Friday, 8 April 2016

Picnic Thought: Celebrating freedom without offence

My society
I was walking home last night when in a recess of a building just off the main street I saw two men canoodling in a deep embrace on anticipation of possibly greater pleasure later on.
Whilst it was a somewhat unusual sight because not a few streets away is the gay village where they could have been in a bar or club up to much more than could not be printed here, I was gratified.
Gratified that I live in a civilised society that allows the full expression of self without the fear of sanction or harm. Maybe just half a century ago, this simple act of affection between two consenting adults would have attracted the charges of outraging public decency and gross indecency, we have really moved on.
The offended mind
Now, some people might well be seriously offended by this sight, the problem in my view is theirs rather than of the men. The free world we live in makes allowances for diversity and co-existence in the face of difference and what is out of the ordinary.
It was my guess that the men would go home together to be up to whatever they may wish in bed without harming anyone, society or humanity at large.
It is with that in mind that I tweeted yesterday, “The hallmarks of civilised society: Two men kissing on the street and no fear that anyone will be bloodied by an irate mob.”

Beyond these lands
That tweet was in recognition of another man who happened to express love in a same-sex liaison with another, Akinnifesi Olumide Olubunmi [Graphic Content] who died on the 18th of February from the injuries he sustained from an irate mob in Ondo State, Nigeria. They took the law into their own hands to rid their savage and primitive community of the homosexual and celebrated their conquest on social media.
Akinnifesi Olumide Olubunmi is one of many same-sex attraction people, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual, intersexual or gender neutral people who have been set upon by the mob or adherents of bigoted and extremist belief systems, thinking they are cleansing their communities by murder and the blood of other fellow human beings on their heads and their hands.
Sometimes, we fail to appreciate the liberties and freedoms that have come from escaping intolerance, ignorance and bigotry.
In response to my tweet, someone remonstrated and posited a fallacy about whether I would want my son doing that.
My response:

Dishonourable parental conduct
The perceived sense of honour we arrogate to ourselves at the expense of people who in a difficult, diffident and uncompromising world need our support is shocking. We would easily sacrifice our wards to belief systems, to traditions and bizarre customs rather than protect them from harm and stand proudly with them against a hostile world no matter the cost.
Parents disowning their children because the kid is different, others taking their girls to abattoirs of female genital mutilation when there is no medical need for this outrageous practice than to satisfy a primitive custom. Parents believe religious quacks that their children are practitioners of witchcraft and giving up the children to brutalisation and evil wickedness in the name of exorcism rituals. Worse still is the ones who murder their children in what they term honour killing.
There is no honour in murder, to love differently might leave us disappointed, but that is no excuse for murder. How will any honour be restored by shedding the blood of your child to restore your status in your community, such thinking is not only warped, by such actions you cannot be deserving of anything but the toughest sanctions without the option for parole or mitigation.
It is not that the battle for the freedom of expression has been totally won, many battles remain amongst us and beyond us, I celebrate the fact that anyone can choose to love who they want as adults and not fear to express that love openly – that is the hallmark of a civilised society and we must all strive towards that state of living and let live; the amicable coexistence of our human diversity.

Monday, 4 April 2016

Thought Picnic: At death do we close the book?

Facebook is a terror, the harbinger of tidings least expected, even of news that shocks and saddens.
Many a time, I have happened upon page and status without the need to dig or explore, for before my eyes is another flicker of light gone, the passing of someone I once knew.
With seeming regularity with premonition of proximity, I count the numbers of some with whom an intimacy was once shared and never will that be shared again, they have gone to the place of reminiscence in the lake of memory where maybe a ripple or a wave brings for thoughts, a smile, a tear or both. We meet only in dreams.
Then you wonder, what is death?
A natural process where an episode has run its course?
Yet for all that ends in death, many are not a natural cause but a sudden and abrupt pulling away of the carpet, disease, illness, murder, suicide, terrorism, courses totally unanticipated in many instances and not softening the effect of the blow.
What is death, you wonder still?
A cessation or a beginning?
A defeat or a victory?
A wall or a portal?
It is difficult to say, for if there were more to the end of life beyond the end of life, where are the souls if those be significant gone, for the total number of humanity from the very beginning of time indeterminate is in the innumerable and unnumbered billions.
Of these billions gone, their stories wherever they have gone, if there be a place, none have returned from that journey with news of exploits.
Going by the measure of earthly time, there is no time for exploits for the many we are told by legend, fame or happenstance have revived from a state of death have only been dead for days, nary a week, never a fortnight, forget a month and a year is quite impossible.
Religion with its many belief systems offers plenty a shoulder to cry on and bosom to weep to soften the shock of death with a hope, an expectation and longing placed in a time and space unreachable without passage.
Some, however, have beguiled and bemused as peeping toms and messengers between us in the living world and those who have left the living world. Are we to believe them?
It there is anything tangible left beyond the works, the legacy, the memories and the bequeaths, it is the solid tombstones and mausoleums, the deep waters, the ice show windows created by those who got lost, the rock faces before a plunge. the kindling for flames or graves, many unmarked for assuredly in death we return to earth from whence we came or completely reduced to ashes.
Whether this is the end or not is the story of man and his encounters with death.

Friday, 25 March 2016

Thought Picnic: Nothing matters more than sleeping well

All worked up
Yesterday morning full of anxiety bordering on trepidation, I wrote about the prospect of going to the hospital alone to commence a regime of gruelling treatment I was not particularly prepared for.
The outpouring of goodwill and best wishes with prayers, encouragement and support was overwhelming and wonderful, friends called, messages came and I prepared for my day ahead.
Each time I met a consultant over the last three years, they all talked about new drugs coming on-stream but punctuated everything with the element of cost. There were more affordable mainstream treatments that could last a whole year with significant side effects and that was what was on offer.
The prospect of subcutaneous injections was as terrifying as it could get, hypodermic needles have punctured enough holes in my epidermis, phlebotomies for vampires’ conventions, intravenous chemotherapy, intramuscular injections all those I could abide, but I have always drawn the line at pitching the flab of my abdomen for ingress. Find another place, I screamed when a nurse attempted to administer my nightly anticoagulant through my stomach wall when I was in hospital almost 7 years ago.
All mixed up
The plan was to get to the hospital, visit the pharmacy and collect my medication, then go up to see my consultant before I faced the abattoir, like a sheep for the slaughter, that was the imagery fully formed in my mind.
At the pharmacy, they had mangled my name on the prescription. Can you imagine, drugs worth tens of thousands of pounds and they got that wrong? Anyway, at least, the date of birth remains what it always was and that was fixed. A package containing a bottle of pills and up the stairs to my fate.
At the weighing station, a seat built on a scale, I had lost 2 kilogrammes and my blood pressure though normal for my condition could do with some notching downwards a bit. Time to visit that gym in the basement again.
All loved in
Suspense built up when I was called into a consulting room, “We’re giving you the best drugs on the market.” She said. I was not sure I heard her correctly, but I did not interrupt her as she went through dosage, side effects, emergencies and other protocols. “You seem a really nice gentleman.” She said, towards the end.
When I finally caught on what was happening around me, I asked when I was getting my injections. There were no injections, my terror dissipated in a puff. I almost cried, the relief! Never had one faced the prospect of something seemingly so grave at the hospital to be met with the desire to leave the hospital skipping away.
Probably it was not what I said before but the story in my blood work, the indicators showed the best improvement in 11 years apart from the urgent need to tackle the other condition, it made me a prime candidate for the new line of drugs and that was what I was offered.
All slept well
As I left the hospital, I hopped on a bus that was like an adventure into the wilderness plying the longest route to my destination. I did not even know when the bus was going the wrong way, the driver had to turn around, it did not matter one bit to me.
Most importantly, I had to rid myself of that morbid feeling of vulnerable incapacity that had invaded my zest for life and begin to look ahead to living and living well. In the midst of this, news came that I had been recalled to the place where I had concluded a 25-month contract just over a month ago.
I think it is the support and prayers of my many friends that turned a difficult day into a different and wonderful experience. How did I celebrate this? I got myself an original Tempur® pillow, in everything, nothing matters more than sleeping well. So far, the first night on the new medication, I feel fine.
Thanks for all your messages, prayers, support and encouragement. I’m happy.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Thought Picnic: Facing it alone again but it is well

Sent forth to bear
Just over 13 and a half years ago, in a foreign land, amongst strangers, I bore with stoicism and fortitude the heavy news of a grave diagnosis that left me comforting the bearer of the message.
Sometimes I wonder what strength and reserves come to the fore when faced with all sorts of circumstances, the ability to see beyond the situation whilst having to go through the many tough battles that have become interesting milestones in my life.
In terms, it probably goes back to when my parents thought the best way to toughen me up was to send me far away from home at the age of 10 to sit common entrance examinations for over 4 months to live between relations in the South-West of Nigeria from the north.
Ever-increasing distance
Since then and when I finally left for boarding school at 3 months short of my 11th birthday, I had literally left home and with that was the emotions and the life that has been singularly charted since then. My general welfare from the perspective of my parents and my guardians had simply been monitored through my academic reports and my behavioural development.
The result inadvertently has become a tenuous link borne of the relationship that was barely nurtured over my first ten years and the rest over conflict, disagreement, disappointment, anxiety, surprise and fleeting interest.
The fact is, no one in my family has the faintest idea of the reality of my life beyond the third week after my tenth birthday, we have increasingly grown distant from then, whilst they have only been affected by episodes of illness, of failure and of delinquency, the causes of which they never really bothered to explore and I just gone on with my life. With hindsight, there were periods of serious depression for which I got no help.
The walk on the wild side
Yet, as a result of their investments in the lives of others, I have been catered for and mentored by people who seemed to have given me a greater purpose in life and the courage to follow my convictions. The moment I had the opportunity and the ability to make my own decisions, I grabbed it and have never relinquished it.
It, however, does not get easier to face the challenges of life alone, but they are too far removed from my circumstances to be intimated and involved when new situations arise, that devolves to friends who are more acquainted with things as they stand today.
Maybe, we could have laid more groundwork for something more meaningful, there is a lot of blame to share amongst us in the scheme of things.
It is well
Today, I face something I am not as prepared for as I would have liked to be, not that any course of treatment presents a fanciful taste like sucking on sweets, but that is the way things are. When I attended 7 sessions of chemotherapy over 5 months in 2009/2010, I only had two of those sessions with friends accompanying me, the rest, I resolutely attended meditating in a reclined position, looking forward to the last session which would have been the eighth.
I am promised, it would neither be as gruesome nor as uncomfortable, it would have its discomforts, but they will be manageable. I may be going there alone, what I should avoid is the spectre of loneliness.
As they always say, by way of encouragement and support, ‘It is well’.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Shine a Spotlight on child sexual abuse

On Monday, I returned to my local cinema to watch Spotlight which was about how the Boston Globe researched and published the scandal of clerical child sexual abuse and how the Catholic Church hierarchy shovelled suspect and accused paedophiles out of parishes where they had become lightning rods to other parishes where they continued the abuse of children.
The problem with exposing this atrocious abuse was that the establishment, the church, politicians, the courts, public officials and influential people stood in the way of getting this truth revealed.
The tenacity of the Spotlight investigative journalism team was not only laudable and commendable, after they published their findings and that included hundreds of articles, they were awarded The 2003 Pulitzer Prize Winner in Public Service. The winning work appears on the page linked.
Protecting the church from the abused
There many facets to the story, from the fact that the longest established human organisation of political and religious influence was more concerned about its reputation at the expense of kids who were corrupted, abused, robbed of their innocence, defiled and worse.
The idea that at least 6% of priests could be involved in child sexual abuse was not only shocking and alarming, it was blindingly unconscionable that the church was ready to save the perpetrators and pay for the silence of the victims. Anyone who tried to expose this criminality faced the onslaught of condemnation, ostracism and every kind of reputational assassination by direct or indirect agents of the church.
A 7-year old’s experience
I needed to watch this film because of my own experience of abuse, I was hardly 7 when I was called into the toilet by a relation and asked to do things I did not understand, and the lifelong effect of that experience on me is lasting even if I am not defined by the experience.
What is more saddening is that some people who were trusted by my parents to care for us took sexual favours off us and there did not seem to be anywhere for us to find redress or healing, we were bruised, hurt and damaged by a loss of innocence and childhood.
Maybe, if I had the opportunity to talk to my 7-year old self again, I would have immediately run to my parents to report these violations despite the terror I felt from my abusers, the need to be heard, sympathised with and protected by my parents.
What the abused are up against
Then, back to Spotlight, the abused children faced even more insurmountable challenges, groomed by respected and respectable stalwarts of religion in their communities, where especially from deprived circumstances mothers were either naïve or conniving in allowing these men to access their children and abuse them, the children were caught in a vortex of wrongs stacked against them in all aspects of life.
Despite near and far relations, servants not a few, getting their way with me, I sometimes feel I was spared the vicissitudes of fortune that other abused children experienced from the clergy, in orphanages, in borstal and prisons, in the hands of evil paedophiles who stopped at nothing until they had murdered their quarry.
As the film ended, and the postscripts came on screen about the many places where clerical child sexual abuse had been confirmed, screen after screen revealed a city and somewhere amongst those names was Akure, Nigeria.
I wept for the many like me
I have always been of the opinion that despite the exhaustive exposé of these abuses in the West, we have not begun to unearth with any seriousness this clerical criminality in Africa, South America or Asia.
This along with many unreported defilements and rapes of minors, the atrocity of child marriages – girls given to the enterprise of sexual predators who have found the veneer of religion and customs to support their propensity to incurable paedophilia in the institution of marriage are things we still fail to address with the singlemindedness of saving the child from all harm.
I watched the credits of Spotlight sobbing almost uncontrollably because I knew from the depictions that many children never got to tell their stories, some committed suicide, most lives were irretrievably damaged, very few found the platform to relentlessly go after the people who abused them against all odds.
The damage is hardly understood
Nothing can ever restore the innocence of a child so abused, no restitution can fully recompense for the way society has acquiesced to allowing abuse to go on unchecked and no punishment can fully atone for the sexual abuse of minors, yet we must acknowledge these sexual predators exist amongst us, no matter how highly placed and that they must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
We all owe the children a duty to be ready to protect, ready to listen and ready to understand what they face when approached, groomed and abused. It must not be mentioned amongst us again that children are sexual fodder for people who will be protected from any sanction and essentially granted the immunity for the impunity to lasciviously prey on helpless kids.
Shine the Spotlight on all abuse and refuse for it to continue a minute longer.