Monday 30 July 2012

Doubling over in Dutch and English Swimmingly

Dutching English
I see many Dutch signs, or what I mean is signs in the Netherlands apparently written in English that at times make my skin crawl and sometimes leaves me livid with rage.
Why, I ask myself don’t they employ a native English speaker to do a once over before they make the signs?
Obviously, the Dutch pride themselves in being able to communicate in English and I am learning a lot from a Swedish-Dutch friend who is studying to become an English teacher. I never knew it was so much hard work all because it comes so naturally to me and I am almost a purist – God forgive me.
This took the biscuit
The other day, we went out to one of those man-made beaches on the shores of a man-made lake in the middle of Rotterdam and as we were leaving there was a sign in Dutch with an English translation probably to cater for the more international crowd.
The Dutch can so easily fall into error when translating to English because they have the same words for belief and faith, grace and mercy, to bring back or to take somewhere – really too many to mention. I will not even go into announcements that sound like the finality of life as we know it when we arrive at station terminuses.
Anyway, it was to do with notifying about the pollution of the water and whether it was safe to swimming in it. The English will just refer to the water and we will implicitly know it is the lake but because the Dutch have to qualify and particularly reference an object, I ended up reading a phrase that went thus: If anything is wrong with the swimming water …
Swimming water? I’ll say no more but that was enough for a good 10-minute conversation with my teacher friend about correctness, rigour and the use of English even in a non-English-speaking country.
Keep and have your life
The one that gets to me the most is when I pass by passport control at Schiphol airport and the sign read. Please keep your passport and boarding pass ready. Keep is passable English, have will have been more correct.
Then Dutch signs themselves can be quite interesting and it was Saturday on my way to a wedding that I read the sign below at a railway crossing. It simply translates to – Will you stay alive? Then just wait.
I suppose the impatient risk being road kill or in this case rail track kill – after crossing, the barriers came down and that was a good 5-minute wait before they came up again allowing for three trains to pass that I really thought the crossing needed a bridge.
I have not known the Dutch to be that patient but on matters of life and death, I guess they’ll wait to live than rush to die.

Nigeria: Social Media is a Symptom of our Government Practices

The dangers we face
In Nigeria, there is every hope that the government of the people is by the people and definitely for the people, that is the supposedly the age-old definition of democracy.
However, the model of democracy we run has serious problems with an executive that appears to be a law unto itself, a legislature that makes it exorbitantly unaffordable with the many conflicts of interest that hamper its oversight functions and a judiciary in crisis constantly being intimidated by powerful and rich defendants that troop senior lawyers to court by the truck load.
We live in times where bad history seems to be ready to repeat itself like in 1966 and 1983 when the barracks let loose political juntas whose altruistic aims of righting the wrongs with Nigeria just seemed to compound things the more.
Our hope and desire
In our heart of hearts, I believe it is the wish of every Nigerian that the government and that is any government in power even if it consists of reprehensible aliens, unsightly to the eyes but diligent, competent and visionary is making the country work for the benefit of all.
The realities we face are such that they cannot be ignored, we cannot continue to have people in leadership who seem to be in office but not in power, whose purpose appears ill-defined and who we deem to simply enjoy the trappings of office and power without consideration to the people, aggrandising with impunity and without consequence.
The responsibilities we all have
It has created a backlash, for the promises are yet unfulfilled and the lauded achievements are no more than ideas that have yet to be well thought through.
The government of Nigeria that consists of over 160 million people with serious infrastructure and reputational issues cannot be where people who rule fail to be leading by bringing effective and lasting change to the people not just through economic growth but in development that fosters equality of opportunity and creates good jobs for the largely restless youth.
This amazingly resourceful youth that makes up more than half the population of the country are in the main disappointed, disillusioned and no doubt angry without much within the structure of our democracy to voice their feelings when the ruling party could not even find any in its ranks to fill in the youth leader’s post that it unashamedly fell into the lap of a 60-year old man.
The youth voicing out
The youth have not been silent, they are active and galvanised, working with technology where the old fogeys have no control, they are the lifeblood of social media on blogs, on Facebook and on Twitter they are calling out the leaders, irreverently questioning them, mounting challenges on the gerontocracies and entrenched power structures that want to be oblivious of the real Nigerian problems.
Beyond that, their anger is also expressed in abuse, yes, abuse, excoriating abuse, sometimes vile to the extreme, none of which is without cause but the situation can only be remedied if the government comes out of its siege mentality and begins to respond, react, reform, readjust and realign itself to the core aspirations of Nigerians.
Protecting the freedom of expression
If anything, for all the weak institutions that give a lie to our democracy that looks more and more each day like a kakistocracy we have the freedom of expression and much of that expression with cause is not to the liking of many especially those in government where the President has said it is a pastime, the Senate President has questioned unfettered access to social media forums and an aide has recognised the torrent of abuse that has gone the President’s way.
Nigerians have always had these discussions in their homes, at bars, amongst friends and all sorts of places, we are by nature political animals, that the discussion is now on social media forums should not be a surprise to anyone.
A democracy thrives on the freedom of expression and views, where there are any who take offence, they have the courts to seek redress, what we do not want is to have legislation that criminalises expression and foists lèse majesté laws on the people such that they cannot fearlessly and vigorously hold their elected representatives accountable.
The constitutional laws that give the most senior members of our government immunity from prosecution during their tenures have been egregiously abused as governors mostly manifest as demigod potentates, untouchable and literally outside the ambit of the law until they leave office after they have caused untold damage.
The real image of Nigeria
Nigeria’s image abroad has not been fashioned by the happenings on social media, it would be naïve to suggest the CIA World Fact Book, the Failed States Index or the World Bank – Ease of Doing Business report mines Twitter, Facebook or blogs for their indices – these are sadly but the best objective data available that determines the risk profile of the country and the investment potential for prospectors along with the perception embassies will feed back to their home countries.
Social media obviously brings more voices into the debate and that is important, Nigeria is bustling with educated and vibrant talent that want to have a say in how they are governed and even have a louder say when they perceive the government is inimical to the aspirations of the citizenry.
The problem is in the government
The honest truth is the image of Nigeria will change when the government gives us new things to talk about by moderating their excesses and more importantly dealing with the bad and somewhat classless behaviour that has become action and manner of speech of those in power.
If they have forgotten that they are in power to serve rather than be served living large like they are in the courts of Caligula given to wanton debauchery and lasciviousness too vile for expression, no amount of abuse will be too great until they begin to mend their ways.
We must not forsake our liberties and freedoms for the temporary absolution of government from every kind of scrutiny, be it informed or ignorant, else we deserve none of the liberty nor the freedom we have and lastly, the learned should beware that they are not found to give succour to those whose aim is to curtail our freedom of expression in the misguided view that social media is the bane of the problems Nigeria has.
Social media is just the symptom of a problem defined by the way the government has chosen to work and govern.

Saturday 28 July 2012

Thought Picnic: Unlatched from Slumber

False premises
Deep in sleep, one is suddenly awoken by the opening of the door as if a child playing prankster has run by tugging at the handle to annoy you.
You wake up startled expecting to see the child sheepishly come by, half-contrite, half-satisfied for doing the reprehensible to us but the comprehensible to them.
Then your mind gets subjective and you prepare to bound out of bed and deliver a severe warning just stoking the limits of absolute rage but you restrain yourself as the door is closed once again for you to settle into slumber.
Possible remedies
Not too long afterwards, it happens again, then again and again, over days as it becomes unclear as to whether the door is possessed or the child is more possessed but ones peace is held all the same giving the benefit of doubt that there might well be something else at play. Meanwhile, the child is scolded by someone else as one settles into the satisfaction that it will not happen again.
Another remedy to this little inconvenience is to either lock the door or close the window because a spark of scientific thinking suggests when the wind blows and pressure is reduced in the room the door apparently flings open, but why one did not just ascertain that once and for all is left to the laziness of mind.
Reasons arising
Then purposely the door was closed and it did not seem to have the clicking sound that suggests the door was properly closed, why does one have to manipulate the handle to close the door? We were close to why the problem existed but not the reason yet, subconsciously, one put it down to bad workmanship and left it at that.
This afternoon, the reason with all its ramifications became evident, the lock was put in wrongly so the bevel of the catch that ensured the door was properly closed and caught off the fitting of the door frame was facing the wrong way.
Doors to dummies
Mortice Lockset courtesy of HomeTips

Let us get really technical here, we can all learn something from this little but seemingly inconsequential matter. One needs a lockset to lock a door, the example above is a Mortice (UK) lockset. The lock body goes in the body of the door itself where you will attach the handle or knob. Accompanying the lock body is the strike plate which can be a rigid fitting to the door frame or cut into the door frame.
The strike plate holes take the latch bolt to close the door and the deadbolt to lock the door. In some cases the door handle is immobile usually on the exterior which means the door only needs to be slammed shut for it to be locked requiring a key to open the door. The lock system can be built into the latch assembly, thereby, not needing a deadbolt, those are all aesthetics but they all could determine how secure the lock will be.
The latch bolt is bevelled allowing for the door to be shut easily but it catches against the strike plate so that the door cannot be pulled open except by turning the handle or knob or by using a key.
In this case, the bevelled side of the latch bolt was not catching against the strike plate meaning the door can be pulled open or like I described earlier, the wind could just do it for it.
Determine why every time
I could have saved myself the subjectiveness of causation by immediate observation and inquiry rather than let my mind wander off into conjecture, assuming a premise that has now been proved to be totally wrong.
The many times we have allowed the subjective to becloud better judgement derived from applying ourselves to the task of acquiring knowledge by keen observation and the logic that allows one to make complete sense of how and why things happen.
For therein lies the smarts; being inquisitive, precocious, questioning and challenging of situations brings knowledge that cannot be contemned, because your thinking, sentiment and discernment will be based on data and facts. Doing it immediately makes you even smarter, we need to have the presence of mind to think this way.

Thursday 26 July 2012

Sun Getting in Europe

Sun’s out
We come out and we laid down in the sun for burning. It is the reptilian nature of Northern Europeans to sun bathe, every appearance of the glowing sun with its warmth and heat is a welcome sign to strip off and soak it in.
Now, those of us of darker skin are usually not persuade of the sun worshipping ritual all by reason of the fact that we have come from sunnier climes where we probably always sought the shade and when we did not, we had our houses and offices fitted with air-conditioners that brought tundra to the tropics.
Sun health
I did remember one office I visited in Lagos that required we all wore jumpers for the artificially manufactured cold – no one considered the cost of and the energy it took to freeze the building.
The fact is we also need the sun because essential Vitamin D is produced by our exposure to the sun which we do not get enough of in Europe that we have to take supplements in the winter months.
Humidity is sometimes a curse, it is usually so high as to be suffocating, we need the sun, we need hydration and we need cooling down. One other problem that we have encountered is after about 8 years of living in Europe we become so susceptible to hay fever – the feeling could be so nasty, those of us spare the ravages of that ailment can only be thankful.
Sun getting
By and large, we should take in the sun with moderation and there isn’t much we can do with sun screen lotions since the pigmentation that is literally invisible on Caucasian skin shows up as if we have been face painting.
The sun is out, we should make the best of summer, my shorts, my bicycle and off to the man-made beach I used to scoff at.

Monday 23 July 2012

Thought Picnic: I've become small money man

Called to meet
I have found much amusement about my circumstances than I could care for having any self-pity, life is a story of events and milestones that we get to tell in many ways.
It just takes a few words to contextualise a situation, we might even call that a synopsis but to the affected, it carries more weight than the speaker or writer might have contemplated.
Out of the blue, I was invited to participate in some projects that I did find interesting with all the questions I had to mind about process, procedure and engagement, many of which were comfortably answered by the principal mover when we met.
Great and small
The discussion then moved on to other ideas that needed to gain traction filling in needs that appeared not to have been catered for, much of which seemed to make good sense and will definitely be worth exploring.
The end of the meeting included receiving some emails about the topics discussed which I did read and I could only smile to myself when the communication which really should not have included me had a phrase that suggested giving me “small money” for my efforts.
My amusement was in realising that for a good deal of my working life as a contractor, I was probably one of the highest paid in my team, not out of greed or covetousness but those were the market rates for people of my cadre.
A penny for my thoughts
Normally, I was grabbed off the market at any sometimes outrageous rate and once I had completed the project, I suddenly become too expensive to retain. It was never a problem then.
However, now, I see a different situation where I might well be slighted by the “small money” talk but then I do need the small money because that is what things have become. My erstwhile seething arrogance to some which was honestly just an expression of defying confidence that I know what I am worth and I am good value for money has become a situation where I live day to day on the generosity of hand-outs from friends and well-wishers.
If someone is willing to give me small money for my thoughts, the pennies do come in handy. 

Saturday 21 July 2012

Thought Picnic: The Power of Desire II

The path to it
It was a path I never walked for almost 16 months of my being there and it led to a house that looked decrepit, visited by some who wore drawn faces and made you wish the world had something to offer besides waiting for God and heaven.
Indeed, at Sunday school we had learnt of the sweet by-and-by taught by teachers whose sadism pretending to discipline would have made the devil smile with glee.
This was a different crowd, almost hip and quite urbane studying art and exhibiting creativity that just blew you away. How they did it, I could not tell but I found myself walking up the path with them and for all the African initiated histrionics I had seen and heard my mother display, calling names of angels from beyond a place yonder comprehension, these guys were in a different place.
Rituals and victuals
They knelt to pray and suddenly started speaking in languages I could not phantom but it sounded Middle-Eastern, the questions came later and with that came a conversion from the faith I once knew.
Now I was caught amongst the throes of establishmentarian High-Church Anglicanism, the unschooled atrocity of prophets, psalms, potions, candles with ritualistic practices that gave evil the palpability to scare to death and a new living way that still had many scrambling to find true direction and purpose.
The incisions were too many to count and as to what one was fed, after chewing and swallowing a new Tiger brand razor blade under the supervision of a witch doctor, one probably had the constitution for anything that could be offered on a plate. Don’t contemn African animism, they don’t do illusions and once you visited the grotto, Harry Potter will be kindergarten with docile kids.
Desires that tore
With this came new friends, many challenges, serious misgivings, deep conflicts and worst of all familial friction. At a time that I really did need help I found myself alone, ostracised, abandoned and cursed – yes, cursed for deviating from what had become the norms for some but made the bizarre look tame.
From that day, desire battled with desire, the battleground being my mind and the burdens it grew to juggle between the good, the bad, the ugly, the unmentionable and much else.
You never arrived, you were always on a journey as perfection and imperfection traded with your soul and each faltering step forward seemed to bargain with a precipitous fall from grace. You were caught in the pincers of the power of desire to be who you are and be what you want to be.
Nobody told me that it would be this hard and at the same time it could be so easy. Trust is what matters and the knowledge that comes with that will help make the desire to be good come true. 

Friday 20 July 2012

Thought Picnic: The Power of Desire

The seed of destruction
It started with a conversation in places that few dare to meet and with a picture whose beauty was as engaging as to be irresistible, one was caught in the gripping claws of the unmentionable.
There in the deepest recesses of the being, the weaknesses that had been so easily exploited by those who could and the yearnings for satisfaction that one longed for in times past had been unleashed, one was to become a slave to a new passion that dare not speak its name.
The messenger from the damned never returned, his work had been done the seed had been sown and soil was fertile having been soiled with the things that time and time brought shame and reproach too many times that it had become the norm.
Like it was 1997
Before they knew it, we found common cause and interest with those who sailed close to the wind in their quest for the inordinate and the debauched, our restraint barely holding us back from reckless abandon.
There was a bizarre safety in numbers and the numbers are not a few, gathered to please and pleasure each other, out of sight, we took the flights of fancy that individually to our lives brought blight we never dared to share.
Dragons be here
Much could be done to resist and some did find strength to desist but the power of desire did insist that we might soon cease to exist.
There is a message out there to those who would hear and it is too clear if you are to retain the company of those you hold dear. Those who have unfortunately crossed the Rubicon may not live in regret but might sound a warning to those behind; on a pill a day for the rest of ones life – dragons be here.

Wednesday 18 July 2012

Hospital: Bloody routines

Bloods for viewing
It was the ritual of bloods again today which presages my second appointment with my consultant this year. The meetings now seem to have stretched from quarterly to almost every 4 to 5 months though this was to allow for my consultant taking his holiday this year in July rather than August as he did last year.
This might well be my last major medical appointment in the Netherlands before I leave the country for a somewhat uncertain future to places yet undefined but I have lived dangerously enough to be sure that things will turn out fine and my outlook as I sort out the confusion from the direction will lead to a presently invisible but definitely better end.
Handled with efficiency
As I made for the hospital allowing for just under 3 weeks for the bloods to be tested, I found myself at the end of a queue over 20 deep but handled with the efficiency you will not find in the poorly managed supermarkets we ply in the Netherlands.
They had opened an extra registration desk and had all the 6 blood-letting temporary wards fully staffed even though when I saw I was being served unsupervised by a trainee, I held my breath long enough not to panic at the possibility of a mishap.
I only had two forms listing the blood tests that needed to be done requiring 7 vials of blood and it almost made me faint when the man next to me had what numbered like 6 forms, I did not bother to think of whether he’ll need a transfusion after giving blood.
Don’t stop flowing now
For the first time, I watched the needle go under my skin and after the second vial, the blood ceased to flow, in my mind I prayed I will not have to suffer another puncture wound for blood as she deftly manipulated the needle till the vial seemed to fill up with great reluctance.
At the seventh vial, without it getting to a quarter full, the flow stopped and nothing could be done to take any more blood from that puncture, after surveying the vial, she decided there was enough for the tests as she removed the needle and covering the prick incision with cotton wool then labelled the vials before sealing my arm with tape.
As I am wont to do, I walked round to the chapel office to see if the catholic pastor was in, unfortunately, he wasn’t and I really have not seen him for nigh on a year.
In three weeks, the tale of the bloods will be revealed and maybe, just maybe I will know unto whom my medical records will have to be transferred when I leave the Netherlands.
If anything, the quality of medical care I have received in the Netherlands has been sterling and amazing, I would not know if I can been assured of this standard of care in any other country and it is a primary concern that has featured in considerations of going to Africa – the honest truth is I do not expect to see anything near the quality I have grown accustomed to here.

Thought Picnic: Loving Beyond Pain

Revealing plain humanity
I am moved by the reaction of grieving parents to the loss of their daughter and the expression of acceptance not bordering on resignation but on forging even stronger family ties.
We learnt that Eva Rausing, wife of Hans Kristian Rausing, the heir to the Tetrapak fortune had been found dead at her home just over a week ago, a death that remains unexplained but at the same time is not thought to involve any foul play.
I am saddened by this news on many levels from that fact that this couple literally had everything in the world in terms of means, they were very generous and in all that, they had their demons; drug addiction.
Love above all
Despite this, they met whilst they were on rehab, had a marriage that lasted 21 years from which four offspring were produced and they all with their near and extended relations must be utterly devastated by this loss.
It would appear from what has been gleaned from the many stories that Eva might have died for some time and her husband either through grief or some other unexplained situation had not reported her death and by reason of that he is being charged with preventing the lawful and decent burial of his wife’s body.
The law can be an ass in the midst of serious human tragedy, not having the means to appreciate to any extent the reasons and the actions of human-beings in circumstances that defy common-sense or reason.
Life without secrets
I appreciate how the family has acknowledged the problems they had and worked to handle them with grace even though none of the problems will have done much to maintain the mystique of great riches and means that they had access to if they needed to convey a veneer of perfection and gloss over those problems.
This has not in any way affected the expression of love, concern and adulation Eva’s parents have for her husband that they addressed Hans Kristian as their beloved son rather than the more legal son-in-law.
More lessons than one
In a time when every event has victims, the hurt and the waiting to be offended seeking revenge, expressing bitterness and running to the courts for criminal and civil redress for real or imagined harm, this example is one of those who might not obtain elusive closure others seemed to pretend to obtain in the satisfaction of vengeance but the positive and warm feelings with which they have accepted this harrowing tragedy will no doubt be a healing balm to all affected.
It is in this spirit that I am moved to express my sincere condolences to the parents of Eva Rausing for the loss of their daughter, to her children, her husband and all relations that they might find the strength and fortitude to bear this loss and that the wonderful memories they have recalled of her will be an enduring legacy of a woman who despite her foibles and her riches was genuinely loved and will be sadly missed.

Friday 13 July 2012

Thought Picnic: Cheating My Cords and Weigh

Weigh ways
We obsess and we worry about the figure and the body, between the sexes and the issues of health we find ourselves counting weighing, looking, adjusting and reassessing but almost never where we want to be in the heart of our vanities.
I have seen it when the scales showed figures that made me cover my eyes in embarrassment and then when I had to cover my mouth with shock all for all sorts of reasons that now require I keep it stable especially if at one time you lost a whole fifth of your weight because your body was in a fight for its existence.
Weigh bays
Then it mostly came back on but between you and your doctor is the matter of 10kg, he wants you to add more and you want to keep it down that at one time the scale seemed to be the step into the bathroom with memories of the last time I stepped on it and a different that could be a plus or a minus – it really became silly.
Fancying myself a twink, not a rib in sight nor was there fat to pinch as I looked down my trousers to see my feet. Gosh! I’m so thin; I thought as I could not walk through airport security checks without the possibility of a mishap, having taken off my belt for the incongruous war against terror checks that were half a strip tease without the music, taking the joy out of travel.
As the day approaches that I will be visiting my consultant for my check-up again, I would suppose the scales will read a figure lower than I have seen in a while because if I am to free myself from the encumbrance of a belt, only hands in my pockets will keep them up.
Not as if one will go out for a walk without a belt to maintain the dignities and graces one is accustomed to.

Sunday 8 July 2012

Thought Picnic: I am Perfect for my Role

Knowing me well
It is beginning to sink in and I need to grab this and run with this like a man with a mission who just realised that his train is about the leave the platform doing everything I can to get on that train.
I have done so many things under my strength, by my ability because of my eligibility and my capability, a self-made man who has an amazing history, a depressing present and from a mere man’s perspective a very unclear future.
In the midst of this, I have come to the realisation that I am perfect for my role if I allow the call upon my life to be exhibited not in the boasts I can give about what I have done but by allowing certain truths that underpin the basis of my Christian faith to shine out of my imperfections.
My imperfections prepare me
O yes, I am an imperfect man, with unmatched tools and unworthy causes set out for a job that I am unqualified for, that has me weak in strength, stuttering in incoherence and lacking in all confidence but it is what makes me perfect for my role.
Why will the weak say I am strong? Why is it that it is those that become like children that have the greatest chance of entering heaven? Why is it that it is the foolish things of the world that have been chosen to confound the wise?
All because God does not want us to rely on our strengths, our abilities, our magnificence and the many things that allow us to boast about what we have been able to do such that God is grudgingly given the glory for where we have arrived at. Until we begin to realise that all things are for the excellency of the God’s purpose and power to be revealed through us that if we might be tempted to boast all we can boast of is in the Lord, we are still doing things under our strength.
The Act of Letting
Where we are not doing things under our strength, we accentuate our weaknesses using those as excuses not to be step forward and be counted because as men we are schooled to use heaven as a augmentation to what we have rather than let heaven’s grace radiate from within us in all our imperfections for men to see the power of God expressed in the weak such that God might be glorified in us.
I am perfect for my role, having lost everything, with chronic health issues, lots of experience brought to nothingness by perceived unviability, almost without a name and struggling with too many things to mention, else this will become an endless read – at that point where acceptance is the beginning of radical change – letting go and letting God – in the most clichéd of evangelical phrases to perfect His will in me.
The Power of Acceptance
I remember not so long ago as I navigated the Kubler-Ross Five Stages of Grief, only then the grief was dealing with disease, the moment I accepted I had cancer I was ready to look at the next stage of my life, winning the battle and putting it into remission – it happened and by medical assessment, my consultants thought the speed of my recovery was both marvellous and miraculous.
Now, the grief is catastrophe manifested in misfortune and I think I have reached the stage of acceptance where what now lays before me is a future that will stretch my imagination.
The path to realisation
I am no doubt a work in progress, ready for what is ahead of me by reason of what I could not have anticipated. The moment I began to realise that people are blessing me not so much because I am so liked but because they themselves are just amazingly and innately good anyhow, I have begun to get some perspective of the level of gratitude I should have for the too many wonderful things that have become the story of my sometimes ordinary and sometimes extraordinary life.
This story is just about to take off.
For those who might be so inclined to elicit why I have come to this realisation, I have been listening to Pastor Steven Furtick of Elevation Church who preached a number of sermons titled – Living a Better Story – there might be some truth in it for you too.
Useful links
These links point directly to the MP3 files
The Elevation Church HomePage.
The Elevation Church Podcast portal for audio, video and HD video archived podcasts, all free to access.

Saturday 7 July 2012

Thought Picnic: The Awl in the Heart of the Old Owl

The owl as his friends
I love cartoons, something about them excites the imagination, tickles the child in you and offers you a reality you can never think possible and a recovery that is just too incredible within which can be concealed lessons, morals, tenets and interesting ideas about life – but that is the world of cartoons.
This old owl seeing that his days were ending, called his close friends to the clearing to offer some advice. The waited in rapt attention and he spoke with a voice that oscillated between joyful and sorrowful. Joyful that they had come and sorrowful that he might soon leave.
His message was clear without being explicit; the fellowship of the owl can only be maintained if they all worked together. They were all friends of the owl but not everyone knew each other.
His voice
He spoke of a treasure, an ideal and a burden, something to share, something to aspire to and something to bear, they needed to talk together so that what was to share did not go spare, they needed to aspire to did not go haywire and most importantly what if they chose to bear the burden together will not be too dear for all.
But two friends hoping to steal a match on the others jumped for the treasure unsettling the owl that was now under pressure and the owl fell breaking his neck in the fall.
Pushed under the bus
As the soul of the owl wandered off into the bright light, he was saddened and fearful that his wizen old self left in the clearing below will go to vultures because if they had worked together, the burden will be lighter, even if the ideal were yet unreal and the treasure was small.
However, the time had gone for the owl to ascertain the depth of the friendship he thought he had, the great doorway beckoned as what was left behind was there for whatever and whoever to finish that story.
The end.

Thursday 5 July 2012

Nigeria: No Gas Mask for the Tear-gas of Corruption

The proposal
We were partners, him twice my age, a lawyer and moving in the big political and business circles that included being one of the directors of the United Bank of Africa.
I came to his notice by reason of work I was doing at a legal publishing firm after he had parted with a princely sum to acquire the Nigerian Supreme Court Cases in 40 volumes, one of his side businesses was a printing press that used conventional methods, he now wanted in on the desktop publishing craze that I had become of the experts of.
We met and talked, I was impressed but never in awe, my demeanour was quite unusual for me because I did not fawn, genuflect unnecessarily and spoken my mind with confidence on my area of expertise.
We agreed to form a company, we called in NextStep Ltd and I was the Technical Director with a 30% stake to optimise the design to printing process of his printing press. It looked like an exciting prospect though it was never one I could devote my full time to, I had many commitments as a consultant.
Taking the next steps
We won a few jobs and began to make some money when we decided the equipment needed upgrading – this all included getting a new computer, a new scanner and software for optical recognition, design and a few other things.
We also agreed that it would be best to get all this stuff from England and we set the ball rolling for that, that was when I noticed that there were many ready to work the system to their advantage in what became a catalogue of corrupt activity.
As a bank director, he had the means to acquire foreign currency beyond the stated limits to be taken out of the country at any one time.
My passport could only be endorsed with £1,515 though we needed £5,000, arrangements were made to get the whole lot and then have me handle just the amount endorsed.
Leeches and fleeces
He had a sister, not qualified for much and she just happened to have a plumb job at the bank in the foreign exchange department, one will not suggest nepotism but there was enough evidence around the place to show that it was rife.
In exchanging Naira to Pounds, she creamed off 20% for herself in cahoots with a few other wolves that included the assistant and somewhat close confidant of her brother. They hated the fact that I would not join in their enterprise to cream off more and still expected me who to their minds was the sudden “interloper” partner of a company I had all the rights to be part of to feather their nests, I refused.
Then I was to travel to the UK with an ex-partner of my partner with whom there was a great falling out years before only to be resolved for the purposes of keeping an eye on me and him being known and I barely known; it did not bother me.
Leave with ease
My getting a visa was easy, I did not need any references, I had enough evidence to prove I was born in the UK and I had legitimate work going on in Nigeria. We had a jovial conversation rather than a tough interview as consulate officer shared jokes about many who had visited with tall tales to tell, it was hilariously shameful.
What probably impressed him most was that I felt I had much to do in Nigeria and just wanted the opportunity to visit the UK at will when I needed to.
Meanwhile, as my air ticket was being arranged, another group of leeches were there to cream off bits for themselves too; they were all just a reprehensibly hungry bunch looking for scraps anywhere money seemed to be present.
At the airport, going through customs, all the money budgeted for what we needed to do, there were official beggars at each stage seeking bribes with seemingly friendly questions asking what I had brought for them.
My passport in her pocket
I got away with a lot just because of my accent, I was firm and probably cheeky by Nigerian standards because I said I believed they were paid to do their jobs and let legitimate passengers through the system without seeking gratuities.
This all worked until I got to the final checkpoint where this pregnant woman took my passport, leafed through the pages and on seeking the endorsement thought she could have some for herself. It so made me angry but what she did was pocket my passport and walk away.
You only pocket someone else’s passport if you are up to no good and since I was not used to any of the obsequiousness that appeals to the egos of abusers of power, I sought my travel companion and pointed out the woman to him to sort out the situation.
He had once worked for the Nigerian Airways and he knew how to pull a few strings though I cannot say what he did, he retrieved my passport as I half cursed that unborn child of a rottenly corrupt woman – how the brood of such can ever turn out right escaped me – that child will be about 23 years old now.
Everyone gets a piece
My companion had his own plan which he executed to perfection in the UK, he had all the VAT receipts paid into his account in London and so everyone walked laughing all the way to the bank whilst I watched the rot that exemplifies Nigeria – corruption is in the fabric of the personification of the country, it is not just in leadership alone.
When I returned from the UK, I gave complete account of how the moneys were spent but all my honesty simply exposed me to criticism from all corners including my partner, he went on post false stories about me to all the contacts we made in the UK after I left Nigeria. The man just had no integrity and thought he could use his powerful status to destroy me, it took a while but by the time I constructed the litany of atrocious behaviour I condoned to my relations, they came to appreciate my side of the story.
My staff in the slammer
Meanwhile, dabbling in the business of selling Christmas cards having joined up with some hustler out of town, his staff stole some of the cards and went selling them around town.
The partner then corralled all staff including mine without the courtesy of informing me and had them locked up. I only heard the next day that they had been in a police cell for the night.
I made for the police station and in my characteristic Un-Nigerian manner told the officer in charge that I will not be leaving the police station without my staff. I took a seat and left the system to work itself out.
In the end, my staff negotiated a fee that I paid in cash and I signed a form that clearly stated that no money had exchanged hands in obtaining the release of my staff – it was the last straw for me.
At that point, I had reached a decision, in all my working life in Nigeria I had been able to evade all the issues with the Nigerian way of doing things, people respected my views and did not expect of me things I was not ready to condone.
Our parting
In the case of this man who literally hated my guts but wanted my genius, it was an uneasy clam that had evolved into a perfect storm.
I will not be talked to in ways I have never been talked to by my parents. I will not have money thrown to me across the table as if I was begging for it; it was like I was putting him through a boot camp of attitude adjustment that he had perfected over years with impunity.
He could not understand why because of what I had in my head I did not bend to his authority like all the others did and I had one answer for him.
“You don’t give a 24 year old 30% of a company and think that is the end of his life; I will throw it away and start all over again somewhere else with even greater success.”
Yes and the postscript to that tale was summed up in the words of a friend. “Akin, when you left NextStep, there were no other steps to be taken.” We could have done something great with that company but there was just no scope for such with the kind of people I had to work with.
That was it
Everyone seems to be steeped in some activity for some sort of corrupt enrichment, even cashing checks at the bank, tellers wanted a cut too apart from those who wanted me to inflate my contract fees to accommodate kickbacks.
It was difficult doing business because rent-seekers were at every turn, if I was in competition for a job with a female; I will not catch the man’s fancy for possible sexual favours. In the end, I told the fixers to pad the numbers as they want but it must not reflect in the invoices I submitted – the straight and narrow just made you look square – the time to leave Nigeria had come and it was done in just 28 days.

Tuesday 3 July 2012

Thought Picnic: I am no super-human, I know that much

After I’m done
A very personal letter to some of my closest friends ended with a simple message, “if anything does happen to me by reason of the circumstances I have encountered, I will want be seen by friends and be rested in the land of my birth.”
Despite my sometimes outward stoicism and the somewhat vaunted ‘stiff upper lip’ that the English are purported to have, maybe the more traditional English than the contemporaries, there is a part of my humanity that recognises that I am both vulnerable and fragile.
I have to be careful that my vulnerability and fragility do not complicate my circumstances that I can no more function anymore.
Capacity beyond ourselves
However, one also has to be realistic, all that we experience has a payload and consequence, it changes the countenance, might affect one's metabolism, could impact on one’s health and the dial either veers to the positive or the negative depending on those circumstances.
Amazingly, some human beings have spare capacity, the amazing capacity to stay affirmative, positive, hopeful and encouraged that it is not over until it is really over. This must come from the spirit because the five senses and mental processing are usually occupied by the immediacy of pain, of shame, of inability, of ineffectuality, and of failure.
Forgiven and praised
One has to prepare and set things in order. If one has been blessed with friends one can trust to rise when it is done and over. At least, the account books can be neatly closed and the era will be recorded in the chronicles of those who think it matters.
We have only one life to live, we assume the identities we are most comfortable with and ultimately espouse the affinities that come to define us. How we end up different is not the topic for today.
The times of reckoning are near, be they measured in days or decades; the hope is that we will be forgiven our foolishness and be mercifully praised.

Monday 2 July 2012

Thought Picnic: That Kick to be Delivered to my Behind

Have I lost it?
“So, they are going to give you a kick in the butt to get a job,” he said in jest but the seriousness and the deep meaning of that statement left me wondering days after what I might have been doing wrong.
Have I since become work-shy, half-driven but hardly determined and basically lazy over time such that I have not been trying hard enough to find a job?
I suppose that will be a question that will haunt me for long enough as I review how I have literally lost everything just because there was no job to keep all that I once had.
Changing perspectives
What once looked like strategy is no more sound, but I believe we go through a constant process of reinventing ourselves in the hope that we remain relevant, useful and fulfilling in everything we embark on.
It has looked like I have to now de-emphasise the technical aspects of my expertise since there has not been enough practice in that area and give more emphasis to the my experience in general a wealth of experience that had me tackle some interesting questions I faced when chatting to a start-up recruitment agent.
Adapting to circumstances
She talked first about my age noting that many people in start-ups are quite young. I immediately responded that Larry Page & Sergey Brin of Google brought on Eric Schmidt, and whilst Mark Zuckerberg is the face of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg was brought in – in terms, start-ups need the gentle hands and head of “adult supervision.”
Then she said I looked very formal – someone does have to keep up the standards but at the same time business people when interacting with start-ups like to meet up with people who are naturally business-like.
To the one of my never having worked in a start-up before, having worked in 3 countries and about 8 different industries, my flexibility and adaptability makes me best suited for a start-up environment which is usually composed of people with ideas they are convinced have a market.
The process of reinvention should however continue until the right fit and opportunity match to create a semblance of work satisfaction. Whether I need a kick in the butt to get that job is something I am probably prepared to explore too.
Thank you.

Thought Picnic: The things I cherish of friends now departed

Things sorted
As I gathered the things I could take away in the weekend past, two things became stuff I could not part with.
In my move, I cannot afford to recollect the things I have parted with, memories of work I have done decades ago, some documents that chart my history to times that have long gone into the recesses, too many.
The oldest document I found was my hospital card from as far back as in the 1960s, I kept that, then pictures, and I fear that some despite those I kept might have been lost forever and much else.
That was Dick
Beyond those, was a card with a name and a telephone number, I was in Paris in 1996 and we met, became friends and he was more than a helper when I first moved to the Netherlands, as he helped me settle in then offered much help over the years as I settled in the Netherlands.
The last time I saw him, he came to visit me just 5 days after I left hospital, we were to go for dinner, but I had no strength for that activity, we had tea at my home and talked. If I had the strength, I would have been there to attend the day he defended his PhD.
Friends said, they could see and hear his strength fade as he gave a spirited performance; he had phoned me a few weeks before that he was about to undergo treatment for a type of lymphoma that I did not ascertain in our conversation. We apparently shared the same oncologist and consultant.
Twelve days after that defence, he died just 8 days short of his 58th birthday, the card on which he wrote his details on the first day of our meeting will remain with me.
When I was a midwife
My uncle visiting me years ago just could not understand why I had so many towels, it is not like I determined to have that many but I did. After much talk about it, I found what would take that off his mind completely, I told him I was a closet midwife, the effect was immediate, funny and terminal – not another word was mentioned about the towels again.
However, there was one nicely embroidered towel that was given to me as a Christmas present and it could well have been a birthday present to.
We met attending the same church over 10 years ago; by amazing coincidence, she shared the same birthday with her wonderful husband and that was my birthday which we shared with another also wonderful lady.
A gift from Marie
I have an affinity for the colour blue and this particularly shade of blue formed the embroidery of a windmill and my name on a white towel; it was such a beautifully personalised gift to cherish.
Sadly, a few years ago, I heard after it had happened that she was ill with cancer and had died two weeks before. The towel, I kept in fond memory of a lady whose kindness, patience, love and concern was a great example to me even when I drifted away.
They remembered the birthday we shared fondly and kept contact but more still, the good they brought into my life cannot be quantified.
Death can only take people away; it does not have the power to take away the memories of how they touched our lives.