Yesterday I read an account that left me emptied and weak, like a brittle eggshell once the life inside has hatched. I could barely walk, or think, I was so consumed with the feelings of helplessness and grief. After reading last week about the ten year old girl in Nigeria who was made to self-detinate a bomb attached to her body in a public square (killing herself and nineteen other innocents) I have been walking around with these words in my head. Boko Haram. Nigeria. Women. Bring back our girls. Where are the advocates? Who do we turn to? And then yesterday, reports began trickling in about the deadliest attacks to date in Borno State, Nigeria – both credited to Boko Haram. This satellite image published by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch show the devastation:
(the red dots represent buildings and vegetation before the attacks)
As the reality of the loss began to sink in, I opened my facebook feed, searching for posts and common outcry. But there was nothing. No one was saying anything about it. There were plenty of posts on the Oscar noms and other celeb news, but nothing whatsoever about the massive war crimes that had just wiped out two entire villages. Our sister, Nigeria, is being violated right before our eyes, and we are doing nothing to stop it. Why is this? I know the people I’m connected to via social media – they are smart, caring, involved people who often use the feeds as platforms for justice. Where were they yesterday? Why was no one aligning themselves with this cause?
I don’t really have the answers. It seems to be a similar problem to last month’s school bombing in Pakistan, where 132 people, mostly children, were murdered. It was Christmas. As a country we had just walked through Ferguson and Eric Garner and we were ready for something lighter and easier to swallow. We were weary of the sorrow, the weight of reality too much to bear, and I wonder if we simply shut down emotionally.
I don’t like to be the downer here, I really consider myself a (realistic) optimist. I actually believe that the world can get better (I know that makes some of you snicker and suggest that I am just still too young to know.) But – I have allowed myself to see tragedy – I have faced it, felt it, embraced that it is true about life on this planet. I just choose to believe that ultimately, love wins. Because I have seen that as well. I have allowed myself to see the love, winning, also. And this gives me hope. It fuels the fire in my belly to see all things made new.
But it takes our blood, sweat, and tears. It takes our hope, prayers, and voices. It takes our hands and feet. It takes our time, energy, finances. Love wins by the choices we make and what we do with what we have.
I am not one who believes that we humans are inherently evil. I think we are lovely, good, precious creatures. I think at our best, we are love incarnated. But I’m not naive – I know we are capable of grievous evils.
I keep looking at this photo, crying as I try to imagine what these children have just seen, felt, and experienced. These sweet children. I wish I could reach into this photograph and hold them.
I can’t fix this. We can’t change people. The politicians behind Boko Haram have masterfully preyed on the weak and desperate, using fear, threats, religion and promises of wealth to motivate them to do horrible things. There is no simple answer to solve this problem, of course. But, these are crimes against humanity – they are crimes against HUMANITY – and we are doing nothing to stop them.
Nigeria is our sister, and she is screaming in pain. Why aren’t we listening?
All I wanted to do yesterday was to curl up under a blanket and let the pain disappear. But I couldn’t do that. And so I lit a candle, a tiny flame that flickered all day long – a testament of what had happened and a promise to remember my sister. I kept drifting to the woman, Anjou, that I’d met a few weeks ago at the Pak n Mail around the corner from my house. I’d been running errands all day, and stopped in with a package to ship, and she’d met me with a huge beautiful smile and thick African accent. In getting to know her, she shared that she was from Nigeria and that her family was still there.
As I watched the flame sparking, her voice was in my head and I prayed hard, short prayers for her family, for her heart, (and I realize Nigeria is a big place, and that there are many parts of it that are not currently invaded with islamic extremists, but she is the flesh and blood person I can carry in my mind as I read these stories.)
I prayed, but it wasn’t enough – there was an unrest in my heart. I had to see her. Look, I know it seems weird, but I just needed to connect and see her and somehow relay to her that I was not shutting my eyes to Nigeria. So after I dropped Mercy at school, I stopped in at the shop. As she came around the corner, I tried really hard to keep it together, not wanting to freak her out in case she did not remember me at all. But she did, and she smiled at me, and I told her I had been thinking about her and just wanted to check in. I asked about her family (they are okay) and she shared about her heart (which is worried and weary.) I left the shop feeling more connected to my sister, more rooted in the story happening there, and more motivated than ever to speak up for her.
If you, like me, would like to find ways to use what we have to combat fear with love in Nigeria, here is a list of reputable resources. It’s not a solution, but it’s a start.
What is Boko Haram: Great, simple start to understanding this militant Islamic group.
CRS Nigeria: CRS employs an integrated approach to help poor and vulnerable people lead full and productive lives.
I tried to research more organizations and was shocked to see that there isn’t more relief involvement in Nigeria. If you happen to know of more, please link and comment!