and realtors’ refused to show homes in white neighborhoods to blacks, have reinforced segregation.

The authors say, “Those historic dynamics of race and housing have not disappeared, either. As recently as 2006, a city government report found that affluent, nonwhite Milwaukeeans were 2.7 times likelier to be denied home loans than white people with similar incomes.”

Then there is the feeling of belonging that all of us crave. It sometimes causes blacks to stay or move into neighborhoods where they are the majority.

Where are You Safe if You are Black?

Black boy remembers Tamir Rice, can't play outside with toy gun.

Black boy remembers Tamir Rice, can’t play outside with toy gun.

But the dangers are real. Parents must teach their children, particularly black boys, to be extra careful. They cannot let the children out alone at night as white families in affluent suburbs can.

One family profiled in the article have two children, Taj and Ameera. “[They] go to a Catholic private school in Milwaukee where most of the students are white, but return to a Muslim household in a neighborhood where most people look like them. Both environments present difficulties.

“At school, the Sabir children have heard a teacher play down slavery, and classmates stereotype black neighborhoods as bad and drug infested.”

Most telling for me – and sad – was this: “They often find their worldviews out of sync with those around them. When Taj was visiting a white classmate in Wauwatosa (a white suburb) in May, the friend wanted to go outside to play with Nerf guns. But Taj recalled the police killing another black boy with a toy gun — 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland — and said that he had to be cautious about what he did outside.”

What a burden we place on black children. They must consider how to stay safe from the police!

Next time I’ll tell you about a companion piece written by a Nigerian.

August 18, 2016
by Catherine Onyemelukwe
0 comments

Call for Gender Equality By 2030

Gender Equality

At 16, Kehkashan Basu is bold. She is a fearless proponent of gender equality, and the founder and president of a youth organisation called Green Hope in her native Dubai.

Kekashan Basu, speaking out for gender equality

Kehkashan Basu, speaking out for gender equality

At the recent panel discussion on “Investing in Young Women’s Leadership for the Implementation of the SDGs,” Basu was the youngest speaker.

UN Women and the UN Inter-Agency Network on Youth Development sponsored the event as part of International Youth Day at the UN.

Sustainable Development Goals

At the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit on 25 September, 2015, world leaders adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which includes a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

These goals aim to end poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and tackle climate change by 2030.

Planet 50-50

Facebook photo from my cousin Thomas.

My cousin Thomas posted this lovely photo on Facebook.

But wait, there’s more! In addition to the SDGs, UNWomen has a goal: “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality.” This initiative asks governments to make national commitments to address the challenges that are holding women and girls back from reaching their full potential.

“Ninety world leaders have made concrete commitments to overcome gender equality gaps.” They did this during and after a historic event co-hosted by UN Women and the People’s Republic of China last year.

I was afraid to look at the list! But one of my countries has made a statement, if not a formal commitment. Which one do you think – Nigeria or the U.S.?

Olympics 

Nigeria Germany Match AP Photo Leo Correa

Nigeria Germany Match AP Photo Leo Correa

Nigeria does not win many medals at the Olympics. Their best sport is soccer, known as football in most of the world outside the U.S.

The Nigerian team won the gold medal in 1996. This year they made it to the semi-finals. But then they lost to Germany, 2-0. I was sad.

Who will win the gold this time? The final match is between Germany and Brazil at 4:30 on Saturday afternoon. The loser gets the silver. But Nigeria still has a chance at the bronze – they play Honduras for the third spot at noon on Saturday.

History of Football

As I was looking up the schedule, I found this fascinating bit of history about the sport.

“Modern football has its origins in the streets of medieval England. Neighbouring towns would play each other in games where a heaving mass of players would struggle to drag a pig’s bladder by any means possible to markers at either end of town.”

Did you know? Here’s the rest of the story:

“A ROYAL BAN

Football became so violent in England it was banned by the king for more than 300 years. English public schools are credited with subsequently establishing the modern football codes, thus turning the mob riot into a sport in the 16th century.

“OLYMPIC HISTORY

Football first appeared on the programme of the Games of the II Olympiad, Paris 1900. It has been on the programme of each edition of the Games ever since, with the exception of Los Angeles 1932.

Europe dominated the competition until after 1992 in Barcelona, where Spain became the last European team to win a gold medal. Since the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, African and South American teams have won all the gold medals.”

Rilke, Religion, and Peace Corps

Last Sunday morning I turned on the radio to hear On Being, with Krista Tippett. Krista interviewed Joanna Macy, an ecological philosopher. She worked for the CIA in Germany, then went to India with her husband who was heading the new Peace Corps program there.

Today in her 80’s she is known as a Buddhist scholar and Rilke translator. In this video she talks about uncertainty.

I was intrigued by several connections and listened to most of the hour.

I read Rainer Maria Rilke in German in college. The Peace Corps connection drew me in. Her work with Tibetan refugees interested me.

Early on in the interview she told Krista that she had grown up as a liberal Protestant. When she was 16, she had a “conversion” experience where she felt called to dedicate her life to God. But when she was 20, (she’s now in her ’80’s) and learned about exclusion and other unpleasantness in church history, she turned away from her religion.

Rainer Maria Rilke, German poet

Rainer Maria Rilke, German poet

She talked about finding a book of Rilke’s poetry in a bookstore in Germany a few years after that. She opened it and read, “Ich lebe mein Leben in wachsenden Kreisen, I live my life in widening circles.

The eight-line poem ends with something like, “I may not complete this last one, but I give myself to it.”

She said the poem led her to reawaken her religious yearnings and eventually to Buddhism.

Her Story and Mine

Her story reminded me of my own. I grew up in the Presbyterian Church. At 16 our minister took us to hear Billy Graham. I remember so clearly feeling called and even going to the front to receive what? his blessing?

Like Macy, I didn’t consider ministry seriously, though I did for a few minutes!

But during college, I turned away from the religion I’d known.

I went back to Christianity because my husband-to-be took me along to his Anglican Church in Lagos. We were married by Rev. Payne, the minister. I started the Sunday School with my friend Jean Obi.

Eventually I could no longer say the Apostles’ Creed. As our children went away to boarding school, we stopped attending.

Back in the U.S. I happened on the Unitarian Church and found my spiritual home. Having no creed works for me. Clem comes often, but misses the Anglican Church. He attends our local Episcopal Church from time to time to feed his spirit and love of ritual.

You?

August 14, 2016
by Catherine Onyemelukwe
6 Comments

Good Deed, Also the Bad and the Ugly

Good Deed

Margaret Anderson, the Persuasion Coach, sent me this story about a good deed by Delta – see what they did to help out the stranded Nigerian soccer team get to Rio in time for their first match!

Given the airline’s misfortunes of the last week, I thought I should post it.

Delta Airlines Rescues Stranded Nigerian Olympic Team Free of Charge

Then There is Bad News

Just a few days ago I thought Nigeria was finally over the hill, polio-free. That would have made all of Africa free of the crippling disease. They were about to celebrate two years without incident, and hoped to complete the required third year.

But I read in The Atlantic that two new cases were reported. Both showed paralysis, which doesn’t occur in all instances. This makes the authorities suspect there are probably others around, not yet reported.

These are in the far northeastern part of the country where Boko Haram is still a threat and has made vaccinating children extremely difficult, even impossible.

Boko Haram area

Active area of Boko Haram and camps, a few months ago

Even though the army has secured some towns and people are beginning to return to their homes, many people are still in camps. Not all roads and residential areas are safe.

In addition, part of the population of the northeast are Fulani nomads, never easy to vaccinate.

The author ends on a slightly positive note: “Nigeria must now wait at least until the summer of 2019 to receive a polio-free certification. Yet even with Thursday’s setback, the country has made remarkable progress overall: As recently as four years ago, half of all wild polio cases worldwide originated in Nigeria.”

More Bad News, With Hope? 

BBC reported on August 14 that Boko Haram has released a video showing about 50 of the kidnapped Chibok girls.

The Boko Haram militant says the girls will never be released until the captured Boko Haram fighters are returned. The Nigerian government has said it is in consultation with the militants.

The video includes an interview, which BBC calls “staged,” with one of the captives. She says her name is Maida Yakubu. She asks parents to appeal to the government.

Martin Patience, the BBC reporter, says, “Maida’s mother, Esther, is one of several parents of Chibok girls who recently published open letters to their daughters detailing the pain they feel at their children’s absence and their hopes for the future.”

BBC Hausa service spoke with the father of one of the girls. He said, “The fact is we are overwhelmed with a feeling of depression. It’s like being beaten and being stopped from crying. You helplessly watch your daughter but there is nothing you can do. It’s a real heartache.”

I can barely imagine the pain he and the other parents are going through.

And the Ugly?

Nigerian land snails

Nigerian land snails can be 8 inches long! I think they’re ugly; what do you think?

Snails! Nigerian land snails, to be specific. You can find their scientific name in the Wikipedia article. I’ll give you the Igbo name – ejuna! They are regarded as a delicacy by many Nigerians.

My husband, for one, thinks they are fabulous! He tells me that he and all his siblings loved the snails. But his father detested them.

So his mother would cook them when his father would go away for a couple of days and then clear away all the evidence!

I haven’t yet had the nerve to try this dish, but I’m making a public commitment here to do so in Nigeria this Christmas!

Cooked snails.

Cooked snails, ready to enjoy!

Please give me your suggestions on where to buy! I’m not going to cook them, just sample in a restaurant, fast-food, or road-side spot.

And while I was looking for info to share with you about these creatures, I found this story from two years ago. Sixty seven snails were found in someone’s luggage! I had to laugh at the article which is accompanied by a recipe for how to cook them, just in case you can get some and want to try!

Dickens and Unitarians

Jennifer Munro

Jennifer Munro, this morning’s speaker at The Unitarian Church in Westport

At our Unitarian Church this morning Jennifer Munro gave the reflection, “Mr. Dickens, Social Activist.” She described his rather difficult childhood and how he came to his sense of social justice. She described his work to raise awareness of social ills. He also became a Unitarian, she said.

She referenced A Christmas Carol several times, quoting Scrooge and leading us to his transformation when he learned sympathy and empathy. We were able to join her in Tiny Tim’s final words. I believe they were, “God bless us, everyone!”

Dickens

Charles Dickens

She asked us to read together Edward Everett Hale’s affirmation reminding us we all can do something positive in the world even if we can’t write like Dickens.

Then I came home and found the perfect opportunity to pass on the message. See if you agree:

  • I read a post on LinkedIn in my Returned Peace Corps group.

    Matt said, “Why do we keep saying, ‘The Youth are the Future?’ The youth – we – are here!”

    He offered several suggestions that young people can follow to start making a difference today! His first? Volunteer in a soup kitchen near you! Simple.

    I commented, “I love your suggestions, Matt. Great ideas for all of us. As we said at my Unitarian Church this morning, quoting Edward Everett Hale,

    “I am only one But still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. And because I cannot do everything I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”

August 10, 2016
by Catherine Onyemelukwe
2 Comments

Journey May Be Pilgrimage or Flight

Author’s Pilgrimages

Whenever I listen to Krista Tippett’s OnBeing, I’m glad that I did! This past Sunday was no different. I switched on the radio at a few minutes after 7 am and settled into the Jacuzzi.

I was shocked to hear her say, “. . .on the New York Times Bestseller list for 400 weeks!”

Author Paulo Coelho wrote Pilgrimage

Author Paulo Coelho who wrote Pilgrimage

How is that possible, I thought? One book, 400 weeks? If I could be on the NY Times Bestseller list for a minute, I’d be ecstatic!

Paulo Coelho

She was reprising an interview from 2014. Paulo Coelho, author of The Alchemist, was her guest. The Alchemist is one of the best-selling books, if not the best, of all times!

I learned that he only became a full-time author at the age of 40, after his pilgrimage to Saint James of Compostella, in Spain. That’s when he embraced his desire, what he felt was his destiny, to write, after years of denial.

Coelho's best-selling The Alchemist about a pilgrimage

Coelho’s best-selling The Alchemist about a pilgrimage

His writing addresses the eternal question, “Who am I?” He says living with risk and change gives life meaning.

In the interview he said, “Every morning I find myself a different person. What makes life interesting is the unknown.”

Did you read The Alchemist?

It’s the story of a young shepherd who makes a pilgrimage. He sets out from Spain to discover a treasure. According to Wikipedia, “what starts out as a journey to find worldly goods turns into a discovery of the treasure found within.”

I remember feeling moved by the book. After hearing the interview, I’d like to read it again. Or one of his other 30 books.

Author Sophfronia Scott wrote All I Need to Get By

Author Sophfronia Scott wrote All I Need to Get By

Sophfronia Scott

Then I went to church. The author Sophfronia Scott was the speaker. She talked about her own pilgrimage to find joy in her life.

She said we should embrace our own gifts and use them. She called herself a fellow pilgrim of Tony Manero, from Saturday Night Fever. He speaks about wanting something more than dancing, even though it gives him and others who watch him “a high.”

She finds joy, she said when, “Something like a deep river lives and flows around me. I feel closer to God.”

She asked us to be open to new experiences, new ventures, like Coelho was.

Sophfronia's novel All I Need to Get By

Sophfronia’s novel All I Need to Get By

“I encourage you to start on this journey . . . to receive your deepest desire. I hope you will have what you need when you need it,” she said.

I bought her novel, All I Need to Get By. I’m on Chapter 4.

A very full Sunday morning!

Team Refugee – Journey as Flight

Ten Olympic contenders make up Team Refugee. I found their precise competing times and info about each contestant at Quartz.

I found on the news on the BBC Sports page that the two judo contestants, both from the Democratic Republic of Congo  are already out.

The man, Popole Misenga, lost in his round-of-16 match. The woman, Yolande Bukasa Mabika, lost in her first contest.

“[Mabika] said afterwards: ‘I’m representing many nations and my victory is a victory for all refugees in the world. I lost, but I’m here. The fight did not end today. The fight is not only judo, the fight is life.'”

An article in The Atlantic gives a broader perspective on the refugee presence.

Having the refugees officially recognized as part of the Olympic Games for the first time, is “without question, a very small step in addressing the refugee crisis. But it’s a small step occurring on a big stage.”

We are in the worst refugee crisis since World War II, the author reminds us.

“In creating a Refugee Olympic Team that would be ‘treated … like all the other [national] teams,’ in having those athletes march into the Opening Ceremony right ahead of host country Brazil, in endowing that team with the Olympic flag and anthem, the International Olympic Committee has powerfully recognized the liminal existence of refugees in a world that is more than just a collection of nations.”

Do you know the word ‘liminal’? I don’t! I’m resisting the impulse to look it up, trusting that one of you, dear readers, will tell us! Maybe a contrast to subliminal – ah, yes, probably so.

How to Help?

I’m moved by reading about the refugees. I haven’t helped directly. But at least I have indirectly.

A few people from our Unitarian Church provide assistance. And we held our annual church tag sale last Saturday. I had donated lots of stuff.

The indomitable Linda Hudson organized, implemented, and cheered everyone along! She said in her Thank You email, “IICONN, the refugee resettlement group that we’ve been supporting, came and ‘shopped’ for kitchenware and bedding for the latest arrivals.

I’m pleased to know things I gave may have gone to refugee homes.

The vendor said the mushroom turns blue when cold.

The vendor said the mushroom turns blue when cold.

Blue Mushroom?

Have you ever seen blue mushrooms? A few weeks ago I bought one of the strangest mushrooms I’ve ever seen at the Westport Farmers Market. It had a mild taste, as the vendor told me.

I bought another on Saturday. This time, I asked the name and the name of his farm. He said it’s a “blue oyster mushroom,” and he’s from Pine Lake Mushrooms.

I looked these up when I got home and found them on a website called Fungi Perfecti. They say I could even grow them at home! Who would have thought!

I put part of my blue oyster mushroom in salad. I sautéed the rest with spinach as a bed for grilled salmon. Delicious!

August 6, 2016
by Catherine Onyemelukwe
0 comments

Olympic Refugee Team

Olympic Refugee Team

I watched much of the Olympic Opening Ceremony last night. The beginning portrayed the history of Brazil, immigration, slave trade, and urban development. Then came the parade of athletes.

Did you watch? I love seeing the U.S. team, and of course the team from Nigeria. Then some of the smaller countries with athletes who have little hope of medals but seem thrilled to be in the Olympics. Who wouldn’t be?

Refugee Team member

Refugee team member Rose Nathike Lokonyen is from South Sudan

I was most interested in seeing the refugee team who carried the Olympic Flag.

The weekly UN Brief had an article about them. So did Sports Illustrated.

Athletes from Syria, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Ethiopia are members of this inspiring refugee team.

Dan Solomon, the writer says, “The true value of sports is in how they bring people together . . . Not only does the Team Refugees campaign bring together the 10 members of the team and give them a chance to experience something that’s radically different from life as a refugee, but it also gives other Olympians—and the untold billions around the world watching—the chance to learn what life entails when you’re fleeing a war-torn country.”

I saw them enter the stadium last night near the end of the parade of athletes, just before Brazil. I hope I’ll get to see them in action. I’d like to learn about their lives, why they had to flee, and how they are living now.

I’ll check out what events they are in so I can watch.

I certainly plan to watch women’s gymnastics. It’s incredible what the woman can do. I watch because it’s extremely entertaining, even fascinating, and because of my granddaughter, herself a highly skilled gymnast.

Do you plan to watch many of the Olympics events? Which ones?

Left-Over Effects of Ebola

The Ebola epidemic may be over, but it has left serious after-effects, Thomson Reuters Foundation reported.

“During the epidemic, many farmers in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia were unable to grow or sell their crops because of measures to contain the virus, including travel restrictions, border closures and quarantines, as well as fear of infection.”

So if they couldn’t grow or sell, they had no income. They may also not have the seed crops for next year.

The upshot is that there may be ongoing food shortages. Some farmers will leave their villages and farms to go to the cities to seek employment, meaning lower agricultural output.

Add to this the people they lost to the epidemic, and those alive but still shunned because they had been infected, or had worked in the health care field while the disease was rampant.

How will these countries and their people cope? The human spirit is resilient. But it has surely been severely tried in parts of West Africa.

President Buhari’s Time in Office

Two years ago Clem and I were in Nashville for Peace Corps Connect, the annual gathering of former Peace Corps volunteers and friends.

Prof Ochonu

Professor Moses Ochonu

At our Friends of Nigeria meeting we heard Professor Moses Ochonu, a Nigerian at Vanderbilt University, speak about the political situation in Nigeria.

At the time the country was preparing for the elections. Buhari emerged as the winner and took office in May 2015.

Ochonu has just written a critical review of the presidency so far. I read it in Sahara Reports.

He cites several promises that he says have not been fulfilled, including selling some of the ten presidential aircraft! Are his charges true? We’ll see what response he gets.

Nigeria’s First Lady

President Buhari’s wife is in the U.S. to seek help for the women and children facing starvation in the north-eastern part of Nigeria.

Aisha Buhari in U.S.

Nigeria’s First Lady Aisha Buhari

“Our children in the various camps are in dire situation and the government alone cannot do it, we have to get help,” she said in an interview with the Hausa service of Voice of America.

She is also the special guest at an event on Saturday evening in Washington, DC. (The event is in Silver Springs MD but I think that counts as DC.)

The event is the 25th anniversary of Zumunta, “an umbrella organization of Nigerians in the Diaspora representing the 19 Northern States of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).”

Their purpose is “to foster goodwill through social interaction amongst Nigerians of Northern descent.” These would be mostly Hausa-Fulani people.

It reminds me of the Umuada Ndi-Igbo, the Daughters of Igbo People, whom I’ve met a couple of times at the UN. I am sure there is a similar group for Yoruba people.

Do these tribally-based, groups in the U.S. bode well or ill for Nigeria’s efforts at unity? They help to preserve the culture but is it at the expense of shared commitment to the country?

Zumunta has a picture of the missing Chibok girls as one of their sliding photos in their website header.

The organization started in the tri-state area where I am – New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey. Today it has 12 chapters across the U. S.

Emir Sanusi

Emir of Kano is keynote speaker

“Our association focuses attention on the areas of Health, Education, Youth Development and Women’s Empowerment,” they say. “Within these focus areas; we are always looking to foster unity, collaboration, diversity and advocacy for the purpose of creating positive change and development in Nigeria.”

The Emir of Kano is the keynote speaker for Zumunta’s celebration on Saturday night.

I’ve mentioned him before. He was the governor, or head, of Nigeria’s Central Bank before the previous president ousted him.

An impressive line-up for their celebration!

August 2, 2016
by Catherine Onyemelukwe
4 Comments

Our History of Slavery

History of Slavery

I’ve been saving this intriguing article on our history of slavery to share with you. “I Named My Mixed-Race Daughter for a Slave-Trading Town – Bristol!” was an opinion piece in The New York Times on July 16.

The mixed-race author Susan Fales-Hill always admired her Fales ancestors. She had a portrait of her great-great-great grandfather who had established the family’s shipping business.

History of slavery was in her family!

Susan Fales-Hill discovered history of slavery in her family

She and her husband agreed to honor her New England ancestors by naming their daughter for Bristol, Rhode Island, where family members had first settled.

Then she learned that Bristol had been a slave port. She was surprised. But she says, ” I decided that naming a multicultural African-American after a slave port was in fact redemptive, the ultimate act of reclamation.”

A few years later she learned in an email from a Yale professor that her ancestor had been a slave trader.

She was truly shocked. “That email dealt a death blow to the pride I had always felt in hailing from a family of industrious and, I thought, uniformly upstanding Anglo-Saxons. It was devastating to realize that our ‘fortune’ had begun with America’s original sin.”

She tells her now 13-year old daughter what she has learned. “I reminded her that her father and I had no idea at the time. ‘Couldn’t you have found out?’ she challenged.”

Memoir of author who discovered history of slavery in her family

Memoir by Susan Fales-Hill

Fales-Hill concludes, “With that simple question, my child demolished all of my excuses and reminded me that the truth of our family history, like our country’s, had always been hidden in plain sight. It’s our duty to seek it out.”

Can we find the history of slavery in plain sight? I think so, if we want to.

She has written a memoir about her mother called Always Wear Joy, My Mother Bold and Beautiful, and several novels. Here’s a video of her interview on NBC when her novel Imperfect Bliss came out. (It loads slowly, so if you’re in a hurry don’t try!)

Shame in Nigeria

I’ve been reading about the cruel conditions in the refugee camps for IDPs, or internally displaced persons, in north-eastern Nigeria.

Boko Haram has wrought destruction in many towns and villages. Although some territory has been recaptured and some people have been able to return home, many more are stuck and destitute.

Charlotte Alfred, World Reporter for The Huffington Post, wrote, “The hunger crisis has been growing since militant group Boko Haram captured swaths of northeast Nigeria in 2014, crippling agriculture and the local economy and displacing more than 2 million people.”

Reading the article is difficult. “Humanitarian officials with decades of disaster experience said the situation was among the worst they’d ever seen,” the author said.

I had such a sense of sadness and disappointment in the country I love. And it made me think about first world, and third world, problems.

Promised pic of Nkiru

Granddaughter Nkiru showing her birthday gifts – cologne and shiny sandals – in Bryn Mawr, PA.

I talked to my granddaughter Nkiru about these as she was driving us to the store on Sunday morning.

“Two months ago my gym announced it was closing. Since then, locker room conversations have been all about where we were going,” I said.

“I’ve been struck by how upset some of the women are. Almost all of us can afford another gym, and we all have a car to drive there.”

I told her it was an excellent example of a ‘First World problem.’

Then I mentioned the refugees in Nigeria. That’s a real problem, I said, “when you don’t have food for your children and you are watching them die.”

Adichie to Speak in London

Can you believe it’s been ten years since Chimamanda Adichie published Half of a Yellow Sun?

In honor of the upcoming anniversary Southbank Centre is presenting the author speaking on Love and War, the themes of the novel. The program will be at the Royal Festival Hall on August 7.

The promo in the blog Africa In Words says, “Ten years on, Adichie discusses why her story of star-crossed lovers caught up in a bloody civil war still resonates, and why she keeps being drawn back to the theme of love.”

If you go, please tell us about it!

Mount Holyoke Donor Story

In 1915 a woman from China entered Mount Holyoke College. She had been selected “through a rigorous examination process to go abroad.”

Vong-Ling, Chinese student, 1915

Vong-Ling, 1918, from Mount Holyoke newsletter

I read about her today in a newsletter from the college.

She was a gifted writer and published in the college newspaper in her first year.

She adapted well despite occasional homesickness. “Records from the MHC archives show that Vong-ling was a beloved and vibrant part of the MHC community. . . she was voted the “most loveable” student in her senior class.”

She returned to China to marry a man she had met on the ship coming to the U.S. He had also completed his studies, though at MIT.

Less than 20 years later, China was in turmoil, her husband was in hiding, and she was caring for six children on her own.

She died in 1947 but had already corresponded with Mount Holyoke about having her daughter attend. Four years later Chinnie enrolled!

Now Chinnie has created the Vong-ling Lee 1919 Scholarship Fund for a student in financial need, with a preference for a student from China.

As a result, the college’s newsletter said, “Vong-ling’s story will continue in perpetuity. Each year a student will arrive at MHC to live and learn, to become part of a community, to find her passion and her purpose.”

Isn’t it a lovely story? And a wonderful way for the daughter to honor her mother!

July 29, 2016
by Catherine Onyemelukwe
Comments Off on Family Birthdays

Family Birthdays

Family Birthdays

Our older son Chinaku and our daughter Beth have June birthdays. All of Beth’s family have their birthdays in June and July, from Kelvin on June 3 to Nkiru today!

We celebrated our grandson Kenechi’s birthday on July 4th. He turned 21. We found the helium balloon on the ceiling in our turret after he and his family returned home.

family birthday balloon

Left-over balloon from Kenechi’s birthday, since I don’t have good pic of Nkiru!

Ikem turned 3 on the 17th.

Today is their sister Nkiru’s 17th birthday. We sent a card and phoned this afternoon. She said she’s going to Philadelphia’s Chinatown tonight with friends.

We’ll drive to Bryn Mawr tomorrow to share the birthday. There’s a great pic in her Instagram account, but I don’t know how to get it here! I’ll share a picture from the weekend next time!

Mount Holyoke and Space

Dr. Beth O’Leary, Mount Holyoke alumna of 1974, has an unusual specialty, cultural resource management.

Would you know what that meant? I had no idea when I spotted the article about her.

Our alumnae magazine has a segment called “Ten Minutes With.” It’s an interview with an alum. I was drawn to the article because the heading said “Moon Studies.

I’ve been a huge fan of astronomy since 6th grade. So I was eager to read the piece.

Dr. O’Leary is an expert in archaeology and cultural anthropology. Her specialty, cultural resource management, looks at sites that have significance for our country in some way and may lead to “National Register nominations of archaeological and historic sites.”

How did she get to the moon studies? She said, “While teaching my graduate seminar in 2000 in the application of historic preservation law, a student asked if United States preservation laws apply on the moon.”

Moon seen from Apollo

View of lunar disc from returning Apollo 11 mission.

She didn’t know the answer. “With a grant from the New Mexico Space Grant Consortium we began to research this question,” she said. “We learned there is in excess of 106 metric tons of cultural material on the lunar surface, and so we limited our scope to the most iconic site—Apollo 11, the first manned lunar landing.”

I wrote about that landing in my memoir. I was in the U.S. because of the Biafran War in Nigeria.

Were you alive in 1969? Do you remember it?

In addition to stuff left on the moon, there are the footprints of the astronauts and tracks their equipment left. At first she and others thought the Apollo 11 landing site should be a U.S. National Historic Landmark.

But they learned that other countries would not welcome U.S. appropriation of part of the moon! In the end she was part of a NASA team “that wrote and published guidelines for all future expeditions to help protect the scientific and historical values of the US sites on the moon.”

Americanah and Book Covers

Ainehi Edoro raved about Adichie’s new book covers in her blog. She calls them, “fashion accessories.”

Edoro says, “The most recent redesign is the work of Jo Walker—a well-known name in the book design world.” She praises the designer for using wax print, called Ankara in Nigeria.

She says, “Given that Ankara print is a signature element of contemporary African fashion, it’s hard not to fantasize about what other ways we could make use of these books—a statement clutch, perhaps?”

I can’t wait to see a photo of Edoro with the book as a “statement clutch!”

Adichie’s Fans, Rejoice! |Her New Book Covers Are Wax Print Masterpieces

I wish I’d known about the wax print book covers before my meeting last Sunday evening with a book group in Easton. I could have taken fabric to show!

A few wax prints.

I love wax prints. Here are a few.

At the Yale School of Management reception the week before, I’d met Melissa who invited me to join her book group to discuss Americanah.

Most of the ten women had read and enjoyed the book. They appreciated the comments I offered, including help with pronunciation.

And I loved hearing their take on the main character Ifemelu, her life decisions, her hair, and her blog.

Jim Himes and Black Lives Matter 

Our congressional representative Jim Himes hosted a forum on race relations on Monday evening.

Jim Himes, Congress

Jim Himes, our congressional representative, hosted the forum

The panel included Dr. Anthony L. Bennett, head pastor of Mount Aery Baptist Church in Bridgeport, Rev. Cass Shaw, of the Council of Churches of Greater Bridgeport, Tenisi Davis, actor and activist, Dr. Khalila Brown-Dean, associate professor of political science at Quinnipiac University and Deputy Chief Ashley Gonzalez, of the Norwalk Police Department.

The Darien News reported on the event.

“The discussion, facilitated by Bennett focused on three questions: Does white privilege exist? Does institutional racism exist in Connecticut? And what can the average white person do regarding police brutality and #blacklivesmatter?”

Rev. Dr. Bennett

Rev. Dr. Anthony Bennett of Mount Aery Baptist Church in Bridgeport

Bennett said, “There are a whole lot of us who are just tired of having the same conversation about race with the same people. And so I challenged Congressman Himes to [have the conversation] outside of Bridgeport. . . We need to talk to some white folk.”

Darien, a primarily white community, was chosen.

The panelists recounted their experiences and offered advice:

  1. Acknowledge bias and speak out
  2. Listen from a place of openness
  3. Be willing to be uncomfortable.

Many speakers from the audience still asked how to help. Himes and the panelists suggested we do our homework, so we understand what black people face.

“Let’s face it, we’re in a moment of crisis right now where it feels like just about every week we see videos, astonishing and horrifying videos of killing of unarmed, black men, often,” Himes said.

July 25, 2016
by Catherine Onyemelukwe
4 Comments

Implicit Bias

Can Implicit Bias Be Changed?

Like many of my white liberal friends, I like to think I am not biased against people of color, people with disabilities, Muslims, or anyone different from me, because of that difference.

What is implicit bias?

Explicit vs. implicit bias.

But science has shown that even we, knowing better, have built-in, or implicit bias. It may hard-wired. We cannot simply wish it away. It is not evil intention. We have “inherited” it from our parents, learned, or adopted it unconsciously.

It may be partially to blame for police aggression against black men. When police are “trained” by society to think that black men are dangerous, they may act on that belief, even though rationally they know black men are no more dangerous than white men.

There is an online test which I have taken that helps illustrate our implicit bias.

A major question is this: can we change it?

A recent article in Salon describes how neuroscience may help us.

The author explains that the fear black people experience when stopped by police is justified. The racial profiling is real.

Data collected over recent years shows this. And the occasional remark – that blacks are targeted by police because there is a higher crime rate among blacks – is not based on fact.

Gleb Tsipursky, the author of the article, is a scholar of history, psychology, and cognitive neuroscience as a professor at Ohio State.  He refers to recent events.

He says, “this does not mean that police officers who shot Castile and others did so for explicitly racist reasons. Research shows that all of us suffer from some degree of implicit bias, deeply ingrained negative attitudes associated with certain groups or markers of social identity. The large majority of white Americans — including police officers — are implicitly biased against African-Americans.”

He says we cannot simply get rid of this bias by knowing we have it. “Instead, we need to apply de-biasing techniques that would enable us to counter this implicit bias.”

He describes a method called “de-anchoring, where instead of going with your gut intuitive reaction — which you know is highly likely to be biased — you adjust your inner estimation based on research.”

I love the example he provides. If a police officer knows that blacks are three times more likely to be treated with excessive force, she will think not twice, but thrice! before applying force.

His use of ‘she’ when I expected ‘he’ was instruction itself!

The Invisible Hand

On Friday evening last week Clem and I saw the play The Invisible Hand, at the Westport Country Playhouse. Clem wasn’t eager to go, but I couldn’t find someone else to accompany me (I didn’t try until the last minute), so he agreed to come.

He was glad he did!

“The invisible hand is a term used by Adam Smith to describe the unintended social benefits of individual actions. The phrase was employed by Smith with respect to income distribution (1759) and production (1776).” Thank you, Wikipedia.

The play is a political thriller by Ayad Akhtar. The action revolves around a futures trader who has been kidnapped and held in Pakistan. His ransom is set at $10 million.

I highly recommend the play. Not only is it an exciting drama, but it also raises questions about the morality of futures trading, hostage-taking, and the U.S. role in the world.

Watching the Muslim captors and the American trader is also a window on bias. In the play much of the bias is explicit. But hints of implicit bias are present too, or at least were for me.

Have you seen The Invisible Hand? Will you?

Conversation on Race

At the Unitarian Church in Westport

Ellie, left, and Sonja in conversation on race

And to add to the race talk of recent weeks, yesterday’s service at The Unitarian Church in Westport featured a conversation on race! Great timing.

The ‘conversationalists’ were Ellie Grosso and Sonja Ahuja.

Our congregation now has an “Eliminating Racism Ministry,” with Sonja and Dan Iacovella as co-facilitators.

Dan led the anti-racism group for several years.

I became the leader while we read and discussed several important books on race. One was Anita Hill’s Reimagining Equality Stories of Gender, Race, and Finding Home. published by Beacon Press, a department of the Unitarian Universalist Association.

My friend Ruth was part of the group. She and her husband moved to California last year; we saw them there last summer. She and Jack came back for a visit. Here she is, looking lovely as usual.

We miss Ruth and Jack

My friend Ruth, now ‘living the life’ in California

Our group stopped meeting four years when other activities and events took precedence.

I’m glad the group is back with strong leadership!

I’ve known Ellie since she came to the congregation six years ago. She and her husband Gary, who are white, adopted their black daughter Yeabsera from Ethiopia.

I know Sonja from my Baker’s Dozen Book Group. She is a black woman married to an Indian man.

In their conversation they told the story of meeting.

A year ago Ellie approached Sonja, whom she barely knew. She asked her to take the role of Maya Angelou in a drama Ellie was producing for the church.

For a white woman to come to a black woman and acknowledge her race, then invite participation based on blackness, was a “disruptive act,” Sonja said. Ellie’s approach led to many conversations; yesterday’s was a continuation.

White people find it hard to say “white people,” Sonja said, But black people say “black people” and “white people” all the time! She said it’s not unusual for a couple or group of black people to say,”Wow! Look at those white folks!”

I appreciated the phrase she used – she said we should be color-brave, not color-blind!

 

July 21, 2016
by Catherine Onyemelukwe
4 Comments

Guilty?

Is Hillary Guilty?  

I have watched portions of the Republican National Convention. I saw Governor Chris Christie attack Hillary’s record as Secretary of State.

Is Hillary guilty?

Christie endorsing Trump. “Hillary is guilty,” he said on Tuesday evenig

He was speaking on Tuesday evening. He was acting as the prosecutor against Hillary Clinton so the audience, “and you at home in your living rooms,” he said, could decide if she is guilty of several instances of poor judgment.

He said she was responsible for “an Al-Qaeda affiliate’s capture of more than 200 young women in Nigeria.” That’s only one of about seven instances he describes.

He asks the convention audience, is she guilty or not guilty? “Guilty,” they shout. They then start a chant, “Lock her up.”

He said Hillary was guilty of the Chibok girls’ kidnapping because Boko Haram was not put on the terrorist watch list until 2013 (several months before the kidnapping).

CBS News disagrees with his claim.

Hillary not guilty

Hillary, not guilty of Chibok kidnapping

“The Washington Post‘s Glenn Kessler in 2014 looked into the accusation in a Fact Checker column and suggested that while technically, Clinton issued the terrorist designation, the process is a complex one with a lot of input from a lot of competing interests. The decision, Kessler said, ‘was resolved before it ever reached her level.'”

“The official in charge of the Africa region, Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson, preached caution, according to the Post, because Nigeria, which has good relations with the U.S., ‘was adamantly opposed to the designation.’ Nigeria feared that formally calling Boko Haram a terrorist organization would raise its stature and its strength.”

In the end Boko Haram was added to the terrorist list. The article concludes, “although Kessler concluded that [State] could have acted more quickly, there is no evidence that putting Boko Haram on the terrorist list any sooner would have prevented the kidnapping of the schoolgirls.”

Nor were his comments popular in Nigeria. “Oby Ezekwesili, a former federal minister and vocal leader of the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, said the use of the kidnapped Chibok girls to gain political points was insensitive. Many other Nigerians echoed her thoughts on social media.”

Did you agree with Christie?

Tamir Rice

On Facebook I found this powerful story of how Tamir Rice’s killing disappeared from public view. My friend Ike Anya posted the link from GQ.

Do you remember? Tamir, age 12, had a toy gun on the playground in Cleveland. Someone called in to 911 to report his activity. Two police officers went to the scene. One of the officers shot and killed Tamir, without apparently giving him time to show it was a toy gun.

Did the prosecutor play the role he should have with the grand jury?

CNN covered the grand jury report in December 2015. Their report said the prosecutor completely abandoned his role and became a defendant for the policeman who was not charged.

The GQ story explains that one of the key people who appeared before the grand jury was Roger Clark. He had retired from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department after 27 years and is an expert in police shootings.

“Clark had studied all of the available evidence in this case—video, witness statements, forensic reconstructions—and he had prepared a report detailing his findings. He did not believe the officers acted reasonably, and he did not believe the shooting was justified.

“When he was called to testify, on December 7, he expected he would summarize those opinions, answer a few clarifying questions, then be dismissed with a polite thank-you for his time and effort.”

“Instead,” he told [the author], “it was immediately very hostile.”

The city of Cleveland settled with the Rice family without admitting guilt. Still, deep questions remain about the grand jury process and whether justice was served.

Obama in Medical Journal

Picture from Kenya a couple of yrs ago

Obama getting down with colleagues in Kenya

Did you see the news all over Twitter and Facebook about Obama’s academic paper a few days ago?

I don’t remember where I saw it first, but I was intrigued. I found the article about his paper in the online Science.mic. He is the first sitting president to publish in a medical journal, I read.

I didn’t actually read the article called “United States Health Care Reform Progress to Date and Next Steps.”

But I loved the hashtag, #ObamaJama.

Checking Corruption – Difficult Task

Nigeria’s President Buhari spoke out yesterday to encourage Nigerians not to assume guilt on the part of officials who haven’t been charged.

Ibe Kachikwu was head of NNPC

Ibe Kachikwu was head of NNPC

In this case he was referring to accusations against the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr Ibe Kachikwu. There have been stories that Kachikwu is under investigation for actions during his time heading NNPC, Nigeria’s petroleum corporation.

“The statement said Buhari . . .  appealed for decent and civilized comments, particularly when it had to do with the integrity of those who are serving the country.”

He continued, “Terrible and unfounded comments about other people’s integrity are not good. We are not going to spare anybody who soils his hands, but people should please wait till such individuals are indicted.”
Generally good advice overall, don’t you think?