January 2014

Komla Dumor, a Ghanaian broadcaster with the BBC World Service and host of ‘Focus on Africa’ is gone. He died yesterday of an apparent heart attack at the age of 41, leaving a wife, 3 young children, and scores of fans spread across Africa and beyond in shock and disbelief.

I am one of those who are reeling. He was one of my favorite journalists.

I first heard Dumor on BBC’s hour-long world service program that is covered by my local NPR station, WNYC, probably about 3/12 years ago. Not being a TV person, I’m grateful to be able to hear the BBC here in NY on the radio. Normally on air between 9 and 10am, this was a re-broadcast occurring in the wee hours of the morning. I was immediately intrigued by this African man’s voice that sounded like some of my Nigerian classmates who’d attended an American school. Some of his words gave away an American twang but it didn’t sound put on or forced.  Turns out he’d received an MPA from Harvard, after getting a first degree in sociology and psychology at the University of Ghana. That was following a short detour at the University of Jos where he was pre-med. His name was unusual to me and for a while I couldn’t figure what it actually was or how to spell it, so try as I might, my initial google searches turned up nothing. In time I came to realize he wasn’t Nigerian – which explained why his name was such a challenge – though he was clearly very familiar with Nigeria. I recall him covering a story on the outskirts of Jos – my hometown – about a family that had been attacked as a result of the Muslim – Christian crisis occurring there. He was compassionate, yet informed, confident, yet sensitive. He grasped how charged that situation was – one incident in a long line of complicated intra-religious conflicts fueled, at least in part, by poverty and chronic unemployment. I sensed he was an unusual talent.

During the World Cup in South Africa in 2010, he broadcast live before some of the matches. He was effusive with joy at being there. The most memorable event for me was when he stripped off his white button-down shirt to reveal in his words, “his true colors”, a red jersey of the Ghanaian National Team. Even though I wasn’t witnessing this, I laughed out loud. When I saw it later on line, I howled again. Check it out here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-25800327.

Komla had traveled all over the continent and he was passionate about its people. He sought to tell authentic stories of Africa – both encouraging as well as troubling – valuing balance and true African experts – ordinary, every day people who lived life on the continent and were intimately familiar with their surroundings, their heritage, their value systems, and their dreams.  He exuded a pride that many of us share.

Komla was probably most impressive during this Ted talk given at Euston, in London several years ago. If you’ve never heard of this guy before reading this post, or you’re wondering what the fuss is all about it, this is one talk not to be skipped over.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DfJn8HCKO8g

Lyse Doucette, a veteran foreign correspondent at the BBC described Dumor as a man who “looked for the light as well as the dark.” Apparently he was also a man of faith, a committed Christian. Why God took Dumor from us in the prime of his life will remain a mystery.  But I pray that the light Dumor left us will continue to shine brightly.

Komla, you’ll be sorely missed.

Photo credit: BBC.



pale roseThis week I had the privilege of visiting a leader of one of our community groups who’s become a friend. In the last several months, she’s taken a hiatus from her group because she’s become the mother of a sweet little girl called Hannah!

Hannah is a miracle birth.  Her parents married later in life and had been trying for 6 years to have a baby.  C was past her mid-40s and it just didn’t seem like it was going to happen for them. They had resisted any sort of medical intervention, trusting that if a child was something God wanted for them, he’d create it.

Well, He did.

Hannah will be 13 weeks old tomorrow. She seems so much older already – self-contained and observant – like an old soul. When I arrived, she was asleep in the bedroom while her mother and I sat and talked in the living room.  After some time,when Hannah stirred, C went to get her. She brought her out in her “bouncy”, where she’d been sleeping, and sat her down beside us. We continued chatting. Hannah just looked around, as if she was listening, smiling when we smiled at her, but she seemed content to be left alone. I was amazed. Hannah did eventually start fussing when she realized she was hungry. That was my cue to leave.

The following day, C told me Hannah had been looking at the yellow roses I brought and enjoying their smell too – a new learning experience for her.

What a beautiful gift to see this mother and child delighting in one another, embarking on a new life together, filled with all kinds of possibilities.

A glimpse of God’s goodness.

As a new year begins, I’ve been reflecting on losses I experienced in 2013. Since I’m getting older – this will be my year of Jubilee, where I celebrate a half-century of life (gulp!) – thoughts of one’s mortality and that of others feature more prominently….

Almost a year ago today, a well-loved, justice-minded, 50-something physician, Brian, went for a swim in the Pacific while vacationing in Costa Rica. The beach was no stranger to he and his wife – they’d vacationed there before – but this time was different. He didn’t return. His body was later recovered indicating no fowl play, even though he was a competent swimmer and loved the water. A week or so later, we celebrated his abbreviated, self sacrificial life on a cold snowy Saturday on the upper east side of Manhattan.

In April, on the morning I was to visit a 4-year-old (with an old soul) battling an aggressive childhood cancer, his mother called to tell me Sebastian had lost the fight minutes before. Though as a physician, she’d come to realize his death was becoming inevitable, she was in shock and hadn’t yet called the hospice. I joined them in a packed church in Yonkers and wept alongside his doctors, his 2 siblings, other family members, and friends.

In September, we lost Alicia, a 30 something year old public relations professional who passed away after losing her fight with brain cancer. (I wrote about Alicia’s life and death in a previous post.)

And on the morning of Thanksgiving Day, Vincent, the 44-year-old proprietor of the shop in the lobby of our building had a heart attack. We’d talked the day before as I was leaving for Washington DC when I’d bought some last-minute chap stick from him. He was usually my supplier of long-distance phone cards. He expected to be open on Friday even though he knew it was a holiday weekend and many of his regular customers would be away. But it was not to be.

And of course, who can forget the 3 African Statesmen we lost this year?

Chinua Achebe, beloved Nigerian novelist and writer, who died after a short illness in March at the age of 82.

Kofi Awoonor, Ghanaian poet, intellectual and Ambassador who was killed in the terrorist attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi in September.

And Nelson Mandela – who’s passing on December 5 at age 95 – marked the end of a remarkable era in the life of South Africa and in deed on the continent of Africa.

What a privilege to have lived during their all of their lifetimes. May that be said of us when our time here on earth draws to an end too.

Happy New Year!