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Going home, and looking to the future

July 8, 2010

The River Niger, early morning

From Liz Bird:

As we leave the Niger behind, heading back to Lagos and home, we feel  we have achieved what we set out to do. Our goal was to complete more witness interviews, as well as to set up partnerships with academic and community groups, in order to move the project to the next level.

Part of our intent is primarily academic – the story of Asaba is not part of the history of Nigeria in general and the Civil War in particular, and we hope to be able to clarify the record through scholarly publications. However, we know that the people who spoke with us want and deserve more than that. They need public acknowledgement of their history, and resources with which to educate future generations.

Our website, which we will continue to develop, is one way to do that. However, in a country where most people have no access to the internet, it is not enough. Now, our plan is to write proposals to funding agencies to create an educational museum exhibit in Asaba that will tell the story, provide informational materials, and become a cultural and economic resource for the community. 

This story should not be told only by outsiders, which is why we have sought collaborations with colleagues at the University of Nigeria, as well as community leaders. All these will have a role in the development of proposals – we have a lot of work ahead of us!

At Benin Airport

For now, we head home, via Benin City and Lagos. At Benin, we’re reminded again what a maddening, yet endearing, place Nigeria is. First, our flight back to Lagos has been cancelled, and we’re booked on another one 6 hours later. Apparently, this has nothing to do with weather or mechanical problems, but is connected to the financial state of the airline, which has led to an interesting random flight schedule. As we check in, we are told we have excess luggage, and owe 3,000 naira (about $20).  I hand over the cash, in three bills, and feebly ask for a receipt. The man behind the grille grins, pockets one bill, and passes one to another guy sitting behind him, who in turn flashes me a huge smile and a wave. The third goes in another pocket. I shrug and smile back; at least our stuff will be safe! As we are patted down by security, a uniformed woman asks , “Do you have anything for me?” “Sorry, no,” I answer – she smiles and waves me on. Later, in the waiting room, she passes by, smiles warmly, and waves. No hard feelings!

Our Benin bronze leopards

Traveling for almost two  weeks, we’re glad to be home. As souvenirs, we each have a beautiful bronze leopard, part of a male/female pair made in Benin City, once the seat of a magnificent kingdom that was devastated by British colonialism. The kingdom was famous for exquisite bronze statues, most of which now reside in the British Museum. A few remain in the Benin museum, but are kept locked away, because so many museums have been looted. Meanwhile, the ancient craft of bronze-work has been revived, and our cats are part of that. Maybe our work can also be part of a revival of sorts – validating the painful experiences of the past, and hoping for a more peaceful future.

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