Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, Blogger, Speaker

October 8, 2017
by Catherine Onyemelukwe

Nigeria’s Anniversary Gift

Super Eagles Victory – An Anniversary Gift

Nigeria’s senior men’s football team, the Super Eagles, defeated Zambia on Saturday. President Buhari called the match Nigeria’s anniversary gift, coming right after Oct. 1, Nigeria’s Independence Day.

Super Eagles victory photo from Daily Post Nigeria

Super Eagles victory photo from Daily Post Nigeria

“Tonight the Super Eagles gave us a 57th Independence Anniversary gift. I join millions of Nigerians in rejoicing with the players and crew,” Buhari said on Twitter Saturday evening. He called the victory “sweet.”

Football, or soccer to Americans, is probably more popular in Nigeria than baseball is in the U.S. It requires no special equipment, just a ball. Boys gather on any open ground near residential areas to play.

Our sons were experts in their primary school, St. Saviours.

One of my biggest disappointments about Sam’s time at Lawrence Academy where he studied from 10th grade through 12th, was his failure to get on the soccer team! I couldn’t understand it, and still don’t. I felt he played the “real” sport, whereas the boys who were chosen had learned it the “American” way. Of course the “American” version is what the coach knew!

I mentioned the match to our older son Chinaku this afternoon. He explained what the victory was. It made the Super Eagles the first African country to qualify for the Russia 2018 FIFA World Cup tournament.

President Buhari “applauded the nation’s senior men’s football team” for this feat.

The match was played in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, on Nigeria’s southeastern coast. Don’t you love the name of the stadium: Godswill Akpabio International?

Anti-Corruption Efforts are Not Easy

President Buhari campaigned on a pledge to reduce corruption, which according to Ambassador John Campbell, “many Nigerians believe to be altogether out of control.”

But fighting corruption is at least as difficult as defeating Boko Haram, probably more so! Campbell writes about the effort in the blog Africa in Transition.

Patience Jonathan in photo from Vanguard News Nigeria

Patience Jonathan in photo from Vanguard News Nigeria

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is the government vehicle for the battle. Campbell says, “It has launched high profile investigations, including into the accounts of Patience Jonathan, the former first lady. Among other measures, it has frozen some $35 million in four bank accounts she owns and seized some real estate.”

How could the wife of a government official amass $35 million? She was not known to have a career of her own.  She is suing the government in return.

“There is a tradition in Nigeria of presidents using the EFCC and other anticorruption agencies against their political enemies,” Campbell says.

But those political enemies are the ones who were in power, and thus had the opportunity to benefit from government assets. And Buhari’s government has not targeted only Christians and Southerners, part of the accusation against him. I wish him and his government success in the struggle!

UNHCR Award Goes to Nigerian Educator

Barrister Zannah Mustapha from Answers Africa

Barrister Zannah Mustapha from Answers Africa

A Nigerian has been named the 2017 winner of the Nansen Peace Prize by the UNHRC.

Zannah Mustapha received the award for his work educating children in northern Nigeria who have been affected by Boko Haram.

He established his first school in 2007 for orphaned children, before the insurgency. Now he has two schools. He takes children of Boko Haram widows. Children whose parents were killed by Boko Haram are also among the pupils. He sees the education as bridging the gap between the sides.

“As a lawyer, he is considered well suited for this role and has successfully mediated between the Nigerian Government and Boko Haram for the release of 103 girls held hostage, including 82 of the so-called Chibok girls.

Children at Future Prowess School Maidugari

Children at Future Prowess School Maidugari

“Zannah Mustapha has made it his mission to provide a better future through education for the children displaced by the Boko Haram insurgency,” the UNHCR says in its press about the award.

The United Nations Refugee Agency, officially the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was created in 1950. Its original mission was to assist Europeans displaced by World War II.

Today the agency works for refugees affected by war and conflict in many parts of the world, including Nigeria.

The award is named for Norwegian Fridtjof Nansen, the first High Commissioner for Refugees at the League of Nations. He was a polar explorer and statesman, Wikipedia tells me, and won the Nobel Peace Prize.

It has a distinguished history according to the UNHCR website: “UNHCR’s Nansen Refugee Award honours extraordinary service to the forcibly displaced, and names Eleanor Roosevelt, Graça Machel and Luciano Pavarotti among its laureates.”

October 4, 2017
by Catherine Onyemelukwe

Nigeria’s Independence, Chicago & Mountain Day

Mount Holyoke College Mountain Day

Mount Holyoke College has a long-standing (I think since 1838!) tradition called Mountain Day.

One day in the fall the President surprises the campus with bells ringing to announce Mountain Day, a day without classes. Students are given a packed lunch and take off. Some are on bicycles, a few in cars. There are buses that take those who want to climb Mount Holyoke, the nearby mountain which gave the college its name. Most students climb it at least once during their four years on campus. The day often ends at an ice cream parlor or soda fountain.

Mountain Day 2017 at Sunny Daes Ice Cream, Fairfield Connecticut

Mountain Day 2017 at Sunny Daes Ice Cream, Fairfield Connecticut

Alums Gather for Mountain Day

And in recent years alumnae around the world have held social gatherings, usually in an ice cream parlor, to celebrate Mountain Day. We gather at 18:37, or 6:3 7 pm in the 12-hour time system.

Why? Because Mount Holyoke was founded in 1837!

We have to make the plans ahead of time because we do not know what day it will be!

Just before 8 am on the morning, the college sends an email to all alums – It’s Mountain Day!

For at least the past four years I’ve met up with other alums at Sunny Daes Ice Cream in Fairfield Connecticut.

Yesterday was very special because the woman from the class of 1990 who has been the chief organizer for several years had a stroke a few months ago. It was severe.

She was in the hospital, then rehab, for quite a while, but went home last Saturday. Her husband brought her to our Mountain Day celebration. We were so happy to see her looking cheerful and definitely recovering.

The groom Charlie in the center, with his brother Tim on right and friend on left.

The groom Charlie in the center, with his brother Tim on right and friend on left.

Rehearsal Dinner and Wedding Photos and Notes

I didn’t have photos ready to send from our nephew’s rehearsal dinner and wedding in Chicago, but now I do. I’ve scattered them through this post. I hope you enjoy them.

Plea to President Buhari for Independence Day

October 1st was Nigeria’s Independence Day. This year there did not seem to be a lot of celebrating. As the author of the Punch article below says, it is “still wobbling.”

The bride Courtney at the rehearsal dinner

The bride Courtney at the rehearsal dinner

“Over the years, the country has survived many near-death experiences. But never since the troubled era that culminated in the civil war (1967-70) have Nigerians been so divided,” the writer says.

In addition to Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen who are terrorizing farmers, he says, “12 northern states have brushed aside all constitutional strictures to impose penal aspects of Islamic sharia law.”

He continues, “In the midst of these fractious tendencies, the central government is often unable to deal decisively or objectively with the security menace as key political and security functionaries take, or are alleged to take, sides.”

Not a happy description. The article recommends Nigeria going back to a federal system with strong power at the regions or states instead of a strong central government that is unable to lead effectively.

Buhari, save Nigeria from disintegration

My brother Peter with his oldest son Dan at the dinner

My brother Peter with his oldest son Dan at the dinner

False Memories of Biafra?

Ambassador John Campbell writes about the distorted view some have of the Biafran War. He refers to The New York Times’ story a few days ago  which described Igbo traditionalists celebrating the Latin Mass.

He finds this resurrection of the Latin Mass in Roman Catholic churches in southeastern Nigeria troubling. (Southeastern Nigeria is a common reference to the Igbo people while avoiding the fraught question of tribe or ethnic group!)

He believes that today with so many issues facing Nigeria, returning to the traditional Mass makes some sense and may provide comfort.

Our daughter Beth with Peter's wife Mary

Our daughter Beth with Peter’s wife Mary

He lists the same ills as the Punch article I quoted above: “The country faces a continuing insurrection in the northeast associated with the radical, Islamist Boko Haram; “range wars” in the Middle Belt involving Muslim, Hausa-Fulani cattle herders and Christian, minority tribe farmers; the mystery surrounding the state of President Buhari’s health; and a revival of agitation for an independent Biafra.”

Campbell says, “[The NYTimes] story is timely in a number of ways; in particular, it alludes to an oft-cited myth that the end of the Biafran war was characterized by “rape and pillage” by the federal forces.”

Beth and Clem in the afternoon by Lake Michigan. Clem was amazed at the size of the lake - the little we could see!

Beth and Clem in the afternoon by Lake Michigan. Clem was amazed at the size of the lake – the little we could see!

I had to read his article a couple of times to understand that he was criticizing the NYTimes for including the myth about rape and pillage.

“In fact, such violence did not take place,” Campbell says. “Given the re-emergence of pro-Biafra sentiment today, it is important to be accurate about the civil war almost fifty years later.”

He wonders if the desire for conservative religious practices, a reflection of current worries, may also be causing people to romanticize the memory of Biafra.

This interest in reviving Biafra worries him. “[It] appears to be acquiring a Christian colorization that reflects the same ecclesiastically conservative outlook as the popularity of the Latin Mass,” he says.

Beth and Kelly, Dan's wife. Dan and Kelly were married 5 years ago.

Beth and Kelly, Dan’s wife. Dan and Kelly were married 5 years ago.

We should remember the true history of the causes of the Biafran War, and the resolution, and not be misled by myths. He reminds the readers of the coups, massacre of Igbo people, and desire for self-determination that led to the secession.

With the Nigerian defeat of the secessionist Biafra, there was punishment in the take-over of Christian schools and hospitals by the Federal Government. But there was no pillaging, rape, or slaughter of Igbo people.

Be truthful and thoughtful, he seems to be reminding those who think there could be a new Biafra.


September 30, 2017
by Catherine Onyemelukwe

Tribe or Ethnic Group? More!

Tribe or Ethnic Group?

The most comments ever on a blog topic came as a result of “Tribe or Ethnic Group.” If you haven’t commented yet but want to, you still can! Either make your comment at the bottom of the blog post, or reply to the email and I’ll post it for you!

Mike said Jews use the term tribes – the tribes of Israel. It is not demeaning.

Beth said wouldn’t it be strange to talk about native American or Indian “Ethnic Groups”? And she said, the context in which I use “Tribes” makes it the right word.

But Katy, Reggie, and Liz all thought it is time to drop the term. Pat, who first raised the question, agrees with them.

And I’m still unsure whether to say tribe or ethnic group! My next talk is not for a few weeks so I have time to wrestle with the question. All advice is welcome!

Stay with Me – The Novel

Stay with Me, the engrossing novel I'm listening to.

Stay with Me, the engrossing novel I’m listening to.

I’m listening to the novel Stay with Me by Ayobami Adebayo. I knew of it first from the Brittle Paper blog I follow. Then I heard a speaker on PBS comment on it.

It is not a happy novel. The topics of marriage, love, and family are treated seriously and deeply.

The NYTimes review said, . . .“ ‘Stay With Me’ feels entirely fresh, thanks to its author’s ability to map tangled familial relationships with nuance and precision, and her intimate understanding of her characters’ yearnings, fears and self-delusions.”

Brittle Paper listed several author interviews and awards. The writer said, “Ayobami is officially famous thanks to Stay With Me, one of the most talked-about debut novels of 2017.”

Ayobemi Adebayo, author of Stay with Me

Ayobemi Adebayo, author of Stay with Me

The article asked how the author is handling her new-found fame. Her answer to that question from an interviewer was, “The way I’ve handled it is to focus on what I’m working on right now. And that’s it.”

Despite its darkness, I love the book. I usually listen in the gym. I get so involved I almost enjoy the exercise!

I’m near the end. I do want the plot and characters settled, but I don’t want the book to be over.

The characters are well-developed, the writing is brilliant, and the reader’s Yoruba and Nigerian accents are wonderful and seem completely authentic to me! So I want to keep listening.

Schools Closed in Boko Haram Territory

Children are often the ones who suffer most in conflict. In northeastern Nigeria where Boko Haram has caused so much disruption, death, and destruction, most children are not in school.

I think the statistic that bothered me the most was, “More than 2,295 teachers have been killed and 19,000 displaced.” Teachers!

Schools are gone too. The article quotes UNICEF: “nearly 1,400 schools have been destroyed in eight years of fighting.”

President Buhari says Boko Haram has been largely defeated and driven out of the cities. But they still produce suicide bombings and keep areas unsafe.

The article from Daily Mail says, “Boko Haram’s name roughly translates from the Hausa language spoken widely across northern Nigerian to ‘Western education is sin’.”

Thus schools teaching a secular curriculum are targeted deliberately, says UNICEF’s deputy executive director Justin Forsyth.

Schools are perhaps not even the worst casualties. The article continues, “UNICEF said the intervention of aid agencies was making a difference but some 450,000 children under five were still expected to suffer from severe acute malnutrition this year.”

Family and Community

I’m writing from Chicago. We’re here for my nephew Charlie’s wedding to Courtney.

The rehearsal dinner hosted by my brother and his wife Mary was last night. We arrived late, but just as the meal had been served!

Why were we late? My husband forgot to bring his ID to the airport! So we couldn’t board our noon flight from Westchester County Airport. Instead, we re-booked for a later flight, drove home again and returned for a 5:29 pm departure!

It’s true that I usually remind him and I forgot too! So I couldn’t stay angry for too long.

Charlie is their third son. Dan, the oldest, was married in California five years ago to the day! We were there. Tim, their middle son, is not yet married.

Charlie came with mom Mary for our son’s wedding in St. John nearly a decade ago.

Although Peter is older than I am, he married later. So his children are all younger than ours.

More than one person commented last night how wonderful it is to get family together for an event like a wedding. It’s how we keep the community together, they said!

Not only Nigerians value community, I was reminded! Pictures next time!

September 26, 2017
by Catherine Onyemelukwe

Ethnic Group or Tribe?

New Canaan Library Author Talk

The New Canaan Library is lovely. My talk was in the Curtis Gallery. See the book stack, dolls, and beads on the sales table where my friend Mary-Jane was on duty!

The New Canaan Library is lovely. My talk was in the Curtis Gallery. See the book stack, dolls, and beads on the sales table where my friend Mary-Jane was on duty!

The audience of about 35 people at my New Canaan Library Author Talk on Monday evening was enthusiastic and full of interesting questions.

As people were leaving one audience member said, “Why do you use the word ‘tribes’ to describe Nigeria’s ethnic groups? Isn’t that outdated?”

The person speaking was an Igbo woman. My daughter has also said I should not use the term “tribe.”

Both daughter Beth and audience member Pat say use “ethnic group.”

“Tribe,” they say, has derogatory connotations and should be put to rest. Pat repeated her thoughts in a comment she posted. She said she loved the talk and it took her down memory lane – she’s been in this country for many years! Then she said,

“My only suggestion is to drop the use of tribes in favor of ethnic groups as tribes connotes negative stereotypes and backwardness about non western societies. The Igbo people are well-traveled and highly educated and I can’t imagine how tribe best describes them.

I use the word “tribes” because I see it in many documents. But maybe they are all out of date, as Pat suggested! (see article below about Igbo names)

And I just found that the WordPress spell-check calls “Tribe” bias language! Maybe it’s time to concede!

What do you think on the question of ethnic group or tribe?

Boko Haram Militants in Rehab

Russell in Cincinnati sent me a link to an article in the Cincinnati Enquirer.

The story highlighted Usman, a former Boko Haram member, who is, “among 95 Boko Haram members trying to repent by surrendering their weapons and participating in a government program to de-radicalize them and assimilate them into society.”

This program is part of President Buhari’s efforts to end Boko Haram’s violence.

More than 20,000 people have been killed and more than 2 million others displaced in Nigeria, Cameroon, and Niger.

There is a sense in Nigeria that many, if not most, of the Boko Haram fighters are pressured to join the terrorist group when there is no other viable opportunity to earn a living. So there is sympathy toward a program allowing them to re-enter society.

After the rehabilitation officers learn what they can, the former fighters begin the rehab program. It includes, “counseling and vocational classes in tailoring, farming, auto repair and other skills. The aim is to allow them to earn enough so they’re not tempted to go back to Boko Haram.”

Igbo Names and Their Meanings

In my second book, now in the hands of six beta readers, I have a chapter about Igbo names. The other day I found a description of the importance of Igbo names in this lovely piece.

The Guardian article begins, “The Igbo are one of the three major tribes of Nigeria.” A good example of what I mean about seeing the term used – see the first part of this post!

The writer says, “Our [Igbo] names bear a message, a meaning, a story, an observation, a history, a life experience or a prayer. They embody a collective of my people’s rich heritage and provide a window into our value systems and life philosophies.

The article describes the importance of the naming ceremony. The grandparents call on the gods and ancestors and announce the chosen name. There are libations of wine again to honor the ancestors. Then comes breaking of kola, followed by speeches.

For our first son, the event was all afternoon and continued into the evening. During the ceremony the stub of our son’s umbilical cord was buried in the compound to tie him to his home forever.

One of my favorite Igbo names is Nkiruka, the name given to our granddaughter. It’s usually shortened to Nkiru for everyday use. It is one of the 10 names the article explains:

What lays ahead of you is far greater than what is behind. She looks ahead for greater things to come.

Gloria Johnson-Powell ’58: #PoweredByMountHolyoke

Gloria Johnson-Powell in the LinkedIn photo

Gloria Johnson-Powell in the LinkedIn photo

The Mount Holyoke Alumnae LinkedIn group shared a piece about Gloria Johnson-Powell ’58. The post said, “She organized for the Civil Rights movement as a student, and became a key figure in researching health inequalities among disenfranchised women and children of color living in Milwaukee. As a child psychiatrist, she was one of the first African American women to gain tenure at Harvard Medical School.”

I found more about her in an earlier Mount Holyoke publication. In that piece she related that she had thought of leaving medical school to become more active in the civil rights movement. But someone convinced her otherwise!

“It was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. himself who changed her mind.” She recalled that she was at a meeting of student organizers when, “He banged his hand on the table, pointed his finger at me, and said, ‘You will stay in school because one of these days we’re going to need you.’ ”

Wikipedia has an entry for her.

The article says she was, “an important figure in the American Civil Rights Movement and was one of the first African-American women to attain tenure at Harvard Medical School.”

Her book Black Monday’s Children: A Study Of The Effects Of School Desegregation On The Self-Concepts Of Southern Children is an important text in child psychology.

September 22, 2017
by Catherine Onyemelukwe

Global Citizenship

Karin Muller, videographer of Global Citizenship!

Karin Muller, videographer of Global Citizenship!

Global Citizenship

I follow the Returned Peace Corps Volunteer LinkedIn Group. This message came from Karin Muller today:

“Since returning from the Philippines (87-89), I’ve dedicated my life to producing television documentaries on remote cultures and conflict zones for National Geographic and PBS,” she said.

She now operates independently. She has put several short pieces on YouTube, “both to continue promoting global citizenship and to eventually help underwrite my educational nonprofit organization.”

Her stories come from all over. She will continue posting over the next year, she said. I subscribed to her YouTube channel. You can too. I’m eager to see what comes next!

Longing for Community

“Right now, we’re all yearning for a sense of solidarity-to feel like we’re part of something bigger than ourselves.”

Sounds like a sentence for the back cover of my 2nd book – how people long to build community and feel part of something, doesn’t it? Or a sentence from Sunday’s sermon.

But it’s from the inside cover of Bloomingdale’s Fall 2017 glossy catalog that arrived in my mailbox a few weeks ago. Is Bloomingdale’s thinking of global citizenship? Hardly, though they do mention “tribe.”

Bloomingdale's catalog inviting me to be part of their tribe of shoppers

Bloomingdale’s catalog inviting me to be part of their tribe of shoppers

The introduction continues, “a feeling of camaraderie is more important than ever. That’s why we decided to create TEAM BLOOMIE’S: a rallying cry to all the fashion folks in our tribe-you included.” It’s about the designers, being “in perfect sync with your stylish sisters. . . embracing the power of self-expression via personal style.”

Since I didn’t open the catalog until Wednesday, I’d already missed the “Triple Point” sale dates it was advertising in its 170 pages of photographs!

And I find the whole concept of being part of a team of shoppers rather strange, even disgusting. I do not wish to be part of Bloomie’s “fashion folks” nor do I consider myself part of their tribe! How about you?

I had cancelled my Bloomingdale’s credit card recently. I got it several years ago when I met the Nigeria woman at the Clinique counter.

If I hadn’t already, I think this would have driven me to it!

A broom like this was presented by my husband's parents to us to signify their approval of our marriage and to remind us to sweep away bad thoughts!

A broom like this was presented by my husband’s parents to us to signify their approval of our marriage and to remind us to sweep away bad thoughts!

David Brooks on Being Part of Something

David Brooks wrote on the topic on Wednesday morning in The New York Times. He was comparing the Maslow hierarchy and the “Four Kinds of Happiness.”

He says, “The big difference between these two schemes is that The Four Kinds of Happiness moves from the self-transcendence individual to the relational and finally to the transcendent and collective. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, on the other hand, moves from the collective to the relational and, at its peak, to the individual.”

We have been too heavily focused on the individual – on becoming our “authentic” selves.

He encourages us to focus on being part of something, a mission, a goal, and think less about fulfilling our individual needs.

Ifeoma Obianwu Fafunwa, featured in Guardian Nigeria magazine spread!

Ifeoma Obianwu Fafunwa, featured in Guardian Nigeria magazine spread!

Ifeoma Obianwu Fafunwa

Ifeoma Obianwu Fafunwa, producer and director of Hear Word! a highly praised Nigerian drama, is bringing her play to the U.S. again. I hope I can see it this time!

She is the daughter of my dear friend Carol, and the daughter-in-law of my Nigerwives co-founder Doris.

Ifeoma is featured in Guardian Life (Nigeria) Magazine with a fabulous fun video of her in a variety of clothes, moves, and poses! You can watch a video here.

Cholera in Nigeria

Voice of America has a report from Reuters about the outbreak of cholera in northeast Nigeria.

The overcrowded camps are occupied by thousands of people displaced by the Boko Haram violence. The camps are easy places for the disease to spread.

“A major vaccination campaign aims to reach more than 900,000 people this week in the area, and aid agencies such as Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) said they were stepping up efforts to halt the spread of the diseases as new cases emerged across the state,” the article says.

But it is a daunting task. “Seth Berkley, chief executive of GAVI, the global vaccines alliance, said, ‘These vaccines will play a vital role in slowing the spread of the disease,'” according to the report.

UNICEF, also active in the area, says some infected people are not reporting the disease, which hinders progress against it and the chance for treatment. The article doesn’t explain why; I suspect fear.

“Cholera spreads through contaminated food and drinking water and can kill within hours if left untreated, but most patients recover if treated promptly with oral rehydration salts,” the article says.

The contrast to Bloomingdale’s catalog is almost unbelievable!

UN General Assembly

The UN General Assembly is meeting. President Buhari addressed the body on September 19. He talked about the Rohingya but did not mention the more than 2 million people displaced by Boko Haram.

Quartz online says Buhari’s speech was full of irony. “Since being devastated by the long-running Boko Haram insurgency, displaced persons in the northeast have been forced to live in congested camps where hunger and disease are rife. (See piece above about cholera) Nearly half a million children in the region are severely malnourished, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council,” the article said.

African leaders met with President Trump on Thursday. Have you seen any report of that meeting? I have not.

Photo by my cousin Thomas Thompson

Photo by my cousin Thomas Thompson

New Canaan Library on Monday

Not too late to come to New Canaan CT Library on Monday evening for my talk and book signing. There was a story in the New Canaan News today by reporter Erin Kayata who interviewed me last week.

Today is the autumnal equinox!

My cousin Thomas posts amazing photos on Facebook. This was on September 18.

September 18, 2017
by Catherine Onyemelukwe

We Belong to a Community

Rev. Barber: What We Must Do

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

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

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

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

President Woodrow Wilson

President Woodrow Wilson

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

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

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

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

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

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

Megachurches in Nigeria

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rev. John rededicating our Black Lives Matter banner

Rev. John rededicating our Black Lives Matter banner

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

Black Lives Matter Banner is Restored

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

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

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

You can read about the brief ceremony in WestportNow.

Our new banner

Our new banner

We Belong to Each Other

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

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

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

My Book About Community

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

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

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

I still need a title. Suggestions are welcome!

September 14, 2017
by Catherine Onyemelukwe

Agriculture in Nigeria

President Buhari Praises Agriculture in Nigeria

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

Nigeria must feed itself – Buhari

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

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

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

Olam the Company

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

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

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk

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

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

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

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

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

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

The author Kelli Estes acclaimed for her debut novel

The author Kelli Estes acclaimed for her debut novel

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

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

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

Amnesty for Undocumented People – Not Who You Think!

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

Native American Council Offers Amnesty to 240 Million Undocumented Whites

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 10, 2017
by Catherine Onyemelukwe
Comments Off on The Arc of the Moral Universe

The Arc of the Moral Universe

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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

The Arc of the Moral Universe

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

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

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

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

Theodore Parker who coined the phrase.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David described a dream he had seven years ago:

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

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

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

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

Marvel Comic and Chibok Girls

Nnedi Okorafor, writer, from her website

Nnedi Okorafor, writer, from her website

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nigerian Army Announces Python Dance II

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

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

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

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

Clem and Dozie in December 2016 in Nnewi

Clem (right) and Dozie in December 2016 in Nnewi

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

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

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

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

September 6, 2017
by Catherine Onyemelukwe
Comments Off on Time for New Yam Festival

Time for New Yam Festival

The New Yam Festival

Yams like those for the new yam festival

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Writing About Igbo Spiritual Practices

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

Things Fall Apart, recent edition of novel published in 1958

Things Fall Apart, recent edition of novel published in 1958

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

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

Is that a good idea?

Retired Men’s Association of Greenwich

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

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

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

Audience member Reggie and me

Audience member Reggie and me

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

Come to the next event to see it yourself!

At the book signing table

At the book signing table in Greenwich

Next Event at New Canaan Library

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

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

Atlanta Black Star Article on Nazi Use of Jim Crow

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kenya Supreme Court Annuls Election Results

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

Newly popular Chief Justice Maraga of Kenya, from

Newly popular Chief Justice Maraga of Kenya, from

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

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

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

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

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

September 2, 2017
by Catherine Onyemelukwe
Comments Off on Is There Slavery in Nigeria Today?

Is There Slavery in Nigeria Today?

Slavery in Nigeria Today?

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

Priti Patel, UK Secretary for International Development

Priti Patel, UK Secretary for International Development

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

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

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

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

A Different Take on Slavery

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

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

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

His family would absolutely not accept her.

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

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

Black Lives Matter at Unitarian Church in Westport

Shanonda Nelson, worship associate

Shanonda Nelson, worship associate

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

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

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

Celebration of the Life of the Tea Importer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Congressional Delegation to Nigeria

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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