This is a post I meant to put up some time ago in the throes of the crisis and never did (“What? You’re behind in your blog postings?! You? But you have such good intentions and you’re always so prompt with your postings!”). I decided to post this anyway, belated though it is, because of how touched I was by this event.
Thankfully, things seem to have begun to settle down here, and Jos is no longer the main feature in the international security updates we get almost daily. The curfew has been lifted completely for the first time since we moved here; when we first arrived almost a year ago it was from 11 pm-5 am, but during the peak of the crisis a 24-hour curfew was implemented, which was gradually moved to 5 pm-10 am, then 6 pm-6 am, then 9 pm-6 am. Despite the removal of the curfew, it seems that some of the things that may have contributed to, or at least fueled the crisis – the rage, the hostility, the division, etc. – are still lingering unresolved. Perhaps people are tired of the violence, weary of living on edge, distraught by the number of burials – an alarming number of them innocent children and women –because it seems that the people acting out on these feelings is not as widespread as it was even weeks ago. Until the root issues are resolved, though, one can’t help but wonder how long such feelings will stay “unsurfaced,” how long it will be before violence might break out again.
I won’t pretend to understand the causes of the violence here, the cycle of revenge or even the steps being taken to eliminate it. (For someone who has a lot more insight into some of these things, check out the blog of Danny McCain, a man who has lived here for decades and is respected by Nigerians and ex-pats alike.) I speak from the sheltered view of someone who has only made a home here in the past ten or so months, and I know with that comes ignorance about how things work here, an inability to really sift through the rumors and accusations about the government, the army, the history, sources of violence.
But for what’s it worth, this is part of our story.
Everyone we’ve talked to in Jos seems to be living on edge and tired of the recent events in Jos.
A couple people we know have decided to return to their home countries because of the crisis…. One friend who returned home to process everything that had happened told me (Christie), “Hundreds of people have died in this crisis, and I don’t want to go on as normal. I don’t want to not process this and not think about what’s happened.”
It’s true – my tendency is sometimes to keep myself busy and not think about things. When I was younger and would have bad dreams, my mom would come into my room and tell me, “Don’t think about it. Think about good things. Think about nice things. Picture a field of flowers.” Good advice for a sleepless, nightmare-ridden 8 year old, but unfortunately, I sometimes think I have carried that advice over into Real Life, and I find myself avoiding Thinking Too Much about sad or tragic things, lest I find myself overwhelmed by the sorrow and magnitude of them.
But not thinking about the recent events doesn’t change them. Not reading the multitude of e-mails that flood our inbox each day with headlines about more violence, more killings, doesn’t change them. It doesn’t bring the people back, doesn’t stop the violence. Not thinking about the hundreds of defenseless children, women, sickly and elderly massacred in the middle of the night just miles outside Jos doesn’t change the fact that they are gone, an entire village almost completely wiped out of existence… children who will never attend school or get married or have children of their own… nursing moms who will never hold their precious babies again… those laid up with sickness who no longer will wake up thinking that maybe this was the day they would feel better again… lives brutally and meaninglessly extinguished too soon. (I can’t help but wonder what happened to all the soldiers that stop my car when I’m suspiciously driving to buy bread in the middle of the day. All the roadblocks in the world don’t seem to mean much when protection that’s promised doesn’t show up at 3 am, well outside the curfew hours, to prevent such atrocities.)
Who had ever even heard of Dogo Na Hauwa before that night in March? Now Not Thinking About It seems like a slap in the face to our God who created each woman, child, old man and sick person who once had a life and home there.
It is getting increasingly more difficult to go anywhere, in fact, without being reminded of the crisis and its effects – someone’s uncle or friend or brother who was killed or injured in the one of the villages attacked, people who are living in fear, people we know whose homes and belongings were completely destroyed in the crisis, even schools and ministries that have suffered financially because no one wants to be a student in Jos right now. There are few people we’ve met who have not been directly and personally affected by the crisis, even fewer who don’t desperately long for it to be over.
And yet part of me feels so removed from all of it. At the back of my head – and even in some of the questions our family and friends ask with a slightly desperate tone – there is the knowledge that I can have a Plan B. I have a passport. Chris and I can grab Judah, a couple souvenirs and our suitcases and go back home if things get too bad, too scary, too close for comfort.
But Sarah doesn’t have that option. Neither do most Nigerians. This IS home for them.
Which is why on March 11, thousands of women banded together to peacefully march to the State House of Assembly in Jos and then on to the Government House, a protest against all the violence that has been going on, a plea for the government to do something about it, a visible cry for the children that many of them lost. On the day of the march, Sarah lamented, “It is the women who suffer, the women who lose their children when the men fight, and so it is the women who are speaking out.” Our neighbor, a pastor’s wife, fumed about the lack of voice that women here are given, ranting that the soldiers had done nothing to protect their children, their homes, their future.
But on that day, they had a voice, and they gave a voice to the many men, women, children and babies whose lives have been taken.
The march came in waves. I was expecting one huge group (which did come later), but somewhat early in the morning, we heard singing from the street outside our house. We knew the women would be marching right past our house, as we are on the path to the Government House, so Sarah and I went outside to see what was going on. There were hundreds of women dressed in black and waving branches – a sign of sorrow, Sarah said – and singing in Hausa, “Who can save us? Who can save us? Only God.”
I was so incredibly moved by these women singing in their grief, crying out to God and declaring to those around that there was no man, no army, no government who could save their country without God.
Throughout the morning, there were pockets of women clothed in black and gripping their branches streaming by our house, even packed into taxis, singing as they drove along. They sang in unison, their voices carrying their message for miles.
As the next wave of women came through, there was a marked change in the tone. The singing was replaced by yelling, the helpless pleas by angry shouting. Some of the women carried crosses, and some carried signs. Some shouted out prayers as they walked, and some simply yelled for change, demanded justice. My neighbor and I raised our hands as they marched past, echoing their cries with, “Amen!” – though at times I was so choked up that even those two syllables became impossible to utter.
One woman held a sign with a picture of a mass of bodies, and as she marched up to me and my neighbor, thrusting it within inches of our face, an elderly woman who was standing on the edge watching everything collapsed against a wall sobbing, clutching her heart and falling into the wall for support.
I didn’t know her, didn’t know her story, but I was overwhelmed with compassion and sorrow for her and for all the women she suddenly represented, so I walked over to her and hugged her as she wept. As I held her, the tears that wouldn’t come when I Tried Not To Think About It suddenly came, even as I tried to be strong for this woman I had never met.
And on that morning, I stood in solidarity with these women of Jos, women who have lost their babies, their families, their homes, their hope in their government – but who still had hope that their voices could make a difference for the future of their city, their country…. And who still had faith that God, only God, could save them and their nation.