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Language as resistance

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Photo by: Kai Pilger, on Unsplash

Oppression based on language which was birthed from ancient colonial times, still remains overt. I live in Canada (for the most part) and have seen and heard, how people are maltreated and even lose jobs because of a so-called language barrier – you know, because a person speaks English with “an accent”. The Indian Residential school system (stopped in 1996) dissuaded, by use of force, Aboriginal-Canadian children from speaking their languages.

Language as resistance is a factual matter. As someone who comes from a nation that was colonized, I am just thankful that a majority of my Igbo ancestors’ language and dialects were stored. I will not lie that I can speak my language (Igbo) fluently. I can however, write, understand and speak enough, to impress those who speak it excellently. I have often replied Igbo with English. As I mature, I am learning that in a world dominated by languages like English and French – which were forced on Africans (and others), I must not let my own native language die. These days, my sister and I speak more of our language, I listen to Igbo music, I dance to Igbo songs. Also, I will start teaching West African dance classes at the University of British Columbia, come January 2018. This is resistance, this is owning my language, this is safeguarding one of the major things that gives me pride in my blackness and in my Igbo-ness.

Language as resistance is beautiful. One of the highlights of the time that I spent working in Fort McMurray, Canada, was the vibrancy of Aboriginal languages, there. It was beautiful. Dene was spoken. Cree was spoken. Past efforts to strip Aboriginal-Canadians of their languages and cultures have resulted to severe inter-generational impacts. So, to see what I saw in Fort McMurray was again, beautiful.

I once heard an African man say – I never heard that someone died of knowing too many languages.
How true! Friends, let us keep our languages alive. Shout out to the people that had no other choice and learned English or French etc as a second language. How hardworking, brave and inspiring you are, to have learned a language that wasn’t your first. When your “accent” is challenged, it might be helpful to ask your oppressor, how many languages he or she managed to know 🙂

To celebrate language, I will be closing this post with a greeting in my own language. I invite you to also comment on this post, in your native language.

Ifunanya na udo,
Chiamaka

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The discourse on gentrification is growing: But, of course

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The popularity of discourses on gentrification as it relates to public health and certainly, social justice, have been very enlightening to me. It is very important that the discourses on gentrification are getting so widespread and that it is a huge topic for public policy and public health scholars, and others too.

During my most recent trip to Nigeria, I met up with a child rights and social justice advocate, who works consistently with children growing up in slums, in Lagos. We were discussing the issue of State-sponsored evictions and demolitions of such slum areas. From her perspective, she noted that gentrification leads to a cycle of hurt and broken dreams which then results in crime. That really stood out for me. I mean, gentrification is an action that destabilizes communities, families, in more than one way. It is most often aimed at the poor and in Western nations – at visible minority communities, especially.

In this post, I am taking the advice from the advocate in Nigeria and my concern on this matter, to address what is a destructive global issue. Gentrification happens worldwide. It happened with the Hogan’s Alley of Vancouver, Canada. Historically, it has happened in several parts of the United states. In Nigeria, it happens often in Lagos and even, very recently, with the Eke Ukwu market destruction in Imo State.

Gentrification puts the poor and disadvantaged groups at a far-reach to success, at the centre of the causes of dismal health (pollution, fast foods chains, over-populated housing etc) and in a cycle of lack. Of course, with all such ills often comes, for some, an almost-inevitable susceptibility to crime.

A major step to solving the problem of gentrification is for state actors and their networks (businesses, lobbyists etc), to understand and take very seriously, the implications of what they often deem to be ‘urbanizing’. You can urbanize without leaving disadvantaged groups and the poor behind and cutting away from communities, the ties that held them together in health, success, socialization and other ways. Gentrification cuts such ties apart and it is without a doubt, a human rights violation.

I encourage readers of this post, to also dig deeper on the literature on gentrification as it cuts across the fields of social justice and public health. It has been very worthwhile for me. I will end by saying: SPEAK UP AGAINST GENTRIFICATION!

Please. If we keep speaking up against it, I am sure that we will make, even just a little difference.

Love & Peace,
Chiamaka

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Nigeria: Asking for More

It is never certain what we will achieve, after we make demands. This is what makes the skill of questioning and curiosity, in some sense, admirable and courageous.
Sometimes, one may make a request and the response is for bad and other times, it is for good. Either way, in the end, we tend to think, “At least, I tried”.

I very much admire those who question the political status quo, especially when that status quo is not good enough. When it is causing more harm than good.

On Saturday last week, I watched on TV, the glamour, merriment and energy that was used to welcome President Buhari of Nigeria, after he his plane landed. This was after being away from Nigeria for just a little over 100 days, due to medical reasons. I watched this and was laughing, with sarcasm, of course, while I could also feel tears start to form in my eyes. I do genuinely sympathize with President Buhari on the state of his health that led him to England, and hope that he is much better now.

My disappointment is that a President who before election, campaigned on the promise of change and who came in with a mandate of tackling corruption, would find it okay to leave Nigeria for that long, while bearing the privileges of Office.

This is not a personal opinion attack on President Buhari. It is an analysis response of what it means to do the right thing. President Buhari was away for over 100 days and in that time while away from office, still bore the title and privileges that come with being the President of Nigeria. Is this not a form of corruption on the masses? It is not enough to have an Acting President, while in absence. In Africa, we seem to have a huge problem of politicians who see power as a means to enrich and better themselves and their families, way more than the people that voted for them.

Who paid for the President’s medical costs during that length of time abroad? While away, what efforts were being made by members of his Cabinet and or the then, Acting President, to improve healthcare facilities nation-wide? These are important questions to ponder on – for the President, his cabinet and members of the public celebrating the President’s return.

Perhaps, my fellow Nigerians, we all need to ask for more, for more than mediocrity. A first step to this may be to support grassroots movements that fight for our rights. I read and watched, how Charles Oputa a.k.a. Charly Boy was assaulted during his protests for the Resume or Resign campaign. Those campaigners asked for more. We should thread along their footsteps or at least throw in support, not tear gas or fists.

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Love & Peace,
Chiamaka

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Out with the old. Choose to create, anyway

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It is often fascinating and propelling, when one reads the biography of famous people. We learn about their humble beginnings, traumatic life experiences and how they got to their greener pasture. It is in this same way that we get fascinated at the evolution of nations from their beginnings, or the evolution of movements that were started to counter injustice. The list can go on and on and on.

Yesterday, was another day of a great reminder – that, big movements originate out of the efforts of the ‘few’ that dare to start. This reminder came to me at a salon in Lagos, Nigeria. The stylist was dressing my hair and she noted that a lot of young Nigerian ladies now have “natural hair”. That is to say, a lot of Nigerians are now embracing our beautiful, Afro, Black hair. I laughed and told her that I was surprised that she did not complain about the fact that my hair was not permed/straight because 10 years ago, I would see Nigerian hairstylists lament about natural hair. (Infact, just two and a half years ago, a Jamaican stylist in Canada explained that she charged me as much as she did because my hair is natural). My Nigerian stylist noted that the reverse is truly the case these days, as rarely do women (especially of the younger generation) still perm their hair and that she has seen relaxer sales plummet significantly.

This lady has been a stylist at that salon for around 15 years, so I can definitely go with her statistics! I was of course, impressed that Black girls and women in Nigeria are now embracing our natural hair, more and more.

But that conversation sparked up different thoughts for me. It was a reminder that what is normal can become old, out-of-fashion or just on the edge of eradication. So, are you starting a mental health awareness initiative, a business, thinking of going back to school, or tackling an unjust policy in your community? It might seem to you that the possibility of your idea thriving is dismal, but dare to prepare and then, start.

I am also in the middle of creating a reality out of some of my dreams and often wonder if I am doing too much. When I feel that way, I take a break. A break could mean putting the idea on pause and making time for myself, to relax and rejuvenate. Then, I weigh the idea and the impacts it will have. I may drop the idea and chase a new dream. Or the impacts may be high while the irrelevance is nil, so I take up that dream, that idea.

So, my rest and relaxation visit to the stylist gave me an unexpected food for thought. It also inspired this blogpost! I hope you remember again, that what is the norm today can change in a matter of a months or years. Whichever way, it does take courage to dare to start even in the midst of uncertainty. Hey, at least you tried!

Happy Thursday!

Love & Peace,
Chiamaka

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History: We Need It, but Respectfully

History is very often, never just left in the past. It returns over and over again. Whether in the classrooms, in day-to-day conversations with family or friends, or on Twitter!

History is hardly ever just left in the past, especially when that history was extremely positive, revolutionary or extremely gruesome. People share such events of the past, so that memories will be cherished and so that the people of the present can learn a thing or more from such past events.

An example that relates very personally to me is the Biafran War of Nigeria. Last week Tuesday, May 30th, 2017, marked 50 years since Biafra was declared an independent nation, away from Nigeria. It was an attempt by the Igbos and some present-day Niger Delta tribes, to secede the rest of the nation, given the constant massacres and marginalization of the Igbos, that were happening. In inhumane reaction to South-Easterners attempting to form a nation outside of Nigeria (which was not giving them refuge), the then Nigerian government starved and bombed the Eastern parts of Nigeria. Millions of people were killed, several fled to neighbouring nations. It was a genocide. I am an Igbo woman from Anambra State in Nigeria, so the story of the Biafran War gives me very awful chills.

The story also teaches me lessons to remember. It teaches me that what may seem like the beginnings of a prejudiced nation can be furthered to an extreme called war. It also gives me a sense as to why so many Nigerians are still prejudiced, with regards to the Igbos. Such people never learned from the war or they inherited the prejudice from senior family members and perhaps, jealousy is involved – I mean, how smoothly a People (the South-Easterners) bounced back from genocide to be so influential.

The story of the Biafran War increases my admiration at the strength and triumph of South-Easterners. To the best of my knowledge, no federal government of Nigeria has ever apologized for the ethnic cleansing that was the Biafran War, yet, my people, you have moved on regardless. You have contributed immensely to the economic growth of the nation. You have greatly contributed to the intellectual vibrance of Nigeria – at home and abroad.

History teaches. Nevertheless, recounting bad events from history can be (and understandably so), traumatic for those that it directly affected. So when we share history that could create triggers, let’s be careful to share it in a way that honours people’s struggles and decries the actions of the oppressor(s) – and not the opposite.

Love & peace,
Chiamaka

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Urbanization: Are human rights at stake?

Societies are always looking to develop. After all, with change can come flourish. A popular theme for some parts of the world is now – urbanization. Societies are looking to have state-of-the art amenities, skyscrapers, marble-walled houses etc. Urbanization is a good thing. At least it is supposed to be a good thing. However, urbanization goes wrong when a society’s poor are further pushed to the margins, while the rich get richer.

A plan for urbanization must contain in it, a plan for the protection and even the advancement of the poor. For some societies, urbanizing means displacing the poor. This is quite common in Lagos State, Nigeria. About two weeks ago, the Lagos State government, using members of its police force, displaced thousands of residents of the Otodo Gbame fishing community, so that their homes could be demolished. A life was also taken. Those displaced included children. The displaced had to make a shelter out of canoes, and so, live directly on water. How dangerous but also, how unjust of the government of that State to do such, to some of its poorest citizens.

The government of Lagos State claims that the Otodo Gbame community brought risks to the Lagos State community. Even if that was the case, why displace a whole community because of whatever risks. To displace is far more different than finding solutions. This would not be the first time that the Lagos State government has displaced numerous people from certain areas and it is usually for ‘urbanization’, so I want to believe it is the same case with Otodo Gbame.

The more governments displace the poor and also, the people in the middle class who are trying to further themselves, the more governments widen the inequity gap and the more people are deprived of chances to overcome poverty or just further themselves. This of course affects the society’s economic development as a whole. Hence, unjust urbanization plans also cause further problems for that society. It is also important to remind the ‘powers that be’ e.g Lagos State government amongst others, that – injustice causes anger and with that anger can come crime.

Governments are symbols of protection for their citizens. When a government fails to serve the citizenry in a way that takes into account, their fundamental human rights, that government is a failing one. The poor should not pay with their wellbeing and/or with their lives, for the wellbeing of the rich. This might have become a norm in our world, but by exercising our morals, such evils can be put to an end. Not all people can be rich, but no one should be stripped of the opportunity to enhance him or herself. When a government displaces the poor and demolishes their homes, to ‘beautify’ and ‘improve’ a society, that government is trampling on the human rights of the masses and this is unacceptable.

Love & Peace,
Chiamaka

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What really matters to failing leaders?

One of the most powerful thoughts which is also one of the simplest of sentences is: focus on the things that actually matter.
Whenever that thought comes to my mind or whenever someone uses that statement as a means to cheer me up from something, it has an almost-instant healing effect.

There are certain issues going on in different societies that make me wonder, if some politicians ever have that thought with regards to the way they govern the citizenry. Good governance is measured on how much governments focus and work on creating a society that is fair, prosperous and a society where the leaders are accountable to the members of the public.

Last week Wednesday, March 22, 2017 was World Water Day. Clean water is an inherent human right but the reality in many societies, whether developed or undeveloped is that access to clean water is often a luxury. In Nigeria, there are communities in the Niger Delta region of the nation, where freshwater have turned to thick oil-polluted bodies. Aboriginal people in developed countries still are militarized/policed in their demands for the acknowledgement of their rights to clean water. The list goes on and on.

Maybe if certain politicians focused on what actually matters, it would not have to be stressed that love is better than hate and that openness is better than stigmatizing and ‘banning’ people because they were born in a predominantly Muslim nation.

Ending child marriage is something that actually matters. Providing professional resources and safety for people who have survived rape is something that actually matters. Ensuring that the wealth of a nation is distributed fairly among the citizenry and not just in the hands of a few, is something that actually matters.

Earlier in this post, I stated that there is a healing effect about that statement or thought (whichever way it may come to you): focus on what actually matters. Based on things that I have read, based on my conversations with people and based on my own personal experience – I believe the healing effect of that thought is somewhat universal. So, what must be the reason why some leaders do not heed to that calling? I really wonder.

However, in the disappointing and shameful absence of certain leaders not heeding to that calling, it is the very right and privilege of members of the public to push for positive action – till things are done right.

Love & peace,
Chiamaka

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