Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, Blogger, Speaker

February 21, 2018
by Catherine Onyemelukwe

Synchronicity and Relationships

Denny Davidoff’s Memorial Service

I had promised to share Denny Davidoff’s Memorial Service for those of you who knew her or want to see what an amazing woman she was. Her son John let me know that the Memorial Service is now on YouTube.

Can you find me in the choir?

I miss Denny. Tonight we had a meeting of our church’s Year Round Stewardship Committee. She was a key part of our work. So that meeting this evening where I mentioned Denny is my first event of today’s synchronicity.

Relationships and Community – More Synchronicity

The second event of the synchronicity is the training I did last Saturday. I trained our Unitarian Church’s “Visiting Stewards.” These are the people who agree to call on fellow congregants to ask them to make a pledge.

Our logo for this year's annual budget drive

Our logo for this year’s annual budget drive

We build our budget in large part – about 65% in the current year – around what we expect to receive in the pledges during the next fiscal year. I am treasurer of the church. I am eager to see a successful annual budget drive.

Our Senior Minister Rev. Dr. John Morehouse and I did the training together, as we had done last year. We’re a good team.

I started with an “ice-breaker,” asking everyone to share their most fun experience of the preceding week which included Valentine’s Day. Then Rev. John led us in a brief worship. He then introduced basics of “donor-centric” fundraising. The emphasis, he stressed, should be on listening to the person or people you’re calling on.

Rev. John at a meeting

Rev. John at a meeting

You as the Visiting Steward, he told us, can certainly share your own thoughts, but primarily you want to encourage the other people to talk. You can ask leading questions like, “How did you find the church? What keeps you coming? Do you come for more than the worship service?”

He recommended using phrases like, “Tell me more,” or “That’s so interesting, can you explain?” Basically what we’re doing is building relationships! As Rev. John said, “People give to people.”

I talked about our budget, describing the main categories of income and expense. There were some interesting questions. One I didn’t know the answer to, but will try to find out tomorrow, is, “What is the per child cost of Religious Education, or what I’ve always thought of as Sunday School?”

Rev. John responded to the questioner by saying that he regards Religious Education as a service we provide for congregants’ participation, not something we expect people to pay for. “We don’t charge people for participating in our Social Justice programs, or in the choir,” he said.

We closed the training by having the Visiting Stewards ask each other for their pledges! Our annual budget drive will take place during the month of March.

Living in Community: Lessons from Africa

The third synchronous event is the talk I will give in Austin, Texas on Saturday. It’s for the Southwest Unitarian Universalist Women’s Conference.

The title is “Living in Community: Lessons from Africa.” I’m using some of the material I prepared for my class at Fairfield’s Bigelow Center for Senior Activities. The class lasted four weeks, almost two hours each time.

The talk in Austin is only one hour and 20 minutes. And I want time for questions.

I'll talk about grandson Ikem's name and its meaning.

I’ll talk about grandson Ikem’s name and its meaning.

The first lesson is how language and names can build relationships. I’ll explain “Onyemelukwe,” what it means and how to say it. Other names, those of our children and grandchildren, will also be included in the explanation.

I’ll describe some of the familiar ways people speak to each other. When I just learning Igbo and learning customs, men and women in the village sometimes called me nwunyem, meaning “my wife.” I was surprised.

Soon I learned that it’s the way to be inclusive, to show you are part of the clan or even part of the village. We use similar expressions for children, saying “my child,” or “our child,” to a child who may not be directly related.

I’ll share some of the other lessons from Africa with you later.

Do you think that missing Denny Davidoff, teaching visiting stewards about relationship-building, and preparing a speech on “Lessons from Africa” about building community, are examples of synchronicity? I do.

The Google dictionary says synchronicity is, “the simultaneous occurrence of events that appear significantly related but have no discernible causal connection.”

All the relationships – that’s what I meant!

Ifeoma Obianwu Fafunwa, my friend's daughter, married to another friend's son!

Ifeoma Obianwu Fafunwa, my friend’s daughter, married to another friend’s son!

Meeting a Friend

In Austin I’ll also see my friend Carol, also married to an Igbo man, whom I knew well in Nigeria.

Carol has lived in Texas for many years. She has six children, overlapping ours in age. I’ve mentioned her daughter Ifeoma who is the co-writer and director of “Hear Word.”

l’m looking forward to catching up on our lives and our children’s lives.

February 17, 2018
by Catherine Onyemelukwe

Angel Adelaja, Hyrdoponic Farmer

Angel Adelaja, Hydroponic Farmer

Adelaja at the World Economic Forum, South Africa

Adelaja at the World Economic Forum, South Africa

BBC News has a great story about a Nigerian entrepreneur who is doing hydroponic farming in Nigeria. Angel Adelaja is using shipping containers to grow salad greens. The story is part of BBC World Hacks.

The link takes you to a 2 minute video about her company.

Using nutrient-rich water and LED lights, Angel Adelaja and her staff grow highly prized greens. She says, “We’re the first in containerised farming in Africa.”

In 2015 she won the Nigeria edition of the Chivas – The Venture competition. She was awarded one million Naira.

“Chivas – The Venture is all about promoting social entrepreneurship to help solve the world’s problems,” I read in Bella Naija.

Her “farm” is in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital. She employs mostly young women. They can farm year-round, rainy or dry season, because the plants are grown inside shipping containers.

They face the usual difficulties of power outages, occasional fuel scarcity, and lack of water supply. But they are overcoming these challenges.

Her operation is called Fresh Direct. “Our goal,” she said, “is to show that on small pieces of land we can still sustainable urban farming.”

Black, with One White Parent

I read about people whose parents are a mixed-race couple, just like my kids! Only my children did not grow up in the U.S.

So they are different from the people described in the The New York Times Sunday Review article.

The writer, Anna Holmes, said she started making a list of children of one white, one black parent, she knew who were born between 1960 and 1980’s.

President Obama in the famous photo in the Oval Office

President Obama in the famous photo in the Oval Office

Her list included many well-known people, including of course President Obama.

Halle Barry, Derek Jeter, and Mariah Carey are others. She began to wonder if having one white parent had contributed to the success of the people she named.

Did their direct connection to whiteness through immediate and extended family give them a sense of familiarity and accessibility to the norms and power structures of the white world?

What about the popular assumption that a person of color has to work twice as hard to reach the same level as a white person? Was this calculation affected? Did having one white parent make it less true?

They were called by some the “Loving Generation,” children of one white, one black parent, who grew up after the 1967 Supreme Court Loving decision that ended laws against inter-racial marriage.

Others’ Perceptions Similar, She Found

She checked out her opinion with others. In what some now call the “off-white adjacency,” there seems to be easier movement in the white mainstream world.

One mixed-race woman in a leadership position sees other biracial people become equally successful. She believes their sense of comfort in the white world makes them more acceptable to white colleagues. She notes that she loves her white mother, and doubts whether many colleagues whose parents are both black can say they unequivocally love a white person.

Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote in an Atlantic Monthly article that Obama’s direct connection to and deep familiarity with his mother’s and grandparents’ white world gave him a sense of possibility not available to many black children growing up at the same time in America.

All the family together, December 26 2013

The whole family in Westport December 26, 2013

And my children? I think they would say that growing up in a black country like Nigeria gives all children an entirely different world-view from growing up in the U.S.

Being part of the dominant culture is powerful. And being part-white? I don’t think it was ever a disadvantage for them. Was it an advantage?

I’m asking, dear children! I’d love to hear your answers.

Nigerian Bobsled Team

Well, I just read that the Nigerian Bobsled Team came in 19th of 19 in their first trial runs! But their participation is not really about winning. It’s about their aim to break barriers, they say.

The Nigerian Bobsled team in Nigeria before going to South Korea

The Nigerian Bobsled team in Nigeria before going to South Korea

They want Nigerian girls to see that they can be sports heroes, as men can. Nigeria media does not pay equal attention to women’s sports, not by a long shot! So the bob-sledders hope to have an impact on the amount of press women’s sports can get.

They want to inspire the next generation of women, they say.

Seun Adigun, their leader, says she was not looking forward to a lot of publicity. She’s an introvert. But now she’s accustomed to it and believes it will, “help the sport, something that will help women, the country, the continent.”

The official competition begins on Tuesday. It would be great if they’re not last! I’m not hoping for a medal, but at least a reasonable showing. Still, I agree with them that showing up is the main point!

February 13, 2018
by Catherine Onyemelukwe

Happy Birthday in Igbo

Happy Birthday in Igbo to Uzo Aduba

Kerri Washington Wishes Uzo Aduba a Happy Birthday in Fluent Igbo

I loved reading about the Happy birthday in Igbo wish and the language the two women used. (I’m not sure a Twitter message is proof of “fluency,” as the headline boasts, but who am I to say?)

Birthday wishes were not a traditional part of the Igbo language. Births were celebrated, but following birthdays were not, at least not until the British colonizers introduced birth certificates. They also brought the idea of noting the anniversaries of births. So happy birthday in Igbo is not a common phrase.

I am a fan of Orange is the New Black though I haven’t watched the newer episodes. Uzo Aduba won an Emmy for her role as the crazy woman in the Netflix drama. Are you watching or have you watched the show?

I wrote about Aduba a few months ago. Here’s the video where she tells about learning to love her name, Uzoamaka.

Do you like your own name? Do you know its meaning?

Steel Drum Concert, No Jamaicans!

On Sunday afternoon Clem and I went to a concert, “Caribbean Sounds of Steel Drum Bands,” presented by the Westport Library.

We expected Jamaicans playing steel drums. But an all-white band came out on the stage. “There are white Jamaicans,” I said to Clem, unable to believe non-Jamaicans were going to entertain us.

But there were no Jamaicans! Then I read the program. “The award-winning Silver Steel Band is a Steel Drum Band based in Bridgeport, CT, directed by Jim Royle and Brian Ente.” Bridgeport?

The young people were so intense!

The young people were so intense!

There were fifteen drummers; and they performed six pieces, including Bob Marley’s “No Woman No Cry.” They were fantastic!

Studio A Team

A second band called The Jim Royle Drum Studio A Team, with eight musicians, played five pieces. They were young but just as fabulous.

We heard Caribbean and other music as well as an adaptation of “The Who.”

While it was not what we expected, it was an amazing and wonderfully entertaining concert. I loved hearing and watching the soloists. At the end, I spoke to one of the performers who showed me her instrument.

Clearly they'd rather be playing than being introduced!

Clearly they’d rather be playing than being introduced!

I had no idea. It’s like a keyboard with an octave or more of notes each in a different spot around the inside of the steel drum.

Clem reminded me to take pictures, but only when the second smaller group, mostly young people, were performing.

English as the Language in an African Country

The film, “Colours of the Alphabet,” follows three children in Zambia and their families. It asks whether English has to be the future language in an African country.

The film will be shown in London on Feb. 21, at SOAS, the School of Oriental and African Studies, where I’ve attended the Igbo Conferences. The academic producer and director of the film will be present for a post-screening discussion on the theme of mother-tongue education.

Event: Colours of the Alphabet, International Mother Language Day (SOAS, London, 21st Feb)

The special event is, “part of International Mother Language Day.”

Will you be in London on Feb. 21? If so, check out this film and let me know.

Nigerian Bobsled Team

I lit a candle for the Nigerian Women’s Bobsled team at church on Sunday. I just checked the event and found that first heats start on Saturday. Then there are events over the next week. So maybe I’ll get a chance to see them.

Palm Wine for My Guests

Last time I wrote about serving palm wine to my future husband. I said that I didn’t know if the palm wine made a difference in his decision to get serious about me.

He said it did!

“Not in a big or obvious way,” Clem said, “but it showed me you had a commitment to Nigeria. I put that together with what I learned as we started dating, and realized you were comfortable living in my country.”

February 10, 2018
by Catherine Onyemelukwe

Nigerian Bobsled Team, Fulani Earrings, and Palm Wine

Nigerian Bobsled Team Meets Ellen DeGeneres

What fun! Clearly these women are made for being in the public eye! Did you see them in the Opening Parade on Friday night?

Fulani Earrings in a Connected World

A Fulani woman. Can you see her earrings? Mine are like those in pictures.

A Fulani woman. Can you see her earrings? Mine are like those in pictures. (Fulani woman by W.E.A. van Beek – Dogon collection W.E.A. van Beek, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Last Saturday afternoon I was dressing for Denny Davidoff’s Memorial Service. I decided to wear my Fulani earrings, and wondered if anyone would recognize their origin. Denny’s circle of friends and colleagues was, after all, very wide!

A brief note about the Fulani people. They are an ethnic group spread across the Sahel region of Africa. In northern Nigeria, as in other countries today, there are three groups. The nomadic Fulani roam with their cattle to find good pastureland. Others are somewhat settled. They raise cattle but do not wander. The third became rulers in the 19th century, under Usman Dan Fodio, and have intermarried with the Hausa people. You can read more in Wikipedia’s entry.

I was on “usher duty” just inside the door of our Unitarian Church, welcoming people as they arrived for the service. A woman of around my age stopped in front of me. “I love your Fulani earrings,” she said.

“How did you know?” I said.

“I’m an anthropologist.” Of course! Sipra taught in the program called LEADD, or Leadership Education Advancing Democracy & Diversity. Denny was a leader of this innovative program for high school students. LEADD workshops ran for several years. Both Sipra and her husband were on the faculty.

Sipra Bose Johnson, anthropologist, from LEADD website

Sipra Bose Johnson, anthropologist, from LEADD website

From the LEADD website I found that Sipra taught anthropology at the New Paltz campus of the State University of New York for over 30 years. She had a special interest in India, “where she spent her childhood before immigrating to the United States with her parents.” She also lived and worked for four years in India, “where she lectured widely and had opportunities to do research.”

Sipra said she also had a pair of Fulani earrings but they did not stay on well. I encouraged her to get them to a jeweler!

Palm Wine Builds Relationships

The palm wine tapper who appeared regularly outside my flat in Ikoyi, Lagos, may have played a role in my marriage! How? Read on.

I told you about the palm wine tapper last time.

Today I’ll tell you how he played a role apart from providing a refreshing drink!

In late 1963 I was summoned to the headquarters of the Electricity Corporation of Nigeria. I had received a memo slipped under my door to say that I needed to report to the Chief Engineer. I did as instructed. On meeting the Chief Engineer, I was rather short-tempered, seeing the summons as bureaucracy run amok! After all, I did not overuse electricity.

A few days later, I answered a knock at my door to find a friend, mother of one of my students, accompanied by a man I didn’t recognize. He introduced himself as the Chief Engineer! The woman and her husband were friends, he said. He had stopped to see them, and she had asked him to bring her to my place.

I bought the whole story. Having fresh palm wine on hand, I served it to them. We had a lovely conversation, and he invited me to come with her to a party at his house the following weekend. If you’ve read my memoir, you know how this story ends. If not, you can guess – I ended up marrying him!

Did the palm wine play a part in convincing him to pursue me and the relationship seriously? I can’t say, but it’s possible!

I don’t know the people in the photo, but like their collection of palm wine containers.

Igbo Customs and Culture, Next Round

This past Tuesday was my final class at Fairfield Bigelow Center for Senior Activities. I loved teaching the class, and the participants seemed to enjoy it too.

The next class will be at Norwalk Community College, as part of the Lifetime Learners Program. The first session is March 12.

Before that I will present a workshop called “Living in Community: Lessons from Africa,” at the Southwest Unitarian Universalist Women’s Conference in Austin Texas. I think I’ll talk about five customs that help children know they belong to a community and have responsibilities toward family.

Being taught to share belongings, having older children care for younger siblings, and the requirement to show respect for elders, are three. What else would you include?

Are these different from what Western cultures teach? The emphasis on individualism which is a strong part of what I learned growing up is certainly different. “Think for yourself, make up your own mind,” these were what I was taught. Did I learn a duty or commitment to the larger family? I don’t think so!

What about you?

February 6, 2018
by Catherine Onyemelukwe

Denny Davidoff, an Influence on My Life

Denise Davidoff’s Memorial Service

Denny speaking at the UUA General Assembly 2017

Denny speaking at the UUA General Assembly 2017, from UU World Magazine.

The Memorial Service for Denise Davidoff was perfectly suited to an amazing woman.

Denny influenced thousands of people through her work at the Unitarian Universalist Association, Meadville Lombard Seminary, the Interfaith Alliance, the Workplace, and many more! She influenced me too. Her obituary is here.

The qualities that people spoke about most were her fierce dedication to social justice, her ability to mentor others, and her perseverance.

Speakers recounted numerous stories that revealed her wit, wisdom, and willingness to throw herself into a fight for what was right and just.

Bill Mitchell described Denny as a mentor and friend.

Bill Mitchell described Denny as a mentor and friend.

True to her character of being well prepared, Denny had planned much of the service months ago with her dear friend Olivia.

Bill Mitchell, of Mitchells clothing stores, was the first to present a eulogy. He knew her decades ago, he said, when she ran her own ad agency. His company hired her to assist with a successful campaign. Eventually she joined their advisory board. “She was my mentor,” he said.

Dr. Leon Spencer, a Black leader in the UUA fight for racial justice, spoke about Denny’s role. “She knew how to be an ally,” he said.

Dr. Leon Spencer called Denny a wise ally.

Dr. Leon Spencer called Denny a wise ally.

Abhimanyu Janamanchi, listed in the order of service as “a dear young friend of Denny’s,” recounted Denny’s encouragement that led him to leadership in UUA youth activities.

Denny’s Influence on Me

I first came to the Unitarian Church because of Denny. It was the summer of 1994. We had moved to Westport nearly a year earlier.

I saw a notice in the local paper that there was to be a talk, “The Liberal Response to the Religious Right.” Not even considering this would be a church service (the Sunday morning timing should have been a clue!) I went! Denny was the speaker.

I was thrilled to find that there was a church where I did not have to say things I did not believe. I became a member that year, joined the choir, and soon became involved in social justice work. That year I was asked to chair the Endowment Committee.

A few years later Denny recommended me to the board of the Unitarian Universalist Women’s Federation. I later joined the board of the Unitarian-Universalist United Nations Office. I have found a spiritual home at the church, where I am now treasurer! All because of her talk in 1994!

Maybe I would have found the church in some other way. But she was the entry point and inspiration.

Palm wine in a glass and in a calabash bowl

Palm wine in a glass and in a calabash bowl

The Palm Wine Tapper

My husband complained about the too-brief mention of the palm wine tapper in my most recent post. “You should have explained more about him,” he said. “You should have told how you first met a palm wine tapper and how you served palm wine to your guests in your Peace Corps flat!”

He has a good point. So here you are with the first part! Serving palm wine to a particular guest comes next time!

I first met a palm wine tapper outside my flat in Ikoyi, Lagos. One afternoon early in my stay I was looking out the window of my second floor apartment. I spotted him near the top of the tree. I ran down immediately to buy palm wine from him, having learned about the drink, but never tasted it, during Peace Corps training.

Palm wine tapper ascending the tree

Palm wine tapper ascending the tree

Palm wine tappers in those days in Lagos always rode battered black bicycles. His bicycle was leaning against the palm tree. It had several calabashes hanging on rubber ties around the bike. “I want to buy palm wine,” I said.

“You have to bring an empty bottle,” he conveyed in words and signs. I raced back upstairs and returned with an empty squash bottle. (Squash? I can see some of you saying. It’s a fruit-flavored drink popular in Nigeria then.)

He filled my bottle with palm wine fresh from the tree. I drank it over the next few days. When fresh, it is non-alcoholic, but once exposed to air, it ferments. The fermentation is slowed if you keep it in the fridge, which I did.

The bottle collects the sap which is the palm wine

The bottle collects the sap which is the palm wine

He had just one tree in our compound. But he had other trees. Occasionally I saw him elsewhere in Ikoyi.

To get the palm wine he has to ascend the tree and place his calabash or bottle to collect the sap. He hooks a heavy rope around the tree, fastens it behind his back, and uses it to balance and pull himself up.

To my surprise when I was looking for pictures for  you and my class at Fairfield Bigelow Center, I found an article from The New York Times in 1976, “Palm Wine Tappers Give Nigeria The Beverage That Cures All Ills.” I included a link last time; here it is again.

I read a little of the article to my class today. I’m including a couple of pictures I showed.

If any of you (former Peace Corps volunteers or others ) have photos of palm wine tappers that you would be willing to share, I’d be very grateful if you would send them to me. I’d like to include one or two in my forthcoming book, with full credit of course!

North East Development Commission

The Council on Foreign Relations had a guest blogger today. He wrote about an agreement to undertake major initiatives in northeastern Nigeria, where Boko Haram has caused the most destruction and disruption.

The writer presented the plans for assistance. He described several groups and how they need to work together. But he did not say if he is hopeful. I would have liked his opinion!

February 2, 2018
by Catherine Onyemelukwe

Carter G. Woodson In Google Doodle

Google Doodle With Carter G. Woodson

Do you look at the Google Doodles? I often do. I love to discover people or events that I did not know at all. Today was one! Carter G. Woodson, honored in today’s Google Doodle on the first day of Black History Month, is frequently called the Father of Black History.

Carter G. Woodson, from Wikipedia, "father of Black History"

Carter G. Woodson, from Wikipedia, “father of Black History”

“Carter Godwin Woodson was born in 1875 to former slaves and, as the second African-American to earn a doctorate from Harvard, become one of the first scholars of African-American history. Woodson died in 1950,” an article in Time online says.

He missed a lot of school as a child because he had to work to help out with family finances. He finally entered high school at age 20. Then he finished in two years. He taught, then continued his education. He graduated from Berea College in Kentucky, got a Master’s at the University of Chicago, and his doctorate of history from Harvard in 1912.

Sherice Torres is Director of Brand Marketing at Google. Woodson was committed to seeing African-American History taught in schools and studied by scholars, Torres explained in a post about the Google Doodle.

Like illustrator Shannon Wright who designed the Doodle, Torres is a member of the Black Googlers Network. She said that Woodson served as her inspiration when she wanted to attend Harvard and was discouraged by people around her.

Woodson founded “Negro History Week,” in 1926. He chose the 2nd week in February which included the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Many decades later President Gerald Ford recognized Black History Month during the celebration of the United States Bicentennial in 1976.

Colonialism in a Another Light

In the class I’m teaching at Fairfield Connecticut’s Bigelow Center for Senior Activities, I talk a little about British colonialism and how it affected Nigerian customs. It changed some, abolished others, but built on a few.

The section I’m editing in my second book is about the Cub Scouts. When my husband was in his final years of primary school he joined a Cub pack. It was one of his favorite childhood experiences.

This British import was easily adapted as it built on many African customs. “The concepts of obedience, earning rewards, sharing common interests, and belonging to a group with children of one’s own age grade, were familiar.” (The quote is from Paddock A. (2015) “A World of Good to Our Boys”: Boy Scouts in Southern Nigeria, 1934–1951. In: Aderinto S. (eds) Children and Childhood in Colonial Nigerian Histories. Palgrave Macmillan, New York)

The British colonial masters wiped out some Igbo practices. Killing twins and taking slaves were two Igbo traditions that the British halted. I doubt there is any dispute about the wisdom of ending these.

But in the end the British departed, leaving behind a few of their own customs, like the wigs worn by judges in Nigeria.

Dunbar-Ortiz authored An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States

Dunbar-Ortiz authored An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States

Beacon Broadside, a project of Beacon Press, wrote that Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz was awarded the 2017 Lannan Cultural Freedom Prize! “With this prize, the Lannan Foundation has honored her activism with global indigenous people’s movement for national sovereignty, international recognition, environmental rights, social movements for women’s equality, and the rights of oppressed nations in Central America,” the article said.

I Googled her and found an amazing list of books she has written.

Dunbar-Ortiz has been a scholar about another kind of colonialism. Her award-winning book, An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, was published by Beacon Press. In it and other writing, she helped develop and explain the theory of “settler-colonialism.”

The author and scholar Dunbar-Ortiz

The author and scholar Dunbar-Ortiz

In an interview, she was asked about “settler-colonialism” and why it is important today.

What is Settler-Colonialism?

She said, “It’s necessary to understand settler-colonialism to comprehend the US settler descendants’ resentment of immigrants, criminalization of Black men, and a renewed surge to privatize public lands.” She reminds us that, “inscribed in the original US constitution, only Europeans were allowed to enter, and only white men who owned property (land or enslaved Africans) could be citizens of the United States.”

“White nationalism is original settler nationalism,” she says. “But, the fact is that the content of US consensus nationalism that is woven into the fabric of the culture and institutions is based in celebrating the triumph of settler-colonialism.”

Not easy to understand or accept what she says, I find. But certainly worthy of more thought.

Like Carter Woodson in the Google Doodle, she was also new to me. Have you heard of her? Read her works?

A palm wine tapper in the Gambia.

A palm wine tapper in the Gambia.

The Palm Wine Tapper

Next week in my class I’ll talk about palm wine, kola nuts, and traditional and modern religious life among the Igbo people. I was searching Google for pictures of palm wine tappers, and found this charming article.

It’s from The New York Times in 1976! I will read parts of it to the class next Tuesday. And I did find some great pictures.

January 28, 2018
by Catherine Onyemelukwe

#MeToo at The Unitarian Church in Westport

#MeToo at the Unitarian Church in Westport

Sanctuary of The Unitarian Church in Westport, CT where we held a #MeToo service today.

Sanctuary of The Unitarian Church in Westport, CT where we held a #MeToo service today. The pic was in summer!

This morning’s service was prepared and presented by women who have formed a #MeToo Task Force at our church.

In December our minister, Rev. Dr. John Morehouse, preached on the issue of #MeToo. He began by speaking about Anita Hill.

You can read the text at the church website. I wanted to give you the video too, and usually I can embed a video link so it appears here, but it didn’t work this time. Here’s the link to the video of the sermon. There are several sermons; you have to choose Dec. 17.

Rev. Morehouse said, “As the father of five daughters, I have come to learn what respect looks like and even then, I act patriarchally and I have still much to learn. Humility will go a long way here.”

Later in the service that day, women who felt so inclined were invited to come forward, drop salt crystals into a bowl of water, and watch them dissolve. Many women did.

The national statistic on the percent of women who have suffered some form of sexual injustice or abuse may be as high as 40%. I would guess that close to that number came forward, proclaiming themselves part of #MeToo.

Today’s #MeToo Service

This morning’s service included testimonies from three women, several poems and readings, and completely appropriate music. I was part of the choir singing “The Size of Your Heart,” by Deirdre O’Donnelly, and  Carolyn McDade’s “Coming Home.”

We also heard one man and one woman speak on “Individual Intent.” Rev. John closed the service with these words, “We have done this work together.”

There will be more on the topic, for sure.

We were asked to fill out a questionnaire, asking what one thing we could do this week to advance the conversation on #MeToo.” I committed to writing about it here!

Do you have stories or impressions to share about #MeToo?

Edict of Torda

“The 450th anniversary of the Edict of Torda in 2018 marks a foundational moment for liberal religion.” This is the subtitle of Eric Cherry’s article about the Edict in the UU online magazine.

A popular nineteenth-century depiction of Transylvanian Unitarian Francis Dávid (1510–1579) at the Diet of Torda in 1568.

He included this wonderful picture. It is a “popular nineteenth-century depiction of Transylvanian Unitarian Francis Dávid (1510–1579) at the 1568 Diet of Torda, by Aladár Körösfői-Kriesch (1896).” It comes from the UUA (Unitarian Universalist archives, with permission.

Most American Unitarian-Universalists have not heard of the Edict of Torda. I knew of it because our Chamber Choir traveled to Transylvania many years ago. We were introduced to Francis David and the Edict on that trip. How the Edict came about, and the role of several important people, is told in Eric’s article.

Eric writes, “There is so much that the Edict of Torda points to that our tradition continues to rely upon: the grounding commitment that faith is not endowed with purpose by governments or empires, but by the Sacred, the Holy; that a free pulpit and a free pew are necessities for free religious communities; even the stirrings of our commitment to resist authoritarianism as a religious practice is signaled in the Edict.”

Injustice Anywhere and Everywhere

One of my book groups has decided to read Killers of the Flower Moon, The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, by David Grann.

Dan Woog, our faithful Westport blogger, wrote about the book and its author. He said the book, “explores tragic, mysterious murders in Oklahoma in the 1920s and ’30s, and the investigation that followed.”

Dan has to find a Westport connection to include a story. David Grann attended our town high school. Dan concludes, “Staples graduates do amazing things. Each one has quite a story.

“And some — like David Grann — spend their lives telling compelling stories to the rest of us.”

I look forward to reading the book. Have you read it?

The Nigerian Economy Looking Up?

Ambassador John Campbell wrote a hopeful piece about the Nigerian economy this week. Economic growth is projected at 3.5% in 2018.

There are caveats. He said, “If international oil prices hold at their present level or increase, and if production levels can be maintained, the economic growth projections are credible.”

I certainly hope the oil price stays at its current level or goes up. I don’t love higher gas prices when I’m filling my tank, but I rejoice when I see them!

January 24, 2018
by Catherine Onyemelukwe

Third EU Grant to Borno State

EU Grant to Borno State

Boko Haram: EU offers N60 billion grant to Borno govt

For the third time the EU is providing a grant to Borno State in northern Nigeria, the center of Boko Haram activity. “Tagged the ‘Borno Package’, EU officials said the grant is to support the state government in three main areas of Response, Recovery and Resilience in the next three years.”

Supplying food and services for internally displaced persons are a major component of the grant. “Basic services in the area of health, water, sanitation, sustainable energy and to enhance livelihoods and employment opportunities for communities affected by the Boko Haram insurgency,” are further goals.

Implementation of the EU Grant to Borno State

Several international relief agencies are part of the implementation plan. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), International Rescue Committee (IRC), Mercy Corps, Norwegian Refugee Council and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) are a few.

When I read this: “Of the €143 million grant, the EU head of cooperation said 20 million Euros would go to the World Bank as fund to service the technical needs of the project,” I wondered if the money was simply being re-allocated to other agencies. Would it really meet the needs of the people in Borno State who have suffered so deeply at the hands of Boko Haram?

But as I read further, I see that the plans seem solid. The article specifies which agencies will support farmers with agricultural inputs, which will rehabilitate schools. and which will help the people in camps. The need is great and I am hopeful. You can read the full article by clicking on the video.

My Sister’s Visit

My sister Beth came to Westport for a brief visit.

Beth at Westport's Compo Beach on Sunday

Beth at Westport’s Compo Beach on Sunday

She had suggested driving to the beach on Sunday when the weather was decent. We watched the sunset. We also saw a man with his young son operating a drone. It disappeared from view and we wondered if it was lost.

She got out of the car to ask the dad. “No, it’s over Cockenoe Island,” he said. “We can’t see it now, but we’ll bring it back in a few minutes.” And they did. When we’d finished our picture-taking, we saw the drone return!

When she’s here, we like to have a “sighting.” Many years ago, it was seeing Paul Newman at Stop and Shop, where he was checking the aisle where Newman’s Own products were shelved. Another year, it was seeing her photo in Norwalk Hour after the photographer had captured her looking out over the water.  We declared the drone a “sighting.”

Kenechi and Mary Come for Dinner

Last night my grandson Kenechi and his girlfriend Mary took the train from New York to have dinner with us and play a game of Scrabble. They missed their first train and finally arrived at 9:11 pm! Beth and I had already started on the Indian food we’d ordered from Coromandel. They were both really hungry and dug in.

As soon as they had cleared the table I pulled out the Scrabble game. We couldn’t finish, but Beth was so far ahead it didn’t matter! We drove them back to the train station for the 11:28 to New York.

She and I finished the game when we came home. We ended with 3-2 overall game score, with her in the lead!

The sunset at Compo Beach in Westport on Sunday

The sunset at Compo Beach in Westport on Sunday

I drove her back to the Westchester County Airport this afternoon. The same man who had pushed her wheelchair into the Arrivals Hall on Saturday came out as I pulled into a parking spot in front of the terminal. “Do you need help?” he said. “Do you need a wheelchair?”

“No, I can walk into the terminal,” she said. But I was relieved as he took her suitcase which I’d pulled from the back seat and led her in. We embraced and said goodbye. I watched them enter the terminal before I drove home.

Now we’ll go back to playing Scrabble online.

Teaching Math in Igbo

Cynthia Onwuchuruba Bryte-Chinule has discovered that teaching math skills in Igbo or pidgin English helps her students. She was inspired, she told an interviewer, “by her students in the Port Harcourt prison and some other 40 children she teaches for free every Thursday and Saturday.”

She decided to record videos and post them to YouTube. Many of her students, she said, don’t speak English. She has found that the videos in Igbo gain a wider audience. I love this video where she tells her audience how to multiply an even number by 5. I admit I did not know this trick! Did you?

Apart from her desire to help her students understand, she also devotes her attention to encouraging girls to learn the STEM subjects. Good for her!

Dr. Elizabeth Garner, photo from article in

Dr. Elizabeth Garner, from article in

My Daughter Beth on Women’s Health

Beth was quoted in an article about women’s healthcare needs. She says, “We believe we need women to start having much more of a voice and talking about health and pushing companies to come up with solutions.”

“When discussing the complexity of clinical trials and the inclusion of women, Dr. Garner raises an interesting point. When she and her colleagues talk about Agile’s products they don’t speak about women as patients.

“ ‘Contraception isn’t a disease state,’ she says. ‘Neither is menopause, which is a natural aging condition, or its associated quality of life issues,’ she says, adding that the industry needs to think differently about how to design clinical trials and ways to include women and do no harm.”

Do I need to say I am proud?

January 20, 2018
by Catherine Onyemelukwe

Why Do Chibok Girls Remain With Captors?

Chibok Girls Stay with Boko Haram

An article in Voice of America online reports on a newly released video from Boko Haram. The video shows 12 Chibok girls who appear, “to relish their new life and disavow their old.” A few are holding babies, the article says.

A few of the Chibok girls released several months ago, from CNN

A few of the Chibok girls released several months ago, from CNN Newsource online.

Psychologists weigh in with explanations.  “Connections formed by years of captivity and shame at marrying militants might explain why some Chibok girls have chosen not to return home from their Boko Haram ordeal, experts say.”

Chibok girls who have been released or escaped are in a special program at American University of Nigeria in Yola. Conversations with them confirm the treatment that caused classmates to agree to marry the militants.

Psychologist Somiari Demm works with the girls at AU. She said, “Stockholm Syndrome — where hostages or kidnap victims can develop a strong alliance with their captors — is a condition that has been identified by psychologists in a range of crises.”

It is estimated that 100 Chibok girls remain in captivity.

Open Doors for Special Learners

Last summer I asked the board of Friends of Nigeria, FON, to give a grant of $1000 to Open Doors for Special Learners. FON is an “association of Nigerian Peace Corps alumni and others who support the interests of the Nigerian people,” as the website says.

The boy Emma is learning to swing at Open Doors.

The boy Emma is learning to swing at Open Doors.

My friend Joanne Umolu founded and runs Open Doors in Jos, Plateau State, Nigeria. Open Doors also has a Facebook page where you can find photos and comments.

In the request, I quoted Joanne. “With the Nigerian economy in a sad state today, we have children at Open Doors who need sponsorship, either for payment of fees or for transport to and from Open Doors, or both. Right now we even have some children who are on scholarship but whose parents have stopped sending their children to school because they cannot afford to pay the bus or car that brings them to school.”

The grant was provided. Joanne was extremely grateful.

She and I wrote an article for the next FON Newsletter. “Open Doors provides quality educational and vocational training, speech and language therapy, and physiotherapy. The conditions treated include mental retardation, autism, ASD, cerebral palsy, dyslexia, Down syndrome, and others.” We added, “The curriculum is designed to develop the potential of each individual, with emphasis on acquisition of basic literacy and numeracy skills, ability to communicate, and development of daily living, pre-vocational, and vocational skills.”

Joanne related the stories of three people. Two are now on the staff. The third, Emmanuel, was abandoned as a young child when he did not develop properly. He was found and cared for by a pastor. He is making slow but steady progress at Open Doors.

Some of you will receive the FON Newsletter where you can read the full article. I’ll try to remember to post a link when the story comes out.

What Can We Learn From African Countries?

Nicholas Kristof, in The New York Times on January 17, lists twelve African countries that are ahead of the U.S. in health, education, human rights legislation, and other fields.

Rwanda is his third example. He says, “Rwanda may eliminate cervical cancer before America.” Why? Because Rwanda “vaccinates virtually all girls against the human papillomavirus, which causes cervical cancer.” Older women who were not vaccinated are screened. He compares this with the U.S., “where only 65% of American girls get vaccinated for HPV.” He adds, “a woman dies every two hours in the U.S. from cervical cancer.”

He says Nigeria ensures that 93% of households get iodized salt, number 7 in his list. The rate of households using iodized salt in the U.S. is much lower and iodine deficiency is increasing.

I encourage you to read the full article.

My Sister Visits

My sister Beth is arriving tonight for a brief visit. So I have to finish removing my stuff from the bedroom she will use upstairs. I still haven’t put away everything after returning from Nigeria.

Where to put the summer clothes I pulled out to pack for the tropics? What needs washing, what needs to go on hangers or in drawers? Or where to keep the remote control for the air conditioner in our bedroom in the village that I brought back by mistake? Got that one: I have a drawer for plugs that I use in Nigeria – that’s the place for the remote!

The American author Amor Towles

The American author Amor Towles

Beth will come with me to the Mount Holyoke Book Club on Monday night. We are reading A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. Actually I’m listening to it. I have it in iCloud, the only version available at the Westport Library. He is an amazing writer.

What can I learn from him? Writing meaningful scenes! He’s a master.

There are still have about 6 hours to go. I listen in bed, when I’m working in the kitchen, or want a break from writing. And I’ll put it on in the car when I drive to Westchester Airport tonight.

I’ll bring Beth to observe my class on Tuesday morning when I’m teaching “Customs and Culture of Nigeria” at the Fairfield Bigelow Center.

And we will play Scrabble, lots of Scrabble! We’re competitive, but with luck I can win more games than she can! We play online and are about even, I think.

What do you do for entertainment when you have visitors?

January 16, 2018
by Catherine Onyemelukwe

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration

Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, keynote speaker at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration in Westport

Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, keynote speaker at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration in Westport

The 12th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration in Westport was fabulous! The highlight for me was the keynote speaker, Dr. Ibram X. Kendi. His title was “How to be an Anti-Racist.” We cannot stand by and be silent, he said, in the face of racism. We have to confront it when we see it.

During the Q&A, he replied to a question about how to speak to someone who is making racist remarks, while asserting s/he is not racist. He said, “Ask the person to define ‘racist.’ Then you be able to address him with his own words when his comments are racist.”

The 12th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration was on Sunday afternoon, January 14. The same morning I had read an op-ed he wrote in The New York Times called “The Heartbeat of Racism is Denial.”

Kendi's book Stamped from the Beginning

Kendi’s book Stamped from the Beginning

I bought his book, Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. It’s weighty in size and message, and long. I’ve started. With over 500 pages, it will take a while. Also digesting the ideas will take a while. 

He uses five main characters as “tour guides:” Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, William Lloyd Garrison, W. E. B. Dubois, and Angela Davis. I’ll keep you posted. Please do the same if you are reading it.

12th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration Entertainment

In addition to the inspiring speaker, we were entertained by the outstanding Weston High School Jazz Ensemble. Students from the Regional Center for the Arts also performed. Their lovely dance, with about 14 teen-age girls, was choreographed by Kristen McAfee. Chris Coogan and the Good News Gospel Choir sang.

Nigerian Culture and Customs – First Class

Today I taught the first class of four on Nigerian Culture and Customs at the Bigelow Center for Senior Activities in Fairfield, Connecticut. There are 16 participants. I know Diana from church; she had told me she was enrolled. John was in the class I taught last year.

It’s such fun to share my knowledge and love of Nigeria with an interested audience. They had lots of good questions.

Today’s class was on language and names, with a quick intro to Africa’s size and Nigeria’s place in the continent. I also provided a map of the major tribes’ locations.

Comet, tall, on the left, and Nebechi, in front of our house. Comet's pink hair was a hit!

Comet, tall, on the left, and Nebechi, in front of our house. Comet’s pink hair was a hit!

I used a picture of Clem’s sister Nebechi and niece Comet to talk about names. Comet was given her name because she was born at the time of Hailey’s Comet. And Nebechi? Her name means “Look unto God.” That’s not what I said in class today; I’ll correct that next week.

As always I teach people how to say my surname, but I just realized I forgot to tell them the meaning. Two items to make up next week!

Here’s the overview of the 4 weeks; I think you can still join if you want!

  • Intro to Nigeria, language and names and meanings, how they’re given
  • Structure, family roles, it takes a village, bringing up children, patriarchy and land
  • Marriage and the ceremonies, families connected
  • Kola nut and palm wine, the Dibia and traditional religion, religion today

Nigeria Celebrates New Year’s with Masquerades and Music

I promised video from Nanka. The first is of the masquerade Agaba.

Agaba is known to be especially frightening for young children. Women are not supposed to watch him, and someone suggested I move from my front-row seat. But others said, “Stay! You are entitled.” They explained that after a certain age, women can watch!

You see money on the ground and being tossed at the masquerade. This is called “Spraying.” The masquerade’s helpers collect the money.

Igbo Band

The second is the Igbo band that played whenever there was no masquerade in front of us.

If the sounds seem somewhat raucous, that’s’ because they were!

I love these sounds. The Igbo instruments include the ogene, or gong, and they had two. The jug, or udu, is struck with something that looks like a fan but is percussive. The wooden block has a name, I’m sure, but I don’t know it. And there’s a gourd with dried seeds that is shaken so it rattles. I’m not sure you can see it in the video, but it was there.

They played to me during their performance, singing about the white woman who speaks Igbo.

My son told me how to include these; thank you, Chinaku! But I couldn’t upload them to YouTube directly from iCloud. That was a bother, so instead I emailed them to myself and then uploaded to YouTube from the computer.

Is there a way to do it from iCloud? I used Google to search for an answer, but what I found didn’t help.

I will show you one or two more next time. My favorite is masquerades who impersonate women!