Wednesday 21 December 2016

My 51st amongst friends

The big breaks
This has been a year of blessing and strangeness, of sadness and reflection, where the existential became a consuming concern about purpose and direction.
At the beginning of the year, I was finally able to convince my third medical team in as many years that owing to my appreciation and understanding of my own mortality, the time for vacillating and procrastinating the need for a therapeutic intervention on a condition my doctors were getting complacent about.
This was at a time when the job I had held for over two years was coming to an end and the decisions about a new project had not been finalised. Within a month of leaving that role, I was invited back and the treatment started to, the course was successful.
Finding peace
However, in October I first made peace with one sister and then bid another to rest in peace, a numbing experience that brought thoughts and fears to the fore.
Yet, in all like I always come to reflect every year today, I am blessed abundantly, 7 years beyond cancer that almost took my life, humbled by the opportunities to share my story and usually upset by the memories that have brought estrangement into the midst of other familial relationships.
I am sustained by friends and lovers, wishes and prayers, good thoughts and great advice, renewed friendships and rewards of the pursuit of happiness. I am happy, I am lucky, I am fortunate, I am me.
On my 51st birthday which I would spend with close friends, I know amongst them, there is no one to deride me.

Thursday 15 December 2016

Adieu D-Shash! (Deji Sasegbon)

Shocking news
As I was returning from work when I had a quick look at my Facebook Lite+ app to check for messages and one message stood out registering shock.
One year out of school after being given what became the opportunity of a lifetime to work in a computer firm (IT Systems) by Felix Ogun, I decided to go into a sort of consultancy, the first job involved performing an extensive mailmerge activity and teaching an aging Professor Aluko who had just recovered from a stroke how to use computers.
The first meetings
Whilst I worked at 203 Ikorodu Road, Obanikoro, IT Systems occupied the ground floor and upstairs on the first-floor offices of Deji Sasegbon & Co. and his legal publishing outfit, DSc Publications Ltd.
During my tenure at IT Systems, there were occasions when they had some computer problem upstairs and anyone of us engineers was called up to help resolve the problem. I would go up, fix the problem and leave, but Deji Sasegbon would never let me step out of the office without offering a very generous tip.
My big break
When I left IT Systems, there was a meeting where Deji Sasegbon, known as D-Shash to all, invited me to do some work for him. He plainly recognised that I had a useful skill and did not push for offering full employment because he felt there will be others needing my expertise. He gave me a confidence that has become the hallmark of over 20 years of being a self-employed IT Consultant in both the UK and the Netherlands.
The deal was to spend a few days a week at the office supporting the staff, teaching some selected personnel, fixing IT problems and running a number of desktop publishing projects. In the process, I handed the concept for the first publication of the Company and Allied Matters Decree compendium in 4 volumes and the Legal Desk Book 1991, which was a desk diary for 1991, an opportunity to exhibit some artistic flair.
The whizz-kid
The remuneration was a monthly retainer and my fare for a one-way ticket to the UK, whenever I was ready to leave Nigeria for the UK. This consultancy was a big break, it exposed me to new clientele, with my gaining the reputation for being the desktop publishing whizz-kid that could change cumbersome traditional printing processes with the point and click of a mouse.
My tool was Xerox Ventura Publisher and the Professional edition, I ultimately had 5 different consultancy jobs and part ownership of a printing press which opened the first opportunity in years to visit the UK again.
Deji Sasegbon was like a big brother, a mentor, a friend, a man of great privilege with no airs about him. His office was open, he was accessible, we were on first name terms and there were no hierarchies in that working environment. He just exuded charm.
I last met up with Deji, in 1991 when he came on a visit to the UK, for my first job, he generously offered a reference with effusive praise for my skills and expertise. He was more than a kind-hearted man.
I guess I last spoke to him some 10 years ago, I called the number to his office and he picked up the phone, soft-spoken and affable as ever, despite his great successes and achievements, he was effortlessly simple and whilst bearing amazing gravitas.
I did not know he had been ill for a couple of years and he passed on, just 5 days ago. There is much I owe to D-Shash, opportunity, mentoring, simplicity, confidence and a drive that does not have to appear as if you were driven.
Thank you, D-Shash for everything, may your gentle soul rest in peace. Adieu!

Thought Picnic: Facing the stereotypes of being black and dealing drugs

We will not shrink
Generally, one is rarely inspired to write about this topic, but there comes a time when something does need to be said, and my blog is a forum for such when it matters.
As a minority of many facets in living and thankfully thriving within a majority of diversity, the greatest triumph of the person is to be comfortable in one’s own skin when met with the various indignities that are doled out by the ignorant and those who should know better either at work or at play.
The indignities are many
The fine line between being patronised and being belittled in the corny device of faint praise or acknowledgement is constantly being crossed and with great restraint and the discipline that comes with rearing and bearing, one would bat off, ignore or challenge the infraction to ensure that such unhealthy encounters do not become the norm.
Earlier this evening, I was met with such an encounter from a stranger who no doubt had grown his knowledge of people like me from some odious script or noxious experience that I cannot care to be concerned about.
It is without doubt that one along with many like me; and I mean black men, in this case, have suffered such indignities and disrespect that demands a response in rage, but elicits the riposte of a polite put down, if a monosyllabic retort will not do the job as efficiently as one would desire.
Nonsensical stereotyping
By enquiry, I received a message with the subject heading, ‘Busy?’, the body of the letter read thus;
Hi, weird question. I really wanna get some weed tonight. Can you help me babe? Xx
Let us not belabour ourselves with the many issues with address and import, the context was layered on like a slice of toast so heavily buttered, its falling from any height would create an oily splatter and there could only be one response and I quote it below:
Just because I am a black man does not mean I do drugs, deal drugs or know a dealer.
I am a highly placed professional and I have had enough of this nonsensical stereotyping from the drug-addled lot that have no gumption beyond seeking the pleasure of illicit highs.
I have seriously restrained myself from the needed use of an expletive to tell you off totally.
Just too many times already
Now, you may ask, what would elicit this kind of response and the answer is in a long history of encounters of a similar kind. A stranger sidles up to me in some public place or writes to me in some social forum and for some reason or the other which I dare say can only be borne of some stereotype or the atrocity racial profiling, asks if I have drugs or know a drug dealer.
The misfortune if that is what one could generously call it is my life and many others I know are not true to that stereotype or that profile. We have through many determined and fortunate turns in life lived and enjoyed privileges that is the substance of the dreams of others. Not that we have to wear such luck around our necks and rattle those blessings with the aplomb of the arriviste; understated remains the quiet class of discretion.
It must stop
However, after a holiday in Spain, where for almost the umpteenth time, one was unwittingly besmirched with the odium of trading in illicit and illegal substances, the usual silence now demands a more forceful response.
Yes, we are black, no we do not use drugs, we do not have drug dealers as friends and honestly, stop asking a black person anywhere whether they can acquire drugs for you. The simple inquiry for your inordinate pleasure is to the other person, a badly served slight and insult, we would overlook such abuse no more.

Thursday 8 December 2016

I have been blogging for 13 years

The same story told again
Thirteen years ago, I wrote my very first blog from a hotel room in Berlin. It was not my first foray into writing, though throughout my primary school days, I was much more of a reader and talker than I was a writer.
In secondary school, in my third year, a junior friend came to me about establishing a press club, we started it together and then, I somewhat got bored and left. My friend later became a journalist.
However, I had already started writing anonymous letters to the school authorities about atrocities committed in the boarding house, in most cases, I revealed my identity, but the culprits were dealt with. I did however, get caught once because my unique style of writing betrayed me to some rascally seniors who I had called punks because of their behaviour.
The salvation in expression
For some reason, I was threatened but never beaten up, I guess they realised I had a superior manner of stating my case in writing that they would get away with nothing. Yes, my writing at play and at work has gotten me out of sticky situations, for well over a generation.
Later, after secondary school, I wrote under the pen name of ‘Who Else’ using a marker pen on A2 sheets and nailed my script to boards at the entrance of the dining room, but after that for years, I never really found an outlet for expression until the medium of blogging became one.
In some years, I have been prolific and in others quite lazy, it saddens me that 2016 might become one of the years in which I wrote less than a hundred blogs. It is not for the want of having something to say, I guess I have been lethargic, restless and bereaved, but the spirit has always been there.
More outlets for thoughts
The blog has not been my only channel of expression, I have Twitter and Facebook forums where the snippet or the comment can just be as profound as the treatise.
My first blog, A cliché too many - Introduction! did broadly set out my aims and goals for blogging, I do not think I have deviated much from that apart from being probably less of a libertarian than I once was, certain elements of personal experience and affliction can teach you some very human lessons.
One is the need to communicate, that is important; because you have to take cognisance of your audience; the other is the need to express the richness of the language.
I celebrate, nevertheless
I doubt if I would be able to repeat the feat of having 35 people write a blog to be published on my blog when I celebrated a decade of blogging, #YourBlogOnMyBlog - A Decade Blogs Backstory.
Every anniversary, I seem to have a commemorative story which is hardly dissimilar to the one I wrote the year before, what I lack in originality for this day, I hope I make up for in still being here when many have come and gone.
I will probably have to call out all those who abandoned their blogs after a period of creative output I do not believe has deserted those fantastic writers, you know who you are.
I hope for and look forward to many more opportunities to celebrate this day, even as I grow more aware of my many human limitations.
Thank you!
Thank you to all of you who have visited my blog, enjoyed my posts, left comments and encouraged me through the pleasant and tough times, I am full of gratitude and thankfulness. May the stories in our blogs of life and experience never cease to interest, arrest, protest and address matters that matter to the one and the many.
I say again, everyone has a story and so has a blog in them, getting writing your story in your own style and voice.
My anniversary blogs

Saturday 3 December 2016

Thought Picnic: We must restore faith in our humanity

A calling unplanned
Sometimes, a holiday means not needing to get to bed early and in locations where there is much safety and security, it could mean staying out until the very early hours of the morning.
Normally, I would get a taxi-cab back from the town centre to my hotel which is just about 1km away, but between laziness and tiredness, the ride is a respite from a night of excessive wakefulness.
This time, with the wind blowing with the gusts of an easy gale, I started my walk back to my hotel, when I heard someone coughing and spitting. He was on the ground, whether having fallen or seeking a cosy respite, the setting did not look right.
Reached and helped
I walked round to him and asked if he was OK, he said he wasn’t. So, I reached out my hand to help him up, which he took and it became apparent that he was quite unsteady on his feet. I cannot say why this was the case and in his vulnerable state, it was no time to be judgemental.
Then I asked where he needed to get to and whether he would be able to make it there. His hotel was just a few hundred metres away, and I knew he would not successfully walk that distance which would have involved crossing two roads. I offered to hold him in a side embrace to get him to his hotel, and he obliged.
He might have been physically worse for wear, but his mental faculties were fully engaged, he was thankful for my help, very appreciative of my concern and he asked for my name as we walked to his hotel. I had decided I was going to deliver him to his hotel reception before turning back.
A dearth of kindness?
The conversation that ensued suggested he never expected even the basest forms of human kindness as I tried to assure him that there are many helpful people out there. We got to his hotel, had to go down the stairs for the reception, all the while I held onto him.
I delivered him to reception, ensured he was aware of where he had to go, at which point, he became profusely thankful, hugged me tight, he was prayerfully gracious and then he went to his room.
On reflection, I wondered if he had had an epileptic episode leading to his fall and the unsteadiness that did not seem to be from alcohol or substance abuse, then it would not have mattered, either way, I would have offered to help.
Let us do and expect to done to
Then again, the thought that people in vulnerable situations rarely have expectations of assistance until they somewhat pick themselves up off the ground bothered me greatly. We surely cannot all have lost faith in humanity not to expect another fellow human being to be of help to those in any kind of distress.
Our little conversation seemed to suggest this was not the first time nobody came to his aid that my help was almost as shocking as it was surprisingly unexpected at a strange hour from a complete stranger.
I did nothing close to the highly commendable humanity of the Good Samaritan, but if a heart beats in our chest cavity, there is nothing to prevent us reaching out to help, just because we are human first and to help reinforce the bonds of our common humanity.
My hope is he is well and maybe, I helped an angel too. Every little stretching out of the hand is a little more done to restore faith in our humanity.

Thursday 1 December 2016

Thought Picnic: Broken trusts and broken relationships

As I reflect
The need to cultivate relationships is undeniable, especially those that pertain to family and friends. Estrangement is a difficult place to be, but the causes of such are rarely in the immediate present, a whole series of events culminate in whatever is left of that relationship when reviewed in the present.
The older I have grown, the more I have analysed situations and developments in my many relationships to understand better why the relationships remain strong or begin to fade into insignificance.
There are positives in my upbringing, many that I have written about and invariably, there are negatives too. I write about them first because it offers a form of catharsis and then in the expectation that readers might be aware of the issues we rarely discuss but end up living through in unresolved conflict and pain. The hope is that for those who still have levers they can pull, there is some opportunity for change for the better.
Trusting confidences
Earlier today, I reflected on the fact that I never really trust my parents with my confidences, I was for a while an only child because my siblings came along and whilst I could be talkative, I was always a closed book of sorts.
There is so much of my life that my parents are completely oblivious about, we probably will not talk enough to get to the point of my issues.
They are at an age where their entitlements and their demands are paramount if we are not being emotionally blackmailed, we are threatened with being disowned, some of us are amused at this febrile abuse of authority that they once wielded untrammelled.
Trusting safety
It goes without saying that being unable to trust them with my confidences has meant that have also not been trusted with my safety. 
In many ways, they were protective and they offered a haven from many situations, but the most critical one involved my childhood sexual abuse. People my parents trusted took advantage and took sexual favours, it is unlikely that they are aware of how serious this was.
Trusting vulnerabilities
The ultimate area of trust my parents were never granted was they were never trusted with my vulnerabilities. Probably, because they never understood what I was going through or did not have the presence of mind or inclination to determine whether there were problems.
From illness, through bad behaviour and depression in my teens then unto my battle with cancer in 2009 along with other health concerns, I realise there was no foundation on which to affect a better parent-child relationship. In finding others to trust with confidences, safety, and vulnerabilities, the thinnest umbilical cord remains and that itself is under unbearable strain.
Trust is a mutually beneficial standard for developing relationships and yet, generation after generation we repeat the mistakes of the past with very few lessons learnt.
Maybe, just maybe
My blog now offers a place to reflect on my victories and afflictions, going as far back as my vivid memories will carry me, along with the recognition of a life-changing condition diagnosed over 14 years ago, for which we hope that trust with allow people talk more about their lives, their challenges, their hopes and their fears without the threat of ostracism or the threat of facing stigmatisation.
Happy World AIDS Day!