Monday, 29 February 2016

Paris: Boulevard de l'Unpretty

An observation
Walking up Boulevard de Strasbourg towards Gare de l’Est Station, I could not help but notice amongst the bijou restaurants and cafes along with the decrepit but expensive hotels that would hardly elicit a 2-star rating on any self-respecting booking site, the ethnic homogeneity of people and shops.
Whilst I would not venture the suggestion of African town as a corollary to Chinatown, most of the shops had something to do with hair, cosmetics and some fashion.
The barbers and there were a few, and much as I should resist the temptation to get into the Afro hair wars, an observation of this sort must not be left unattended to.
Changing the African
Now, the shops had all manner of paints and colours, makeup to make scary clowns of otherwise beautiful and comely people. The matter of hair extensions is another thing, not one lady of African ancestry appears to sport natural hair.
No braids, no plaits, rather, we all happen to have hair like Caucasians will have their hair, relaxed, long and falling over the shoulders, most black and at times melanin-deficient brown. It is not like I should have much to say about hair, from the moment I noticed male-pattern baldness, I have shaved my head rather than exercise myself over the loss of hair.
The unpretty angst
This is inexpensive for me, considering I shave it just when I have my regular shaves and the occasional scrapes that take fillets of skin off my scalp that the pain gives that unusual opportunity to shed a tear or two.
Beyond hair, the skin is toned and despite that tendency to scarring some have resorted to cosmetic surgery with varying results, and that is not to say of those who have paid the ultimate price enhancing their boobs, buttocks or looks. When are we going to feel secure and comfortable in our own skins?
It goes without saying that we have bought into a mindset that creates a fashion industry exploiting the predominant view that naturally we are somewhat unpretty. Yet, we must all choose the look that makes us most confident about ourselves, even if it is not natural, that is one of the amazing things about the resourcefulness of our humanity. However, the greatest beauty will always be on the inside.
TLC – Take it away!



Thursday, 18 February 2016

Nigeria: On the abandonment of Hope, 2, accused of witchcraft

Let Hope be seen
The picture was haunting and it was heartrending, one of a seriously emaciated boy being fed from a water bottle by a heavily tattooed Caucasian lady on a street in Nigeria. [Independent]
The boy who got given the name Hope could hardly be 2 years old and was apparently thrown into the streets by his ‘parents’ because something, someone, somewhere had convinced them that he was a witch.
I am of the opinion that we really have no witches in Nigeria, my idea of a witch is one who commands certain supernatural powers for the spectacular, like something out of the Exorcist.
We create Hope daily
However, what we have in Nigeria is collusion to do evil, the vague dread of the supernatural according to the words of Lord Lugard and a complete ignorance of mental illness. This is compounded by the activities of evil, malicious and outrageously malevolent people who have built a reputation on trading on the fears, anxieties and misfortunes of the public by choosing the easy target of stigmatising children as witches and wizards.
Once the public is mesmerised by the preaching of these false prophets, purveyors of heresies and unspeakable evil, children become the brunt of their frustration leading to heinous physical abuse and the torture of children in the guise of exorcism and consequently the abandonment of children like Hope.
Rescuing Hope
It is a sad reflection on our society in 2015, that it has taken a Danish woman to take this child off the streets and nurse him back to health. Anja Ringgren Loven is before anyone screams White Saviour Complex, the new Mary Slessor in the self-same regional community just over a century ago where twins were put to death for the ignorance of the biology of reproduction.
Anja Ringgren Loven runs the African Children’s Aid Education and Development Foundation (ACAEDF) which she founded with her husband David and it now homes 34 children rescued from the consequences of religiously-inspired superstition that majors in stigmatisation rather than emancipation of spirit, soul and body.
The abusers of Hope
I have in times past written about the evil ministry of a self-described apostle Helen Ukpabio who thankfully was expunged from the UK before she had the time to spew out her venomously hurtful sermons that castigate the vulnerable to enhance her reputation. It is my view that anyone who uses religion to incite violence against the vulnerable, especially children should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and taken off our streets.
We are so far behind in understanding and protecting the rights of the child, our womenfolk, and the disabled and other minority groups in our society. What we cannot afford in our quest to leave the primitive for the civilised is to allow the likes of this apostle of wrath to thrive in any part of our society.
Many a Hope helped
The picture of Hope and Anja has captured our hearts and hopefully it will capture our minds and our actions, all that have by misfortune and circumstance been given the rotten lot of Hope, find loving, caring, hopeful and encouraging places of succour to become healthy and wealthy members of our greater humanity.
I could not find a website for the African Children’s Aid Education and Development Foundation (ACAEDF), it would have offered an opportunity for us to contribute to the work of this amazing Good Samaritan organisation.
Making better Hope stories
However, the biggest challenge we face is the need for us as individuals and as a society to begin to think for ourselves about what kind of society we want to be by addressing the various issues of abuse and ignorance. We need to apply more rational thinking to the use of religion for the betterment of humanity rather than for the ostracism of the vulnerable.
Most importantly, we need to stop condoning evil practices done in the name of religion, culture, tradition or some belief system, if it hurts even the smallest amongst us, we have failed as a people and we need to repent of our tolerance of this and work for meaningful change to give everyone a chance to participate in our humanity rather than be victims of the mobs we join with to mete our Neanderthal violence.
We have a choice to let the children laugh and thrive amongst us and see less of the situation that brought Hope into focus.


Saturday, 6 February 2016

Nigeria: President Buhari, get to work and honestly, shut up!

Just a few black sheep
In some tweets and probably some blogs I have railed about how certain Nigerians resort to criminal enterprise in Diaspora. It is sad that the activity of those Nigerians eventually has a deleterious effect on the lives of other Nigerians once a stereotype is created from the few events, usually borne of the reportage that follows.
For every few black sheep Nigerians involved in drug trafficking, human trafficking, fraud, swindles, corruption and other crimes of reputational impact, there multitudes of Nigerians who as world citizens dispersed around the globe living decent, honest, valuable, amazing and commendable lives in their communities bringing pride and showing exemplary conduct.
Archaic at best, ignorant at worst
In a recent visit to the UK, President Muhammadu Buhari seems to have expressed opinions of an archaic, ill-informed and frankly ignorant nature about his fellow citizens abroad, having failed to qualify his statements and thereby unwittingly and unforgivably besmirched the reputation and integrity of the Nigerian majority in Diaspora.
There is no doubt that in his words, “We have an image problem abroad and we are on our way to salvage that.” But that is hardly the whole story. [The Telegraph]
He went on to say, “Some Nigerians claim is that life is too difficult back home, but they have also made it difficult for Europeans and Americans to accept them because of the number of Nigerians in prisons all over the world accused of drug trafficking or human trafficking, I don't think Nigerians have anybody to blame. They can remain at home, where their services are required to rebuild the country.
The potential never realised
We need to break this down, I have been in Europe a total of over 30 years, I was born in the UK, we returned to Nigeria after the civil war and the promise and ideal that was Nigeria for the decade of the 1970s became a rapid decline in the 1980s, a good few of us left Nigeria, disillusioned young men and women as the 1980s closed and we got into the 1990s and that with much reason.
Whilst things might not have been difficult for me in general, things were made difficult by a system that neither celebrated merit nor honesty, there was a rent-seeker down the chain of every attempt to do anything in the public and the private sector that expected a backhander, it was suffocating.
Others experienced worse, university courses stunted by incessant strikes, job opportunities going to those who could peddle the right sort of influence, people persecuted for being different, insurrection and militancy creating impossible living conditions and in the words of a friend that recently left Nigeria, “We keep hoping for the best for the nation but when the government does not think it criminal to owe its employees’ wages, the employees have to look for another means of surviving.”
This is ill-informed
The President seems either blinkered, myopic or indifferent to the plight of the Nigerian majority suffering at home to come over to the UK and pass unqualified and unfair judgement on Nigerians abroad, on the basis of the infractions and the criminal enterprise of a few.
Indeed, Nigeria can do with the services of amazingly resourceful, knowledgeable and expert fellow countrymen, but there must be an unbreakable contract in the provision of this service, the most important of this is paying promptly for the products and the services; extending to employee rights, the duty for employers in all sectors to pay salaries in full and on time, the prospect of career development, the right not to have to work in exacting conditions of abuse, disrespect and forms of bonded slavery.
People leaving school should know they have a possible work life in Nigeria that would exploit their potential to the fullest. The issue of infrastructure needs to be addressed with the engagement of Nigerian talent in roads and transportation, power, health, education and other areas of development.
That war on corruption must be prosecuted to the fullest extent and the looted funds ploughed back into the economy, the insurgencies and militancy need to be contained for the regions affected to see development and much else.
Get to work and honestly, shut up!
President Muhammadu Buhari has his work cut out, the greatest of which is restoring the promise that Nigeria once was at her independence and rewriting a contract of citizenship with Nigerians that shows we have a place and a stake in Nigeria. He is not going to get far with insinuation and vituperation masquerading as frank patrician talk to the foreign press, it is just bad form.
What comes into Nigeria from Diaspora is great and not to be belittled, yet, until the project that is Nigeria heads towards a greater prospect which is for his leadership to conduct and direct, the exodus from Nigeria will continue and for good reason, we all have one life to live and everyone wants to make the best of that life regardless of where that can be done, for some, it is outside Nigeria.


Tuesday, 2 February 2016

There was only one Dick

Time and tide
As one grows old with the passage of that thing that never stops called time, the memories come and go of things that have gone before.
For me, there is much else to ponder for my mental capacity to remember and recollect, the recall of dates and events from the auspicious to the inauspicious that I hopes that this does not become as ritualistic as it could be defining and debilitating of the security of reason and the reasonable.
Yet, one must be reminded of those who have crossed our paths and made significant contributions of friendship, of love, of joy, of comfort and of much else that gives life true and enduring meaning.
Memories of one
It is in this vein that I remember a very dear friend, who six years ago died quite peacefully at home having lost a battle against cancer.
I was called the day after he died and I was fortunate to see him lain in his bed, in his own home, dressed very smartly as if preparing for a very formal outing, almost lifelike but not breathing, his journey, his pains, his labours and his concerns meaning no more to him, for he had gone to another place.
A goodbye forever
As I stood by his bed, I wept silently and whispered a goodbye to him, I had to return again to see him before we buried him five days later on what would have been his 58th birthday.
Nothing could have prepared all of us his friends from far and near for his passing, but we all gathered on that cold Monday morning to celebrate his amazing, giving, loving, considerate and gregarious life before he was committed to earth.
For each and every one of us whose life was touched by the grace and favour of Dick van Galen Last, we remember him fondly, he is sorely missed, but never forgotten.

Adieu Dick, rust goed.