Thursday, 23 June 2022

Uncle Cash!

A giant has fallen

“I agree with them.” That was the last message I got from him to which I responded, “I see.”. WhatsApp was our regular mode of communication typing out messages to each other about our health, our wellbeing, and other developments.

Uncle Cash of all men was the most significant and most consequential person in the making of who I have become, I can say without equivocation that without him and his intervention in my life at the particular time that he did, I would probably not be writing any story and definitely not the one I have woken up to write this morning.

Only last night, I was thinking about sending him a message to inform him that I will soon be travelling to South Africa, I vacillated and thought, I would do that by the weekend. Alas! That time has gone.

There is a small question of an unpaid debt that has been a canon in our shared stories, and that is where I will begin. When we returned from the UK in late 1970, two impressions were made on my uncle, the first of a precocious boy who spoke only English darting about the place, for which I earned the moniker Ọmọ ìlú òyìnbó (The boy born abroad) to this day, then secondly, he was having difficulties passing his West African School Certificate (WASC) examinations that my father promised him £10, if he excels.

He went on to live a more than excellent and fulfilled life, that family debt for success, yet unpaid. When he visited us, I would get tickled to exhaustion, he was humorous, playful, funny, and approachable.

In early 1986, he became my guardian, I had run away from home and was in a totally estranged situation from my father and his near relations. Uncle Cash allowed me the courage of my convictions, he could be brutal with others, but he was always, always kind, and empathetic with me, treating me with such dignity and respect, usually against tradition or convention, that I had leeway and confidence to talk to him about literally everything that concerned me. I never had that kind of openness with my parents or anyone else, he ushered me into responsible adulthood.

Uncle Cash was a giant and a pillar, I knew I could have a candid conversation with him. At times, he would say to me, “Akin, you are dangerous with the way you write, let’s talk instead.” I am a product of the example of daring and self-assuredness that he instilled in me for the 4 years that he provided support and guidance on how to live with honour and integrity, not compromising on your principles and your vision.

Uncle Cash built a career in insurance to become a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Insurers, an industry stalwart and examiner, and circumstances in Nigeria led him to emigrate to the UK where like he was wont to do, he reinvented himself still generously impacting lives when he informed me that he was going back to university to do a bachelor’s degree, in his 60s.

In the classes he attended, the faculty and the university would probably say they did not have a student attending, but a polymath in the experience of life amongst them and for that, at graduation, they arranged to get him from the hospital to be honoured with a commendation and standing ovation.

This tribute hardly captures the stature of the man, Uncle Cash was, much of it would be in the fond memories, the reminiscences, the sudden floods of insight, his voice conveying wisdom and guidance. He was religious, affable, larger than life, a partier, he loved to party. I remember when he and I spent a long weekend in Paris during a visit to mine in Amsterdam, we just had fun.

That is how I want to remember Uncle Cash, a man, a mentor, a counsellor, a confidante, a benefactor, uncle, father, grandfather, friend, Uncle Omo Uncle, sùn re o.

Monday, 20 June 2022

Ìjẹ̀shà-Ìjẹ̀bú: A time for healing

Part I: Ìjẹ̀shà-Ìjẹ̀bú: A town of pain

An appreciation of Baba Cole

Joel Adebambo Idowu popularly known as Baba Cole, that was his nickname and I never met him, he died 4 years before I was born, he was my maternal grandfather. I have only recently begun to hear much about him. There are many ways we are supposed alike, he was an anglophile and an archivist, some sort of encyclopaedia of knowledge.

From what I have learnt and there is much more I need to flesh out, he was a literal man, of considerable influence, a prince of the town and a member of the ruling council of the town. He had three daughters, my mother being the middle one, there is a rumour that there might have been a brother, but no one has confirmed that to me.

Standing true for justice

Much as he respected traditions and conventions, he was not ready to sacrifice people for those causes and for that, he paid the ultimate price. As it transpired, an emissary was sent to our town from the neighbouring town just at the time when certain fetish practices required a stranger to be sacrificed to the town’s deities.

My grandfather made the case that an emissary from the neighbouring town who was to deliver a message and return with a response could not just disappear somewhere between the towns separated by 5 miles of forest and lands, it would be incomprehensible and incredulous. He won the argument, and the stranger was spared to return home.

Sacrificed for integrity

However, some traditionalists took umbrage at his intervention and through a combination of mystical and malevolent acts, my grandfather took on a sudden fit of involuntary body reactions and died. I inferred the rational and the irrational becoming a narrative and that has become the story of my grandfather, he was sacrificed to the malevolent forces in Ìjẹ̀shà-Ìjẹ̀bú when he stood in defence of an innocent person against the system.

That is how at around the age of 19, my mother lost her father and strangely at 19 I also had this break from the concept of Ìjẹ̀shà-Ìjẹ̀bú that grew to epitomise my reticence to visiting Nigeria. If I were to create a narrative, I embody the spirit of my maternal grandfather who is owed more than an apology for the wickedness meted out to him when he rationalised against the irrationality of traditions that should have gone into abeyance.

Beyond redress to healing

I cannot say if one needs to ask for an apology from Ìjẹ̀shà-Ìjẹ̀bú for what happened to my grandfather, much as I am not asking for an apology for what I have experienced with my father. Some things we cannot change, but there is much we can work towards reconciling that we might have the courage to do the greater thing, the boldness to write better stories, and an acknowledgement that we can find some healing after all the real and perceive hurt.

Ìjẹ̀shà-Ìjẹ̀bú has been a spectre, a haunting, a looming danger, sometimes a fearsome place that suggests a mountain of the strangest beings seething with malevolence and evil, or we have just allowed our imaginations to get the better of us and our rationality. It is a process calling for progress. I think my journey has begun.

Narratives matter and they have consequential significance even if they might seem trivial to others. I have had experiences dismissed when what I heard and saw changed me into a completely different person. Much as there are perspectives to have, the more important thing is to seek the good rather than foster the bad. Beyond my introspection and the times, I have had people counsel me, I hope I am amenable to guidance and instruction. One should never be in a position where the only resort is for God to send an ass to talk to you. [Bible Gateway: Balaam, the Donkey and the Angel]

Ìjẹ̀shà-Ìjẹ̀bú: A town of pain

A cause for appreciation

Waking up this morning from a dream that left me thinking I could do better with courses and causes, and I meant the kinds of courses of choice to travel and the causes that should be supported, the focus came back to myself.

When I spoke to Brian yesterday, I found every excuse I could, not to call my father on Father’s Day, I even checked as we were speaking if it was really Father’s Day in Nigeria, and then I got two Father’s Day messages from my brothers. Meanwhile, everyone online was celebrating Father’s Day and more poignant were those who shared memories of their fathers who had passed on, either recently or a long time ago.

In my wakefulness, I realised there was a lack of appreciation for the fact that I still have both my parents and they are thankfully doing well apart from the vagaries of old age. However, there are issues that I need to address about relationships that I only began to review as I stepped out for my walking exercise.

The town of my parents

I have a consequently very useful and good relationship with my mother, I cannot say that much about my father, and I think I know where that stems from, it goes way back to one event that seems to have defined so many things. It is the confluence of the irrational and the rational in what we call our experience that becomes the narrative whether it is plausible or not, makes no difference to the existential relevance of that perspective to the person involved.

My father, our little town of Ìjẹ̀shà-Ìjẹ̀bú with its big history, my maternal grandfather, some aspects of numerology which could just be coincidental, but one cannot ignore patterns of a sort.

Ìjẹ̀shà-Ìjẹ̀bú or Òdo Àyányẹlú in Ogun State is not to be confused with Ìjẹ̀bú-Ìjẹ̀shà in Osun State exists with a history that could hair-raising as much as it is intriguing, that it leaves people from there either quite passionate about the place or seriously averse to being there. We all have been touched by an enduring aspect of that town that even my mother would pass through the town on her way to a consultation without stopping to see anyone.

It is the retirement home of my father and many of his peers, yet you can mistake the place for a stairway to heaven, but like my paternal grandmother who lived to over a hundred years old, longevity has blessed many even as tragedy has befallen some.

Ìjẹ̀shà-Ìjẹ̀bú became a project and a dream, its children, many of whom from my parents’ generation travelled abroad for studies returned with aspirations to build their village, give the upcoming generations better opportunities, and infest their children with the same enthusiasm. We all seemed to play along, as it was where we met with cousins, developed new friendships, and had amazing conversations with lively elderly people. We looked forward to visiting, but the novelty began to wear off.

The schism and falling away

In my case, it was sometime in the middle of 1985, we had gone to Ìjẹ̀shà-Ìjẹ̀bú for some event and then some of my friends invited me to party in another town. I went to ask my dad and he might have had his reasons, but he did not grant the permission for me to go, and I shamefacedly passed my regrets to my friends who from what I learnt had a very good time.

Much as I was a difficult teenager, I was not given to vices or the kind of criminality that would involve the law, I can say in many ways, I was quite restrained and more so with my religious inclinations, but between my father and I, there has always been this simmering conflict that by the end of that year, I left home and did not see my father for probably another 18 months after.

For that refusal of permission to go to that party, I swore to myself that if I ever were to return to Ìjẹ̀shà-Ìjẹ̀bú, it would be in a box. I have not returned for 37 years and in that time, I missed many significant events that would have required my presence there or thereabouts.

On reflection and possibility

Then maybe as I thought about this morning, there is an undercurrent of fear that if I do venture, that might be the case, I do not know, and I have not attempted to test out the premise. It has become a kind of handicap, and this is the first time I am sharing this information, for what it has done in terms of our relationship is my seeking to define myself so differently from my father as much as possible without totally succeeding in being that different.

However, with that recessed in my memory commanding my inclinations, great import has been that distance has helped avoidance along with other explanations that could be summoned to protect the situation I have created for myself.

After a morning of introspection, I did give my father a call, I might even see a path to visiting Nigeria after 31 years, I don’t know if I will see Ìjẹ̀shà-Ìjẹ̀bú again, but I can understand how a complete breakdown in communication and relationships can instigate lifelong consequences. Gosh, I have nieces and nephews I have only met online, I am known of, but who knows me?

Postscript: My father launched a book about the history of Ìjẹ̀shà-Ìjẹ̀bú in April this year, there is much to learn about who we are, where we are from and what defines us. I saw the draft and my copy is wending its way to me, he is a formidable and quite accomplished gentleman.

Part II: Ìjẹ̀shà-Ìjẹ̀bú: A time for healing

Sunday, 19 June 2022

A clear view of the sky in life

A house burnt down

You know what happens when your house burns down? You get a clear view of the sky.” Olivia Benson on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Swimming with the sharks (Season 21, Episode 15) [IMDB: Quotes].

I was about to go to bed when the twist in this episode of Law & Order: SVU was so compelling, that I had to see it to the end, and this was after I had put everything I needed in the bedroom and made to turn off the lights in the living room.

The quote above came in the closing stage of the episode after the issues had been resolved and the conspirators agreed to a deal. The protagonist on whom the storyline was based said, “I could've been a better friend. I've been thinking about it. When you arrested me. I thought it was karma. I burned a lot of bridges in my time. Hell, I burned my whole house down.

I could be better

There is so much to unpack in that statement, and I could relate to everything she said, for it got me thinking about how I could be a better person, a better lover, a better friend, a better son, a better brother, a better parent, a better colleague, a better anything that is good, wholesome and redounds to the goodness of our humanity.

Moving on, I think about the things I probably should have done or paid more attention to, from the personal to the communal and where commission or omission has found me wanting. There is time for a lot of introspection, for there is not lost in continuous improvement, it would be nowhere near perfect, but getting better is always worthwhile. Knowing you can put the effort into it to do better is always a consideration to entertain and act on.

On bridges, even when I am tempted, I have tried as much as I can, not to burn my bridges. I learnt almost 5 years ago that bridges are not only for your use but for the use of others too. They may need that same bridge you have crossed and long-abandoned to cross the ravine over to you, that is their prerogative, but never burn those bridges, make allowances even if those allowances are taxing on your exploited magnanimity.

Life burnt down

“Hell, I burned my whole house down.” I have probably done that too many times, but what have I done with the ashes? More significantly, when I allowed HIV to ravage my body, it became full-blown AIDS presenting with life-threatening Kaposi’s sarcoma skin cancer that if the therapies did not work I was given a prognosis of 5 weeks, the long tail of cancer that wagged me to exhaustion was I lost everything.

Indeed, I lost my house among many things, and things I had acquired over decades, but rather than look around the ruins that tried to define my existence, I got a clear view of the sky, it was blue, sunny, and beautiful. My view of the sky in the context of my life was hope, I had a resolution that reverberated through my whole being, this too shall pass, and we would get to write a better story; that was the spring of possibility and life that was welling up from within me.

Prospect and possibility

In Yoruba, there is a similar saying that asks us not to despair but to be encouraged with hope and new possibilities, “Ilé ọba t'ójó ẹ̀wà ló bù si.” Using a translation of contextual equivalence rather than an exact interpretation, “You have the prospect of building something more beautiful after the royal palace burnt down.”

I guess you need to acquire the disposition not to dwell on the misfortune, no matter how catastrophic, and we have seen many that would make some hearts fail and extinguish any semblance of hope. For me, that I was alive and living meant I was ready for things ahead, a future, a world of possibilities, the need to walk through this valley of the shadow of death to new still waters and green pastures.

The comfort of knowing that trials are part of the human story, they are milestones we can do without, but if they come, we must pass them and continue on that journey that makes a better story of our experiences. Always seek and find a clear view of the sky, regardless of where you are, let the spirit of hope and encouragement take you to the place where looking back you marvel at the fact that you did not know your own strength.

Saturday, 18 June 2022

A spoon of snigger

Roe your bread

I just sniggered earlier at myself without mouthing the words that spoke out loudly in my head, “Silly me.” There is a quick snack I like to make, getting wholemeal pitta bread and cutting it into strips with a pair of scissors before warming the strips in the microwave oven for a minute and depending on how much is left in the container and whether I need to keep it for another serving, I dip the strips or use a table knife to put taramasalata on the strips and eat.

I first had this as an entrée (starter) in a Greek restaurant probably 15 or so years ago, and it is good easy comfort food with the contrasts of hot and cold, along with tangy and bland. I cannot speak to its nutritious value, but it is Mediterranean and so, we can assume that is good.

A laughing dog

Whilst the strips were being warmed in the microwave oven, I had taken the container out of the fridge and laid it on my coffee table, I then returned to the kitchen to get a table knife and I was already in the living room when I realised, I had a spoon instead of a knife, that is why I sniggered.

In the many times I do laugh at myself, the thought of the dish that ran away with the spoon occurred to me from the Hey Diddle Diddle nursery rhyme, I can only wonder whoever wrote it must have sniggered at the absurdity of it all, a cat a fiddle, a cow jumping over the moon and the dish running away with the spoon. To the audience of one, the dog that saw it all and laughed at the sport.

Knife and spoon

All that silliness inspired this as first, I had one pitta that spooned taramasalata onto with a knife, as to have knifed it onto the pitta would have given the impression of a stabbing, I guess in this case, you spoon with a knife. Then the second pitta in strips was dipped in the container as this was my third helping from the container and there wasn’t much left to spoon.

I am surprised I picked up a spoon from my cutlery tray in the kitchen drawer as the spoons are in the middle, the knives to the right, the forks to the left and the teaspoons at the bottom. It was neither a case of absentmindedness nor forgetfulness, more of a momentary absence of awareness which triggered a feeling of mirth and without a cat, a cow, or a dog to enter my circus of levity, I eventually walked away with a knife and not a spoon.

Note: I could not find a rendition of the nursery rhyme in the way I was taught, and I remember it, none of the versions I heard on YouTube are remotely close to what I remember. I guess I need to get on with my piano lessons and play this out myself.

Sunday, 12 June 2022

Innocent at sea

In the bait of innocence

I am innocent,
          He protests vehemently,
To those listening,
          He persuades so intently,

This is the innocence,
          You might well observe on a fishing boat,
Here with a fishing rod,
          Cast into the water with a visible float,

Then on the defensive,
          He avers to make the crucial insignificant,
By which time you are ensnared,
          And to run or flee you obviously can’t,

You are a victim and a slave,
          To the lure of words that have you in a grip,
Before you can come to,
          You have been taken on the longest trip,

For to be totally blameless,
          Is that rather longing wish,
And when absolved of guilt,
          Of what the bait said to the fish,

The piscine catch,
          Glistening beautifully in the sun,
Is taken to a new world,
          Way away from its sense of fun,

Prepared sumptuously,
          For a hungry and waiting palate,
Of what became a dish,
          Innocent is not what you’ll call the bait.

Saturday, 11 June 2022

We lose more than virtue without feedback

Encouragement and peace

When the woman with the issue of blood as was related in 3 gospels of the Bible determined to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment, she believed she would be made whole. Whole, as in healed and fully restored to good health, but Jesus also gave her more than she was looking for, he said, “Daughter, be of good cheer; your faith has made you well. Go in peace.” [Bible Gateway: Luke 8:43-48(NKJV)]

Those were very comforting words; first of great encouragement and then of full absolution that she did not have to worry that she had surreptitiously acquired her healing without asking or getting permission from the healer. There can be a lesson here about our interaction with God, but this is not what the blog is about.

The drawing of virtue

In another rendition of the same story, Jesus said, “Who touched me?”, He was in the press of a crowd, thronged and jostled, everyone and anyone could have been touching him, at least, that is why Peter was baffled, that he inquired, “Master, the multitudes throng and press You, and You say, ‘Who touched Me?’” To which Jesus answered, “Somebody touched Me, for I perceived power going out from Me.” Another translation used virtue rather than power.

Everyone was touching Jesus, but this woman had a different touch of determination that drew healing power from the touch of his garment to cure at an instant a woman who had suffered a debilitating condition for 12 years.

I have none of that virtue or power, but sometimes, someone would approach from something they might have observed about me for something they need, like help, advice, comfort, encouragement, for something to quell their uneasy sense of angst, concern, or fear.

Feedback helps all

Generally, I would volunteer what I have to share in the experiences I have learnt, the choice of words I have been given to speak or write, or any other means by which I could be helpful. I guess everyone including Jesus needs some feedback and a backstory that gives context to the demand so that a full narrative of the human experience is not like a chance of fate or some hit-and-run encounter.

It is draining and exhausting when you readily and openly give that good cheer and peace into the turmoil of existence and you get nothing back in regards to whether they have been helped or not at all. Then, one does not want to become parsimonious with the blessings we have enjoyed that could be employed for the good of others, however, feedback helps encourage all participants. We are encouraged to be more helpful as much as we hope that our encouragement is of great help.

My experience giving hope

In one situation, I was approached by a young man who in his 30s was experiencing his first encounters with sex and an idea of his sexuality, he was bothered he might have contracted HIV and he was ready to do himself in if the test he was going for came back positive. Providence brought him to me to encourage him on many fronts, the necessity for the test even as he was asking if the symptoms, he was experiencing meant he had contracted HIV.

I categorically told him, that only a test could confirm his status and to go by his symptoms which could be indicative of something else would just create unnecessary anxiety. That medical result was a critical indicator of what should happen next. Then, regardless of what the test result is, it was not the end of life, rather it would mark a transition of knowledge into what to do beyond that realisation. There were examples of people who went on to do remarkable things after an HIV diagnosis.

There was extensive medical help and expertise to manage HIV so he could expect the best outcomes for both his health and his life prospects. Apart from the fact that he should not go down the avenue of blaming himself and falling into depression, but he should be prepared to face up to the interesting life ahead, that sex is there for enjoyment and not as a taboo that gives life a guilt-ridden existence.

What happened after?

I had the feeling that I had both encouraged him and given him a sense of peace, he was ready to take the HIV test and whatever the result he would make the best of it. On the day of his test, I sent him some words of encouragement, wishing him all the very best. Then I heard nothing, no communication or indication, a week passed, and it was going into the middle of the second week when I decided to send him a message.

Well, our young man was off to Malta for a holiday, and I was left none the wiser as to whether this was to celebrate or commiserate on his HIV test result or life was just going on as normal. Much as I was curious, I did not want to dampen the moment with apathy borne of my sense of losing virtue in giving encouragement but not being intimated of the consequence. I kept ruminating about it and the many other times when you give out of your deepest experiences to lift people out of despair and then just move on.

Go in peace

Now, I doubt if the woman with the issue of blood would have lost her healing if she had slunk back into the crowds and not revealed herself to Jesus and the thronging crowd. She might have had a pang of conscience, but she would have been fine. It was her prerogative to reveal or conceal herself. However, if she had concealed herself, her story would never have been told, even as Jesus knew that virtue had left him.

None of the gospel writers even bothered to ask about the woman, her name, where she was from if she had family or any other history. Her story is narrated in a few verses, she had a condition she had suffered for 12 years, she determined Jesus could help, she touched him, and she was healed. Indeed, if there is any healing we can offer humanity around us, we should continue to give liberally and generously, a lot more is contributed to that activity if we know the help offered has been helpful in any way.

As for our young friend, I do hope whatever the result, he has decided to live and live well, beyond which he can be a great blessing to others.