Sunday 29 April 2012

Thought Picnic: We cry in the eyes of goodness

A friend in the way
For probably 5 or 6 years he has stood at the entrance of the supermarket on the ground floor of my apartment block, sometimes dishevelled but with an easy disposition, friendly and amiably from the first time I saw him my heart just melted.
He sells magazines apparently priced to help the homeless, I have never really seen anyone buy a magazine off him, but he stands, greets and never begs or forces his wares on passers-by – on occasion someone has struck up a conversation with him.
Pass the Dutchie
The magazines are in Dutch and my grasp of Dutch is elevated to the level of Double-Dutch such that I could well read most of what I see but never get the context right – Dutch has a way of reusing the same words and ending up with completely different meanings, I am always stumped.
The other day, I wanted a steak, the Dutch menu happily announced kogelbiefstuk – the biefstuk part I got as beef steak but the kogel I know is bullet, as my brain went into overdrive as to how on earth bullets will end up in a beef steak and get presented as food, I dared to give voice to my confusion – how bullets and rump correlate is beyond me – I stopped wasting brain power on it and found that rump and round are used interchangeably for the same kind of steak – so I ordered my rounds of bullet-steak medium-rare and carried on with my life.
Plenty and little
In any case, my friend, yes, I will call him friend because I have chatted to him a few times, learnt of his birthday, found out how his circumstances were changing for him to get his place, his hopes, not necessarily desires but he was a man I knew had many needs that selling the magazines will not meet.
In the years of plenty, I easily parted with a 50 note each time I went shopping and saw him, though it did occur to me that for whatever immediate needs he might have, it would have been better to break it down into smaller denominations.
Then years of famine came where even I had very little, there were times when I only had a meal a day and for a person surviving cancer and on medication, it was dire, difficult and hard, but my friend in my heart seemed to still have greater needs than I, he must have noticed that what I parted with was a lot smaller, I sometimes prayed he would not be at the entrance to the supermarket because I had so little and literally nothing to spare, I could not face him with my situation but I believe he understood that if I did have to give, I would definitely share.
An opportunity to share
Today, I visited the supermarket again and he was there, I had not seen him for a while, I warmly greeted him and went about my shopping, I also consciously wanted to give him something even though I do not have that much.
I cannot say how many hours he had spent standing there but I have even in my own life learnt so well that there is someone out there concerned, involved, engaged and empathetic about me, none of which I can explain than to be grateful and thankful that the most desperate situations just seem to have amazing solutions wending their way towards me.
So, I palmed some money to him, we seem to have developed to concealed exchange which was good enough for me and then I told him I am leaving Amsterdam for good - again, maybe he put two and two together, I cannot say but there was a quick expression of two emotions I did not miss, one of sadness as to why I had to leave and one of thankfulness for what we have shared – his voice trembled as he just about stopped himself from crying.
Floods of kindness
He grabbed my hand and shook it very warmly, wishing me well with whatever I go on to do. At the same time, I saw myself in him, in great need, almost desperate, almost destitute but always blessed for the people who cross my path with gifts, grace, favour and much more – I have many a time been lost for words as I have been overwhelmed with amazing goodness from other people.
It is like when I am at my wit’s end I begin to experience a flood of kindness that I am fully aware that nothing I could have done could have created what makes me smile, laugh, cry and give thanks – there is love in this world beyond compare and people who just give, give and give to give hope, to give happiness, to give joy, to give peace and to meet somewhat insurmountable needs.
Today, I learnt anew, the joy of giving and the joy of receiving all at the same time and because of the way some things work I believe that someone somewhere will fill in the gap created by my absence because my friend has an angel just as I do.

Friday 27 April 2012

Thought Picnic: Abdominal pangs of anger

Anger pains
I have been wondering why after hot showers I have had this lower abdominal pain without much medical insight as to why, it has always been a strange feeling that I have turned down the heat of my showers not entirely to my showering pleasure, but there goes.
So, it is strange that today, after a conversation on the phone where on one of those rare occasions, I could not care less in annoyance and anger that the same feeling crept upon me.
I am rarely every an angry man, I hope that I am measured, restrained and reserved in most cases. I have learnt long ago that anger is an emotion I do not handle that well; my voice begins to tremble and fade away and my body shakes almost spasmodically to the point that I could lose my voice entirely – it is an experience I have had to the full once before and one I do not need again.
Walking away
However, this morning, I had had it, with all of them, they have been demanded, harassing, threatening and lambasting, each time I have been amenable as each of my entreaties have been met with little understanding or appreciation of my circumstances.
Having acquired under duress my biggest possession, I just needed a little more time to get some affairs in order and I made a humble request to that effect to no avail. They will not lift a finger or even be in the slightest sympathetic and the conversation ended this morning.
So, I called again this afternoon to review the situation and it was more threats and more indifference that I just told them, I will do what I can and the rest they’ll have to handle – the easy rides they have had on my seeming generosity of spirit are over – I can walk away and I will. Some things are just not worth fighting over anymore.

Thursday 26 April 2012

Thought Picnic: The silence without comforting sounds

The quiet and the lonely
Yes, he has been wiping forehead with the swipe of his forearm and sometimes it has been as if to blow his nose sniffling from a dreadful cold.
These are figments of the imagination, an imagination that has created pictures in the mind of him curled up in some corner crying his eyes out but he seems to have lost the capacity for such emotion and expression for himself. No, he cannot cry.
Not a tear with create the flood to sweep away the things before and not a fear will strengthen to face the issues that appear to be too much to handle.
If you can pray, you must whisper that you never be caught alone and lonely when you most need hands, hearts, holds and help to see you through difficult times.
You wonder how in a world of over 7 billion people you find yourself in the midst of a vast world of the barren, a wilderness and stillness where you the only sound you seem to hear is the sound of your breathing and the fainter sound of your heart beating.
He screams from within without making a sound. Help!

Sunday 22 April 2012

Africa: The Spectrum of FGM is NOT homogenous

“Many who before regarded legislation on the subject as chimerical, will now fancy that it is only dangerous, or perhaps not more than difficult. And so in time it will come to be looked on as among the things possible, then among the things probable;–and so at last it will be ranged in the list of those few measures which the country requires as being absolutely needed. That is the way in which public opinion is made.” Anthony Trollope, Phineas Finn
Screaming cakes losing the FGM message
At the beginning of the last week, we ran the gauntlet of a travesty masquerading as art; it was art that was tasteless, ignorant, stupid and worthy of excoriation.
Indeed, we need to bring to light the horrors of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) or Female Circumcision but there is no excuse to treat this matter with levity and caricature if you have any inkling or knowledge of what it entails, who is affected, how entrenched it is and the obstacles in culture, traditions, norms and values that need to be overcome to consign these acts to oblivion.
Such was the display of utterly, utterly bad art when on a cake made almost to the form of Sarah Baartman [Wikipedia] who in the early 19th Century was the unfortunate freak show in Europe.
The cake was cut into in Sweden by people who should know better of the suffering of women less fortunate than themselves to their entertainment and the artist with face painted like the cross between a golliwog [Wikipedia] and a piccaninny squealing and crying at each cut in the supposedly virginal area of the cake representing the act of circumcision.
It plumbed the depths of distaste and disgust but more importantly, it drew no attention to FGM or the plight of women who suffer from the debilitating effects of FGM, rather it became an odious platform for the artist, galvanised the global rebuke of the Swedish Culture Minister with a petition online asking for her to apologise for her cretinism to culminate in her resignation.
Mind Of Malaka does this matter the greatest justice with her blog titled Of Cakes and Clitorises.
FGM is NOT a Single Story
Now, I have been engaged in a rather robust discussion on Twitter on the matter of FGM where I have a rather pragmatic approach to the subject.
Having taken a stance on the event of the Swedish cake one should be careful not to be railroaded by what is turning out to be a single narrative of FGM thereby conflating the desired end of FGM with every societal, traditional, religious, economic and social strand as if the practitioners are a homogeneous entity – they are not.
Looking at the prevalence of FGM [Wikipedia] across Africa [Graphic from Wikipedia], the practice cuts across 30 countries from West Africa, through Central to East Africa and veering up to the North of Africa where in Egypt it affects 97% of females but you then wonder why the countries to the West of Egypt that have affinity with its peoples like Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco do not practice FGM.
However, this practice appears to date back to the Pharaonic times, in essence there is a mountain of entrenched traditions and customs behind this activity that might prove immovable even to those with the very best intentions.
Beyond this, each country and within these countries we have communities that implement any of the 4 types of FGM [Wikipedia] cutting with Ethiopia, Gambia and Guinea implementing the most intrusive Type IV mutilation that could affect 73%, 60-90% and 99% of females in those countries respectively.
Whilst Gambia and Guinea are close neighbours in West Africa, Ethiopia is as remote as you can get from West Africa as you wonder about the correlations between these countries.
Tough work ahead
Much as we would that FGM is outlawed, banned, proscribed, abrogated or even criminalised, we are nowhere near seeing that desire in reality, the practice is rife, the practitioners cover a broad spectrum of people from the enlightened to the oblivious and resistance to being sacrificed on the altars of traditions and customs is at best patchy and within relatively minor tribes.
Outlawing FGM in Africa requires political will and concerted efforts at education to persuade the core practitioners of alternatives if possible or ameliorating measures need to be implemented to monitor and regulate the practice.
Applying the political theory of the Overton Window [Wikipedia] to FGM, there are quite a number to whom the prospect of outlawing FGM is unthinkable whilst the cake eaters of Sweden and certain activists on this matter are on the other side of the spectrum where the idea is popular and they are ready to make it policy.
As for so many new ideas because the concept of the eradication of FGM is relatively new by reason of its extant prevalence, the unthinkable has to become radical, then acceptable before it is regarded as sensible from which point it might become popular and consequently it might become policy.
Developing approaches to eradication or regulation
The age-old value systems that aimed to deprive females of sexual expression for the fear that overarching patriarchy might lose complete control of their womenfolk needs to be visited with temperance because the diehards might well prefer to die out than to see needed change threaten their station.
There is no easy solution to this matter and it continues to this present day, girls sacrificed to long held belief systems many put at untenable risk to life, health and welfare – each of these need addressing as much as the aggressive push to make FGM history.
There are proactive and reactive approaches to consider much as some might deign to bludgeon and others might be indifferent. These customs being part of the societal framework of the affected communities has both men and women involved in the propagation of the acts as their norms and no greater purpose is served if any side is castigated as if to blackmail them into submission to the intended goal of the eradication of FGM.
Proactive alternative
On the proactive side, the Guardian newspaper Fighting Back [The Guardian UK] section filmed a documentary about changing attitudes to FGM amongst the Pokot people [Wikipedia] of Kenya where parents, daughters and activists worked towards adopting alternative womanhood initiation rites.
The main thrust of this exercise had to address a number of underlying issues –
  • The reassessment of the value of females in those communities.
  • The need for the education of females with the promise that they can be of greater significance to their communities than the immediate value of a dowry mostly comprised of cows and beer
  • Addressing the apparent sense of loss of a girl is not circumcised and married off
  • Addressing the communal stigmatisation that accompanies girls who have refused to be initiated through FGM
  • Persuading the elders, men and the community to accommodate new thinking that makes FGM insignificant and unnecessary as a precursor to marriage
  • Removing FGM from the process of initiation into womanhood.
One striking thing that came out of the documentary was the recognition that girls who have decided not to follow tradition might harm themselves though it was also encouraging that honour killings prevalent in other societies where the price placed on female chastity is astronomically high did not present itself in the Pokot narrative.
Reactive for safety
On the reactive side, this came as a result of a botched FGM activity [AkinBlog.NL] in Nigeria in 2012 that led to the loss of life by exsanguination – the poor girl bled to death in hospital, the perpetrators being her grandmother and other womenfolk relations having run out of options after crudely mutilating the girl.
It goes without saying that FGM entails radical intrusive surgery outside of professional supervision with crude implements in possibly non-sterile conditions.
What is interesting is the news [The Guardian UK] that as many as 100,000 women in Britain have undergone the FGM procedure. Much as it is illegal in the UK, ethnic minorities who one would expect are enlightened, emancipated, educated and well aware of the complications that do result from FGM procedures are adhering to the practice and are not persuaded of the need to change.
The news story highlights a more interesting development. There is a part of these ethnic minority communities that are concerned about surgical procedures carried out by the unschooled that they have procured the services of medical practitioners to perform the FGM procedure.
In my blog written in February, the death of the girl was preventable if the FGM procedure was not carried out and where I ran the gauntlet of serious opposition and the amazingly implacable was when I suggested that as long as FGM continues to exist in whatever community until it is eradicated, the girls made to suffer such procedures must have at the minimum a safe environment under medical supervision where the procedure is carried out.
Bridging the contrary and the compromise
In my view, this is not to find a workaround that will give FGM a new lease of life halting the drive to have it eradicated but it is to bring the activity under regulation, supervision and safe environments to deal with the immediate complications of administering FGM.
This is by no means comfortable, but the practitioners who have not been persuaded of the need to stop FGM will procure the services wherever they can – it is only sensible and it will be utterly curmudgeonly to refuse girls safe environments for FGM when the battle and the war to abolish FGM is far from won.
I extended that thinking yesterday with the suggestion that FGM education be aggregated into primary healthcare delivery systems and having brought FGM under medical supervision, it offers the opportunity to address this matter as elective surgery with outcomes and consequences all of which must be preceded with levels of counselling, consultation, possible success factors and the repercussions for maternal welfare which can be debilitating on quality of life for the person, her offspring and her community.
In effect, if we are cajoled into adopting a single story on FGM so as to treat it as a homogenous procedure practiced by a non-diverse people of Africa with apparently similar traditions and customs such that activism simply presents an unyielding single solution without working out different compromises for the varied communities that will help those immediately affected, we would be no further than what we saw in Sweden and we might well go up there and eat some cake.

Wednesday 18 April 2012

South Africa: We must make examples of horde rapists

Another recorded rape
My blood just runs cold when I read stories [1] of the sexual abuse of women, minors (girls and boys), the vulnerable and the powerless.
However, one unhealthy development in the perpetration of these devilish acts is the impunity that compels the wicked persons to record their exploits on cell phones and then distribute such as some celebration of achievement without consideration of the victim.
The turn of the phrase in the last paragraph is a bit awkward; these people had no consideration of the victim they abused. These beastly lowlifes in the garb of human skin preying on the innocent to satisfy their sexual aberrations have no place among us.
Garrotte them
In another time, they would have so easily belonged in Nero’s Coliseum, fed to lions for our glee, none of us shedding a tear at their screams when they are torn to shreds sating the hungry lions as we hope that those screams are amplified to their own hearing just as they have ignored and contemned the pleas, screams and cries of their victims.
The fact is this rotten practice of bottom-feeding cretins engaging in sex rape by the hordes is not peculiar to South Africa; we have had many reports of these nasty activities in the hallowed campuses of our tertiary institutions in Nigeria. Apparently, there are educated young men whose devilish passions find expression in the sexual humiliation of others thinking they are being macho when they have taken a status well below worms.
Now, the recording of these crimes has in some ways been helpful because it is admissible proof that the acts took place and it might mean that the victims do not have to face their assailants in court with such glaring evidence. An even more reprehensible extension of this is the others who find these recordings entertaining that they openly seek to view and share those experiences which must be tapping into an incipient and latent Neanderthal psyche that they must have. Shame on them.
It’s alarming
Rape as a means of pack mentality pleasure seeking and the viewing of such for titillation and arousal plumbs the depths of unspeakable depravity that should have such persons sectioned for life if not corralled in zoos that harbour the part of wild humanity that evolution left behind of what is good, wholesome, humane, beautiful and exemplary of our human wonder.
The case in South Africa is made even so heart-rending when we learnt that the victim was mentally disabled; after they finished their devious act, at least 7 of them; they attempted placating the poor, defenceless girl with 25 cents – woe betide them for generations on end - there can be no merciful course of justice for these men than to see the full wrath of the law that includes the bonus of a castration, their accursed crown jewels hung in the public places for the mediaeval gawping of the many as a deterrent to others.
They deserve exceptional justice
We are supposed to live in civilised times but if people decide to take liberties with the violation of the person, the dignity and the bodies of others for their pleasure, no fair justice will have been served if in our leniency the barbarous are punished by being made just to face the wall.
Personally, one would hate to see our society go back to the Stone Age but rabidly sexual barbarians will only understand the language they act out, if we cannot put them down like dogs, and dangle their heads like conkers in the town squares the least we could do is to make the most horrific example of them – we will not condone these acts in these times or at any time.

Thought Picnic: They've run out of video tape

Casing the joint - night and day
I sometimes think I am quite observant but I have realised that it does not mean that I notice a lot. The other day, as I walked up to the chemist for another batch of pills, I expected the video shop to be open though I have not plied any trade there in a good few years.
In fact, the night I decided to buy my place, one of the things I did was to visit at night and get a feel of the atmosphere around my prospective dwelling place.
There is no point have a look at a prospect during to cool of the day when everyone is out at work and then realising that at night is a hellish place to be long after you have signed the papers and had a few sleepless nights.
The video shop that opens from 14:00 to 22:00 was at the time the last shop to close in this area, so I walked in and had a chat to the manager about how he felt about working in this area and what kind of people lived here.
It was there, now no more there
His views were encouraging and I felt confident I had made the right choice. Soon, I was a registered member of the video club though I probably only ever hired a few videos except when I had young guests that I ventured there – it was just a place that existed my coming here and had every possibility of outlasting us.
My first DVD player was bought from there and it was easy to get recordable CDs or DVDs if needed in an emergency from the shop.
However, on that day, I saw a sign in Dutch thanking us for 10 years of being there, it was not like they had moved elsewhere, rather it seemed the business had closed.
Besides the travel agent was probably the first to vacate their business premises just over two years ago and that spot has not found new occupiers yet. I suppose things have been tough but many businesses have been resilient – it has just been, the sign of the times.

Tuesday 17 April 2012

Thought Picnic: My very own Psalms

Channelling David
I sometimes feel like the Psalmist when he wrote the psalms of despair and desperation. I wonder to myself, can I take any more of this?
How long? Many psalms ask, how long shall all this go on for before I expire under the weight of being overwhelmed or rise like a phoenix from the ashes of all that I ever knew that has been consumed in the flames of adversity?
Yes, that dreadful thought has crossed my mind, never dwelt on it, but driven by at just the right speed to see what it is all about – we can put a stop to all of this at once [one more pill; maybe a couple more, the slip from a high place; maybe a higher place, a long drink; maybe down a few more - if I had a bath tub I could even have more ideas] and history can begin to pen itself on the pages of the tales of someone else.
We can drift into memory captured in the capsules of time as references that once put footsteps in the sands of time – easy, easing with ease – and it is all done.
A day comes beyond all this
But we are not ones to let that take root, not if we can help it. The storms gather, the winds billow and the clouds darken but the weather is never an interminable event.
The storms will run out of fury, the winds will run out of puff and the clouds will give up the moisture that makes them dark, they will even clear out of the way for the sun to shine through in the day and the moon to light up the dark amongst the trees.
Take heart, there is a psalm that promises goodness, mercy and victory and it would not be long before melancholy is the melody of joy and happiness.

Thought Picnic: Driven by desire

Driven by desire
I know desire though not like the desire many might have. The things of life that make you think you are not fruitful, productive or going somewhere no matter how hard you try.
There are things people desire for me that I cannot desire for myself, our goals do not match even if one can recognise where they are coming from.
Have I ever desired a wife, not really – I knew there are things about me that meant not burdening others with it too. As wonderful and loving as children are, I could never have them for all sorts of reasons I refused to allow become an all-consuming passion that could lead me to distraction – It is not important.
My peace is most paramount
I have been fortunate not to be subject to societal pressures demanding conformity without acknowledging my individuality though the end of the matter is hardly there – too many people do not have enough to cater for as they mind my business along with theirs.
To be honest, I have given up fighting them, they complain and rant, they abuse and curse, they rail and revile, they blame and excoriate, they contemn and condemn – I see them, I hear them, I read them but I answer them not – not to spite them, not to ignore them, not to belittle them but for the little peace I can find within myself to take each day as it comes and make the best of what time I have left.
But what I have I longed for in the midst of the many misfortunes I have lived to see the loss of in health, in wealth, in home, in work, in peace, in ability and in purpose – a new sense of purpose and a chance to prove that I am more than you can lift off the pages of my thoughts.

Thought Picnic: Licking my wounds

The battles of the mind
And so I sought a place to lick my wounds battered and bruised from the realisation that I am not what I used to be.
Shorn of courage and confidence by reason of time, event and circumstance, each encounter is like I need to tiptoe on the heads of hungry river crocodiles to ford the water from this end to that.
It is hard to be the shadow of the man you used to be – brimming is daring and adventure, out to do feats that angels will shudder to contemplate – now, to be roused comes with doubt and foreboding, the wish for luck and the hope for a win. There must be a time again to lift up one’s head and declare boldly, I will not go down.
Uneasy and unfit
God knows I prepared but never with much rest in body, mind or spirit – I could not concentrate much as I wanted to get things done well and properly. Yes, I took one opportunity to put it off but maybe never with enough time to rethink what might be.
So, restless but not panicked, I went to bed with one last desire to get what I wanted in. It all made sense but I could not make sense of it as sleep came without the rest that should follow.
The die was cast for the deed this day and early in the morn before the cock crew I was wide-eyed, half-determined and slightly bothered – it had to be done.
One is slain and I was beat
There was a time I scheduled 3 tests in a day and got them all done in 70 minutes including coffee breaks that had become the stuff of memoirs to be scripted for legend.
Once, after a heavy night out and literally no study, we are given free vouchers for tests I thought were difficult, I was a somnambulist in auto-pilot as I passed the test half dozing and yawning better than a hippopotamus having fun.
My knees never wobble and I never get to shed a tear when I most need to find out if my tear ducts are still functioning or need a rinse out. I feel myself crying out loud within myself though around me is the deafening cacophony of silence that takes your imagination to the expectation of horror.
It was time to face it; two tests for the prize and thankfully neither your pulse nor your frayed nerves are calibrated for scores. With 25 minutes to spare I scaled the first and with 4 minutes to spare I flunked the second – only just.
Back to the drawing board with the hope of more determination and resolve, I have 5 working days to revisit this thing and put it behind me.
I have to appreciate things are harder, I may not have as big a theatre to strut my stuff and thereby for the lack of practice you cannot perfect what you want to show yourself as confident in.
I have licked my wounds enough – Rise up man and go and take the world.

Sunday 15 April 2012

Thought Picnic: The lioness is having her cubs

Up and out, just in time
This Sunday was one where I had to get to church early, I am on the rota for setting up that includes putting out the flags, laying prayer and offering cards on the seats, helping with the offertory and today we also had holy communion.
That extra bit of preparing the bread and the wine or rather the fruit of vine without alcoholic content meant we start 30 minutes early.
The night passed, I having slept like a babe and I was up at 6:00AM. Just a bit too early for comfort and not much to do for rest in the hour between waking up and leaving home at 8:00AM.
My memory of checking the weather forecast from a few days before suggested it might be sunny but not warm but I was not feeling like the 55-minute bicycle ride to church. It meant I could leave home later but I had to catch the tram and metro at the right times to make the connections necessary to be in church on time.
Caught with help
Looking out to the tram terminus from my apartment, the tram had begun to move before I made it out of my door, this normally means I will miss it. Calling the lift to the 7th floor and running out of the apartment block, the tram had already made it to the stop in from of my block but thankfully, the one other person at the tram stop saw me and delayed the tram for me to scale the barriers and get on. Phew!
I then changed for the metro and had to wait 12 minutes for the next one unsure of it will run to my intended stop or I will have to change unto a substitute bus. That is what the timetable appeared to indicate but I decided not to bother myself with that thought until it was necessary to act on it.
I did not have to change transport. As I got off at my stop and commenced the 7-minute walk to our church building, droplets of rain indicated an unexpected change in the weather and glee at the prescience of not muscling in on my bicycle to end up drenched.
Nature and light
My original Senz umbrella which for all purposes of its design and claims is really only practically suitable for light rains and no wind was put up and before long, I saw a long dark shadow cast before me towards my right.
Engrossed in thought, I remembered that tale from my childhood about what nature is up to when it rains and the sun is shining too. Forget the science of clouds and any other logical explanation because over 40 years on, I can still believe the lioness is giving birth to her cubs somewhere in the bush.
The rain to wash them and the sun to dry them – as the maelstrom of circumstances also beclouds one’s thoughts you also remember that along with the shelter from the rain, the sun shines to give light and seeing the shadow quite clearly also indicates with the light comes warm, insight and hope – it is not time to walk in the dark of your shadow but in the light of the path before you.

Friday 13 April 2012

Thought Picnic: No more home in a short while

Change has come
The job looks impossible but we have reached what might be termed the inevitable. After almost 10 and a half years in my home by the end of the month, it would have been become part of my history.
I never really did much to my home, it was ready to live in when I bought it and it was hardly 3 years after its being built that I bought it off a couple who in their 70s had bought the place off a plan and were leaving here to move into another new apartment by the river down south where they could get much help with their daily lives.
I thought to myself then that I would love to be able to make decisions redolent of youthfulness just as these people did then. I am reminded more each time to try and retain a sense of youthfulness and a youthful outlook in whatever circumstances I find myself even though it can be a rather hard task.
Packing up
This morning, I had help from friends to purchase and collect packing boxes to pack decades of life and maybe offering the opportunity of divestment of stuff.
Not much of this was planned for and I do not know what lays ahead but hope for the future and possibly the chance to start all over again – the first box is packed and sealed – it is full of books.
The wines going back over 15 years, the shoes too many for two feet, the clothes like a shop for the masses – all these need sorting through and arranged into what should be kept, what should be given away and what is not needful that can be given away – it will be a process of disconnection so as to avoid distraction – Life!

Tuesday 10 April 2012

Nigeria: Please Support Project Alert

The appeal
I am writing this blog to ask you to support the work and activities of Project Alert, an NGO that caters for incidences of violence against women in Nigeria.
I believe Nigeria is quite needful of agencies that challenge and address societal, cultural, traditional and religious attitudes that tolerate, condone or encourage the abuse of women and minors. There are too many victims suffering in silence, left in abominable hellish lives because of the stigma of acknowledging problems they have experienced and because the law places undue strain on them giving advantage to perpetrators to terrorise with impunity.
Support for agencies like Project Alert and Prevent Abuse of Children Today (PACT) that I wrote about a few months ago is necessary to ensure that victims of abuse are not permanently damaged without respite, succour or comfort; it is also important that we are able to refer victims to these organisations at the earliest opportunity to get help which might include treatment, counselling, material support or even legal advice – all of which are critical to the healing process.
What you can do
Project Alert requires your support in cash and kind as listed on their Donate page, I hope we can engage some expertise to facilitate an online donation kiosk as well as a courier service to help first as collection points of gifts and then to deliver the gifts to the agency.
  • Pledge to support Project Alert
  • Help create an online payment kiosk with minimal administrative costs (Pro-bono web gurus?)
  • Make material donations to the women’s shelter
  • Make cash donations to help run Project Alert
  • Offer to ease administrative burdens of collecting and delivering gifts made to Project Alert
  • Share information about the services Project Alert offers
  • Support activities that promote the rights of women and minors (On blogs, Twitter, Facebook, media, etc. )

Josephine Effah Chukwumah, the Executive Director talks about the activities of Project Alert here and you can find references to Project Alert in the news here.
Project Alert - Contact Details
Ultimately, people need to know they can get help and we all can support those who deploy resources to help. Thank you.
The Backstory
I write a lot and probably do not write enough. However, I have found that much of what I write revolves around human rights; the rights of children, the rights of women, the rights of the poor, injustices, sexual abuse, sexuality and other taboo subjects that need the clear light of day.
The difficult subjects I write about come from my experiences and observations, I may not be able to empathise but I hope that I can at least sympathise with victims of all sorts of abuse and neglect and in the process use my writing to stimulate honest debate and possibly the change that will ensure victims can get help, seek redress and receive justice.
Sharing my own personal experiences has helped me reach out to others who have encountered similar and sometimes more heinous violations of their persons that are beyond description but until we acknowledge the prevalence of these evils we will never be anywhere near being able to help and heal – sometimes, what the other person needs is just someone to believe their story first whilst our society would rather deny the existence of such evils.
Only a few weeks ago, I had someone challenge the notion that boys could be sexually abused, the import being it was more a pleasurable educational experience than a violation of their person and a loss of innocence – only one word could sum up that thinking – IGNORANCE!
My Sex Post
It was just over 5 years ago when some of my blogging friends were writing excited blogs about their first sexual experiences, most of them strove for and lost that innocence in their late teens having exercised curiosity and interest for many years before.
Then, it was customary for these blogs to be written with a template that comprised a series of questions that you had to answer after which you tagged 5 other friends and in the process you socially networked your intimate experiences with boasting and much else.
I was tagged and I did not have the kind of story my friends had to tell, in fact, I could only answer the first question about when I first had sex, the other questions would have been too difficult to answer for a 7-year old even if he had the luxury of putting almost 40 years between that experience and now. [My Sex Post]
We are many, not a few
What surprised me about that blog was the number of people who had had similar experiences as mine, male and female, in the apparent comfort and safety of their homes without anyone to talk to about the violations of their bodies and the loss of their innocence, many still bearing the scars until today.
We need to move on from the constant indifference and denial of the sexual abuse of minors and women in Nigeria and have to appreciate that victims need all the help they can get to deal with paedophiles, incest, rape, harassment, prostitution, battering, mutilation and other unmentionable evils.
If there are other agencies in Nigeria that you know of who address these issues, please do not hesitate to leave a comment.
Thank you.

Sunday 8 April 2012

Thought Picnic: The Times Are Hard

A phone to make you look silly
Veering off the routine of being a hermit I wandered into the city centre to have my mobile phone sorted out. For a while, it was not connecting to Mobile Internet considering it is part of my package, but as I got to the shop, everything seemed to work fine, it left me looking rather silly.
After leaving the shop though, the connection was lost again, it took a complete shut down and restarting of the phone for the service to present any semblance of stability.
Disguises of begging hungry
That however, was not what caught my attention the most but the number of people in all sorts of costumes, fancy dress or masquerade gear looking regal, weird, scary or terrifying.
There must have been 15 of them, some even in pairs, all gesturing to tourist to pose for pictures with them for a token fee. At least 4 were dressed like the Grim Reaper complete with scythe and guttural voices to strike terror in kids and amusement in passers-by.
The competition for curious tourists willing to pose was fierce and keen, what was once an occasional novelty has now become a travesty with tourists literally being jostled, the subtext being, this a sophisticated begging, there are problems out there and it is exemplified in this rather innocuous entertainment.
The times are hard
The once generous safety-nets of social welfare are not as generous and hardly enough to meet daily needs. I would hate to think it is desperate, but the stark reality is only desperation would have driven people to clown around on main streets to eke out a living – God bless their souls.
If the competition was not stiff enough in terms of how bizarre you had to look to be attractive and attract custom, there was this singular lady with an accordion playing tunelessly but expecting a hand-out.
The one that took it to the next level of necessity being the mother of innovation was when I saw a dog posing with sunglasses – for a token amount, you could take a picture. The times are really hard.

Friday 6 April 2012

Nigeria: How not to deal with the rape of children

The difficult issues
I find myself writing on the issue of our attitudes to rape in Nigeria for the third time in a week because some pertinent matters fail to be addressed between the stigmatisation that bedevils victims of sexual violence and the critical need to see rape as well beyond physiological damage to the emotional scars that result from such traumatic experiences.
In a report that appeared in the Vanguard Nigeria newspaper yesterday, whilst I could see the anger of the parents that was about to be expressed in taking Ekene Dili Chukwu Transport Company Limited to court, which I think they should along with other prosecutions of the nabbed criminals that visited untold terror on the girls, what is most palpable is the denial of the parents of certain detail that has emanated from the ordeal.
Maybe there was no rape
The said students were between the ages of 11 and 16, even though they were attendees of an apparently convent school with the name Holy Rosary College and a principal who happens to be Reverend Sister, it is utterly naïve to suggest that the girls will not know if they had been interfered with, suffered an ordeal or had been subjected to the grossest humiliation by being asked to take off their clothes under threat of harm and menace.
We have been deflected with the notion that one of the girls escaped rape by reason of her menses and another who happened to be a parent was able to convince the hoodlums that she was pregnant and by reason of that the sexual appetite of all the men was fully sated. That stretches my imagination no end, even if I am to give everyone the benefit of the doubt.
It is strange that as the transport company is in search of exculpation daring the parents to provide any evidence of rape having taken place, the parents who have vehemently denied that rape had occurred at all are painfully vocal to dispute rape whilst behaving as if they are beyond consolation by reason of their daughters who might have really been raped.
Unseemly notions
It transpired that the girls were asked if they had been raped and none answered in the affirmative and that could have been for all sorts of reasons from having not being raped or the fear and stigmatisation that might ensue from revealing the fact that they had been violated.
However, that is not what really bothers me as much as what the parents themselves have to say of the alleged rape and most especially, a man and no doubt a father of at least one of the girls.
I don’t think any of the children was raped because if an armed robber rapes a 10 or 13-year-old child, I don’t think that child would be able to walk for one week. And if they were raped, there  would have been blood stains, but when we saw them after the incident there was no blood on their body.  We have asked all of them and none said she was raped and these children cannot lie. We have also taken most of them to Island maternity where doctors who treated them confirmed that they were not raped and we have our medical report to that effect.
This parent who is the Chairman of the Lagos Branch of the Parents Teachers Association made some incredible assertions.
  • That the rape by an armed robber will present in certain incapacitation – This man must have a concept of rape that is fearful in context and in denial of reality if it did occur without presenting the expected symptoms.
  • That blood stains always accompany rape – This might be by reason of his assuming all the girls were virgins and there is nothing to say they weren’t but I really worry about this alarming conclusion.
  • That these children cannot lie – I cannot vouch for the sainthood of the children, neither will I question their honesty, but to expect children to come forward as if they were answering a question in class in the presence of their peers is to misunderstand the context, the setting, the situation and their children. I cannot say that I am not utterly saddened by the lack of sensitivity and empathy necessary to address this all in the attempt to deflect the stigma that accompanies rape.
  • The more worrisome element to this is that most of the girls were medically examined; however, I do fear that medical validation might have been used to ward off suspicion of rape than to address it such that the man is asserting that there are medical reports to prove the girls had not been raped.
It gets worse
He goes on to aver that, “Although the armed robbers asked them to pull off their dresses when they were searching them for money but when they couldn’t find any money, they asked them to put on their clothes and pushed them into the bus.”
I find that utterly incredible. The armed robbers asked the girls to pull off their dresses in search of money? By which time I had lost all sympathy for the man as I agonised about what the poor girls might have gone through much of which has now been denied, dismissed and made little of by parents hoping to protect their girls from an immediate stigma without addressing the long term consequences of their ordeal.
Are we helping the children?
It again leaves one rather disgusted by the notion that children soon forget what happened to them and time will eventually put this all behind them especially when no one addresses the trauma by ignoring it, in the misguided view that time heals.
It just does not work like that and the earlier we begin to address the matters of rape as having real victims who could well be our daughters and ensuring perpetrators face the full wrath of the law for their unforgivable acts of unimaginable cruelty and violation of our loved ones, more victims will remain voiceless and rape will just be the norm we are ready to tolerate, condone, ignore and deny because we do not have the courage to help victims find a semblance of closure that involves the truth, the therapy and the regaining of confidence and self-esteem to be themselves before the experiences they suffered.