Stories of positive AVP interactions!

The 2002 International
AVP Conference

Venue: Lagos, Nigeria

Dates: September 1-4, 2002

by Susan Oropallo

 

September 1,
Acclimation

Arrival day was acclimation day. My first AVP International Conference! There were no scheduled events for the conference, just registration at the University of Lagos Guest House Quarters. This was my first trip to a third world country and the transition experience made immediate impressions upon me.

We were met at the Lagos International Airport by four AVP Nigeria representatives who immediately took charge of exiting the airport premises. We saw why as soon as we were through customs. Hawkers, beggars and teams of porters descended upon us. Our AVP team selected porters and ushered us to the parked cars. Confusion reigned for us unfamiliar with "normal" Nigerian culture. Uniformed officials halted the cars and were "offered settlement" by one car and refused settlement by the other. Off we went into traffic that was unimaginable, even in New York City. Roads and buildings in disrepair for miles on end. Dirty litter everywhere and people bustling everywhere.

We traveled with Eddie Francis and were at once made comfortable and welcome by his interest in us and for our well-being. He indicated points of interest and historical commentary with an immense sense of pride. We arrived at the university compound (a gated, extra large, multi-community area with as many broken, deserted buildings as those being used.) The Guest House quarters were top quality and safe by Nigerian standards but probably described as dingy by U.S. standards. The locale was in a corner of the compound with a relaxing tropical lagoon for an outdoor view.

Iyke Chiemeka, AVP Nigeria National Coordinator, was extremely attentive. He paid personal attention to details such as having functioning air conditioning and switching our room when we didn't. He was liaison between all local people, establishments, and travel arranger extraordinaire! He enjoyed his role of host and attempted to accommodate most all requests concerning travel and housing before, after and during the Conference with energy, efficiency and a great smile. Thanks very much to the local Nigerian AVP people, my immediate impression was of the extraordinary friendliness of the people. All were eager to socialize, interact and share directly of themselves. All we met were extremely engaging, direct, curious and fiercely proud to have us visit Nigeria.

But I get ahead of myself. The first day was spent checking on familiar faces: Ellen, Jane, Teresa, and Toby. And, politely meeting new faces: Sebastian from India, Tonho from Brazil, Marc from Canada, Moses from Liberia, and later Bob Barnes and Giri from Australia and Kaki and Mutheu coming from Kenya. It was comforting and exciting to meet people with common AVP threads. We managed a quick trip to a "cyber café" and a local restaurant within the university community in the evening.

 

September 2,
Conference Day 1:
Speakers and Sessions

A rather formal beginning with introductory speeches by the Project Manager for the International Red Cross for Nigeria, Carol Osborne. A short talk correcting the roots of AVP from Greenhaven to preventing a prison riot in Oklahoma was delivered by Ellen Flanders for the U.S. Marc Forget spoke for Bill McMechan on “How do we get an international organization unified?” Toby Riley read an address from Ann Ward and regrets from Steve Angell who was in Serbia doing workshops. Other countries expressed greetings; Australian greetings from Great Giri, Brazilian words from Talented Tonho, India well wishes from Sebastian and Giri, Canada represented by Marc Forget, Great Britain greetings from Grazyna, Kenyan greetings from Mutheu, New Zealand's official invitation to 2004 AVP International Conference offered through Teresa Tyson, and a plea to begin AVP in Liberia from Moses Jackson. The representatives from the Nigerian districts, North, East and West were heard from.

This was done in a very large horseshoe of about forty-five people with a podium at the end. All the while there were photographers walking in the middle popping off pictures and videographers taping the event for both posterity and the local news station.

We introduced ourselves around the circle and then became acquainted with one person whom we had never met before to be "our buddy." My buddy was Adamoh Mustapha. A beautiful, single, Muslim woman working with PRAWA. Tea break brought us headlong into "snap" opportunities. The media cameras were interviewing attendees (whites who were obviously not local). Also, many people requested posing for a barrage of photos with new acquaintances. We learned the reason by lunch when the photographer returned with the pictures (excellent quality) and sold them to all who desired to buy them. This remained a constant "service" wherever we were. For the most part it was very flattering, pretty convenient for immediate memory souvenirs and as we began to know the people, more endearing. Some posed to be pictured with "the white people" but many more enjoyed knowing us and wished us not to forget them.

After tea break we reconvened for a speech dealing with conflict resolution in Africa. Non-violence convictions need to equate to peace, social stability and empowerment, he urged. He highlighted root problems of illiteracy and lack of communication and conflict over resources. He felt AVP and our common agreement on non-violence needs to spread countrywide. We all certainly concurred.

After lunch the program continued with exercises addressing Restorative Justice with Great Giri, a small group discussion on how better to integrate AVP facilitators into local groups with Toby Riley. And a provocative mandala/small group discussion on the violent relationships of African women's issues and how better to address them led by Nice Nnenda.

After dinner Bodacious Bob and Great Giri led a session on adapting AVP to other cultures. As the workshop closed, Charles and I found ourselves wandering to the outside area of the bar for a Schweppes pineapple soda to share our thoughts of the day. A small gathering from AVP were discussing local and historical politics with Voke, an AVP facilitator and Southern District Activist. As I listened to his educational narrative I was struck by the fervent love of his area, tribe and country that he had. His frustration with corrupt officials and his aching for change that would benefit his people was evident. His passion was so heartfelt and moving. He later assisted a group (see Kaki's adventure) to visit near his home area.

Charles and I went to bed that evening sharing like thoughts of the incredible respect for these welcoming hosts that sincerely seek whatever we have to share and in turn share openly of themselves.

 

September 3,
Conference Day 2:
National Museum and Badagry Tour

This was the most remarkable tour I've been on. It showed some of the best and some of the worst of Lagos. The museum tour was quite informative, although a little rushed. I noted that they took a male/female headcount and cameras were checked before admittance.

A collection of humble barn-like buildings, walled within the city, proudly housed displayed artifacts of past and present Nigerian tribal history and culture. Guides were paid to explain what we were viewing. Upon entry to the political history building the Nigerian National Anthem was requested to be sung and was done with gusto. A car complete with bullet holes was displayed for one of their assassinated leaders.

The Nigerians were greatly interested in the tour with many students taking lengthy notes (no brochures or handouts were available). It became clear that this was a first time opportunity for most of our hosts as well as us.

A lengthy bus ride toward the Badagry area illuminated the vastness of Lagos, the city. For mile after mile, traffic was deplorable with dented buses, cabs, cars and hawkers sharing the roadways. The poverty was obvious in the living conditions, litter and dirt; and yet the people were smiling, busy and impeccably dressed. The self-pride amazed me over and over.

Our friends in AVP represented the 20% of educated and employed in Nigeria. Out of the bus windows were the representation of the illiterate and under-employed selling anything and everything from their stalls, homes and streets. And the culture practiced sharing on a large scale. If one is fortunate enough to have more than a room, other family members were asked to share the living quarters. Hospitality was offered to visitors although reluctance was shown to "oweebos" (whites) because the thought was that there would be a lack of understanding for their acceptable conditions because it is not what we're accustomed to.

Permission to tour Badagry was asked of the Mayor. He was paid a personal visit by Toby, Charles, myself and Peterx and two other Nigerian AVP people. A connection was made between the Personnel Manager and Charles as they both went to college in Ohio and shared tales of relatives near Tampa. Settlement came in the form of leaving our conference pins that were engraved with "Say No to Violence."

An area official, Ibrahim Agosu-Sunmola, then escorted us the remainder of the day and evening. He served as tour guide at some locations and shared meals and transportation with us. He was especially proud to produce his own, handmade edition of the history of the region, complete with photographs and diagrams.

Lunch was at a beautiful spot. A gated restaurant called "Mercy's Gates." There were lovely thatched-roof pavilions set next to a flowering walkway. Conversation was much easier than on the bus. I met a very shy, Red Cross volunteer who boldly sat at our table away from her school friends who joked with her, but hesitated to enter a conversation. After lunch she rushed up to me and offered her email address. Christie is her name.

Our bus continued to the “First Storey" building in Nigeria. A house built by Christian missionaries. Made more important by the fact that the first Portuguese bible was translated to Yoruba in its rooms. An empty wooden structure now, it held much importance for the Nigerians. The tour included a well and former gardens being marked by signs.

We walked to the center of town to the Mobee family’s "Slave Museum." It was still in the original family. The story goes that two family members disagreed. One wanted to sell people into slavery and the other didn't want to sell slaves at all. The slave industry flourished until the Portuguese ended it. Tohno in our group was noted as very important as he was of Portuguese descent. Another interest point was two small wooden rooms kept as they originally were, no windows, no light. 40 people were asked to try and fit in them – as that is what they were for – holding cells for slaves. It was a stark jolt.

Across the street was a lovely gated park. It was closed to us as they were filming a music video there. We watched through the barred enclosures until we noticed they were filming us watching them!

We walked further to the banks of the ocean tributary. Time and immediate price increases prohibited us from a boat ride to the "point of no return." A place in the water that once reached by boat, families never again saw the people return.

Our bus then traveled a bit further to tour a Badagry Museum and Fish Hatchery. A plaque seemed to commemorate the building just a week prior, however the Hatchery was not yet functional and the Museum was closed. We were on the bus again.

This time we went to the "beach" at Whispering Palms Badagry. This was a combination restaurant, resort, zoo and open-air theatre. The zoo had 4 or 5 varieties of animals. The grounds were lovely sand, fountains and palms. Near the ocean banks, there were many tables. We were served fresh from the tree coconut milk followed by halving our coconuts for the meat.

Our accompanying Red Cross volunteers then surprised us with a lovely musical, play performance in the round. My shy friend Christie was a beautiful dancer! It was a unifying time. We marched out together singing and chanting Nigerian and anti-war tunes.

We again hit the buses and traveled back to our luncheon spot for dinner. After dinner the bus driver re-negotiated the price by threatening not to return us to Lagos. (He hasn't taken AVP yet!!) But Iyke did transform the moment and we all entered the bus with night upon us.

The long drive back to Lagos and the University began. The day street scene became an almost beautiful tapestry of dots of candlelight, kerosene and splashes of electric light. Many police barricades proved to be no problem with a flashlight around the bus with several white faces and a wave to let us through.

What a day! What contrasts to weave into our memories.

 

September 4,
Conference Day 3:
Conference Exercises

The group has reduced in number. Many of Monday's dignitaries, PRAWA overflow, and Red Cross staff have returned to work.

The remaining group took great interest in TP for international issues with Kaki Sjogren, forgiveness stories, music and concentric circles from Theresa Tyson, multi-cultural empathy discussions in smaller groups with Toby Riley.

Light and Livelies happened with a sort of musically chanting version of "Simon Says," Nigerian-style led by Nice Nnenda. Toby also managed to change Pattern Ball into Pattern Stuffed Animal Toss ending with bags of toys to be taken back to other workshops.

The group segregated into men and women to discuss gender issues within AVP and how to deal with them. Thoughts were brought back to the circle.

A too-hurried final discussion of AVP International responsibilities was begun and not really finished. It did not create full closure for the event, but did create much food for continued talk. Several people committed to stay in touch via email.

My impression of my first International AVP Conference was very positive. As in any AVP forum that I have experienced, we run out of time for some of what we think are very significant topics. But the truly significant feelings developed for new AVP partnerships all over the globe have been built and nourished by common experience. The incredibly open and honest sharing of Nigeria has made a never-to-be erased bond to this struggling place of beautiful people.

And as international participants to this AVP Conference said their farewells, others made arrangements for the ensuing days in Nigeria. Jane, Kaki, Mary Kay, Mutheu, Tonho with Voke were very invested in bringing signed documents of support to the striking Ijaw and Itsekeri women of the Niger Delta. Teresa Tyson was off to Great Britain to do workshops (she had assisted with one in Kaduna, Nigeria prior to the Conference). Bob, Toby and Giri agreed to do another workshop in Kaduna after the Conference. Charles and I stayed in Ikeja, Lagos to work with local facilitators at a Basic workshop.

 

September 5,
Workshop Planning Session & Fun

Charles and I changed hotels. The new hotel, Com Executive, was closer to the workshop venue. The staff were wonderfully attentive and the cooking better than we had anywhere else (one Nigerian lady having learned cooking in Detroit!).

We didn't have the lagoon and area to leisurely stroll as we were advised not to go into the streets unescorted. This didn't present a problem, as each evening after the workshop all we wanted was dinner and sleep. Iyke had dependable drivers and escorts available for any activity we desired.

But back to the planning session. We met at the AVP Nigeria offices with our team members, M.A.K. Momodu, Nnenda Tom-George and Glory Adeyeye. M.A.K. had originally been scheduled as lead facilitator but in an effort to explore different leadership styles Charles and Nnenda suggested rotating the lead facilitator slot each day with M.A.K. leading off, followed by Nnenda and then me. We all agreed. Glory was apprenticing as a facilitator. We planned our agenda, volunteering for exercises that we thought would benefit us all by seeing them done with our respective cultural emphases.

After our planning session, Nnenda and Nokia, another friend, agreed to take Charles and I to the Yaba Market. My goal was to get my hair done into those fantastic cornrows and braids that most of the Nigerian women had. After a bus trip that abruptly stopped halfway there (the driver refused to continue) we found another bus.

Yaba Market was amazing! It seemed like thousands of stalls full of everything – clothing, dry goods, food, produce. We found the recommended stall and began my hair remake. Five women worked two hours on my "too fine" hair. Many pictures and staring passers-by later we left to get an expensive cab back to the AVP office and a driver back to our hotel.

AVP Nigeria Basic Workshop

Venue: Ikeja, Lagos

Dates: September 6-8, 2002

 

 

September 6, 7, 8,
Basic Workshop

Our workshop began, as we learned, like all Nigerian workshops – with a head table. The chairs were formed in a horseshoe arrangement. This was a change from rows as done in previous workshops.

The International Red Cross Nigeria Project Manager, Carol Osborne, with other Red Cross representatives made brief speeches with photographers popping pictures. This was "respect" to the Red Cross for their sponsorship of AVP Nigeria. They subsidize paid positions within AVP as well as transportation for participants and meals while at the workshop. In conversations with Carol, I believe she would be quite comfortable with joining a circle. It became a suggestion in our final evaluation. This was brief and the AVP circle was formed.

As with all Basics, the initial formality, shyness and curiosity melted into smiles and sharings of personal discovery by the end of the first day. The diversity of our group was wonderful. There were 26 participants composed of male, female, Muslim, Christian, multi-tribal, all literate, ages 21 to 51 and with us, multi-national. The team quickly discovered that we all presented exercises very closely to the Basic Manual instructions. Debriefing questions were universal.

The greatest variation was in light and livelies. And they were all totally enjoyed. A benefit that we brought to the workshop was a truly good role modeling of male/female equality. Coming after our enlightenment at the conference of some deeply entrenched cultural gender issues, we thought this was very important.

I did not notice any deferral by females within the participants, but it was noticed within the facilitation team to begin, but improved as the workshop and planning sessions progressed. Our team became very aware of including everyone's opinion. It was a healthy step forward to rotate lead facilitators. We strongly suggested that qualified women be encouraged to be lead facilitators (Nnenda being an excellent example) as none had been offered that opportunity to date. We were told they are on the schedule. And I believe they are.

Mighty M.A.K. presented a very organized, strong, leadership style. With a large stature and carrying voice he did get attention quickly. He did share leadership, asked many probing questions of us and definitely enjoyed encouraging all the participants. His intensity in exercises was balanced by his intensity in L&L's. He was receptive to all critical challenges addressed by Charles and me.

Nice Nnenda's strength was a thorough knowledge of all exercises presented and an immediately charming rapport with all the participants. She was able to explain herself very well (and assisted tremendously when participants did not understand Charles or myself).

Living Glory, although suffering with a flu-like cold, was well prepared for her activities too. She offered less input into team evaluation sessions, but was a very good apprentice.

The participants were energetic, fully invested, and so eager to grasp all that the exercises opened for them.

This was a wonderful workshop. With the final day came more photos of new friends, commitments to spread AVP to their respective places of work, social circles and families. I strongly believe that AVP is making a significant difference with cultural, religious, and gender differences in Nigeria.

I felt sad to leave and incredibly fortunate to have learned so much from our Nigerian friends.

©2002 Charles Oropallo
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