Onitsha area

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Onitsha after the crisis by Andy Buhler, CUSO, 69-71

(Counter to CUSOs policy I took a short leave to Europe while I was stationed at Ogwashi-Uku.)

I arrived back in Ogwashi safe but weary on Wednesday evening. I had worked in Lagos Monday and Tuesday then went to Ijebu-Igbo. Wednesday morning I drove to Ibadan where traffic was almost as bad as in Lagos. Back to Ijebu-Igbo to return the key to the room I stayed in, then off to Ogwashi.

Things here are much the same as before I went away except that Sr. Mildred is able to smile occasionally now that Misereor money has arrived. Steven’s wife, Hawa, ran away just before I returned. Fr. Golli ran into a bus with our kit-car van, doing a lot of body damage to the kit-car (fortunately none to him or the bus). Now we have Asaba’s van on loan. I still have no fridge. They attempted to repair this one a while ago and had a fire in the front room -- scorched the linoleum a bit. The people here mix a lot of water with the kerosene to give them a larger volume to sell. The kerosene smokes a lot and doesn’t burn well hence part of the problem with the fridge. Still no running water in my bathroom so I had a bath at the Sisters’ house the other night. They even have a water heater so it was great.

Today I was going to: a. write letters; b. prepare a lecture for the lab student(s); c. repair my Honda.

However, Sister Mildred asked me last night if I would like to go to Onitsha. So I drove her Volks to Onitsha and back today. That was my first visit to the Eastern States. Onitsha has been badly damaged during the war. It is just across the river from Asaba, which was in Federal territory, so there had been lots of mortars and shellings. The town must have been very lovely and extremely well-to-do before the war.

We toured the former mission hospital, the cathedral, the girls’ school and the market (formerly the second-largest market in the world). The hospital (a three-story main building with numerous other smaller buildings) has no roof now, no windows or doors, and the walls are badly damaged. All fittings have been removed or destroyed. However, the main framework is still there and could be restored with time and money. They have set up about a dozen or so beds in a few of the ground-floor rooms and are caring for patients again (since March or April). There is really nothing there but a few beds, a few mosquito nets, and a few drugs but they are doing their best.

This wasn’t as dramatic as the mission girls’ school though. One wing was totally destroyed. The jungle is encroaching again. All desks, chairs, blackboards, etc. have been taken. Yet 500 girls are still studying there sitting on stools, floor, anywhere available. They are very eager to learn. For some reason the whole auditorium stage floor was torn out during the war. It must have been a lovely stage originally -- lots of lights, backdrops, etc. Now it’s just a gaping hole.

The cathedral wasn’t badly hurt -- small fire damage in one corner. It has beautiful marble altars, all-wood roof, tiled floors -- very expensive.

The market is now a shambles of twisted steel pipes. It used to have hundreds of little stalls all covered by a large roof -- more or less like European markets. Now there’s no roof, just bent metal. It will take time to get things restored -- the many bullet holes patched, the buildings repaired, the power lines replaced, and the supplies returned -- but with perseverance it will be done.

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