Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, Blogger, Speaker

November 21, 2017
by Catherine Onyemelukwe

Happy Thanksgiving Celebration

Thanksgiving Celebration

Mama Stamberg's Cranberry Relish looks awful but tastes great!

Mama Stamberg’s Cranberry Relish looks awful but tastes great!

We will drive to our daughter’s home in Philadelphia on Thursday morning for our Thanksgiving celebration with her family. She said all I need to do is bring the ham. I like that!

I’ll also take Mama Stamberg’s Cranberry Relish. If you are a fan of National Public Radio, you probably know about it. Every year for decades NPR Host Susan Stamberg reminds listeners about this relish, a recipe she got from her mother-in-law.

I’ve made it several times. Last year I put the remainder in the freezer. Not sure how it will taste after 12 months, but we’ll find out!

I hope you have a safe and satisfying Thanksgiving celebration.

Remembering Native Americans

Thanksgiving, like Columbus Day, reminds me of our treatment of, and debt to, Native Americans. So tonight as the closing reading for our Unitarian Church Board meeting, I read a few paragraphs from the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

United Nations

United Nations

The Declaration was adopted in 2007, after twenty years of work. It has many paragraphs affirming its purpose. Then there are 45 articles spelling out the rights in detail.

Here are the parts I read:

  • Affirming that indigenous peoples are equal to all other peoples, while recognizing the right of all peoples to be different, to consider themselves different, and to be respected as such,
  • Affirming also that all peoples contribute to the diversity and richness of civilizations and cultures, which constitute the common heritage of humankind,
  • Affirming further that all doctrines, policies and practices based on or advocating superiority of peoples or individuals on the basis of national origin or racial, religious, ethnic or cultural differences are racist, scientifically false, legally invalid, morally condemnable and socially unjust,
  • Solemnly proclaims the following United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a standard of achievement to be pursued in a spirit of partnership and mutual respect:
  • Article 1 Indigenous peoples have the right to the full enjoyment, as a collective or as individuals, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms as recognized in the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international human rights law.

I like the part of the proclamation, the 4th bullet point, which declares this “a standard of achievement to be pursued.”

Then thinking of how African tribes were divided by the Berlin Conference setting borders, I also read

  • Article 36: Indigenous peoples, in particular those divided by international borders, have the right to maintain and develop contacts, relations and cooperation, including activities for spiritual, cultural, political, economic and social purposes, with their own members as well as other peoples across borders.

Mugabe Has Resigned

Thank goodness, Mugabe resigned before the Zimbabwean Parliament had to impeach him. Though the fact that they were beginning the process must have helped him come to his decision!

It will be fascinating to see how Zimbabwe moves ahead.

Peter Godwin is an author who grew up in Zimbabwe with his white parents. He wrote about the country and his experiences in When a Crocodile Eats the Sun, in 2007. He also wrote, The Fear: Robert Mugabe and the Martyrdom of Zimbabwe, more recently.  

My book group read the first book. I wrote about our discussion.

I was curious about Godwin’s reaction to Mugabe’s departure. On Twitter he said, “I feel relieved and privileged to have been allowed to live long enough to see this day, the historic day when Zimbabwe got rid of Robert Mugabe.”

A little later he posted this notice: “A reminder to anchors, corrs (correspondents) and print reporters, when referring to Grace (Mugabe’s wife), there is no such official title in Zimbabwe as First Lady. Please don’t give her airs and Graces…”

Celebrating Music Director Ed's birthday

Celebrating Music Director Ed’s birthday

Celebrating Birthdays 

Today is my sister’s birthday. I wish we could celebrate together, but maybe in another year!

Our Music Director at the Unitarian Church also celebrated a birthday recently.

At two choir rehearsals (2 different choirs) we sang and shared cake, and generally had a good time together!

Igbo People Can’t Forget Biafra, says Dozie

Why Igbos cannot forget Biafra – Ikedife replies Buhari

Clem’s good friend Dr. Dozie Ikedife is an outspoken proponent of remembering and honoring Biafra. He has sometimes encouraged the Igbo people to consider another attempt at secession.

I hope we’ll see him this Christmas time in Nigeria, as we did last year. Then we can argue again about the futility of secession!

But I do support him for saying we should not forget Biafra and Biafrans. We should honor the attempt to create a country, honor those who fought for the ideal, and honor those who served in the civilian administration, like my husband.

But I believe the country should move forward as a single entity.

Krista Tippett, On Being, with Ta-Nehisi Coates

Do you ever listen to Krista Tippett’s program On Being? I sometimes listen on NY Public Radio at 7 am on Sunday morning. More often I listen to the podcasts.

Her interviews are always enlightening and entertaining.

Last week she spoke with Ta-Nehisi Coates who wrote Between the World and Me, and now has a new book about Obama’s presidency. Amazon says, “In this sweeping collection of new and selected essays, Ta-Nehisi Coates explores the tragic echoes of that history in our own time: the unprecedented election of a black president followed by a vicious backlash that fueled the election of the man Coates argues is America’s “first white president.”

Another important book to add to the “To read” list!

Ta-Nehisi Coates — Imagining a New America

November 17, 2017
by Catherine Onyemelukwe
Comments Off on Coup or No Coup, Mugabe in Zimbabwe

Coup or No Coup, Mugabe in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe, Coup or Not? Does it Matter?

HAVE YOU been watching the news about Mugabe in Zimbabwe? Is it a coup?

Mugabe is under house arrest in Zimbabwe

Mugabe is under house arrest in Zimbabwe

Early on Wednesday morning the military placed 93-year old President Mugabe under house arrest. The announcement of the arrest was made by two military officers on the national broadcasting system. They said President Mugabe was under house arrest for his own safety and this was not a coup.

President Robert Mugabe is the only leader the independent country has known.

Zimbabwe was created out of Rhodesia. In 1965 white-ruled Rhodesia declared independence from Britain. The move was condemned around the world. This was after all a time when African black-ruled countries were becoming independent.

President Robert Mugabe a few months ago

President Robert Mugabe a few months ago

Mugabe was an active opponent to white rule. For his efforts to defeat the government, he was imprisoned for eleven years.

By 1979 the British negotiated a peace deal. Mugabe, who had become a well-respected political leader, was elected Prime Minister of the newly independent Zimbabwe.

Within two years Mugabe was accused of violence against political opponents. In 1988 the constitution was changed and he became President. For a few years he made investments in education and health. But by 2000 the economy was declining.

The UN head addressed the issue of Mugabe in Zimbabwe, encouraging calm.

UN chief Antonio Guterres calls for calm in Zimbabwe

In that year he decided the government could seize white-owned farms to be given to black Africans.

Mugabe fired his vice-president last week. Many thought that move was orchestrated by his wife so she could become vice-president and then take over the government.

The New York Times has an excellent article on the history of Mugabe’s rule.

I was surprised by another NYTimes article today that showed Mugabe in public at a graduation ceremony in the capital. The military seems to be committed to showing that Mugabe is safe. He’s in the center in blue cap.

Today the Zimbabwe Defense Forces, the ZDF, issued a statement about a march scheduled for Saturday: “The ZDF [says] that for as long as the planned march remains orderly, peaceful and in tandem with the fundamental bill of rights and within the confines of the country’s constitution and without hate speech and incitement to cause violence, it fully supports the march.”

I believe there is hope that the march, billed as an anti-Mugabe event, will convince Mugabe he should leave office peacefully.

Building Community in New Haven, CT

Yesterday I was in New Haven, Connecticut for the Yale Alumni Association Annual Assembly., a two-day event called, “Creating Communities at Yale.” The title intrigued me, given that my second book is about building community in an African setting.

Several morning sessions focused on how Yale is made up of communities. One example: the Director of Wright Laboratory spoke about the lab as a community-building place for science students. He said it’s especially important because scientists can easily become isolated within their own research interest.

My favorite was “Bringing the World to Yale: International Student Communities,” at the Office of International Students and Scholars. Seven students shared experiences at Yale. Panelists included women from Myanmar and Iraq, and men from China, Zimbabwe, and Rwanda.

I spoke with the student from Zimbabwe afterwards. He is a candidate for a Master’s Degree with a concentration in energy studies. Of course we spoke about the situation in his country. He said having the fired vice-president return and take over, which has been discussed, was not a popular option. He’s not sure what the right choice now is.

I also went to “Empowering Diverse Communities for Students, Faculty and Staff.” I learned about initiatives to hire more faculty of color, and even more important, how to retain them. Among staff too there are initiatives to offer more advancement opportunities to people of color than have been provided in the past.

And one more small world story: the very first person I met at Yale yesterday graduated from Yale College in 1992, and is now a physician in Boston. He was representing the Boston Alumni Group. I asked where he trained.

“Boston,” he said. Did he want to avoid naming Harvard, Yale’s rival? I’ve seen this referred to also as a nod to modesty, not to name Harvard. I don’t understand this, but I knew where he meant!

So I asked if he knew my daughter, who also trained, was a resident, then assistant professor “in Boston.” I gave both her maiden and married names and her field.

“Yes, I did know her,” he said after a moment’s thought!

Shaping the Business of Music in Africa

AFRIMA, All Africa Music Awards, held a Business Roundtable in Lagos to discuss the music industry.

Our son Sam was a featured speaker. He’s third from left in the picture, and if you read the article, you can see him seated with three others on stage, partially hidden by the microphone.

AFRIMA Stakeholders Share Insights On Shaping African Music

“Samo Onyemelukwe said that capacity development in the entertainment industry in Africa is part of the goals of Trace TV. He encouraged music artistes to develop a local base at home instead of making huge music investments with worldwide tours,” the press release said.

Thank You for the Titles

Many of you responded to my request for help with choosing a title for my second book.

Thank you so much. Your suggestions are valuable and give me much to think about! Now I have to make a choice. I’ll let you know soon.

November 13, 2017
by Catherine Onyemelukwe

Book Title Needed Urgently

Frank Sesno on Asking Questions Well

Author and speaker Frank Sesno

Author and speaker Frank Sesno

On Thursday evening last week I was at the Westport Library for “The Community Table: Frank Sesno and the Power of Questions.”

The library’s listing of the event said, “Questions help us break down barriers, discover secrets, solve puzzles, and imagine new ways of doing things. Emmy Award-winning journalist and media expert Frank Sesno kicks off our new community conversation series, “The Community Table,” with a talk about his new book Ask More: The Power of Questions to Open Doors, Uncover Solutions, and Spark Change.”
The Westport Library is planning a bi-monthly community conversation series to foster civil conversations “around issues of culture, diversity and public policy.” The format is to have an expert explore a topic. Then there will be small group facilitated conversations. Thursday’s event was the first.
Sesno's book, Ask More. It has a long subtitle!

Sesno’s book, Ask More. It has a long subtitle!

I was a facilitator for one small group of eight. My direction for the group was, “In this conversation, think about why civil conversation is important, and what are some of big picture goals for nurturing it in our community.”

I asked for someone to take notes. Then I waited, and waited. Finally one woman volunteered. Our conversation became more about how to have civil conversation, than why. Comments included,
  • Don’t worry about asking the right question, just be present and listen.
  • Show respectful acceptance; be open but willing to disagree without confronting
  • Use questions like, “I’m curious what you think about . . . “
  • Avoid putting people on the defensive
  • Give people time to think; don’t press for speedy response.

I tried hard to engage everyone and almost succeeded.

Frank Sesno gave an engaging presentation. He told stories about why he wrote the book and how. I bought it and started reading. It’s entertaining, as he was.

Title for My Second Book?

I have nearly finished editing my second book. I had two major tasks from beta readers’ comments. First was to make the chapters hang together so there is a direction, even though it is not a single story. Second, be explicit about what I want people to take from reading it.

I have tried to do these. Now I need to decide on a title. I need your advice.

In the introduction, I explain my goal.

“Nigeria gave me a sense of belonging that I had not felt growing up. When I speak about my memoir and about Nigeria, my audience always comments on my visible love for the country and its people. And they ask, “Is there anything you miss?”

“I don’t hesitate. I tell people that I miss the powerful sense of community that I came to know so well in Nigeria. I feel it most strongly when I think of my husband’s village of Nanka. When I respond to an audience member’s question and speak of the sense of belonging, of being part of an all-embracing community, people nod their heads. “We do not have that here in the same way,” they say. “That sense of community sounds wonderful.”

“Nigerians identify as a member of a tribe. My husband is Igbo. My husband’s tribe is the third largest in Nigeria. It is composed of somewhere between twenty and thirty million people. The Igbo people are the majority tribe in the southeastern part of Nigeria.

“Everyone in his village is Igbo. Our children are Igbo. I cannot ever become Igbo, though I am accepted fully in his family, clan, and village. Even though people in Western culture today may have a strong identity with their place of birth and extended family, it is different from the experience of being rooted to a place and a group of people in the way it happens in an Igbo village.

“What creates that sense of belonging in an Igbo village? How do people from Nanka know in their bones that they belong, they are part of the community, and will always be welcome and have a home?”

Nigeria Revisited My Life and Loves Abroad, is at the Westport Library. Kola proverb is at beginning.

Nigeria Revisited My Life and Loves Abroad, is at the Westport Library. Kola proverb is at beginning.

In my concept statement about the book, I say, “The author invites her reader to experience of the sense of belonging and being in community. Since she cannot take her reader to Nanka, she shares stories. She describes husband’s family, beginning with his parents. Using what she has learned about them and about the times, she imagines their early lives. She relates the story of their marriage, and the early life of her husband, their first son, while exploring the factors that made them know they are part of a community. Other aspects of village life that bind people together and make them know they belong to each other are explored through stories of other family members or through descriptions of experiences and customs.”

Kola nuts are mentioned frequently. Breaking kola is an important element in every Igbo ceremony. A favorite proverb often quoted when a visitor is given a kola nut to take home says: “When the kola reaches home, it will tell where it came from.” I used it at the beginning of my memoir.

What will reflect my goal and even more important, cause people to want to buy the book? Here are title contenders:

  • When the Kola Nut Reaches Home: an Inside View of African Customs
  • Breaking Kola: Nigeria’s Customs and Community
  • Destination Nigeria: an Inside View . . .
  • Inside Nigeria: The Customs and Culture That Teach Community
  • My Nigeria – any of the following with any of the subtitles
  • Nigerian at Heart
  • Speaking of Nigeria
  • Nigerian Journey
  • Nigerian Identity
  • Window to Nigeria

Which do you like? Do you have another suggestion?

November 9, 2017
by Catherine Onyemelukwe

Small World Connections

Small World Connections

When "small world connections" happen, the world seems small!

When “small world connections” happen, the world seems to shrink!

I love “small world” connections. Don’t you?

This week has been rich with small world connections for me and my family.

Our daughter Beth was here on the weekend. She features in two of the small world connections.

Next Door Neighbors

We’ve lived in Westport, in the same house, since 1993. Our next door neighbors moved into their house in 1995. We’ve met a couple of times several years ago, and spoken on the phone a couple more. When I sit at my desk and look out the window, I see their house. I’ve watched their three sons, now adults, going in and out.

Isn’t it strange how we can live so close and not know each other?

Leslie, the neighbor, greeted me by name at the Westport Country Playhouse last Friday night. We exchanged a few sentences. I had no idea who she was.

I said, “Please remind of your name.” She told me and I was no wiser. Then she added, “We’re your neighbors. I’m here with my husband Guy.” Then I knew! We spoke further, and agreed it was deplorable that we barely knew each other.

I learned she’s a gynecologist; I told her my daughter who was coming the next day was a gynecologic oncologist. We said we’d get together over the weekend.

On Saturday evening Leslie came over. She and Beth had lots in common. Less than 15 minutes into their conversation Beth was describing her work on the HPV vaccine at Merck. Leslie said, “My brother worked on that too.”

“What’s his name?” Beth said. She couldn’t believe it when Leslie told her! Leslie’s brother and Beth had worked and traveled together several years ago. They knew each other well. Leslie texted her brother who replied right away, delighted to hear that Beth and Leslie were together!

Westport to Japan, a Small World 

Japan from Wikipedia map

Japan from Wikipedia map

On the last Sunday in October, Chris and I, board members at The Unitarian Church in Westport, led a conversation session for nine congregants, “Coffee with the Board.” I chaired the planning for the event. A few days afterwards, I emailed to ask him to draft a report for the board.

On Sunday evening I had an email from him. “I will take a stab at writing the report. In Japan right now and just saw the Trump motorcade go by outside our office, moments ago.”

I had just finished listening to news about Trump arriving in Japan. It felt like the world got really small for a few moments!

Small World: Unitarian Universalist Women’s Federation and LinkedIn

I heard from a friend who is in finance. He asked if I knew anyone at an investment firm in California. I thought about friends from the Yale School of Management. But no one I could think of was at that firm.

“No, I don’t think so,” I emailed back.

He replied in an hour. “Actually, you are connected to one of their board members on LinkedIn,” he said. “Rachel Maxwell is your friend. Do you know her well?”

I remembered that she had been a donor to the Unitarian Universalist Women’s Federation. I was on the board of that organization and helped with fundraising. I spoke with her to thank her for her gifts, and probably to ask for more! I had forgotten we connected on LinkedIn.

But I recalled dimly that there was a more personal connection too. Wasn’t she somehow tied to my dear friend Denny?

I had just met Denny’s son, and saw on LinkedIn that he was also a friend of Rachel’s. So I sent off a quick email to ask him what the connection was.

In 30 minutes I had the reply. Denny’s close friend Janet, whom I met two weeks ago, is Rachel’s mother!

Mystery solved. Of course I looked Rachel up and found her excellent TedX talk.

I couldn’t make sense of the name of the libraries! Finally I got it: Sno Isle!

Then I could – and did – email her to establish the connection for my friend who set the chain in motion!

Small World: Women in STEM and Mount Holyoke Connection

My daughter gave me another small world story when I told her what I was writing.

“I’ve been helping with planning for the “Inspiring Women in STEM” conferences for several years,” she said. “I’ve been working with a woman named Laura. We work well together.

“On a phone call yesterday, she mentioned that she had gone to a women’s college. I said, ‘I did too. Which one?’ She answered, you can guess – ‘Mount Holyoke!’ ”

Trevor Noah, host of The Daily Show

Trevor Noah, host of The Daily Show

Sweden Twice in Two Seconds

At the table this morning I was reading The New York Times on my iPad. I do this nearly every day while I eat breakfast and drink my first cup of coffee.

I was looking at “Best of Late Night,” specifically Trevor Noah. He was noting how quickly President Trump distanced himself from Ed Gillespie who lost on Tuesday night.

Sweden from Wikipedia

Sweden from Wikipedia

“I bet you one day when the U.S. economy crashes,” Noah said, “Trump’s gonna be like, ‘What a loser economy! I’ve never even heard of America. I’m from Sweden. Guten Tag.’ ”

Two seconds after I read that, my husband looked up from his email and said, “I got a reply from Sweden.”

Not exactly small world, but certainly a coincidence! It spooked me for a few minutes.

Frank Sesno Asks Questions

I just came home from hearing Frank Sesno speak. I’ll tell you more next time!

November 5, 2017
by Catherine Onyemelukwe
Comments Off on African History Revisited

African History Revisited

African History Revisited in Paris Exhibit

Africa in Words, a blog I follow, had a story about an exhibit in France that shows the depth of African history. It’s called “African Roads,” or “L’Afrique des routes.”

Nok, earliest identified culture in Nigeria, between about 500 BC and about AD 200

Nok, earliest identified culture in Nigeria, between about 500 BC and about AD 200.

The African history exhibit, “looks at the important role of African communities and resources, which range in the exhibit from ivory, pearls, and copper to labor, music, cartography, and botany,” the article says. “It places Africa at the center of economic and social development across global history.”

One of the pieces that demonstrates the rich history and the reach of Africans is a fresco. It depicts scenes from Africa that inspired ancient Greeks and Romans.

“The accurate depiction of wildlife specific to Sub-Saharan and central regions of Africa helps one to understand the vast social connections already established by this early period, well beyond the North African coast,” I read. I find this fascinating.

The African history exhibit traces events to the modern day.

The exhibit shows how African people and resources were exploited by colonialists. But the writer is critical of the exhibit curators for giving limited attention to France’s own role as a colonial power. It also depicts little of the influence of Africa in French culture today.

Historic center of Agadez in Niger

Historic center of Agadez in Niger developed in the 15th and 16th centuries.

The article concludes, “Overall, ‘African Roads’ is an engaging display of the long history of creativity and ingenuity across the African continent that has shaped global development from the very early periods of human civilization.”

The exhibit at the Quai Branly Museum (Musée du Quai Branly) ends next week. So I won’t see it. But if you are in Paris you still have time! If you go, please share your impressions.

I hope it will be come to other museums, especially here in the U.S.

Africa is Not A Single Entity (and certainly not a country!)

Even though the exhibit in Paris talks about African history, it does not treat it as a single story. It traces strands from all parts of Africa.

From Brittle Paper, I found an article in Huffington Post South Africa about comments from Nigerian-Ghanaian author Taiye Selasi. She was visiting South Africa.

Author Taiye Selasi was speaking in South Africa.

Author Taiye Selasi was speaking in South Africa.

People should stop saying South Africa is not African enough, she says. “In order to say that South Africa doesn’t feel like Africa, you would have to first believe in a huge fallacy, which is that Africa is one thing.”

When someone is describing an African experience, they must say where in Africa there are. Locality is crucial to understanding what someone describes, she says.

I just went to Wikipedia to read her bio. “Of Nigerian and Ghanaian origin, she describes herself as a “local” of Accra, Berlin, New York and Rome.” She doesn’t include Lagos, I notice. Her picture is from Wikipedia.

I also found she is a fellow alum of Yale! She graduated “summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa with a BA in American Studies,” while I earned an MBA from Yale’s School of Management.”

And the name Taiye? Of course! I should have known she is the elder twin. The first-born of twins among the Yoruba people of southwestern Nigeria is customarily named Taiye, or Taiwo, which is how I’ve known it. The other twin is always Kehinde.

Stew Leonards Store in Norwalk CT

Kenechi, Beth, Ikem and me watching the train at Stew's

Kenechi, Beth, Ikem and me watching the train at Stew’s

Are you familiar with Stew Leonard’s?  It began as a small dairy in Norwalk Connecticut, and, “has grown to become not only the World’s Largest Dairy Store, but one of the most renowned grocery stores, with annual sales of almost $400 million and almost 2,000 Team Members.”

There are now six stores. Stew’s is known for customer service. On their website, they say, “At Stew Leonard’s, we follow a principle so important that we etched it into a three-ton granite rock! Rule 1: The customer is always right! Rule 2: If the customer is ever wrong, reread Rule 1!”

The Norwalk store, like the others, is an amazing place! It does not look like a traditional grocery store. Instead, “the aisle configurations guide customers to walk through the entire store (although there are short cuts). As customers walk through the aisles, they are greeted by various employees dressed up in costumes.” There are also singing, dancing, and whirling figures, an animal farm, and a model train overhead.

Kenechi and Mary with the cow

Kenechi and Mary with the cow

My favorite is the large cow with a button to make it moo.

Children love Stew Leonard’s, which means mothers who have their kids with them when shopping like to go there.

I suggested taking Ikem, our 4-year old grandson, today. Our daughter Beth and her family, with their older son Kenechi’s girlfriend Mary, were here.

Mary was thrilled. She had studied Stew’s as a case in her marketing class at Cornell, but had never seen the store.

She said her class discussion featured their excellent marketing. Now she knows it’s all true!

We had a great time!

November 1, 2017
by Catherine Onyemelukwe

Playing the Igbo Flute

Things Fall Apart, recent edition of novel published in 1958

Things Fall Apart, recent edition of novel published in 1958

Things Come Together 

The blog Brittle Paper had a fascinating article describing an ad for Wikipedia. The ad opens with Igbo flute music.

I didn’t know Wikipedia did visual ads like this.

The scene is an outdoor classroom, with the British-dressed teacher instructing the Igbo villagers who are his students. He asks first about William Butler Yeats. Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart is the answer!

Then he inquires if anyone knows the term multi-theism. Again the chief answers. I loved his response. See if you like it too.

The few phrases in Igbo are not critical to the story. But you have to watch to the end to see “the secret” revealed!

Pete Edochie, a well-known Nigerian actor, is the man beside the chief. He asks the chief how he knows so much!

The writer of the article said, “I was particularly fascinated that Okonkwo, the character played by the veteran actor Pete Edochie, was present in the story where a book about him was being discussed.”

I was puzzled by the reference to Okonkwo, because that wasn’t the name of the character in the ad. Then I realized that Pete Edochie played Okonkwo, the main character in the TV adaptation of Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart. 

It aired in the 1980’s. I don’t think I saw it, so I’m guessing it was after I returned to the U.S. in 1986.

I also loved the Igbo flute playing at the beginning. If you’d like to read the whole article about this clever ad, you can find it here.

Lagos as an Inspiration

Ifeoma Obianwu Fafunwa, featured in The African Archive

Ifeoma Obianwu Fafunwa, featured in The African Archive

I’ve mentioned my friend’s daughter Ifeoma Fafunwa before. She is a playwright and has been interviewed in various media recently.

There was a post on Facebook by The African Archive of an interview with her.

She’s talking about Lagos. She said Lagos inspires her. “I can’t be anywhere else. Every day you go out and say, ‘You have to be kidding.’ [It’s] the only place I know where every time you go out, you see some madness. There are stories every day, everywhere. Some stories are too fantastic to tell! But they really happened.”

It’s true. That’s how Lagos feels.

Igbo Masquerades and the Igbo Flute

Did you watch the Wikipedia ad? Did you like the Igbo flute music?

Even before I saw the Wikipedia ad, I had already planned to tell you about the Igbo flute!

I write about the flute in my new book. It is in the section where I am describing the second stage of my husband’s parents’ wedding, called igba nkwu, or “palm-wine carrying.” I believe it took place in 1928 or ’29.

I used the term “native flute” to describe the instrument. But of course that is no description at all unless you are Igbo!

My Beta reader, Judy, asked what I meant. I’ve now revised the manuscript to say “Igbo flute.” I’ve tried to paint a picture in words.

Do you know what she is carrying, and why?

Do you know what she is carrying, and why?

The man’s family had already come once, four days earlier, to visit the woman’s family and ask for her acceptance.

At this second ceremony, his family is bringing the items of the bride price. At the end of the day she will leave with her new husband.

Here’s what I say in the chapter. I should mention the flute’s sound! But how to describe it? Can you help?

Igba Nkwu, Two Families Join

“On this day Samuel was accompanied by the same senior men and their wives, including his parents, who had come four days earlier. This time he was also joined by six members of his own age grade, the group of people born within three or four years of each other who form a community of equals. His older brother Ejike led this contingent. Again, the men had exchanged their loin cloths, their usual wear, for wrappers. The green and red lines on a white background were a stark contrast with their dark skin.

“The Onyemelukwe family brought along three musicians. The drummer came first, his instrument held over his left shoulder by a leather strap, his right hand holding the striker. He was followed by a man playing an Igbo flute, a hand-carved wooden instrument about eight inches long, with a wide opening to fit the lower lip, and holes to cover to make the melodies. The third struck an ogene, a bronze gong, with a short piece of wood.

African goats

African Dwarf Goats like the one taken by the groom’s family

“The women and the young men carried the calabashes of palm wine, the six chickens, and the yams.

Ejike led the goat. Samuel’s junior uncle had the ten shillings tied in a tattered cloth and the tobacco in a round tin container.

“The musicians begin playing well before they reached the compound. People living along the way came out to watch the procession. Some even followed them into the compound as they danced their way to the benches outside the obi where their hosts were seated.”

I’ve just learned that Peace Corps Writers will publish this second book. Now I have to finish editing!

October 28, 2017
by Catherine Onyemelukwe

Boko Haram Turns Girls Into Bombers

Boko Haram Still Active

I keep hoping that the bits of positive information from the Nigerian government about defeating Boko Haram are true. Though there have been some successes, there are still so many more challenges.

“So far this year, militants have carried out more than twice as many suicide bombings than they did in all of 2016, and the attacks keep coming,” Dionne Searcey says about Boko Haram in an article on Oct. 25.

Dionne Searcey, NYTimes West Africa Bureau Chief, interviewed girls captured by Boko Haram

Dionne Searcey, NYTimes West Africa Bureau Chief, interviewed girls captured by Boko Haram

Searcey is The New York Times West Africa Bureau Chief. She wrote an intriguing and alarming piece based on interviews with 18 girls who were sent out by Boko Haram as suicide bombers and managed to escape.

Their courage is amazing. Can you imagine having a bomb strapped to you that you are afraid to remove? Then being told to enter a mosque and detonate it?

I cannot. But the girls had no choice.

They had been kidnapped by Boko Haram. Often they were told to “marry” their captors. Many were sent out as suicide bombers because they refused.

Searcey says, “All of the girls recounted how armed militants forcibly tied suicide belts to their waists, or thrust bombs into their hands, before pushing them toward crowds of people. Most were told that their religion compelled them to carry out the orders. And all of them resisted, preventing the attacks by begging ordinary citizens or the authorities to help them.”

Determined Not to Kill, Despite Boko Haram Orders

Each girl’s story is different. But they were all determined not to kill others.

Yet to approach strangers and people in authority was a risk. It took a willingness to be disbelieved. They had to persuade others to help them.

Adam Ferguson photographed the girls without showing their faces. His photos are as haunting as the girls’ stories.

Dionne Searcey wrote another piece to give more background on carrying out the interviews. It is also  fascinating reading.

Unitarian-Universalists Confront Their Racist Past

Last week at The Unitarian Church in Westport we held conversations on race and white supremacy. Rev. Dr. John Morehouse and many of us in the congregation want to talk about race. We do what we can to combat racism.

Rev. John led with a description of a major event about race in our Unitarian-Universalist past.

He told us that in the 1960’s the General Assembly and the Board promised funding to a movement of Black Power within the church. This was to support civil rights work. But then they cut the funding.

There was a lot of controversy. Our movement has not yet recovered from the events of those times.  You can see a whole timeline of events in the Unitarian and Universalist churches before they merged and later.

After Rev. John spoke on Sunday, three other people spoke for a few minutes about aspects of white privilege or white supremacy and how these influence our actions.

After each speaker we in the congregation were asked to discuss.

Other Speakers and Viewpoints

My friend and board colleague Carrie talked about perfectionism. She began by telling us she is a perfectionist, which is good in her career of computer programmer, but less helpful when she corrects other people’s grammar!

Our Black Lives Matter banner is back in place!

Our Black Lives Matter banner is back in place!

She related being at the UU General Assembly, trying to finalize a resolution. A young African American man was the parliamentarian. He said, “Focus on meaning, not grammar!”

“I recognized that he was reminding us that we were getting caught up in one of the aspects of White Supremacy culture that we all swim in – perfectionism,” Carrie said.

She pointed out aspects of this perfectionism:

  • Setting rigid and high, even unrealistic, standards
  • Assigning worthlessness to a person who fails to achieve these standards

We were then told to discuss with one other person, “What would you have to change to include others in a group you belong to?”

My friend Sonja talked about individualism. She said, “Individualism exists in a symbiotic relationship with white supremacy culture. At the heart of individualism is the will to . . . construe one’s achievement as entirely self-authored; to interpret privileges as duly earned benefits from one’s hard work.”

She continued, “Individualism holds an individual above group. It’s an ideology based on separation. Individualism denies interdependence and isolates us from any form of connection with others.”

We followed her comments with another question for discussion: “Have you ever been part of a group where your opinion was ignored? How did that make you feel?”

We’ve never had this kind of service before. It led to lively discussion. Some conversations continued after the service was over.

I hope we will do it again some day. Even more I hope we get to a better understanding of how white privilege works and how we who are white benefit from it.

Will we ever get to the place where we can dismantle the effects of white privilege? Not have that privilege any more? That’s a heavy challenge.

I’m happy to say our Black Lives Matter banner is back up!

Thurgood Marshall Film

Dan Woog posted the trailer of the movie Marshall on his blog.You may recall that Dan only posts stories with a Westport/Weston connection. Do you know what it is for this film? You can find out here.

I would like to see the film. Would you?

October 24, 2017
by Catherine Onyemelukwe

Alumnae Seminar – Thirty-Eight Years Strong

Thirty-Eight Years of Alumnae Seminars

Several times over the last twenty-four years, since living in Westport, I’ve attended the annual Alumnae Seminar put on by the Seven Sisters Alumnae in Fairfield County. It is always from 9:30 to 12:30, includes presentations by three or four experts, often from the Seven Sisters, and concludes with a lunch.

Speakers at 38th Annual Alumnae Seminar

Speakers at 38th Annual Alumnae Seminar

Mount Holyoke College, my alma mater, is one of the seven sisters. The seven were all colleges for women; today four are still single-sex. A committee of sixteen volunteers plan and put on the event.

They choose the theme, invite the speakers, prepare the publicity, and make all the arrangements.

This year’s theme – Reclaiming our Democracy – drew a crowd of people interested in our political process and government. The audience, as usual, was mostly women in our fifties to seventies. A few husbands always come along.

Melissa Kane, Democrat and a Mount Holyoke alum, is running for First Selectman of our town of Westport. Toni Boucher is a Republican and has been a member of the state legislature for years and is now a state senator.

Part of audience at today's Alumnae Seminar on Reclaiming Our Democracy

Part of audience at today’s Alumnae Seminar on Reclaiming Our Democracy

Douglas Amy is Professor of Politics at Mount Holyoke. The other expert was Erik Fogg, CEO of ReConsider Media, author of books on politics, and consultant in a variety of capacities in politics.

Melissa and Toni spoke about their own political lives. They also suggested ideas for reinventing their parties. Doug Amy talked about “Ways to Strengthen Our Democracy,” and Erik’s remarks were on “The Causes of the Current Crisis.”

All the speakers, and I believe all in the audience, agreed that our political situation today is in a state of crisis. But it is not sudden. Today’s situation, Erik Fogg said, is the result of twenty-five years of growing divisiveness.

Fogg’s and Amy’s comments about today’s political situation were fascinating. We are the oldest continuing democracy, but our constitution was written more than 200 years ago. More recent constitutions do not allow for some of the forms of unfair representation that we have enshrined in our founding document.

One example is the violation of one person, one vote, in how the electoral college works. It gives more power to small states.

But to change the constitution to do away with the electoral college, as many agree would be right, is nearly impossible.

Today I learned about a movement called National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.

It is far from achieving success, but it is on the right path, it seems to me. The states that have joined agree that they would give their electoral votes in a presidential election to whichever candidate wins the popular vote.

My favorite moment was when Erik Fogg dug into his briefcase to bring out his copy of the constitution. He wanted to answer a question about the legality of interstate agreements related to the National Popular Vote Compact. He knew it was the 4th Amendment, but couldn’t recall the text! He found it and read it to us!

As always I saw Mount Holyoke alums I’ve known for a long time, including one classmate.

Stories of White Supremacy and the Unitarian Church

At The Unitarian Church in Westport on Sunday morning we listened to, and talked about, stories of white supremacy. I will write about this next time – I’m waiting to get a copy of the comments from speakers!

Harvest is Over and the Yam Barn Is Full

Happiness is a full yam barn!

Happiness is a full yam barn!

I loved the picture that a friend from Clem’s village posted on Facebook.

He was happy to have a full yam barn at the end of the harvest season.

We see yam barns when we go to the village. They are not enclosed as you might expect from the word barn. They are structures of bamboo poles. The yams are stacked and tied on.

Nollywood – The Nigerian Film Industry

PBS Newshour usually mentions one or two stories that do not air during the broadcast but are on their website. Today Judy Woodruff told us that there was a feature on the Nigerian film industry called Nollywood. Of course I had to look at it and share it with you.

Emily Witt's book on Nollywood

Emily Witt’s book on Nollywood

Elizabeth Flock who wrote the story is a reporter and producer for the NewsHour.

She interviews Emily Witt who has just written a book about the industry. Flock says, “In her new book “Nollywood: The Making of a Film Empire,” journalist Emily Witt argues that Nollywood is positioned to become a global brand much like the films of Bollywood or kung fu movies.”

That would be great! I admit to not yet watching the films, but after seeing one trailer and part of one nearly hour-long episode in the article, I’m ready to indulge.

Witt says, “there’s something unique about Nigeria in the sense that it has a really strong sense of cultural pride. Nigerians just like Nigerian stuff better than from other places. It’s true for the fashion, the music, the language, as compared to other countries in Africa.” I like that.

The article says that Nollywood is producing 1500 movies a year. That’s amazing. Have you seen any?

October 20, 2017
by Catherine Onyemelukwe

Holidays in Nigeria

Plentiful Fuel for the Holidays in Nigeria

I look forward to the holidays in Nigeria this year. We’ve booked our tickets, told our children, and arranged the security people to accompany us in the village.

These guys were our security detail last year for the holidays in Nigeria, at least the village part.

These guys were our security detail last year for the holidays in Nigeria, at least the village part.

Yes, for the past few years whenever we go to Nanka, Clem’s home town in southeastern Nigeria, we hire a security detail of four men. Clem likes them to have two vehicles, so one can lead and the other follow as we drive to the village. Our own driver dresses in a police uniform, though how he got it I’ve never asked.

The uniforms do make getting through roadblocks easy.

We usually think about the fuel situation before we go. Shortages are common since so many people travel during the holidays in Nigeria.

We often ask the people who make the preparations for us in the village to store petrol for the vehicles ahead of the holidays.

Someone also has to check the generator and buy the diesel fuel for it.

Do I believe the story from yesterday’s news? No fuel scarcity during the holidays!

That would be wonderful, but I will surprised if there really is sufficient fuel for the holidays in Nigeria.  Will the two billion litres be enough?

Nigerians won’t experience fuel scarcity during Christmas – NNPC

Travel Documents for Holidays in Nigeria

Last night my husband suddenly thought to check his Nigerian passport. Good thing he did! He was surprised to find it had expired a month ago!

Clem's expired passport.

Need to replace Clem’s expired passport for holidays in Nigeria

On Monday morning I’ll be contacting the company I’ve used for several years to get our travel documents. I hope they can arrange the renewal of his Nigerian passport.

His US passport is valid for another few years. Mine is also valid until 2022, but I wasn’t sure about the Nigerian visa!

I just looked. I’m in luck. My Nigerian visa is valid until November 2018!

How Do You Name a War? Does it Matter?

Ambassador John Campbell writes about the name for Nigeria’s Civil War. Like the U.S. civil war, Nigeria’s war from 1967-to 1970 was a defining part of the country’s history.

He writes about wars of secession and how they are named. Do the victors always get to choose the name?

In the case of the U.S., he says, “The more neutral ‘Civil War’ came into use after the end of Reconstruction.” He continues, [this was when] reconciliation between north and south proceeded, a process at the expense of African-Americans.”

We still suffer in this country from that supposed “reconciliation.” The racism persists. For one of my book groups we’re reading The New Jim Crow, which details some of the racist practices.

In Nigeria’s case, I was on the side of the secessionists, so I almost always refer to it as the Biafran War. But of course the secessionist Biafra lost! Most of the Igbo people, the principle group behind the move for secession, are reconciled to the loss.

However there are a few people among the Igbo who wish to reignite the conflict and try again for independence.

Maybe I should change what I call it, since I do not support them!

Legacy Society for Unitarian Church 

This evening we held a dinner in our home for our newly formed Legacy Society of The Unitarian Church in Westport. We have twenty-seven members!

It’s taken decades to finally reach this  point! I remember when I chaired the Endowment Committee in 1996-2001 that we tried to put together a Legacy effort.

Several years later Gail and John, long-time members with Gail an experienced fund-raiser, tried. They did put together a brochure with basic information. Then they moved to Pittsburgh!

About two years ago our committee of four actually got serious and begin to cultivate donors. And now we’ve held our first of what we expect will be annual Legacy Society Dinners.

We have twenty-seven members. I think that’s amazing, and certainly exciting!

African Writing Online

If you’ve been following my blog for any length of time, you’ve seen references to Brittle Paper.

African writing is thriving. In recognition of the depth of the field, Brittle Paper has created its own awards. It is fitting these are for writing that is published online!

The most recent post announced the nominees for the category of Creative Nonfiction/Memoir. I loved reading through the excerpts. You can read them too.

The Brittle Paper Award for Creative Nonfiction/Memoir: Meet the Nominees


October 16, 2017
by Catherine Onyemelukwe

Beloved Conversations

Beloved Conversations – a Final Report

The image from Meadville Lombard website for Beloved Conversations

The image from Meadville Lombard website for Beloved Conversations

Several months ago I mentioned a program in which I participated at The Unitarian Church in Westport called “Beloved Conversations.”

Beloved Conversations is a program created at Meadville Lombard, the Unitarian Seminary in Chicago.

The program includes, “a 1.5 day retreat that launches the curriculum, followed by 8 weeks of guided dialogue/experiential exercises. Each session in the 8 week curriculum is two hours, and highly structured.”

There is an expectation, a goal, for these conversations. “Beloved Conversations is an experiential curriculum that provides a space to re-form/fuse the brokenness of racism into new patterns of thought and behavior ushering in social and spiritual healing. New ways of being are learned through the actions of conversation and probing dialogue.”

During the 1.5 day retreat and the eight sessions following, a group of people talk deeply about race and racism. The participants also take part in exercises that foster an understanding of racism.

We were twelve in my group for Beloved Conversations. Another group of twelve was going on at the same time.

Five participants from the joint meetings between our Unitarian Church and Messiah Baptist Church

Five participants from the joint meetings between our Unitarian Church and Messiah Baptist Church

At the conclusion of the sessions, a few people from our congregation met several times with people from a Black Baptist church in Bridgeport, the city just north of us. These conversations were facilitated by the head of the Greater Bridgeport Council of Churches.

Did We Learn from Beloved Conversations?

The final step was an exchange of visits between our church and the Baptist Church. In each congregation participants spoke about their shared experience, applying the lessons of Beloved Conversations.

Yesterday during our service we welcomed three women, Patricia, on left, Cierra, center, and Mary-Ellen on right from the Messiah Baptist Church in Bridgeport. Two of our own members, standing in between, and two of the three guests spoke briefly about what they had learned from their conversations together.

Cierra said, “Through the conversations we became not only neighbors in faith but also neighbors in truth.”

Mary-Ellen added, “We need the younger generation [like Cierra]. We older people bleed from so many cuts it’s difficult to live lives of hope.” I found her words sad and especially touching.

Both Randy and Ellie, white members of our almost-all white congregation, spoke about white privilege. “Our job is to be in touch with our white privilege. We have to learn to use it to get across the barriers,” Randy said.

I know members of our group were enriched by the process. I hope other members of our congregation were educated by yesterday’s speakers.

There will be more Beloved Conversations sessions next year so more people can participate. Do you have programs like this in your church or community?

Igbo Names and a Response

I watched this video that someone had posted on Facebook. I love it!

I kept wondering why she looked so familiar. Of course! Uzoamaka Aduba plays Crazy Eyes on Orange is the New Black. She is brilliant. She has won many awards for her acting.

Uzo Aduba from Glamour posting on Instagram

Uzo Aduba from Glamour posting on Instagram

Her pronunciation of Uzoamaka is very close to correct. She hasn’t quite got the tones right. I’d be happy to help her, though I’m sure her mother has tried!

Still, she makes the point that anyone can learn to say this name fairly accurately with a little practice.

When she was young and asked her mom for an easier name, her mom said, “If they can learn to pronounce Tchaikovsky, they can learn to say Uzoamaka!”

At my book talks, I almost always introduce the audience to the pronunciation of Onyemelukwe. The person who has to introduce me tries to learn it, but when he or she stands up to do the introduction, they invariably get it wrong! I assure them it’s all right.

And when I have the audience repeat the name, I start without the tones, then add them. But I don’t expect non-Igbo people to get the tones right.

Care for the Environment in Nigeria’s Osun State

Plastic bags are ubiquitous in Nigeria. In March I wrote about a program in Yola in northern Nigeria to recycle bags.

Osun State in southwestern Nigeria

Osun State in southwestern Nigeria

Vendors sell water and other products in plastic bags along the roads, and people toss the bags after use. And not only plastic bags litter the environment. There is garbage along every road.

Most people keep their own compounds clean, but have little regard for public space.

Now one of the southern states, Osun, has signed an agreement to implement improvements in care of the environment.

“The partnership will create jobs, expand the economy, create a new dynamic economy in tourism and as well keep the environment clean,” the press release says. I’m not so sure about the tourism. But I wish them well.

The recycled products, they say, will be used, “for valuable products such as tissue papers, plastics and organic manure (fertilizer) for farmers.”

“Today marks a new beginning as we take the solemn commitment to protect our environment,” the company, America Green Environmental Global Solution Nigeria Limited (AGEGS) says.

“We have to do our best not to litter the streets but to recycle everything coming out of our homes and work places.”

According to the article, “Every household will purchase various containers from AGEGS for different ‎items from the household for which they can recycle. These containers will be picked up from your homes on designated days of the week.”

I wonder if everyone will readily agree to purchase containers. What will happen if people refuse?

Maybe this will be a model for other Nigerian states. The need is there, no doubt!