From Nigeria to Memphis – Brother Moses Abunya

Coming to the United States was not much of a culture shock given that I had previously spent a lot of time in Europe and Canada. Having said that, the US is still a distinct and different country from the others – a country I had so much wanted to visit. And who wouldn’t want to visit the most powerful nation on earth? So gladly I came, and although the initial adjustment was slightly stressful, gladly I have stayed. Coming into the US in 2011 was a dream come true for me.

Br. Moses

There are many cultural differences and similarities between Africa and the US Prominent among these was how little many Americans seem to know about other continents, especially Africa. Below is a sample of questions I have been asked by Americans since coming to the US.

Do you have universities in Africa? Do you have computers, TVs, cell-phones and internet services in Africa? Do you have fried chicken in Africa? How many schools do you have in Africa? I have a cousin working with **** organization in Namibia, do you know him? What language do you speak in Africa? What currency do you use in Africa? How many children in Africa attend school? If I come to Africa to visit, will I find good hotels with running water? Are there cars and paved roads in Africa?

The list is endless really. Some people even believe that Africans generally live in caves and in trees. To some Africans, these questions and assumptions are annoying, abusive, condescending and demeaning, but in truth many Americans whom I have met ask these questions innocently, curiously and ignorantly. It is the western media that has informed the western world only of the dark side of Africa. This unbalanced and dark view, however, has become the only picture of Africa that those who have never been to this beautiful continent know.

Many Americans who have traveled to Africa will laugh relentlessly at the questions above, and I am laughing too. When I tell people back home that these are the questions I am asked here in the US, they can’t stop laughing. Interestingly, many Africans have a clear sense of the geography and nature of the US except that many Africans who have not been here in the US believe that everyone in America is rich and that poverty is not a word that is associated with anyone who is an American. Isn’t the media so powerful? Therefore the amount of poverty I have seen in inner city neighborhoods in the US has surprised me greatly because in Africa, we believe that everyone in America is rich!

Africa is a continent of 54 different countries with different languages, cultures and governments. Africa is three times larger than the US in land mass and population. It will take the USA, Europe, China, India and Japan to cover the land mass of Africa. Africa is not just a continent of poverty, diseases and war; it is a continent that has richer nations and poorer nations. These nations whether rich or poor have big cities (Lagos in Nigeria for example is a city of 21 million people), towns and villages. It is a continent of vast agricultural activities, but in some nations of strong aridity, there is drought and famine. There is no doubt that of all the continents, Africa is clearly the poorest, but it is growing.

This YouTube video “The Africa They Never Show You” will surprise you of what African cities look like.

The biggest problem in Africa is corruption. This has meant that some public service offices and facilities are not found in every nook and corner of Africa except in the towns and cities. If Africa can work on these, then the continent can prepare the ground to surprise the world in the same manner China has quietly been able to do to the rest of the world.

The beauty of the United States (as in many developed nations) is that infrastructures are available to the greatest percentage of the population. Clean water, electricity, education, health facilities, good roads, and other social amenities are available to most if not all in the US, and not just for some like in Africa. In the US there are more job opportunities and better salaries, there is much less corruption, and better life prospects for young people than in the Africa. In terms of facilities and effectiveness of social amenities the US towers much higher than Africa. Rules, regulations, organizations and policies work much better in the US than they do in Africa.

In Africa though, people are more hospitable and caring towards each other at community and family levels. There is a greater sense of interdependence in Africa than there is in the US. The “mind your business” syndrome has not permeated as much of Africa as it has here. Community life is a strong value in Africa and the African adage of “I am because we are” is a big reality. Africa is still very religious and has not taken the strongly secular state that the US has taken. Faith and belief in the divine is a big part of many Africans including those who may not attend church, go to the mosque or visit the traditional shrine. Social life is more elaborate in Africa than it is here and it is the reason why many Africans come to the US to make money and return home to enjoy the harvest of their labor.

In poverty or wealth, I seem to think and actually believe that people are happier in Africa than I see here in America. In any case, culture is a way of life of a particular people. If we all had the same culture and lifestyle, wouldn’t the world be boring? I like America, but it is my mother continent of Africa that I love most! Who doesn’t like his mother’s cuisine? North, South, East and West, home is the best! I have just given you some appetite for Africa. The next time you are thinking of an international adventure, visit at least one of the 54 nations in Africa. Happy Safari!

Br Moses Msughter Abunya, FSC graduated from Mount La Salle College, Naka Benue State, Nigeria where he met the Brothers in High School. He joined the Brothers in 1995 and did his spiritual and religious formation in Nigeria and Kenya. He has an associate degree in Religious education and a Bachelors in Education. He was a member of the International Council of Young Lasallians in Rome, Italy for four years, representing Africa. And was a school Principal for six years in Nigeria before coming to Memphis. In Memphis, Brother Moses is rounding up a Master of Science degree in Educational Leadership at Christian Brothers University and hopes to proceed onto a doctoral program after graduation in May.

Things Not Seen: Conversations about Culture and Faith – David Dault

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Dr. David Dault

In 2009, as my time in graduate school was drawing to a close and before I had been hired at CBU, I spent a few months working with a career counselor. Part of our work together was to help prepare me to find academic jobs, but another important aspect of our conversations concerned what I’d like to do in case I wasn’t able to find immediate work in a university setting.

One day, in the midst of skills assessments and personality profiles, the counselor gave me a writing assignment. “Don’t think about it, just write,” he said. “Write the first things that come to your mind about what you’d like to do for a job, before your brain has a chance to edit it.”

I was skeptical, but when I began to free-write, the result took me completely by surprise.  I looked down at the page and saw the words I had just written: I have always wanted to be a voice on the radio.

Fast-forward to last spring. By now I am on faculty at CBU and settling in to the rhythms of the academic life. Like all my colleagues, I am busy. But summer is coming and I am starting to think about how I will organize my weeks of non-teaching time. Somewhere in April I was driving one day, flipping around the AM dial looking for talk radio (NPR in Memphis ends at 9 a.m. and doesn’t resume until mid-afternoon). I had settled for a while on The Dave Ramsey Show on local station KWAM 990AM.

Suddenly, in the middle of the ads, was an announcement from station manager George Bryant. “Have you ever wanted to have your own radio show?” he asked. “Give me a call.”

I wrote down the number.

For the next several weeks I kept coming back to that slip of paper with the number on it.  I have always wanted to be a voice on the radio. But I’m busy. There’s no time. There are lots of other projects I need to finish. This is a silly dream.

It stayed with me though. I have always wanted to be a voice on the radio.

So, as school was ending and the summer began, I spoke to my wife about calling the station. With her agreement and support, I got in touch with George.

The information from that first conversation was helpful. No, I wouldn’t be an employee of the station. The show would function like an hour-long infomercial. I could program it any way I wished, so long as it met FCC guidelines. I would pay for each hour of time, and in exchange, I could use the studio at the station to record with an engineer, and they would air spots through each week to help promote the show.

After a lot of brainstorming (and some very forgettable names), the phrase from Hebrews 11 struck a chord: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” I wanted the show to be about faith, but especially about the invisible ways faith affects our lives. Plus, this was radio. The concept fit perfectly. “Things Not Seen.” Exactly.

All told, it took about seven weeks of solid time to plan the show and get it up and running. We had our first interview, with local pastor Stacy Smith, in mid-June. On July 8th, that interview was broadcast. We were on the air.

For the next six months, with the patient support of my family, a great deal of help and input from the KWAM staff, and a growing body of listeners, Things Not Seen: Conversations about Culture and Faith was on the air with a show a week, every week.

By the time we had finished the season, on December 30th, we had managed to highlight local ministries as well as feature guests with national profiles, who were also being interviewed on NPR and The Daily Show.

I am extraordinarily proud of the show. Our first season featured 25 episodes of great radio. Thanks to the internet, we now have hundreds of listeners downloading the podcasts each week from our website at thingsnotseenradio.com. The show is on a three month break right now, but we’re already planning for the 2013 season, with close to 30 shows and an even more ambitious array of guests.

I won’t lie. Producing this show was crazy. The schedule was insane, and there were several weeks I stayed up all night to get editing done in time to get the show to the station for broadcast. As busy as it was, though, I wouldn’t change a thing. I get to talk to people about their faith, and I enjoy that so much. I get to share those conversations with interested listeners, and I get to see the effects of that sharing in my community; most of all though, I get to be a voice on the radio. Thanks for listening.

Things Not Seen: Conversations about Culture and Faith, will resume in April 2013.  In the meantime you can click the link about to listen to all of the 2012 shows for free, as well as sign up for podcasts of our new short series, Religion Moments.

 

Dr. David Dault holds advanced degrees in religious studies from Columbia Theological Seminary and Vanderbilt University. He currently teaches in the Department of Religion and Philosophy at Christian Brothers University. He got his start in journalism when he was sixteen years old, writing articles for his hometown newspaper and has been asking folks questions ever since.