Saturday, February 3, 2007


so, after the seminar, I didn't have a chance to tell my favourite part of the day. I went for a walk outside the seminar which was on the grounds of a boy's school. A couple boys were playing soccer, so I watched and after a while they kicked the ball to me, so I kicked it back. At times I have difficulty understanding the Nigerian accent, but sports are universal. We soon had a great soccer game going among myself and about 10 of the boys from the school. We were all barefoot, since I had sandals on, and they just were barefoot. Eventually 3 of the participants from the seminar who were still there also joined in. It was amazing how much this little activity just opened everyone up. Sports are so universal, and they had the opportunity to laugh at me running around barefoot in a skirt kicking a 20 year old soccerball just as they were. We had a meeting afterwards with the committee members, and instead of being formal with the president, we were able to chat and recognise that we were all working towards the same goal (recognition of human dignity, in case you were wondering!) even though we come from different backgrounds.

The next morning, we woke up early to be interviewed on the CRBC, Cross River State Broadcasting Corporation, morning talk show. Myself, Ann, Winnie and our member IG were all on tv for 20 minutes speaking about the WYA, our seminar, what we hoped to accomplish within Calabar and within Nigeria. That was our second media interview here in Nigeria. Our first seminar in Lagos, we also had NTV, Nigerian TV, at the seminar who got some footage of us speaking, and then interviewed each of us afterwards.

After the interview we got into a car and drove to Warri. The trip took about 8 hours, and as we got closer to Port Harcourt and Warri the amount of police checkpoints increased dramatically. We were lucky to only by pulled over for questioning (aka. checking if we would bribe them) twice. The first time, I had my window down and the officer asked me if I had anything for him. I said "no, sorry" and he asked me why not. Temptation, I so wanted to reply that if he'd called in advance and told me he'd be waiting for me that I could have picked up a little present for him. My second thought was to offer him a WYA T-shirt after giving him a lecture on the dignity of the person, solidarity, and good governance. My third thought won out sadly enough, which was that I should probably just keep quiet so he didn't shoot me or beat me.

In Warri, the bishop welcomed us very warmly, along with Fr. Nicholas who had organised the seminar the following day. We were greeted with Cola nuts which are apparently the local tradition to welcome guests. The person who brings cola nuts brings peace. After discussing in a number of seminars that the peace is achieved through voluntary suffering, the taste shouldn't have come as a shock. No wonder Coca Cola is jammed with sugar, cola nuts are very bitter and I have no idea what would possess people eat them voluntarily. Perhaps if you bring them and eat them, it shows how earnestly desire peace that you would go to the trouble of picking them and eating them.

The seminar in Warri was beautiful, we had 100 participants, and these young people were incredible. They live in the heart of the Niger Delta region, amidst all the conflict over oil exploitation, government corruption, and poverty in the midst of wealth generation. At the end of this conference, not only did every single participant sign up, but approximately 30 stayed afterwards to become ACTIVE members. They understood so clearly that it was up to THEM to make the changes they wished to see. They already know the problems, and when faced with a solution, they were so willing and eager to do anything we asked of them. Even the kitchen staff sat in the back throughout the entire session and pulled me aside to thank me for coming and had really been listening. Winnie and I find both we and the participants get the most out of the seminars through interactive sessions. In Warri, I spent a great deal of time speaking with the participants about freedom (true freedom, prerequisites for freedom, differences between internal and external freedom, etc.). Afterwards we discussed Solidarity. I could barely keep a straight face, there was a doctor in attendance, a very warm, friendly man. As I asked the participants a number of questions to lead to a discussion on the relevance of Solidarity to freedom and human dignity and in their lives, he would continually interrupt with his own questions. At one point, I asked if anyone there was in prison (limits on personal freedom was where I was attempting to lead the participants) and he interrupted to say, how often do you visit the prisoners - she is trying to get you to think of charity, what work do you do for sick people and people in prison. It was so difficult to be diplomatic, my first reaction was shock, then I wanted to laugh, and finally I had to extricate the mic back from him so I could get the participants back on track.

In each seminar, the participants have split into groups to discuss three topics: Conflict in the Niger Delta, Conflict between Christian and Muslim communities, and Civil unrest during elections. At the end of their presentations they've passed in their thoughts and we're collecting them all to form a communique or presentation of all their thoughts. Many of the groups have excellent insights into the problems and suggestions for ways to work towards a solution. We hope that by distributing the collected thoughts amongst our active members and through them to government officials and others who can do this work, that all these seminars can begin to impact Nigeria.

Yesterday we arrived in Abuja. I'm almost out of time on the computer now, so will publish this and hopefully have internet again in Nairobi. We'll arrive tomorrow night.

No comments: