Byline; In Place of the Slave Traders: The Peace Corps in Nigeria
The byline in place of the slave traders. The commotion you hear in the background was recorded in the small village I was in many in eastern Nigeria. The occasion was a party given by the townsfolk in honor of an American couple who were visiting a resident daughter working there as an American Peace Corps volunteer. Mr and Mrs John Briggs live in Concord Massachusetts where Mr. Briggs was assistant headmaster of Middlesex school a private boys preparatory school of about 200. Their daughter Bonnie 24 joined the Peace Corps two years ago after graduating from Smith College. She was given 12 weeks of intensive training and then assigned to Nigeria.
Ultimately to a small and quite isolated town in the eastern portion called as Romany it is there that her parents travel to see her. It is there too that they first came to realize the affection and gratitude felt by the townspeople for their daughter part of a welcoming speech for them given by a villager. It's not about. What he brings is really no novelty as a Peace Corps volunteer in Nigeria by the latest count there are six hundred thirty two in the country. This despite the much publicized postcard incident of several years ago when a volunteer
wrote some uncomplimentary remarks about the toilet habits of Nigerians on a postcard to be sent home. The card was discovered by natives and its contents made public. But in spite of this episode Nigeria a newly independent country has to prove to be one of the happiest of the Peace Corps experiments. Bunny breaks was assigned to one of the more remote corners of the country that is larger than Texas and Oklahoma in total area. And here indeed she turned out to be something of a novelty. Mr. Briggs I think the last person before Bunny arrived as a peace representative last white person who came to Ezulwini or near as him and he was an Englishman named Bacon who is said to have gone through eastern Nigeria in the early 1930s or thereabouts. Because of that Englishman all white people came to be known as that K.. And as we walked down the street people
especially children would say pick a date that day and I've met a white man. Actually it was all completely friendly and we turned and smiled or said something that got a smile doesn't talk to us. So if you there are few English words to us in the 19th century there were some American slave traders who were in as in many ways but he was first created there just after she arrived a couple of weeks after she arrived as a Peace Corps teacher. The welcoming address to her mention the fact that the welcoming his and Chester's had been visited by Americans who were right over there and they pointed to the market place to buy slaves the actual wording of the greeting was that our dear Miss Briggs We the undersigned on behalf of ourselves and the rest of the women and other people in this ancient place say welcome to you. Today is a momentous one in the history of this town. Our forefathers were first in contact with the founders of your country.
And that was in the damn traffic of slavery in the market you see there which is five centuries old. It was a center of slave trade. But today in you we are again in contact with America not in slavery but in education. So Bonnie bridges work was cut out. She was in a corner of black Africa faced with the fact of being one of the first whites there since the slave traders of the last century. But her reaction was positive from the start. According to her father her first letter from Lagos after it one day said approximately this you know that I'm here. I know this is what I would do. She was impressed and happy for the very moment she arrived. And when we arrived we were equally pressed me with so many of our friends had said I should worry about. But he's being so far away in Nigeria. And if there's any single impression we came home with
after all our mission. It was it was nothing to worry. Nice lovely. She's getting there. The girl was assigned as a teacher of French at the brand new national secondary school but Wang which is important to the country since it is surrounded by three French speaking nations the Cameroons and the home we need money however soon found that she could be more useful teaching English since it is the official language of Nigeria. Yes she is doing whatever innocent idea was when the girl started her job with vanish like a breath amidst some very real and Mundine problems. Her parents tell of these it's a nuisance not water it's a nuisance not to be able to communicate. There's no telephone to get a message you have to send it over by a bicycle person. Hope you got a reply and all that sort of thing. But that's true of most Peace Corps workers and I know it's true not only in Nigeria but
what I've read in the Peace Corps magazine about the CBS Peace Corps volunteers all over the world. That's no problem to them they're a nuisance but not it's a nuisance to have to scrape the mildew off your clothes every day. The rainy season to have your show was always wet or muddy. But those aren't the things that Peace Corps volunteers are worried about I think that speaking for Bonnie only her worries are what the worries of any teacher who is having a hard time teaching dumb students might feel those are those are the real worries. Mr. Briggs assessment is an accurate one. Listen to the first tape that Bonnie sent home last year. The opening of school or rather the opening of school I think because things there a few minor problems in the opening. It's the fact that we've hired haven't showed up yet. It is rather disconcerting and only 31 of the
60 or 70 new boys who are registered to come to the first floor. The boys started diddling around 7 o'clock this morning mostly new boys looking a little shy and wide eyed and then later in the afternoon the second farmer started coming back like Bring on the canvas and everything. Hundred new registering new boys to go to school you bundle their rather big bundle. Pounds and shillings in pennies some of them would bring in five or ten pennies you can imagine if we went around and collected from this person in a couple of shillings. We are a little worried about three tutors that would help a lot in making national secondary legitimate because it might be a bit of a comedy if only to try to take on for
the boys. That's one hundred and twenty boys and four classroom assuming of course that come back which is not necessarily a reasonable assumption but I guess it's nothing to worry too much about the opening of the school. Nigeria is not taken too seriously and since classes don't start until Monday when the boys come back over the weekend even the principal is to arrive today. A group of young boys find it all the rage. Take him you need him by the way is another name for marijuana. And those who take him around here are said to go. That's the terminology. It's legal to have any kind of infiltration of Indian him taking in a school of course the Indian him probably Nigeria as you probably read is quite serious. They're
constantly discovering secret Indian him especially in the East and in the rivers district and was just uncovered a couple of days ago and it is not far from where. It is easy to procure anywhere in Nigeria. I know that it is in the new market. Now the problem is that in textbooks it seems that the government made the unfortunate mistake of publishing some time in September. The list of recommended textbooks to be used in schools and this is the first time they've done that. Well some buddy in the government who must have had a brother in the trading business had the bright idea of buying up textbooks as soon as they were. As soon as they came into the bookstore so that almost all the textbooks
available were only sold in the market and the traders the market traders had a monopoly on the books so the prices went shooting up. Many schools didn't start looking for textbooks until December and by that time it was too late. Bookstores were out of their books and the market people had a corner. So no without some textbooks such as my English textbook I think it's going to be another year rhapsodizing them. The glamour of being a Peace Corps worker vanished quickly then for Bunny Briggs as she faced up to being a new teacher in a new school in a newly independent country. But apparently she has made a healthy start to the people as to many. Her sincere interest in them and their problems is both recognized and appreciated. Her parents saw this during their visit. It was our impression that they were interested in us as the parents of our daughter
more than interested in us as representatives of the United States. Very simple though it was because of that we were able to have this unusual opportunity of being what you might call on the inside religion Nigeria the village of us who many supports a population of about 7000 mostly farmers of Palm products. It is developing only slowly but the fewer educated persons of the town are doing their best. In a recent oil strike in a neighboring community suggests a more prosperous future. Mr. Briggs tells of the leadership and character of the town itself. There are two or three citizens are props if you will or who are well aware of the 20th century. For example is Dr. Petit he has that one European style house in the town. He it is probably through knowledge of the right people in eastern Nigeria has been responsible for this.
Getting a good modern bridge builder across the river. He it is who has been responsible for the building of the Cottage Hospital the only hospital in the area which was completed about three was completed about three years ago and Dr machete who had his own education in Scotland is forward looking. He is well educated. He is thoroughly aware of the problems of a town like this which is back in the 19th century. Unquestionably it has no electricity has no telephone. It has practically no modern conveniences of any sort. But there is a new kind of electronic Bush Telegraph making the rounds. Sister radios you see an occasional person carrying a radio on in his head and listening to it. What does the young generation like to listen to when they do get a hold of a transistor radio. Hot Nigerian sounds. What else might be used but Bonnie recorded.
Mr. and Mrs. Briggs spent almost three weeks with their daughter and as so many it was school recess so she didn't have to teach. They spent their time meeting people and making calls starting appropriately with the paramount chief of the village. These visits gave the brig's a good insight into the nature of the country. They also are a good opportunity for Bonnie to show off some of her language ability for in fact she started learning the native dialect as soon as she arrived and early tape home shows this. I can give you a few people because you might be interested in hearing how the language sounds. Here are some readings for different purposes. That's a general Hello how are you going. Just which is how. Just like the Indian. Are you cooking are you eating. Her mother recognised the importance of Bonnie's attempts to learn the language.
She certainly mentioned loneliness in her first letters. That was one reason why she made such an effort to learn the people language and in the end it turned out to be an advantage for her because now she doesn't know the language. She no longer is lonely and I think she's that because she has learned the language she has gained a great deal and been able to contribute a great deal more than she could have otherwise. We were taking one small trip in a rented. Car stopped in the village. Oh about two o'clock in the afternoon we were hungry we saw a sign said close on a restaurant and bar so we let in and the host bunny recognized that we were well out of her district she recognised by his features and his voice says Sandy Baum. So she spoke to him in his own language. He was very pleased. Then he came over to our table and spoke with us in English. He found out that she was a
member of the Peace Corps and so he put his hand on my shoulder and said You need have no worry. She's Peace Corps she is safe with us. During their visit the Briggs's had a chance to make judgments of their own on the Peace Corps where they frequently observed other Peace Corps volunteers both in Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa. We had one interesting evening when he had invited Peace Corps friends who lived here in about mostly quite near a Sunni to meet us and dinner with us. She killed a chicken for it. Check it out a couple of years you might think we were talking a great deal about problems but actually talk about
getting in Africa because we are just not. Interesting. Every one of the record indicates something about the idealism of young exciting back to volunteers getting off. I remember one. Who got off at Freetown Sierra Leone Horry he and a
girl was also getting to know. Here we are again. Always raining there. And then I get off walk through lakes from the plane to the airport every jabbering about the job. They're all excited about it. Very nice people. I clasped them Representatives I thought this was the kind of thing. Here is your letter which will get the stuff now that they are home. The bridges speak with great enthusiasm not only of the Peace Corps workers but also of Nigeria and its people. Their trip fostered a great interest in the country. Their daughter keeps them posted by tape of colorful local events such as the annual festival which she witnessed and took part in with Eleanor Putnam. Another Peace Corps volunteer from Concord Massachusetts and David Waterhouse a British consulate official legal experts of the festival followed by their
description of it but I'm not done yet. I know I am not. One of them. For the week.
I. When we arrived yesterday afternoon for Syria we went down with Bunny to the Market Square which is all open in the center was a little sort of a shelter with made out of raffia Palm Palm fronds and drummers were beating away and already there were a lot of people circling around and dancing. It's mainly a dance for men. So the circle consisted of men of all ages from literally from two years of age up until the demand was swinging their hips and doing a lot of fancy back action and wearing the most. In Congress clothes. Wrapper with a maid this long cloak on top and all sorts of represented Brooks Brothers shirts hung out coming down to their knees and ties around their heads and tied their waist band made of eagle feathers and all the children and all the women wear. Little girl who
rattles rattles around the room at every every step they make us almost. They're all stuck in rhythm dance and rhythm. Oh you mean about Richard. Yes. When a member of the age grade enters the age grade there's a certain ritual or when he when he comes to visit or comes to join their party there's a ritual which goes like this. Remember says the name of the age grade for instance. And then he has to say thank you for time so it sounds like this is a man No ma'am no ma'am no and then meanwhile between each of the members have to respond by saying yeah yeah yeah each each woman carried a chain a beautiful little copper bells brass bells probably 50 years old maybe imported. But at any rate you can't buy them today. And with each drumbeat they would grow out of it.
And so we David and I owe all of us first sitting at the doctors. Little booth or whatever where he was serving. Bottom line and then money disappeared when he was dressed in a wrapper and blouse and little handkerchief and she went to join her age group and then that period was not her actual age group in age but when she's the first one to get her as an honorary member and so there she was cleaning our hips around and singing and dancing and swaying with the rest of them. And she went around about two times and all the women were coaching or teaching or if you look very natural the dancing broke up at around 6 o'clock due to very unfortunate occurrence which I can't tell you about as well as David Waterhouse who actually saw it happen.
The dancing was meant to end when the king or chief of the village the paramount chief Sorry should have been lifted onto the shoulders of his supporters and run around the square and later taken to his house. Unfortunately though the king wasn't netted to anybody's shoulders but the sub chiefs were lifted instead. The upstart and apparently the village is divided into two and this is divided division to two even further. So I'm afraid that hostilities broke out and there was a small scrimmage went on. Over the dramas ran over the drums because they didn't want the dots to continue it should have gone on to about 9 o'clock apparently in one form or another. But there was there was a fight which went on for about five or ten minutes and the big get going on and the people in the village say that they won't be settled for a month or perhaps not even for a year but the king has been dishonored. The chief has been decided in public and this is a very sad state of affairs
in our tapes home but he doesn't limit herself to only town events and town politics. She shows an interest in national trends as well. Between the southerners and the Northerner is very very thin and I'm sure that it can't be overcome in the next 50 years. However I think that the threat of secession is nothing more than that because economically it would be disastrous in the north. Unfortunately the east depends just as much on the north fertile ground for entrepreneurs as the north and import into prices. You probably heard the ubiquitous evil. And it's
true that that number of easterners emigrate from the east to find jobs in the West in the north and Midwest and it's Fantastico when you travel in another region you find that almost every house boy or trader is in Katsina Providence province in the northern region. Virtually every small shop was owned by a bull. Now you can imagine what would happen if they were to secede from the north the north would certainly be good shops. Traders would be flooded with people who had no jobs and would not be would not be able to offer these people the jobs that their side to do. I think that both the north and the east realize that they can't get along without each other at least for a long time
and compromise is absolutely necessary before it can work. There will have to be some kind of a change in the Constitution because the essential problem is that as the Constitution is set up now it ensures the domination of the north. The fact is that a congressional set up such as ours can simply not work if one day larger than all the others put together. Imagine if you can how we would feel if Texas had more seats in Congress than all the other states put together. And then you can begin to see how they feel how desperate they feel about the Northern domination. The inequity of proportional representation is even more cute because in Nigeria the Senate does not have the power of the United States. The Senate here I believe has nothing but delaying power. Some of the minor matters of the country but really
nothing of any importance. Therefore the person representing everything the Briggs's visit with their Peace Corps daughter took place last summer. They have been home for almost five months. Time enough to reflect upon the trip with some kind of detachment. I've changed my attitude about the Peace Corps a great deal since it began which was two years before Bonnie went into it. I felt at the time that we were sending untrained and unskilled workers to do a job that they weren't qualified to do and I wondered if it couldn't do them and us more harm than good. But I certainly have changed my mind I believe a great many people in this country have had our experience this summer with the clincher and I'm completely sold. He's going I think too that the training has improved a great deal. For instance in Buddy's group there was comparatively little break he will
read the current group setting up your own. There has been great recent misses on specific training language which the other is doing. I think that's great Bonnie Briggs will be leaving Nigeria in May after two years in peace corps lingo. Determination. She has no definite plans thereafter. Her parents are well aware of the dangers of the so-called re-entry problem. The Peace Corps volunteers the problem of readjusting to a more civilised and oft times more Mundine way of life in this country. But it is clear that Danny's parents are confident that she can adjust. They are proud of our individual efforts in as know many Nigeria and its real value to both her and the town. And always they have their own memories of us know many to remember as well. This program was produced by Crocker snow Jr..
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