Saturday 28 June 2014

Berlin: Pictures that tell other stories

Bottling money
Germany has a way with issues and one I have observed and only just captured a good picture of is the consequence of the Container Deposit Legislation.
Anytime there is a big outdoor event there are people with bags or suitcases, sometimes on foot or wheeling bicycles or even with supermarket trolleys collecting containers.
These are for single use containers as cans, plastic bottles and glass bottles, the empty bottles cost €0.25 each at the returns point and all affected containers are labelled pfand.
What makes this legislation quite bizarre is a black market created by reason of people not necessarily caring about returning their containers to reclaim their pfand deposits. At first, people had to return the containers to their original point-of-purchase; that was eventually eased for them to be returned to any place where the refunds can be made.
So, picking on bottles, riffling through bins and at night peering in with a torchlight, collectors have made a trade that could yield a free €25 for 100 bottles and when a festival is in town, beyond the jostling for the bottle when there is competition, it could be a health sum in these hard times.
The police are your friends
In the past 12 years, I think I attended every Berlin CSD bar one, besides Berlin in June being warm, sunny and fun, there are too many museums to visit, old friends to meet, decent Nigerian restaurants to visit, the main one for me being Ebe-Ano after Fifty-Fifty closed early last year.
Ebe-Ano is central too and quite easy to get to. Ebe Ano, Pohlstraße 52, D-10785 Berlin, +49 30 609 69 627.
However, what is more striking about CSD parades is the presence of the police who act as bookends to the march, in their cars and as outriders before the street sweepers take up the rear cleaning up as if nothing happened.
The Landespolizei are your friends even though they man war-like tanks on football match days and can be quite fierce looking, armed to the teeth, they are rarely, at least not to my knowledge even found in acts of abuse of power as the Sichersheitdienst (SD) or Gestapo of the Nazi era were wont to demonstrate.
The right to be protected
In many other countries, especially to the East of Germany, the police would probably be testing the strength of their truncheons and their preparedness for riot management on demonstrations of great diversity as a Pride march. Here in Berlin, major arteries of traffic and business roads are closed off for the safe celebration of the CSD.
It is not only a celebration of our diverse humanity, but it sounds out the voice of acceptance and the community that Gay Rights are Human Rights too.
Along with the crowds that gather to watch the parades, most of whom are straight with generations of their families, a society at ease with all that inhabit it regardless of persuasion is one destined to thrive.
For many other countries where the state apparatus is used to harass and persecute those that are different, in that picture is a long story from oppression and extermination in the Nazi Concentration Camps to respectful and celebratory co-existence – that is civilisation.
Not just a manhole cover
I could remember when we moved to our new home in Isolo, Lagos in September 1980, the grills on the gutters of the main road were made in Kaiserlautern, Germany.
Nothing could be so distant from the heartland of Nigeria than to have products of other countries cover the dregs and waste of our people, a significant story of what has always been the unrealised potential of Nigeria. The tragedy of our steel industry is best left untold.
Yet, after all these years of visiting Berlin, I looked down at a manhole cover and noticed there was something quite significant about it.
It was no ordinary lid covering the waterworks distribution infrastructure, but a celebration of the City of Berlin with images of the major Berlin landmarks as the Brandenburg Gate, the Fernsehturm at Alexanderplatz, the Reichstag parliament building, the Siegessäule (Victory Column) and the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church of the structures I can recognise.
All of these places are worth a visit when in Berlin amongst other historic places that represent ancient, imperial, Nazi, post-War and united Berlin. They even had an exhibition of manhole covers in 2011.
Just one of the many quirky things that one sees, innocuous but still significant. I love Berlin.

Thursday 26 June 2014

Berlin: Lest We Forget Those We Lost To Sexually Transmitted Infections

Stones of remembrance
Just further down the road at the big junction on the right after Wittenbergplatz but before Nollendorfplatz at An der Urania in Berlin stands a black marble stone with a red AIDS ribbon and one other on the ground, a square with inscriptions.
The quarter of space marked by a number of streets to the right also harbours many meeting places of people who have most been affected by HIV/AIDS as it scythed through the young with the vengeance of an unforgiving and unrelenting Grim Reaper.
However, this memorial did not just think of HIV/AIDS but it included Hepatitis and broadly Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD).
Before you get holier than thou
Very easily, one can be sanctimonious and sententious as if completely unaffected and that might be the case for the abstainer, the celibate or the eunuch.
We however cannot deny that we are sexual beings and the desire to fulfil that need exists in the majority.
Some have experienced it through consent, some through violation, some as their innocence was snatched away by the unconscionably reprehensible, in violence or by subterfuge, none of which apart from the first are in the slightest, fun.
Death still looms
The greater point is to be aware of one's sexual health regardless of risks taken and to avail oneself of immediate treatment before other complications arise.
The rather innocuous infections can easily be vectors and vehicles enabling greater susceptibility to incurable diseases of which HIV is one and besides there is a rise in co-infections with the difficult to cure Hepatitis C.
Even in the West, people still die of these diseases as in some cases some diseases are becoming resistant to the heretofore effective drug therapies, like Gonorrhoea.
A memorial to all
What really touched me most was not that this was a memorial to the dearly and unfortunately departed, but that many living souls might have walked past a memorial to themselves.
Our secrets, fears, infidelities, embarrassment, shame, habits, ignorance, daring, promiscuity, innocence, naivety, stupidity, carelessness, carefreeness or just our plain humanity can put us in a place of pain.
We can mitigate those issues with accepting whom we are, being honest to ourselves and using the help to ensure we are no sooner victims than we should be.
To those we lost, you are never forgotten. Shalom!

Wednesday 25 June 2014

Berlin: That We May Never Forget

A sign of times past
Just at the entrance of Wittenbergplatz U-Bahn Station is a panel board of place names. Twelve in a list that spells the recording of one of man’s greatest inhumanities to man.
A list of Nazi Concentration Camps
These were the Nazi Concentration Camp names of which if you have read a bit of World War II history, Auschwitz is the most prominent.
The Nazis used these camps for various activities as hostage, labour, prisoner-of-war, re-education, transit and extermination camps. It was in some of these extermination camps that they systemically killed off people, most especially the Jews in what is known as the Holocaust.
Feeling the presence of pain
Now, I have never visited any of these places, but in 2007, I visited Pawiak Prison in Warsaw and that experience still lives with me, for I am of the opinion that where innocent blood is shed, there is always a memorial of feeling and uneasiness that beclouds that place.
Blog - PAWIAK!
However, what struck me more about the Nazi setup was their attention to detail that created a bureaucracy of such efficiency that the particularity of things they documented just took your breath away.
Badges of badgering
One good example of this was the identification in the Nazi Concentration Camps where tattooed numbers, badges and armbands immediately identified the type of prisoner you were.
So, you had political prisoners (red), professional criminals (green), emigrants (blue), Jehovah’s Witnesses (purple), Homosexuals and sexual offenders (pink), asocial elements (black), Roma gypsies (brown) and so on. Pink triangle along with the rainbow flag now signify LGBTI causes and diversity.
The two superimposed triangles in the sign of the Star of David depicted Jews, typically yellow but could have other colours signifying Jew and another offender category.
That we may never forget.
The most important lesson to learn from this and in that understand why World War II was fought and won for our liberty, freedom and acceptance of difference and diversity is in the many memorials that say as shown on that sign, “Orte Des Schreckens, Die Wir Niemals Vergessen Dürfen.” This roughly translates to, “The Places of Horror, That We May Never Forget.
They who have no history and keep no memorials are destined to repeat history, those reminded of the horrific past are quicker to embrace the greater good of humanity and human existence.
More correctly, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.George Santayana or “Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it.Edmund Burke.
We speak of history because there is a burden of truth we must carry for the present in order to secure a future of peace and happiness.

Monday 23 June 2014

Europe: My Observations of Homelessness in Paris, Berlin and London

My homeless life
The roughest I have ever slept is on a sofa for just over a week when I was graciously offered a roof having become homeless.
I have been a nomad for years but have had the generosity and goodwill of others for periods of time beyond overstaying my welcome, but they have not refused me.
My things are scattered between countries, cities and homes, all of which has taught me to appreciate adversity as it affects people, and yet I consider myself blessed beyond measure for I have choices and in some way, the means to make such choices.
The backstory to this has been written innumerable times on this blog, I own my experiences and my story.
Between Paris and Berlin
Yet, in the capital cities of France, Germany and the United Kingdom, many have not been that fortunate.
In Paris, it was whole families that I observed sleeping rough, it was humbling and quite instructive.
In Berlin, I never once saw a cardboard box, but there was a spirit of humanity that I noticed. Those sleeping rough were not in store doorways but inside buildings sleeping amongst the enclosed automatic teller machines.
This could mean most of the homeless had a support system to fall back on and the few without access just got this alternative.
They obviously were not threatening, which might be why they were allowed in the bank branch buildings.
Maybe, but why?
Maybe again, Berlin businesses have a human heart that beats with compassion and empathy.
However, at a very unholy hour, I saw an old man without lower limbs fast asleep in his wheelchair, his polystyrene begging cup lightly clasped in his hand, my heart melted and I put in some change with the hope that clatter of chinks did not disturb his sleep. There was no need to be thanked.
It should never be on God's good earth that a man end up old and destitute with just his wheelchair for a bed. Not in Germany and not in Europe, but that is the reality and our humanity is the poorer for it, regardless of the life story of the man, the old and the young are the responsibility of the able.
I have no smart answers to the big questions, but what I can affect in my little sphere of influence and impact with the little experience, advice, means and help I have got, I would strive to be a blessing to others.
A bed of nails in London?
London however plumbed the depths of Dickensian malevolence when pictures appeared of anti-homeless spikes and studs being installed at entrances of prime real estate properties, we were scandalised.

You would think fakirs had invaded London and were ready to entertain with one of their interesting bed-of-nails tricks, but that was not the case.
An atrocity of inhumane corporatism
Worst still was when Tesco, the supermarket giant followed suit, installing studs at their recessed storefronts, such corporate irresponsibility that tacks onto the vilest expression of capitalism is utterly, utterly beneath contempt.

Tesco has lost my custom, and though after drawing public ire they have removed the said studs that they deigned to carry out the thought just shows they have no discernible humanity.
I have written before, we have a serious homelessness problem in the UK that the system has not yet fully grasped, it is an issue I would continue to write about until I see changes.

Sunday 22 June 2014

Thought Picnic: Many Stolen Moments, Few Owned Moments

A place enlightening the mind
Every once in a while, I find myself in places where memories come into my mind of things of life I have experienced.
Sat on a bus this morning, a whole series of thoughts occupied me from the desires of others I could not fulfil to the desires of mine I never boldly sought to see through.
For there are people we have had pass through our lives that have brought love and heartbreak, ones with whom that moment when it all looked right sometimes becomes a yearning that can never be relived.
Oh! The memories.
The heart’s medicine
However, with this was the fact that the times we spent together were short and yet intense, they felt like a lifetime but we never dared to make it more than fleeting.
The arrangements were rushed, impromptu, expensive but never regretful, no expense should be spare when one can see love because it is medicine to the heart that nothing else can offer and those small doses were like an elixir of life and youth.
They were stolen moments, for we never had enough time, the strong will, or the circumstances to split the infinitive, go daringly where another story of life of love and care might have taken us if we did have the courage.
Own the moments
Yet, we all have these stolen moments that for all sorts of reasons we have not deigned to make owned moments.
Our pursuit of happiness trammelled by our fears that have overwhelmed our hopes because of where we think we should be for others and are probably not there because we cannot be.
Where we should be for ourselves to the exclusion of others should be a decision we should make and hope to make before our time runs out. Have you ever asked, where have you been all my life?
Make that stolen moment and owned moment, live your life, be free.

Berlin: They brought their 'Big-Man' Complex with them

To the lettered in Berlin
Many years ago, I was through a relation of mine, a guest of the Nigerian Ambassador to Germany, the experience was a complete culture shock to me. I was picked up from my hotel and as we accessed the consulate everyone; the staff and some other visitors were genuflecting with insipid subservience, it was too sickening for words. I had entered a big-man time capsule that I do not think was encouraged by the ambassador himself.
I was respectful but quite dignified as someone suggested I should only speak when spoken to, not where I particularly come from or how I was brought up, I’m afraid. The ambassador was welcoming, friendly, without airs and engaging.
It was clear that he craved the company of fellow countrymen who could hold a decent conversation without the excesses of the fawning we call ‘respect’, nor was I there for some quid pro quo activity or politics, so we spoke freely as if we were old friends, it was such a pleasure to meet him.
Of the feted in Berlin
In another place and setting in Berlin, one can only imagine a restaurateur encounters this problem more frequently than most, but it got a good few of us quite irked as we tried to restore some order.
Running a restaurant is hard enough and having returning customers must speak for quality and service, at least in my case, both do matter and there are times where the absence of good service has informed whether I can really overlook that for the quality.
They booked a table for 10 for 4:00PM but did not arrive until 90 minutes later; you may call it African time, but surely not in Germany, they arrived without as much as informing the restaurant that they’ll be running late and when they did arrive it was just 6 of them.
Distributed Denial of Service
This inadvertently is a like an Internet Denial of Service attack, because reservations mean the tables cannot be allocated to other customers and depending on the demand, the proprietor stands to lose income if those who booked the reservation arrive late or never show up.
In the hotel business, at least, they have the option to charge the first night of a reservation if there is a no-show and then allocate the room to new custom for the next night, but that does not apply to restaurants.
Without apology, they sat and began to throw their weight around, expecting obsequiousness and fawning like they were accustomed to in Nigeria, they began to reconfigure the a la carte menu to their particular tastes as the co-owner waitress patiently accommodated their indecisive and indulgent needs as my irritation at their demeanour began to rise.
Whine on wine
When they finished their meal, they ordered wine, as if that should come after meals, but that is beside the point, being moneyed does not necessarily mean being cultured. As the bottle was presented by another waitress they called out the co-owner waitress-manager and complained that the waitress was not smiling whilst serving them, somehow they felt they were not being fussed over enough.
I had joined some gentlemen at another table as we were watching a football match and we thought amongst ourselves that that was the very wrong way to express displeasure at service if ever it was bad service. As long term customers going back years, we have never had reason to complain about service at this restaurant, but there goes.
Typically incalcitrant
Now, I had overheard the restaurateur inform them when they arrived that he had another reservation for 12 guests from 7:00PM, they also arrived a bit late, but he had forewarned the seated party that they might have to move tables when the larger group arrives.
By this time, they had more or less settled in, rearranged chairs and comfortably reclined to their wine watching the game. The restaurateur then approached them to say his booking had arrived and they would have to move, the number that was supposed to be 10 had now whittled down to 4 occupying the space for 12.
At the very least in a small seating restaurant, one would have expected them to be considerate, rather they decided they were being treated shabbily and without respect, abruptly demanded the bill.
The restaurateur tried hard to reason with them and placate them to no avail that we in my group got involved, offering them our seats as we readied to move to another part of the restaurant.
I don’t really care who you are
Then that supercilious Nigerian statement was made, “Do you know who we are?” I was having none of it, who were they? I later learnt, one of the number was supposedly a major general in Nigeria, but we are in Germany.
Typical Nigerian ‘Bigmanism’ an inability to moderate the delusions of grandeur and inflated sense of worth that associates with position and means in Nigeria once they have left Nigeria for other countries, especially European countries.
Much as I can be a reserved Englishman, I can well be a rather obstreperous Nigerian too as I told them off one at time in Yoruba, inferring the Yoruba saying that they were like kids whose first taste of stew had it spilling all over their clothes.
Adjusting to the situation
At which point, they realised that ‘Bigman’ card was not going to work in this restaurant, the other gentlemen with me half placated all of us as they tactfully reprimanded them. We live in Europe not cowering and fearful of people and this was not the place to be intimidated, regardless of what rank or means they had in Nigeria.
They moved and settled down before one of their number came to chat to me and I simply said, whatever their grievance, we were customers too and it was important they realised they were in an international setting that just happens to be serving Nigerian cuisine. There was a need to temper their need for fawning with some appreciation of time, manner and place.
He acquiesced, as we conversed in Yoruba, which meant he fully understood everything I said and it probably hit home, we cracked a few jokes, they paid up and left. We sighed with relief and much as one might have wanted to put some fault at the door of the restaurateur, we realised he must run the gauntlet of such nonsense, probably daily, some customers just need to be put in their place.
For this lot, all they deserved was good service and good food, which I believed they received, they’ll have to travel back to Nigeria to be waited on like royalty.

Friday 20 June 2014

Berlin: Streets of Strange

Streets of life
Courtesy - Google Maps

Kurfürstendamm [1] is the classy shopping street in the centre of Berlin that changes names to Tauentzienstrasse as it approaches the memorial Kaiser Wilheim Memorial Church [2] unto KaDeWe [4], the largest department store on mainland Europe.
It has a cousin, Kurfürstenstrasse [5], not really parallel to it but close enough to be confusing.
Starting off a few hundred metres beyond the old central railway station of Berlin Zoologischer Garten [3] it wends down respectably until a point where certain ladies in a manner of dress for a manner of trade ply their goods for custom.
This is observed is one walks the shortest path to Pohlstrasse where a Nigerian-Italian couple runs a restaurant serving Nigerian fare, the man being the chef at Ebe-Ano [6].
Strange times of things
There are a few things I conservatively consider have their times of the day. For instance, I would not look kindly on alcohol consumption before the afternoon, but ladies on heels on the street even in a pseudo-red light district before dusk is quite disconcerting.
Not only is it that, there is a sense of almost effrontery and daring aggression but could belie desperation when you as a man are found on the rough end of salacious ogling for the pleasure of an illicit liaison.
One can only wonder what happens when the light of the sun makes way for the dim light of the moon. Not a street to walk after a certain hour, I would suppose.
Street of strange
However, whatever the circumstances put the ladies out there, for situational adversity through will to the coercion borne of heinous human trafficking, there is some sadness can only be felt as people meet different human needs in the darkest recesses of primal desire.
I hope the church at the tail-end of the street offers succour to all who ply that street of strange.
As I returned to my hotel, I walked up Bülowstraße [7], the far end of the street that started off this blog, she flagged down a car, it stopped, she negotiated and he nodded, she got in and they drove off.

Sunday 15 June 2014

World Cup 2014: I am supporting Holland

That Nigerian star of old
For as long as I can remember, probably the earliest was in 1985, the inaugural FIFA U-16 World Championship where out of nowhere Nigeria came tops to take the cup in China.
A very unlike prospect that came second in the group stages and then we took out Hungary, Guinea and West Germany to unexpectedly claim the championship.
This love for Nigerian soccer prowess was rewarded when the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta we took the gold beating Argentina to it – Karma, I say.
On the wane
When the World Cup came to France in 1998, I was going to avail myself of the opportunity and after beating Spain 3 – 2 in Nantes, I was on the coach to Parc des Princes in Paris to was the tension-filled Nigeria v Bulgaria game which we took 1 – 0, only to lose 3 – 1 to Paraguay in Toulouse.
I cannot say I once saw the ball in the stadium on the 19th of June 1998 but at the end of the match, I had no voice, I had shouted myself hoarse. Much as I would have loved to watch another game, it was an experience of a lifetime ruined by the Nigerian arrangers who for profit treated us too shabbily for words.
Our run in 1998 ended with a 4 – 1 trashing by Denmark in the Srade de France, I don’t think we’ve gotten too far since.
No hope in sight
By 2002, it was Korea/Japan, I was living in the Netherlands, but they were not in it, so I split my allegiances between Nigeria and England, Nigeria did not make it out of the group stage coming last, their best performance being a goalless draw with England. Argentina also came third in that group but England lost to Brazil in the Quarter finals.
The World Cup returned to Europe in 2006, Nigeria did not make to Germany and the Netherlands was out to Portugal in the round of 16 with England losing to Portugal in the Quarter finals that I was left with vacillating opinions in two blogs, both written whilst on holiday in France, the first lamenting our misfortune and the second celebrating the run of the French to the final.
All Orange, that’s my colour
I donned the Orange strip of the Netherlands when the World Cup came to Africa in 2010, on work days, it was an orange scarf and tie, whilst on other days I had the shirt and face baseball cap. After 10 years of living in the Netherlands and all I had experienced, there was no doubt where I had my football allegiances.
As we danced to Waka Waka (This Time for Africa), none of my thoughts were with Nigeria that came last in their group or England that expired in the round of 16.
I was in Gran Canaria, Spain for holidays when the Quarter finals started and on the 11th of July, 2010, I found a bar with Dutch supporters and we watched as the game descended in almost farce and in the process Spain won the World Cup.
Dejected and forlorn, I walked back to my hotel unable to acknowledge the celebratory noise of the Spaniards, it was a horrible feeling. But Hey!
Hup! Hup! Holland!
For Brazil 2014, Nigeria of parental descent, England of birth and the Netherlands of experiences are out there doing their stuff. I had already told my friends that the Netherlands would have my support because I believed they would get far and not dash my expectations as Nigeria and England are wont to do.
The Netherlands has already taken the “S” out of Spain with a 5 – 1 bruising defeat of Spain, even I did not expect that pummelling from Holland. England has suffered a defeat from Italy and Nigeria might yet perform against Iran, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Argentina but I am not holding my breath whilst I wish them luck.
For World Cup 2014 it is Hup! Hup! Holland, all the way. That is my team.

Thought Picnic: For once and forever

Just once
Once is experience and informative with hopefully enough learnt to decide whether it is worth another try or not.
Many things I have tried or done once and never tried again because I have in the common saying been once bitten and twice shy.
This does not mean I do not have a sense of adventure, it just means I am reticent about being divorced from the mountain of experiential trophies I have acquired in my lifetime.
Not again?
First impressions of people that has stopped me from reengagement, bad customer service, unnecessary rudeness, selfish attitudes completely inconsiderate of others, places that have no welcoming atmosphere, food that has once made me ill, the list is almost inexhaustible.
One must however not be curmudgeonly, circumstance and situation may have made the first time bad experience inadvertent and unfortunate.
For once
If I am tempted to relive beyond the once, it is hoped enough is there to change one's mind after the last time failing which, it is never again.
Then, in a lifetime there are still many things we hope to experience at least once, love, beauty, fun, happiness, awesomeness, wonder and excitement in events, places, people and ideas and long may that zest for life live, for once, for many times and forever.

Thought Picnic: Carelessly carefree

A realisation too late
Knowledge is an eye-opener, for with it comes revelation heretofore unbeknownst to the seeker.
I am always reading up on material that pertains to my health especially trying to understand the circumstances that presented my vulnerability to disease.
It was with some shock and ruefulness that I read up on two episodes that reduced my resistance to infection and compounded manifest symptoms.
Carefree and careless
In meeting certain needs, I had been carefree, in that I was not careful and thereby, I was quite careless.
One cannot deny that certain habits breed an attitude of being carefree, that in itself is not being careful about how the desires are met and when that issues with enough carelessness, care and caution are thrown to the winds.
What if I had known?
Going back, I have wondered if I ever had specific information or it was too general to appreciate what the consequences were.
I cannot remember any time when I really knew what I recently learnt. I could be sad, angry or even depressed, but since I can neither undo or change what is past, I might as well taken full responsibility for my carefree deeds and move on.
In essence, check, check it, check in, check out everything that needs checking and have it in check before no checks can save you from not having been careful where carefree situations present careless options.

Thursday 12 June 2014

Essential Snobbery 101: Don't be a purist, just speak well

Just simply unrefined
It suddenly occurred to me how people are so poorly educated in the use of language or in some cases they make no appreciable effort to improve vocabulary, expression and breath of use beyond the perfunctory.
Sadly, there are too many cases where a lot can said with the finery of prose that conveys a lot more than the animal grunt of a blurted out expletive.
However, people cannot be bothered to exercise themselves through reading good material and elevating their speech to a level of sophisticated comportment.
For a song, it goes
For example, I asked if the cakes on sale at the end of the day were going for a song, now, crudely, one could have asked if the cakes were cheaper, but believe the choice of words make for a better class of person.
You wonder whether Basic English idioms need to be taught in school too. Also in a rather high-brow shop on Jermyn Street a few weeks ago, I could not see myself shelling out so much for so little, so for the convenience of the shopkeeper and the myself, I offered that I would not be making such a big hole in my pocket.
We both understood I would not be buying what they had on sale and I went on my way.
Giving other languages a good shake
In the same vein, I believe I do speak Yoruba quite well and even though I left Northern Nigeria in 1977, I can still get by with rudimentary Hausa.
I find that Yoruba is quite rich in expression, not just through the choice of words, but in the use of idioms, adages and proverbs. Quite recently I have taken to sharing proverbs on Twitter, many quite laden with meaning that only the aficionados would nod in acknowledgement.
What bothers me is how quite a few of us whose mother tongue is English have not only mastered the use of Yoruba, but are sometimes seen as probably better speakers of Yoruba.
Just do it right
The slight perfectionist in me would mostly write with all the essential diacritical marks so as to avoid any misunderstanding, and though one can deduce the context of what is being said without the marks, nothing speaks better than being proper.
Yet, everyday users of the language usually cannot complete a sentence without the use of colloquialisms or borrowed words for all sorts of reasons, a classic case of letting the side down.
Indeed, we should all simplify communication, but at the same time, a lot more is learnt and shared by working a language in all its aesthetic quality – this only comes with a love for learning.
You are not saying it right, work at it and get better, what is worth saying at all, is worth saying right and well.

Monday 9 June 2014

Though Picnic: I could have died out of foolishness

I’m done with this
Just about 10 years ago, after an expletive laden meeting where my manager displayed a level of unreasonableness I had never ever encountered in all my working life, I decided I was done with that job.
I walked out of that meeting and put myself on the job market, within a week I had an offer and I submitted my resignation letter.
To spite me, he said, he was expecting my resignation and that anyone could do my job, with that he started a campaign of undermining me and frustrating my efforts at a smooth exit. It took writing a letter to the senior management to get him off my back and stop his calumnious activity.
Why this stress?
I loved my job but I could not work under the circumstances I was made to work, especially by the time we got to that rotten meeting. Of all the managers I have ever worked for in my 28-year career, he takes the prize for the worst ever sociopathic person I ever had to call a manager, I have avoided every prospect of ever meeting him again since I walked out of that job.
However, before I got to write that letter to senior management, I found myself under pressure, extremely stressed, having sleepless nights and seemingly out of control of the situation.
Wake up to reality
I came to myself one day wondering how it could be that I was moving on to another job, about to return to school for a postgraduate degree, just returned from a two-week holiday and yet be at a point where my health was threatened by conditions at work. It was so bad that I took a week off sick just trying to get it together.
That situation was unnecessary, untenable and unreasonable, it was the point where I decided no job was worth dying for and that if I could not control the circumstances in which I found myself, the very least I could do for my sanity was to leave.
Sadly for Komla Dumor
Which brings me to the very sad story of the passing of Komla Dumor in January 2014. I have for long wanted to write about this, but felt the issue was almost too raw to tackle at that time, I did however post some tweets on the broader issue of personal welfare at work.
Komla Dumor was a distinguished, accomplished journalist and presenter who worked for the BBC, it was always a pleasure to watch the programmes he anchored. A few days ago, a friend on Twitter remembered him, and opined that he would have been packing his bags to travel to Brazil to cover the World Cup, alas, that was not to be.
BBC World News – Focus on Africa - Komla Dumor profile
An unfortunate backstory
A few days after his death from a cardiac arrest at the age of 41, some stories emerged about the stress and the racism Komla suffered at the BBC. Worse still were the palpable warning signs his body was giving him that he apparently put to one side until it culminated in his death.
Ever the professional, Komla did not once show the problems he was having as he appeared on television, yet this issue was eating away at his very being that it is rather unfortunate that he never got to walk away from it, for his health, his welfare and his well-being.
What the story in The New Statesman revealed was that Komla Dumor collapsed in a BBC studio and almost suffered a stroke 7 months before his death, which should have been the loudest ringing alarm bells to him to slow down, to rethink, to review, to reconsider or probably to resign.
The situation and warning signs
In a message he purportedly sent to a friend, he wrote of his high blood pressure, long hours at work; especially for a man with a young family, he was exhausted, aching, mentally and emotionally drained and all this seemed to be related to – ‘having “to endure lots of jealousy driven vicious insults, backstabbing from petty people” at the BBC.
How did Komla Dumor deal with this? In his own words, “I kept going, I smiled for the camera, I volunteered for extra shifts, I showed respect to my colleagues from directors to the security guards … I remain silent in my personal strife and misery. I kept smiling and pushing on to present better and to engage with my audience and increase my following, long days and frustrating times, but I kept going.
Only one thing is evident from that last two paragraphs, this job was killing him and what did he do? He threw himself more into it hoping it would fight for his validation, his respect, his survival, his recognition and more.
At what cost?
There is no doubt that his boss, the head of television recognised what a star performer Komla Dumor was, as “he said Komla we have decided to make you the anchor presenter for our coverage of the World Cup in Brazil.” That was not to be, Komla died in January, and the World Cup starts in 4 days’ time.
Maybe for not talking about what he was experiencing, he never got the therapy and needed support necessary to stabilise his health and save his life.
The salutary lesson is best left unspoken, to have to write of the death of someone younger, but there is much to learn from this about any situation with regards to what fights you should fight and the ones you should walk away from, not out of cowardice or weakness but out of knowing exactly what your body is saying to you and for self-preservation.
Beyond this, is not ignoring the symptoms, the circumstances and the burdens that accompany the dynamics at work where your health could be at risk. The fear of loss of status and livelihood when the loss of health and possibly the loss of life is impending is one to face boldly, for with life and health is the hope to face another day and challenge.
I was a fool
I look back at my own situation just five years ago too when for a year of observation from the chef de reception where I went for holidays in Gran Canaria, he noticed that it appeared my health was failing, yet I ignored all the issues, bounding along as if I had no care in the world.
I was more tired, sometimes particularly weak whilst the blotches that appeared on the soles of my feet, I dismissed as athlete’s foot that never healed. I then had shingles and soon that disappeared without any long-term postherpetic neuralgia, I hoped for a miracle cure that never came before I succumbed to the last resort of medicine, a resort that I should have taken probably over 12 months before. By the way, Javier, the chef de reception, predeceased me and he was younger.
I was dying
When I was finally diagnosed, I had just 5 weeks to live, if I did not respond to treatment. It was a kind of foolishness that was part of my cultural exposure in Nigeria where we never talked about how we felt whilst we prayed fervently visiting faith healers hoping for instant Shamanist cures after some ritual of the mind and the body – I could have died, it was that close.
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In the process, I lost everything I hoped to keep through not addressing an existential health issue; my status, my job, my home of 10 years, my viability for the market, things I had acquired over 20 years given away without any return of value, it took me rock bottom, but I still had my life and my hopes.
It has been difficult, but the experience has become a story, one told in many blogs, and whilst I would never want to relive the experience, I do not regret that what I have learnt would probably make me a better man.
Do not play with your health, and no job is worth losing your health or your life for.

Thursday 5 June 2014

Thought Picnic: A menacing annoyance of mobile phone abuse

Landing the mobile
I have no problems with people who need to keep in contact with family, friend, colleague, partner or whatever form of relationship defines the need to communicate.
The ubiquity of the mobile phone has offered opportunities once not possible a few decades ago.
Though, then, you probably made conversation in private, out of earshot in a room, a phone booth or an office.
I however still have the mindset of needing to take mobile phone calls undistracted.
Presence of thought
If away from home, I would find a place to sit down to chat. On the very rare situations where I take calls without sitting down, I would most likely be taking directions on how to get to some place.
What I find so irksome is people who do not realise how distracting taking a call on the street can be.
It is almost impossible to given equal attention to a telephone conversation and your surroundings.
Driving to distraction
Studies have shown that concentration is impaired by the distraction of a mobile phone call which can be dangerous for essential reaction when driving but also dangerous for being unaware of ones surroundings.
Yet people do fool themselves into thinking they are in control when clearly from observation they are not.
They are slower to react, slower walking, usually don’t walk in a straight line, more expectant of others not to bump into them as they walk along being carried by the flow of the crowd.
Vexed by texting
There are times I have scolded some to put away their phones as the try to mount stairs, get on escalators or board vehicles.
Those who send SMS messages are worse as they tap or scribble away on their devices ensconced in that world and completely oblivious of others.
A menace indeed
They are a public menace beyond mere annoyance consumed with a yearning that lacks restraint as the moment lost in having consideration of others is an eternity lost forever.
Indeed some things need urgent attention but not at the expense of being controlled, ordered and particularly considerate.
That is what I look for in people without having to demand they recognise where they are.