Saturday, 23 January 2010

Joie de vivre

I started writing this blog two weeks ago.. Two weeks is a long time. In between a devastating earthquake shook Haiti killing hundreds of thousands. And around 300 people were killed during violent clashes in Jos, the nearest city to Kafanchan.

This is the second time Jos has erupted since I’ve been In Nigeria. The first time it happened in November 2008, I knew Jos as a neighbouring city, which we had visited three weeks before during our VSO In-Country-Training. Then, as now, the tangible impact on Kafanchan and Kagoro has been minimal. Peace continues to reign locally and it’s only the news of the violence which disrupts our daily lives.

However now Jos is a place that I visit regularly at the weekends. A city where many good friends live.

Friends including my partially-sighted friend Joshua who phoned me last Tuesday morning. His trembling voice masking the gun shots in the background as the violence threatens to engulf the university hostel campus where he stays. He texted this morning to say he’d been evacuated home to the south of the country. I’m so relieved he’s safe however I know it’s a massive disruption to his studies on the Special Education degree at the University of Jos. When will he be able to return and who will pay the fare?

Friends including Victor who gave his time and talent to produce my blind friend Jonathan’s music tracks. He called Jonathan when hostilities escalated last Tuesday morning to let him know that the curfew was now 24 hours so he wouldn’t be able to come down to Kafanchan to meet him. I contacted him later to share my concerns. After a day I received a reply:

“Sori 4 my silence, i’ve been out of credit & de 24 hrs curfew aint helpin. We’re fine tho we lost sm friends & 1 of my family houses was burnt down.”

My very good friend Julius: when I called late on Tuesday evening he reported that he and the other men from the local community were on guard on one side of the main route into Jos to warn of any overnight attacks. The community on the other side of the road was ‘burning’.

My Muslim colleague who had learnt that his brother, who’d been missing for 24 hours, had been thankfully found in a hospital although with a head injury. The rest of the family had fled their home.

A director of Fantsuam who learnt that a former neighbour had been killed whilst returning to his burnt house to rescue his belongings.

But I didn’t know any of this when I started writing two weeks ago: I was planning to post a short, upbeat report about how cicelyinnigeria is being featured to promote VSO, to promote business schools and I hope, to promote Nigeria.

As I write this I am indecisive about clicking the ‘Publish this Post’ button: I love this country and its people; I love being here and I find it very difficult to publish something that I know will fuel rather than dispel the public’s image of Nigeria, that was already suffering before Mr Pants Bomber hit the headlines so vividly over Christmas.

Should I take advantage of the fact that very few of you may even be aware of this latest unrest as the entire world’s press is focused on Haiti? It was very tempting. But I’d rather be honest. Besides the honesty, this blog is like my diary and I can’t ignore this significant event in the interests of PR.

What I struggle to understand is why this violence happens.. again and again. A common theme emerged from friends and colleagues after Mutallab’s arrest: “He’s not Nigerian: Nigerians love life too much to commit suicide”. This same theme predominates comments of the 113,000 members (as of now) of the Facebook group “Get us off that list: Nigerians are NOT Terrorists”. And it’s a fact suicide rates are incredibly low.

I often struggle with the objectives of my own volunteer work in ‘development’: can we achieve economic development without the trappings that have burdened those so-called ‘developed’ (or as I have said before, ‘over-developed’) countries that most of us are familiar with? Societies where stress levels frequently overcome a human’s love of life? Where the concept of a “family” or “community” hardly exists in fact?

Living in a country where, despite massive hardship, people love to be alive, is in itself invigorating and fulfilling.

On the converse, the challenges of Nigeria, and indeed much of Africa, could also be rooted in this: if you’re generally happy, why bother forcing change? Inshallah.
Tensions are still high. Reports of ‘massacre’ fuel those tensions in communities around the country. I pray that the Nigerians’ very real love of life, the love that makes this country such a great place to live, can overcome resentment, revenge and hatred.

And if that doesn’t work – let’s hope Nigeria wins the Africa Cup of Nations. Nothing like a football game to unite a country.


Belindka said...

you don't dodge the tricky issues do you my dear...

Anonymous said...

Very powerful Cicely! Go Nigeria in the Cup!!! Be safe to you and all your friends in cluding thoise in Jos - Jared xx

Anonymous said...

Good luck with everything Cicely. An honest and powerful post. I wish you and all your friends the very best.

Anonymous said...

Dear Cicely,
Very eloquently put as always. There was some coverage of the clashes in Jos in the news despite the focus on Haiti.
I wish you well and stay safe.

Alison R. said...

I had seen reports on the violence but didn't register that it was so close to you. Please stay safe and keep that positive attitude.

EmilyBullock said...

Thank you for moving me from selfish, my departure won't be delayed I'm going to Abuja, to engaged person weeping for your friends. I am about to be VSO volunteer in Abuja, and have started my blog here You will see that I also struggled with the speak / silence issue!