Sheltered spaces like libraries, bookshops, and to some extent cafes, clubhouses, and church buildings are some of the places I feel most comfortable in, they are places where time and the worries of life quiet to mute, where joy naturally springs, where the very air is nourishment.
The perfect sheltered spaces have physical books to read or browse, they are rid of computers except for administrative or minimal reference purposes, have calm lighting but not necessarily with a view to the outside, and just feel like safe spaces where one can depart for one or two hours or the entire day if need be to go relax, reboot, refresh one’s soul.
I have also felt this way in church, picture the atmosphere before the service starts or on a non-service day: calm colours, soothing background music, air conditioning or airy space, comfy seats, the grace to remain undisturbed in your small cocoon.
I would like to create such a space for myself and for others like me. What if we could have a space combining all the great elements of these places?
I have always enjoyed visiting such spaces and sometimes wished I could live there! There are probably hundreds, if not thousands of people like me who need interventions like these to thrive. A place where they can relax or just shut off from the business and noise of the streets, a sane atmosphere where the soul and the spirit could receive nourishment without agendas or any constraining rules of participation.
But I think more than just being spaces for relaxation, they can literally be intellectual and social shelters for vulnerable people–young and old: kids living on the streets, kids struggling with school or poor instruction at school, people dealing with opposing lifestyles, for example, a life of drugs and other malaise against that of decency and hope. I wasn’t into drugs or anything close to these real problems young people face, but I can only imagine the quantum of good they would benefit if some of them came visiting or became regulars at such a place. It could practically save their lives.
What do I mean?
First, being in such a sheltered space means they are away from some other place where they might be vulnerable to harm or making poor choices. So coming through the doors of the physical building or location itself is a huge lifesaver.
Second, there is an opportunity to expose them to beneficial information, resources, relationships, and better choices. This can be in the form of books, music, and good peer-to-peer or mentoring relationships. A sheltered space allowing people to come in and stay for as long as they like with these aims in mind will inevitably expose visitors to not only good, enlightening information but good, beneficial relationships.
And finally, the ripple effect our communities will enjoy. These sheltered spaces will help nurture people who make better choices, who are equipped to lead good lives, who live with hope and strive toward excellence day by day.
I have had the good fortune of experiencing two of such spaces.
Olive Tenders, Exousia
Among the many bookshops and the few libraries I visited when I was a teenager, Olive Tenders and Exousia were the two places I spent a deal of time. Oh yes, I recall I spent more time at the school library at UNAD than in the biochemistry class.
The Olive Tenders library at Bodija was my place of comfort for more than two or three months right after secondary school in 1996. We had just moved to a new house, a new area, and although I had former schoolmates down the street, I was a boarder boy and my friends had themselves taken off to their own home locations.
Added to that fact was that when dad travelled to his station and mom left for her shop, I stayed at home alone during the day because my siblings were also boarders. I endured my misery daily until I discovered the library where I sat to devour the amazing fiction books until I had to leave for hunger or because they were closing for the day. What a blessing Olive Tenders was to me.
Years later, friends told me about Exousia, a calm Christian-themed clubhouse at Old Bodija, which itself was a reserved area in conservative Ibadan. It was in one of a twin duplex where a member or guest could eat, read, listen to music via a headset attached to a Discman (yes, it’s an old school portable DVD player…Google can help), or just book the cool living room/viewing room as your personal cinema to watch a movie by yourself or with friends.
What I liked the most about it was that I could go there to be by myself, escape from the dullness of my environment without resorting to damaging diversions (e.g., drugs) because I was basically reading good fiction or Christian magazines or listening to uplifting music (range: Christian rock, rap, hip hop, contemporary gospel, etc.). But the joint had to close down. Brilliant idea, but I guess they weren’t making enough money. Or maybe it was for some other reason.
What I would like to do
I have nursed the dream of creating such a space for as long as I remember. Yet I became distracted or de-energized by the constraints of my own financial capabilities. I observed coffee houses and cafes, drew up designs–yes, block layouts of the outlet and rooms (I remember a friend helped with the architectural layout of the layout of a fullscale youth resource center, I’m not sure if I had my own sketch, too ).
I wanted to create what I envisioned as the ultimate Christian hangout, not in the sense of frills and thrills but a place of quiet, rest, and meditative solitude if you want even if you are sharing the space with others. People, young and old, will be able to defrag, rest hearts and minds and feed on good stuff away from the noise of daily life. And yes, it could develop into the fullscale resource centre I have also dreamed of.
I initially planned to have the establishment funded by membership subscriptions, rent, or sale of items. But I think such a place may be eligible to receive grants from willing donors or sponsors.
You know, when I was younger, I said I would be hurt if someone told me such a place already existed. But that’s nothing now. The most important thing isn’t an idea, but the addition and good contribution of an idea to our collective living condition.