I will use a quote of a friend who said that 2019 “was a wild ride. Nothing, almost nothing went as planned.” That sums up our 2019. It was wild, chaotic and sometimes difficult but we survived it and looking forward to 2020. As usually, our house was full of friends and family and we spent a considerable time one the road. Overall, we made it – a few scratches here and there, a bruised knee from failing to meet that goal that seemed important at the time and a few new gray hairs from stressing over events that we couldn’t change.
Our top moments of 2019:
Our new home in Johannesburg, SA
We made a big move to South Africa in 2019! We are slowly transitioning to our new life in Johannesburg. Like all things in this life, it will have its ups and downs but we are thanking God for this new season in our life. We recognize that it will be a different vibe then our time in Nigeria. For one, Johannesburg reminds one of a European city but on the other hand, we will be confronted with race unlike our time in Nigeria.
Saying goodbye to Nigeria
It was difficult to say goodbye to my home of five and a half years. Met some amazing people, had some amazing experience and will forever remember our time in Nigeria. I often define my time in Nigeria like this, for the first year I struggled with the country. In year two and three my feeling bordered on hate and in year four and five, I just went with the flow. Nigeria will kill you if you fight it but celebrate you if you just “go with the flow.” Nevertheless, we are on to big and better things and will continue to share our experiences in the Rainbow Nation!
The Big 40!
Forty is not so bad. Maybe I am not where I thought I would be but boy, God has been a moving and a shaking in my (our) lives. Check out the blog on turning 40!
Auburn goes to the Final Four
In some ways, I feel guilty saying that Auburn’s trip to the final four is a top moment of 2019 because I had very little to do with it. I didn’t block one player or hit any three pointers. However, as a long time Auburn fan, Auburn sports has always found a way to lift my spirits when life is difficult. The first few months of 2019 were difficult and challenging and following Auburn’s run to Minneapolis was a highlight of the first four months. Getting to travel and experience the game was icing on the cake. It was a good time!
Nigeria General Elections
To loosely quote the Sound of Music, “how do you solve a problem like Nigeria. How do you catch a cloud and pin it down? How do you find a word that means Nigeria?” Everything in Nigeria is big and over the top and that includes its elections. To even understand Nigeria’s elections you need an update glossary of terms that include words that sometimes don’t make sense to the casual observer. However, elections come and go and Nigeria keeps moving along.
Anniversary trip to Austria, Croatia and BiH
I am sure Sheila will say it’s me but our vacation always turn into a history lesson! (Yes, its me). This year, it was our road trip through conflict in Croatia and Bosnia & Herzegovina (BiH). Check out our blogs about our anniversary trip to Austria, Croatia and BiH.
Christmas in Rwanda
In case you were wondering, Rwanda is not known for its Christmas markets, artistically decorated Christmas trees and carolers singing Christmas hymns in the street. But the country is changing and trying to adapt a western style Christmas. I know what you are saying, Sentell, you are forcing foreign traditions on a country and trying to change how they mark Christmas. And, yes that is exactly what I am trying to do. Bring a little Western style Christmas to Rwanda. But I can’t take credit for what I experienced when I arrived in Rwanda. Christmas lights blanketed the town, Christmas trees in every home I visited and family gatherings happening around town. I spent Christmas day making cakes for the 40 visitors that came to Sheila’s house to celebrate Christmas. That is how you celebrate Christmas – spending too much time in the kitchen and taking naps because you are too full to do anything else.
Wow! 2019 was a very busy and challenging year! It is ending very similarly to the way it began…extremely busy and a bit unsettled! It started in the heat of the Nigerian election season. There was not much time after getting back from the US after Christmas to rest before jumping directly into Nigeria’s over the top election process. Less than a month after getting back to Abuja, over 60 foreign delegates arrived in Abuja to observe the elections, including two former heads of state and the former vice president of a West African nation!
Members of the International Election Observation Mission, including former President Festus Mogae of Botswana (center with walking stick), former President Vaira Vike-Freiberga of Latvia (center) and former Vice President Fatoumata Tambajang of The Gambia.
For nearly five weeks, I only slept a few hours each night. The election process became even more complicated (and longer) when the election management body announced that the elections would be delayed by one week. I would like you to know that the announcement came at 2am the morning of the elections. There were people queuing at polling units unaware of the announcement. In Nigeria, delayed elections are a normal process as the two previous general elections were push back.
After the heat of the election subsided, we found ourselves preparing to leave Nigeria. Conversations with my headquarters started in April that we would leave Abuja. This process was complicated by the size and attention needed for the Nigeria program. Sentell also made a four day trip to the Minnesota to watch Auburn play in the Final Four! It was an awesome trip that included driving from Chicago to Minneapolis and getting very little sleep. Unfortunately, Auburn lost in the last second of the game to Virginia!
While Auburn didn’t win the game, I did get to see old friends in Madison, Wisconsin and Minneapolis, Minnesota.
In June we traveled to the US for Sentell’s work and spent a few additional weeks dealing with your typical appointments when you have been out of the US for several months. Sheila ended up spending three months in the US so I returned to the continent by myself.
In August, Sentell returned to the US to celebrate his 40th birthday! We spent the week hiking and exploring Aspen, Colorado! It’s hard to believe that He is 40. While He says he doesn’t feel as young as a 20 year old, he likes to think he is a 30 year old man…Sheila also celebrated her birthday in August. She marked the day with her friends in the US enjoying flowers and a Cheesecake Factory cheesecake I sent her to mark the occasion. I arranged the delivery all the way from Maputo, Mozambique.
Sheila celebrating her birthday with friends in New Jersey.
We have been trying to tone down our aggressive travel schedule but we love exploring the world. We started the 2019 in Istanbul, one of Sentell’s favorite cities. We booked an extended layover in Istanbul and spent three days exploring traditional markets and learning the history of the millennium old city. Sheila loved shopping in the Bazaar.
We spent Easter with family in Rwanda and traveled to Austria, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) for our third wedding anniversary. Croatia was amazing but BiH was like a tour through the Balkan past. We learned about the events that led to World War I, Yugoslovia and the most recent Balkan crisis. Most people we talked to have no clue where BiH is located! We also made multiple trips to the US, mostly for Sentell’s work. Sentell also went to Botswana and Mozambique for work.
In November, we finally departed Nigeria for our new home in Johannesburg South Africa. After nearly six years living in Abuja, it all ended as we packed up our house and headed out to the rainbow nation! Sadly, because of visa issues, we were unable to travel together. Sentell went to Johannesburg on November 13 and Sheila followed on December 1. She had to leave Nigeria to process her visa. South Africa’s relationship with other countries on this African continent is a difficult one, which creates significant challenges for getting a visa.
Since December 1, we have been trying to settle down in Johannesburg. We have been looking for housing, trying to find our way around this new city and sampling the rich and diverse culture of South Africa. We are already looking forward to our time here. Just a few weekends ago, we traveled to a game park about two hours outside of Johannesburg and spent the weekend relaxing and viewing the Big 5 (animals). We are already planning our next trip to one of the many game reserves that operate in South Africa. AND we found old friends in Johannesburg. David and his wife Diane are based in South Africa. We got to know them in Abuja and they became second parents to us. We are so happy to have them in South Africa!
Abuja in May (left) and in Pretoria in December (right).
We are looking forward to 2020 and delighted that there are still people praying for us, thinking about us and loving on us from afar. This transient world we live can be lonely sometimes, especially when moving to a new environments but we are happy to know that people are still following story as we travel through this world.
Christmas in Rwanda with family and friends…and even a few Nigerian friends who happen to be in Kigali for Christmas (The Igyuhs).
I don’t often travel back to Alabama to celebrate Thanksgivings. I remember going back to Alabama in 2003, 2004 and 2016 (work event that took place around Thanksgiving). However, I have always found myself surrounded by family and friends despite not going back to Alabama. After arriving on the African continent, I spent Thanksgiving 2013 in Rwanda, 2014 with friends in Nigeria, 2015 in Rwanda (I was planning to propose to my future wife), 2016 in Alabama (mentioned above), 2017 in United Kingdom with Sheila and 2018 in Paris with my parents, brother/sister-in-law and Sheila. Therefore, it was hard to come to the realization that after moving to South Africa, I would be spending Thanksgiving alone. Sheila was stuck in the United States trying to get a visa to South Africa (more on that story below) and I was busy traveling between South Africa, Zimbabwe and Namibia. I tried to focus mostly on work on Thanksgiving Day because for South Africans, it was just another day in the office. However, social media did not allow that to happen. Each post was a picture of friends celebrating Thanksgiving with their loved ones. Everywhere I turned, more photos of friends frying a turkey, decorating a cake and eating delicious food. Social media was more than I could handle.
But on Friday, my I mood moved away from depression to shock because while South Africans were working hard while Americans were eating turkey on Thanksgiving Day, on this particular day, South Africans were participating in a similar fab that has consumed the world – BLACK FRIDAY. Yes, people were running to shopping malls all over South Africa to get a Black Friday deal. It was crazy. I was completely shocked that Black Friday had made it all the way to the southern tip of the African continent. I went to the mall just to experience the chaos and craziness of South Africans buying everything they could put their hands on. I am proud to say that I did not buy anything.
On Saturday, my mood went from shock to happiness as Sheila arrived from the United States. We were planning to depart Nigeria together but since she is a Rwandan citizen, she requires a visa to South Africa. Now, truth be told, she had a visa to the South Africa. She got it in the US in August. However, my organization delayed our departure until the end of October. We decided to apply for a visa at the South African High Commission in Abuja. This was probably our worst decision. We had been told that the South African High Commission could be nonresponsive and slow at processing visas. However, we assumed that since Sheila had an expired visa; it would be an easy process. Boy were we wrong. In the end, we decided to recall Sheila’s passport and send her to the US to apply for a visa. Instead of us traveling to South Africa together, we went our separate ways. So I was extremely delighted when she arrived in Johannesburg in the wee hours of Saturday morning.
On Sunday, my mood went from happiness to sheer amazement as Auburn pulled off an epic defeat of Alabama (Sorry to my Alabama fan friends)! I have been watching Auburn football since 1999 and as a diehard fan, I have watched many games where Auburn either stalls and unable to keep up in a high scoring affair or unable to mount a comeback. I have had a lot of sleepless nights watching Auburn football from the continent. I have been either too depressed to sleep after a 3am lost to a school that we should have beat or to excited after an epic win (AU vs. UGA 2013). It was amazing to watch Auburn go toe to toe with Alabama and use a few trick plays to win the football game. Now add in the success of Auburn basketball and now I get very little sleep between August and April.
Our new home is the southernmost country on the African Continent! SOUTH AFRICA! The Rainbow Nation! We are excited to be relocating to South Africa. While we have never been, we have heard amazing things about the country and we are excited for something new and different. However, it will be quite the adjustment because I have not had to deal with race since leaving the US in 2013 and Sheila has never lived in an environment with racial tensions. It will be quite an adjustment for us but we are looking forward to US like shopping malls, the occasional McDonalds when I want a taste of America and exploring a geographically diverse country.
My company is transferring us to South Africa where I will be managing IRI’s regional program that includes most of the Southern Africa countries. My office is in Johannesburg. It will be very different from my large single country, Nigeria program, where I managed 20 staffers and five in-country offices. In Southern Africa, I will be building the IRI brand and expanding our footprint in the region. I am very excited.
While we did not get many visitors to Nigeria (which is unfortunate because Nigeria a very interesting African country) we expect to have many visitors during our time in SA. We hope to be fully settled by Christmas and ready to welcome friends and family members. We will be developing a hotline for reservations. So come on down! It is summer here so the weather is amazing!
Sheila and I have been overwhelmed with the outpouring of love and affection as we have prepared to depart Nigeria. It feels like Nigeria doesn’t want to let us go (there might be some truth to this). Since announcing that we would be leaving Nigeria, Sheila and I have participated in ten going away events (send-forth as Nigerians call them). Yes, TEN! Between events sponsored by my work or church or a combination, we have been celebrated and cheered throughout Abuja. Our blowout send forth shutdown the only Mexican restaurant in town. We had over 100 people attend the event! It has been quite moving because you really don’t think how your life has impacted others but when people start talking about you (Sheila and I), you are easily move to tears by their very kind words.
The Ark International Church (Abuja) sending us off on our last day in church.
During one of our send forth events, a dear friend described us as “friends that you are happy to have around, easy to relate to and don’t judge. They love genuinely…” These are things that people don’t often say to you in person so it was moving to hear these words and be able to respond to them. My mom often says “don’t give me flowers when I’m dead but give me flowers when I’m alive so I can marvel in their beauty.” A Nigerian send-forth is receiving your flowers before you die! Another friend said that her first interaction with me was during her first Sunday at the Ark International Church. On this particular Sunday, I delivered the message. She said that my message helped her see the Bible in an unique light and understand it differently. She went on to say that “when you meet Sentell, he exudes an aura of confidence.” I would like to believe that my messages at church have been meaningful and insightful but you don’t know until someone tells you the impact of the message. Another friend told how Sheila once prayed in church and how moved he was with her prayer. He said, “I have never been so moved by someone praying in church before. I was so close to calling Sheila for her to join me in prayer. She left a huge impression on me.”
The Rwandan Ambassador hosted us at his house for a going away event. The Rwandan community event sent us away with lovely gifts to remember our time in Nigeria.
A colleague at work said “I not only benefited from Sentell in my work but also as a person. I will remember you (Sentell) for the impact that you have made in my family life. I am a better family man, a better manager at my home. And it’s not just him, but also his wife (Sheila). She said somethings to me a few weeks ago and I went home and tried it and immediately starting seeing results…Sentell is always getting me to see the other side and listen to the other opinion. Sentell is leaving a better me…”
Snapshots from our final send off event. We shutdown the only Mexican restaurant in town!
I’ll never forget a boss once telling me that “when you visit a location, you don’t just visit you experience it.” At the time, I had a traveling job that took me to various states to meet with government officials. During each trip I would visit local attractions, experience the local cuisine and try my best to meet a local. This is how I have tried to approach Nigeria. I have read countless books about Nigeria, its political history and its tribal tensions; I have experience numerous cultural events, weddings, naming ceremonies and over-the-top political events; and I have made a wardrobe full of Nigerian outfits, picked up pidgin phrases and tried to see the humor that exist in this life. This is probably why I have confused most people because my mannerisms and accent are somewhere between a confused American and a long lost Nigerian. As Sheila and I prepare for our next destination, I need to start a Nigerian detox so I can get back to my original American roots.
The cat is out of the bag! A very American colloquialism for the facts have been revealed. It is true, Sheila and I are leaving Nigeria. Each time I say that I have to take a break and let it sink in. After five and a half years, Sheila and I are heading out of Nigeria to a new exciting destination. I don’t even know where to start to express my sadness for leaving this complex and chaotic country. I know some of you are thinking, Sentell, we have read your blog and we are sure you are happy to leave. Yes, it has not always been easy but Nigeria holds a very important first in our lives. This was our first home after we got married in 2016. And since that time, we have hosted numerous friends in our house celebrating Nigerian independence, American Thanksgiving, Christmas, my parents’ first trip to the continent and so many other things. Nigeria will forever have a special place in hearts.
I will never forget the day IRI told me they wanted to send me to Nigeria. I was hanging out in Washington, DC after being forced to evacuate out of Juba, South Sudan because of the armed conflict that begun on the night of December 15, 2013. I returned to the US in February of 2014 for a work conference and ended up staying in Washington, D.C. because I could not return to Juba. During those three months, I tracked developments in South Sudan and filed reports with Washington, D.C. On Wednesday, April 16, I was called into my director’s office and told that I would be transferred to Abuja, Nigeria. I was shocked because I didn’t know much about Nigeria and didn’t know anything about Abuja. To be honest, I thought Lagos was the capitol of Abuja. I went back to my desk and typed Abuja into Google search. I was horrified when I read, Nigeria violence: More than 70 killed in Abuja bus blast! I sat back in my temporary desk space and thought, “Where in the hell are the sending me!” I spent a week trying to negotiate a new destination. Maybe you could send me to Uganda, Kenya or even keep me on the South Sudan portfolio. But my director was adamant that I should go to Nigeria. So, on Thursday, May 22, I started the trip to Abuja, Nigeria. I first went to Kenya to pick up items I left in Nairobi then I headed off to Abuja to start my new life.
It’s amazing how fast five and a half years flies by. I can’t say that I was always having fun during those five years but I am truly grateful for the experiences that have taken place during that time. I will continue to reflect on my time in Abuja over the next fifteen days as we prepare to leave Abuja for our next destination.
A few weekends ago, Sheila and I went to Gurara Falls probably the last time. The Falls have been associated with my time in Abuja since 2014. Each time we have visitors, we drag them to Gurara Falls to witness the majesty of the rapids as the water cascades over the rocky cliffs. And each year, the road to Gurara Falls become more and more difficult to traverse. In 2014, our only problem getting to the fall was probably having a driver that wasn’t sure where he was going. In 2019, the road to the Falls was gridlock because of potholes, tanker trucks queuing for the gasoline depot and road construction that has been ongoing since I arrived in this country. It was a very frustrating day. When we finally arrived at the fall, there was camera crew from one of the national television channels filming various aspects of the falls and the parklike area. When they spotted us, they made a beeline to see if we would be interested in giving our opinions on the falls. I was too eager to offer my opinion of the area and the road to the falls. Sheila and our friends declined the interview but I had pent up frustration after the nearly three hour ride to the falls.
I think Gurara Falls will be one of the places I will miss when we eventually leave Nigeria. While there is so much that Nigeria and the government of Niger State can do to make this an exciting attraction for tourist, it’s an amazing testament to the power and consistency of nature. Between May and September, the falls are powerful as the Gurara River races to the drop-off that creates the falls. Between November and April, the falls become a trickle as the water levels decreased because of the dry season. It is amazing and a sight to be behold.
L to R: Gurara Falls (March 2019) and Gurara Falls (September 2019)
In many ways, the trip to Gurara Falls is like my time in Nigeria. When I arrived in May 2014, it was Boko Haram that had everyone’s attention. However, I freely moved around the country by road. However, each year since, while the government has pushed Boko Haram to the north eastern corner of the country, the security situation along the roads has deteriorated. Driving between Abuja and Kaduna is no longer an easy drive because of the potential kidnapping and armed robbery. People are now traveling to Kaduna by train, creating chaotic scenes of Nigerians trying to purchase tickets and train workers raising the price of the tickets because of demand. And while the state of the roads have gotten worse in Nigeria, so has the security situation. Sheila and I live in the Abuja bubble and until we leave that bubble, we often forget how difficult it is to live in Nigeria. And as we prepare to leave Nigeria, we will be forever reminded of Nigerians ability to adapt and survive in an environment that sometimes goes out of its way to remind you just how challenging it is to live in Africa’s most populous country.
Earlier this year, Sheila and I planned a hiking/camping trip to Scandinavia (Norway, Sweden and Finland) to celebrate my 40th birthday. We were going to drive to the northern reaches of the area and hopefully experience the midnight sun. Instead, I found myself in a doctor’s office checking my vital signs and ensuring everything was in tip-top shape. Welcome to mid-life! I can report that I am in good health (for a 40 year old black man). I have never feared getting older. While I wish I can slow the hands of time at certain intervals, I appreciate the wisdom that comes with getting older. I am a much wiser man than I was when I was 25 or 30 or even 35. But with the slow progression of age comes all types of challenges.
Despite finding myself in the doctor’s office as I was about to celebrate my 40th birthday, Sheila and I changed our traveling plans and spent a few days in Aspen, Colorado. I have always wanted to go to Aspen but never found the opportunity to travel deep into the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.
City of Aspen and Aspen Mountain from Smuggler’s Mountain overlook
The highlight of the trip were the majestic and picturesque Maroon Bells, an amazing set of 14er mountains on a lake not far from the Aspen city center. The mountain peaks are so popular that the Maroon Bells Park restricts access to the area during the busy summer and fall season. Sheila and I took the Aspen public bus from Aspen Highland Resorts to the Maroon Bells.
While it’s more of a shuttle service, I appreciate the tourist information provided by the bus driver on the way to the famous landmark. It was during that bus trip that we learned that all the down trees were from the large number of alvanches during the winter season. The lake near the visitors’ center can be quite crowded with tourists so Sheila and I decided to take the 3.6 mile roundtrip hike to Crater Lake, a lake much closer to the base of the mountains and a bit higher in elevation. Now, the first thing I did after arriving in Colorado was drink enormous amounts of water to fight altitude sickness and prepare for our hiking trips. While the hike was not as challenging as I thought it would be, hiking at 11,000 feet is like repeatedly running into a wall. And I was constantly reminded that I was nearing 40! Progress was slow and my breathing felt laborious as we slowly moved up to Crater Lake. At one point, we passed a couple doing the hike with their six month old son. It made me feel really good when Sheila and I passed them on the hike. I was celebrating the fact that we were moving faster than a man carrying 16 pounds on his chest (the small things). After over an hour of scrambling rocks (not like Old Rag) and taking breaks amidst the shade of the Aspen Trees, we made it to Crater Lake. Again, the view was amazing and breathtaking. After an hour relaxing on the shores of Crater Lake, we began the hike back down to the visitors’ center to catch the bus back to the Aspen Highland resort.
Crater Later at Maroon Bells, Aspen, Colorado
Aspen is a unique place with its multi-million dollar homes dotting the side of the surrounding mountains and travel lodges along the floor of the valley. Aspen doesn’t have your modern chain hotels like Hilton, Marriott and Sheraton. Instead, sandwiched between the multi-million dollar homes and travel lodges are boutique hotels that range from $300 to $1500 a night. Sheila and I joked that we should buy a home in Aspen only to watch our smiles fade as the first home listed on Zillow was $36 million dollars!
The City and surrounding valley offers theaters, luxury shopping, film, food, wine and beer festivals and some really good (expensive) restaurants. The city has everything from well-maintained hiking trails to horseback riding and endless camping sites. And let’s not forget the winter activities. The population of Aspen varies year-round but full time residents hovers around six-thousand people. However, it comes with a steep price. Just eating out at one of the local restaurants cost nearly $100 for two individuals with only had one glass of wine. But I had to remind myself that we were there celebrating my 40th birthday…
Birthday dinner with my mom and Sheila at Dauphin’s in Mobile, Alabama
Turning 40 is not so bad…and getting older is what we humans do. I look forward to the challenges and opportunities that will come in my forth decade on this earth. It will take sometime getting use to not saying I am in my 30s. But with Sheila by my side, I can only imagine what amazing things will come in my 40s.
What is worst then having an early morning flight? Arriving at the airport before it opens! In our last day in Croatia, we were punished with a 6:20am flight. We decided to get an early start and get to the airport two and a half hours before our flight. When we arrived at the airport at 4:00am there was a crowd of people sitting outside the airport. I told Sheila that I didn’t think the airport was open because there were too many people just loitering outside the door. A Canadian family hopped out of a taxi before us and charged at the door only to be shocked that the airport was closed.
At about 4:30am, an airport worker approached the door to open it. The people outside flooded into the airport but there were no men or women sitting behind the check in desks. There were a few kiosks for checking into your flight but when Sheila and I tried to check in the kiosks told us we needed to see an agent. So we moved closer to the check in desk and I sat against a pillar in the middle of the hall. Before I could look up all the westerners (mostly Canadians, Americans and a few Europeans) had formed a queue at a random desk. Now, the American in me wanted to join that queue. I appreciated the people for bringing some organization to a little chaos. But the five-year old Nigerian in me was thinking, “why are these people forming a random queue when we don’t even know what check in desk will open?” I whispered to Sheila, “so what’s going to happen is that when they open a check in desk, the people at the front of the line will demand that they have been queuing and deserved to be checked in first, even though we had all been in the airport the same time!”
Fifteen minutes after making this declaring the check in desks began to light up and the desk in front of Sheila and I was for business and star alliance gold passengers. Sheila and I quickly grabbed our bags and moved to the check in desk. A family that was queuing at the front of the line enter before us and declared that those in the former queue should be given preference. I laughed out loud and looked and Sheila and gave my familiar “these folks are crazy stare!” We entered behind the family with little to no reaction to his declaration. You can’t form a misdirected queue and then try and direct traffic. Thanks to our quick thinking (and a little Nigerian chaos in us) we were one of the first passengers upstairs and into the lounge.
So what’s the moral to this story…great question! As an old hymn says, I have met Nigeria and I will never be the same! So please forgive me if I offend you with wanting to be the first one off an airplane or desire to store my luggage anywhere on the airplane. I’m a product of my environment!
On Thursday, Sheila and I took a road trip that led us to the most unlikely of places for us to visit – Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). We were following the travel books and tour guides that suggested taking a day trip to the city of Mostar. Mostar is famous for its old bridge, the Stari Most (photo above). Stari Most is a 16th-century Ottoman bridge that was unfortunately destroyed during the 1990s wars in the region. The bridge was rebuilt in 2004 by a multinational coalition and even funding from the World Bank. The pedestrian bridge crosses the river Neretva and connects the two parts of the city. After a tour around the town and a dinner along the river, we hit the road in hopes of making it to Dubrovnik before dark.
Along the way, we entered the Republic of Srpska. Now, before planning our trip to Croatia, I had never heard of the Republic of Srpska. And I can’t really pronounce it. During our drive through this newly discovered Republic, we found ourselves hopelessly turned around (not lost) thanks to our navigation system that kept wanting to send us down farm paths and tiny mountain side roads. We have stories from pervious vacation of intently following the GPS only to find ourselves stuck in the mud or in some off-the-beaten path village (https://fredayinafrica.com/2017/02/15/we-sit-in-the-mud-and-reach-for-the-stars-ivan-turgenev-literally-that-is/). We didn’t want to find ourselves in a similar situation. In addition, because of the war in BiH, there are still active landmines scattered throughout the country so tourist are encouraged to stay on major highways and roads. So again, we didn’t want to deviate from the major roads but the navigational system wanted to take us down narrow farm roads to get to Dubrovnik. That is when I used Google Maps to checkmate the navigational system. Despite our adventures on the roads in BiH, we discovered that the country is a federation that has two administrative districts that make up the country. These administrative districts emerged after the fall of Yugoslavia and the 1990s Balkan wars. When driving through the Republic of Srpska, you are constantly reminded of their connection to Serbia because the Serbian flag is everywhere along on the road and in villages. When in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the flag is blue and yellow with stars.
I’m not going to get involved in what caused the wars in the Balkans but there are a lot of similarities to conflicts happening in Nigeria. It seemed that the “troubles” in the Balkans that manifested in the 1990s stemmed from land rights and deep-seeded marginalization. This sounds very much like what is happening in the middle belt of Nigeria. Land rights mean access to power and new tribal groups are infiltrating lands that were once held by different tribes. In addition to their ethnic differences, the groups are from different religions because of the influences of different groups from the outside (the Roman Empire, the Byzantium Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the Austria-Hungary Empire, etch). While we can look at the Balkans and see a Roman Catholic Croatia, an Orthodox Serbia and a mixed religion BiH (Muslims (majority), Roman Catholics and Orthodox too), it doesn’t explain the root causes of the issue. The same with the middle belt of Nigeria. A few months back, a friend called me to say that he was told by Christians in the United States that Muslims are killing Christians. He said that it had hit persecution levels. I was taken aback by his comments. He was referring to the middle belt crisis in the Nigeria. We talked that day for over an hour about the causes of the troubles in the middle belt. And while it may seem that it’s a fight between Christians and Muslims, we can’t miss the land disputes and access to power that has caused the problems in the middle belt. We should all desire to read deeper into religious crises. It’s not as black and white as we think. Finally, these problems are not new and are sometimes decades and even centuries old. We need to go back to the source to find the cause of the problem. And sometimes the source is messy and confusing.
Churches and memorials in BiH during our road trip. The trip picture was of a memorial in the Republic. It stood at the edge of a cemetery.
So, our unexpected road trip turned into a lesson on the Balkan wars of the 1990s and the current land rights issues in Nigeria. What I can say from our time here in Croatia, while it is a beautiful sea front country, the visible signs of war and destruction are everywhere. And what we teach our children last for generations so we should be careful as we might be passing down our hate. Also, always double check your navigational system. You don’t want to be a Michael Scott and end up in a pond! #TheOfficeLifeLesson!
If you want to learn more about the former countries that made up Yugoslavia, you should read Rick Steves ‘s (the travel author) Understanding Yugoslavia. https://www.ricksteves.com/watch-read-listen/read/understanding-yugoslavia Its a great read and very informative. I encourage you to read it even if its just to learn more about the Balkan wars of the 1990s.
A reminder that the sun continues to rise and set on the conflict of man. The more things change the more things stay the same. “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.” Isaiah 40:8