Yesterday I attended a bloggers meeting organized by Heinrich Boll Stiftung (HBS). It was also the global lunch of their production "Funky Monkey" and a conversation around environmental issues in Nigeria . I was excited to be going, I hoped to generate some buzz for iBlog, meet new people and enjoy HBS.
It turned out to be memorable as expected. I met previous guests on iblog, blogger, Japhet Omojuwa who invited me and Extraordinary Ahmed Isah . I also met new friends like Abang Mercy, Elnathan and of course Azeena who loves football and has a tattoo to show for her allegiance!
Funky monkey turned out to be an animated video well done by Mike Steve of www.emespictures.com. The short animation showed the effects of practices like bush burning and industrial fumes on the environment, it was done with humor starring a mischievous monkey.
After the screening, we played a game where we introduced ourselves and said what animal we would like to be. When the game was announced and everyone received the idea with gusto , I realized I had a big problem coming. I didn't know what my answer would be.
Mercy would be a sexy monkey and play with humans if she was an animal and Elnathan would prefer to be a pig and enjoy 30 minute orgasms. We would later converse about his preference of sewn over bonded hair extensions. He carried on about hair so much so I let him feel my rows of sewn extensions, he was enthused!
I thought of being a Lion but two other people had already claimed the title of the king of the jungle. One of them was Azeenah so she could make people do the right thing. Someone else wanted to be a giraffe to be above the things going on below and someone wanted to be the combination of an elephant and some other animal I can't remember. It was hilarious!
We had a room full of representatives from the animal kingdom and the arthropods weren't left out. Christine, Director HBS Nigeria and West Africa wanted to be a dung beetle working very hard without being seen yet breaking the soil and helping the environment immensely. Ordinary Ahmed wanted to be a mosquito! He couldn't be escaped and his bites and noise would move government to action. I was next so after he explained his character to guffaws and applause, I almost shivered in my chair wondering how I was going to top that.
The problem was, I didn't want to be an animal. I wanted to be a tree. As the microphone was handed to me I wondered how my ambition would be received.
I would stretch my roots down deep and draw up all the nurturing and guiding of soil, water and sun, then I would grow to the height of my potential and shoot out many branches and give back fruits to eat and leaves for shade. Christine nodded with approval. Maybe, my studying courses in botany influenced my choice, but never more clearly do you see the concept of organs and parts being fit and accurately matched to function and purpose than in plants.
But the main issues of the day were videos of the desertification in Yobe state and recurrent ocean surges in Lagos made by Deji Arosho. I have never seen a desert in real life before. Only in the scenes of Hollywood movies with white people in the background so I experienced some form of culture shock when I saw the image of sand dunes among the Hausa people of Yobe. It was literally the desert next door for them because the desert was in their backyards.
I quickly adjusted to that and watched on. I prided myself in knowing the dynamics at play as I mapped pictures to terms I had learnt and read in geography class but soon, I got lost in the human story.
The desert hadn't always been there the indigenes said. Houses were beneath the sand dunes, buried. The desert encroached according to the amount of trees in an area, a man said in Hausa. If they had more trees the desert would stay away from their town he concluded. I wondered if he was educated but didn't think it likely, he spoke in Hausa and someone else interpreted his words in English, yet he did not need my geography education to know the solution. The desert was his science, his education and now his living hell.
I was caught unawares by the women leader of the community , Hajia Waziri Toshua who in lamenting the poverty and discomfort caused by desert encroachment said, "We are looking up to God for help".
A voice within me arose to the occassion and claimed "I am god". I heard myself and balked. I had never said that before, where did it come from? A practicing Christain I would never in my conscious mind equate myself in any way to the Divine. But there it was.
The woman didn't have to look up to God I dialogued with myself angrily. It was a solvable problem.
I felt heartbroken at her situation, more so by her appeal. I had just heard her prayer, would I answer? It was as though I had witnessed a human being supplicating and praying to me and I couldn't shake the realization that if I could help then I was the god she was looking for.
The next video was on Alpha beach in Lagos also called Okun Alfa in Yoruba by indigenes. It was the same story of encroachment this time by the sea. The old man who narrated said he was over a hundred years old. He was living in his third house since the river goddess Olokun had washed his ancestral home away. The goddess is angry he insisted. God made her living space and also made our living space he said but since "they" sand filled the ocean "they" had aroused the wrath of Olokun, and she was retaliating by taking over the living space of the humans.
It was not funny. His pain and destitution was real. There was truth in what he said. The ocean level had surged and washed away his history, "Where do we bury our dead, our graves have been washed away", the sand filling was his good guess why.
The evening ended on a lighter note but the sombre moments of the meeting stayed with me.
I will never recover from what I saw and heard.
Would I be the legs of God that walked into Hajia Waziri Toshua's scant shanty with trees to plant, would I be the hand of God that put the seedlings in the ground, would I be the mouth of God and speak comfort to her?
I did agree to partner with HBS at the next iblog, hoping like Tesco that every little helps! They will be speaking at the next event on the 24th of March alongside Meka Akerejola on using social media for a cause. It will be practical with a session on Affiliate marketing. You need to be there to take advantage of the opportunity!
Watch the HBS videos on www.greendealnigeria.org or see it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t_slTyyYcZo&feature=youtu.be