Sunday 28 August 2016

Thought Picnic: Household escapee abusers and doubly abused victims

The household
We were planning to go the village from the city for a long weekend, I cannot remember whether it was for some event, but my parents in the 1980s were active members of a group of people who sought different aspects of development for the village, the people and the community at large.
Within our nuclear family then, even though my uncle and his family lived downstairs, we had a house help or to use the colloquial expression, a house girl, let’s call her Rukayah. My family being a senior corporation man, had two official cars and a driver, let’s call him Billiamin, who lived close by, but by terms was essentially a member of the family.
This defines the typical household, the parents, the children, the relations both close and distant, the helps; domestic in the home, in the garden, the security personnel and the driver, an ill-defined hierarchy where everyone appears to know their place with the parents at the top.
Something awry
That morning, my mother went to have her hair done whilst my father went to work, just before noon, the driver came over and I cannot say why my siblings were not at home apart from the youngest in the care of our house girl. As it transpired, my cousin and I who were both at home had to take a message to my mother at the hairdressers and leaving Rukayah, Billiamin, and my youngest sister at home, we went for my mother.
Her hair was only half done, however, we were made so welcome that we stayed at the hairdressing salon until her hair was finished, before we all walked back home. On getting home, I was probably the only one who noticed that Rukayah’s hair was messed up and she looked dishevelled. At the back of my mind, I suspected something had happened whilst we were away, but I kept it at the back of my mind.
A few months after that day, I was called into my mother’s bedroom with Rukayah in a state of distress. As women of a certain age in Nigeria do notice, apparently, the whites of the eyes of Rukayah were prominent, she was getting lethargic, spitting constantly and probably showing signs of morning sickness. She was pregnant.
The inquisition
As our motherly folk are wont to do, the interrogation of the subject is the equivalent of the Spanish inquisition, question following question without pausing for an answer, genuflection, and histrionics at full tilt and in the process, my good name was inadvertently besmirched when my mother asked Rukayah whether I was responsible for her nascent baby bump. There was an ‘how dare you?’ look on my face and my mother listed every male resident and visitor except the dog.
I do not think we got to the truth in that session, but it turned out that Billiamin was responsible and it very well could have been that day when my mother went to the hairdressers. At least, that is what clicked in my mind as the state of Rukayah when we return from the hairdresser.
There is no doubt in my mind that Rukayah was sexually assaulted and raped by Billiamin, however, how my parents dealt with the matter cannot singularly be unique in a Nigerian household.
The repercussions
Billiamin was summarily sacked and that became his punishment for rape. It goes without saying that an undercurrent of shame and embarrassment dictates the way such issues never end up in a police docket and that extends to child sexual abuse and other related forms of abuse.
Within a week, an abortion was procured for Rukayah and she was sent back home probably with the report that she had been a bad girl. Then again, difficult as this story is to write because it involves close family and making it fictional storytelling takes away from the palpability of the situation, this was not the first time a house boy or house girl had been returned after offence or victimisation by my parents for events under our roof.
This rapid clean-up of a mess and deft extrication from culpability and responsibility typifies the illusion of perfect households we attempt to portray. Putting these people out of sight and they having no recourse for any justice than the fate delivered to them by their paymasters is the end of the matter for the paymaster but possibly the beginning of a new hell for Billiamin and Rukayah.
With hindsight
Billiamin should have been handed to the law with the allegation of rape beyond the betrayal of trust as a member of our wider family to have committed a heinous act in our home. He got away scot free and maybe for a short period was out of work before he found other opportunities. The possibility that we might have been vulnerable to vindictive reprisals probably never occurred to my parents, Billiamin lived hardly a kilometre away.
On the part of Rukayah, we never saw or heard from her again. A poor girl under the guardianship of my parents and possibly a breadwinner for her family in some distant hamlet where part of the promise of the job would have been to give her opportunity she would never have had in her village. I say this because we have had other house helps that my parents sponsored through secondary school and mentored thereafter.
Rukayah in the harsh reality of the times had become a victim twice of first rape and then the punishment for what she had no control over. It is also instructive that maybe under threat or fear when she was raped, she was unable to tell anyone of her ordeal. She lived with that dilemma until it was impossible to conceal the consequence.
Typical occurrence
The case of Billiamin and Rukayah because it happened to servants rarely just sits in that spectrum, the same happens to wards and children with them being taken advantage of by trusted people who are brought into the suppose safety of the household and have the opportunity to exploit that trust to deleterious effect.
The perpetrator gets a bye by exclusion from the family unit when discovered, the victim, however, receives no help beyond physical examination for a possible violation whilst the victim is given the impression that they are responsible for their shameful plight. I have not seen any household where professional help has been sought in terms of psychiatric intervention or therapy to begin a healing process from the abuse.
Time exacerbates it
The assumption is time heals everything or the child will eventually forget, what is closer to reality is the scars run deeper and the damage is more lasting. If eventually in adulthood the victim finds any help, that old episode in their lives is already defining of their outlook and a consummate moderator of any relationships they go on to form.
Sadly, apart from the physical, no much is noticed of emotional and psychological change in people after abuse and with no one to share these rotten experiences with either out of fear or being castigated as liars this cycle of abuse continues with little knowledge gained as how to tackle these matters until survivors of child sexual abuse and sexual assault in a trusted environment begin to talk about it.
Telling the story
I can only wonder what became of Billiamin and Rukayah who are representative of a wider injustice that has thrived through generations of silence, shame, exculpation, dereliction of responsibility and the pretence of the ideal in a messy and embarrassing household infraction.
That story and many others I have observed remain ones that have to be told eventually. How we tackle abuse in terms of the abuser and the victim still utilises the primitive and uncivilised in spite of enlightenment and knowledge, just to avoid shame and embarrassment. With it, we lay the foundation for more abusers to prey on vulnerable victims.
With hindsight, I cannot pass judgement on my parents, but there is no doubt that if such issues occur today, they must be much better handled than they were them. The abuser must face justice and the victim must have all the support they require to get beyond their ordeal. Too many damaged lives exist because nothing productive was done for the victim.

Friday 19 August 2016

Security consultant might just be a guard

Seeking and loathing
On one of the dating app haunts that I sometimes ply, I came upon an elaborate profile in general terms, but something stood out that I decided not to ignore.
The young man had stated that he was a security consultant with a major bank. Now, having seen thousands of profiles, some angry, some demure, many empty and quite a few demonstrative of angst, insecurities, inadequacies and dare I say prejudices, I have been tempted to write a guide to useful dating profiles.
Then again, it is not like I have been entirely successful in my quest for companionship through dating apps or websites. However, what you do see on my profile in the main will be what you get. I rarely mince words and sometimes my old-fashioned self, requiring correctness, politeness, comportment and much else gets in the way of simple engagement.
Can we talk for a minute?
Yet, I thought to engage this young fellow to illustrate a looming risk in telling strangers on dating sites such unnecessary detail as to whether you own your homes, have a car, have the greatest job on earth and other puffery that is of no particular relevance than a possible endangerment.
I started with ‘Let me humour you …’, to have a high profile job at your age must be commended, however, in putting it out there, you create a vulnerability profile around yourself that can be exploited by nefarious people or organisations. Whilst they might not come for you, they can go for close contacts around you besides the possibility of you being a Trojan horse into your banking organisation.
Just over an hour after I sent the message, I got the response, “Try and social engineer me, just try.” The young fellow had missed the point. And so I responded.
Missing the point entirely
Social engineering is passé and that is mostly for low hanging fruit. As a security consultant, you have access and knowledge that ordinary users will not have. You have a nickname you have used on this site that will probably be the same on others.
Your picture appears here and simple Internet tools can be used to match your picture possibly to an identity on Facebook or LinkedIn and after that, they only have to build a vulnerability profile that they can exploit without you knowing that you are being stalked online.
In closing, I said, “We technical people have to be careful that either our of carelessness or hubris, we expose our organisations to more harm than we are willing to admit our acts of wilful stupidity cause.”
Unlearning arrogance
I was blocked. Blocked probably because he thought I was attacking him or he felt that he was too good to be taking advice on issues where he is supposed to be the expert.
A simple example of the silliness of putting such a risk intensive role online in forums like a dating site is for someone to go around saying they are secret agents. Others would either go for the agent or go for people around that agent to gain access acquaintances to whom some connection can compromise the resolve of the agent.
Then again, there is a know-it-all syndrome that I have observed amongst certain young people who have created an incapacity to learn or be advised, they are single-mindedly impervious to any instruction and rapidly chart a course to perdition.
Probably maybe
An alternative response would have been to acknowledge that there was a point being made borne of other experiences and that could be used to improve oneself. It is a question of attitude.
Suffice it say that the said nickname appeared on other sites, but for the fact that one, I have nothing to prove and two, I am not malevolent. It would have been an interesting exercise to create the profile I told him of and send it to him, but honestly, it would have been a waste of time in any case.
When I relayed the tale to a friend, he suggested the fellow might have been in security as a security guard. Not once did I contemn him, but his reaction belies that great possibility, he has keys to doors and not keys to data.

Thursday 11 August 2016

Opinion: Media feeding a culpable indifference to the human experience

No soul in the news
If there is any evidence of how the news or rather the media industrial machine consumes everything in its wake in the pursuit of ratings borne of the need for advertisement and ingratiating itself with the sensational without empathy, it has to be with regards to the reportage in the aftermath of the sudden death of the 6th Duke of Westminster.
The Duke suddenly took ill on the 8th of August and unfortunately unexpectedly died on the 9th of August. The focus of the news has been on the vast fortune of almost £9 billion that he leaves to his survivors and the transfer of the hereditary title to his only son, a 25-year old.
Maybe, but not now
There is probably a lot of news and stories to share about wealth, fortune, and eligibility in due course, but at this juncture, there is a family which includes a widow, four children, extended relations, friends, colleagues, partners, beneficiaries and a wider public grieving the untimely death of a husband, father, uncle, friend, colleague, benefactor, philanthropist and much else.
Despite all that man can attain and have access to, we are not by providence or circumstance isolated from the vicissitudes of the cycle of life and death, happiness and sorrow, good fortune and bad luck. Basically, even if we have grown up in a bubble of privilege, it does not exclude us from the harsh realities of human emotion, personal grief, struggles with confidence or depression and many other things in the broad spectrum of our shared humanity.
Firstly, there are people affected
That is why I am saddened by the overarching narrative that seems to have put the personal grief of the new 7th Duke of Westminster in the shade, whilst the headlines have concentrated on his youthful looks, his being a very eligible bachelor, the amazing inheritance of wealth and the family seat of Eaton Hall amongst all other tabloid fodder. His father has hardly been dead two days.
It seems we have forgotten that these are people, flesh and blood, like you and I, that in spite of and despite their stupendous wealth, they are not immune to the human experience. I wonder if anyone would like their grief subsumed to sensationalism.
Maybe it is too much to ask; a decent obituary has probably yet to be written of the 6th Duke, and though life goes on, it is too much to try a little tenderness and sympathy, if empathy were too much a requirement to allow this family to grieve without the klieg lights of the grist of reality television being shone into their most vulnerable moment?
Are we culpable?
The question is whether we by our feasting on this media frenzy have not tacitly given legitimacy to this intrusive and uncaring kind of journalism that tends to dehumanise in the quest for entertainment, sensational gossip and controversy.
May God grant the survivors of Gerald Cavendish Grosvenor, the 6th Duke of Westminster, the strength and fortitude to bear their loss in the face of the intrusive interest in their affairs which for all intents and purposes is not in the public interest, but just put upon tittle-tattle.

Thought Picnic: The need to cultivate relationships

Debunking the myths
A cousin once protested, “Blood is thicker than water.” He said when he learnt that I was in more contact with a much distant relation than himself.
There were no two ways about it, the reason I was closer to one than the other was because we constantly communicated and did not default to the lazy conclusion familial ties will return to full strength each time contact is made regardless of the passage of time.
We, in times past heard that old saying that ‘Absence makes the heart grow fonder.’ The truth still is the fondness is borne of activity invested in the relationship before the absence. If little was invested, it is unlikely the fondness, the reminiscing, and the nostalgic feeling will be there.
Cultivate and tend
Yet, people take it for granted that blood ties will trump any other relationship when it comes to the crunch. It might for the sentimental, it rarely does for those able to detach themselves and recognise the value of cultivated relationships.
Yes, relationships need to be cultivated and tended to much as one will to a garden or a farm. These relationships can be filial, parental, marital, conjugal, collegial, of friendship, of acquaintance or any other relationship of humankind.
Sadly, most estrangement in relationships comes from what one will naturally observe of nature. A place not tended to will eventually be overgrown with weeds. A farm will not yield a harvest if weeds and pests ravage the plot. Much of this is rarely borne of commission and more of omission.
Pragmatism in choices
That is not to say that the tendency to indifference and bloody-mindedness does not exist in certain relationships that we further down the line hope to reap unwarranted benefits of. Invariably, it comes to a point that one has to choose the relationships one needs to cultivate and leave out the ones that stress out and encumber with damaging psychological burdens.
A sense of freedom comes from being able to live one’s own life absent of the need to please others or engage in a soul-destroying battle of constantly wishing to meet the expectations of others. That is not to say one is not under constant scrutiny and open to criticism to the choices one makes. The real issue at the end of the day is whether you first past caring and consequently, whether you are happy.
In the pursuit of happiness, the best suggestion is to cultivate the relationships that matter the most to you and they probably having nothing to do with blood relations, but everything to do with communication, interaction, agreement, comfort, ease and safety with those you have developed trust and friendship with.

Thursday 4 August 2016

Berlin: Concentration camps and walled cities

Memorials of grave deeds
Some things just defy explanation or understanding and sadly they are at first part of our history and are constantly at the risk of repeating and recurring in the present with the same horrors of the past.
The remains of the Berlin Wall preserved in a memorial are sited just outside Nordbahnhof Station. The record of a deliberate decision of people in power to cage people under a ruthless authoritarian Communist rule. [Berlin Wall Memorial]
The architects of the wall destroyed life and property to plant this rotten edifice that ran through a cemetery and in the process the disinterment of over 1,000 graves to fit that purpose. The memorial now sits on what was once part of a cemetery.
Concentrated evil
When people sought to escape this regime, because the primordial cry of humanity is for freedom, they were shot. Someone took orders to shoot both young and old without mercy and it was done. At the memorial stands portraits of each person martyred in their quest for freedom.
Not even 16 years before this wall was conceived and erected in 1961, there was the liberation of the concentration camps, the first of which was sited near the seat of power to cater to political prisoners at Sachsenhausen in Oranienburg.
These were operated by the Nazis with an efficiency and organisation that today still baffles imagination and comprehension.
In this and many other Nazi concentration camps, they perfected the art and science of human extermination with an almost sense of omnipotence and power over life, livelihood, death and disposal.
History in present replay
Anyone who visits the memorial will fail with words with which to appreciate this enterprise. What however all in our touring group was when I noted to our tour guide how when the Communist government of the GDR were planning a memorial to the souls lost in the concentration camps in 1961, the people who said never again were building a new wall around Berlin.
Man’s capacity for evil is never trammelled, when power is absolute and that fear of the other is exploited, resulting in the persecution of the other and the considered different by the Nazis, then by the GDR, was repeated in the Brexit campaign, is showing a Genesis in the aftermath of the failed coup in Turkey and is a fearful prospect if Donald Trump becomes president of the United States of America.
Walls are not bridges and bridges are not walls, whichever is built would either celebrate or denigrate our common humanity. The populist rhetoric aims to accentuate our differences, and if we do not stand up to this narrative, before long, people will be victimised and how long before this poison colours our doorstep?

Tuesday 2 August 2016

Lutherstadt Wittenberg: Guided and minded

Setting out
My visit to Lutherstadt Wittenberg was planned for a Wednesday. Two days before I had booked my train ticket from Berlin Hauptbahnhof. Hauptbahnhof is main or central station and it is usually written as Hbf. I decided on using the high-speed Intercity-Express (ICE) train. The journey would have lasted 40 minutes and it was the second stop from Berlin.
That morning, I had to ply an alternative route to my boarding station from my hotel because the suburban train link from Berlin-Zoologischer Garten Station to Berlin Hbf was not running, I had plenty of time.
When I finally made it to the station, I first cooled my heels in the DB lounge before boarding my train as I reminisced about the affordability and comfort of high-speed trains on mainland Europe.
Walking through
On arrival at Lutherstadt Wittenberg, the station was being refurbished and the information point at the exit was really for buses, however, the lady at the counter kindly informed me that I only had to walk into town for the tourist information office. What she did not say was that it was at the far end of the main street.
The borders of the footpath to the town centre had beautiful aromatic flowers that released a fragrant scent of sweet smelling savour, like some scriptural sacrifice preparing one for devotion, yet the flowers looked wild rather than tended.
I followed the directions into town and then began to notice the signs in front of historic buildings and plaques to famous indigenes, citizens, residents and visitors to many of the buildings. When I got to the tourist information office, I had literally walked passed everything of significance, I was just not adequately informed about the places.
Guiding oneself
The guided tour was only in German, though you could obtain an audio guide in a number of world languages including English to walk through town and key in the numbered locations as indicated on the map that accompanies the guide. The numbers differ from the numbers on the signs in front of the historic buildings. I think whatever organisations are involved should align themselves and synchronise their efforts.
To be given the audio guide requires you offer some identification or pay a refundable deposit of €50.
I started with the gate/door on which Martin Luther is purported to have nailed the 95 theses at the Castle Church, the episode that apparently kicked off the Protestant Reformation. In the church itself were memorials for Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon who carried on the message after Martin Luther’s death.
Not much in the church was original, having been besieged, plundered and razed through the centuries. It was, however, beautiful, colourful and quite serene apart from the fact that you can walk up to the altar, enter the precept and take pictures too.
Other interesting stuff
Even with a full day’s visit, it was not possible to see all the notable places, like the old Wittenberg University where Martin Luther earned his doctorate; dissolved in the 19th Century, but presently known as Leucorea University and a campus of Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg. Leucorea is the Greek translation of the German Wittenberg, which means white mountain.
Lucas Cranach the Elder was a contemporary and friend of Marin Luther, a painter and printmaker, and once owned the largest homestead in Wittenberg. He with his son Lucas Cranach the Younger painted portraits of prominent Protestant figures as well as some religious scenes.
Having majored in electrical engineering, it was interesting to realise Wilhelm Eduard Weber who along with Carl Friedrich Gauss, invented the first electromagnetic telegraph was from Wittenberg as well as the electrical engineering pioneer, Werner von Siemens.
The main street has a cosmopolitan feel to it with typical high street shops in mostly old buildings.
A Lutheran Service
At 16:00, I attended a short Lutheran services presided over by an America priest. The language  was Old English and as is traditional for such services, we sung A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, written by Martin Luther. The service was held in the sacristy of the city church where Martin Luther frequently reached.
I am not sure of where the tradition for standing up at the reading of the gospel emanates, but we did stand for the gospel at the Lutheran service, just as I have noted that we stand in the Anglican Communion, such a tradition is not normally observed in Pentecostal churches. However, a biblical reference in the book of Nehemiah appears to suggest the Genesis of this tradition.
5. Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up.
6. Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Then they bowed down and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground.
Nehemiah 8:5-6 (NIV)
The day was long, as I walked around other sections of the city, the Martin Luther garden being prepared for the quincentennial of the Protestant Reformation in 2017 has 500 trees planted by global Lutheran organisations, with an additional tree planted in the locality of the organisation. Late in the day as things closed, I returned to the main station to catch my train back to Berlin.