The Uncommon Man

November 06, 2006

The Real Africa

5 November, 2006

We were greeted this morning by a beautifully dressed Ugo with two cars to take us all to church. The Catholic church is a large cement structure with many openings for ventilation, and steel girders holding up a huge metal roof. After waiting outside in the baking heat, we seated ourselves amongst the 300 or more people. As the only white person in the hall, I was getting lots of looks that reflected curiosity and welcome.

The service was all in the Ibo language. In spite of the heat, the atmosphere was filled with a wonderful spirit. An enthusiastic choir was accompanied by a variety of unique (for us) percussion instruments and a keyboard. When a cassette tape of their music was announced as a fundraiser, I took a turn at the microphone to make a contribution and bring greetings from the U.S., Zambia and Rwanda.

After the service we drove to a party at the home of a man whose daughter was christened during the service. We were feed delicious, spicy food and extended our congratulations.

The journey to Ugo’s village was a one hour drive through rolling hills over roads that alternated between extremely rutted and newly paved. Passing fields of cassava, yam, banana and rice we observed why Ebonyi state is considered the breadbasket of Nigeria. The township of Edda is a large clan who speak the same dialect and live in a number of different villages.

Driving into Ugo’s village, we entered another world. The rough dirt road took us past very simple and well-kept homes. People on porches and walking everywhere greeted us with waves and smiles. Meeting their open, direct eye contact was a delightful challenge to me. Poverty was balanced by a peace and richness of spirit that was tangible.

Our first stop was a quick visit to Ugo’s namesake, a recently born baby girl. We were then welcomed into the home of Ugo’s late father (who died last year) by her mother and grandmother, and a group of 10 other women, who sang and danced us greetings. Ugo told them of our work, and James and I expressed our gratitude for their hospitality. More singing and dancing (“love is beautiful” and “unity is our strength”) drew us into their circle. Before we left we were invited into the backyard where beautiful children were sifting and cooking ground cassava.

A short drive took us to the village of Ugo’s husband (which became her village when they married). On the way we passed children dressed in costumes of straw and kerchief masks, a crowd of women and men singing and dancing down the street, and a gigantic “tree of judgment” where the elders of the village sit.

Ugo’s husband, Dr. Okoro Ojinnachi, a medical doctor, welcomed us to their beautiful country home (where she lives on the weekends). We then sat in the open-air veranda with a circle of 10 men who were elders and community leaders in Ebba, including a traditional ruler, retired politicians, school principles, and other government service officials. A coca nut ceremony was followed words of welcome. (Dr. Ojinnachi told us that he had been following the weblog entries from Liberia.) They were clearly impressed that our team included men from Zambia and Rwanda, and curious to learn more about our work. Although our time together was brief, the potential for collaboration was obvious to everyone – developing a model of men in a village working with women for safe and healthy families and communities. As we took pictures and said “Kaa,” the Ibo word for hello and goodbye, we all hoped that these relationships would continue.

Our last stop in the village was to pay a visit to Ugo’s mother-in-law, who was recovering from eye surgery. As we stood in the large central yard filled with chickens, goats, mango, grapefruit, orange, and nut trees, Uduma opened his arms, beamed his tremendous smile, and said “this is the real Africa.”

Posted by Daniel at November 6, 2006 09:05 AM


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