The evening after the day we arrived Germany for an international conference on waste/environmental management last year, our host organised a welcome dinner for all participants. The venue of the dinner was a cozy neighbourhood in Germany that reminded me of Nigeria. There, night was day. At the time, I shared some pictures with some friends on Facebook; many were startled. “How could that be 9:30pm and everywhere so clear?”, they asked. “Is that another German miracle? Clouds whose eyes know no sleep?” they queried even more. “No, it is not. It is another mystery of nature’s blessings”, I told them.
The beauty of Germany’s nature isn’t what this piece is about. Rather, it is about how we treat others who are not like us. It is about how we treat people who are different from us or not from our extraction.
But back to my story on the dinner.
Our German hosts were awesome. They didn’t leave anything to chance. All dots were checked. The welcome dinner was balm. All sorts were available, according to each participant’s taste and inclinations.
At the dinner, I and three other participants sat at the same table with the Coordinator and the immediate past coordinator of the programme. We chatted away as we mulched the mountains of German and Turkish delicacies served to appease the tenants of our stomachs.
As we mulched away, I made sure I picked the brains of the juggernauts seated beside and in front of me. One of them was an immigrant from Turkey who had lived all his life in Germany, a country he now calls home. Both men reflect a part of the future I want to be a part. I knew I must tap as much as I could in the shortest possible time. And that I did. I gleaned the fields until my vessels were overflowing.
As time crawled its way to eternity, the dinner finally came to an end. Well, officially. Only that, memories don’t always fall into slumber when night overtakes day.
It is also true that no matter how far you go, sometimes, young people would still want more. This is true, irrespective of the colour or gender of the young person involved.
After the dinner, some of us (including all four members of the Nigerian contingent) returned to the hotel just a few stops from the restaurant. Fagged out, all we wanted to sleep. But before the curtains were drawn that day, we still managed to gist and rub minds on the Nigeria we left behind. Germany has come along way since the end of the second world war. Germany has become a model of how to rebuild a country from scratch; it is not only Europe’s largest economy, it is a global leader in technology, and one of the leading pacesetters in waste/environmental management. The Nigerian contingent reminisced about Nigeria and the hard choices we must make as a country if we will catch with the developed countries like Germany, including in the areas of environmental innovations, public service, probity, institutionalising sustainable waste management, and mitigating climate change. At the end of our “Nigeriana” talk, each one of us retired to our various rooms.
My room was down the walkway, the fifth room to your left, on the first floor of the hotel. The corridor’s sparkling walls were all white, bearing a million teeth like tiny villi on dragon glass. No matter how subtly you walk, the vibrations of your steps wake up the sleeping iridescent lights that watch over the walk way. One after the other, they part their eyes, spitting clouds of illumination your path, to make sure you do not slip. Their eyes stay glued to your feet until you disappear behind the door of your room.
As soon as I bolted the door to my room, sleep knocked me off. I barely knew any other thing until rays of dawn broke through the window of my room the next morning.
About an hour and half later, I joined other participants in the banquet hall of the hotel for breakfast. After breakfast, we would go catch the tram to the venue of the conference.
That day, the third day (but second full day of the event), an advance team had gone ahead, leaving behind four participants. Interestingly, all four left behind were Nigerians. Out of anxiety of not arriving at the venue of the conference late, we hastily boarded the next tram at the train station. Unfortunately, we boarded the wrong one.
After traveling North instead of South, we suddenly realised we had missed our tram. We had also missed our way. Perhaps another day, I will tell the full story of how we got lost and our Israelite journey within Germany.
We were meant to board say, Tram M, but in a haste, we boarded, Tram N. Notice that M and N look similar, except that they lead to different destinations within Germany.
“Na so we go con face North Pole when we should be headed to the South Pole.”
We alighted from that wrong tram at the next train station. After much ado, some kind Germans helped us figure out how to find our way back. Finally, we boarded the right trams that conveyed us to the venue of the conference. But all that merry-go-round and rigmarole in the middle of nowhere meant we lost some good, valuable time. By the time we got to the venue of the conference, we were about one hour behind schedule. As soon as we entered the hall, all eyes fell on us.
Apparently, apart from the welcome dinner our German hosts organised for us the night before downtown, some participants organised another party, a very noisy one, at the hotel where participants were lodged in. The party was so noisy, the management of the hotel had to call for help.
In the dead of the night, they called the organizers of the conference to lodge a complaint about the noise being made by the participants. Since the hotel was a big one, there were other private users who felt disturbed by the noise. It got so bad, the management of the hotel almost called the police. (You know sey oyinbo people no dey waste time).
At last, the partying party was forced to disperse at 4am. But the harm had been done. Don’t forget I and other Nigerians had crashed into our beds in our various rooms and had traveled to dreamland long before 4am!
Before we arrived at the training the next morning, the organizers had issued a serious warning and had frowned at such rowdiness and insensitivity on the part of those who organised and attended the second party at the hotel. When the organisers asked who was/were responsible for the second party and for those who attended it, no one signified! So the prime suspects automatically became those who were late that morning.
Because we had been late that day to the venue of the conference, the organizers wrongly assumed we must have been the ones that organised and attended the party (the organizers had yet to be aware that the reason for our lateness was because we lost our way traveling on the wrong tram). They concluded we must have had hangovers, hence, our lateness the next morning. Unfortunately, all four of us (that were late that day) were also Nigerians. Nigeria? It sounded like giving the dog a bad name because it was a dog. What a bad coincidence!
We had participants from other countries, including from Latin America, China and Bhutan. While it was difficult to know who in that class was aware of who and who attended the said disruptive party, what is important is that no one owned up. No one said anything. But apparently, those who organised and attended the said party were present during the inquisition but feigned ignorance.
They were afraid to take responsibility and bear the repercussion of their action. Perhaps, they were afraid of being expelled and sent back home. But ultimately, they didn’t mind if the wrong person(s) gets punished for their own indiscretion. Everybody kept quiet while the blame was piled on us, the innocent.
Everybody? Well, not everybody.
Immediately after the coordinator’s announcement, someone (who knew who the organizers and attendees of the said party were), went to the Coordinator of the conference and offered useful and timely information on what she knew about the said party. She told the coordinators none of the participants from Nigerians attended the party. That in fact, the Nigerians had gone back to their rooms well before 12am (because in deed, she saw us leave the lobby of the hotel for our rooms the preceding night). Her information led to the unmasking of the situation. The Coordinator of the conference would later apologize to us for the wrong assumption. The real culprits were then orally reprimanded.
The interesting part of this story is that the lady who helped get to the root of the matter was from the same country as the culprits. But she didn’t cover them up. She didn’t let innocent people suffer for the wrongs of her own kinsmen.
Three important lessons amongst others from that episode are:
First, ensure you have all the facts of a matter before making conclusions. Don’t be given to rush to make conclusions about others based merely on half information, the colour of their skin or where they come from. That would be stereotypical.
Second, when someone from your country, tribe or religion breaks the law and you are in the know, don’t keep quiet. Don’t let the wrong person get punished for another man’s wrong. Don’t look away while the wrong person gets punished for your kinsman’s wrong. Doing otherwise would be evil.
Third, when you make wrong conclusions about others and afterwards become aware of more information that show your conclusions were wrong, be strong enough to admit and to apologise. We are all humans after all. Our hosts apologised to us in the presence of all the participants, and went further to help us better understand the city’s map in order to better navigate around it.
Because of that lady, Nigeria was spared an unfair, bad and wrong tag. We went on to have an exciting, fruitful and quite memorable conference.
~ Idowu Kunlere
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