Saturday, December 16, 2006

Learn to survive — and thrive — no matter what comes your way

I've seen people do all kinds of things to relieve anxiety. Some have a glass of wine at dinner. Others shop or eat. But these are troubling times — with hurricanes, tsunamis, war, and acts of terrorism — and if drinking, eating, or hitting the mall is your way offending off anxiety over the state of the world, you should know that the bill will eventually come due. And I don't mean just the credit card statement. Such coping methods do nothing to build your inner strength and resiliency. Fortunately, there are ways to nurture true inner peace when outer peace isn't an option.

A few months ago, a woman I'll call Nancy attended one of my seminars. Nancy had been through hard times: Three years earlier her house had burned down; then her husband's National Guard unit shipped out to Iraq, and when he returned he was angry, depressed, and traumatized. The couple got therapy yet grew further apart until, finally, her husband asked for a divorce. Nancy realized she had a choice: She could drown in self-pity or move forward. After seeing how the trauma of war had torn up her husband, she wanted to make a difference with her life. So, at 35, she enrolled in nursing school.

I think even Nancy was surprised by her resilience. But her leap into a life of greater meaning came from a simple change in outlook. She shifted her focus from her own problems to the difficulties of others. And that one change brought her clarity and peace.

Man of Letters

Talk to P. Chudi Uwazurike (uwah-zoo-ree-kay) about Africa and you'll probably leave the conversation buoyant.

"Have you been to Africa lately?" eagerly asks the City College sociology professor, confident that the economic boom Asian countries like India and China have seen in recent years will be happening all over the African continent.

"What took other continents 800 years to [acquire] took Africa 80 years," Uwazurike boasts. The Nigerian native has a lot to be optimistic about having seen the progress of his homeland since the early days of independence in 1960.

Five years old when Nigeria won the struggle for independence, Uwazurike, 51, remembers the euphoria that swept through the West African nation when the Union Jack was lowered, marking the end of British dominance.

He also remembers the civil war that broke out shortly afterwards that dragged on for four years. Since the end of the civil war, oil-rich Nigeria has been plagued with instability. The most recent being a resurgence of the Biafran conflict that started the original civil war. There have also been clashes between Christians and Muslims.

Uwazurike, who earned his doctorate from Harvard University, where his focus was political development, has taught classes in international conflict resolution.

"People don't start fighting unless they feel marginalized," said Uwazurike, who asserts that many of the problems facing governments on the continent happen because pockets of citizens feel as though they're being excluded from the democratic process.

A self-described Pan-Africanist, Uwazurike is a prolific writer who has authored plays, essays, novels and short stories, including his most recent book. "Plavine Off Off Broadway and Other Writings." Released by Triatlantic Books, the nearly 700-page book took three decades to complete.

"It's really five books in one," explained Uwazurike of the volume that includes a novel, poetry and plays and focuses on the continent's growing pains and progress.

Between a busy teaching and writing schedule Uwazurike finds time to serve on the African Peer Review Commission. An outgrowth of the African Union, the commission gives scholars and others who have distinguished themselves in their field an opportunity to evaluate countries within the AU.

"I'm a big believer in the African Union," says Uwazurike, hopeful that his children and the younger generation of Africans and Black Americans will usher in a renaissance on the continent.

"My hope is that the African Union has a chance to succeed and African-Americans play a role," says the author, who is in the process of forming a forum where people of African descent in the United States can learn of investment opportunities on the continent. He particularly hopes that African Americans will take advantage of the opportunity.

"African-Americans embody our hopes," says Uwazurike, who believes with access to technological know-how and educational opportunities Black Americans have the potential to be full partners in the "emergence of a federated commonwealth of African States"

By Tanangachi Mfuni, Amsterdam News Staff