Home is where the war is!

 

MARYANNE KOODA

Vinny’s son just reached his 10th birthday last week, but she didn’t live to see him. She died of a gunshot to the head, caught in the crossfire between armed terrorists and security forces in a northern Nigerian city of Kaduna. I didn’t know her really well, but there are so few Sri Lankans in Nigeria that most of them know each other, and as a Nigerian girl married to a Sri Lankan, I got to meet and sometimes just hear about many of them.

Vinny was a Tamil lady, who moved to Nigeria over a decade ago to begin a life there with her Lankan hubby after an arranged marriage. I, on the other hand had moved to Sri Lanka four years ago, and have experienced the joy of an end to the tragedies that plagued this beautiful Island. I remember the tension of the constant threat of suicide bombs, when I moved to Colombo in February 2008. I once felt the vibrations of a bomb that went off not far from Station Road Mount Lavinia, close to where I was living at the time.

Back then, I often wondered to myself, why I would leave the relative safety of Nigeria and move to such volatile surroundings. I would watch news reports of bomb explosions, wondering how people could live under such constant threat of death. As I observed ordinary people going about their daily lives, students in crisp white uniforms, Shalwar- clad housewives going ‘marketing’, or stick-thin young men rushing to work, I learnt through their seeming calmness, that life really does go on, even under the constant threat of terrorist attacks.

Little did I know, that the tables would turn, very soon, and very badly…

“We are proud soldiers of Allah; we will never give up as we fight the infidels. We will emerge as winners … we will finish you and end your government”. This is the recent threat issued by the terrorist group Bokoharam, a violent and extremist group that has emerged within the last couple of years in Nigeria, creating havoc and unspeakable hardship to hundreds of civilians.

Murder and mayhem now reigns in a country with crippling corruption and a crumbling economy. Predicted by the CIA to be officially a failed state come 2015, my home country Nigeria, has become the stuff nightmares are made of.

Before she died, Vinny and i had exchanged comments and smiley faces on face book. The pictures of my life in Sri Lanka often made her nostalgic, and I would also check her wall occasionally for pictures and comments about Nigeria. A picture of her at the Yankari Game Reserve in Bauchi remained on her wall for months. That she would survive the decades of war in Sri Lanka, and then die in the crossfire by Nigerian terrorists is a poignant irony that left me befuddled for weeks after I heard of her death!

Whenever I mention going back to Nigeria, my 12 year-old son reminds me “remember what happened to the aunty that died, if you go back to Nigeria, the same thing might happen to you”. Then I swallow the gulp that’s stuck in my throat, and brace myself to face my life here in Lanka, in, what a relative back in Nigeria calls ‘a very poor and alien country’.

Nigeria beckons me with echoes of its familiarity, and the family ties that sing “come back home, no matter how bad things are, it’s still your country, you have a better chance of making it here than in Sri Lanka”. I ignore their advice due to equal proportions of cowardice and bravery; I am too chicken to go back, and also very determined to build a life for myself and my children here in Sri Lanka.

Living in Sri Lanka in times of peace, and watching how the government, and ordinary people pick themselves up and rebuild has given me much hope. I firmly believe that Nigeria too, can one day become a country free from terrorism and poverty and the consequent hopelessness!

Often, I scrutinize articles on Sri Lankan peace building efforts by individuals and multinational groups, accumulating ideas and delighting in proactive and pragmatic approaches to national reconciliation. I observe Sri Lanka’s Sinhala/ Tamil divisions, although much less complex than Nigeria’s over 200 ethnic groups, yet very similar to the deep divisions between the equal proportions of Christian and Muslim population. I revel in every Sri Lankan post-war success story as though in some alternative universe, Sri Lanka’s success belonged to me; belonged to Nigeria!

For Nigeria, peace is not an impossibility, despite deep-seated distrust planted in a Country stitched together by British colonialists. Peace cannot be an impossibility, regardless of the deep-seated hate, that is solidifying as the death toll rises and the meaningless attack based on religious sentiments continue.

Peace has to be an option, despite the absolute poverty and surging unemployment that seeps into the consciousness of the young turning them against each other, at this very moment when they need to unite and claw their way towards progress. Peace is the only way forward!

Constructive conflict resolution and reconciliation has to begin sometime somehow for Nigeria! Hopefully, not decades from now, after the economy has been shattered and thousands of lives have been lost, but today and NOW!

For Nigeria, Optimism is the only way out, as the alternative is a dismal sigh of another naturally endowed African country laid waste by mindless killings and destruction of fragile infrastructure. I cannot afford to lose hope! None of us can.

Watching Sri Lanka, inch towards peace and prosperity gives me butterflies in my stomach. I am excited for Sri Lanka and with each success story I am infused with hope, that someday Nigeria too will see a light at the end of this very dark and dreary tunnel.

BIO

Maryanne Kooda was born and raised in Nigeria and did her graduate studies at the University of Abuja. She taught Business Communication to undergrads and is completing a post-grad qualification in special needs education.  She writes when her rushed mum-student-teacher schedule allows her to clutch at and pin down the many creative threads that spin around in her mind. She is a mother of two lively sons and lives in Sri Lanka.

Check out Walking Down the Hallway with Janet on iSrilankan.

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