The MacDowell Colony is about the greatest writing residency program in the United States. Founded in 1907 in Peterborough, New Hampshire where Edward MacDowell — the America’s first great composer — said he produced more and better music, the Colony has supported the creative work of more than 7,900 men and women of exceptional ability from around the world. Some famous people that the Colony has supported include James Baldwin, E.L Doctorow, Alice Walker, Gregory Pardlo, Jonathan Franzen, Michael Almereyda, Meredith Monk, Leslie Robertson, Alice Sebold, Thornton Wilder, Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, and Barbara Tuchman.
The Nigerian Nneka Lesley Arimah, author of the well-celebrated story collection, What It Means When a Man Falls From the Sky, has also attended the Residency in 2016. The Colony offers 32 studios to artists in seven discipline; that is, it supports: writers, visual artists, composers, filmmakers, playwrights, interdisciplinary artists, and architects. Each year, more than 300 artists come to Peterborough to work. Anyone may apply, and the Colony is noted for its support of both emerging and established artists.
The Fellowship lasts from two weeks to two months; accepted artists are given a studio, accommodations, and all meals. And there are no fees. There are also more than a $1000 stipend and a refund of cost of travel. I spoke with Uchenna Awoke, a fiction writer from Nigeria who has just returned from a five-week writing residency at the Colony. Uchenna has gone to the Colony to complete work on his fiction manuscript, The Liquid Eye of a Moon. His short fiction has appeared in Transition, and Elsewhere Lit. In this interview, he shares his experience at Peterborough and gives information about the process that took him to the MacDowell Colony.
You just flew back to Nigeria from a five-week writing program at The MacDowell Colony, how did the program impact your writing?
I left the MacDowell Colony with a feeling that my writing was in its first bloom. The kinship there is unbelievably friendly, the environment incredibly natural; their connectedness magical. The ideas simply flowed. I arrived the Colony in the middle of winter. You know how it is when you arrive in a place you haven’t been before and it is very cold and the first thing you get is a big smile that’s like a warm spell. That’s a smile that resonates with everybody at the Colony. It’s a culture there; from David Macy, the Director of the MacDowell Colony, to the student helping out in the kitchen, to me, the artist-in-residence that had just arrived. That’s what I call great kinship, and that’s the great warmth you, the artist-in-residence enjoy when you are in your studio working or when you are having breakfast at the Colony Hall; a hall that is really a home. The same warmth stays with you as you are looking through the window at the blue expanse of the sky over the snowfield and the wood beyond, sometimes with a herd of white-tailed deer sunning themselves along the far tree line. These things work together –the friendly atmosphere, the view that is so beautiful it looks surreal, the magnificent meals, and a 24-hour access to the Savidge Library stocked with old and contemporary literature, written by some of the most powerful writers on earth who are themselves MacDowell Fellows. You have the opportunity to read Michael Chabon or Susan Choi and other great writers. Those are not books you easily find down here. That is what I call the magical connection; the connection that inspires the artist to go deeper and deeper in her work.
What were the challenges you faced in the application process and travel to the Colony?
The first step was getting a work sample ready (usually a maximum of 25 pages). And then I wrote a project proposal explaining the plot of the novel and the stage I was in the work. This was the hard part because I had to squeeze it into a very small application field that sometimes may not accommodate more than 500 characters with spaces. Apart from this, I had to work on my writing till I got to a point where I felt that the work sample was ready; this was not easy, because, about 5% or even less of the avalanche of applications is accepted. You can see how tight it is to get in there. I also had to provide a recommender and this, Nandini Dhar, my publisher at Elsewhere Lit, did so well for me. I had a couple of months to wait (I submitted my application on April 14, 2017 and got the offer letter on June 7, 2017) in which period I had woken up every morning with the reality plucking at my mind. Having been accepted, there was the process of getting an American visa. That is a process! But a letter of support written by David Macy (the Director of the MacDowell Colony) himself helped me greatly.
What are the opportunities available to creative workers in the Colony?
You have a whole studio to yourself; a clean and equipped studio. You have great meals. You have quiet. You are surrounded by an incredible colony of artists and staff; a lot of friendship. You have the opportunity of an open studio where you share your work with established artists. What else can a writer ask of? I think you have everything!
What advice do you have for up-and-coming story tellers?
Keep writing. Have the courage to send your work out. Get turned down for as many times as should make you want to want to take a walk. But never quit. Be invigorated. Be aggressive. Read to train your imagination. Read those who are writing and getting it right. Write. Do it as if it is the only thing you have come into this world to do.
You went to the MacDowell Colony to complete work on your fiction manuscript, what should we expect soon?
I went to the MacDowell Colony to complete work on my manuscript, The Liquid Eye of a Moon. I hope to get it published soon, but how soon, I can’t say immediately. I have just completed the book and my residency. While I am looking for an agent or a publisher at the moment, I am taking a break from writing to rest.
What makes you to want to pick up a pen and write? And what is the best teaser about The Liquid Eye of a Moon?
It varies. I love stories, whether tales by moonlight or the ones read in books. A well written story inspires me. I could get inspired by a conversation. It could be culture or nature – things happening around me or things coming into sudden stunning views; those things are capable of making me begin or continue a story. And a teaser, yes. The Liquid Eye of a Moon began after I chanced upon a strange form of belief. Let’s say, expect a story about love and human tabooing.
Thank you, Uchenna
Thank you too for this opportunity.
Ejiofor Ugwu conducted this interview for Satellite Times
My fight overseas to stop the closure of 80 Nigerian embassies
For years he has fought on the international stage to save the Niger Delta environment, now Comrade Sunny Ofehe has picked up a new fight to stop the closure of 80 Nigerian embassies overseas. Founder and Executive Director of Hope for Niger Delta Campaign based in The Netherlands, Ofehe was a governorship aspirant for Delta State in the 2019 general elections under the national ruling All Progressive Congress (APC). In an online press conference, the Nigerian born environmental and human rights activist who has travelled around the world spoke from his base in Rotterdam
Nigeria is set to close down 80 Foreign Embassies around the world due to lack of funds from the Federal Government. What is your take on this?
As we speak right now, Nigeria has 110 foreign missions and Embassies around the world, so if you are shutting down 80 Embassies and foreign Missions, it, therefore, means that we are left with only 30 foreign Embassies around the world.
Nigeria is the most populous black nation in the world with a population of around 180 million people. Nigeria has a huge Diaspora population living within Africa, Europe, The Americas, Asia, Caribbean, and the Middle East.
Nigerian is currently Africa’s largest economy, Africa’s largest producer and exporter of crude oil and a leading African global player in world politics. Nigeria is a member of several regional, continental and international organizations such as ECOWAS, Africa Union (AU), the United Nations (UN), Commonwealth, OIC, OPEC, OPCW, ICC, ICJ, and the list goes on and on.
A country like Nigerian that enjoys this robust global acceptability and respect must not afford to compromise and diminish its international diplomatic posture before the world. It is therefore imperative that as a country, we must ensure adequate representation in global affairs and at the same time serve our citizens and promote our core socio-economic values around the world.
In other to stand out in the comity of Nations, we must retain all the current existing 110 Foreign Missions and Embassies.
Africa has 54 countries and Nigeria being a leading country in the continent has foreign missions and embassies in 42 African countries. I have carefully reviewed the location of our African foreign missions and can’t see why any of them should be shut down or merged.
The 30 countries that will be left should Nigeria shuts down 80 foreign missions will not be sufficient to serve our citizens and foreign interests in the continent of Africa alone.
How important is the Foreign Missions and Embassies to the growth of a country such as Nigeria?
To understand the importance of Foreign Missions and Embassies, we must know the purpose for the establishment of Foreign Missions.
The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations came into force in 1961 as an international treaty setting out the framework for diplomatic relations between independent countries. It specifies the privileges of a diplomatic mission which enable diplomats to perform their function without fear of intimidation or provocation by the host country.
This treaty ratified by 192 countries is considered the cornerstone of modern international diplomatic relations. As a signatory to that convention, Nigeria established her first diplomatic missions in the early 60s after independence.
Thanks to the country’s economic boom in the early 70s, we were able to acquire choice properties in prime locations of our mission’s countries capitals. Today, majority of our foreign missions and residences of the Ambassadors are owned by Nigeria.
There are several strong cases to be made in support of maintaining a diplomatic presence overseas. This case rests on the premise that the outlays are necessary and will produce a return over the long term.
The role of Nigerian diplomatic missions abroad is to function as the channel of communication between the Nigerian Government and that of the host country, to act as the official representative of Nigeria interest in general, and in respect of specific public agencies with local interests in the host country. Also importantly, to promote the interests of Nigeria and its citizens in that country.
In order to carry out their work, diplomatic missions must have a strong grasp of the host country’s politics, society, and culture. They must be able to explain Nigerian policies, identify potential threats to and opportunities for Nigerian interests, and provide political and economic analysis of local conditions to inform decision-making back home. Much of the day-to-day work carried out by diplomatic missions involves promoting Nigerian trade interests.
The consular section of our foreign missions attracts huge number of Nigerians in the Diaspora who visits the embassies to sort out all their immigration-related matters. The Nigerian embassies in The Hague, Berlin, Brussels, and Paris each attract a minimum of 100 visitors daily for passport and visa applications even though these four countries share borders.
Why should Nigerian spend foreign currency to maintain 110 foreign Missions at a time when our economy is struggling and our currency has depreciated against the dollars? Don’t you think that shutting down some foreign missions will enable the government to divest such funds to other sectors like education or healthcare back home?
I clearly understand the challenges that our economy back home is facing but you must remember that these problems are peculiar with all countries around the world today. Despite the need to cut spending and prioritize government expenditure, we must set our priorities straight.
The education and healthcare sectors you have mentioned are critical areas that require government funding. The country need to boost its economic revenue in other to be able to fund these critical sectors.
One of the impacts of the global recession is that it has compelled a number of countries to scale back their diplomatic representation overseas by closing some of their embassies; even some advance countries have taken such step.
The Netherlands scaled down their diplomatic representation in Nigeria when there was a cut in the foreign ministry budget. They expanded their economic unit and delegated the consular services such as short term visa applications to Belgium and France. The economic unit is significant to sustaining and expanding bilateral business and trade.
Faced with the economic and financial realities of our current economic downturns, governments often have little choice but to cut back on the spending that is involved in maintaining and operating embassies overseas. At a time Nigeria is facing issues such as poverty, serious income inequality, battered economies and poor quality of life for average citizens, it can be quite difficult to justify the allocation of limited government funds to maintaining embassies.
However, Nigeria as a developing country will require foreign direct investments and increased market access for their goods and services to help grow the economies, and embassies play key roles in bringing these into the country. I am aware that our embassies usually send profile of foreign companies willing to invest and do business in Nigeria to the relevant ministries and government agencies after properly vetting the legality and legitimacy of such companies.
Viewed from this context, devoting significant percentage of our GDP to improving the chances of securing much-needed investments, broader market access overseas and developmental aid seems to constitute a worthwhile outlay.
During the foreign ministry defense of its 2019 budget before the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, the permanent secretary, Mustapha Suleiman spoke on the cost-saving and survival measures the ministry had embarked upon to keep the missions afloat.
Suleiman said that there was a rationalization of local staff and their conversion to contract workers as a cost-saving measure to reduce personnel cost and avoid huge terminal benefits. He said that staff who are worried that they can hardly pay their health bills, are adopting the Global Health Insurance Scheme to address the situation. The approval of the scheme according to him will provide health insurance facilities for officers in the missions at an affordable cost.
He also said that engagement with Nigeria Sovereign Wealth Fund for the redevelopment of the federal government properties abroad; rehabilitation and renting of properties not in use through public-private partnership arrangement; sharing cost for utilities with other agencies occupying the missions’ building and the provision of intervention funds for missions under the service-wide vote.
This clearly shows that the ministry itself has marshalled a plan to help the government deal with the paucity of funds.
I was very impressed with the position of some members of the Senate Committee like Senator James Manager who said that there were reasons for opening those missions. He said, the number of missions increased to 110 but the total National budget is increasing every year but the foreign ministry’s budget is reducing. He made a promise that they will look at the budget holistically and find a way to fund the gap.The vice chairman of the committee, Senator Shehu Sani also said no responsible country will deliberately underfund its mission. Year in year out, budgets are presented and defended but things remain the same. Our diplomats have been subjected to all kinds of humiliation because we cannot or refused to fund our missions.
Small countries are funding their missions but ours are not funded. No resources to pay the diplomats children fees and others. Sixty years after independence, we are still renting apartments for embassies. You can’t claim to be the giant of Africa if you can’t fund embassies.
I am completely in support of measures to reduce cost of funding foreign missions rather than shutting them down. As it stands today, Nigerian foreign missions have around 2,000 diplomats who are gainfully employed. What happen to such staff when the missions are shut down? Will they return to the foreign ministry in Abuja redundant?
There has been discussion or debate as to whether embassies and diplomats are still needed or relevant in the 21st century. Globalization and rapid advances in information and communications technology have connected billions of people. Do we really still need foreign missions since cost of running them are high?
There have been arguments made in favour of eliminating embassies, particularly for governments facing harsh fiscal and economic realities like Nigeria. The call for modern technology replacing foreign mission is laughable. The US with all the advance technology in the world and running trillion dollars in deficit still see the need to expand and widen their foreign missions.
In The Netherlands, the US has two Ambassadors with one on multilateral and the other on bilateral. The Ambassador on bilateral is permanently handling the OPCW whereas we have one Ambassador covering the embassy and OPCW.
In Switzerland, the US has three Ambassadors whereas we have only one who covers the embassy and the UN. While the call to shut down most embassies for lack of funds is on, many Nigerian citizens living in Germany, Spain and Italy are calling on the Nigerian government to open consular missions outside of Berlin, Madrid and Rome respectively to serve their consular needs.
In addition, having people on the ground provides added value in terms of obtaining insight into what is going on in the host country. While it is plausible that the information gathering and country assessment functions of an embassy can be done remotely using modern technology, the quality is not the same.
Consolidating and aggregating information is not enough. Analyzing local developments is a key part of a diplomat’s work and requires a deep understanding and appreciation of the issues, culture and pulse of the host country and its citizens. While our globalized world is increasingly interdependent, competition for access to markets and resources remains. A country with people on the ground is more likely to get a more accurate assessment of local opportunities, risks and developments. That is a competitive advantage.
Another advantage of having people on the ground is the extensive people-to-people contact it allows the host country. While communication may be maintained via phone and e-mail, and air travel makes it easy for officials to fly in for crucial meetings, these tools cannot replicate the relationship that can be established through constant personal contact and interaction.
Particularly in countries like China, India and the Middle-East whose cultures put a premium on personal relationships as part of doing business, a lot more is usually achieved over former and informal meetings compared to constant exchanges of e-mails or phone calls.
If you are completely against the shutting down of some of our foreign missions, how can we maintain the 110 foreign missions with the drop in the Ministry 2019 budget as presented to the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs?
Please just take a look at the size of Nigeria and her population living outside the country, is 110 foreign missions and embassies too much for Nigeria? I don’t think so if you truly understand the benefits of those missions to our nation’s development.
Any government who understands how Nigeria is respected around the world will not starve its foreign missions of funds. Let’s look at the numbers, For instance, in 2018 the federal government allocated N11.333billion to capital votes for the missions but cut it to N4.123billion in 2019, representing a reduction of N7.209billion or 64 per cent.
Already, many of the ambassadors serving in most of the missions are said to be unable to pay their children’s school fees, rent, electricity, medical and other utility bills due to the paucity of funds.
The situation is even worse at the headquarters of the ministry in Abuja where both volunteers and permanent members of staff are owed the sum of N4.9billion as entitlements.
The permanent secretary also disclosed that agencies under the ministry have various challenges such as inadequate funds to renovate dilapidated building structures, epileptic power supply and lack of adequate capacity building for staff. The foreign missions are facing inadequate funds for their officers’ quarters which are in a dilapidated state, adding that “they have old representational cars begging for replacement; inadequate funds to pay school fees, medical and utility bills, rehabilitate/renovate residences, and insufficient funds to complete ongoing projects; insufficient funds for the payment of returning officers who have finished their missions.”
I have visited the headquarters of our foreign ministry in Abuja a few times, do you know that even printing papers and other normal office items are not available? A friend of mine who is a French journalist told me last year that he was at our foreign ministry headquarter in Abuja and was disappointed with what he saw. He even told me that Nigeria is gradually losing skilled career diplomats because the ministry cannot fund training of its staff.
I have so many friends who have served and are still serving in the foreign ministry and foreign missions, I must tell you that they are sound and well trained but when you deprived them of the basic needs to function you kill their motivation.
This was the pathetic picture presented to members of the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We must not allow our country to degenerate to this level of diplomatic disgrace.
Embassies have existed for centuries and it is very likely that they will be around for a long time to come. The way they will operate and conduct their work will necessarily change and evolve to keep them relevant and responsive to global developments, but in one form or another, the embassy will continue to be key to the conduct of international relations.
President Mohammadu Buhari understands the benefit of international shuttle diplomacy and that is why he travels around the world on State visits and international engagement to promote Nigerian exports and seek foreign investments in our economy. I will, therefore, appeal to Mr. President to provide sufficient funds for the foreign ministry and see the ministry as a critical sector in the quest to build a stable economic nation that is respected in the League of Nations.
Exclusive: Real reasons Bauchi Deputy Governor resigned – Aide
Yakubu Adamu, Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, to former Bauchi State Deputy Governor, Nuhu Gidado has revealed to SATELLITE TIMES the reasons which forced his boss to resign.
Adamu confirmed that it didn’t come to him as shocking news that his boss unceremoniously dumped his common ticket with the Bauchi state governor because he plays a less significant role as a deputy.
The media aide averred that Governor M A Abubakar’s style of leadership and that of his former deputy differs, even to handling such issues when it comes to delivering their campaign promises.
However, there are speculations that Engr. Gidado may be eyeing Bauchi’s governorship seat come 2019, but believes that from the way he sees the APC administration moving in the State, he may be unable to reach his destination.
Another rumour circulating over Gidado’s resignation centers around speculations that he may be dropped as Gov Abubakar’s deputy come 2019.
It would be recalled that the former deputy governor who travelled out of the state 5 weeks ago was on his two weeks annual leave. During his trip, he used the opportunity to see his doctors and also performed the lesser Hajj before returning to Abuja last week.
Gidado’s resignation letter dated 16th May, 2018 and was acknowledged by the Governor on the 23rd May, 2018.
Efforts to find out who received the letter to the state governor proved futile when our correspondent in Bauchi reached out to the Government House through the Special Adviser, Media and Strategy to the state Governor, Malam Ali M. Ali who confirmed thus: The executive Governor of Bauchi State Mohammed A. Abubakar (Esq) has accepted the resignation of Engr. Nuhu Gidado as Deputy Governor and wish him well in his future endeavors.
He further described his tenure and service to the state as meritorious and therefore, deserving commendation. The Governor particularly commended the former No 2 citizen of the state for the remarkable manner of his resignation, Ali proffered.
He expressed optimism that the former Deputy Governor will avail the State of his vast wealth of experience to the state anytime he is called upon in the future.
Interview: What Dapchi girl told American visitors
One of the recently released Dapchi girls met with visitors from America called US Nigeria Law Group, international lawyers leading the “I AM LEAH” campaign in solidarity with Leah Sharibu, the only Dapchi girl not released by Boko Haram abductors.
Q. Were you the ones cooking or did they (Boko Haram) cook for you?
Dapchi Schoolgirl: We were the ones cooking for ourselves because they said “these children may say we will poison them.” We ate 30 bags of rice plus maize grits in our three weeks stay.
Five of us died on our way going (into captivity). They only gave breakfast and dinner; no lunch. The five girls that died were buried in one grave – all of them on the same day. And they (Boko Haram) advised us not to reveal that we were the ones that killed them. But we said that we didn’t do anything to them. They just died on their own.
Q. Did they wash them before burying them?
Dapchi Schoolgirl: No, they were just buried with their blood like that and they just pushed sand on them.
Q. But the governor (Governor of Yobe State) said that you were in Gaidam and even brought one Canter Truck that they said was the vehicle that conveyed you?
Dapchi Schoolgirl: It was all lies, we passed Gaidam. Boko Haram even asked us “where is the army?” and we said there is no army in Dapchi. They said “it’s a lie there is.”
On our way to Abuja (to see President Buhari) we asked one of the soldiers “where were (they) when Boko Haram abducted us?” He answered that they were watching us while Boko Haram was taking us. And the reason why they didn’t follow us is that Boko Haram will kill them. Then one of the girls asked him, “you were seeing us being taken away, what is the use of your work?” And he kept silent. “You only know corruption” she said.
Q. Where is that Christian girl (Leah)?
Dapchi Schoolgirl: We left her there (in the Boko Haram camp).
Dapchi Schoolgirl: It’s because she refuses to be a Moslem.
Q. Was she crying while you were leaving?
Dapchi Schoolgirl: Yes, I even begged Leah to accept Islam but she refused and said she can’t live with herself if she converted and came back. So she will not – that it’s better to be killed by Boko Haram. There’s one old man from Damaturu who is also a Boko Haram that brings us water. He also asked Leah to convert to Islam but she said “no.” Where by the news reached to their commander that there is one Christian girl that refused to accept Islam so they brought her before him. She repeated the same thing, and he said “we will kill you.” He showed her one makeshift zinc hut and ordered her to go and sit inside.
On our way from Dapchi with the terrorists while going some of us were praying that “let us get into an accident so that we will all die.” Boko Haram captured three Red Cross staff. They showed us where they kept them but didn’t allow us to see them. They said they will hand us to Red Cross but later they changed their mind and decided to bring us back by themselves. They said that they will release us in exchange with two hundred of their members. They said Buhari said something when he came to Dapchi.
The “I AM LEAH” solidarity group visited Leah Sharibu’s parents. Excerpts:
IAMLEAH Interviewer: What message do you have for your daughter?
Father: I want Leah from now henceforth not to deny Christ in any situation of suffering and I want her to endure with what she started to the end.
IAMLEAH Interviewer: What’s your message to the government?
Father: I am pleading for the government to do the right thing and help, as they do before, for bringing the rest to their parents, to do so to our daughter.
IAMLEAH Interviewer: What’s your message to those that are praying for Leah?
Father: I want the Christians to continue praying for Leah, for it is because of the Christians’ faith in prayers that is why Leah stands in the faith, and I want the Christians not only to pray for Leah, but also the family.
IAMLEAH Interviewer: What’s your message to Boko Haram?
Mother: I said that even if we are told today that they’ve shot Leah, I thank God that Leah is still Christian, and that one day I will see her again.
IAMLEAH Interviewer: What message to those praying for Leah?
Mother: May God accept and answer all their prayers.
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