The Peace Corps was a wonderful experience for me. I learned more in those two years among the Igbo people of Eastern Nigeria than any other period of my life. In this 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps, I wonder if any of my friends and former students are still alive.
I left Nigeria in late 1963. In 1966 there was a coup and then a counter-coup and the murder of an estimated 30,000 Igbos who lived in the Northern Region of Nigeria. Surviving Igbos fled back home to the Eastern Region. They seceded from Nigeria and formed a new nation called Biafra. The civil war that ensued lasted from May 1967 until the defeat of Biafra in January 1970.
The oil reserves in Biafra attracted a strange mixture of bedfellows. France and China sided with Biafra. Britain and Russia supported the Nigerian federal government. Mercenaries from several nations rushed in to make money flying supplies into Biafra. The U.S. didn't publicly take sides, but by not recognizing Biafra, we were de facto on the side of the Nigerian government.
From somewhere I heard that Egyptian mercenaries flew MIG jets for the federal government and bombed every hospital and major marketplace in Biafra. And I don't remember how I came to know it or even if it is true, but an account reached me that a 500-pound bomb was dropped on the market place in Okofia, not far from where I lived and taught.
I don't know if the war killed or wounded any of my students and friends among the staff at Abbot School or Augustine Okemadu, the school carpenter, or Emanuel Obiako Anyaduigwu, our cook.
I wonder if the brilliant Edwin Igbozurike survived the horror. In my chemistry class, Edwin, who grew up in a mud hut with no electricity or running water, calculated from his experimental data the equivalent weight of copper.
Did Johnny Ikegwounu make it? He was an exceptional athlete on my track team who, at five feet eight inches tall, high-jumped six feet with no coaching. And what happened to my good friends and fellow teachers at Abbot Secondary School: John Okorie Nwosu, Amaraegbu Assic Olumba, Adolphus Amakamara and their families I was privileged to meet?
I recall showing a film in my home of John Kennedy's inauguration. I heard my friend John Okorie Nwosu repeating from memory the inauguration speech word for word and simultaneously with Kennedy on the screen.
America had great political capital back then. Coming home, my wife and I were celebrated by Egyptians, Greeks and Russians. In Russia the maids in our hotel were weeping as they watched the funeral of President Kennedy on television.