Friday, 22 July 2016

Lutherstadt Wittenberg: My most avowed intent, to be a pilgrim

Some background
I have had a long-held desire to visit Lutherstadt Wittenberg, in the state of Saxony-Anhalt, in the east of Germany. Germany has many historic towns, but in my many visits to Germany since 1995, I did not know that Wittenberg was in this part of Germany.
The discovery was by accident, in June 2010 as my whizzed past that Wittenberg station towards Bitterfeld on my way to a wedding in Raguhn, I caught a short glimpse from my train window and nursed a desire to visit since then. I could not get to Raguhn station because that week happened to be one in which the Deutsche Bahn, the German train company was conducting repairs on that line.
The interest
Whilst not overly religious, I have made pilgrimages to religious places, shrines and cities, interested in the history, the people and how the personalities involved changed the course of events. The Vatican, Fatima in Portugal and now Lutherstadt Wittenberg had made my growing list of pilgrimage journeys.
Wittenberg became the city from which the Protestant Reformation started after Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg in 1517. There is much to write about this, since of all the histories I could have studied in school, this one featured prominently in our curriculum.
Strangely, the English Reformation, the other schism that occurred soon after that this, when the Church of England renounced papal authority due to Henry VIII’s need to sire an heir, did not make the curriculum. I am a member of the Anglican Church.
The Lutheran Church is planning a quincentennial celebration of the Protestant Reformation in 2017, many activities will be centred around Lutherstadt Wittenberg.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Thought Picnic: Seated by duress

A deliberation of space where the use of a fare becomes the exertion of latitude beyond entitlement meets the encroachment on the need of others.
When demand is made of access, a grudging and reluctant relinquishment of territory ensues. Within that might sit a resentment to the challenge to their expanse as an infringement on their privilege. For some, this is a sign of disrespect.
There might be consequences, or is paranoia getting the better of one? However, it does not help that on the day one decides to visit a memorial and monument to man’s inhumanity to man; a concentration camp, someone walks by and hollers, Sieg Heil! The victory of angst over faith?
Yes, we heard him right and this was Berlin in 2016, the hour not even at the tenth. We live in times of turmoil, invisible but present, palpable and serious too.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Thought Picnic: Rediscovering human things

Having time to be human
Sometimes I wonder if it is technology that has deprived us of age-old fashionable things like conversation, letter writing, note-taking and dare I say, laughter. The kind of camaraderie that is fostered by sitting at a table for dinner with friends or playing traditional games like cards, Monopoly, Scrabble, Chess or Cluedo.
We do not seem to have the time to engage constructively and enduringly anymore. We are busy doing things, ensconced in Social Media, excited by traffic and interacting, yet not forming relationships that could stand the test of time.
The absence of enriching elements of contact and facial expression is depriving us of unique human characteristics that cannot be conveyed in typing or video conferencing. Though, there are some of us who have mastered alternative arts of communication.
The delusion of abstraction
The lack of presence appears to obfuscate the necessity to respect and communicate on friendly terms. Rudeness and insult are easy to deploy when no affinity exists and a feeling of anonymity presents with the without human proximity.
The Internet appears to falsely confer invisibility on people who think they have the quality of abstraction that absolves them from any responsibility until it is necessary to find out who they are. The footprints on the Internet are set in rocks when knowledgeable sleuths are set on the path of tracking down the culprits.
Finding fun the traditional
Being a blogger of almost 13 years, it has sometimes been easy to type away and watch ideas and thoughts develop on the screen, but my last three blogs including this have first been written longhand, then typed out and edited for publication.
A few things are achieved by this, as I copiously take notes, my handwriting hopefully improves from an illegible scrawl to a very readable script and maybe a bit more time is spent thinking through my ideas and thoughts.
To this end, I bought a pocket notebook, A Victor Hugo, Les misérables Mini Lined Notebook (Embellished Manuscripts) [Amazon] one, I use a uni-ball Jetstream pen with a quick-drying ink and all I have to do is find a place to sit down and write.
Technology brings simplicity and ease, it has its place in the scheme of things, but it must not replace the essential pleasures in life, the ones of physical presence and human interaction, laughter with friends and seeing your own handwriting on paper. Let’s find some old-fashioned things to do without being so tethered to technology and its distractions.

Monday, 18 July 2016

Thought Picnic: Being black and knowing

Being black in America
Observing the recent events of black people killed at the hands of law enforcement officers in the USA has been disheartening and very sad.
I have watched anger, protest, hashtag and campaign to bring to the fore the urgency and the prevailing compelling message that Black Lives Matter.
It is more than a pertinent point to make and it was amazingly sympathetic to notice the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich, write, “If you are a normal white American, the truth is you don’t understand being black in America and instinctively underestimate the level of discrimination and the level of additional risk.” [The Hill] How insightful!
Been black a long time
Then in Dallas, 5 policemen were assassinated in a black-on-white vengeance spree, the black chief of the Dallas Police Department, David Brown finds himself straddling the intersection of race, history, culture and community which has become a national narrative.
He was asked how he bridged these communities and he responded, “I’ve been black a long time, so it’s not much of a bridge for me. It's everyday living. I grew up here in Texas, third generation Dallasite. It's my normal to live in this society that has a long history of racial strife. We're in a much better place than we were when I was a young man here.” [NBC News]
The histories we live
I could very well relate to the highlighted part of his response and maybe more if I had the history and experience of David Brown, and he has suffered grave personal losses in that environment. Yet, I realise that being a minority in any setting comes with a communal history and personal history.
The communal history of David Brown evidenced in what he said might have dictated that he as a black man cannot successfully be a police chief with the burden of African American history that pervades, yet his personal history allows him to confidently operate in that office.
In the UK where I live, there is a spectrum of communal history related to being Black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME), the communities one belongs to, the motivations or accidents of being here, how that might define you and possibly dictate your personal history.
Understanding personal blackness
My parents came to study in the UK in the 1960s, successful as they were with their academic pursuits, they faced a communal history of racism which until today probably colours their views of racial relations in the UK. My father once wrote to me that I would be a second-class citizen in the UK and by inference implied I was a first-class citizen in Nigeria, yet, my personal history suggests I was neither.
My personal history refines the context. I am by rights a British citizen by birth, then I grew up in a multicultural setting in Nigeria. In my education and life, I did not have to run the gauntlet of the race and deprivation politics of the 1970s and 1980s in the UK.
My sojourn in Nigeria confirmed in me my blackness, such that I am quite comfortable in my own skin. I do not then strive with my blackness nor take too much offence when racially abused as it mostly provides an opportunity to educate. That probably means I am rarely agitating to be identified or recognised, my personal history and experiences have created my self-esteem and self-assurance in whatever environment I choose to exist in.
Not despising myself
I draw comfort from the words of a letter of a black father wrote to his son in the light of the killings, the shootings, the turmoil and the angst. [Time Magazine]
Quoting James Baldwin from “The Uses of the Blues” and I have obtained the full context, "In every generation, ever since Negroes have been here, every Negro mother and father has had to face that child and try to create in that child some way of surviving this particular world, some way to make the child who will be despised not despise himself. I don’t know what ‘the Negro Problem’ means to white people, but this is what it means to Negroes." [Time Magazine]
It does not have to be Negro, a contemporaneous word of the 1960s, it could be anyone, anyone can be despised, the hope is something in the communal and personal history of that person ensures that person does not in turn, despise themselves. I am blessed with the thought that enough was put into my development to accept myself for who and whom I am.
At that point, there is no bridge to cross, you are yourself, whole, happy, contented and thriving. It is not the end of the war per se because many others still fight that battles that define them from participating fully in our common and shared humanity out of what is man’s inhumanity to others.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Thought Picnic: The reality beyond the augmented

Another life of games
Some events just overtake the newswires in a way that you wonder what is going on. One such issue within the week of the morass of #Brexit with the Tories squaring up and the Labour Party falling apart, terrorist attacks and any other bad news was something called Pokémon Go.
By definition and I refer to Wikipedia, Pokémon Go is a free-to-play location-based augmented reality mobile game developed by Niantic and published by The Pokémon Company. It utilises GPS and the camera of compatible devices to capture superimposed Pokémon characters in different locations.
What has made it big news is the uptake of the game that has exceeded the records of other kinds of mobile telephony games in such a short timeframe.
Now, the only mobile telephony game I play is Sudoku, yet, I wonder about computer-based neologisms like 'gamer', indicating a person who plays games. Though I have also come across ‘gaymer’, apparently, a gay person who plays computer games. I am not a fan of neologisms that change nouns into verbs or convert activities into nouns.
Realities abound
However, this is a digression because I read an article in the Time Magazine where Matt Vella writing for the Technology section analysed the Pokémon craze within the context of augmented reality. The Pokémon Fad Shows the Unnerving Future of Augmenting Reality [Yahoo! Tech], in the closing paragraph, he said, “The fundamental question AR (Augmented Reality) will ask of us will likely be: How do you coexist in a world where people literally see things you cannot?
Maybe Augmented Reality presents this alternative world, but there is a more present world that we coexist in but dismiss, the one where you literally see things that others cannot. I have seen things that others could not and that terrified the hell out of me, besides having heard things that others could not too.
A vivid imagination
I wrote about an episode where a discussion between my aunt and our house boy covered bizarre stories of the paranormal, to my fertile and impressionable young mind of 10, I found that I had enough of a vivid imagination to bring these thoughts into my reality. That night, my parents having guests, I cleared the table and took the dishes to the kitchen.
As I laid them there, I was scolded and told to take them to the washing area in the unlit backyard whereupon in the dark there appeared a tall red-chested fiery beast, I thought I had seen the devil and I let out a terrifying scream. Everyone came running out to see what the tumult was, whatever I told them, they dismissed as I trembled, so completely shaken and eventually went to bed.
A terrifying reality
I woke up in the middle of the night, sandwiched between two friends in bed when I heard two words, “Pufau! Pufau!”, this is the first time I have written the words, I do not know what they mean, but I always have goose bumps remembering this. Again, that terrifying scream, a dismissive father and a concerned mother came out to comfort.
As my father returned to bed and I sat in the living room with my mother, this beastly creature appeared again to me and I was the only one to see it and thankfully, that was the very last time I saw it, but that night was the beginning of a life-changing experience and the crash course lesson in the power of fear and terror.
Don’t dismiss it
Yes, children also sometimes see, hear, feel or experience things that others cannot, but not just children, it can happen to anyone and that episode is by terms their reality, a reality pooh-poohed, dismissed, rubbished or ignored. The child left bereft of comfort and support in what is a rather grave situation, life for that child can be hard.
This is not augmented reality, but an existential threat to mental health, the consequences of which can definitely be life-changing especially to outlook and confidence.
I know, the need to understand and empathise, the need to make some allowances for realities in the lives of others we may not understand or perceive, yet, the senses of the affected are heightened and besieged with stimuli that only they can respond to and describe in terrifying detail.
Dismissing the personal evidence will not eradicate the situation, it would rather accentuate the isolated circumstance that person is in. In such settings, help is needed and professional help at that.