I have worked with many Igbos in my previous place of work. And I still have a number of them in our company now and they are very friendly to me. I like them. We are friends.
These are words spoken to me by a young auto-mechanic whom I encountered on my way to Jos in 1994. He introduced himself as a Tiv. I was experiencing terrible mechanical difficulty with my car around Oturkpo. He came out from an Automobile company and saw me stranded. I asked him if he could help. He did help without hesitation and was ready to receive in return little or nothing. With a smile, he wished me journey mercies and went his way.
Many years after this experience, I still recall these words that the boy sowed in my heart. I do not remember exactly again how his face looked like. I am not sure if I could still locate the exact place of encounter because of the obvious speedy environmental changes taking place across the country. Even though I might have forgotten the face of the boy and the location the encounter, yet the positive words spoken by the young boy still live as fresh as ever within me like a seed of great value. The words are prophetic for me.
I do not know the Igbos with whom this young boy worked in his previous place of work. Neither do I know the ones with whom he was working at the time I encountered him. However, I have to thank and praise all those who have contributed in making positive impact on him so he could speak so positively the way he did. More so, I have to praise the boy for having a heart that appreciates goodness irrespective of where it is coming from.
It is understandable that wherever human beings live together, there is bound to be some personal as well as cultural differences. But it takes a certain level of nobility to see the good in the other irrespective of some personal and sometimes disagreeable differences by way of colour, thinking, perception of the world.
The words of that young Tiv boy came anew in me as I read Abraham's story in today's first reading.
“And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal, knead it, and make cakes.” And Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. Then he took curds, and milk, and the calf which he had prepared, and set it before them, and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.”
The picture painted in this passage showed Abraham at his best. It showed him as a very generous man, who in demonstrating his hospitality for strangers had, not only to “hasten” to make his wife, Sarah, prepare a meal for the strangers, but also put the whole household in a mood of urgency to attend to the strangers. They had to get the food “ready quickly.”
A brief reflection on Abraham's mindset in regard to these strangers makes me believe that he has a very high sense regard for his fellow humans and for strangers. He mobilizes all he has to honour the strangers. A similar attitude that Abraham displays in respect to the strangers in today's first reading is what I saw also in the young Tiv boy of my story above.
Both Abraham and the Tiv boy teach me first to examine my bias about people who do not share the same tribe with me. They teach me to constantly examine and re-examine my basic assumption about other people. The need to do a thorough inward examination regarding the way we see the other is very urgent in our present day Nigeria. I perceive a lot of talking-down the other instead of talking-up the other. There are many tribal talking-down; many internal and external religious talking-down. There are a lot of hateful speeches against the other. It is as if people are losing fast the sense of what is good in the other.
I look forward to a time when the Ibos will be speaking positively about the rich cultural heritage of the North. And the northerners will be admiring the business acumen of the easterners. I look forward to a time when a person from South-south Nigeria will become a governor in the northeast Nigeria. All looking at one another with great sense of respect; all seeing the giftedness in the others and appreciating it. In that way we would be able to live out in concrete day to day life the lesson of today's lesson. I imagine what a beautiful world Nigeria would be if we begin to talk positively about others.