The rains tried.
They kept erupting and receding like an epileptic episode, but they could not stop us.
Darkness had descended with rage, but our hunger was no match for the moonless night.
We had agreed to walk from our hotel to a restaurant by the beach to have dinner. The initial plan was to take a tuk tuk, but the furious rain made it difficult to transport all of us to dinner. So we decided to brave the rain and the darkness in a the fifteen-minute walk.
There were about twenty of us that night, Global Voices contributors, gathered in Colombo, Sri Lanka for the 2017 Global Voices Summit.
Twenty of us took up the upper floor of an open restaurant that starless night. Twenty of us from Australia, Greece, Iran, Pakistan, Uganda, Nigeria, Palestine, Macedonia, Taiwan, Germany, United Kingdom and United States. Twenty of us, a mishmash of various languages, cultural viewpoints, varying professions, with one thing in common: we were Global Voices.
The passion to defend online free speech, to protect threatened voices, to bridge the gap between netizens and mainstream media, to report stories from an angle that seeks understanding and not just blame.
Our dinner stretched well into the night because Amadioha, the god of thunder, jumped from the Atlantic into the Indian Ocean. It was fierce. The bales of thunder danced amok while Amadioha played with lighting.
Colombo had a taste of a tropical storm that disposed some houses of their roofs and littered the streets with branches crudely yanked off from their original comfort. Yet we, the twenty “crazy ones” of Global Voices, were not perturbed. Even though the larger group at the hotel were scared as hell and the notifications on our WhatsApp group were lighting up with concern, we were lost in conversation with each other.
Most of us in this group had been working with each other – writing and translating stories – online for a couple of years. The intensity of our online collaboration is not just about the stories, but, above all, our common humanity.
Our offline Summits go way beyond expanding the boundaries of digital conversation, the systematic evaluation of online spaces, giving more coverage to areas in the margin of society or keeping up the tempo to avoid the propensity of governments to strangulate online free speech with surveillance. The Global Voices Summit is a large Family Reunion.
At this moment in time, which sadly emphasizes differences rather than commonalities, where people are more concerned in building walls than making bridges, the Global Voices Community stands as a stark contrast. Though we are a virtual community, the links that bind us are strong, our foundation is our shared beauty of being human. Individually we might not go so far, but collectively we can tear down all barriers that shackle humanity. The individual stories we tell about our different countries and experiences may seem like a drop in the ocean, but the collective input of these stories leaves a deep mark on our world.
This family reunion was particularly engaging for some of us who have attended several in the past. The pulsating strength of ideas, the raw vigor and intimidating goals of yesterday that have been surpassed were like a palpable current. So was the modesty of some members of our family who are doing amazing things, living in unsafe spaces but courageous enough to keep writing and never accepting silence as an answer. It was also a tribute to the three who we lost in that past two years – Geshom, Anna and Boukary.
As we ate and talked despite the storm at the beach restaurant in Colombo that night, the impact of that experience was too apt to be ignored. Life is the same, the waves and threats might fume unending. But family and deep friendship is what keeps us sane and deflects the perilous threats that seem to consume us. Together we stand, held up by each other and by doing so, we prop up our deeply ailing world.
We are family, we are Global Voices!
Nwach Egbunike is a poet and writer from Nigeria. We has been a part of the Global Voices since 2011.