Sunday, January 20, 2013


 Well, I’m still here in India but some people have asked about life in Britannia. It’s pretty normal. I’m doing crisis pregnancy and post-abortion counseling at the moment, continuing work that I was doing in South Africa. That has been good for me on many levels, whether it’s meeting a few more people in this lonely, big town I live in or provided a male counselor to a place that doesn’t have the capacity to help men who want to see a male counselor. I’m also mentoring two university students and mentoring ex-offenders at a furniture warehouse. The ex-offenders work at the warehouse for 16-20 weeks getting valuable work experience. Then they can list the warehouse as a volunteer work experience on their resume and use the warehouse as a reference. Mentors help with looking for jobs, telling them how to interview, what to wear, etc. My current mentee has a learning disability and is sometimes thinks like a child. I love his childlike joy at seeming me and being so excited to find a job once I arrive. It stinks that I travel sometimes and am away. I look forward to seeing him in a few weeks.

I’m also currently helping at a homeless shelter, which is a good thing. It’s been awhile since I was doing overnight shift work like I did back in college. The shelter I started helping with is a traveling shelter in which different churches volunteer for a few months to host the same night a week. The group is given a map and directions on how to get to the church that will host the next night. So they all know each other, and they are like a family. The laugh and sing and dance together and help each other during the day. Of course some people are newer or some people keep to themselves, but it’s a great atmosphere.

Lastly, I was invited to apply for a few fellowships. I didn’t get the Nathan Cummings Foundation Fellowship that would have paid me a lot of money for one year to start my own social enterprise addressing a particular issue (the same one that struck me while in Italy, the same one that may not happen because I don’t have all the help I need). I was then a finalist for the inaugural class of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) fellowship that would have brought me back into direct development work based in DC. They decided to reopen applications again in February though the first deadline was at the end of November. I may apply again. Now I’m waiting for my favourite poverty-alleviation design fellowship with a company I’ve always wanted to work for—IDEO. We use IDEO’s design thinking and ideation principles at work (at least we’re supposed to). The fellowship is on the side and it looks quite amazing. Even if I don’t get it, I love participating in online forums like and


 Did I tell you, I can usually tell you the average income of a country just by the size or health of the stray dogs on the streets? I also predict the income of the country by the traffic patterns and traffic vehicles. Sometimes I can predict the income by the smells in the air when I land or even visibility-reduced particles in the air. But my latest gauge? My bowels.

Compare India to Italy. In Italy I never had a loose bowel movement; in India, I’ve never had a solid bowel movement. I went to Italy twice this past year, and I’m now on my third trip to India in the same time period. Almost instantly, the moment I landed on this trip, my bowel movements became loose. I don’t know how my bowels do it, but they have been a trusty measure. It’s as if they listen for the pilot to announce the destination and decide to switch to loose mode just to let me know. Unfortunately, I don’t need the help from my bowels: I know I’m in India.

This time I’m staying on a university campus and I have been put up in a guesthouse on campus in a girls’ dormitory (called hostel in Indian English). It’s been a really interesting time from the moment I stepped on the plane up until now. Every time I tell people I have problems with milk, they offer me chai tea, skimmed milk, or paneer. I thought it was a joke, but I flew with an Indian airline company here and their idea of a dairy-free meal was to give me light butter and remove the main dish. . . . well, I ate all of my side fruit and bread. It was good!

When I arrived in my room, my toilet-room had used water all over the floor (there is a water hose serving the same purpose as toilet paper). So that means I have to put on shoes every time I use my toilet. Unfortunately the floor isn't angled well enough for the water to all go away. I make sure to leave the fan on each day to dry the toilet-room floor and the shower-room floor (also doesn’t drain). At least I have a shower, thank goodness. Unfortunately, the soap leaves my skin white. I looked at the ingredients but all I could see as the possible culprit was “talc.” This morning I ran out of soap and needed to take a shower. When I asked the guest house employees for soap, they pointed to student shops and told me to go buy some soap. I couldn’t believe it; not just because I had to buy soap but they don’t speak English. So I went out and bought soap; it took me 30 minutes because I had to find one without the ingredient “talc.”

Whenever I get out of the shower, I have to try to avoid something at the end of my towel (I’m not sure what it is). However, I can see that there’s something growing in the showerhead of my shower. I’m not sure what it is. I just know that when the shower water accidentally enters my mouth it tastes like someone blew her nose in the water. The water looks clear though. I’m not sure if the water causes the smell in my room because it smells like the breath of someone who had slept for 20 years . . . maybe 30 years. So I also run the fan for the smell in the room.

But the people are extremely nice. There is one person who does speak English, the guesthouse manager. Apparently he lives here, works every day, and gets free meals as a part of his job. I was told during one dinner “Indians do not eat to live, we live to eat.” Judging by the sounds the guesthouse manager makes while eating next to me, it’s true. It sounds as if his mouth is open, but if you look closely, it’s closed. At least it drowns out the sound of the television.

The interesting thing about my guesthouse is that it doesn’t have a normal restaurant. There is no menu, you have no choice, and you can’t eat whenever you want. I’m normally in my room when someone knocks on my door. Immediately after knocking before I can answer, the employee opens my door and enters my room. Oh, I forgot to tell you, I don’t have a key to the door to my room. So people come in all the time. When they come and knock I have to eat at that time. I’ve no choice. This was especially true on days when I was the only guest in the guesthouse. On those days, dinner was just for the guesthouse manager and me. The TV was our third companion, but the guesthouse manager’s chewing drowned out the noise.

So it’s been a bit of a funny and crazy time. The funny thing is that the organisers of my visit, a professor and two university staff, ask me all the time, how my stay is. I never know what to say because I can’t tell if what I am experiencing is normal or if it’s not normal. I didn’t have Internet access for the first two days I was here, and I’ve had Internet access problems in the classrooms and labs during the day, too. Do I mention that? I have but there’s never been any resolution. Some of the students have created an ad-hoc network through their phone and then a majority of the class uses that. Or should I mention the mildew in the shower, the stains on the wall of the bedroom or living room, my toilet-room floor? Not sure.

So I just go about my business and focus on teaching and loving the students who are a joy. One day, while we were in the computer lab, I saw a ra—well, I don’t know, let’s just say a—mouse run across the aisle from the desks of some students to the desk of the lab administrator. I freaked out but the students looked at me blankly like “so what?” The only thing I could think was “If there are mice in the lab in this building and my guesthouse building is only a few buildings away . . .” (restless night).

The next day, I was in the lift (elevator) and a man drove a tractor into the elevator. I kept thinking, “No, this guy isn’t going to get on this lift with the two of us in it,” but the staff member with me told the tractor driver “Sure come in.” No lie. I was pinned against the wall. His tractor filled the lift so that the driver couldn’t turn the tractor around in the lift. The scary thing was that the moment the tractor was fully in the lift, the lift dropped down about a foot. I was pretty sure we were past the weight limit of the lift and the cables above us where holding on for dear life. I just held my breath and prayed we would quickly reach the third floor. After about an hour, we reached the 3rd floor, and I kid you not: when the door opened, as the tractor driver reversed the machine out of the lift the machine warned passers by with a beep-beep-beep-beep. The moment it exited the lift, the lift floor jumped up a foot and matched the floor of the 3rd level we were to step out onto. Whew!

Through it all, I felt very accepted by these people. I could have stayed in a hotel though it would have been hard going back and forth since the university is not in a central part of town. But they wanted me to stay there. They don’t want me to wander anywhere off-campus alone and want to organize all my trips. And even though I was stood up twice (I was supposed to be taken to visit a temple on Friday night and today, Sunday, to visit the Taj Mahal), it’s kind of them to worry about my security. I’m not even allowed to walk 3 or 4 buildings from my guesthouse to the lecture hall. They send a student or an employee to pick me up and drop me off. It’s ridiculous but also quite honouring.

The students have been best of all. They have put up with a crazy man from a London company with a strange accent teaching them things about the Internet like HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript. They have tolerated my bad jokes, my analogies that don’t work, and my attempts to do the Indian head nod that means yes. The most amazing thing is that amid all the craziness and funniness of the trip, they have allowed me to push them out of their comfort zone of inactivity during boring straight lectures to an interactive class that demands every person speak. They allowed me to take them through a class where I don’t have all the answers, a class where they debate issues with each other, a space where they must do something in order to learn something, a class where no one is allowed to avoid input, and most importantly, a class where everyone is called by name.

So, on Friday, my last day of my first week, the last day with my first group of students, I was sad to see them go, but I thought they might be happy to get back to normal classes from which I had taken them so they could again relax in lecture and lab. Instead they surprised me. Yes, many students thanked me and were really appreciative of all they learned. And yes, I took picture upon picture with the students (me smiling, the others straight-faced). But what happened next shocked me. A group of students told me that I was an excellent teacher. They asked if I could teach on the faculty of their university. I laughed. I told them I would have to talk with the president about that. Ha ha. Then they asked if I would do a workshop where I would teach all the university professors how to teach. This made me laugh out loud. I said “Thank you, but I don’t know if the professors here would be happy about that.” Then one student stepped forward and floored.

“Sir, in our culture, when we really respect someone for what they have done and who they are, we touch the feet of that person as a sign of great respect for the person. . . .If it is ok, sir, could I be allowed touch your feet.”

I didn’t know what to say at that moment. I was floored and taken aback. I was unfamiliar with the custom but I could tell it meant a lot. It reminded me of foot washing ceremonies that I had done with students in which we washed another person’s feet and spoke about the good we saw in that person. And here these students were affirming me—me, a person who thought he didn’t need affirming. So the first student stepped forward, bent down, touched my feet, and did a cross-like gesture over his chest. Then another student asked and did it. Then another, and another, and another. I don’t know what you’re supposed to do when someone touches your feet, but I accepted it and was honoured by each of them in that moment, thankful for each of them throughout the week, and affirmed by each of them for a lifetime. I will be a life-long friend with many of those students. I know that. Many of them told me that. Ha ha! They felt that I had done so much for them, but the reverse is true. They touched my feet physically, but I was touching their feet emotionally, spiritually.


Last year in April 2012, Malawi President Mutharika died. Depending on where you live, it was not a noticeable event. However, in Malawi it was a very important milestone because the vice president at the time was a woman, Joyce Banda, Malawi’s first female vice president. And then, upon the death of President Mutharika, the same president who tried to push Mrs. Banda out of the vice presidency, Her Excellency Mrs. Joyce Banda became Malawi’s fourth president and Malawi’s first female president.

If you believe in a conflict trap in which a (generally) poor country falls into recurring conflict, conflict traps tend to happen in countries with a high degree of ethnic diversity. One thing that often happens is that the country’s leader protects or helps her own ethnic group more than other groups. Even in a country like the U.S. there are social conversations about whether or not President Obama has done enough for Blacks in the U.S. Political commentators speak of the need for a leader to be cautious so that the leader is not seen as favouring a particular group.

Now, look at President Joyce Banda. She becomes the president of a very poor nation handed to her through the death of the former president who left the country in shambles. Britain, the United States, the European Union (EU), the African Development Bank (ADB), Union (AU), Germany, and Norway had all suspended financial aid due to President Mutharika’s attacks on democracy and whimsical policies. To get out of this situation, she decides to make some bold moves, and we all know bold moves are often controversial.

Within her first year, she devalues the currency to hopefully attract foreign investment going against the policy of the former president. She announces her intention to overturn laws criminalizing homosexuality. To increase government revenue she sells the presidential jet and 60 luxury cars (generating $15 million). And she does one really interesting thing: instead of being scared to protect, favour, encourage, and aid people like her (women), she decided to do everything she could for girls education and women’s health and empowerment.

And this is what I love: Malawi’s first female president putting women first. As research has shown, girls’ education has one of the highest returns on investment of any development intervention, if not the highest. In the medium-to-long run, girls education reduces vulnerability to sexually transmitted diseases like HIV, it increases financial management of families including savings, it decreases the population by decreasing the number of children that the educated girls have, etc. The list goes on and on. And President Joyce Banda—an educated woman who has benefited from that education, from women’s movements that encouraged her to leave an abusive husband, from country economic climates in which she ran businesses and helped other women to do the same—this President Joyce Banda has put women’s health, education, and empowerment front and center of her domestic policy. If you have a moment, watch this short CSIS (Center for Strategic & International Studies) video of President Banda’s focus on women’s health and empowerment.


Being outside of the U.S. has given me much needed perspective on the gun debate that has raged there for years, but has especially increased in the wake of the Newton massacre. I feel good about my understanding of the little research out there about if having a guns in houses makes communities safer or whether a country like Canada, France, or the UK has more or less violent crime than the U.S. taking into account the different definitions of crime and violent crime and the different reporting mechanisms in those countries.

But instead of weighing in on the debate, I’d rather share a story about forgiveness. Sometimes, instead of talking, you just need to listen, and this story spoke to me. I read a New York Times story about a convicted murderer who killed his girlfriend and an alternative process, a type of restorative justice process that was arranged by the deceased girlfriend’s parents.

To remind you of what I said earlier on justice, I am used to people using justice to mean punishment—punitive justice. Sometimes people use the term “justice” to refer to repayment—retributive justice (this corresponds to the vengeance or atonement purpose of punishments where the punishment must be proportionate to the crime). However, from doing volunteer work in environmental education and environmental justice as well as theological studies, my best or favourite understanding of justice is restorative. Justice is bigger than punishment, isn’t it? Justice is setting the wrong things right. Justice isn’t just chastising; it’s renewing, restoring, reconciling. It’s not just diagnosing, it’s healing; it’s not just exposing, it’s transforming.

You will not find a perfect restorative justice process in the story you are about to read, nor will you necessarily agree that the sentencing was the best form of restorative justice. Also the victim is dead and is not restored to life in any way. I am encouraged that the current alternative community process of restorative justice is a few steps closer to whatever we might imagine restorative justice to begin to look like, especially as the wrong things in the life of the murderer and even his family (anger, rage, etc.) are being set right. Out of the ashes of his wrong and his mistake, his life is being restored in a better way. Take a moment and read about forgiveness playing a role in the criminal justice system.


Enjoy this Week in Wildlife. The pictures are beautiful!

Saturday, January 12, 2013


This was a conversation that happened recently between a southern Texan teacher and a North Indian student.



“No, sir—“

“Ok, sir.”

“No, I mean, sir?”


“No, you sir.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Pardon, sir?”


“Sir, I have a question.”

“Yes, sir.”

“No, sir, it’s not a yes or no question.”

“No, sir.”

“So I can’t ask a question, sir?”

“Yes, sir?”

“No, you, sir.”

“Please, sir.”

“Sir, I have a---“

“Yes, sir.”
“Yes? Sir?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Sir, are you talking to me?”

“Yes, sir.”



“Never mind sir.”

(Other students in the lab watching and giggling.)


I’m writing this from a cold cell of room in New Delhi. J It’s not that bad, and yet, it is. My toilet came without toilet paper and with “water” all over the floor, so I put a rug in there just to use it. It’s colder inside my room than outside. And someone comes and knocks on my door when food is ready giving me no choice in time or options. Even though I eat the same thing every meal, it is nice to have food. So I’m still quite thankful.

Life in London is grand, though, I’m gone sometimes. In October, I went home (Nigeria) for my cousin’s wedding. Having been gone for over 20-something years, it was good to go back. And I was able to work from my company’s Nigeria office that week and avoid using up vacation days. The wedding was grand, and I really enjoyed it. The bride and groom danced like there was no tomorrow. I think they were both quite thankful as they were probably in the very late 30’s or early 40’s.

I had to go to India in November but was able to fly to the States just in time for Thanksgiving. I stayed for the weekend and we had a surprise 60th birthday for my father. Boy, was he surprised! It was a big to-do. We had waiters, speeches, catered food, dance performances, a cake cutting ceremony, song performances, decorations, and customized party favours from diaries, notebooks, mugs, and pens. It was a really good time. I sang “Wind Beneath My Wings” not too terribly well. It was well enough for a music producer to come up to me and ask for my information. He was sorely disappointed when he found out I didn’t live in the States. I also participated in a 9-person Azonto dance performance. If you don’t know Azonto, it’s the Ghanaian dance craze that is sweeping the world. Ha ha! I don’t know if it’s that big, but both CNN and BBC have done short reports on it. I like it because it is simple and easy . . . and because you can see my neighbourhood in the popular Azonto video.

I spent Christmas and New Year’s in Niger, an interesting, magical, and quite horrific experience all in one. I’ll tell you more about it later. In general, everything is well, and I should be done here in Delhi in about 2 weeks or so. I may travel this upcoming weekend, and would really like a recommendation from India-knowledgeable friends from whom I haven’t heard. I want to wish you a wonderfully Happy New Year! May you be challenged by big dreams, have the courage to endeavor daring risks, and faithfully enter new beginnings this year of 2013.