Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Talatu has dug through the many layers to the very beginning, has set aside those little treasures, the happy moments that were truly, truly hers, and lets the other things rest where they lay, to be covered again by the ever-blowing dust. Allah ya ba da zaman lafiya. Amin.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

To those who preach hatred in God's name:

I read this passage this morning:

""God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, 'I love God,' yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother."
I John 4:16-21

This afternoon, I read of the details of the
massacre of Hausa Muslims in the village of Kuru Jantar on Al-Jazeera, which I had heard hints of earlier posted on Naijablog on January 19: first a plea for help and then an exhausted report of a massacre.

"Reports on Saturday said that about 150 bodies had been recovered from wells in Kuru Jantar, near the city of Jos, where clashes began last week before spreading to nearby villages.

Locals in Kuru Jantar, also known as Kuru Karama, told Andrew Simmons, Al Jazeera's Africa editor, that a massacre had taken place in the village.

They said armed men had surrounded and attacked the village on Tuesday.

Al Jazeera saw the bodies recovered from wells, as well as the burnt bodies of children recovered from ransacked houses.

Up to 18,000 people in the area are thought to have been left homeless by the clashes in Nigeria's Plateau State."

Witnesses seem to indicate it was some sort of outside attack, saying the "village was surrounded." Whether that is true or not, there definitely seem to be politics behind this. (For more information on the indigin/settler politics that seems to be the root of the recent sectarian violence in Plateau State read these documents: a recently published article by shari’a-in-Nigeria scholar Philip Ostien on the events leading up the the 2008 crisis“Jonah Jang and the Jasawa”; a Human Rights Watch report on the politics of “Settler/indigene” in Nigeria, with a section on Plateau State, and the Human Rights Watch report on the Military abuses during the 2008 crisis, which have no doubt been continued during this crisis.

I've had a few friends recently be vocally critical of "religious" people who do not speak out loudly against those who commit evil in the name of religion. Let this be my response:

To those who kill and loot and politic and conspire and corrupt youth in God's name, may He judge you with the same fire you used to burn the houses and bodies of innocent people. To those who preach hatred and prejudice and violence in God's name, listen to the words of Jesus, who is venerated in both Christianity and Islam:

"Jesus said to his disciples: 'things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come. It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin. So watch yourselves.

'If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times come back to you and says, 'I repent,' forgive him." Luke 17:1-4

"Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By your fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'" Matthew 7:15-23

And when the men came forward to arrest Jesus and one of Jesus's disciples cut off the ear of the servant of the high priest,"Put your sword back in its place," Jesus said to him, "for all who draw the sword will die by the sword." Matthew 26:52

"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying.

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites, You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.


Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices--mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law--justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside will be clean.

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypcrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, 'If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.; So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers!

You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the alter. I tell you the truth, all this will come upon this generation.

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often i have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'"
Matthew 23:13-39

"This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God." John 3:19

For those who excuse attacks on those who are of a different religion or ethnicity because you think if you don't strike first, they will persecute you:

"Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, 'Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?'

"Jesus answered, 'I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times." Matthew 18:18

"You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloack as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you."

You have heard it that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in Heaven." Matthew 5:38-45

"But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you." Luke 6:27

"A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the student to be like his teacher and the servant like his master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household!

So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny[assarion]? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows" Matthew 10:24-31

"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." John 13: 34

"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid" John 14:27

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Phone call from my father: on Jos

My dad calls me 5 minutes ago. He says "This thing has really exploded this morning. Much worse than last time. I have never heard so much gunfire in my life."

"It's all retaliation," he says. "It could spill over anywhere. No one is targeting us, but you never know. Someone who has just lost someone is not in their right mind. Just stay home today."

Every few seconds, he'd say "There's another one. Another shot. A heavy one."

"There is a 24 hour curfew. No one can go anywhere."

I ask him if there are refugees. He says not so many, mostly a lot of children at the house.

"There's another shot."

I tell him about the Martin Luther King sermon I read last night about "loving your enemy." "Do you have internet? I'll send it to you," I say.

"Ok. yes, That's what we need right now. You know this thing in Haiti, it's terrible, but there's nothing anyone could have done about it. But this. All of this retaliation.... " His voice is sad.

I tell him to text me if he needs more phone credit. I promise him reluctantly that I will stay at home.

God, help us.

5:34 pm: Links to articles about the most recent Jos Crisis:

(The most recent and most horrifying: http://234next.com/csp/cms

You can also go back to December 2008 on this blog to look at my posts on the last Jos crisis.

Monday, January 18, 2010

After shocks

Yesterday, after being away from internet and television for about four days, I found myself in the parlour of the house where I was being hosted in Kaduna, watching CNN coverage of the continuing devastation in Haiti. I cried. I am not as jaded, perhaps, as I would have been had I been watching it nonstop for the last four days. I was not yet glutted on the tragedy-scoops. The horrors of the earthquake in Haiti make all of the news of the past few months--the hysteria about the near miss with terrorism on Christmas Day (in which no one was actually killed), the madness over the disappearance of Nigeria's president--seem like children's quarrels. There are politics there, certainly. Peter Hallward points out in a Guardian article "Our role in Haiti," that
"Since the late 1970s, relentless neoliberal assault on Haiti's agrarian economy has forced tens of thousands of small farmers into overcrowded urban slums. Although there are no reliable statistics, hundreds of thousands of Port-au-Prince residents now live in desperately sub-standard informal housing, often perched precariously on the side of deforested ravines. The selection of the people living in such places and conditions is itself no more "natural" or accidental than the extent of the injuries they have suffered."

The poverty in Haiti is indicative of larger global injustices. I tried to donate online to relief efforts and couldn't because apparently the foundation I was trying to donate to would not accept money from an IPS in Nigeria. There are many ironies here--there are certainly many Nigerians who would like to join the global effort to help Haiti but even if our IP address were accepted what about global structures which mean that only those elite Nigerians who have lived abroad have access to credit cards? How do poor/rich people in Nigeria, labeled a "nation of interest" in the "war against terrorism" help earthshaken people in Haiti? Why is it that there were international volunteers working to save people trapped in hotels and not so many in ordinary homes? Why is it that the UN sent doctors back because they feared it wasn't safe? As if it is safe for anyone... for any of those people lying in tent hospitals because those hospitals that were already there had collapsed in the mindless thrust of the earth? The quake exposes global political fault lines as well as physical ones.

But ultimately, in the face of such great devastation, there is so little room left for outrage. The loss is too overwhelming. Human mistakes and squabbles and politics are dwarfed by the incomprehensible nature of the earth rising up and shaking down schools and homes and palaces--crushing children and mothers and teachers and politicians and journalists and UN representatives. Postal workers and cooks and students and grocers and doctors. There is no one to blame in these moments when the earth shakes but God himself. And yet what do we make of those hymns drifting out of the open parks where people are camped, homeless, and through news channels into the parlours of those of us in middleclass Nigeria, where the light has come back for a few hours, and we sit, and we watch, and we cry, and we listen. To the voices of those people singing who have lost everything, like the voices of those I woke to last November at 6am, women and children in our house, as Jos burned around us. Women and children and those young men, who were not yet patrolling, who had run with only small bags in their night clothes to the university. Refugees all. Singing.

A few hours later after I cried over the stories on CNN and we went to church and came back, my friend started receiving phone calls that there were problems in Jos. She is a student at the National Film Institute in Jos, and I had come to Kaduna with her and another mutual friend who is a Hausa film actor and director. For the next few hours we texted back and forth with family and friends in Jos. No one still seems quite sure what happened, but there is once again a 6pm to 6am curfew over Jos, and my parents tell of people our friends know who have died. Here are a few articles I've been able to find, from NEXT, BBC, and Al-Jazeera. And two more later articles from Next: "Police Restore Calm in Jos" and "Jos Residents Besiege Displaced Person's Camp." It seems that at root, it was a quarrel over land, over rebuilding a house that had been burnt in the last crisis. The feud spilled over into gangs wielding fire and machetes--destroying newly rebuilt buildings, killing the children who survived the killing last year. The skin slowly creeping over the wound is ripped open again. Once again it is Muslims against Christians and Christians against Muslims and "those Hausas always causing trouble," as the endless online commentary goes, so quick to assign blame to those who are not "us."

I am not in Jos now. It is hard not knowing what is going on. I remember last November but feel distant. I am not there. And there are no CNN stories showing families weeping over bodies.

When I come back to Kano and my laptop and go online, I discover that it is Martin Luther King Day in America, and a friend has posted part of this as her Facebook status update:

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral,
begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.
Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.
Through violence you may murder the liar,
but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.
Through violence you may murder the hater,
but you do not murder hate.
In fact, violence merely increases hate.
So it goes.
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence,
adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness:
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I try to find where the quote is from, and I find this 1957 sermon that apparently re-stated (pre-stated) much of what is in the quote (although not exactly): "Loving Your Enemies."

I am still trying to wrap my head around the connections here:

The violent rupture of the earth in an island nation not far from where i was born, the after shocks that heave and tremble long afterwards.

And the violent explosions born of both love of home and hatred for the other--all tied up in the earth and belonging and who owns what and who belongs where. It breaks, breaks, breaks across the land that divides north from south, the coast from the sahel. It threatens to break us all, and what do we have left? When will the light come back? How long can we keep singing?

"Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." This is the way the quote my friend posted ends, but in King's 1957 speech he continues, "Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction"

So do we end with love or do we end with destruction?

Can love overwhem hate?

Will it save us in the end?

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Remembered Spaces

I took the bicycle from a child. He was heading into our garage to put away the ancient, used bike I had bought almost nine years ago. It was a heavy, man’s bike with a rod across the front. The child looked worried when I took it from him at the door. “It’s my uncle’s own,” he said. “I’ll not take it far,” I said. “I used to ride this years ago.”

I soon discovered that the hand brakes didn’t work and when you sat on the seat, it fell back pointing upwards toward the sky so that I had to balance on the tip of it to sit at all. But as I glided down the gravelly pot-holed university road between empty golden fields, heading for the photocopy shops near the hostels, I lifted my face to the distant mountains scaled with silver roofs, gazed out at the trees scattered occasional in long pastures stretching to the sky. “I’ve missed this,” I thought, “I have forgotten myself—that girl I once was.” Those long solitary walks under the open sky I’d take as a teenager—dreaming myself into a different world—down the road to the small waterfall that gushed over rock into the culvert and down to the river when the rains were heavy. I'd weave bouquets of golden flowers when the rains were at their end. And then in January days, when the veils of harmattan lifted—I'd gather dried arrangements to place in the vases brought home from ceramics class—dried red seed pods, half opened, feathery weeds, and hard prickly golden grass.

I was young and I loved the solitude—the rush of wind in the grass—the boulder strewn mountains. I lived half my life in another world—the world of princes and princesses and fairies and nymphs—I’d imagine the ghosts of great writers peering out at me from mirrors—guiding my pen with whispered words. Every once in a while I’d act out my story for myself, saying my lines with feeling, as if for a camera—as if my life were on film.

Sometimes I’d take a chair out to the driveway at night when NEPA left. There were not many generators on campus in those days and we did not use ours often, only candles and kerosene lamps, and it would be dark and silent with the steady thrum of the cicadas and barking of dogs around me. I’d lie back in the chair, our huge dog snuffling about, imagine myself lying in a boat of glass on a mirrored sea, stars above me, stars below me.

Those were the days when I was quiet and shy, and a bit of a dork. When my classmates were playing sports or going to parties, I was at home reading novels. I’d read far into the night with a candle balanced on my bed and wake at 2am with wax dripped all over my blanket. Those were the days when I knew Nigeria from the long trips I took with my family on the long hot roads between the flat green of Port Harcourt and the misty hills of Jos, from occasional trips to the market or to visits to churches where my dad would speak, from friends I had at our fenced in international school. I knew nothing of politics, other than the fact that here it was military and that we were all tense when there was a coup, and little of colonialism, though I devoured historical novels about World War II. I wandered through life dreaming of love and fame and all the beautiful things that I would do and be someday—in America or Europe or that imaginary world which I alone knew.

Those were the days before I fell in love with cities and crowds and subways and taxis and acabas. Before I learned to use makeup (though that knowledge is still shaky), before my ears were pierced, before I discovered the dramatic appeal of henna-ed hands. When the musicians I knew were my brother’s friends—my popular brother was the one who went on the radio every week with his rock and roll show and was the cool young guitarist in a band full of my classmates. I admired his life, and I’d imagine myself in his world, but I was too shy for it. I wanted to act in school plays, as I had as a young child, but I froze with terror at my first audition and didn’t go back for three years—it was not until my final year that I launched with gusto into my minor role as a frosty upper class mother-in-law. Those days I spoke no more Hausa than “ina kwana?” and Nigeria was slightly out of focus, veiled behind the mists of harmattan.

I loved deeply then, but I did not know what I loved. I loved my dreams. I loved my imagination. I loved those characters I read of in novels, or saw in films, or created in my head. But with real encounters, my imaginary characters slipped away. Everytime I returned to this country, the focus became clearer. I left the international school behind and made friends at the university, with authors and writers and poets. As the language began to come, I heard those things that had all seemed like a dreamy blur before. It was like tuning a radio, with the static giving way to the warmth of words. I discovered novels in Hausa. Films in Hausa. Writers, actors, musicians who live their lives in Hausa. A whole great world, that I had never known was there. Life began to burst characters, real ones, real people I could talk to—when I too could speak Hausa. I became less dreamy and more alive—I began to lose my imagined stories, because the ones around me were so much more urgent and interesting. I laughed and loved and sped around town on acabas—even acted a little bit. When I was young, my love was so dreamy, so imaginary, and now it was real and full and dancing with life. Real words spoken, not just imagined, a real face there smiling and laughing at me, not just wished for. I no longer liked being alone. I could no longer sit at home happy with a book. My loved solitude came now when I rode on motorcycles at night with my face lifted to the wind.

And yet, with all these things I gained, I forgot that part of myself that needs to walk alone through golden grass and just be silent. I forgot that part of myself that desperately needs to feel starlight on my skin. And of course, here, these things are harder after the armed robbers come, harder when we lock the door firmly at first dusk. Harder when you are now faced with the seductive siren’s song of the internet, and its crowded pages of friends and pseudo-friends, where you are never alone but never satisfied. The internet calls endlessly until you are frozen into repetitive meaningless checking of email and facebook and blog stats, until you come close to destroying yourself, dashing yourself against the pages of those who no longer love you, unable to read, unable to create, unable to think. Frozen by basilisk eyes but yet drawn ever forward by the promising song and beautiful faces in a tag parade of endless photos.

Biking today to photocopy my research consent forms, with the silent university spread out around me, the fields stretching out in every direction, solitary and quiet with palms and baby baobabs rising from the furrows, I thought I must return to this more—come out on this borrowed bike. I am no longer that shy, awkward girl, though sometimes she rises up in me. I no longer wish to be her, but I do miss her belief in her dreams. I must re-awaken my love of solitary beauty. I have forgotten a part of myself that I shouldn’t have. I have lost part of myself that I need to find again. I have recently come close to breaking myself. I have grown louder and more outspoken, fiery but brittle—I need this silence to remember that my strength is that I can bend, like a palm in the wind. I will not break. I can be alone, I can be still. I can listen. I can be strong. I can find joy in the hills and in the grass, and the calls of the children to me as I wheel the bike back over the culvert and towards the garage. “Aunty, Aunty, I tried to follow you but I couldn’t see you again. Where did you go, Aunty? Where did you go?”

Sunday, January 03, 2010


As I lie awake with a fever, this song comes to me. The metaphoric zazzabi that turns out to be literal....