Monday, 23 November 2015

Nigeria: Let us include the rite of the autopsy in the burying of the dead

Speculation was rife
The apparently sudden death of Prince Abubakar Audu who was more or less on the cusp of a gubernatorial victory has elicited much commentary on social media.
When the news of his death as we were awaiting the announcement of the electoral results first emerged, I was persuaded to overlook the breaking news and curb my curiosity for the frenzy to dissipate enough for the facts and the truth to emerge.
The only truth that has emerged from this tragic tale is that he is deceased and has been interred according to Islamic rites, everything else with regards to manner of death, cause of death and other extenuating factors has been a matter of accusation, supposition, speculation, conjecture, suggestion, rumour, innuendo and fable. This list is hardly exhaustive.
Nothing really was known
I cannot attribute anything, but in all the reports I have read, there has been mention of cardiac arrest, stroke, poisoning, paranormal activity, voodoo and all sorts of silliness. None of this helps the matter at all.
For all the enlightenment we have acquired, we tend to heighten our superstitious predilections at times of birth, at marriages and at death, even if our general lives are hardly lived in any recognised adherence to faith or religion and the tenets the books require us to espouse to be model examples of our belief systems to our common humanity.
Now, I have no medical training, but the most recent pictures of the man depicted an unhealthy pallor, very much like that of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua when he ailed with nephrological complications that led to his demise.
Besides looking overweight and other deleterious conditions that might evolve from that, it is very likely that there is a clear-cut medical condition that resulted in the man’s death.
Bound to ages gone
Yet, as we live in the 21st Century, our lives and livelihoods are majorly trumped by belief systems, traditions and cultures that have not evolved for many quincentenaries, that we fail to benefit from the knowledge, logic, reason and developments that have brought humanity to the amazing modernity and comforts of the present times.
One such area we fail to deploy at death is medical examination and autopsies, the advances in modern medicine can in most cases determine the cause of death, not only to put beyond doubt the rife speculations that surround a sudden death, but such knowledge in either a minor or major way can also help the living.
Knowledge from deaths
In cases of cancer, it might cause survivors to check if they might be susceptible to the same  type of cancer especially if there is a genetic predisposition to it. It might aid medical science in know what to look for if anyone presents symptoms that might lead to complications. This is a valuable knowledge that goes beyond the individual and the present tragedy to the greater good of humanity.
Part of what has given medicine the tools to treat many ailments has come from the study of the dead and much as it has from observation of the living. It is sad that one only has to leaf through the pages of a Nigerian newspaper to read obituaries of many of died of a brief illness. The brief illness is a catch-all term that covers everything from a fatal asthma attack, through epileptic fits to cancer discovered so late that nothing could be done beyond providing palliative hospice care.
Bringing reason to belief
Whilst there is nothing wrong with being religious, we allow religiosity to becloud both judgement and reason. In the absence of a modicum of reasonableness compounded by grief and loss, we accentuate a fanatical tendency to fatalism, providence and destiny allowing the burning questions to remain unanswered in submission to the primordial where ignorance becomes the cradle of bliss and succour.
Whether, there is a soul or not, once the force that animates and enlivens the body is gone, we have just a body in the process of decay and disintegration. We must respect the memory of the person departed and treat the body of the said departed with dignity, but there is no rule created in anticipation of the modern times that prevents gaining knowledge from an autopsy.
The rite of the autopsy
In times past, there were probably no means of preserving the dead, the Egyptians of old used mummification and embalmment for their pharaohs, other cultures found burial, cremation or some other means of disposing of their dead. Yet, we attach ourselves to age-old customs at our convenience when at other times we desperately avail ourselves of the benefits of medical science.
We need to rethink this clash of options and the time has come to include the autopsy in the burial rites and have civil law demand that where cause of death is inconclusive or death is sudden, internment will not proceed before medical examination, else the body will be exhumed for final determination.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

South Africa: Chance encounters of the uncouth kind

Chance encounters
As a lone traveller and guest in a hotel, I would normally go down to the restaurant with some reading material, usually a magazine. However, I might be fortunate enough to meet another guest and strike up a conversation.
However, at breakfast yesterday morning, having placed my magazine on a table and gone to make tea, another guest took up the table to the right of mine, seeing the magazine, picked it up, had a brief look and put it back.
Not a likeable person
When I returned to my table, I said hello and before we could commence a conversation, an acquaintance of his passed by and they disputed about some matter that required the other person send him an email since the day before which he did not and the exchange degenerated into belittling him and calling the other man ‘full of shit’.
From there, he descended to stereotyping black people as unreasonable and unreliable, that he had never met a black man that either delivered or kept his word. Addressing me, he asked why black men were always like this.
I answered, back saying he should expand his circle of acquaintances because my job is primarily based on delivering on projects apart from the fact that I always keep to time. I then attempted to educate him on cultural differences between the West and other places where time is based on season and convenience rather than on strict adherence to the hour and minute hands of the clock.
Tempering bad sentiment
He should know by doing business in Africa, the cultural differences and adapt to it. At which point he said, he knew two black people who were quite impressive in their attitude to agreements and time before letting on that he had a meeting with a number of white people that should have started hours ago, but they had not yet arrived. I guess that just affirmed the point I made earlier about the issue of the cultural issues of adherence to agreements and time.
The conversation moved on to other things as he observed that I had a Wiko phone which was a competitor to a phone that he had exclusive rights to distribute in South Africa. He was garrulous and in many ways uncouth, the kind of Englishman that irritates abroad with a sense of superiority that needs to be challenged.
A working class oaf pretending to standards and class abroad when at home the only things he might have plenty of will be the gift of the garb, money and the same shit he said black people have. When he learnt I am English too, he toned down his nonsense, I was saved much of additional tripe when another of his ilk appeared and their banter assume a tone best left out of hearing.
They disparage in packs
Later on, I went out socialising in some drearily dark scary part of Johannesburg that I doubt I will return to again. My arranged taxi ride back to my hotel was not available, so the club recommended an alternative service.
As I got my jacket, a group of four men arrived and the mouthiest of the lot saw me and made a rather disparaging remark about me in a language, they all thought I did not understand.
They continued in their banter of sighting people and finding something uncomplimentary to say about them as I watched and smiled before I said in that same language they thought I did not speak that ‘I have travelled the whole world and now I have come to meet Yoruba folk here.’
The shock and horror of realising that their bad attitude was observed and understood was interesting to watch as they made to apologise. It did not matter, I have seen this kind of behaviour many times before amongst the Yoruba and this might be because I do understand the language, and it might well be prevalent in any other ethnic group that believes they cannot be overhead or understood.
There’s always a better way
Yet, the other prejudicial part of this kind of behaviour is a kind of prissy superiority complex that thrives of disparaging and belittling others in order to feel good within oneself. It suggests a low self-esteem with a tendency to bullying others if the opportunity arises.
Genuinely, self-assured people with confidence rarely have the time to belittle others when more can be gained by helping others be better expressions of themselves. Even if there is much opportunity to insult or abuse, there is a better path if one can find encourage, praise and good advice to give.
However, in the two cases above, entrenched preconceptions close the mind to new experiences, stereotypes colour the view and deny the person the wholesome experience of seeing people as uniquely individual even if they easily fit into a group.
In South Africa, many of these elements of prejudice and cultural adjustment show, people lazily belong to group and class, then someone with a completely different cultural outlook and perspective upsets the accepted norms by not subscribing to the stereotype. It can make for interesting conversation and I have had a few of those.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

South Africa: Hotel life at first glimpse

A wary European
It is quite unusual not to have written about my hotel life, maybe because there hasn’t been much of an event to make of things.
I did say that when the airport shuttle came to pick me up at the airport, they had mangled my name, this was after the lady I called heard me spell my name twice and she read out the letters of my name and my phone number for confirmation.
It is, however, possible that in relaying the message to the cab company, some of the message was lost in translation. The driver from the airport was quite affable and friendly, he offered to do all sorts of things, get me a SIM card, give me a tour of Johannesburg, be a stand-by chauffeur and so many other things. I think the wary European in me slightly uncomfortable at the familiarity that borders on inveigling into my life just decided, whilst he was being helpful, I just did not need to be helped that much.
It is tolerable enough
I had to wait almost 90 minutes for a room to be ready for me to occupy, it gave the impression that the hotel has a high occupancy percentage though I was a bit sceptical about that. When I booked the hotel, I saw there were charges for early check-ins and there were for late checkouts.
The room was a slight disappointment at first and I cannot understand how when a manager sees a customer about to spend 3 weeks in their establishment, they dump you in a room as if you are passing through a motel. No views, no air, no welcome home feel.
It had a twin bed, immediately, I remonstrated and the bellboy called reception to have the problem fixed. At least I was told I would be called, I never got called.
Change, it must
After two nights in the room, which also did not have a fridge and the middle-of-the-night parting of beds which had me on the verge of repeating my coconut days of falling out of bed when I was 5, I went to the reception and asked for my room to be changed.
On returning from work, I immediately asked if my request was granted and I was moved 4 rooms up the corridor were a king-size bed and fridge had been installed. With the rooms being in close proximity, I really did not need help to move my stuff. That was done in about 15 minutes and I settled into my new room which was laterally opposite to the one I left.
All teas abound
To forestall the near disaster I had at breakfast when I was at another hotel in Johannesburg, I determined to carry my supply of Earl Grey tea over from the UK. All that I forgot to pack into my bags, but the situation was saved at the duty-free shops where they stocked Fortnum & Mason’s Classic Earl Grey tea.
Then, at breakfast, I needn’t have bothered, they had some many teas to choose from and Earl Grey tea was just as prominent. I have only been to dinner once, the food was alright.
I guess I could endure the absence of more comforts at this hotel, it is, however, not bad for a 4-star hotel.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

South Africa: The bread and the spread

A communion in disparate communities
There was a time when everyone broke the bread, even though the larger part of the loaf went to the few as freshly baked and the leftover part of the loaf that went to the most was stale and barely edible.
Yet, the many were hungry and made do with the piece of bread they got whilst asking for more of the loaf and a having it fresh too.
Besides that unequal sharing of the loaf, the few that had the fresh loaf also had butter and jam to spread on their slices of bread, it was a good life for them.
The thinner spread of yummy
Then there came a more equitable sharing of the loaf, not necessarily equal, not by any stretch of the imagination, however, there was no increase in the jam and butter spread, this meant that for every slice of bread there was a thinner spread and less of a satisfactory bite for all.
Yet, to compare the confectioners before equity to those after would be to miss the point that more jam had to be made and more butter churned to give a healthier spread to all.
The scale of the problem then
That, in a nutshell, is the story of South Africa in the Apartheid times when infrastructure and services were built to serve the minority and then post-Apartheid the same infrastructure was to stretch to serve all.
It has meant the black majority government has been met with challenges of inheriting working infrastructure and scaling that up with the same standard to serve all South Africans. However, this knowledge and plausible excuse can only go on for so long, we are 21 years into black majority rule and the need for seriously noticeable change for the better for the majority cannot be overlooked.
The time for excuses is fast ending
The need for greater accountability of the leadership that has taken the larger racial constituency for granted is more pressing than ever, the opposition also needs to up their game and begin to present themselves as a real and viable alternative for leadership, government, progress and development.
South Africa has both promise and potential, it needs to touch the seemingly inconsequential that for whatever reason lives from hand to mouth, whose future only appears to extend to the next minute and it would be ambitious to see beyond the next hour.
We cannot avoid it
Those realities cannot be ignored, as we cocoon ourselves in the prosperous areas, we have to traverse the pathways between the conurbations of the privileged where we see a grimmer reality and the temptation to say, South Africa is not working for the majority.
That is the lesson I learnt from my fellow passenger as I was flying from Paris to Johannesburg.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

South Africa: Unplanned and unsettled

Upsetting all plans
I guess I can say that I was literally rushed off my feet with regards to my second visit to South Africa. It meant the many other activities I had planned to be part of in the UK fell by the wayside and was quite unfortunate.
I had not expected that anyone will make up their minds about this visit, this side of Christmas, I was just so messed around last year that it took over 6 months from conception to decision, I really should have presented a clear ultimatum as to when a decision had to be made before all bets were off.
The only red line I was not going to cross was to be in South Africa beyond the second weekend of December, I want to have my 50th birthday amongst friends at home.
Little time to plan
I only really got to pack my bags a few hours before my flight, for an absence that would be over 3 weeks, there was so much going on at work, a delivery I was expecting did not arrive at two arranged times that I had to go the depot through football traffic to collect my order before racing down to London and back again.
There was also the small matter of a booster vaccine, everything taken together, there wasn’t much time to relax and plan, I had become an automaton of circumstances around me.
Get with the plan
My flight was via Paris and as I made to board my flight in Paris, I presented my boarding pass to the ground crew having joined the priority queue because by loyalty status and choice of ticket, I was eligible. Rather than view the boarding pass, she suggested I might be in the wrong queue, I did not bother to react, I let her review the boarding pass before giving her a withering look that ended in a smile.
The last time I was on the Paris – Johannesburg leg of my journey on the Airbus A380, I was sat beside a Motswana, what was the coincidence that I will be sat beside – well, I was this time beside a South African who was on holiday in Paris when the terrorist attacks took place last Friday. He wasn’t as engaging as the Motswana.
Humouring the plan
The flight was smooth and at one time as I returned from a toilet break, there was some turbulence and the air steward was already insisting I fasten my seat belt, long before I had settled down. It made me wonder as I was in the toilet when we hit turbulence whether it would not be sensible to have seatbelts in the toilet too.
Coming out at the airport, at my first pass, I did not see the airport shuttle to the hotel, I then attempted a second pass and there was sign where two letters had been dropped from my name. Mr AKINYO, it read. I could only shake my head at the humour of my second welcome to South Africa.