Monday, 5 December 2022

Thought Picnic: Gathering my thoughts from despair

The darkest night and clouds

To think of the many things, I want to sigh about in consideration of events and issues that have not been as favourable as one would have wanted. The times my mind wanders into tunnels that scream despair and desolation to the hearing that I refuse to heed.

There are words that seek to speak from my lips that restraint would tell should not be spoken, looming hopelessness trying hard to envelop hope and expectation as you walk through the darkest times into the light ahead.

The toll is heavy on health and well-being, you become a recluse of all kinds of expression even as the walls that seem to close upon you are held away from collapsing on your helpless frame by forces within and beyond that grow with the intensity of a volcanic eruption blowing apart the concealment of ineffectuality, I will thrive beyond my wildest dreams even if now all you are clawing at is the will to survive.

Strengthened beyond description

Life is a force that defies explanation and the will to live and live well is more than a burning desire that gives strength to see beyond the present struggles. When all is said and done, you are a warrior that goes down fighting for what we have resolved to do change the soldier’s narrative as victory is won more by making the enemy die for their country much as the heroics of dying for one’s country might eventually be celebrated.

When I feel that I am alone in the battle that I face, what I do not see with my naked eyes is the multitude of angels arrayed in battle on my side, I am growing in confidence that in this experience of what life is, I am on the winning side. Goodness and mercy follow me, all the days of my life. [BibleGateway - 2 Kings 6:17-20 (NIV) Psalm 23:6a (NKJV).

Thursday, 1 December 2022

World AIDS Day 2022

Beyond a fateful diagnosis

This is my 20th World AIDS Day since my HIV positive diagnosis and I cannot tell for how long I might have contracted the virus before it was confirmed after a very developed and stringent testing regime, what matters is with a medical verification of my status, certain things needed to change.

I guess what changed the most in my life was my outlook between the idea that I might not have much time left to doing everything possible to enjoy whatever time I am fortunate to have to tell a better story beyond diagnosis.

Yet, living with HIV brought both adventure and the mundane, the mundane as in as the virus ravaged my body, I ignored what the consequences might be as year after year others noticed my apparently failing health.

The onset of AIDS

It was in the 7th year of my diagnosis that things took a turn for the worse, early in year, much as I was in my professional peak, a dark brownish stain appeared under my left sole, something I dismissed as athlete’s foot and on inspection by a doctor in Spain, never came to much of a comment. Yet, I was conscious enough to want to hide expanding dark mark when I was reclining in a deck chair by the pool, because someone did come to ask about it.

By Spring, my energy levels were down, I spent Easter in Geneva with my best friend after which I was back on the job market. Then by mid-Summer I had a bout of shingles that came and went in 2 weeks with the blessing of no post-hepatic neuralgia, though my foot was now becoming a problem.

What was manifesting in August was a painful sore that I could not walk without my foot being heavily bandaged and no amount of painkillers could assuage the pain, I tested the limits of my ability to endure pain. I had developed full-blown AIDS presenting as Kaposi’s sarcoma, a virulent skin cancer and it was screaming on my left foot.

The legacy of the early sufferers

My gratitude and good fortune for the sadness and the celebration of World AIDS Day comes from the fact that many young men perished because of AIDS and the lack of help to treat the diseases that came as a result of contracting the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), many also had the painful lesions of Kaposi’s sarcoma leading to fully emaciated and painful deaths.

When I went into hospital delirious in pain after my doctor in the Netherlands instituted emergency measures to get me seen by specialists because on the first sight of my foot, she said, “This looks serious, I need to refer you.” The professor who came down to see me immediately said, “We have a bed for you upstairs.”

I was at the point where advancements in HIV medicine gave the consultant the confidence that medicine did not have a decade before, because he said, “We can treat this, but it depends on how you can take the treatment.” The prognosis was I would be fine if I could tolerate the treatment, or I will be gone in 5 weeks if I could not.

Indeed, my survival comes down to the many whose treatments that variously failed but redounded to the body of knowledge and expertise that grew over decades, I am one of the fortunate ones who came back from the looking death in the face to live and thrive. It always gives me pleasure to interact with medical students when they attend my biannual consultations, because I hope that in some small way, I inspire them about the power and miracle of progressive medicine that can treat diseases that were once untreatable.

On celebrating World AIDS Day

This is what World AIDS Day means to me, the need to know your status and embrace the result with promptly accessing medical options available. In 2002, you were not immediately put on antiretrovirals, even in 2005, they were thinking of treating a Vitamin B deficiency rather than the virus.

World AIDS Day is about everyone affected and infected, privately or publicly, silently or in advocacy, proudly or stigmatised, we need to come out and bring an end to the scourge of HIV whilst making the very efficacious treatments freely available to everyone touched by HIV. I am also grateful to the health services in The Netherlands and the UK, the consultants, doctors, nurses and personnel who have devoted time and resources to seeing the end of HIV.

And where would I be without the support of friends, family, neighbours, lovers, and the wider community that blessed me with their humanity and generosity, to them all, I owe a debt of unstinting gratitude. I am blessed.

Here’s to World AIDS Day 2022 because there is still much to be done and I hope that when the work is complete, it would be celebrated in memory of the many who sacrificed life and being to bring an end to HIV and AIDS.

Wednesday, 30 November 2022

A catchup on the check-up

As things seem to be

Five weeks later than schedule, I was back in hospital for my biannual check-up which follows the usual routine of reviewing the results from tests conducted on my last visit, how I am both medically and mentally, along with other issues that might come up.

In these straitened times that even I in all my denial of reality sometimes suggests does not affect me, there is a sense of dissatisfaction in the state of affairs, a sad feeling of betrayal of confidences and trust that gave the impression of prospect where there was none, then with quite limited resources to hand, one is constrained in agency and autonomy.

It goes without saying that all these has its effects to either a greater or lesser degree on one’s health. Yet we soldier on believing that the travails of the present are temporary and would pass into the annals of recount and raconteuring with a wistful acknowledgement of how trying times have blessed us with an appreciation of the better things that have followed.

Something quite unexpected

In the review of the last battery of tests, I was unaware of an indicative test that had been conducted as neither my general practitioner (GP) nor I were informed of the result. My understanding was the test was rarely done and only annually, if necessary. However, on the consultant’s screen, I could see a third is the depreciation of an indicator that signalled my ability to fight infection with no clear reason as to why that might have happened.

It is a matter of concern, but one will have to wait for the results of tests conducted on fluids taken earlier today to determine if that was a mistake, an aberration, or a trend. With the new computer records system, you are notified of the result as soon as it is known.

Those hardworking kidneys

Beyond that, I wanted some close attention paid to my kidney function tests as the antiretroviral formulary I am on has been administered for over 12 and a half years. One of the components in the combination therapy can cause kidney impairment and I wanted that aspect monitored. However, looking at the trends in my kidney function tests over the last 4 years suggested I did not have anything to worry about.

The discussion nevertheless allows the consultant to pay a bit more heed to the indicators apart from being acquainted with the fact that I quite knowledgeable about my condition, the therapies, and developments in HIV medicine with the view to obtaining the best outcomes for my health and wellbeing.

Drink lots of aqua

Having had 3 instances where drawing blood was an ordeal, my cousin had given me some advice some months ago, so, from the moment I woke up, I was drinking lots of water, something Brian noted as unusual for me. By the time I was at the hospital this morning, I had drunk over a litre of water.

When I went to see the phlebotomist, my veins were in the Christmas spirit as for how my blood filled the vials, we could intone, “Let it flow, let it flow, let it flow.”, and soon, 7 vials were filled without the need for another prick in my arm.

Everything is electronic now, things are called up on computer and there were no forms for new appointments or prescriptions, you just had to give your name and date of birth along with some other personal information to get things done. The days was slow and tiring, in general, I felt good. I will just wait for the results for comparison and the next meet-up is in 6 months, I guess.

Saturday, 26 November 2022

Thought Picnic: For the wind that blows

Amongst uncertainty

The legendary Bob Dylan song asks, “How many roads must a man walk down, Before you call him a man?” I guess that is a question that comes to mind at certain times, even so, uncertain times of difficulty and adversity.

Then I think of the many roads I have walked down for which my manliness has been met with doubt, many that have left me wondering about how each day comes and goes with the battle against helplessness, abandonment, and incapacity, whilst striving to exhibit agency and autonomy.

There is a pressing of issues that demand attention towards which for now there is little resource to meet, yet one is persuaded that the momentary unpleasantness will give way to the better of life and expectation.

In the wind

Hardships that visit to lay markers down in the stories we get to tell, each time we pray we are not exhausted by prevailing circumstances much as we are comforted by the encouragement and support of those who hold us dear.

It belies one’s fragility that the outward appearances of stoicism are just that, there is much strength and there is weakness, good fortune, favour, and blessing are the buoys of hope that carry us along that we do not sink into despair or despondency. Sometimes, you wish for just a miracle and then even the normal course of events are miracles in and of themselves.

The answer is blowing in the wind, I guess to feel that realisation, you need to be out where the wind is blowing and not have your hat blown off.

Saturday, 19 November 2022

Inspired by thoughts and things

Disorderly words

Not for a while wrote I an ode,
To wit they ask you call that large?
For the many words to make the code,
Sit back and be entertained in a barge,
For in that we find a lovely abode.

Frequently the letters race about,
Never in the order that you seek to write,
When you do, you’re much in doubt,
Afraid that it won’t read as bright,
Yet all this is not for the clout.

Said him, I’ll show you what large is,
Obviously, it must be about what it means,
Not really with regards to all of this,
In the script that gives more than it leans,
Towards the world that’s sealed with a kiss.

Monday, 14 November 2022

Caught in the process that fails to serve

In the waters of fate

I live a very grateful man, many times afflicted by the issues of life, some by commission, others by omission, and a few by sheer incompetence. Much as I hate to view myself as a victim, there is nothing as fundamentally stripping you of dignity as to be lost in the system or some convoluted process.

The apparently structured processes, dry run to the nth degree that catastrophically fails when met with reality and completely missing facility for recalibration out of example and lessons learnt to be corrected.

It is like falling into water and drowning whilst lifeguards quibble about whether to throw in a lifebuoy, a lifeline, or jump in to save me. Maybe, just maybe, they see me flailing in the water between gulps, crying out orders to them on what to do, and then it occurs to them, there is a life that needs saving.

In the effects of indecision

Yet, one cannot sit in a pity party, you press on. Heck! This is someone who has survived life-threatening circumstances and had moments or stretches of one misfortune, infirmity, incapacity or another, I need to get a grip.

It is just that many times when processes are put in place, the critical success factor which pertains to the fact that someone is affected by that process is missing. You do wonder if ever the question gets asked in the design process, is there a person affected by this process and if impacted negatively, what mitigating steps are in place to promptly ameliorate and remedy the situation without adverse consequences?

In the hope of survival

In view of that, a lifeguard has thrown in a lifebuoy but from the perspective of the drowning, it is an act of disinterest and indifference, boxes are being ticked and that is what counts in process evaluation, whether lives were saved, are not of statistical significance, only that the saved should feel undying gratitude for being noticed at all.

In all the slow progress made, patience is a virtue that I am daily equipping myself to practice and endure, I have to trust another process that is unscripted, I will not only survive but also thrive.

Saturday, 12 November 2022

Thought Picnic: In the rivers of black identity

The river as it flows

I was invited to listen to Leon Bridges River; which also appears in HBO’s Big Little Lies original TV soundtrack, with the thought that the song was a significantly meaningful reflection for the black race, but there was a pause as that statement was made with the feeling that across the pond and history, things might not necessarily have the same import that they thought it should.

Attentively, I listened and tried to grasp the essence of it, I felt obligated to see things from their perspective as the lyrics though unseen but heard clearly did speak but did not catch on. In all honesty, it was best not to feign pretence as we were exploring the deeper issues of black identity. It hadn’t heard of Leon Bridges before.

River does evoke much about history and redemption, but in the words of the refrain, “Take me to your river, I wanna go”, the river was a place of routine, where you bathed, fetched water, washed clothes, and had fun, it did not carry any form of sacredness associated with cleansing and baptism as my interlocutor surmised. [Genius Lyrics: Leon Bridges River]

The river somewhere different

I felt that as there was no restriction to go to the river that flowed by the village, its great value might have been lost in its apparent familiarity. At my first hearing, meaningful as the song might well be, it would take more listening to it to have the deeper understanding being asked for at that time.

Later, I thought about where the river could mean just as much to me, it involved a different qualification in The Holy River by Prince, from the Emancipation album; there he sang, “Let’s go down to the holy river, If we drown we would be delivered,” that alone in its introduction was taking me to a special and sacred place of discovery and miracles. I was taken from the time I originally heard the song. [Lyrics from The Holy River]

Blog - Thought Picnic: Find your holy river in which to drown

This river was not a place of fun but a grotto of sorts, it was filled with a different kind of symbolism and mysticism, a place your approached with some dread and yet the anticipation that if everything seemed to go wrong, it would come out right regardless.

The subconscious of eternal existence

I found myself thinking of enclosures and openings, why I am totally averse to wearing anything like ankle chains, and then finger rings or neck chains. I wear a bangle of betrothal, but it is open-ended. I could give a reason, but I felt a profundity in the fact that the time we spend on earth is but a subset of the eternity of our existence.

We are in genetic and ethereal terms the result of an ancestry that doubles up each further generator of our origin that goes back from two parents to four grandparents, to eight great-grandparents, to sixteen great-great-grandparents and so on. If we do procreation, we begin a new chain that is a subset of our progeny.

It had me wondering where a tendency to fussiness or aversion comes from without influence or education, quirks and traits that attend to similarities with people we have never encountered but are strong in our personalities that some might even be inclined to the belief in reincarnation. I do not assume to suggest that I am competent in any form of existential philosophy, I would consider myself a total novice.

However, what I came away with was once again how so diverse and divergent the cultural and historical identities of the black race are, where the search for one's roots is a journey of discovery and the acceptance of self with being comfortable in one’s skin is a process of continuous learning involving complementation and jettison in various measures that we evolve and restate who we are depending on where we are.

I guess there is more to meditate on.

Wednesday, 9 November 2022

In the absent books of writhe

The un-chronicling of naughty

“You’re a naughty boy”, that’s something I had heard many times from when I was a boy and even so now that I am someone’s lover boy. With that comes the threat of something one might or might not enjoy, but that is left to be seen and felt.

Apparently, there is a journal, a mythical black book with fictional ideas of what a naughty boy has done, written in invisible ink, one would suppose because evidence of all that is as scant as watching the divinations of a shaman, for only they can see whatever they see and interpret what is not within the purview of the supplicant.

It could be put down to the usual banter the jousting between a black book with blank pages, then again; if the pages were black, what is written therein might not be seen but for the sake of highly fluorescent ink against the fact that the evident notepad with a pen always within reach and the propensity to tap away at a keyboard to produce a blog.

Maybe it is not a contest, just a whimsical notion of readiness and lethargy, no winners to celebrate, just that naughty is all part of a spectacle, present with many and left to fester by some. Then, rather than call someone else a naughty boy, history came crashing in with an excellently deployed putdown, along the lines of before your cheeky face appeared. That should leave some chuckling with a naughty giggle.

Thursday, 3 November 2022

Learning from the letters

Letters from the past

In the process of writing one’s story, much research still needs to be done, the many things you think you remember from things said and related, over time that should be reviewed and confirmed. The confusion of dates and events along with those involved.

I thought I was going type out the sketches of memory percolating in my mind over the last couple of weeks, but at the same time, I had been thinking of reading letters going back 30 years just to fill in some gaps.

Reaching for the trusty shoebox, I read the first lover’s letter from April 1992 and many subsequent letters afterwards with some dates confirmed and what feelings we had for each other then. My parents each with their entreaties about what should be doing in the UK, full of advice on how to approach things and the obligatory badgering about making introductions and getting married.

Letters with a blast

On the event side, it occurred to me that there were things I might not have noticed, marriages, births, and deaths placed in their perspectives of relationships, celebrations and there were quite a few, who was doing what and where, especially how they were getting on, I had not read these letters since when I received and read them the first time.

Other things that could wear you down from all quarters, as questions, requests, demands, and pleadings extending beyond relations to friends and passing acquaintances, many with the view that you are living large abroad with no responsibilities apart from that which regards them. If one were to put a cost to the tranche of requirements, you would be totally wiped out. For those of us with regular engagements, you had to ignore and withhold a response totally.

Yet, there were many more letters to read all of which read out in my head in the hearing of the voices of the authors, that itself brought a kind of mental strain even though none had the contemporaneous urgency that portended the time of writing, I had to give it a break and find another time to read a few more.

Letters written to last

Though, in one of the letters from my mother with some useful historical content that I jotted down from my notes, she also revealed that she once worked at Vono Tipton. Vono was also known in Nigeria for beds, bed frames, bedsteads, bedding, and furniture. What I did not know was that VONO is in fact an acronym for Vaughan Only, No Others. The company was founded in 1896 by Ernest Vaughan and at one time, the largest employer in Tipton. [The annals of Tipton industries]

As for the other pertinent pieces of information I gain, I would suppose those would be woven into the stories to be found in my book.

Wednesday, 2 November 2022

You can only play the cards you have

The things that I watch

I am a fan of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert that anytime I light up my Amazon Fire Stick 4K*, I log on to YouTube and catch the most recent episodes that were recorded within the last 24 hours. The kind of insight and commentary he brings to the issues of the day usually has me applauding from my sofa in awe.

One section of his monologues that intrigues me is the lead-in to his Meanwhile polemics, it is made up of two counterintuitive deliveries almost nonsensical yet quite studied, I have myself wishing I could write like that. Then again, talk shows have writers, so these are more a confluence of crazy ideas than the individual genius of one, though the innovation itself might just be that of one person. What do I know?

The cards you’re dealt

Anyway, in another segment that gets played every few weeks, a guest is invited to participate in the Stephen Colbert Questionert, a series of 15 questions that presume to give a better knowledge of the person being interviewed. On this occasion, it was James Taylor who for the last question, Describe the rest of your life in five words, answered, “Play the cards I’m dealt.”

Now, I am not a card player, I only barely know anything about hands in poker even as I have if I remember correctly written code to randomly deal cards to present a winning poker hand, 2-Pair, Royal Flush, 4 of a kind, that sort of thing. I doubt I would ever have the proficiency to play cards for money and not that I would countenance that level of folly.

Any fool’s poker

However, I understand a few principles around the game, when cards are dealt, you cannot choose what you get, that’s just luck or fate, depending on how you view things. When the betting starts, reviewers might suggest the hand you have has more chance of winning the pot than the other person. Then other cards are put on the table, so that between the 3 you have in your hand and the 2 that end up on the table, you come to a decision, on who has the better hand.

Forgive my amateurish descriptions. Sometimes, you’ll fold because you do not think you have a chance, maybe you can raise the ante because you are surer about what you have got, then, there is a bluffing where you suggest you have the best hand and dare the other person to call your bluff, beyond the basic skill, it becomes a game of wits. Someone with the right kind of resolve can win over a good hand and this happens.

Fundamentally, whichever way the game goes, you can only play what you have got, never what you wish you had. Then even if you had everything in line but your bluff was not up to standard, the game might end early without you getting others to commit more to the pot for a bigger win. Let me exit the stage left at this point.

You can only play what you have

In life, we analogously in a card game where by fortitude, destiny, luck, fate, or blessing, we are dealt an experience of life that we have to live to the best of the capabilities and possibilities we possess. Nothing is perfect and even the perfect goes awry. We are left with having to live life as we find it and make the best of it to the squander or the prosper, then it could just be average and that in itself may not essentially be bad, just do your bit.

We can daydream and wish we were living another life, get into a transponder and be translated into that alternate universe where all those dreams are living realities in the midst of the same faces and issues of life. A good hand in a bad setting of a paltry pot for the winnings. You begin to realise the futility of it all, for no matter the number of infinite universes we might visit, the same human issues will exist. We might as well stick with the universe we know rather than the one we are introduced to as newly arrived foreigners in a strange land.

This is not against the march of progress, we can do a lot with what we have, we can have dreams, live with hope and march towards the realisation with purpose and determination. We can only do that with what we have rather than what we wish for. And so, I could well understand what James Taylor meant by “Play the cards I’m dealt.”, for life whichever way you live it or refuse to live it would always be, what you make it. And from the music, according to Leon Patillo, ‘all of your dreams can come true.’

Blog - The bird in hand is all you have

* All my media content is now delivered through this device to my Smart TV, I switched off my TiVo device over 2 months ago because it was just consuming electricity, the device allows me to download all the apps I need to watch everything I am interested in.

Tuesday, 1 November 2022

Thought Picnic: How still I see me lie

Met in thee

There is a calmness that you find to gain some refuge from concern and worry, something that registers from that line in O Little Town of Bethlehem that speaks of the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

Thee being the birth of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ as we countdown to the celebration of Christmas, the Sunday past being the Fourth Sunday before Advent. It goes without saying that I am a man of faith, a spirituality that sustains me through times that do fill me with the dread of insufficiency and incapacity, that I fold into a shell of seclusion.

Met with constraints

There are things I would have been quite forward to do that my hand has been shortened by circumstances and situations that exacerbate fears, but all those are held at bay by hopes buoying confidence that change will come and change things so radically.

Occasions have come and gone to which an appearance was difficult, and support could not be provided, then many would not know why, it is just that times failed the opportunity and not for the want of trying.

Personally, there was pain, deep pain, but life teaches us only to stretch to what is available and not beyond the resource to the point of suffering, you can only work with what you have.

Met on experience

Life presents many cycles, and the recurrence of events and experiences does not offer the same solutions, you have to learn anew and then commit that to new experiences, learning is a continuous process for which in my own life, I am grateful that wherever I have been set in my old ways, I find that I am upset into new ways.

Realities are another thing, seeking assurances in a turbulent world where trust is finite that you are questioning yourself about what you have been assured of. This is where communication and the ability to do it well to elicit the information you need matters. How to turn sleepless nights into restful nights full of sweet dreams and the awakening to the freshness of a new day, energised to live and thrive in the moments you are given.

Met to befriend

Most of all, friendship and love are at the heart of the calmness, in love, there is someone to lean on whose voice is indeed a strength and stay much as they rarely realise who and what they mean to me. In friendship, is one that reads me better than I can read myself, whose support is unflinching and ever-present.

From relationships past comes structure and symbiosis, we seem to exist for each other, cheering on with encouragement and praise, we find the words of comfort to weather the challenges that waylay us in our pathways. This is not the stuff you take for granted, it is what you cultivate so that you are not left alone absent of people who cherish you and care deeply for you. The world I live in is about relationships and that is how even in the darkest hour, the dawn would soon be upon us.

It shall pass, it never stays still, for the motion of time is always the harbinger of change bringing us to the living splendour of dreams coming true beyond anything we could have ever countenanced. I strongly believe I have a better story to tell.

Thursday, 27 October 2022

The bird in hand is all you have

Long Read!

The humbling of life

There is an old saying, “A bird in hand is worth two in the bush.” I find myself revisiting some of these old sayings to review what lessons to mankind they might impart to me and my unique circumstances, for as Ecclesiastes1:9 says, “there is nothing new under the sun.

It is quite poignant that Ecclesiastes has 12 chapters and in the first chapter it dispenses with hopes, dreams, expectations, and much else whilst laying bare the fact of human existence, after the introduction, it says, all is vanity, suggests we labour in vain, that nature always follows its course, and that we pay heed to experiences gone before because there are lessons to be learnt of life.

A further interpretation of the saying at the beginning which I should call a proverb is, “It's better to be content with what you have than to risk losing everything by seeking to get more.

Failures are paths

This is the story, I finished secondary school at the age of 15 and was immediately admitted to the Lagos State College of Science and Technology (Lacostech) to study Chemical Engineering, at the same time, my mother tried to persuade me to attend Form Six for the Higher School Certificate (HSC), but I was having none of it, my experience of secondary boarding school was such that I wanted to be treated more as an adult with all the freedoms that entailed, even if I assumed very little responsibility.

Lacostech was a fledgling institution, the practical engineering component of the course system was lacking, we were based at a faraway campus and for the practical elements, we attended labs at Yaba College of Technology (YabaTech), the preeminent polytechnic at the time. How I ended up doing Chemical Engineering was a result of alumni visiting my secondary school to give a talk, I was beguiled rather than persuaded. I failed that first year.

However, knowledge from that first year prepared me to change my course to Electrical Engineering at YabaTech even as seeing an uncle thrive in Quantity Surveying had a bit of a draw. It so transpired that I spent 3 years at YabaTech where I failed, repeated my second year, and consequently was asked to withdraw. That was 4 years of higher education lost, I can only wonder if I had gone for the HSC instead and plied a different trajectory in life.

Being a nonsense child

At that point, my father had given up on me, he was determined to put me to work on his farm which was not doing all that well. My father in his active career was a brilliant and successful accountant, usually top of the class, winning awards and prizes, how could I, his first child and son be such a dullard?

The day he planned to ship me off to his farm, I ran away from home with the aid of my mother, and I was first put up with a teacher from her school where she was a principal, then with a brother of a neighbour, before I ended up living with my dear Uncle Cash who passed on in June.

Blog - Uncle Cash!

Not having just enough

There, I began to chart my way back to some academic relevance, already 5 years out of secondary school with nothing to show for it. I took the Joint Admissions Matriculation Board (JAMB) examinations and scored in Physics (71), Chemistry (72), English (73), and Mathematics (45), for whatever reason, I ran out of time with Mathematics and that poor score was significant and it came to 261 when I needed at least 280 to be considered for Electrical Engineering at some of the universities I was interested in as the University of Ife or the University of Benin.

Meanwhile, my mother was pulling strings elsewhere and had with my original West African School Certificate secured admission to the Federal Polytechnic at Ilaro to study Electrical Engineering. To my mind, having been to YabaTech, going to Ilaro in the middle of nowhere was second-best untenable, it never entered my consideration, and no one could appeal to me about it, I was set on going to university come what may.

A bird for a bird

My father came around, and we both drove to the University of Benin to see if he could influence things, it was the second time we had met since I ran away from home over a year before, and at the same time the registration window was closing at Ilaro as lectures were starting too. One thing I remember about that trip was we stopped over at a restaurant, where I ordered a stew with gizzards that my father thought he heard lizard, the look on his face and the laughter afterwards when he realised, he heard wrong.

Herein was my dilemma, I had a bird in hand, the admission to the Federal Polytechnic, Ilaro which I was not paying attention to because I had my mind on the two in the bush, an impossible consideration for admission to either the University of Ife or the University of Benin. All my hopes were on university admission when my reality was a backwater polytechnic where though the OND course was accredited, the HND component was still seeking recognition.

Humble is pie is food

Eventually, as the vanity and the futility of my expectations began to dawn on me, I ate humble pie and set off to the Federal Polytechnic, Ilaro to start as a fresher and from when I used to be the youngest in the class in all the schools I had ever attended, I was now a higher education veteran, 20 years old.

My humiliation is exacerbated by my first encounter, he was a year my junior in secondary school and the very first person I exerted seniority rights on when I got to Form 2 by punishing him, he was in his final year at Ilaro when I was just starting. I can only wonder what stories he had to tell about his life experiences. The senior that punished him 9 years ago in secondary was now 3 years his junior in higher education.

I had to focus on what I had to do, I was not at Ilaro for him or about him, I was at Ilaro to rebuild my shattered dreams. And much as I kept the prospect of going to university alive, my engagement in the semester was both committed and divided. However, by the second semester, I accepted that my bird in hand was the only bird I had and any other birds shitting on my head from above or chirping in the bush were never going to be caught.

It came round beautifully

I did the two years successfully, was my class representative, gained an upper credit diploma and even after ran a signature drive of all my erstwhile class to appeal for the HND component to be accredited for us to return to complete our course at this apparent backwater polytechnic that gave us so much for a start in career and achievement.

For my industrial orientation, I walked into a computer services firm seeking employment and was employed on the spot, I even got my class deputy employed too. He went on to complete his higher diploma at YabaTech, I went into desktop publishing consultancy, to help publish legal reports and acquired 30% of a printing firm on whose auspices I paid my first visit to the UK to acquire equipment and software.

That same OND stood me in good stead for jobs that I took up in the UK when I finally emigrated, obviously, I acquired vendor certifications too. It is interesting to note that, I wrote a character reference for a friend with whom I attended Ilaro and the admissions officer at the University of Liverpool contacted me to suggest I was the kind of candidate they were looking for to embark on a Master's programme. I only had an OND and I was admitted for a postgraduate degree.

It is always what you have

The moral of the story is this, all my intentions, plans and hopes were to go to university, I held fast to that expectation even though there was nothing I could show for that ambition. All the while, I had an admission to Ilaro, it was the unmentionable, the one where I thought I would be stuck, the humiliation of meeting a junior who was very much a senior and you know how ranking works in a typically Nigerian community, yet that was the pathway to my career successes. I could not have envisaged the result of going to Ilaro but the consequence of attending Ilaro made all the difference.

It is in the same vein that we are faced with what we think are choices but are hardly so. That bird in hand is the only thing you have got, there rest are pipedreams, daydreams, hopes, and wishes. Until you have secured whatever you want or need, you do not have it. Yet we give equal status to what we desire and hope for to what we already have but do not like for all sorts of reasons that it was not part of the plan and seek myriad excuses to diminish certainty for uncertainty.

I have many instances where choosing the second-best or the worst possible scenario because that was all I had has led to the best possible and even unintended outcomes. It is important to keep the momentum, take the opportunity that is available and work with it even if at the present time everything it represents is not to your liking.

It is never out of thin air

History is littered with people who were faced with difficult choices of which there are no other options have with humility follow what they have and come up trumps, be it Joseph being sent into slavery before he rose to become deputy Pharaoh or Jesus being given the choice of the cross or flight, faced the cross and brought salvation to the world.

There is indeed nothing new under the sun, the voice of the ancients, the elders, the experienced, and even the privileged tries to counsel us on many issues to which we turn a deaf ear because we have other plans, but plans are just that, plans, we remain stuck in the same place with plans and no action, forsaking opportunity for fantasy and in the end losing both opportunity and fulfilling no fantasy.

The question we should always ask ourselves is, what is it that we already have that we are giving up for what we are hoping to have? What you are hoping for, you do not have. At the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus could only use what the boy had and multiply it, not materialise food for the crowds out of thin air. At the marriage in Cana where Jesus turned water into wine, the jugs were empty, he asked them to fill the jugs with water first, he did not conjure wine from the air.

You have to have something to make or do something, that something may not be what you like or want, but it is the only thing you have and if you do not use it, you will lose it and be left in the same place still, full of dreams, hopes, and desires but no further away from where you started.

Wednesday, 26 October 2022

Thought Picnic: In a moment of filial indiscretion

In the telling

My father who is 83 today is an interesting man of numerous talents, great generosity, and impactful mentoring ability, along with considerable human failings as we all are for any story that might get told of us.

However, this is not the time to dwell on those matters for in a lifetime a scion is as much equipped with the knowledge to write both hagiography and excoriation with an equal consequence if presented with the glee of indiscretion.

Of associative relationships

I guess there are ways in which I probably do not appreciate my parents as much as I can even as they are in this year octogenarians both. It is funny that I recently found the words to understand some of what that relationship affects.

At nativity, a time for bonding was lost to the need to give a prematurely born child the opportunity to thrive. The first description of what I looked like depending on who was relating the story varied from lizard to hamster, though it was agreed that I only fit in the palm of my father’s hand before I was shipped off to the city of Birmingham to be incubated for two months.

Our familial relationship is more associative than anything, they stuck to me, reared me, took responsibilities on my behalf and gave me both a start in life and the makings of a world outlook that defines beliefs, expressions, actions, and much else.

A preview loosed

For that, I can only be grateful and thankful, I love them if I understood what love is, yet at various times, I have cultivated these relationships on my own terms, when I want to communicate, how I choose my viewpoints, the audacity of opinion respectful and truthful, for a child, I could well be an aberration given unusual liberties.

I cannot even remember why I started this blog for its course was not essentially to post a birthday greeting, I was thinking of what might end up in a book I am trying to write. The broader narrative will be found there, this is just a synopsis.

Monday, 24 October 2022

Remembering my stepmother

 A propinquity nativity

It is a case of interesting provenance for another word cannot be found to describe the fact that my stepmother was only 14 months older than I am. Sadly, today, one speaks in the past tense because today would have been her birthday and she passed on, 4 days after her birthday 2 years ago.

On reflection, I consider the perspectives of relationships and the understanding of what goes on between different people. For there are viewpoints of who she was that my half-brothers whose ages would have been representative of my sons have, and that of who the larger parts of the family have as concerns her.

Deference of association

In my case, I find myself more of a neutral party as I never met her, I only knew of her, and we were introduced over the phone by my father long into their relationship. I immediately adopted a respectful deportment to my father’s wife and accorded her all that it necessitates.

Our interactions over the years that we communicated were cordial and friendly, each deferential to the other even as I fielded concerns and complaints whilst trying to mitigate and ameliorate issues as that relationship became estranged.

In my view, I thought there were situations where my father could have been more gentlemanly, yet I was never conversant with the intricacies of their affair. The history and reports relayed to me would suggest it was a stormy and sometimes unhappy marriage, but I was too distant from the setup to give it any assessment.

In resignation to fate

Therefore, regardless of what others thought of her, I could not fault her even if she had many faults, what I remember was trying to call her on her last birthday and we eventually talked. The call that received on that fateful Wednesday morning from my brother, left me in shock, I was coming to the end of my walking exercise, and I literally collapsed on a bench for a while to get my bearings.

Conversing with my brothers, we worked at facilitating her obsequies as I thought about how our then-recent engagements might have unwittingly been loaded with some premonition; certain critical responsibilities would come my way just as a matter of course and in recognition of the limits to which other parental obligations can be met.

The sadness is palpable in remembrance, more so for my brothers who would surely miss her and her presence for significant life occasions. Life is fleeting, how we leave legacy matters, and for those we have met, we hope we have contributed something significant and positive for them to remember. To my stepmother, rest eternal and may your shortcomings be forgiven.

Blog - A chapter closed suddenly

Friday, 14 October 2022

Thought Picnic: Self-doubt, a teacher of humility

The humbling of the present

The unfortunate sacking of Kwasi Kwarteng, the erstwhile Chancellor of the Exchequer gave me something to ponder about my situation. I wrote in a tweet, “Sometimes, a dramatic humbling can be quite life-affirming, do not take every setback as the end of purpose, ambition, or prospect.”

The reason why I can relate is I was invited for an interview on Monday and just before we had the meeting, the agency called to say that the client had realised they had a budget shortfall and whether I would consider lobbing off about 40% from what we had agreed on Friday.

I politely declined as I reflected on the disrespectfulness and insult apart from the unprofessionalism that enabled that kind of feedback that should have been better relayed as the position had been filled by other personnel. You see a lot in 27 years of dealing with contract agencies, and then some.

Beyond the travails we see

Soon afterwards, I got a phone call from another agency offering the prospect of a re-engagement with a client I had worked with before. I was keen and so my details were put forward and they expressed an interest in offering an opportunity.

However, I was to attend an interview on Microsoft Teams scheduled for Friday and I had only hours before reserved to collect my new passport in Liverpool. I did not want to postpone the interview and so that meant planning to be in Liverpool to both attend the interview and collect my passport.

Meanwhile, I was also to give a presentation as part of the interview process with the choice from 5 topics that looked quite distinct yet from my experience were intricately interrelated. I found myself in a similar brain fog as I was 5 years ago, trying to decide which topic to present, though then I chose one and wrapped the considerations of the other 3 topics into how they relate with the one I chose.

In doubt and unsure

It would have been easy and lazy to rehash the old document, but I had to do better, and I gathered the material and began to construct the elements of my presentation. In my head, I had a good idea of what I wanted to say, but how to fit that into an acceptable presentation became a challenge.

For all the expertise and experience I do have, others probably do believe in my abilities more than I dare to believe I am. There are jobs I should apply for that reticence and doubt persuades me otherwise. My friends constantly urge me to step up, their perspective of me way ahead of my apparent insecurities.

My presentation almost became existential in its import, for it would have been the crux upon which the decision to hire me would have been based amongst other considerations. I found myself wondering how I could quite easily scupper my chances given what might be a golden opportunity. Then I would whisper to myself, that everything would be fine, take breathing exercises and try to calm myself down.

The trial of adequacy

My friends would suggest I am not lacking in confidence, I have my doubts about that assessment, and then maybe I am beating myself up too hard. My presentation was only about 75% finished by the time I went to bed, and I was so sleep-deprived thinking about how I had not closed the activity. Something was missing from giving the presentation the necessary feel of a proposal made to a C-suite executive.

A few ideas wandered into my mind overnight and on getting up, I showered and went for breakfast that I could hardly finish before giving Brian a call. My best friend had sent me a message of encouragement during the night too, which I acknowledged. I went for a walk to the River Mersey and returned to complete my presentation with just an hour left to the interview.

Things seemed to fall into place and with just about 20 minutes to spare, there was nothing more I could do about what I was about to present. Unsure and nervous, we began a discussion when I realised that my 9 slides of PowerPoint presentation were to be delivered in 10 minutes, there was no point panicking, I went for it with mannerisms and tics, all forgiven with the verdict that it was a good presentation.

Self-doubt, the measure of strength

This was something I would never have been able to pull off without the support of my friend, and my partner, they were constantly encouraging me even as it was increasingly difficult to believe them. Then I need to find the positive in my ordeal, maybe self-doubt is a good check on hubris too, it works for me even if it stresses me out too.

There is a humbling that teaches you the truth of your vulnerability not to strip you of agency but to equip you with the human need to seek support and encouragement to empower you through when your strength appears to fail.

It is like what Apostle Paul said in II Corinthians 1v9-11“Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us, you also helping together in prayer for us, that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the gift granted to us through many.”

It speaks for itself, that our vulnerabilities or the humbling of the present only allows us to appreciate that we can do a lot more in the context of our humanity by relying on others.

Saturday, 8 October 2022

Thought Picnic: To love and work at it

Knowing what is up

The beauty of love and being in love has a profound way of giving you both a sense of being and joy of living that cannot be effectively put into words. There is a satisfaction and stability that can come with being a relationship that we fail to nurture and tender, we just allow things to trundle allow naively assured of nature without nurture.

Yet, when I review relationships past, I find that we never really took the time to review if what each of us expected in the relationship was matched to what our partners sought, of if there was any alignment that helped compatibility and interdependence, we just left ourselves to the issues and situations without attending properly the bonds that defined us.

Working at it more

If there is any lesson to be learnt, it is to cherish more and nurture better the affairs of the heart. Give time and consideration to the garden of love that it does not get overgrown with the weeds of distraction, indifference, and complacency.

With Brian, I find that I need to appreciate what I have for I know and maybe that is a cliché that I have never loved like this before, all the loves I have had have been in their ways significant, they have all been part of the fabric of my life and the stories I get to tell.

Then this is different and wonderful, experience has been an unrelentingly hard taskmaster, that one would be a fool to commit the old mistakes again. I am resolved to work at this.

Thursday, 6 October 2022

My hopes say my fears will not prevail

In all my weakness

Sometimes, I have to wonder how I keep pressing on, how despite the many things that cause fear, anxiety, uncertainty, and turmoil, hitting at the door of my composure threatening to break an entry and overwhelm me with the audacity of the invasion of an armed robber.

I am only human, all the more vulnerable, concerned about circumstances that I believe will turn right, though, at this time, things are not where they should be. The vicissitudes of life are an ever-present indicator that ease and difficulty are the ebb and flow of the currents that define the stories of life.

I will not falter

At times, it seems relentless and unyielding, then you think again, I can face this and face this down, this will pass, it will become a distant memory. It is just not that comfortable when you are sitting in the middle of a storm. I know I will weather it, even when I think my strength is totally exhausted, the reserves that buoy me up would say, grace, good fortune, blessing, and favour is on my side.

Until I draw my last breath, I am here to tell a better story. Using the spirit of hope to my fears, they will not prevail.

Wednesday, 5 October 2022

Chemotherapy as a journey to survival

A body for assault

No two experiences of taking chemotherapy are the same, at least that is what I think from my own situation. As I took my delayed first session of Caelyx chemotherapy (liposomal doxorubicin) on the 5th of October 2009.

It was scheduled for 9:30 AM but postponed for 3 hours. In that time, I received a brilliant bouquet of flowers from Stockholm which brightened my outlook quite a bit.

I had been informed that I was not going to lose my hair, not that I had any to lose, and my fertility will be affected, not that I was planning to procreate nor was I in the state to make a preservation order on that account.

Taking cancer head-on

When I was wheeled to the oncology theatre, I was canulated and this red liquid in large sachet covered in aluminium foil to shield it from light was passed into my veins for a period of 45 minutes to an hour.

It felt like a homeward straight in my therapy, the fungating tumours of Kapasi’s sarcoma were going to be snuffed out. The chemotherapy being cytostatic, meaning it kills cells and stops cells from growing also meant that I was a health hazard to others who had to be careful about having any contact with any of my bodily fluids including blood.

After the first session, my bed was cordoned off in isolation and that affected me more than the bloated feeling that was a side effect of drug. I was informed of everything I could expect apart from the isolation which was removed after 2 nights.

How it all transpired

I had 7 chemotherapy sessions every third Monday until the 8th of February 2010. In terms of side effects, it was the loss of taste, the only things I could perceptively taste were yoghurts and cassis black currant drinks. I was literally knocked and without strength for the second and third day, then by the fifth session, I could not keep my food down that I had to be given medication to manage the emesis.

By December, the cancer lesions had disappeared, new pink skin was showing up from under the necrotised skin which needed to be cut away. It is not the best experience, but if it is the only viable course of treatment, you just have to hope you pull through it, for at the same time, a close friend on chemotherapy treated by the same oncologist did not survive his third session of chemotherapy.

Just striving to live

I guess what I learnt through the process was that you were given more of the chemotherapy if you tolerated it well. When I visited the hospital for my out-patient sessions, the ward was well-equipped, the couches were fully adjustable to recline into beds, if so desired. I took my thermos flask of tea, some biscuits, and some reading material.

Apart from the staff, we were a ward of people fighting to live, from the boy who came alone, hardly a teenager to the elderly people, just hoping that the medicine gave us a lot more time than when we first heard the word cancer spoken about our condition.

This blog of reflection is one that also recognises that people with my condition at diagnosis rarely lived for another 10 years. I have been fortunate, and I am grateful for the grace of God on my life, the amazing miracle of medical science, the support of extraordinary friends and now the wonderful love in my life, Brian. I am blessed.

Monday, 3 October 2022

Running the gauntlet of influencer clout blackmail

Be glad for the professionalism

I got involved in a thread conversation on Twitter this morning because I felt there was a seething sense of entitlement bordering on blackmail that could not be overlooked. The poster had used the services of a skin specialist whose professionalism had eradicated hyperpigmentation from his face, and one would assume out of customer satisfaction, the poster recommended other people to the skin specialist.

It transpired that the skin specialist told the poster that through his recommendation, some 500 other clients had used his professional services. The skin specialist thanked the poster for the recommendation and that should have been enough.

This is just barefaced entitlement

However, the poster did a mental calculation on the 500 clients, imagined the total income from that clientele and came to the conclusion that the skin specialist’s gratitude could have been better expressed in a probably a free year of skincare services and so by inference labelled the skin specialist an ingrate for getting all that custom and providing no tangible reward.

Now, I cannot say how large the skin specialist’s business is, but one thing is certain, if the skin specialist had not achieved the results of fixing the poster’s face, everything else that resulted in referrals, increased clientele and additional income from the clients would not have happened. What professionals do is provide a service for which they get paid and if the customer decides to recommend them, that is a bonus.

Please respect the professional

What I take issue with is people who having obtained a good professional service for which time and resources have been meticulously devoted expecting to get a free service in reward for their recommendations. It is one thing to have agreed beforehand that you will bring custom to a business for some reward, and it is another to expect a reward from having benefitted from a service. If it is exclusively your decision to recommend a business, do not return to blackmail the business owner into giving you a free service.

In fact, professionals should always be treated as professionals with skills on the market to be monetarised, please respect the professional, and pay up. For example, would anyone having had a successful surgical procedure and then recommended the surgeon to others now expect the surgeon to provide free services for subsequent surgeries as an expression of gratitude? What makes a surgeon different from a skin specialist or a computer expert except for the tendency to denigrate and contemn one in relation to the other?

Paying forward is better

I have recommended businesses and services just as I have written reviews about services that have not been to a professional standard either to get them to change or to alert other customers about issues with the business. Where my reviews have redounded to the bottom line, I do not stand at the gate seeking compensation or reward, I pay fully for the service provided respecting what they do.

My principle is to pay forward rather than seek reward, what I can afford, I pay for, if the business wants to be generous, that generosity is better directed to those in need. I would not let acquisitive greed deprive others of opportunity and access. Like if the skin specialist offered a free session, I would probably suggest it be given to someone who needs it but cannot afford it.

It is blackmail, no less

This brings me to the issue of influencers; these are people who have a large following due to activity in their situation who have consequently promoted a business or service to their followers. Whilst I cannot essentially class fame or infamy as a profession, some do use their influencer clout to then attempt to blackmail businesses, services, or professionals into providing free products and services for exposure to their following.

For some businesses, there can be a beneficial end to that, but to put upon a professional and predicate that by your influence their business has survived and without you, they will be nothing is quite an aggrandisement and close to delusions of grandeur. It is the professional’s prerogative to express gratitude as they deem fit without having to be excoriated or abused for just expressing thanks instead of doling out freebies.

Ultimately, if you can’t pay for the service, go elsewhere. If you feel entitled to a free service, find a gullible professional ready to sacrifice their professionalism for your influencer schtick. Enough of the backhanded recommendations seeking reward, if anything, it is utterly reprehensible, and I have no qualms about calling it out.

Friday, 30 September 2022

Thought Picnic: 13 years on antiretroviral (ARV) medication

Taking treatment for HIV/AIDS

I was put on first-line antiretroviral (ARV) drugs on this day 13 years ago, on the 9th day of admission to the hospital, seriously ill, in pain, and after a battery of tests and biopsies. At that point, the consultants and specialists had agreed on the course of treatment to address HIV that had deteriorated into AIDS with the opportunistic infection of cancerous Kaposi’s sarcoma.

Other schedules for my treatment were being planned as I was informed the next day. I started on Kaletra (lopinavir/ritonavir) and Truvada (emtricitabine/tenofovir), two of the former and one of the latter, once daily, I tolerated them well apart from occasions of diarrhoea. Within 6 weeks of that regime, my HIV viral load had been reduced to undetectable. [ Drug Interactions between Kaletra and Truvada]

Changes to medication

I was kept on this medication until May 2010 which was over 3 months after my last session of chemotherapy and when literally all other medications had ceased before I was put on Atripla. Today, I am on its therapeutic equivalent as branded Atripla has been withdrawn from the market because it is no longer under patent and the demand for branded formulary has fallen with the introduction of generic alternatives.

However, the more reason for writing this blog is to indicate that the antiretroviral drugs are efficacious, they work, they considerably diminish the effects of HIV leaving you with an undetectable viral load and usually an increasing CD4 cell count that gives you the ability to fight off disease.

Healthy status and medical adherence

With an undetectable viral load, you cannot pass on HIV, which has given rise to the U=U Campaign, Undetectable = Untransmittable. People of ARVs adhering to their medication and having regular check-ups on their blood chemistry and sexual health can expect to live as normal as possible lives.

This is all possible if one is under medical supervision and no decisions are made regarding the use of medication without expert instruction, even if by some good fortune, there is some indication that HIV has been eradicated by whatever means. Your HIV consultant must have fully tested and verified that claim before you change anything regarding your medication.

For me, I am a living testimony of how medicine with expertise, the support of many, the hope that helped my faith, that HIV even when you have fully developed AIDS-defining illnesses can be brought under control with medical intervention. Once again, it is not a celebration just sharing facts about my own experiences.

Blog - Reflecting on 20 years after an HIV-positive diagnosis