I was looking for inspiration on the net, actually that already sounds defeatist, it had been a long day and I was frankly too tired to seek inspiration in my self, in my indolence I stumbled or clicked across the following quotes;
One is that if women's sexuality in Africa wasn't under assault, if women were able to say no, if women weren't subject to predatory attacks by men, or predatory behaviour generally, then you would have a disease in Africa called AIDS. But you wouldn't have a pandemic.
But I don't want to leave until I see the breakthrough.
I think when you've travelled around a lot in Africa, you understand something that many people here don't recognise: the extraordinary power that is Africa at village level - at community level.
Young women, adolescent girls, are more subject to infection, sometimes at a rate of six times that of boys. That tells you a lot about the vulnerability of women.
Unless there is recognition that women are most vulnerable... and you do something about social and cultural equality for women, you're never going to defeat this pandemic.
All these quotes I agree with, but the paradox is missed, "the extraordinary power of the village" to which he refers IS its women, though everything he says about them is true as well, and there in lies the fascination of the place, it's incomprehensibility.
Wednesday, 25 May 2011
Memoirs of a Coliseum Lion? No, another day in PH, compound stress, irritability, hunger, perhaps a bit of everything, slightly flavoured with that oh so English trait of self loathing.
Followers of this blog will know that in my chequered career I have been a nomad and a police officer. Two apparently diametrically opposed career paths, symptom of a bipolar personality or the flip side of the same coin? I am not sure, but one thing I believe is true about all Police Officers serving and retired is that it gives a particular perspective on life, the only civilians Police Officers usually meet are either offenders or victims, interspersed with witnesses who are usually in some way aligned to either the offender or the victim, either consciously or by default. This leads to an often slightly warped view of humanity, other than fellow members of the emergency services the world is polarised in to people who are bleeding and people who make them bleed. Put simply The Good and the Bad. The nomads of the world also tend to be polarised, there are those who see the world through rose coloured spectacles and those who see society as an open wound. The latter , the wandering cynics often started off as the former, then life shatters the fuchsia lenses.
I started of as the former, the Police Service ripped the filters from my eyes and I resumed my wanderings as the latter.
Today, I was in the office in Port Harcourt and one of my co workers claimed that the reason a particular project that I was working on was not going according to plan was that I had not let Jesus in to my life, he then went on to predict that I would one day wake up and be blinded by the light of Christ. Now personally I do not mind what anyone believes, I believe in freedom of confession, however I do object to having other peoples views fostered upon me. I was already tired and irritable.
It was not the right moment to deal with sanctemoneous twaddle. He went on preaching about how faith protected. The fact that we were in a city with more churches, chapels, temples and tabernacles than almost anywhere else on the planet, and I can not cross the city with out and armed guard semed to somehow escape him. His sermon became like white noise, and the red mist started to close in.
I recalled once how as a Police Officer I had kicked the door in on a flat to find a woman lying naked on her bed, the walls were splattered with blood, a large meat knife was rammed to the hilt up her vagina. The worst though was yet to come. I knew it was a self inflicted wound. I remember asking her. “******** What have you done to your self now?” Her reply will stay with me for ever. She said, “ If you don’y have one of these they can never rape you again”. She was referring to the repeated rapes that she had suffered as a child at the hands of her father, grandfather and a priest. Blessed in deed are the children!
Later I told this story to my proselytising firend, he replied that could never happen in Nigeria, because "we are all Christians".
As you may imagine it was around that point that I bit his head off.
I remember years ago a Moroccan telling me that there would never be HIV in the Arab world because there were no homosexuals.
I also recall a statistic from my Police days that one in four women ( in the UK) are the victims of domestic violence, this too my colleague assured me was impossible in a Christian country like Nigeria.
I retorted that it was almost certainly worse and that it was religious bigotry that kept the victims from reporting their sufferings.
I recall once visiting the Muslim Women’s Refuge as a Police Officer where I was introduced to a woman who had been repeatedly burnt by her husband. The woman’s sister had stopped her reporting it for fear of shaming the family, she had told her sister that surely every part of her body that was wounded would go straight to paradise.
Religion as a gagging order.
The day before I had this conversation with my Christian colleague there had been an incident in Lagos. It was reported across Nigeria.
A Police officer's wife had been having an affair with a soldier, the Police officer came home early and found the soldier in bed with his wife and shot him and the adulterous wife. Soldiers from the regiment of the dead solider then descended on the Police station to which the Police Officer had been attached. A fire fight ensued between Police and military, eleven people were killed.
This of course could never happen in a Christian country.
Lions one; Christians nil.
Tuesday, 24 May 2011
I try not to bang on about my time in the Jungle Hilton, but it does however provide a good benchmark for stress. So at the risk of being repetitive I will once again refer to it.
I drink a lot of coffee, in fact it is a major constituent of my diet, the day after we were kidnapped I had the worst headache I can ever recall having, and I am a migraine sufferer. This was however something special, it was like having a fire axe hammered into my cranium. Over the next three days it got worse, it was of course stress induced, my fellow captives were also complaining of bad headaches but they did not seem to be virtually blinded by them, I of course I knew what was wrong with me. I needed coffee. For the first time in my life I began to imagine what it must have been like for the heroine addicts I had watched in custody as they began « clucking » I was in agony. One of my fellow captives was a smoker, our captors regularly supplied him with cigarettes they could not however understand my predicament. Eventually on day four they turned up with a small can of Nescafe, they told me that in the evening, some eight hours away, they would heat some water for me. It was too much, within minutes I was eating raw instant coffee just to get the caffeine into my blood stream I immediately felt better.
A few days ago I was in the office and I noticed that the secretary had purchased instant coffee, DECAFE. I explained to her as reasonable as I could that to me this was tantamount to poisoning. The next day I came into work and she had carefully scraped off the words DECAFE from the front and back of the jar hoping perhaps that I would not notice. I too hoped that no one would notice as I crashed into caffeine withdrawal and embarked on an orgy of bloodletting and destruction that would have made the sacking of Rome look like a temper tantrum in a play group. She however could not understand why I found this stressful, it might be because caffeine addiction is not a major social issue in Nigeria, or it might be because of the general acceptability of forgery.
Whilst I was recovering from this trauma I received an e mail concerning A Woman Of Africa, I will quote one sentence that really got me thinking
Can't lie and say I wasn't slightly gutted to lose both Hassna and Theo in the last few pages. My milk-toast western sensibility had decided that it was only fair for lady luck to shine on all those who had been so dispossessed
I had never really thought of my characters in those terms “dissposssed” , though have thought about it I supose that they are, but again it is a mater of perception, the disposssed my be as unaware of their status as the coffee is as unaswre of its label. The cafinated coffee is what it is, irrespective of the label, I just hope that I manage to keep decafinated characters out of the pages of my writing, changing their names will never make them real
"Safety officer" has a slightly different meaning here, the question one often asks is just whose safety is being protected?
The open toed safety sandals, and the quick access gun, alert posture, and general interest he is showing inspire confidence.
The open toed safety sandals, and the quick access gun, alert posture, and general interest he is showing inspire confidence.
Monday, 9 May 2011
Last week three men who live in the same compound as I do, left in a car with a company driver to go to Port Harcourt International Airport, some where not far from their final destination, some one machine gunned the car. As far as I can establish it was the African weapon of choice, the AK47 the driver I am told escaped with minor injuries, one of the men was shot though the chest and suffered a collapsed lung another took rounds in the armed, the bullets had already lost momentum punching through the side of the car and travelled up the bone entering around the wrist and exiting at the elbow the third man was shot through the thigh.
The underground gossip is that the Police were behind the attack. As the troubles have quietened off more companies are dropping the armed escorts, being an armed escort to an Expat Company was considered a good detail for many Police Officers, so they have no desire to be returned to more conventional duties. The story going round is that off duty Police Officers conducted the attack to raise the insurance stakes and keep themselves in work.
As a job creation initiative goes it if nothing else unique, apart from that, the weekend was uneventful.
Tuesday, 3 May 2011
A few days ago I was coming back from the base where I work to the secure compound where we (the expatriate work force) are required to live, unfortunately we are not allowed to wander around Port Harcourt freely as the possession of white skin makes one a high risk kidnapping target, or potential robbery victim or just plain vulnerable. For the most part we are not allowed to drive ourselves, the theory being that if a person who is obviously ‘not Nigerian” (hard to express in a PC manner) is involved in any form of road accident he / she is immediately considered to be at fault, irrespective of whether or not their vehicle was actually in motion at the time. I have heard of a "non Nigerian" being imprisoned because a Taxi in which he was traveling hit a motorcycle. The Police argued that he was responsible because if he had not flagged down the Taxi and asked the driver to take him to the particular location, (in this case the International Airport), the Taxi would not have been on that road and would not have hit the uninsured, unlicensed, un helmeted, motorcyclist.
I do not think the above needs much comment, but were a similar incident to occur in the UK in reverse I suspect the Commission for Racial Equality would have a field day and the McPherson report would be dragged out used as a surgical blunderbuss to indiscriminately blast, maim and further incapacitate huge swathes of the British Law enforcement community.
To return however to this particular trip back to the compound to get lunch, just ahead of us a crowd was gathering. A young boy, eight or nine years old, had been selling goods in the street (River State provides free education for all children but this child’s parent had decided to put him out as a street vendour instead) had been knocked down by a motorist. The child was in a woman’s arms and covered in blood, he was twitching, no consideration was been given to the possibility of a neck injury or was any attempt being made to stop the bleeding. The woman was shouting at the driver of the car that had hit the child and the child that should have been in school learning to read and write twitched and spasmed in her arms. (Slavery was abolished in the UK in 1833, I am sure that technically this child was not a slave though I fail to se the difference, he was exploited and his "owner"/ mother/ significant adult was angry at the damage to her property than concerned at the child's distress).
The tragedy was heightened though because there were three expats in the car, all of us with at least advanced first aid training, one even a former paramedic, our local driver swerved around the crowd and sped for the safety of the compound. He did not want the crowd to see us he later explained, they would have used it as an opportunity to extort money, and if we had stopped to render assistance and the child had died we would certainly have been charged with murder.
Lord McPherson and his ill informed liberal idealistic ilk should be dragged out from their ivy clad ivory towers and dumped in the streets of Lagos or Abidjan, and left there, for week or two, once their battered disease ridden bodies had been released from intensive care (and most probably psychiatric treatment for PTS) they should be invited to revise their self righteous nonsense. One only wonders whether or not they would be able to hold the pen in order to sign the revision, or would their hands be shaking too much?