Did You Know Its International Men’s Day?

November 19, 2014

Did you know? That there is such a thing as International Men’s Day?  I didn’t know till I saw a post on my friends FB page this morning.

Their website says this about what its all about.

The 6 Pillars of International Men’s Day

1. To promote positive male role models; not just movie stars and sports men but everyday, working class men who are living decent, honest lives.

2. To celebrate men’s positive contributions to society, community, family, marriage, child care, and to the environment.

3. To focus on men’s health and well being; social, emotional, physical and spiritual.

4. To highlight discrimination against men; in areas of social services, social attitudes and expectations, and law

5. To improve gender relations and promote gender equality

6. To create a safer, better world; where people can be safe and grow to reach their full potential..

Seems noble enough. I guess I have no problem celebrating men once a year outside Father’s Day. I have nothing against men, I like them very much as a matter of fact and I would like to see more positive male role models and a safer better world etc  etc etc.

I gave birth to and raised two men myself and I would like to encourage them and reinforce all the good stuff I taught them about being good, caring, responsible and loving men. One of them is even a father himself now, of two daughters no less. I had to raise two modern men and I expect him to raise two modern women (with help of course, we all have lots of help).

While I ‘get it’ and I almost shared the good news blindly without a caveat or a critique, further consideration made me pause and look into it some more.

Apparently we need to feel sorry for men because, you know what, they are committing suicide in record high numbers according to a UK report that came out to coincide with IMD. Four thousand five hundred suicides were recorded in England and Wales last year, 78% of them were men. In India the National Crime Records Bureau report for 2013, said 64,098 married men committed suicide as against 29,491 married women. The underlying assumption is that they are suffering a crisis of masculinity. 

While men remain the major perpetrators and victims of violence especially male on male violence , women are predominantly victims of male violence. And most of the violence against women is perpetrated in the home while most of the violence against men is perpetrated outside the home. So whats the conclusion? Men are inherently violent? Or just misunderstood?

I’m not man bashing. I raised two sensitive and caring men and I know a lot of other men that are great role models of strength, purpose and compassion. These are the men that I can and will celebrate.  The awesome men that aren’t in a ‘crisis of masculinity’, the wonderful men that aren’t wingeing about the gains women have made and are doing something about  being better men.

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Living Under the Patriarchy II

November 17, 2014

‘Your father is dead.” Did he say my father wants to speak to me? Sometimes the old man uses other people’s phones to call me because he thinks I won’t take his calls.

“What did you say?” I ask.

“Your father is dead. Your father is dead” the caller, Mmuta my uncle, replies.

I feel a cold rush run through my body and sink into a nearby chair. He can’t be, I think to myself. I haven’t built him that house yet. Besides, he’s too mean to die, he enjoys tormenting us, his family, too much.

“Should we bury him today?” Mmuta asks me over the phone.

“What?”

“Should we bury him immediately?”

I feel a spark of irritation. How can he ask me such a thing? I haven’t even processed news of my fathers death and he wants to make me responsible for the decision to bury him immediately or not? He didn’t even ask me if I was sitting down when he broke the news. How callous. But that is the way of the village. Men don’t do sentimental although some are more compassionate than others. Mmuta is of the practical school of thought.

I wonder why he’s asking me anyway. I’m a woman, there is no way in hell they will let a woman decide the conduct of an Igbo man’s funeral even if she is his oldest daughter. When he was alive my father said he wanted to be buried the same day he died, rolled up in a mat like a Muslim. He said he wanted no monuments, just a tree to grow over his bones. Simple, inexpensive, no fanfare. He was a committed communist, he abhorred all obscene consumption and crass materialism.

I gather my reeling senses – “Yes, bury him immediately.” I reply and hang up. Who knows, it just might work.  My concern shifted to how I would break  the news to my sons. In a daze I went to tell them their grand father was dead.

I call Mmuta several hours later.

“Have you buried him?”

“The family met and decided that he is too important to bury him just like that.They said they will meet and inform you when and how he will be buried.” Mmuta replies.

A couple days later my younger brother calls. He is my fathers first son and he is younger than my youngest son.

“We have decided that we have to complete his house before we bury him.”

My father the communist and idealist lived his whole life in a suit of rooms in his fathers ancient house and didn’t start building his own till after he retired with his gratuity. It was less than 60% complete.

“Really? Do you have the money to complete it?” I ask.

“What do you mean? That is the decision we have taken, all you need to do is tell us is how much you are contributing” he snarled.

The hyena’s had gathered. My father wasn’t there to protect me anymore.

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Living Under the Patriarchy I

November 11, 2014

My father took me to the market in Owerri once when I was 12 or 13. I didn’t want to go with him. I was at that age when parents embarrassed the hell out of a teenager. And by this time I was finding my father a bloody embarrassment all the time.

He made me walk ahead of him. As usual the traders in the market started groping me and pulling me and appreciating God’s work in rather lewd Igbo grammar. Usually I pushed them away and told them off  and shopped with the least offensive and quietest of the lot.

I tried to brush them off and ignore them in my usual manner but my father pounced on each and everyone of them.

“What are you looking at? Why are you touching her? Are you mad?”

The wise ones slunk away, the brash ones tried to stand up to him. Big mistake. No one stood up to my father. When he used that tone of voice he expected complete and immediate compliance. And he didn’t hesitate to use his fists to enforce compliance.

I don’t remember much else about that day except wanting the ground to open up and swallow me while he argued and fought his way through the market. I must have bought something but I can’t remember what it was.

Most of the male members of his extended family behaved in a similar manner when we were out together.

“What you looking at?” they would demand aggressively of any poor sod that happened to look my way with more than appropriate interest.

My fathers family were well known in the village for their quick temper and quick fists. It was well known that a fight with one of them would bring the entire family coming to the rescue and support of their own. It was a large family. They didn’t ask what happened till the threat was eliminated and everyone at home and accounted for. They were like the marines or the army like that.

One guy got beat to a pulp for calling me names. One of my cousins still has an impressive facial scar to remind me of the incident. He uses it to manipulate me regularly.

“Ah ah. I took a knife for you nah. See, sixteen stitches, because of you” he would say pointing to the scar that dragged the line of his lips into a perpetual half frown. It didn’t feel right to remind him that I hadn’t asked or even expected him to fight for me much less take a a nasty cut to his once handsome face although he is still handsome in a rakish beat up way.

I didn’t appreciate my violent protectors back in those days. I didn’t even know that I needed them. I was clueless, it didn’t occur to me that something bad could happen or that I wouldn’t be able to take care of myself if it did. After all I knew how to use a knife.

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Adam Nico – Living Like A Professional in the UK

November 10, 2014

I met a Kenyan acrobat in Brighton. He used to work for Zippo Circus. He even showed me the pictures. Circus jobs don’t usually come with a pension. He’s old and works in construction now. He is also homeless. His British wife kicked him out he says. They have two kids. A son who is in university and a daughter that got 5 A’s in her O’levels. He’s so proud.

I asked him the last time he visited Kenya. He tells a rambling story of taking his children and step children there and showing them where he was born but he doesn’t say when it was. Before the missus kicked him out is the best guess so thats like 10 years ago. He’s been in the UK since 1992. He was born in Mombasa. He boasts of the land he has in Kenya, given to him by his fathers lineage. I ask if he has a native wife in Kenya. He pretends to look shocked.

He recalls how Tip Top Entertainment (owners/managers of Zippo) used to send him and his team to Germany, Netherlands, France etc. Its sad to see him nearly destitute. The way he insists that he is a ‘professional’ betrays the memory of a life of dreams and hopes.

 

Adam Nico (Copyright Lesley Agams)

Adam Nico (Copyright Lesley Agams)

What Should We Be Afraid Of?

October 18, 2014

It was October 1998. Me, my bff and a male friend were walking home from our local joint around midnight. We went there every night after work to drink beer and shoot pool with the boys.

It was a short walk but we had to pass the Nigerian Security Minting and Printing office opposite NTA to get there.  In Abacha’s days they were always guarded by military and police.  Sometimes they would come out on the road and shake down passersby.

In the military days we always got stopped and asked for ID, I never gave anyone mine. I knew my rights, you know what I mean.  and I was loud and vocal in asserting them especially with the boys in uniform. Its a surprise I didn’t get shot. Or maybe it was the fact that I was a woman, and a yellow woman at that. More prudent friends restrained me if we neared a check point.

Anyway this night the boys in khaki stop us and ask for our ID. Our man friend flashes his, I question they’re right to ask for mine. My bff, wise and cautious, stands aside quietly observing. Eventually I win the shouting match and they disdainfully tell me ‘Go abeg, craze woman’.

So I shove off still cussing and still raking. Our male friend had disappeared. As we’re walking away my bff who had been standing near a couple of girls sitting on a rock by the road at the checkpoint tells me the girls told her they had been there for hours. And basically how lucky we were to be on our way. I don’t know what it was but I had this certainty that the khaki scum were planning to rape those girls or at least coerce them into sex as soon as they were alone.   I turned back.

The zombies at the check point were surprised to see me coming back. I walked right up to them and shouted at them that I came back for the two girls.  It all went from bad to worse rather quickly. One of the soldiers cocks his rifle and points it at me. I don’t skip a beat. I turn to my wise bff standing well away and looking rather shell shocked by now.

“Maya, if they shoot me tonight make sure you tell my father exactly what happened.”

Of course they didn’t shoot and my bff and I walked those two girls home. The girls told me the zombies had been trying to coerce them to go into their security hut and have sex.  They thanked us profusely. Couple weeks later we walked into the restaurant where they worked as waitresses. They didn’t let us pay for a thing.

Reckless? Fearless? Brave? I’m none of those. I’m just someone that stands up for myself and for others that need standing up for. I didn’t think of death, I was certain I was going to die. Someday, somehow. I just didn’t want to die like a chicken or like something cowering and afraid in a corner. When death comes I wanted to be ready to stare him in the eye and defy him. Dare him to make me scared. Because somewhere somehow I learnt never show to fear. Never to be afraid.

 

 

1978

Ihioma, Nigeria 1978

 

 

 

A Sterling Goat

September 30, 2014

 

Two British aid executives came to Nigeria for a program launch in Sokoto. They flew first class into Lagos, stayed at the Lagos Sheraton for two nights, entertaining and each of them consumed a bottle of high end cognac each night. After two days they flew business class to Abuja, stayed at the the Abuja Sheraton and then went by road the next day to Sokoto in shiny hired SUV’s. They took four hampers of food from the Abuja Sheraton with them because they had been told the food at the hotel in Sokoto would probably not appeal to them. When they got to Sokoto they went with all pomp and pageantry to deliver – now wait for this – 20 goats to 40 families. Or was it 40 goats to 20 families. I can’t remember which. I heard they paid £5000 for the goats.

 

Diseye Tantua a talented Nigerian artist has made the molue the subject of a series of  delightful 'African pop art' paintings.

Diseye Tantua a talented Nigerian artist has made the molue the subject of a series of delightful ‘African pop art’ paintings.

The Story Behind the Pictures

August 25, 2014

Let me tell the story of these picture.

I wanted a professional studio shot for my LinkedIn profile and other social media. Some thing that didn’t say ‘selfie’ or ‘office Christmas party’.  So while I was in England last year I decided to do just that. I had done a couple in Abuja a few years ago but they didn’t give me digital copies so they kinda got lost. Sad, they were quite nice.

So when I saw a deal on wowcher offering a full makeover studio experience  worth  well over £399 for £9 I rushed it of course.  The hook was perfect. For this price they do your hair and make up give you pretty much all you can drink champagne and take your picture in 5 different outfits (and dozens of poses) and give you one digital print. After the appropriately staid media shot below I got a bit adventurous.

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See – THAT’S what two and half hours of hair and makeup look like.

I’ve never spent more than 10 minutes in the morning on hair and makeup. Who had the time? I was a  single working  mother. Now that I have the time I lack the interest. I didn’t recognise myself after two and a half hours of hair and makeup.    It was an amazing experience. I recommend it.

After 3 glasses of champagne and 2 hours with the broodingly handsome Italian photographer called Sergio I had to chose my Top 10 shots out of over 400. As I flipped through the shots I just dey wonder -”Who be dis chick? Na me be dat?” Some of those shots only but ever gonna be seen on my bedroom wall o!

I don’t look like this everyday.  I can’t, I wouldn’t know how to but it was a rich experience and I enjoyed it. And its nice  to know I could look just as hot as Halle Berry and Jada Pinkett  if  I could devote 4-5 hours a day. And I would if I was getting paid  for it.  We women are socialised to feel so insecure about growing up. This shoot was just what my ageing self esteem needed to fight the media images of perfect size 0 women aged 14 – 22.

The only thing that’s changed since the photo shoot is that I wear lipstick now. Well, sometimes. I’m still 10 kg overweight. I’m still a size Large (horror!) and my hair more often looks like a bird nest than anything so sleek and groomed but just for a few hours I was George Eliot’s ‘Lucy Deane’ instead of ‘Maggie Tulliver’.

I’m sure I’ll look at these pictures in 10 and 20 and 30 years time and be just as amazed. And my grandchildren will probably gasp in wonder  and say “Babs! You used to be young!”.

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Yeah, those ARE fishnets

 

 

My Sister, Africa Man Go Jump You

August 23, 2014

They call me a feminist. Well feminist this…

If you like be a liberated progressive woman secure in your own self worth and so self confident you insist wearing short skirts is a human right. If you wear a short skirt or show cleavage, African man will jump you with the regularity of a rat jumping into cheese. Its how they’re wired.  They react to the sight of a short skirt or some cleavage like bulls react to the capote de brega.  They will charge with all the finesse of a pile driver.

He’s usually unapologetic about it too. He insists you’re dressing to attract and distract him. He argues that its sexual harassment.  “I’m flesh and blood now! What do you expect”. If you point out to them how ridiculous his reaction is considering less than a hundred years ago most of us still ran around naked (and presumably didn’t spend all day aroused) he might laugh and proudly tell you about a grand father or great uncle that had 100 wives. He is usually from Sapele or Lafia.

Do you remember  Zuma’s  defence to the 2009 rape of a younger female colleague?  He said her short skirt was a challenge a zulu warrior  like himself he could not  ignore.  That’s the African man talking right there.  It’s ‘invitation to treat’ or ‘provocation’ depending on who he’s trying to convince he’s innocent.  Every body else is guilty of course.

Because the same African Man doesn’t believe that a man and a woman who are not related can have an intimate relationship devoid of sex. He expects that all intimacy between a man and a woman will lead to sex.   If it doesn’t then someone must be gay. Or retarded. Or lying.  Or just a loser.

So whether you like it or not how you dress is about more than how you feel. I heard about a Nigerian woman that wore short figure hugging outfits to work. I think it made her feel sexy and powerful. She insisted it was her right and she was within organisational dress code regulations. She had filed more sexual harassment complaints than any of her other female colleagues.  Must have been exhausting.

I am not suggesting control of how women dress, or control of how men react to how women dress (no, you cannot have your cake and eat it).  I’m just informing sisters of what happens when you wear a short dress in Africa. If that’s what you intend to happen, that’s cool. If not be ready to fight for your honour and your rights.

 

What I Learnt At Brighton Pride 2014

August 22, 2014

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I went to watch the Brighton Pride parade on August 2. Coming from Nigeria where homosexuality was recently criminalised and many homosexuals live furtive double lives, I really needed to witness gay people openly and proudly proclaiming their right to breath the same air.

I used to read about Pride events in the Newsweek and Time magazines my father bought every week when I was growing up in Umuaka.   I knew what the Bible said about homosexaulity and I knew what the school said about it but I also knew that discrimination was wrong and the Bible wasn’t always right.

I didn’t know any openly gay person back then but I did know that there was a whole lot of consensual same sex shagging going on among pre-teens and teens especially girls. I went to a convent school. The sisters said ‘kpokokpi’ was a sin. It did’t stop it from happening. I also heard rumours about a lot of non-consensual same sex going on especially at boys schools.

Then AIDS happened. Religious fundamentalists sold it to their followers as special retribution from God against homosexuals and later fornication when infection rates among women soared ahead of rates among gay men.  Many seemingly enlightened men and women expressed un-informed homophobic views so anachronistic I had to check the date and pinch myself to be sure I wasn’t dreaming or time travelling.

Then in 2006 I met Oludare Odumuye while working at Ashoka, he was made an Ashoka fellow for his ground breaking work for gay rights in Nigeria.  We talked. We became great friends. I used to challenge him to organise a Pride event in Nigeria.  He always insisted the time wasn’t right.  Or that he couldn’t get the funding.

Have you ever heard of the Stonewall Riots? I never had. According to this first hand account  it was the inspiration for the first gay pride march in New York 1970.  This documentary tells the story.

Gay Nigerians and human rights activists act like the agitation for gay rights ended in the United States (where it started) and is a foregone conclusion every where else. No my gay brothers and sisters you have to fight and hit the street and some of you may even have to die. But hey, you are dying now at the hands of the gay bashers.  Being lynched even. And the mobs being led by the leaders you elected.

What I saw at Brighton Pride was community, business and government coming out to say we accept and respect diversity. It took a whole lot of work to get there.

Brighton 2014

Brighton 2014  - Copyright Lesley Agams

 

 

 

The Lovers

August 22, 2014

They sat on opposite ends of the room, two twisted bodies.  Twisted from many years of  many bad relationships that did not work, twisted into a protective ball, twisted in on themselves.

Guarding their pain, shielding their wounded hearts. Closed to feelings and emotions. Yet she wanted to tell him how much she loved him. Yet he longed to hear her say the words but they were closed and twisted.

She opened herself up hesitantly like a rose blossom opening itself to the sun.  Beyond the beauty and radiance of those soft petals all he saw was the memory of the thorns. And so he twisted himself into a tighter ball and roared like an old lion from his sanctuary for her to stay away, stay away.

The rose trembled in fear and withered before the furnace of his hostility. She retreated into a ball of safety, protecting her belly and her heart. And then she roared – in pain and frustration. And he retreated further into his pretzel.

He was a man. She was a child.

Francis Bacon - Man and Child

Francis Bacon – Man and Child 1963

 

 


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