Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, Blogger, Speaker

Small World Coincidences Abound

Small World Coincidences

As I get older and have more connections, small world coincidences seem more frequent. Do you find this too?

The past week has been overflowing with small world coincidences.

Nick Thiemann photo from Having him nearby was example of small world coincidences

Nick Thiemann photo from

First – my friend Nick Thiemann who was a lawyer in Westport. He was a Peace Corps volunteer in Nigeria. My group was Nigeria 4. He was in the Nigeria 12 contingent.

I always thought it was such a coincidence to have another volunteer who had been in Nigeria living nearby, especially someone who knew the Eastern Region of the country.

I concluded my Peace Corps service in June 1964, returned to the U.S. for the summer, and headed back to Nigeria in September. I had a teaching job at the smaller school where I had been a volunteer. But my main reason to return was to get married.

Nick arrived in Nigeria in that same September. He was a community development volunteer. He left Nigeria a year before the civil war.

We saw him now and then in Westport. He loved to use his Igbo words with us.

When Peter Hansen and I were establishing Friends of Nigeria a couple of decades ago, Nick helped us with our nonprofit registration. He served for a time on the board of Friends of Nigeria.

Nick died in late October. Clem and I went to the funeral home to speak to his wife and son. They said he had loved his Peace Corps experience. I’d never met the son but he knew who I was right away when I said my name.

Nick at end of his Peace Corps service

Nick at end of his Peace Corps service. Can you find him?

I searched among the many photos until I found one of Nick’s Peace Corps days. He was with village elders in Orlu who were thanking him for his service.

Seeing the photo felt familiar. I could so easily imagine the scene when it was taken!

I only have the iPhone photo I took. It’s hard to see him – just look for the one white guy in the center!

And Other Small World Coincidences

We had dinner Friday night with Stephanie Newell, in New Haven. I met her last month.

Small world coincidences started with her writing a book about the English novelist who lived in Onitsha from 1905 until his death in 1939. Clem wanted to meet her. Thus the dinner.

You may remember what I wrote last month: “In The Forger’s Tale: The Search for Odeziaku Stephanie Newell charts the story of the English novelist and poet John Moray Stuart-Young (1881-1939) as he traveled from the slums of Manchester to West Africa in order to escape the homophobic prejudices of late-Victorian society.”

The Forger's Tale by Stephanie Newell

The Forger’s Tale by Stephanie Newell

Steph and Clem shared bits of information about the man. Clem told Steph that he had seen a place called Alhambra, all underground, that Stuart-Young was building. She didn’t know about that.

She spent a lot of time in Nigeria between 1996 and 2006 when her book was published.

More Coincidences

During one of her times in Nigeria she gave a talk to the Nigerwives group in Ibadan. I surprised her by telling her I was a founder of Nigerwives! Small world coincidence #2.

And #3? We talked about the SOAS Igbo Women’s Conference in 2015, where I presented a paper. She had heard wonderful reports about that event. She hadn’t been able to attend and was surprised to learn I had been there.

I said, “I’ve seen a CfP (Call for Papers) for another Igbo Conference in April 2017. The theme is Legacies of Biafra: Reflections on the Nigeria – Biafra Conflict 50 Years On.”

“But I’m having trouble with a topic,” I said. She strongly recommended submitting a proposal. As we spoke about the theme, she said, “They will like something unusual. You were there on the ground. You have a lot to tell.”

Clem said he was one of the top ten people involved in running Biafra. So I can tell his story and mine!

I asked if she knew the blog where I’d found the info. She surprised me by saying it was started by her students! So four small world coincidences over one dinner in New Haven!

Boko Haram Update

There is almost daily news about Boko Haram. Recently it has been a little discouraging. But it’s better than no news!

Punch newspaper photo of Col. Ali receiving award for bravery

Punch newspaper photo of Col. Ali receiving award for bravery

A few days ago Lt. Col. Muhammad Abu Ali, “described as a gallant, battle tested and trusted patriotic soldier of the Nigerian Army,” was killed.

The news report said he and four other soldiers died. They were attempting to capture the town of Mallam Fatori in Bornu.

“He served the nation with unwavering commitment and dedication, paying the ultimate price so that millions can sleep on their beds in peace,” the statement from Lafiya Dole, the Theatre Command Centre of Operation, in Maiduguri, said.

He had been honored for his bravery and commitment.


In another recent article Vanguard reported that the Defence Minister is asking Nigerians for patience. For the people in the area it must be very hard to be patient!

Economic Distress Takes Many Forms

There was news that part of the expressway around Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (Nigeria’s Washington DC) was in darkness as night fell.

Thieves took electric cables worth millions of Naira. 

The article, also in Punch online, said that, “the  FCT [Federal Capital Territory] minister, Malam Muhammad  Bello, who visited the scene, reiterated the resolve of the FCT Administration to take stern measures against vandals, stressing that the government would not condone the wanton destruction of public infrastructure and utilities.”

Of course they don’t condone it. But can they catch the thieves?

How did the vandals manage to do this? Was there no electricity running through those cables? Stay tuned!

Author: Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, blogger, speaker. Born in New York, grew up in mid west United States, lived in Nigeria for 24 years, back in U.S. since 1986. Advocate for racial justice.

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