Mwalimu George Ngwane, Rotary Peace Fellow
Arriving here on the 3rd of January 2015 was like leaving Debunscha for Somalia in terms of weather contrast, Lagos for Marrakech in terms of hospitality contrast and Douala for Cape Town in terms of infrastructure contrast.
Dichotomies or polarities like these provide a platform to study Peace and Conflict in the company of twenty-one other Fellows who made their presence on 7th January at the Rotary Peace Centre, Chulalongkorn University, for an Orientation voyage piloted by Jenn (the Deputy Director or DD of the Peace Centre in Bangkok).
Amidst hilarious laughter and applause Fellows quickly bonded with each other through simulations, role play and graphic demonstrations of “wai” performed by the DD. Before then the soft-spoken and very modest Professor Director of the Centre had charmed us with his traditional Thai shirt and his cheerfulness. We were then introduced to the tireless four-woman Task Force constituting the Rotary Peace Centre staff who had through their constant communication to us before our arrival to Bangkok painted a mental picture of security and comfort. They demonstrated a corps d’esprit as each of them took turns to acquaint us with our new home far away from home. Oy, Aor and Madam the Ex-Chequer made us really at home and for a while cured us of our January home sickness.
But I guess we were all on our toes when the Ex-chequer started rolling out the white envelops (some of us are more used to brown ones) to the point where standing like newly conscripted soldiers some of the Fellows may have out of financial exuberance mistakenly signed on the wrong column. Then there was lunch which I had been warned, thanks to my Class 17 Alumni virtual Kenyan friend Josephine and my Malawian chum Ian, was always so tasteful that one could forget one’s table manners. Luckily the DD had taken us through a meticulous ethics journey. By the way DD did you say you are American? Then where did you acquire all this valuable knowledge on Thai culture and Thai politics? Should I not say you are indeed a Thaimerican? No, lest I am trapped in the conflict of Peace or be caught in Chimamanda’s danger of a single story.
On the 8th of January we took an Orientation walk round the campus. I was lucky to have had as our campus Guide Madam the Ex-chequer who walked quite ahead of the pack that we had to rely on both our creative capacity and academic instincts to differentiate the library from the student canteen. Of all the infrastructure we were shown none of us from the African community was left indifferent seeing the Chula sports complex. Ah! Ah! Africa where do we invest our money in?
Then came our turns to deliver our Individual Conflict Presentations on the 9th of January. Twenty-two wonderful and innovative presentations that ranged from the esoteric to the practical, from the military to civil society perspective and from Africa through Europe and America to Asia. On this day we had in six hours deliberated on twenty two emerging or latent conflicts as well as emerging or open ones-a feat that I am sure cannot be equaled by even the United Nations Security Council or the International Court of Justice let alone the African Union. But we were reminded that it was just the tip of the iceberg.
The week ended on a great Saturday 10th with two VIP buses gliding the 22 Fellows into the Rotary Centre in Bangkok. We listened to wisdom and knowledge on Rotary and from Rotarians. I was particularly honored but humbled to be singled out for introduction by the Past Rotary International President as the first Cameroonian to have been selected on the course that is this year 10 years old.
After the Q and A it was lunch time and for the first time I ate something different from rice (my wife’s favourite) and something that reminded me of my 11 year old Edibe (my daughter)-plantains.
But waow! Plantains in coconut soup served as dessert? Eh! Eh! The diversity of culinary art.
Well it was already 2pm and time for Aor to usher the good-looking and fashioncentric Fellows to their 26-storey Chula University International House which I suggest should someday be called Chula University Rainbow Home. Amazing, how amazing - just in a week of meeting and greeting each other, 22 Rotary Peace Fellows had already transcended their secure zone of gender gelling, race relation and country connectivity to a comfort zone of shared interest.