Thursday, 23 September 2021

Thought Picnic: The whip that stole a father's confidence

Differentiating the import

Until the time I realised that my father’s word was not an order, a command, an instruction, or even advice that I was duty-bound to follow to the letter with all submissive obedience along with fear and loathing, our relationship was defined by what I saw him do to others and how he treated them.

Today, I consider his views an opinion limited by his perspective of things to which I have the full volition to entertain or discard, albeit respectfully and with a clear understanding that the decisions I make are my own responsibility and no one else’s.

Big brother and little sister

No relationship with another was more impactful to how I saw my father than the one he had with his youngest sister who came to live with us in Jos in the early 1970s. Obviously, my father was the king of his entire, his word was law, and there were standards of behaviour and conduct expected of his wards, the breach of which attracted the severest sanctions.

My aunt had an independent, if not adventurously wayward streak, and one day she tattooed her thigh using the alkaline sap of a fresh cashew nut. When my father saw this indelible adornment, he unleashed his fury on her with such a fiery vehemence in his room. Having her lie forward at an angle, feet on the dresser and hands on the floor, he horsewhipped her mercilessly. I hope I have been a better big brother and I have had some regrettable failings.

A matter of consequence

Her cries and howling could not be assuaged as he locked his door that no one could entreat him to have any leniency. Whilst I did not see her bruised body after that ordeal, there was no imagining what happened in that room and that crystallised my view as a 7-year-old that my father could be implacably cruel at the meting out punishment. In essence, he was unapproachable, and I could not have him in confidence about anything, even the things that mattered. I rarely faced that wrath, but what we had as father and son, into my twenties, was full of the foreboding of wrath.

Invariably, anything I could do to escape his ambit of influence, I probably did, until I left Nigeria. Now, we do not have that fearful relationship, but that lasting effect of that event is I engage on my own terms and at my own convenience. I probably will be quite sorry and regretful if he predeceases me, I guess we unwittingly laid the ground for the fraught because we lacked the anticipation of consequence.

Do well to all

Then by extension, much as I love to be treated with courtesy, respect, and dignity, I also watch how those who make allowances for me deal with others because it is not a singular thing but a broader expression of character and integrity that regardless of status, position, means, ability, standing, or representation, everyone deserves to be treated respectfully, fairly and justly.

I do observe how people interact with others and if they deal badly with others, there is the possibility that a confluence of events might create the opportunity to do the same to you. If you cannot call them out for correction, you want to give them a wide berth before their odium becomes the perfume you are forced to sniff.

We should be anything be character schizophrenics, having many faces to different people, allowing a sense of superciliousness or superiority to get the better of us, because there might just be someone thereabouts ready to give you your just deserts when you need them most. If you can’t be nice, be good, or just hold your peace in neutrality that your offence is not reckoned in the book of Karma.

Blog - Childhood: My aunts saw red

The sheer humanity of Cecil and Wilhelm

Destiny to an end

I found myself thinking about the men I wrote about in my blog yesterday and how men of destiny can be undone by the uncertainties and the inadequacies of our humanity. Something to reflect on, if only to put things in perspective about how to live life and relate to others.

There were just 6 years between the birth of Cecil John Rhodes and that of Kaiser Wilhelm II, the former, the 5th son of a country clergyman and the latter, born with a silver spoon in his mouth, the grandson of the first emperor of the German Empire and Queen Victoria, destined for the throne and the power that it portended.

Privilege and fortuitousness

Cecil John Rhodes was a sickly child sent to South Africa in the hope that it might help his health, he became a man of the right time in the right place when gold and diamonds were being discovered in large quantities in South Africa and by deft business acumen, political power and economic heft became one of the richest men in the world.

Kaiser Wilhelm II was a spoilt brat, the eldest of Queen Victoria’s grandchildren, but hardly well-liked for his demeanour, arrogance, megalomania, and self-belief that he was more capable than his ministers and diplomats. In time, his quest to expand his empire with the advent of WWI led to his forced abdication in 1918 and the end of the German Empire.

Our limitations as humans

Cecil John Rhodes could have been anything, he was ambitious if not power-drunk, and Mark Twain wrote of him saying, “he is the only unroyal outsider whose arrival in London can compete for attention with an eclipse.” [Mark Twain: Cecil Rhodes]

Yet, it is his health that failed him, for, at 48, he died with these words recorded from his lips, “So little done, so much to do.” Kaiser Wilhelm II was emperor for just over 30 years when he went into exile at Huis Doorn in The Netherlands where he lived another 23 years probably ruing the decisions that lost him the empire. A man who could only reminisce of the life and glory he once had when he died of a ripe old age of 82.

The dead stay dead

Kaiser Wilhelm II leaves a legacy of being the centre of WWI and presiding over the falling of the major monarchies of mainland Europe, he lies in repose in a mausoleum built by his exiled residence at Huis Doorn.

Cecil John Rhodes, the imperialist and every other epithet he both deserves or not is the benefactor of the Rhodes Scholarship and many memorials to the whitewash and sterilised part of his biography. He lies under a slab of stone at Matopos Hills in Zimbabwe at a place he called World’s View.

Just a thought

You can have so much power and lose it, just as you can have so much money and not live to use it. Who would have thought a sickly child from the English countryside would rise to become one of the most powerful and richest men in the world?

Conversely, maybe Kaiser Wilhelm II might have sustained the German Empire and ruled for 53 years and taking the House of Hohenzollern into its 4th Century of power, but he squandered what was bequeathed to him.

The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.” [Bible Gateway: Psalms 103:15-16 (NIVUK)]

Blog - Huis Doorn (1999), Rhodes Cottage (2019)

Wednesday, 22 September 2021

Huis Doorn (1999), Rhodes Cottage (2019)

Men who touched the world

This morning, I read a story of how Cecil John Rhodes inspired WWI through a first fraught then interesting friendship between him and Kaiser Wilhelm II. The fascinating link between them is exemplified in a paperweight presented to the Kaiser in 1905 which included rocks from Cecil John Rhodes’ grave at the World’s View in the Matopos Hills, which is to be displayed at Huis Doorn. [The Guardian: The kaiser and the paperweight: how Cecil Rhodes helped inspire the first world war]

Now, I will not go into the lives of these two extraordinary yet flawed men who have left an indelible mark in world history, that is covered by more qualified archivists and historians, but I find myself filling in another blank in my experiences of travel interests spurred on by curiosity.

My own personal journey

It was August 1999, in January of that year, I had just come out of an almost 7-year relationship, but we remained friends and best of friends to date, we had gone on holiday to Brussels for a week, then he returned to London whilst I made my way up to the Netherlands by train to holiday with a friend I first met on a trip to Amsterdam and developed a friendship with over more than a year.

He picked me up from Utrecht Central Station and we drove to his house in Doorn. Just a few hundred metres from his house was this uniquely imposing building, Huis Doorn where I was told the Kaiser spent his final decades in exile after his abdication at the end of WWI. Audrey Hepburn’s mother had before his residency spend her childhood at Huis Doorn too.

My friend had a story, three times in the preceding decade with his mother by his bedside, they thought he was not going to make the morning, like a cat with nine lives he rose from the grip of AIDS to survive and thrive. His mother lived a few streets away, a native of Doorn. It was whilst in Doorn that I observed the solar eclipse of 1999 on the 11th of August. [Wikipedia: Solar eclipse of August 11, 1999]

Huis Doorn – a personal tour

His mother, a dear lady in her early 70s was such fun to be with, we just bantered at length and as a child, her father was a groundsman at Huis Doorn, with their house neighbouring the grand house. She talked of times of having tea with the Kaiser who had many children and embraced into the Doorn community found time to entertain the children of the village and play games with them.

She told me of times when they, the children played hide-and-seek in the house which had secret rooms, doors, chutes, tunnels and much else. She offered to take me on a tour of the house on a bright afternoon, which we eventually did. A guided tour by someone who knew the Kaiser, the house, the stories, the gossip, the rumours and witnessed his demise was something not to be missed and we were the only ones there, after the public museum itself had closed.

Rhodes Cottage Museum – a personal tour

Just over 30 years later, I was in Cape Town with Brian and we decided to visit Rhodes Cottage Museum in Muizenberg, the cottage by the sea was where Cecil Rhodes spent his last days and died. Upon arrival there, the cottage was closed, it did not look like a typical museum, it is run by volunteers.

However, we went next door to ask for some information about the museum and as luck will have it, they had keys to the museum and the cottage was opened for Brian and I to tour at our leisure and return the keys when we were done. [Facebook: Rhodes Cottage Museum]

To view the bed in which Cecil Rhodes died and other elements of his personal history within the cottage rather than his public profile in monuments, endowments, and bequeathments was awesome. You got the essence of the man in his greatness and limitations of our humanity in our mortality. The Kaiser and Cecil Rhodes, after all they did, were now footsteps in the sands of time.

Houses with personal effects show a different picture of a person’s humanity with all the accoutrements of public life and achievement stripped away, I visit houses because I get to know the person is just human rather than superhuman or divine.

One Tuesday morning in September

And I remember

It is the memories that stick so close to you in the stories you are given to tell and the gratitude you have for life. The 22nd of September 2009 was a Tuesday, I had called a cab and my on-off partner, Marc was riding with me to the hospital. I took a change of underwear and nothing else, as I was unaware of what to expect.

My doctor had expedited an appointment at the hospital upon observing the fungating tumours quite prominent on the left foot sole up the big toe and the one next to it. My right foot was painful, but nothing had appeared yet. She dressed the wounds with generous amounts of Betadine solution and gave me strong painkillers that killed none of the pain.

A bed for you upstairs

This was my second hospital visit as the first that she scheduled for the Thursday before instigated a referral to the Internal Medicine department. On arrival at the hospital, Marc fetched a wheelchair and wheeled me in to see the consultants. The first two simply summoned the Internist, a professor of medicine and upon seeing me, he said, “You can’t go back home, we have a bed for you upstairs.”

I was dying of AIDS and the fungating tumours were lesions of Kaposi’s sarcoma, an aggressive skin cancer that could so easily be fatal and between the pain and cancer, they could have been on a race to do me in. Soon, I was in a bed and then taken to blood pressure tests at all my extremities to ensure my condition was not related to diabetes.

My first night to recovery

After that, I was taken to another room where high-resolution pictures were taken of my feet and the lesions before being returned to my ward and given some pain medication. The day was uneventful, some intravenous lines were fitted for antibiotics and saline solutions, lots of blood was drawn for analysis, I got some sleep, but the day was blur.

At night, I took some pills, had a morphine patch applied to my chest and an injection into my thigh to prevent blood clots and other issues with spending a lot of time in bed. I prayed a prayer completely unsure of my future, but that was the beginning of my new life and much else that followed.

Blog - In hospital to kill the pain

Tuesday, 21 September 2021

Cobbling Gucci for angels

Abandon the orthodoxy

The way conversations develop spanning anything from the serious to the trivial whilst being downright absurd with searing truth is quite fascinating to participate in and watch.

The constant protests one does field about people saying they are not divas and they do protest much. Then, as if to take advantage of our warped perceptions, one might even say they are an angel, as if that is associated with gentility, coolness, and immediate acceptance.

Yet, nothing could be further from the truth, the sudden appearance of an other being, gleaming with light in your crowded space, startling you as you are gripped with fear. The angelic being, unperturbed then says, ‘Peace be unto you, be not afraid’ as one has read from many a biblical passage.

Diva is all you see

An entrance that grand that you are startled by star or stardom with the immediate calming demeanour to put you at ease is everything you should expect of a diva. I conclude that angels are divas and that is end of the argument.

If you cared to look at the feet, if the devil wears Prada, do angels wear Gucci? Just asking for a friend, such information might come in useful when looking for hellish or heavenly footwear.

Monday, 20 September 2021

Hillsnog: How the scandals at Hillsong took root

Songs to snog heaven

Hillsong gave us many inspired songs of praise and worship over the decades that we felt we sang our way into the throne room of a gracious and merciful God that had heaven full of blessings to shower on his children with majesty and no expense spared.

However, lately, some scandals have hit the church first founded in Australia and in almost 30 countries that cannot be ignored, for the genesis is in something quite sad, unfortunate, and allegedly criminal from over 50 years ago. There has been some snogging of the illicit and criminally liable type that was swept under the carpet, and it has returned to claim the seat of its leader temporarily or permanently.

Caught in a father’s sexual snog

Brian Houston, 67, the charismatic founder of the Hillsong Church was the National President of the Australian Christian Churches, the Australian branch of the Assemblies of God, from 1997 to 2009 and in 1999, sexual abuse allegations were made against his father, Frank Houston, also a minister in the church establishment about sexually abusing a boy of 7 some 30 years before.

Mr Houston confronted his father about it, who confessed his proclivities to pederasty and the church handled the matter by having Frank Houston immediately retire from the ministry whilst the boy abused, then in his 30s was paid off for his silence with $10,000. Matter sorted, not exactly.

In a Royal Commission into clerical child abuse in Australia, the boy, now man testified to the face-saving activities of the church and how Brian Houston appeared to look the other way to protect his father, probably the broader church and having assumed the fat cheque was enough recompense for the child’s loss of sexual innocence at the instigation of his father in an unholy snog with a child and quite possibly many more. [Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse]

The snog required the law

Now, Brian Houston is essentially guilty of nothing as at yet, but he was complicit in thinking a payment was judicious and just amelioration for the acts of a paedophile that was quite, unfortunately, his own father. Whether he would have given any other person to the law one cannot say, as much as one cannot say if other clergy had been given the quiet exit into obscurity rather than face criminal justice for child sexual abuse.

As much as he pleads his innocence and transparency, no violation of a child is excusable regardless of if you address it with the child or when the child becomes an adult and has immediate needs palmed off with a cheque.

Hillsnog sprung from license

In the past year, there has been a litany of snogs, a high-profile pastor was doing it with another woman who was not his wife, another was sending pictures of his member not entirely snug in his underwear in the quest for probably an illicit snog, to the extent that Hillsong is becoming some scandal-hit Hillsnog.

There might not be any more scandals, but Brian Houston is being charged with concealing the sexual offences of his father, the father who died in 2004 at 82 and all this because there was a cover-up rather than the necessary report to the authorities of criminality. Then again, until recently, the church closed ranks on clerical child abuse than open themselves to the scrutiny of the law, a stance that is now totally unacceptable.

Child sexual abuse in a religious establishment is criminal and must be notified to the authorities for action, never swept under the carpet in the hope that it completely disappears into eternal memory lapse and forgetfulness, sparing the perpetrator whilst mollifying victims with money and materials as if their childhood innocence will therein be restored to undamaged, virgin, and a well-rounded personality.

Justice will come for the snog

I attended the Hillsong Church in London for a few months in 2013 and had many a spiritual uplifting in fellowship with others, but as one who has also survived child sexual abuse at the hands of those trusted by my parents to care for us, I take a completely dim view of people, establishments, institutions, traditions, cultures, and systems that shield paedophiles for reputational or other purposes and it is in this mind that I excoriate Brian Houston.

The chickens came home to roost in the other snogging scandals that enveloped the Hillsong Church in the last year, what was excused in 1999 gave the scope for the new embarrassing scandals to take root and fester.

If Frank Houston had been given up to the authorities to face embarrassment, disgrace, and criminal indictment, it is unlikely Carl Lentz and Darnell Barnett of recent snogs would have contemplated straying from the path of righteousness. I do not condemn them, but where there is allowance and apparent permissiveness, there is proclivity and every possibility of avoidable scandal.

As a consequence, it would take a while to restore Hillsnog to Hillsong, you cover your sin, and it will find you out.

From a death sentence to the joy of living and loving

A life changed totally

It is a story I have told many times before about how a check-up in September 2002 brought life-changing news that just a decade before would have been a life-ending situation.

The many people whose lives were cut short by the HIV/AIDS pandemic that appeared to hold sway from the mid-1980s and through the 1990s until medical science found the means to manage the disease with treatment and therapies.

I cannot tell for how long I was HIV+ before I got the diagnosis, but when I did, I was ready for whatever the result might be for until then, I took tests but I expressly required not to be told of the outcome out of fear and caution. The fear of the stigma of HIV where you were shunned and caution where you could not access certain financial services on account of apparent life expectancy.,

No more a life sentence

By the turn of the century, the outlook was better though the thought of pill-popping daily made me reticent about taking on medical services out of folly and an apparent sense of invincibility until 7 years later that there was literally nothing left to fight infection and aggressive cancer; Kaposi’s sarcoma was eating away at my feet.

Testament to the advances of medicine in 2009 was what gave my consultant to confidence to say my condition could be treated and I could have a good outcome if I responded well to the treatment and my physiology could handle the onslaught of chemotherapy at a point where I had already lost 25% of my body weight.

Welcome to the joy of living

The story I have to tell today is one of gratitude and thankfulness, of doctors and nurses with competence, empathy, and care, of friends far and near who have supported me through the hardest times, of acceptance that this has become part of my story, of meaning that there is a greater purpose to which one is called and of love that has blossomed in my life in the person of Brian.

I am blessed beyond measure, 19 years on, I celebrate the joy of living, the faith in extraordinary humanity, the hope for a great future, and the love of one who has given me happiness beyond words. We live to tell better stories, I did not defeat HIV or AIDS, we just found the means to live lives of significance and consequence without the threat of it stealing us away suddenly.

Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead. [Bible Hub: II Corinthians 1:9 (NKJV)] Even in great adversity and infirmity so close to death, I was raised to life again.