WHO DO YOU CELEBRATE?

WHO DO YOU CELEBRATE?

I love celebrating my children. I love celebrating friends on their special days. I think it matters when you celebrate a person. It matters when you know their favorite meal, their favorite TV show, their favorite song, their favorite dessert, etc. It matters when you take the time to let them know what you love about them, what you see in them, and why their presence on this Earth matters to you.

– Maria Shriver

About three years ago, I got invited to a very special event; a daughter wanted her mother to know just how much she was loved by so many. So for nearly four months prior to her mother’s landmark 70th birthday, she planned and plotted with a tiny group of tight lipped friends, on how best to celebrate her mother. She wanted it to be the party of all parties, because she didn’t know how long her mother had left. These days, anyone getting to 70 has really hit the jackpot, let’s face it. And if you recall that the Holy Bible tells us that our days on earth are threescore and ten (which is 70 years), then you know that everything after that is a huge gift. Particularly in Africa (and mostly in Nigeria), life expectancy is dismal. We tend to be on the most negative lists; highest infant mortality rate, highest maternal mortality rate, highest number of people with sickle cell disease, poverty capital of the world, highest number of children out of school, highest number of internally displaced persons… I don’t think I need to go on. So we know that every day we wake up and get out of bed is a blessing and hitting seventy is like I said, a jackpot.

As part of the tight lipped plotters, I had to help gather tributes from people to my friend’s mother. This was not difficult, her mother, before retirement, was Nigeria’s best Mathematics Teacher, awarded several times. She had spent her life working in various public schools and to her credit, she never left a single student behind. She had no failures in her class, an awesome achievement. The tributes poured in fast and thick. Reading through them, most from her former students, their parents and other teachers, I was awe struck at how much this wonderful woman had achieved in her 30-something year teaching career. Needless to say, the birthday was a huge success, the hall was packed, and my friend’s mother never knew what was going on until it happened, the perfect surprise party for an awesome teacher, Aunt, Mother and confidant. And best of all, she was so overwhelmed that she could hardly say anything except, “Thank you God!”, she had not, in all those years, even realized how many she had touched.

How do we celebrate the people we love? It is a question we should ask ourselves. Some celebrate a person when they are leaving a town or an establishment. In Nigeria, we usually call that a ‘send forth’ or ‘send off’. Some celebrate one on one’s birthday, but expect to be pampered and fussed over and get angry if they feel that enough was not done to make them the invitee, not the celebrant, feel special. Some people celebrate a person when they have died and are being buried; they will praise the deceased to the highest heavens and have the most superlative burial.  Some people celebrate people when they have attained a certain level of success, hoping to use them for their own selfish purposes, dumping them when they have lost that position. Hardly do we just celebrate people, even those we say we love, in a memorable way, a way that really celebrates them and what they stand for with no strings attached.

At Christmas, we get the chance to celebrate Jesus Christ our Saviour, for those of us who are Christians. It is a time we spend a fortune on travelling, new clothes, elaborate hair dos, house renovations, expensive presents, huge amounts of food and drink, elaborate parties and such other frivolities. And it is okay to let your hair down and enjoy yourself since it happens only once a year. I wonder though, if this is the way Jesus would like us to celebrate Him, because I fail to see how He benefits from our opulence and extravagance. Particularly, if come January, we find it difficult to pay our bills or have over indulged to the point of regret. Would a better way to celebrate Him not be to spend some of what we have with those who do not know where their next meal will come from? Or do we really need all those new things, when we could use part of that money for the many people around us that are hurting? In a bid to have a great time with our loved ones, could we possibly find something for someone who will not be having a good time?

Just like Maria Shriver says above, I love celebrating my children. I love celebrating my spouse, family and friends on their special days. I think it matters when you celebrate a person. It matters when you know their favorite meal, their favorite TV show, their favorite song, their favorite dessert, and so on. It matters when you take the time to let them know what you love about them, what you see in them, and why their presence on this Earth matters to you. It matters that you tell someone you love before they die and are being buried. It matters that we celebrate the people in our lives; our spouses, our children, our in-laws, our friends, our co-workers, our bosses, our Pastors/Priests/Imams and all who give us spiritual direction. It matters that we celebrate those who work at the lowliest jobs that we come across, it matters that we show that all humanity is worth celebrating, especially those who have no one to celebrate them. This Christmas, if you are Christian, celebrate Jesus Christ by doing what He says; “when I was hungry, you gave me food to eat, when I was thirsty, you gave me a drink, when I was naked you clothed me, when I was sick, you visited me…whenever you did it to the least, you did it for me…” That would be a great way to truly celebrate Christmas. I wish the world a truly meaningful and merry Christmas, may the peace, grace and love of Jesus Christ fill our hearts and homes, this year and beyond… Merry Christmas!

A TALE OF DESTRUCTION

Flag Monument at Kudirat Abiola Park, courtesy of La Roche Leadership Foundation

DESTRUCTION OF OUR FLAGS MONUMENT AT KUDIRAT ABIOLA PARK

For the past three weeks, we have been mourning the loss of our flag monument at Alhaja Kudirat Abiola Park on the Lagos Ibadan Expressway by 7up. It was the site of a foul desecration of the symbols of our state and our nation, the destruction of the Lagos State Flag and the Beautiful Green-White-Green, our National Flag. Only an uninformed brigand would destroy the symbols of their statehood and nationhood; these symbols are precious to any nation and for those who were too young to know, many people have died and been injured because of their flags. To bring you up to speed, this is the background story.

When in 2017, Mrs. Bilikisu Abiola became the DG of Lagos State Parks and Gardens, LASPARK, the agency was mandated to refurbish the Kudirat Abiola Park, on the Lagos Ibadan Expressway at 7up. Knowing that La Roche Leadership Foundation runs ‘The Flags Project’ in all public primary and secondary schools, she reached out to us to ask if we would be interested in erecting and maintaining a Flag Monument at the Park. For us, it was an opportunity to take The Flags Project to a public space, so we indicated our interest in both building and maintaining a befitting pedestal for both the Nigerian and Lagos State Flags.

For over 3 years, La Roche Leadership Foundation both built and maintained the Flag monument at Kudirat Abiola Park, with no cost whatsoever to the Lagos State Government. Every aspect of the monument is fully funded and tended to by staff of the Foundation, including the purchase and weekly change of the Flags, laundering the flags, regular painting of the pedestal and poles and regular upkeep of the signage on the pedestal. Occasionally when we visit the Park, if we find it untidy, we pay for it to be swept and the garbage bagged to a disposal point. It has become our practice to visit as a Foundation on Democracy Day and say prayers for the Late Kudirat Abiola and her family and for the country. For this, we are usually joined by people around there, who have always shown an interest in the Park. Surprisingly, a lot of young people do not know what happened because they were too young to remember.

It came as a great shock to us, that after the killings at the Lekki Toll plaza and the violent aftermath, when the current Government called for all public flags to be flown at half staff, we tried to get to the monument but were unable for two days. On the third day we found the flag monument had been destroyed by some unknown persons. After investigations on the matter with people who work in the area, we could not discern why the monument was destroyed or who was responsible. This despicable assault on a landmark monument that held the symbols of our state and nation, on the major expressway into Lagos and within the park premises is nothing short of a disgrace. Even the poles and all the accoutrements are missing, making it look like they were cut down for commercial purposes, not from anger over the #EndSARS protest. I have pondered for many hours on the kind of human being that would do such an act to the flag of their own country, for nationhood and statehood are so precious. Just ask any Syrian or Yemeni what they are going through now; just ask anyone who has seen their country torn apart, either for the struggle for Independence or Civil War. How shameful that a Nigerian would assault his own flag in such a manner. So just to recap on why our Foundation is so passionate about the Flags Project, here is some information about it:

Objectives of La Roche Leadership Foundation’s Flags Project

In line with turning Lagos state into a Mega city and also helping to improve the image of Lagos state, it is pertinent to inculcate the lost values and culture of unity and responsibility back into the life of the youths, who are the future of the state and nation as a whole. To do this we use the hoisting of the State flag, which is a symbol of rich heritage of Lagos State and the national flag, which is a symbol or representation of our heritage, history, independence, unity, sense of responsibility. In order to regain these lost values especially that of peace and unity it is important to:

  • Bring back the heraldry of the Nigerian flag amongst its people, beginning from children and   youth. For the State Flag, to elaborate the essence of each symbol as represented in the Coat of Arms to the youth and the intrinsic values each symbol portrays to be imbibed by the youths.  
  • Create the opportunity to display more of our flags in order to constantly remind us of what we stand for.
  • Inculcate these attributes; pride, respect, patriotism and our heritage in every Nigerian child.
  • Install flags in the assembly or parade grounds of all primary and secondary schools in Lagos State.
  • Install new flags in strategic places in Lagos state in preparation for upcoming independence anniversaries.
  • To provide an enduring spirit of unity for the state and nation as a whole.
  • To give the young ones a sense of direction about their future.
  • To rejuvenate the cultural practices which are of value to the society. 
  • To give the young ones an institutionalized practice of what is desirable and appropriate in hoisting the flag and identifying with the flag.
  • To give the young ones international values of collaboration, togetherness and friendliness.
  • To bring about the conscious and deliberate teaching of the values of the Nigerian symbols (Flag, Coat of Arms, National Anthem and national pledge) in-order to make them part of daily activities in the school.
  • To integrate national values into the various educational groups in schools. 
  • To idealize the pride and beauty of the state and nation through the use of the state and national flags.

For now, we are still trying to find out what happened, but unless there are security cameras that captured the footage, we doubt we will ever know the perpetrators. We are extremely upset at the desecration of our State and National flags and the memory of Alhaja Kudirat Abiola and all the martyrs in whose memory the Park was constructed and dedicated to. It is a thing of grave sadness that such an occurrence can take place. While we mourn the loss of our monument, we pray for all those who were killed and injured in the #End SARS protest and all who lost their property and goods, not to mention the thousands that have lost their means of livelihood. We cannot develop as a nation if we kill, maim and destroy ourselves. We all have a stake in this wonderful, promising country. We should guard the symbols of our nationhood with respect and pride. And as we say in the Flags Project: “The Flag is our identity”. God bless Lagos State, God bless Nigeria.

THE BRUTALITY OF GRIEF

THE BRUTALITY OF GRIEF

Grief is unbearable. Then it fades, only to come back at a moment’s notice. It catches you off guard. It sends you to bed. It sends you to dark places until, God willing, you get up and try again. Another thing I’ve come to know is that we all process grief differently. There is no timetable. There is no right way. There is simply your way. I’ve also come to realize that people all around us are dealing with grief and loss every day. That’s why it’s so, so important to tread gently with our fellow human beings. None of us know what the person in the coffee line is going through. None of us know what these families are going through. What we do know is that it’s brutal, and that it will be brutal for a really long time.

– Maria Shriver

Grief and loss, loss and grief are the two sides of the same coin. When one shows up, the other is sure to be there. And both are almost unbearable, almost. They push you to your breaking point and woe betides you if your breaking point is low, if your threshold for either is little. One of the things parents absolutely need to teach their children is how to manage pain, grief, loss, disappointment, failure, distress and the whole panoply of the negative. This is necessary because life, as exciting as it can be, is also filled with the ‘terrors of living’, the moments, the days, the years, the occurrences that try men’s souls.

We are essentially, living in a global time of grief and loss, an extended time for sure. And having gotten used to our ‘fast food lifestyles’, our ‘win-lose’ situations, our ‘winner-takes-all’ existence, many are struggling with this ‘everyone-is-a-loser’ year, for this year has made everyone lose something. 2020 has been brutal; Covid-19 has been brutal, the news every day has been brutal, hunger and poverty has been brutal, racial discrimination has been brutal, extreme weather has been brutal, domestic violence has been brutal, and added to this mix is the continuous brutality of war and conflict in the usual and unusual regions; humankind has seen every evil spirit unleashed simultaneously on the world. We have been assaulted with an unimaginable violence against happiness, happiness which at best is ephemeral in most cases.

If it was as easy as resetting our clocks and calendars and cancelling 2020, I’m sure we would not need to call for a worldwide meeting to see if everyone would be in agreement; majority of us feel the same way about 2020. After all, there have been other times in history when resets have happened. The thing is, it is not 2020 that has the problem, holding the year responsible for all that has gone wrong is our usual way to look for someone and something other than ourselves to blame. Time is neither evil nor good; it is just what it is. In the same vein, a year that is filled with great and happy occurrences too, is not responsible for all the great and happy occurrences, we cannot credit the year with being what brought about all that was good and happy.

If we examine what has made 2020 a tough year, we will find the real culprits that made this year the way it turned out. We ignored the health and environmental warnings and brought about an epidemic. People in infected areas carried it around the world and made it a pandemic. Slow reaction and lack of collaboration between nations turned it deadlier than it should have been. Lack of investment in qualitative healthcare for all, arrogance toward healthcare professionals and their warnings, turned it into a death sentence, especially for the most vulnerable. Excessive capitalism and a culture of greed and covetousness provided a fertile ground for it to spread like a wild fire. The result is that economic activity was dealt a heavy blow. Poverty descended on the vulnerable like vultures. The gap between rich and poor has widened to the point that we have more than 3 worlds running concurrently, the world of the super rich, the world of the rich, the world of the struggling and the world of the desperate. The world’s media, more concerned with the salacious, the disastrous and the nefarious, has made it difficult to maintain a peaceful mindset; listening to the news has become the most dreadful chore ever. Nature too, is angry with our abusive practices, so it has not spared us either, since we have refused to heed the dire warnings of all our dangerous activities, it is showing us the consequences of our destructive actions; our weather worldwide is wilder and more extreme than ever.  And to cap it all, we still prefer war to peace, we prefer hatred to love, we prefer exclusion to inclusion, we prefer toxicity to purity.

And so we are left with heavy losses everywhere, and where there is loss, there is grief, and where there is grief, there is loss. They are two sides of the same coin, they are always together. And yes, once again, grief is brutal; it is unbearable. Then it fades, only to come back at a moment’s notice. It catches you off guard. It makes you lash out destructively. It makes you say hateful things to the people around you who are also struggling. It makes you create toxic environments everywhere. It makes you sick. It sends you to bed. It sends you to dark places until, God willing; you get up and try again. So what must we do to make the rest of 2020 ‘salvageable’? For as the saying goes, “behind every dark cloud is a silver lining”. We must decide to radically change, each of us, in every way that will bring about a positive impact. We must be gentler, cleaner, consume less, be contented and helpful. We should remember that everywhere people are hurting, everywhere people are grieving and everyone has lost something great. We should refrain from piling pressure on others and making them responsible for our grief and loss.

If 2020 has not lived up to our hopes and dreams, it is okay; take a deep breath, exhale and let it out. The trouble for one day is enough for that day, as long as there is life, there is hope. Tomorrow will be better; it is filled with possibilities, positives, blessings and gifts and those who believe that will see a better time.

JUST KEEP QUIET!

JUST KEEP QUIET!

“When people go years—generations—without being heard, they erupt. Think about that in your own life. Think about how you have felt when you haven’t been heard or when you have felt invisible. When every time you have tried to speak your truth, you have been told either it isn’t so or “this isn’t the right place or the right time.” Or maybe you were told just to keep quiet. That feeling of not being heard is exhausting. It’s enraging. It’s too much.”

– Maria Shriver

The one thing no human being can say is that they have always been heard. Growing up, especially in Africa, you will definitely hear the phrase over and over, “shut up”! Or “be quiet!” or “shut your mouth!” Having lived both on this continent and outside, I have seen how people go unheard. Being a woman, I have seen how women go unheard. Being a young person a long time ago, I also went unheard. There seems to be two types of people in the world, those who think it is their right to tell others what to do and what to think, and those who must shut up and be told what to do and what to think. And somehow, that system has been working well; the talkers have been allowed to talk and the listeners have listened and kept their mouths shut.

I have also noticed that this is true for all nations; anywhere in the world you go, some people do all the talking and some do all the listening. This is understandable for military rule, for depots, for autocrats, for monarchies; those systems of government have no inclination to listen to the people, they talk, the people are meant to listen and obey. These days, even in so-called democracies, governments for the people, of the people and by the people, no one listens to the people. The people are required to be quiet and just listen… and yes, pay their taxes and obey.

Imagine the pain of not being heard, the humiliation of being discountenanced, the shame of forced silence, the dehumanization of being ignored, not for a day or a month or a year, but sometimes for a life time, for many life times. Imagine how that silence starts to ferment and grow, how it gradually poisons the system, how it insidiously takes over and builds to breaking point until it can no longer be kept inside. The world has had many instances where people can no longer just keep quiet. History has recorded times without number on how previously quiet people became violently noisy, insisting on being heard. Sadly, when this happens, it is difficult to establish and maintain control; the previously bottled up silence becomes a volcano that has blown its cap and everything in its path is destroyed.

The questions therefore are many; but the one I always ask is simple: why do we not learn from the past? For if we know that there is nothing new under the sun, why do we need to repeat the same mistakes that take us down the same road every time? Do we not realize that the outcome will be same? For if we were wise, we would learn from history, which is replete with examples of the ‘explosion of silence’. The French Revolution is one such example. After centuries of a well established monarchy, the eruption of the silent starving took down the upper echelons of society, gruesomely beheading them publicly and plunging France into years of anarchy and confusion until the ‘Little Emperor’, Napoleon Bonaparte sweeps in with more violence and sets things back on an uneasy keel.

We could also look at the Russian Revolution which swept Tsar Nicholas out of power and ushered in the tenuous years of communism, from which Russia is still trying to fashion out its brand of autocratic democracy. In the same vein, we can look at the Chinese experience which ended centuries of dynastic power and brought in the Communist Party which is still, in a sense, an undemocratic one party system where people still have to keep quiet.

Back home in Nigeria, we gained Independence from the Colonial Britain and in sixty years of Independence have shown less aptitude to govern our affairs than those we replaced. Throughout history, one conqueror replaces another, no matter what they choose to call themselves. In the final analysis, integrity, ability, diligence, benevolence and selflessness are always lacking. The talkers talk, the listeners listen and are silent until the silence becomes too painful. It is time for humankind to change; we have evolved in other ways, except in the most important, being humane.

HAPPY 60TH BIRTHDAY NIGERIA!

Sir Tafawa Balewa and Sir Robertson, Lagos 1960
Image courtesy of Google Images (Tam Alex; The Encyclopedia of Nigerian Speaking People, medium.com)

A NOT-SO-DIAMOND BIRTHDAY FOR THE GREEN AND WHITE

On the 1st day of October, in the year 1966, thousands gathered in Lagos to watch something that was so eventful and groundbreaking; the bringing down of a blue, red and white flag and the raising of a green and white flag. More than just changing of two pieces of fabric, it was also the end of a chapter and the beginning of a new one; the end of the Empire and the start of a new, democratic and free country. The years that led up to that groundbreaking event are the stuff of the many history books, written both by British, Nigerian and other authors. Depending on whose account you read, one’s sympathies go this way or that, and for strange reasons best known to certain people, history is a subject that is both lauded and hated. As a result, it has been added and yanked out and re-added and yanked out of the Nigerian school’s curricula, as and when it has pleased the relevant authorities.  A lot of it understandably or not, remains apocryphal, some lies forgotten, some disdained and some hidden for the future.  Someday perhaps, a truly candid account will hopefully be written, as history always favours those who write it.

Nigeria; a patchwork of kingdoms and principalities, forcibly stitched together by a short sighted and impatient tailor by candle light, with a blunt needle and second hand thread; the nation that danced and cavorted in festal attire, overcome with joy and hope at that time, danced onto the world stage. What would become of this former creation of British Imperialists, whose ongoing quest to dismantle hundreds of years of occupation and colonial administration around the world, was in full onslaught at the time. Collapsing all over the world, was the Great Empire on whom ‘the sun never set’. If there was any inkling that its people were in for a rough ride, on that beautiful morning, it didn’t show. Euphoria was enough to keep the new baby fed, cleaned, happy and growing. Not so though, for unbeknownst to many, the worst was yet to come. 

Suddenly, the servants found themselves as the heirs to all they surveyed, the master having packed his few belongings and run away, leaving a gargantuan inheritance at the mercy of people who knew not what to do with it. Another way to look at this is the analogy of the parents having jumped overboard, have left their children to take the boat to the shore and safety. Whichever is the preferred scenario, sixty years have passed since anyone saw the crime scene. The case might be another cold case or maybe not, because there may yet be a favourable ending.  And so six decades have come and passed, the sun has risen and set on the green and white flag times without number, the baby has become a man, a sixty year old man, whose condition is not only pitiable, but also perplexing.

At sixty years old, Nigeria is a complex place filled with incomprehensible realities. Fixing it so that it does not collapse is like renovating an old building that has every conceivable problem. The more you fix, the more problems that manifest themselves, each dire and life threatening. Its problems may seem to have no solution, but I venture to propose one. For as naive and idealistic as I am, I know, without a shadow of a doubt in my mind, what exactly ails this beautiful country. It is not rocket science, it is so simple that it is ridiculous. Nigeria’s problems are the Nigerians themselves. They are the only problem Nigeria has ever had, unfortunately and fortunately.

Unfortunately, Nigerians have been taught to be tribalistic; we discriminate based on tribal sentiments, a fire fanned by politicians, busy bodies and traditional rulers when it serves their selfish purposes. We seem unable to rise above the circumstance of our geography, never mind that no one has control over which tribe he is born. Even within our tribal groupings, we still find a way to split ourselves further into our different tribal dialects, based on our village/hamlet origins. We are so super connected with our tribe that no matter the situation, we run back to it every time to huddle. We are conditioned to be unable to accept a true handshake across tribal boundaries. This is a true sign of illiteracy.

We have been taught to be corrupt, even in the most miniscule, most mundane requirement. In the simplest of processes, we find a way to circumvent or avoid our responsibility. We break every law made, we disobey every statute. We seek appeasement instead of obedience; we live our lives when possible between the lines, in the gray areas, seeking ambiguity instead of clarity. This is a true sign of dishonesty.

We have been taught to put self above the collective. Our personal ambitions must always surmount the will of the majority. On no occasion is the greater good acceptable, we seem to always insist on our way, instead of looking for the common ground, looking for a way for everyone to win. This is a true sign of egotism.

We have been taught to be religious bigots; we have no love or patience for people outside our religion. We have little interaction or dialogue with others and have no inclination to even educate ourselves about the next person’s faith. This is a true sign of bigotry.

As a result of these unfortunate lessons we were taught, we subscribe to stereotypes which we doggedly hold on to and to historical untruths which project others in a bad light, even when we are proved wrong. We lack the integrity to work together as a union. Our country is begging for the wholeness necessary to develop and progress, but because we are not whole ourselves and refuse to be whole, we are unfit for our purpose. As a result, we have arrived at our sixtieth birthday lopsided, crumbling, decrepit and decaying, the stench of which is obvious; our country is in a self-inflicted mess. The promise on 1st October 1960 seems to have eluded us completely. We ought not to have danced and cavorted while our green and white ascended the flag pole; history since then has shown that it has not fared well with us. In less than seven years after that eventful day, we tore our country apart with a civil war that we are yet to recover from. Even if the bullets stopped flying and the bombs stopped exploding in 1970, the war moved from the physical battlefield to the heart and mind of every Nigerian. We are still in a state of war.

Fortunately, (and this depends on each Nigerian) we have a chance to change our narrative and turn the tide of our journey to chaos. It is likewise, a simple solution; each and every Nigerian changing their own behaviour only, not anyone one else’s, just one’s own behaviour. If in every decision we put our country and others first, if we did everything with excellence, if we all paid our taxes and obeyed all our laws, if we told the truth and corrected the lies, if we cared for the vulnerable around us, if we voted for people of proven integrity and removed corrupt people from office, if we insisted on and lived with decency and integrity, we would see our country change dramatically, over night almost.

Imagine a country where everyone did what was right, the impossible becomes possible. Imagine a country where its citizens yielded to what is good and turned away from all that is reprehensible, the progress would be unfathomable. Imagine a country where all citizens sang together in unison and perfect harmony, the melody would be profound. If we can, each of us, just decide to correct only our own behaviour, we could collectively create a country that would be the very best place on earth.

Happy 60th birthday dear Nigeria! One day you will be everything God Almighty intended you to be.

THE BIG SUMMER READ 2020

Written by Naguib Mahfouz. Published by Doubleday

THE BIG SUMMER READ 2020

Our Big Summer Read this year is a book titled “The Journey of Ibn Fattouma” written by the 1988 Nobel Prize Winner for Literature, Naguib Mahfouz. Mahfouz was born in 1911, in Cairo, Egypt, and began writing at the age of seventeen. An avid reader, writer and philosopher, he has over 30 novels to his credit. He has, as his major influences, a number of Arabic writers, as well as Western writers, particularly the likes of Flaubert, Balzac, Zola, Dostoevsky, Proust, Camus and Tolstoy. As an accomplished writer of over thirty novels, it is easy to see why Mahfouz is a Nobel Prize Winner in Literature. His work is exceptional and worth reading.

THE JOURNEY OF IBN FATTOUMA; WRITTEN BY NAGUIB MAHFOUZ AND TRANSLATED BY DENYS JOHNSON-DAVIES. PUBLISHED BY DOUBLEDAY

The Journey of Ibn Fattouma was first published in 1983 and written in Arabic (translated by Denys Johnson-Davies, eminent Arabic-English translator) and is a powerful parable, set in a mythical and timeless Middle East. It is the chronicles of a wanderer named Qindil Muhammad al- Innabi, but nicknamed Ibn Fattouma by his brothers, who struggle to accept him and his mother, a young wife married by their father at the age of eighty. His boyhood Tutor, a wise and amiable man named Sheik Maghagha al-Gibeili, whose stories of travels outside ‘the lands of Islam’, capture the young Ibn Fattouma’s imagination, particularly the town of Gebel, famed for perfection in all things. Unfortunately, no traveler has ever come back from the land of Gebel to confirm that it is indeed the land of perfection. All that exists of this place of perfection and wonder, are tales gotten from hearsay. Ibn Fattouma decides that he will be the first traveler that will indeed get to Gebel and return to his homeland and write a chronicle of his journeys, especially about the land of Gebel.

Sheik al-Gibeili so extols the virtues of travelling as a way of finding the true meaning of life and the discovery of self, that as a result, Ibn Fattouma goes on a voyage of discovery, after being cheated out of marrying Halima, the love of his life, by a high ranking official of the Sultan. He joins a caravan and sets out to explore the world, leaving his home country to the land of Mashriq, whose god is the full moon. In Mashriq, he meets and falls in love with the beautiful and beguiling Arousa, with whom he has three children. Forced to leave Mashriq for commiting what is deemed a crime, he journeys to the land of Haira. Haira turns out to be very different from Mashriq, their god is their King who is worshipped. A warlike people, they eventually fight against Mashriq and conquer it. Arousa is captured and her children are lost in the confusion. Ibn Fattouma meets up again with Arousa and has to buy her to get her back. Unfortunately, once again, his love is cruelly taken away from him by a high ranking official, who puts him in an underground prison for almost twenty years.

The land of Haira is defeated in battle by the land of Halba and all the prisoners are magnanimously freed. Ibn Fattouma, now a middle aged man, resumes his search for Arousa, who has left Haira for Halba, called the land of freedom. In Halba, Ibn Fattouma is introduced to Sheik Hamada al-Sabki, the head of the mosque at Halba. He falls in love with the independent and intelligent daughter of the Sheik, Samia. They are blessed with three children and in Halba, he settles down for a few years into a business and married life. However, he stills wants to see the land of Gebel, so he makes plans to travel there, document his travels, then come back to Halba and take his family back to his homeland. So he joins another caravan and heads off to the land of Aman, and onwards to Gebel.

The land of Aman is referred to as the land of total justice, and its indigenes worship the earth, calling it the creator of mankind and the supplier of needs. Ibn Fattouma finds Aman to be a severe place, where everyone works so hard and have little relaxation or pleasures and where everything is owned by the elected rulers for the benefit of the people. Before long, there is talk of war between Aman and Halba and Ibn Fattoma has to leave Aman in a forced purge of foreigners. He fears for his family left in Halba, but continues his journey on to the land of Ghuroub, after finding out that his first wife Arousa, had previously passed through Aman and journeyed on to Ghuroub, also on her way to Gebel.

Ghuroub is the land of safety and peace, a land without guards and where the people spend their time in meditation and peaceful pursuits. It is the last stop to aid preparation for their journey to Gebel, the famous Gebel with which they share a border. The preparation for the journey to Gebel is cut short by an invasion force from Aman. The invaders having taken over the peaceful Ghuroub, force every foreigner out of the town and annex it. The journey to Gebel is forced upon them prematurely as they have no option but to move forward. At the border of Gebel, Ibn Fattouma writes and sends his chronicles of his journey thus far, back to his homeland with a caravan going back. He decides that just in case he does not make it back, it is better to have details of his story to Ghuroub and later write about Gebel. This is the last we hear of Ibn Fattouma, as no further communication about whether he gets into Gebel is known. He leaves us to imagine the rest of his story.

The Journey of Ibn Fattouma by Naguib Mahfouz consolidates the mastery of African storytelling. It is an unassailable fact that the best story tellers are from the African continent. The book is a masterpiece of the metaphor and the use of powerful imagery makes it a book that just cannot be put down. The reader is left wanting more and more and Mahfouz, in his inimitable literary way, weaves a story so compelling that the reader is obliged to think deeply about the way of man and his struggles with his Creator, with his religion, with other men, with his destiny and with the world he finds himself in. There is no lack of cruelty, injustice, dishonesty, pride, arrogance, egotism and racism. There is also love, diligence, courage, perseverance and dignity. It is a tale very skillfully woven that it sucks the reader into its vortex; we are vicariously all on the journey to the perfect land of Gebel with our protagonist Ibn Fattouma. It is a masterpiece of prose and worth reading.  

WHAT IS MORE POWERFUL THAN KINDNESS?

LRLF Picture1

WHAT IS MORE POWERFUL THAN KINDNESS?

Each of us has the ability to care. Each of us has the ability to make someone’s day, week, or life with an act of kindness… Being kind to another human being is powerful. When you are on the receiving end of someone’s kindness, your heart feels full. You feel connected. You feel less alone. You suddenly feel good about your life and your future.

– Maria Shriver       

(In honour of the Global Goodwill Ambassadors on World Humanitarian Day 2020)

I am yet to meet some who has no need for kindness. In all my interactions with all shades of people; in developed or developing countries, with different shades of skin colour, of different genders, age and religious beliefs, I am yet to meet someone who has no need for kindness. It is loved, yes, craved for by all. It has the ability to put a smile on any face, a laugh in every heart, a giggle in every throat. It has the ability to turn frowns upside down, to turn fists into hugs, to turn sad tears into happy tears. Kindness makes the world go round, not money. Kindness softens and warms the hardest person. Kindness convicts the unrepentant. Kindness chases away fear. Kindness ends strife and is a precursor to peace. Kindness lightens darkness. If you ever have the choice of being right or kind, always choose kind, give up your right/need to be right…wonderful words spoken by Dr. Wayne Dyer (of blessed memory).

Kindness, defined as the act of being friendly, generous and considerate, also has as its synonyms the following; compassion, sympathy, gentleness, benevolence, thoughtfulness, consideration and humanity. Again, I know of no human being who hates receiving any act of kindness, in fact, even animals have shown time without number, how much they too love and value kindness. Incredibly, even plants respond to kindness, yes, nature too also benefits from kindness.

What is more powerful than kindness? I can’t think of anything that has the power that kindness has; it has the ability to cause such a radical feeling of well being, gratitude, joy and optimism that can heal the most grievous of wounds, be they physical, emotional, or even spiritual. I don’t know of anything that can replicate those feelings. Power? No. Wealth? No. Status? No. Success? No, not really. All these and the other things that we pursue relentlessly every day of our busy lives, may give ephemeral feelings of happiness, but have a way of putting us under even more pressure to keep, maintain, surpass and amass. They enslave us; they make us vain, narcissistic and egotistical.  They make us pretentious, they keep us busy, distracted, and anxious, and after the brief euphoria wears off, dissatisfied, perplexed even. Yet, if given a choice, we readily jump at the opportunity to be powerful, rich, sought after and successful. We try hard to convince ourselves that what we need is wealth, power, status, physical beauty, possessions, success and influence to be whole, to be valued and sometimes, to be lovable. Society too, creates ridiculous rule books for us to follow, so that our every waking moment is filled with inordinate desires to achieve, collect, gather, conquer, amass and hold on to things that have no lasting value. All the things we fight and kill over, the things we ruin our health and relationships over, one day end up in the city dump site, good for nothing. In the end, the things we have pursued our whole desperate lives, follow the same pattern that everything in this world follows, birth, decay and death.

Interestingly, kindness is never forgotten; it does not lose value, it does not decay. It stands as it stood the very first time we met it. Even the memory of past kindness retains motivational value that can teach, inspire and encourage. With all its wonderful and desired properties, it seems it is quite hard to find. We glorify the tough, we fear the cruel, we respect the unyielding. We sing the praises of the daring. We marvel at the ambitious. We envy the talented. We worship the wealthy. We venerate the successful. We crave the attention of the influential. We pursue the powerful. However, the kind, who are more to be desired, unfortunately are regarded as soft, silly, inconsistent and sometimes, changeable.

Of all the kind people of the world, the best are the Humanitarians, for their kindness is not borne out of guilt, given from their excess, executed perfunctorily, performed as an afterthought or done to enhance their status. Neither is it done to tick some ‘social conscience box’ or to ingratiate themselves with the public. Their kindness is their very nature, for not to do kindness for them is to deny themselves. It is who they are 24/7/365 days of the year, all their life. Humanitarians are the soul of the society that understands that kindness is the oxygen and sunlight of society; they are the light in our dark, dark world.

COVID CONUNDRUMS

Covid pic

COVID CONUNDRUMS

Covid-19 has created a whole new world; new language, new behavior, new businesses, new attitudes, new diets, the list is endless. One of the ways I cope with this Covid Conundrum, is to notice the way humanity has and is adapting and changing to our new reality. There are so many changes that have quite swiftly taken place that we might actually miss the fact that so much has changed. Some people too are more adept at evolving, others, not so much. So having examined the behaviour of those in my ecosystem, I saw that there are some things that really stand out. For clarity, I have subtitled these changes as they appear below, as what I term ‘new tribes’ that are within our old tribal complex. So here goes:

THE FACK MASK TRIBES:

Since the ubiquitous face mask became a part of the dress code, it is easy to see how ‘face mask tribes’ have coalesced. Within this tribe, we have broadly 5 main sub-tribes:

  • The Chin mask tribe: These people wear their face mask on their chin. Never mind that neither nose nor mouth is covered, they wake up every morning, strap their face mask around their chin (or beard) and set off. The whole day passes, and the mask is on their chin, where they put it in the morning, protecting their chin from the virus.
  • The Mouth mask tribe: These people wear their face mask to cover only their mouth. With their nose well exposed, they conduct their business all day long, making sure their mouth is very well protected, but also ensuring that their nose is well exposed and prominently on display.
  • The Hanging mask tribe: The members of this tribe always make sure that their mask is dangling from either right or left ear only. They never put the ear straps on both ears, no, for them, the protection from the mask is only vital from which ever ear the mask hangs from.
  • The Touching mask tribe: These mask wearers try to cover both nose and mouth as prescribed, but touch and adjust the face mask every second of the day. They constantly pull and adjust, remove and replace and play with their face mask so much, they hands are always on the mask.
  • The Mask Wearing Aficionados: The members of this tribe are the champions of ‘curve flattening’ everywhere in the world. They are the reason Covid-19 will be defeated because they are the ones who do as is prescribed, they are conscious of not spreading the virus or being infected.

THE HAND SANITIZER ACOLYTES:

When it was advised that everyone uses 70% alcohol based hand sanitizers, 3 tribes in this group formed. These are as follows:

  • The Baptizers: The members of this tribe bathe their bodies in hand sanitizer. They rub it everywhere skin is exposed. Even if a full bottle of sanitizer is put out in the morning, by evening it will be finished if one of the members of this tribe is around. Even where there are facilities to wash their hands, they rather bathe in sanitizer than wash their hands. They are partially responsible for the rush on sanitizer and its scarcity.
  • The Anointers: This tribe uses hand sanitizer like it is anointing oil. As soon as you come within reach, they have it at the ready and squirt it into your hands. They can also be identified by their constant use of sanitizer even when they have not touched anything. They have no qualm walking past a hand washing station for they are fully anointed with sanitizer.
  • The Sanitized: These people have understood that you can hand wash where facilities are available and sanitize where not available. They are the only tribe that will still have human hands after covid-19 as the other two will end up with reptilian appendages post covid-19.

THE SELF MEDICATORS

The members of this tribe have been quite troublesome; they have prescribed eating drinking and all sorts of food and drink as a way of not catching covid-19. They were principally responsible for the scarcity of anti-malarial medication, vitamin C and other routine drugs. They also prescribe the drinking of every bitter, algae coloured concoction known to man. Without any medical of Pharmacological training or knowledge, they have to their credit numerous traditional and Western medical preparations that they swear by, including drinking bleach, disinfectant, brine and other household cleaning fluids. They also advocate bathing in substances that have been used by the leather industry to prepare hides and skin for tanning.

THE FLEEING OSTRICHES:

This tribe is constantly on the move away from everywhere that they hear the virus is in ascendancy. They manage in lockdowns and closed borders to move to places that they deem are less infectious than others, all in a bid to outrun the virus, a virus that doesn’t travel beyond 2 metres by itself. They completely disregard the fact that it is people like them who move around, that give the virus legs and wings.

THE FERVENT SOCIAL DISTANCERS:

While social distancing is recommended and is a good way to flatten the curve, the fervency with which this tribe socially distances is remarkable. They shut themselves into their houses, closing every window so securely that even sunlight and air have a battle to get into their space. Even when the lockdowns are eased, they still do not come out of hibernation. This tribe will not be seen until mid-2022, if they ever come out at all.

THE FAKE NEWS DISSEMINATORS

This tribe has access to news that no one else has, even those in the Centres of Disease Control all over the world. How they get their news is a mystery, but they insist that it is authentic, even when it contradicts everything from every relevant institution. For them, every institution is unreliable, yet nothing they put out is verifiable.

Which tribe/tribes do you belong to and which tribes are prevalent where you live? One thing is certain, for most of us, this is our first pandemic. We can make it a positive experience if we think before we talk or act, verify everything we hear and let the experts do what they do best. If we support the fight against Covid-19 as a team, we will beat it sooner rather than later.

TOMORROW WHEN THE WORLD IS FREE…

LRLF Picture1

THERE WILL BE JOY AND LAUGHTER…

“There will be joy and laughter

And peace ever after

Tomorrow when the world is free…”

 

Every time we ended a Girl Guide’s meeting, over 30 years ago, we ended with a song, the rest of which escapes my memory, save for these last 3 lines. We sang this song just before the traditional ‘Taps’ of course. I always wondered what the author of this song was thinking when he or she wrote these words. I am not too sure, but I think this song was written during the First or Second World War…and that would make sense, because I can see how someone would write something like this during such an event. Except the world has never really been set free if you think of it; we are constantly in a battle over one thing or the other, in one or more parts of this world. Freedom, as beautiful as the word sounds, is not something that is truly within our grasp. We stare longingly at it throughout our desperate lives and imagine how beautiful it must be, but it is never really ours. Never. Why? Simply put, we are born to fight, we are in a battle everyday of our lives; we battle sicknesses and illnesses, we battle for financial freedom, we battle crime and violence, we battle for sanity, for morality, for truth, for love, for relevance. We battle for freedom from want, from oppression, from corruption, from all the terrible people and things that thrive in a fallen world.

On this day, 4th of May 2020, or if perhaps I can be so bold as to change the date from 2020 AD to 0001 AC, which is from Anno Domini to Anno Covid-19; the first day of my return to a semblance of ‘normality’ from a one month lockdown period. More than a lockdown, it was like house arrest, for I can count the number of times I went outside. Ironically, my own home was the jail. I wondered sometimes if anything would ever be the same again. Would we be able to gather again in church and sing to our hearts’ content? Would we be able to hug each other again? Would we be able to bump into each other and smile a quick sorry? Would we be able to dance at parties, go to weddings, queue up normally, push each other, even playfully? Would our children be able to go back to school and get on with normal school activity? Would we be able to throw away our face masks, or perhaps keep them in a museum to show our grand and great grand children as we told them stories about Covid-19? Would anything in our past lives ever be the same? Will there be joy and laughter, peace ever after, tomorrow when Covid-19 ends?

As I contemplate what my new normal will look like, I look back in history at all the times that something like this has happened before and yes, things pretty much go back the way it was before. This tells me that indeed, joy and laughter return, but only for an undetermined period. However, it is my opinion that we keep having these Covidlike issues because we always go back to the way things were, as opposed to changing the way things were and living in a way that Covidlike issues don’t happen. If for instance, we took better care of our planet, ensured everyone had decent housing, education, healthcare and food security, if we stopped all conflict and wars and lived with each other in peace, acceptance, tolerance, if we watched out for the vulnerable, if we ensured that people didn’t slide into crime or poverty, if we made the world truly a place of peace and laughter and joy every after, then, maybe then, the world would truly be free.

Maybe in a few months or years, Covid-19 will become history; it will join all the pandemics in the dustbin of the pandemic garbage dump. We will come out of our government or self inflicted/enforced quarantines. We will socially distance and wash/sanitize our hands for a while. The death rate will drop to zero, the infection rates will end, the almighty respirators will be warehoused, the tissue paper shelves will be filled again to the ceiling in all the stores. There will be joy and laughter and peace ever after when Covid-19 ends. We will go back to how things were. We will once again demean and pay our medical and front line staff badly and stop clapping for them. We will no longer give out consumables to the vulnerable. We will make profiteering the be all and end all. We will make healthcare inaccessible to all. We will continue polluting our planet, killing off other species of life, making the world a great spot for another pandemic. It is time to rethink our human wheel; this one doesn’t run smooth anymore.

THESE ARE THE DAYS THAT TRY MEN’S SOULS…

LRLF Picture1

THESE ARE THE DAYS THAT TRY MEN’S SOULS…

“These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives everything its value…”

Thomas Paine, ‘The Crisis’

I can’t imagine how Thomas Paine felt when he wrote these words, but I fully understand trials and tribulations, so I agree that there are times when a person will look up to the heavens with pregnant eyes and feel abandoned, misunderstood, maligned, alone and all the other adjectives that make one feel that perhaps not being born would have been a better option. Then of course, one would reach deep into one’s soul and be moved to write about the days that try men’s souls.

When Wuhan coughed, most of us didn’t even notice, when Wuhan sneezed, we probably said a quick “bless you”, and moved on with the silly busyness of our lives. When Wuhan lay sick, we probably thought, ‘Poor baby’, you will soon feel well, it’s winter, it’s the ‘flu, it’s normal’. But when Wuhan exploded, we took notice; this was not just the ‘flu, this was not normal, this was out of hand, this became a pandemic.

For my first pandemic, it has been both overwhelming and underwhelming at the same time, if that is possible. I have felt comfortably in pain, if there is such a thing. Perhaps I now know what it means to live each day as it comes, a lesson I thought I had mastered by now with all the times I have been comfortably in pain, which has been times without number. I have found out that I could never have been in healthcare; I have panic attacks when I wear face masks. This means of course, that I have discovered a new phobia. If wearing a face mask becomes the new normal, it means I will throw out more than just my lipstick, lip gloss and lip liners, it also means I will have to take anti depressants or some other medication with me, so when I flip out, I won’t get carted off to an isolation centre to decompress for 14 days or so.

I have also realized that housework on a daily basis is torture, there is only so much dusting, washing, sweeping, mopping and cooking a person can do without beginning to feel like they are leaning towards insanity. When I started having conversations with inanimate objects, I took the decision to stop my 12 hour day of chores. Now I can still smile when I see a mess and walk pass it without feeling like I am a failure.

I have realized that it is ridiculous to think that you have to keep to a routine. 24 hours are 24 hours, there is no such thing as morning, noon, evening and night in a pandemic. Do whatever your mind and body want to do, when you want to do it. In lockdown, you go upstairs or down stairs, if you are lucky enough to have stairs! Otherwise, you stay on one floor all the time, every time.

I have experienced my first pandemic with all my children; this is truly weird. I cannot tell them what to do because the experience is new to all of us. So for the first time, we are comparing our pandemic notes and advising each other on what we each think is the best way to go. On the other hand, my mother too, is also experiencing her first pandemic as well; it is also a learning experience for her. Three generations, one pandemic, these are truly the times that try men’s souls.

What has truly been painful for me is thinking about how this has been for the most vulnerable people in the world; the elderly, the refugees, those who rely on earning a daily wage, those with underlying health issues, the healthcare workers, the unemployed, those living with domestic violence, the imprisoned, the youth and so many others who are having a nightmare of a time. These are the days that will try their souls. Let us remember them with a prayer and whatever we can give.

Those who love bad news have had a field day; it has been an awesome time. Even the most ridiculous minutia has been dissected a million times. Those who love to peddle unverified information have been all over the place. They have spread every ludicrous supposition known to man. Those who love disasters have predicted woe upon woe upon woe; we are supposedly only going downhill from here, left to them, we should all just curl up and die.

My conclusion to this is a beautiful message I cut out of a birthday card about 10 years ago that I fell in love with and that inspires me always: “Live while you are alive and bloom where you are planted…” it is simple, it is doable, it is timeless and it is pertinent. Since we are in a time that tries our souls, let us live while we are alive and bloom where we are planted.