Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, Blogger, Speaker

September 18, 2017
by Catherine Onyemelukwe
6 Comments

We Belong to a Community

Rev. Barber: What We Must Do

Have you seen, heard, or heard of Rev. William Barber? He has been speaking out about structural racism. He has tough words for all of us interested in confronting race issues in our country.

He talks about why the white supremacists chose Charlottesville, a city with a rich history of racism. They were not simply defending the confederate statue, but making the point that all such statues should be defended.

Barber says that many of the confederate statues were built in the period from 1892 to the 1920’s. The civil war had ended decades earlier. The statues were erected, he says, to celebrate the return of “codified white supremacy in the law.”

The Supreme Court decision in Plessy vs. Ferguson in 1896 “upheld state racial segregation laws for public facilities under the doctrine of ‘separate but equal.’ ” Jim Crow laws became more widespread following the decision and operated for decades.

President Woodrow Wilson

President Woodrow Wilson

Reconstruction had brought many Blacks into government positions. But their power was resented by many Whites who wanted to restore their hold on the reins.

He cites Woodrow Wilson who ordered his staff to end desegregation in government employment.

Rev. Barber spoke at the Unitarian-Universalist General Assembly in June 2016. I was in the audience as he brought us to our feet to applaud his message of our duty to be moral dissenters, to work against structural racism.

Barber calls for revitalizing Dr. King’s push to unite people of color with poor and working-class white people. He says there has been a deliberate effort to separate them by making White people believe they lose if Black and Brown people gain. But it’s not a zero-sum effort.

The work must be long-term and strategic to achieve results, he says. He wants to end the hate and fear by bringing people together to work for change. We should be a community of love, Barber says.

He has inaugurated a movement called Moral Mondays and is taking his message around the country. I love his use of the phrase “moral defibrillators.” It’s in earlier speeches as well as this. In the video he says, “We have to be the moral defibrillators that revive the heart of this nation.”

Megachurches in Nigeria

I wish the evangelical megachurches in Nigeria would be moral leaders and stand up against corrupt practices by political leaders. They do not seem to be communities of love.

But evangelical churches have been growing by leaps and bounds in the last few decades.

I remember when I first got to Nigeria the major evangelical group was the Aladura. They believed in healing through prayer. They wore white and met at Bar Beach in Lagos.

They mainly came from the Anglican Church. They still meet at Bar Beach, but in much larger numbers.

Today there are evangelical churches all over southern Nigeria, especially in the west. Many are very large. The article in The Guardian describes a city built by a church that is home to many thousands. It has its own markets, banks, hotels, and guest chalets in addition to homes.

The church service is held in a building that looks like a massive hangar.

Rev. John rededicating our Black Lives Matter banner

Rev. John rededicating our Black Lives Matter banner

Certainly the poverty in the country encourages membership in a church that promises riches. Tithing is encouraged as a path to heavenly rewards. But don’t people feel let down when they see that their pastor has his own private planes while many can barely afford a car to get to the service?

Black Lives Matter Banner is Restored

The Black Lives Matter banner that we put up at the Unitarian Church in Westport CT nearly a year ago was torn down, vandalized, a few weeks ago.

Yesterday the replacement was dedicated. Rev. John Morehouse said how important it was to restore it. He said there was an amazing outpouring of love from the community when the first banner was torn down. Enough donations came in to buy yet another if we need to!

Again the town’s mayor, known here as First Selectman, came and said a few words. Cass, the head of the Greater Bridgeport Council of Churches, addressed us. The Chief of Police was present. Our board chair Lynda welcomed people and I spoke on behalf of TEAM Westport. (Our TEAM chair Harold was away.)

You can read about the brief ceremony in WestportNow.

Our new banner

Our new banner

We Belong to Each Other

In the sermon during yesterday’s service Rev. John asked, “To whom do we belong?” We each want to know where we fit. We need to have a home.

He said that in his twenties he was a committed atheist. At a time of struggle he was encouraged to attend an American Baptist Church. Though he did not believe all the doctrine, he did feel the outpouring of love and realized the importance of being part of something.

Today he knows that, “We belong to each other,” he said. “We belong to this community.”

My Book About Community

I’ve sent my new book off to five readers! I gave three of them specific questions. Here are a few:

  1. I say the book is about Igbo customs that teach a sense of community and belonging. Do you think the book is about that?
  2. What is unclear or needs more or different explanation?
  3. Whose story or which chapter did you like best? Can you say why?

I am really eager to get their feedback. I wonder how much editing I will have to do.

I still need a title. Suggestions are welcome!

September 14, 2017
by Catherine Onyemelukwe
3 Comments

Agriculture in Nigeria

President Buhari Praises Agriculture in Nigeria

I’m happy to see President Muhammadu Buhari back in action. He cut the ribbon to inaugurate, “Africa’s biggest hatchery and feed mill,” according to Premium Times.

Nigeria must feed itself – Buhari

The project is in Kaduna in northern Nigeria. It was built by Olam Grains, “at the cost of over $150 million,” the article said.

Buhari’s remarks included comments about the importance of agriculture in Nigeria and about the improving climate for investors. He said, “the inauguration of the company is a testimony that growth is serious and lasting growth is taking place in the economy.”

He says growing what people need is critical. “The aim, Mr. Buhari said, was to ensure that Nigerians have access to food, better life, and better hope for their future.” I’m all for that.

Olam the Company

The company name was new to me. I was curious so I looked at their website. The company was established in 1989 and now is in 70 countries with 47 products. Here is what Olam says about how they operate:Olam Logo

‘Growing Responsibly’ describes how we do business. It is embedded within our entire business framework and we believe that it is only by doing business ‘the right way’ that we can create long-term sustainable
value for us and all our stakeholders.

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk

Our book for discussion at tonight's Mount Holyoke Book Group

Our book for discussion at tonight’s Mount Holyoke Book Group

My Mount Holyoke Book Group is meeting tonight. Every year one of our members invites us to dinner at her lovely yacht club. We will dine and discuss The Girl Who Wrote in Silk. 

Here’s the promo that is probably on the book jacket. I didn’t see the “real” book because I read it on my iPad. I borrowed it through Freading, a book loaning system from my public library.

“Inara Erickson is exploring her deceased aunt’s island estate when she finds an elaborately stitched piece of fabric hidden in the house.”

I was intrigued by the story, and stayed up late a couple of nights to finish it. The embroidered sleeve is Chinese. The story takes place in two time frames.

The author Kelli Estes acclaimed for her debut novel

The author Kelli Estes acclaimed for her debut novel

The author, Kelli Estes, learned about the horrific events that happened to Chinese people in Seattle and other places in the late 19th century. She weaves the story of people involved then with people in today’s world.

“Inspired by true events, Kelli Estes’s brilliant and atmospheric debut serves as a poignant tale of two women determined to do the right thing, and the power of our own stories,” her website says.

Her debut novel has received lots of praise. She is a USA Today Best Selling Author. I’m glad we read it.

Amnesty for Undocumented People – Not Who You Think!

You may be able to guess who the “undocumented people” are from the picture!

Native American Council Offers Amnesty to 240 Million Undocumented Whites

The phrase “large, illegal European population,” is wonderful. This reminds me of a cartoon I saw once around Thanksgiving time. It showed a group of Native Americans welcoming the very first Europeans coming off the boat. “Will you be staying long?” the Native Americans say.

The article from City World News says, “Despite the large number of Europeans residing in the United States, historical scholars mostly agree that indigenous lands were taken illegally through war, genocide and forced displacement.”

But not all Native Americans agree with the amnesty plan, the writer tells us. “Despite the council’s decision, a native group called True Americans lambasted the move, claiming amnesty will only serve to reward lawbreakers.” Where have I heard that?

The crimes we committed against Native Americans, many at the same time as the crimes against the Chinese recounted in The Girl Who Wrote in Silk, are almost unbelievable. The twisted thinking that allowed people to enslave other people was at work – those “others” are not real people like us, with real families and values.

It’s hard to imagine. Yet it was not so long ago that Hitler targeted Jews. And today I think of the Rohingya fleeing from Myanmar. Many have been killed, villages were burned, and women raped.

“Cumulatively, the evidence indicates that Rohingya homes have been deliberately targeted in what foreign governments and human rights organisations have largely condemned as ‘ethnic cleansing,’ ” I read in The Guardian.

How can Bangladesh, already heavily populated, handle the 370,000? And the number seems to increase daily. Will the UN act? The General Assembly is meeting soon. Is there anything they can do?

And is there anything any of us can do to make up for past crimes against humanity, meaning crimes against real people? I believe I have to speak up when I can, defend people treated unjustly, and try to stay involved in political life. What about you?

September 10, 2017
by Catherine Onyemelukwe
0 comments

The Arc of the Moral Universe

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. used the phrase “The arc of the moral universe bends toward justice.”

The Arc of the Moral Universe

You probably know the phrase, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I thought it came from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. And it does, but started elsewhere!

This morning at The Unitarian Church in Westport David Vita said this phrase is what motivates him in his work as Social Justice Director.

Theodore Parker, claimed by the Unitarian-Universalists as a leading figure, coined the phrase.

I just read Parker’s bio on Wikipedia. He was, “an

Theodore Parker who coined the phrase.

Theodore Parker who coined the phrase, “The arc of the moral universe.”

American Transcendentalist and reforming minister of the Unitarian church. A reformer and abolitionist, his words and popular quotations would later inspire speeches by Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr.”

He was born in 1810 and died in 1860 just before the American Civil War. Abolition was a major cause for him. His final congregation in Boston, Wikipedia says, “grew to 2,000—then three percent of Boston’s population—and included influential figures such as Louisa May AlcottWilliam Lloyd GarrisonJulia Ward Howe (a personal friend), and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Parker said, “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.”

King took the words and changed them – to great effect!

David Vita, Social Justice Director, The Unitarian Church in Westport

David Vita, Social Justice Director, The Unitarian Church in Westport

David described a dream he had seven years ago:

“I was ill and heavily medicated; the dream may have been drug induced! But it was vivid and still clear in my memory,” he said.

Many people, first strangers and then people he knew from our congregation, were swarming around the arc of the moral universe where he was standing. They began randomly jumping. Then they jumped in unison on the arc itself. They arc was bending and they succeeded in making it bend faster!

David said this morning, “We bend [the arc] as a result of our actions. It does not bend by itself!”

Our Black Lives Matter banner which was vandalized recently has been replaced and was hanging this morning. We will rededicate it next Sunday.

Marvel Comic and Chibok Girls

Nnedi Okorafor, writer, from her website

Nnedi Okorafor, writer, from her website

I was never a huge fan of comics. I rarely read Wonder Woman or Superman comics; I was an Archie fan if anything.

But I know the name Marvel is important. And I know there is renewed interest in comics. So the note about the Chibok Girls and Nigerian-American author Nnedi Okorafor intrigued me. I love the fact that it’s set in Lagos.

She wrote the children’s book Chicken in the Kitchen. I talked about it in earlier blog posts.

She quotes The New York Times on her website: “She has made a name for herself with novels that combine politically complex science fiction and lyrical fantasy.”

Nnedi Okorafor’s Marvel Comic Is Inspired By The Chibok Girls – And It’s Out Now

Nnedi Okorafor’s Marvel Comic Is Inspired By The Chibok Girls – And It’s Out Now

Nigerian Army Announces Python Dance II

Operation Python Dance II has been announced by Major-General DD Ahmadu, Chief of Training and Operations, Nigerian Army. The operation is a training exercise, the army says, but also to protect civilians and to maintain territorial integrity.

“The Army disclosed that it will place emphasis on raids, cordon and search operations, anti-kidnapping drills, roadblocks, checkpoints, and show of force, and humanitarian activities such as medical outreach.”

Sahara Reporters says, the “crackdown on violent agitators, kidnappers, and other bandits . . . is to be conducted in 82 Division Area of Responsibility covering the five states of the South-East, and will last from 15 September to 14 October.”

Another article, this one in Today.ng, says that this planned exercise is unconstitutional. A group called ADF, “in a statement signed by its President, Secretary, and Chairman, Board of Trustees, Dr. Dozie Ikedife, said that the army declaration was another show of force and attempt to demonstrate to the world that Igbo land and the rest of the country were indeed a conquered territory.”

Clem and Dozie in December 2016 in Nnewi

Clem (right) and Dozie in December 2016 in Nnewi

Dozie Ikedife is our dear friend, speaker at our wedding and at our 50th anniversary! We saw him during last year’s Christmas holidays and hope to do so again this year. But we don’t share the sense he has of the Igbo people people being under attack.

A third article on this issue says that the Igbo group, INC, Igbo National Council, “warned that it would sue the Nigeria Army to the International Criminal Court, ICC, for genocide against the Southeast region.”

The operation has not started. No one has been killed. Let us hope that no one is, and the operation can be carried out peacefully. But the list of what the army will do is not too encouraging.

And I have to wonder how the army can spare people for this exercise. Is it not totally engaged in the fight against Boko Haram in the northeast?

September 6, 2017
by Catherine Onyemelukwe
0 comments

Time for New Yam Festival

The New Yam Festival

Yams like those for the new yam festival

Yams like those for the new yam festival

Pulse.ng published an entertaining article yesterday about the new yam festival. This is the time of year for the festival. The first new yams have been harvested, and it is time to celebrate.

The event begins with, “a ceremonial roasting of whole yams by the king or titled elders of the community.” After the yams are ready to eat, “portions of the yams are offered first to ‘Ahijoku’ (the yam or earth gods).” There are a variety of names for the various Igbo gods. In Clem’s town the gods’ names would be “Anijoku.”

The gifts to the gods are thanks for their “Protection and kindness in leading them from lean periods to the time of bountiful harvest.” After this gift-giving, new yams are shared. “The community can then feel free to consume new yam without incurring the wrath of the gods,” the writer says.

There are dances, masquerades, and lots of food to eat with the yams at the festival which may be one day or several.

I wrote about the festival a year ago. Watch for it next year as well!

AA yam barn in Nanka where yams are stored for the year

A yam barn in Nanka where yams are stored for the year

At the time of the new yam festival, any yams left from the prior year’s harvest are eaten or destroyed, at least in theory. I’ve never seen anyone throw away yams, but then I’ve never asked specifically about this custom.

Writing About Igbo Spiritual Practices

I will mention the new yam festival in the chapter I’m currently writing about Igbo spiritual practices.

Things Fall Apart, recent edition of novel published in 1958

Things Fall Apart, recent edition of novel published in 1958

I’m finding this chapter especially difficult! Wikipedia has lots of information, but I do not want to copy that. I commented to my niece-in-law about the challenge, and she recommended Things Fall Apart.

Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is a wonderful resource about Igbo traditions. I had already mentioned his book when she suggested it. Now I’ve decided to quote several sentences, even a whole paragraph, from the novel.

Is that a good idea?

Retired Men’s Association of Greenwich

As promised, I’m including pictures from my presentation to the Retired Men’s Association of Greenwich.

Here is the video of the whole talk, including Hollister’s introduction and the questions afterwards.

Hollister who is program chair, and the IT and sound people, were all extremely helpful. Aline did her usual magic setting up the book table.

Audience member Reggie and me

Audience member Reggie and me

I do enjoy telling people about Nigeria – people, politics, history, and customs. I also like to show the size of the African continent. It’s one of my favorite moments early in the talk. I show a slide of the map of Africa with the U.S., China, India, and several other countries superimposed on the continent without filling it up. It always surprises audiences.

Come to the next event to see it yourself!

At the book signing table

At the book signing table in Greenwich

Next Event at New Canaan Library

New Canaan Library, New Canaan, CT, “My Nigeria: An Insider’s View,” is on September 25, 2017, at 6:30 pm.

The event is free but the library asks people to register.

Atlanta Black Star Article on Nazi Use of Jim Crow

This is a fascinating article about the parallels between Nazi practice and Jim Crow.

The author of the book about the topic uses the example of miscegenation laws in this country and the prohibition against marrying Jews for the “pure” Germans.

“Under the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor, marriages between Jews and German citizens were forbidden, as was extramarital sexual relations between the two groups. Punishment for breaking the law included imprisonment and hard labor. The law was enacted on the grounds that ‘the purity of German blood is essential to the further existence of the German people.’ ”

The writer continues: “These German restrictions on intermarriage and sexual relations reflect the influence of the American anti-miscegenation laws which were on the books in 30 of the 48 states, including outside the South, and were the most severe laws of their kind, with draconian criminal punishment for interracial marriage.”

Indeed, when I married in 1964, our marriage was illegal in Kentucky, the state where I lived before going to Nigeria, and where my parents still lived!

How the American Jim Crow System Inspired Hate and the Alt-Right

Kenya Supreme Court Annuls Election Results

Like other fans of African democracy I was pleased when the Kenya election result was received peacefully in the country in August. The loser did not encourage violence. But he did say he believed the result was inaccurate.

Newly popular Chief Justice Maraga of Kenya, from Kenya-today.com

Newly popular Chief Justice Maraga of Kenya, from Kenya-today.com

So I also cheered when the Supreme Court overturned the result a few days ago. They said the “Independent Electoral and Boundaries commission, the agency charged with conducting the election, did not follow the requirements of the constitution.” Kenyatta and Odinga will face each other again in October.

Ambassador John Campbell said in the Council of Foreign Relations blog he is hopeful that the ethnic basis for voting may be changing. “With this decision, law, process, and an independent judiciary appears to have trumped ethnicity,” he says.

The New York Times also had an article about the decision. I disagreed with the paragraph that said, “In 2015, Nigeria, Africa’s most-populous country, experienced its first transfer of power from one civilian government to another since independence in 1960, a process widely applauded across the continent.”

I wrote to The NYTimes to say there had been other transfers of power before 2015. The difference was that in 2015, the transfer was between two different political parties. It was peaceful and that was noteworthy. But they did not change their article.

The website center-forward.org agrees with me, saying a transition may be within one party or from one party to another, not just a change in party.

September 2, 2017
by Catherine Onyemelukwe
0 comments

Is There Slavery in Nigeria Today?

Slavery in Nigeria Today?

Sahara Reporters, a Nigerian online publication, had an article about slavery. The story led with comments by Priti Patel, the UK’s Secretary of State for International Development.

Priti Patel, UK Secretary for International Development

Priti Patel, UK Secretary for International Development

During a recent visit she announced increased funding to help end slavery in Nigeria that exploits women and girls.

She said, “Nigeria is the fourth largest source of human trafficking to the UK.” She added that the “International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that approximately 80% of girls arriving in Europe from Nigeria are potential victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation.”

“According to latest figures, 875,000 Nigerians are living in modern slavery worldwide, including in the UK,” she said.

Really? I find these figures difficult to believe. I wonder how they define slavery.

A Different Take on Slavery

As I work on my second book, about Igbo culture and customs, I think about a very different meaning of slavery in Nigeria.

I knew about “slaves” from early on, but it was not people in bondage. Rather the “slaves” were people whose ancestors had been dedicated to a life of serving a deity, often at a village shrine.

I first heard about “osu” from Johnny, a friend. He told me he could not marry the woman he loved because she was “osu,” from a slave family.

His family would absolutely not accept her.

Then I learned that my parents-in-law had friends who lived on the same street in Onitsha and were “osu.” They were also from Nanka, as my husband’s family is. I got to know them during the civil war when we had all relocated to the town.

And I know the practice of ascertaining that a prospective spouse is not “osu” continues today. Amazing how prejudice lives on!

Black Lives Matter at Unitarian Church in Westport

Shanonda Nelson, worship associate

Shanonda Nelson, worship associate

I told you about the church service last week with Dr. Amanda Kemp. I included a photo of Shanonda Nelson who was the worship associate. But I forgot to include Shanonda’s important comment about the Black Lives Matter banner.

Before the service started she and I were talking about the Black Lives Matter banner and how it had been vandalized. She said, “When I first drove by the church and saw that banner, I knew that I would be welcome here. It was a real beacon for me.” I loved hearing her say that.

I think the banner has been replaced, but I was late this morning and forgot to look as I drove in for a memorial service.

Celebration of the Life of the Tea Importer

Today’s memorial service was a celebration of the life of Joseph Wertheim, a very early member of The Unitarian Church in Westport. Joe came to the U.S. from Germany in 1938, I learned today. He spoke no English and had not finished high school. He worked as a delivery boy for a deli.

Soon he found employment in a company involved in tea, and discovered his passion. He set up the company Tea Importers Inc. After years in the industry, he was invited by the government of Rwanda to establish a tea plantation.

The ACE award ceremony with Hillary Clinton and family members. Marion on left, daughter Susan in center.

The ACE award ceremony with Hillary Clinton and family members. Marion on left, daughter Susan in center. Photo from The Redding Pilot.

By 1978 Sorwathe was producing tea, and has been in operation ever since, except for the period of the genocide. You can read about his company and the plantation here.

He believed in sustainable use of the land, support for his workers, and providing healthcare and education for the people of the area. I heard about awards he received during this morning’s service, and on the website I found this: “In 2012, the U.S. State Department presented its annual ACE Award to Tea Importers, Inc. and SORWATHE in recognition of their commitment to social responsibility, innovation and human values.”

The service was lovely. It included amazing music from our own Rev. Dr. Ed Thompson and the violinist Margaret Cooper. Rev. John led the service, two of Joe and Marion’s children gave eulogies, and several others spoke lovingly about him.

Congressional Delegation to Nigeria

John Campbell, in a recent blog post that I saw from Ghanaian media, noted that the current administration ignores Africa.

He said however, “the relationship between the United States and Africa is more than the Trump administration. A sign of that reality is the very large Congressional delegation (CODEL) that is visiting Nigeria, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, and The Gambia just before Labor Day.”

U.S. Congressional Team Begins W/A Tour in Nigeria

The delegation is led by Sen. Christopher Coons (D-DE) and includes Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI), Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE), Rep. Terry Sewell (D-AL), Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA), Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), and Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL).”

I included all the names in case one of your senators or reps is in the group and you want to contact them!

Campbell said, “The agenda is long on substance. For example, in Nigeria, ‘the giant of Africa,’ the CODEL will be looking at the fight against Boko Haram, the terrorist group in the northeast, and the humanitarian disaster in the same region.”

He said, “The CODEL is meeting with the most senior Nigerian leadership, including the vice president, the senate president and the speaker of the House.”

I’ve been hoping for a note about the delegation in the Nigerian press but so far haven’t seen anything. If you do, let me know!

August 29, 2017
by Catherine Onyemelukwe
3 Comments

UN Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination Warns U.S.

UN Issues Warning

UN Emblem

United Nations Emblem

A UN committee charged with tackling racism has issued an “early warning” over conditions in the US and urged the Trump administration to “unequivocally and unconditionally” reject discrimination.

“Such statements are usually issued by the United Nations committee on the elimination of racial discrimination (Cerd) over fears of ethnic or religious conflict,” the article says. We’re in good company: “In the past decade, the only other countries issued with early warnings have been Burundi, Iraq, Ivory Coast, Kyrgyzstan and Nigeria!”

Do you know why Nigeria was issued a warning? I’d love to know.

The chair, Anastasia Crickley, said the committee was responding to the Charlottesville events. They were disturbed by the chants, slogans, and salutes, she said, that are, “promoting white supremacy and inciting racial discrimination and hatred.”

Are you familiar with this UN committee, CERD? I was not. Its role is to monitor the implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, or ICERD. I did a brief reading of the history of how that convention came to be. It’s fascinating!

The UN General Assembly passed a resolution at the end of 1960, “following incidents of antisemitism in several parts of the world.” The resolution condemned “all manifestations and practices of racial, religious and national hatred” as violations of the United Nations Charter and Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The U.S. is a signatory to the final declaration and the convention which calls on all governments to “take all necessary measures to prevent all manifestations of racial, religious and national hatred.”

I will watch for other actions of the CERD, now that I know it exists!

Should Black People Avoid Whites?

I loved this thoughtful article from The New York Times last week.

The author of the article, CHLOÉ VALDARY, says, “I was taught that if someone white makes assumptions about me or my people, the proper response is not to go around making assumptions about them. That creates a downward spiral into hatred fueled by ignorance.”

She describes how her parents taught her this. They had taken her and her sisters to a “memorial to the thousands of black men and women who were lynched in the Jim Crow South.” She recalls at age 10 being angry and sobbing at what she’d seen. Her parents told her this was, “a part of our past that we should always remember, but that one of its many lessons was to make sure to treat others equally — even if they did not respond in turn. People often hurt because they have hurt in them.”

She quotes James Baldwin, who said, “Something awful must have happened to a human being to be able to put a cattle prod against a woman’s breasts, for example. What happens to the woman is ghastly. What happens to the man who does it is in some ways much, much worse.”

She says, “Do black Americans have the courage and conviction to look the hateful monsters in the eye and offer a love so radical that it reminds them their hatred does not define them?”

Race-Related at The New York Times

Sheryl Stolberg, one of the writers of Race-Related

Sheryl Stolberg, one of the writers of Race-Related

The New York Times held a conference call today. The topic was Race-Related. Two who contribute to the Race-Related writing, John Eligon and Sheryl Stolberg, were on the call.

Sheryl (I think) was asked if she was surprised by what happened at Charlottesville. She said no. There is always push-back after forward movement. It happened after reconstruction, civil rights gains, and Obama’s election.

John Eligon, another writer on Race-Related

John Eligon, another writer on Race-Related

I follow their writing and have quoted it here more than once. You can also follow their work.

Black Lives Matter Banner Vandalized

Our Unitarian Church in Westport installed our Black Lives Matter banner in October. Last week it was torn down and taken away. Rev. John Morehouse, the Senior Minister, said, “We presume that those who took our sign feel that by removing it they repudiate its message that black lives matter just as much as any other life.”

Another sign has been ordered to replace the one ripped away. Rev. Morehouse is making a $100 contribution to NAACP as he said he would if the banner were vandalized.

The last bit of the banner remained

The last bit of the banner remained

Dr. Amanda Kemp Speaks Out 

At Sunday’s service our speaker was Dr. Amanda Kemp who spoke on the “Heart of Racial Justice.” Rev. John said, “It’s an unfortunately timely topic.”

Dr. Kemp spoke about healing transformation. She said she is a Quaker, and her whole aura reflected that sense of quiet, peace, and focus. She had her book, Say the Wrong Thing: Stories and Strategies for Racial Justice and Authentic Community, for sale after the service. I want to read it.

Shanonda Nelson, worship associate

Shanonda Nelson, worship associate

Shanonda Nelson was the worship associate. I loved her calm presence as she stood before the congregation. There were more people than usual for a summer service. Did they come because they knew about the destruction of the banner?

Two Speaking Engagements in Next Few Weeks

I will speak to the Greenwich Retired Men’s Association in Greenwich CT on Wednesday, August 30, at 11 am. I’ll talk about Nigeria Past and Present. The event is open to the pubic and free. Come if you are nearby!

Next month the New Canaan Library, in New Canaan CT is hosting me. My talk is “My Nigeria: An Insider’s Look.” Again, it’s nearby if you are in southern Connecticut. I’d love to see you. The library asks people to register.

August 21, 2017
by Catherine Onyemelukwe
3 Comments

Nigerian Peacebuilder

Nigerian Peacebuilder

Hajiya Amina Ahmed photo by Adi Eguche UN Women

Hajiya Amina Ahmed photo by Adi Eguche UN Women

“Hajiya Amina Ahmed is a peacebuilder from Nigeria who works across religious and ethnic lines to empower women and build peaceful communities.”

Isn’t that a wonderful description? And she actually does this work in Nigeria! UNWomen has her inspiring story.

Ahmed is Executive Director of the Women Initiative for Sustainable Community Development in Plateau State. She says she has been working for peace since 2001 when there was ethno-religious conflict in Jos, capital of Plateau State.

She says, “My work involves countering violence against women and girls and promoting their involvement in development processes. This is something I am passionate about. I want us to move away from treating women as second-class citizens. I want to reach a point where the prejudices against women are reduced to the barest minimum, if not completely wiped off.”

UN Women trained her along with 120 other women as Women Peace Mentors. The program was funded by the European Union. As part of her work she is encouraging traditional leaders to include women in their councils.

According to the article, she is finding success. Her work contributes to two of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Do you know which ones?

Buhari’s Return to Nigeria

Buhari has returned to Nigeria. He addressed the nation this morning at 7 am. An article and a summary of his comments is in today’s New York Times.

He spoke about the ethnic tensions that have surfaced during his absence. He said the unity of the country is non-negotiable. He did not address the economy which is in recession, or the millions affected by Boko Haram and now unable to return home.

“He seemed more focused on calming political disputes that had festered while he was away,” the writers said.

My husband Clem at Westport Astronomical Society

My husband Clem at Westport Astronomical Society

“Mr. Buhari’s long absences for an illness that officials have refused to identify have created tensions in Nigeria, setting off protests not only from separatists in the south but also from poor residents of oil communities who want a better life and from ordinary citizens who wanted Mr. Buhari to either come home or resign.”

He faces many challenges. I wish him well.

Solar Eclipse

Did you view the eclipse today? I did! Clem and I joined hundreds of others at the Westport Astronomical Society.

We arrived shortly after the 1 pm announced opening to be told they had run out of the special glasses! But we found my friend Judy Hamer who was with other friends. Judy had come earlier and had the glasses which she shared freely.

My friend Judy who had the valuable glasses

My friend Judy who had the valuable glasses

It was amazing to watch as the first bit of the sun was eclipsed by the moon, then a larger bite. Finally about 70% of the suns’s surface was blocked. But did the sky darken at all? I imagined it did a little. But as we discussed, one of the women said, “When we have a cloudy day, we still have plenty of daylight.”

There were four telescopes set up with filters and long lines at each. I finally saw through one and could see the eclipse effect. But watching through the glasses was the best.

What is the What

Dave Eggers’ What is the What was our book for discussion tonight at my Mount Holyoke Alumnae Book Club. The novel came out in 2006. I loved listening to it and reading it – mostly listening.

“It is based on the real life of Valentino Achak Deng, a Sudanese child refugee who immigrated to the United States under the Lost Boys of Sudan program. It was a finalist for the National Book Award,” Wikipedia tells me. The novel uses his name.

It is a harrowing tale of a young boy’s trials, escapes, and life in refugee camps. Even after he comes to the U.S. in a refugee resettlement program, he finds further hardships. I was captivated by his determination against great odds.

Wikipedia’s entry says, “The book is typical of Eggers’ style: blending non-fictional and fictional elements into a non-fiction novel or memoir.” 

The entry says that Eggers and Deng held long conversations about the story. For months, Eggers did not know whether he was helping Deng tell his own story, or writing the story.

In the end, Eggers wrote the book. “By classifying the book a novel, Eggers says, he freed himself to re-create conversations, streamline complex relationships, add relevant detail and manipulate time and space in helpful ways—all while maintaining the essential truthfulness of the storytelling.[2]”

I think he succeeded brilliantly. And the narrator, Dion Graham, was excellent. He is an actor who has narrated many books. How did he manage to simulate the Sudanese accent so well? I wonder if a Dinka (Deng’s tribe) person would agree that it was well-done.

When I heard him speaking in this YouTube video, I could hardly believe it was the same person!

At our discussion tonight, one of the women asked what Valentino Achak Deng is doing now. I had seen that there was a foundation and he had built a school in his town.

We didn’t know what else. So I just looked. In 2015 BBC reported that he had become education minister in one province of South Sudan. The country became independent in 2011. I can find no later news. If you know more, please let me know.

August 17, 2017
by Catherine Onyemelukwe
Comments Off on Face of Technology in Nigeria

Face of Technology in Nigeria

Women in Nigeria “Breaking the Code”

I loved reading this article about women in Nigeria who are changing the face of tech in the country!

The tech sector is growing. There are not enough trained men available.

Westport beach scene yesterday

Westport beach scene yesterday

The article says, “Within this growth, women are emerging as influential forces, and changing the face of technology in Africa, especially in the fields of agricultural and financial tech. This is despite the fact that, as recently as a decade ago, women were grossly underrepresented in and excluded from the industries they are now helping to shape.”

Lagos and its environs is a hotbed for women in the tech field, but women are in other locations as well.

Women have been working for years, but now entering industries once thought the field for men only. Several have formed organizations to support others.

The writer says, “Nnenna Nwakanma [is] a Nigerian activist for accessible internet. ‘There were situations where people would refuse to recognise my authority, but would patronise or objectify me, or refuse to fulfil contracts they had willingly entered into – all because of my gender.’ Despite this, Nwakanma co-founded the Free Software and Open Source Foundation for Africa (FOSSFA) and is now a senior policy manager for the World Wide Web Foundation, where she supports digital equality and promotes the rights of Nigerian women online.”

Can you hear me cheering?

“. . . computing and engineering are still industries dominated heavily by men. But many women who work in the tech industry are keen to offer support to those coming up,” the writer says.

Venture Capital and Start-ups in Nigeria

Flowers outside Sunset Grille in Norwalk yesterday

Flowers outside Sunset Grille in Norwalk yesterday

The whole area of entrepreneurial activity is also getting encouragement.

story in the blog “Africa in Transition,” reports on an effort to encourage start-ups. An announcement from The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, has announced a government initiative to inspire entrepreneurship and innovation among talented young Nigerians.

Entertainment, including Nollywood, and telecommunications are extremely active fields today. Film and telecoms are contributing heavily to the country’s GDP, and are expected to increase their influence in the economy.

The government’s investment is small – $1 million – but there are other sources of capital, the writer says. Especially important today as the oil price remains low, and the economy needs other drivers.

“The African Business Angel Network has emerged as a way to get more people excited about future investments in the continent as it continues to diversify away from extractive industries and agriculture.”

That’s a good thing! Now with more women having tech skills, they can also become entrepreneurs and really help the economy grow.

President Buhari’s Absence

Nigeria’s President Buhari has been out of the country for more than 100 days this year. And we are only in August.

Voice of American online reported on a movement in the country to protest his absence. I’ve seen it mentioned for a week or more. “Resume or Resign,” some are saying.

Charly Boy at Legacies of Biafra Conference

Charly Boy at Legacies of Biafra Conference

Charly Boy, whom I met in London in April, led a march in Abuja in the last few days. When violence threatened, he called it off, saying they will return.

“We are not deterred by the intimidation and harassment by the sponsored thugs and we cannot be cowed by a few . . .people,” he said.

Buhari has never said what medical condition is causing him to stay in London for treatment.

According to the VOA article, “Nigeria’s constitution requires a two-third’s vote of the president’s Cabinet, as well as confirmation by a medical panel that the president is ‘incapable of discharging the functions of his office,’ before he can be removed.” There is no stipulation on how long the president can be absent from the country.

But isn’t it time for him to return or say he is too ill to continue?

Baker’s Dozen Book Club Lunch

Our book group of nine, no longer one dozen

Our book group of nine, no longer one dozen

I’ve written about my book groups several times. Yesterday the group called Baker’s Dozen held its annual gathering.

This time it was a lunch instead of the usual dinner to enable better attention. One of our beloved members is not in great health and we knew afternoon would be easier for her than an evening event. And she made it!

We also had three guests. One was my sister Beth who is visiting from Cincinnati. Another was Judy’s granddaughter Earlise, who is entering seventh grade this fall in Boston. The third was Elizabeth’s daughter-in-law Juliet who lives in California.

Most of us with our guests

Most of us with our three guests

Rochelle had arranged the place – Sunset Grille, at Norwalk Connecticut’s Calf Pasture Beach area.

To reach the restaurant we had to drive through a boatyard. The huge motor and sailboats were amazing to see. My sister spotted lobster pots as we drove in.

And the food and conversation were wonderful. We talked books for a few minutes, but mostly talked about our lives, learned about our guests, and shared summer experiences.

 

August 13, 2017
by Catherine Onyemelukwe
2 Comments

Fela and His Music

Fela, His Music, and His Activism

Do you remember the Nigerian musician Fela Anikulapo-Kuti?

His life was featured in the award-winning musical on Broadway simply called “Fela.” The musical ran from 2009 to 2011. Clem and I saw it with our friends Ruth and Jack. It had a world tour in 2012 and a Broadway revival a year later, Wikipedia tells me. This video is less than a minute. I like the opening seconds the best.

“A spectacularly inspiring and triumphant tale of courage, passion and love, FELA! is based on the life of Fela Kuti, who created Afrobeat—a blend of jazz, funk and African rhythm and harmonies—and mixed these sensual eclectic rhythms with simple but powerful lyrics that openly assailed Nigeria’s corrupt and oppressive dictatorships,” the website says.

I knew about Fela for many years in Nigeria. He was an amazing musician. He was also an activist and a constant thorn in the side of the Nigerian military regimes.

Fela died twenty years ago. For several years there has been an event celebrating his life called Felabration.

Our son Sam with his company TraceNaija is part of the planning and preparation of this year’s festival.

The planners are crowd-funding for support for the festival itself, to bring in musicians from all over Africa. In addition the funding is also to “develop and establish the existing archival collection of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, making public a history of Pan African activism by the Nigerian musical icon.”

“We invite you to participate in our campaign to ensure the legacy of Afrobeat burns brighter than ever,” they say. Here’s the link to the site, Felabration 2017.

I will make a contribution.

Charlottesville’s Disturbing Events

The events in Charlottesville on the weekend were disturbing. I was wondering what to say. Then I read Dan Woog’s blog post. In his blog 06880 he talks about the events through a Westport connection.

I will leave you to read his thoughtful post.

My sister Beth is visiting, and I need to stop writing, set up the Scrabble board, and to defeat her!

August 9, 2017
by Catherine Onyemelukwe
2 Comments

Peace Corps Connect and Island Nations

Peace Corps Connections  

Clem and I were in Denver Colorado for “Peace Corps Connect,” the annual 2-day gathering of returned Peace Corps volunteers and friends.

Friends of Nigeria logo on our website

Friends of Nigeria logo 

The day before, Friday, Friends of Nigeria held its own meeting.

Friends of Nigeria

I was one of the founders of Friends of Nigeria, the association for former Peace Corps volunteers in the country. Peter Hansen, my co-founder, and I agreed on the year 1996, when we decided to organize. But we didn’t agree on the location of that conference!

He has remained on the board and been key to keeping it strong for 21 years! Now he is newsletter editor!

Star beer is very popular in Nigeria and with Friends of Nigeria

Star beer is very popular in Nigeria and with Friends of Nigeria

No one else from my Nigeria IV training group was present. But I’ve seen many of the attendees over the years at conferences. We heard speakers, shared lots of stories, and made new friends.

On Friday evening we had our usual Nigerian dinner, including Star beer, an essential accompaniment to the meal.

Peace Corps Connect – the Conference

Two island nations captured my imagination on the Saturday and Sunday of Peace Corps Connect.

Kiribati and Tonga are numbers 192 and 193 in the CIA’s “World Factbook” list by population, Kiribati with 106,925 and Tonga with 106,513 (2016 estimates). Both have deep Peace Corps connections.

They are 2000 miles apart, with Tonga south and Kiribati north of American Samoa in the Pacific.

Harris Wofford Award Winner from Tonga

The National Peace Corps Association presents awards at the annual conference.

“The Harris Wofford Global Citizen Award honors an outstanding global leader who grew up in a country where Peace Corps Volunteers served, whose life was influenced by the Peace Corps, and whose career contributed significantly to their nation and the world . . .” the NPCA says.

“It is the highest honor bestowed upon a global leader by the NPCA.”

This year it was given to Siotame Drew Havea of Tonga. The Tonga Ambassador Mahe Tupouniua presented the award to him. They are both in the picture.

Here’s what the NPCA said about this year’s winner:

Harris Wofford Global Citizen award winner Havea of Tonga

Harris Wofford Global Citizen award winner Havea of Tonga

“For Havea, the Peace Corps connection is a lifelong one. His father, a ministry of education officer, was instrumental in Peace Corps coming to Tonga in 1967, when Havea started junior high school. At that time there were five Peace Corps volunteers teaching at his school.

“After attending college and graduate school in the United States, the opportunity arose for Havea to become Peace Corps staff in Tonga. He was an Associate Peace Corps Director (APCD) for twenty years, from 1985-2005.

“His whole approach on life and development was vastly influenced by his experience with the Peace Corps. He gained an appreciation of community-based development after seeing how countless volunteers immersed themselves in their communities. He also credits Peace Corps Volunteers with instilling in him a sense of idealism as well as showing him the importance of equality, gender sensitivity, and volunteerism.”

Havea wore an open-necked shirt and sports jacket over a traditional black lavalava, like a skirt, and the traditional short raffia wrapper around his waist.

In his acceptance speech Havea said, “There is no direct translation for Peace Corps in our language. We say “Workers of Love.’ ”

He related an early experience in the U.S. when he freely took drinks from another student’s supply. “Three months later I learned that I should have asked,” he said. “But I came from a culture where all material things are shared.”

I was deeply moved by the presentation. Tonga is small, and for the world economy, insignificant. But for Havea and his people it is as significant as any other place on earth. They love their island home, their customs, and the sense of community. Peace Corps volunteers who served there love it too.

I remember the same feeling last year about the award winner who was from Mali. His speech, like this year’s, conveyed appreciation for what Peace Corps had given him. It made me glad to be part of this organization. Both speakers also showed the value of a community-oriented society.

The culture of sharing and the traditions, focused on community and not the individual, have similarities to Igbo customs, the subject of my second book.

Kiribati – A Nation in Danger

Children from Tarawa, one of Kiribati's islands

Children from Tarawa, one of Kiribati’s islands

I had heard the name Kiribati and knew it was threatened, but nothing else.

On Sunday morning of Peace Corps Connect, I went to “Peace Corps Storytelling: A Spoken Word Workshop.” I sat next to Michael Roman, a Peace Corps volunteer in Kiribati. I learned the pronunciation – Kir-ee-bahs – from him.

I learned a few details from the World Atlas online: “The widely scattered nation of Kiribati . . . in the Pacific Ocean along the edges of the Equator, includes the Gilbert, Phoenix and Line island groups. Most are uninhabited.

“These low-lying coral atolls, (33 in all) are the protruding tips of undersea volcanoes, and extend only a few feet above sea level.”

From Michael I learned that Kiribati faces devastation within a few years. What will happen to the people? He had no answer.

He and others have formed an organization with a Facebook page, HumansofKiribati. They are on Instagram, HumansofKiribati.

Mark reminded us of the fun we had at the conference in New Orleans

Mark reminded us of the fun we had at the conference in New Orleans years ago.

Remembering a Past Conference

We ran into Mark at the exhibition.

“Do you remember New Orleans?” he said.

“Clem and I walked ahead and made you walk behind, as women should! We were practicing traditional customs!”