You Are What You Eat II

May 14, 2017

My dominant dosha type, vata, needs warm, soupy, well cooked soothing foods. And my pita constitution needs cooling so me and my ayurveda therapist worked out a food plan that meets those needs.

Now I eat a lot of basmati rice. And mung beans. (I just made a pot of hing moong dhal.) And yam (boiled, fried in coconut oil or pounded.) And Afang. And Nsala. And Utong. And Oha. And Efo. Very tender lettuce smothered in virgin olive oil. Soft cooked vegetables (carrots, pumpkin, squash, okro.) Soft fruits (papaya, soursop, watermelon) Golden Milk (made with turmeric paste and coconut milk, yummmy and promotes sleep to. Read all the benefits here.) And a lot of mackerel and goat meat and lamb and ram. Vata is delicate and doesn’t need anything too hard and dense to digest. So no more akpu. Less cashew and ground nuts. No cabbage. Less ugu and bitter leaf.

I don’t eat much chicken. Or beef (only at the full moon and only marbled meat.) I don’t trust the chicken – local or foreign. Too many antibiotics and hormones involved in rearing them nowadays. Can’t wait till I can rear my own chicken, corn fed and free range. And I eat tozo, the marbled beef or top steak because its tastes so good and if I’m going to die anyway I might as well enjoy life first.

Same reason I only eat good old fashioned butter. By the way have you heard that margarine was developed to fatten turkeys sometimes in the 1930s or something but it killed all the turkeys and the company not wanting to lose the money they spent on R&D figured they’d sell it to humans as a superior bread spread.  I don’t know if its true. I read it on the internet long time ago. Internet don tey.

In ayurveda butter and ghee which is clarified butter are super foods. All milk products are. The Hindu’s worship the cow because they believe it provides complete sustenance to human beings. Nice story they tell about it. Read it here. And there is lots of research that suggests animal fats aren’t the evil, its the sedentary life style. Ghee is pretty expensive and only a few shops stock it but you can make your own when you need to.The only vegetable oils I use anymore are coconut , extra virgin olive and palm oil. Hydrogenated oil is like margarine. Hazardous.

Animal fats are essential for human physiology or something and I do believe I read some where once up on a time that the growth in the size of the brain that marked human evolution from homo Erectus and other early hominid ancestors coincided with an increase in animal protein in their diet. Who knows but it sounds good enough for me. And I notice that when I am really pushing myself mentally like when I am working against a deadline and my routine is in shambles I crave meat.

 

 

Requiem

April 28, 2017

My heart is a going pitter patter reading the letter again, reliving it all. No. My heart is racing like a jack hammer! Remembering. A sexual assault. By my manager. Samuel Musa. While working at Oxfam GB.

That was in August 2010. I wrote the letter below to Barbara Stocking in desperation more than a year later.

Just like I searched desperately for legal support in Nigeria and when I couldn’t find any I went to search the UK in 2012. I spoke to so many lawyers. Every last  one of them asked me whether I had worked in the UK.

“I was based in Abuja. The only time I came to the UK was for that country directors conference where the assault happened.”

And they all said –

“Sorry. You’re not eligible to appear before the UK employment tribunal.”

Eventually I found a UK lawyer that said she might have been able to help me  but….

…we were already just days away from the statute of limitations for sexual assault. There was no way she could prepare and file the paper work in time.

I let it go then. Focused on putting myself back together again. It wasn’t the first time that man woman palaver (as we euphemistically call it in Nigeria) had terminated my job.

So this is the letter I wrote to Barbara Stocking after they confirmed my termination, as I was facing the loss of my home – after losing my job, my dad, my cat, my dog, my self esteem, my confidence. 

I stumbled across it looking for something else all together and it all just came back. I’d pushed the whole incident to the far recesses of my mind.  (My therapist gonna have something to say about that.) At first I cringed thinking maybe I was whining in the letter but as I read it I started to feel kinda good. I wrote from my heart. I spoke my truth. That’s all. Nothing to be ashamed of.

 

 

 

April 28, 2012

Dear Barbara,

It’s over a year now since I left your employ. I don’t know if you even noticed. Oxfam GB is such a big place. I don’t imagine you could possibly keep up with all your employees and I wasn’t there long enough. It wasn’t till my orientation at Oxford office in August 2010, almost 10 months after I started working for you that I actually started to understand the organization and my role. One important lesson I take away from my experience at Oxfam GB is to orient employees quickly, capably and to install controls to make sure the system works.

But that’s not why I write you. I’m writing to you because I believe the woman I met in August 2010 is a just, fair and above all compassionate person. There was nothing fair, just or compassionate about the way I was summarily dismissed from Oxfam GB in November 2010 or the way I was treated during my subsequent appeal. I tried so hard to reach Penny Lawrence. I remember her telling us during the orientation that she was always available to help and advice us with our problems and issues. She never spoke to me.

The 2 week visit in August 2010, my first to the UK was also where my trouble started. My line manager Mr. Samuel Musa, deputy regional director for West Africa at the time sexually assaulted me in his hotel room. Worried that my job, my working relationships and Oxfam GBs reputation could be in jeopardy, I didn’t listen to advice of friends to report the incident to the police. Instead I went to Martin Knops to treat my own pain and trauma and on his advice reported the incident to Catherine Layton then in the Human Resource department. I told her I was reporting ‘just in case’ Samuel tried to victimize me I wanted someone to know..

I realize now I should have made that report for a number of reasons. After all it wasn’t sexual harassment I was reporting. I was reporting a crime; sexual assault is after all a criminal offence. Of course all of us worked for Oxfam. Neither Catherine nor Martin suggested I report to the police. Catherine actually advised I speak to Samuel. Which I did. Eventually. It was almost a month later before I was able to talk to him on the phone about it. I told Catherine about the call. Because I had asked for assurance during the call and he didn’t give any I followed up with an email. He ignored it.

It had taken a whole lot of effort on my part to talk to him about it in the first place. I wasn’t comfortable raising the issue with him again. I did discuss with Catherine how we could address institutional sexual harassment. I’ve seen and experienced a lot of behavior in Oxfam GB’s Africa offices that would easily qualify for sexual harassment in the west and UK. I wasn’t the only victim. I felt that as Oxfam GB’s gender lead in West Africa I could have a wider institutional impact on the matter instead of making it all about me. I also didn’t want to be the lone female shouting ‘rape’. I had a lot of confused feelings.

Of course I was deeply traumatized by the experience. It was difficult working with Samuel after that. I had flash backs every time I saw an email from him, or had to speak with him on the phone and when I saw him late September in Dakar. I tried to be brave and strong but I was really uncomfortable and jumpy. Still with Catherine’s question about whether he knew his attention was unwanted ringing in my head I reiterated to him again I did not want his attention and asked for assurance he would never try to ‘make a pass at me’ again. But he didn’t make a pass at me the first time, it wasn’t a seduction or a wooing or ongoing sexual harassment at work; it was a traumatic and unexpected physical attack.

I ignored my pain and stepped up my efforts at work with some idea that if I just did my best my job would be safe. With 20/20 hind sight I see my mistake. There is no way I could have spoken to him about the incident in the terms that I did that he could do other than try to get rid of me as soon as possible. Anything else would have been literally working under the threat of an imminent report from me. Still I hoped, this was Oxfam GB after all, an international humanitarian agency with rules, surely I was safe.

On November 23, 2010, a Wednesday, Samuel Musa arrived Abuja from Dakar and handed me a letter summarily terminating my contract without reason. He gave me 2 days notice to vacate the office premises and immediately repossessed all Oxfam GB equipment including laptop and handsets making it difficult for me to reach anybody within the organization. My employment contract governed by Nigerian Law says that summary dismissal is in accordance with internal guidelines. Under these guidelines I am entitled to a weeks’ notice that I am being considered for summary dismissal. Under Nigerian law I am entitled to two weeks’ notice.

The law wasn’t upmost on my mind when I received the letter of termination. I was distraught that I was about to lose my job at the hands of the man who had sexually assaulted me less than 3 months before. I was in no emotional state for the appeal and under too much emotional distress by then to focus on that. The entire process became a sexual harassment investigation rather than an appeal of my wrongful termination. At the end of the emotionally devastating process where I had to re-live my assault again I was informed there was no corroboration to my allegations of sexual assault and my dismissal was in accordance with Nigerian law. That’s all.

Kathleen McGarva who handled my sexual assault complaint and my appeal (I wonder if that was proper?) decided that the email I wrote to Samuel and my correspondence with Catherine Layton and Martin Knops were not sufficient corroboration of my story and chose to accept Samuel’s version of the story which had even less corroboration than mine. He admitted I was in his room but unsurprisingly denied the course of events or that we went up together. He further claimed he ignored my email because he didn’t know what I was talking about. After denying my appeal Katherine said Oxfam GB would talk to him to find out how he could have handled the situation better. That sounded a lot like I was the lying trouble maker.

In April 2011 I finally wrote Katherine asking about the outcome of that exercise with Samuel. Was he punished? Was he queried? Was he reprimanded? I received her response on April 6, 2011 a Wednesday and was considering my reaction to send the following Monday when I was informed on Saturday April 9, 2011 my father died. I never did get a chance to react to Katherine’s last email after that news.

Katherine’s April email suggested that Oxfam GB were not interested in getting rid of a sexual predator in their employ much less how his actions had affected me or what I was going through personally. Oxfam GB seemed more interested in protecting themselves and I was the villain not the victim but it happened to me so I know what happened. In August 2011 I came to the UK and filed a criminal incident report with the Thames Valley Police accusing Samuel Musa of criminal sexual assault. They believed me but needed corroborating evidence to successfully prosecute. They also said if I had reported earlier there could have requested the hotels CCTV footage for corroboration. Still there is an incident report and number that it may serve as evidence should anyone else report Samuel for a similar thing.

I’m sure I wasn’t his first sexual assault and maybe not his last. Maybe he has been sexually exploiting women he managed? It is interesting that the Africa leadership teams have so few women. It was curious that Samuel resigned abruptly shortly after the police investigators visited the Oxfam GB offices. It may have been a coincidence. Did somebody else report him? What could HR have done differently? The fact that there was even a hint of criminal sexual assault in which the preponderance of evidence, thin though it was nevertheless was on my side should have raised enough doubt to make him justify his reasons for summary dismissal.

After my experience with Oxfam GB I really didn’t want to work for any other organization. This is not the first time I have had to make a career move or lose a job because of man woman trouble as we call it euphemistically in Nigeria. I had thought that I would be safe working with an international organization that had rules about such things. I have been sadly disappointed, in the time since my dismissal I have met and spoken to almost a dozen women with similar experiences. Male managers at INGOs are getting away with sexual abuse in the workplace, women are wrongfully losing jobs, some get stuck in court for years and exhaust their savings, others just don’t want to talk about it in public, still others are too busy trying to make ends meet to fight a foreign Goliath.

I’m a lawyer by training. I opened a small law firm instead of getting another job in the international development field. My 1 year experience at Oxfam GB was exhausting both emotionally and physically. I figure that being my own boss will reduce my vulnerability to sexual assault in the workplace. My practice focuses exclusively on women’s right and expanding legal protection from violence through litigation and legal precedent. I’m building a social enterprise to sustain the practice and my reputation as a writer. Kathleen was right; Oxfam GB didn’t break any Nigerian laws. I was the one that sent that legal opinion on Nigerian labor law to Samuel in October 2010.

Still I found the internal procedure for summary termination on Oxfam GB site confusing. My contract says internal procedure will apply in dismissal yet the site refers back to ‘local laws’. Meanwhile, my contract already says Nigerian law applies. Without knowing the in house rules for summary dismissal that clause of the contract is misleading. When I read it while negotiating my employment terms I reasonably thought it meant rules other than Nigerian law applied. I thought I was protected from unfair or wrongful dismissal and sexual victimization a common enough fear in Nigeria under our poorly applied and interpreted laws. Apparently I was wrong.

Why am I writing to you now?

An executive coach and consultant I worked with advised me to write to you personally and let you and Oxfam GB know exactly what is going on with me before proceeding with any further action. He is optimistic that Oxfam GB will do the right thing. I am hopeful that you Barbara will. I feel I was bullied by a big bad corporation, except Oxfam GB is supposed to be a ‘humanitarian’ organization, one of the ‘good guys’. How could they preach global love and charity and leave me out in the cold like this? Are Oxfam’s values just corporate jargon? I still wonder how I can possibly engage in a legal battle with a corporate behemoth like Oxfam GB that has more money and more lawyers than I can ever hope to. I’m intimidated from even trying but feel the injustice keenly.

I’m sitting in the eye of a hurricane right now. I have suffered terribly because of the assault and even more during and after the loss of my job. I’ve lost almost everything because of Samuel Musa and Oxfam GBs actions; my job, my health insurance, my father, who was my dependant and couldn’t continue diabetes treatment after I lost my health insurance and now I am about to lose my home. My small law practice is young and growing but even that is under threat.

If Catherine Layton, or Martin Knops or any other Oxfam GB employee had advised me to report to the police as soon as I described a sexual assault there may have been CCTV footage showing us arriving and me leaving his room and maybe corroboration of my ‘allegations’. There may have been witnesses available for trained questioning by the police. Dozens of Oxfam GB people were in the lobby that night when we left. Samuel Musa himself would have been available for the police to interrogate. If Samuel Musa had not been allowed to dismiss me without reason after sexually assaulting me I may still have my father, my house, my cat and my life.

I am writing this to you now because I was grievously injured by your employees and former employee’s actions and summarily and wrongfully dismissed without reason from my position as CD Nigeria programs and I feel that Oxfam GB my employers did not do enough to protect me or prevent the injury and subsequent suffering. It has taken me this long and many hours of consultation with lawyers and counselors to get here. While I’m still suffering the fall out of that injury, emotional, physical and financial, I finally have the mental and legal clarity to seek the rdress I believe that I deserve.

I hope this letter speaks to the humane part of you and not just the corporate goddess. I only seek justice, for myself and for my silent, disempowered or disenchanted African sisters. We are also a humanitarian cause. We’re also humankind. Barbara please show me that we are safe working for foreign agencies, even the BINGO’s and that the same rules that protect our female colleagues in head office will protect us in our work spaces scattered in the dark spots for gender rights on the continent too. Do not unilaterally listen to our kinsmen who fill your senior leadership positions in Africa and tell you African women will lie against them about rape or sexual assault or sexual harassment in the workplace because that is the excuse our men give for not tightening rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment laws.

I was a good employee; innovative, result oriented, driven, participatory, nurturing and above all ethical. I was one of few in the region that understood the implementation of the SMS. I was planning a fast track career development in the sector. I was systematically rooting out graft and corruption in the Nigerian program. I was also under systematic attack by the forces of graft and corruption. I wasn’t only working for you, I was also working for my country, for your donors and especially those little old English ladies that have a standing order with their bank to deduct GBP20 every month from their pension check and send to Oxfam GB, even if they are no longer your biggest contributors. I don’t deserve this. It feels so terribly wrong to be dismissed so nonchalantly and left so broken and devastated.

I appeal to you Barbara as the Chief Executive of Oxfam GB with whom all decisions finally rest for some sort of justice, relief, closure, damages and permission to move on. I hope you consider my appeal with wisdom and compassion.

I look forward to hearing from you. In the meantime I remain;

Yours sincerely,

LesleyAgams

Lesley Gene Agams Esq.

 

 

 

This was her reply

 

 

 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012, 10:32 AM

Dear Lesley

Thank you for your letter of 28th April 2012 concerning your period of employment with Oxfam GB.

I was aware of the circumstances surrounding your departure from Oxfam and am deeply saddened to hear how you now feel, and that you attribute this to the way that Oxfam handled your complaint. As you are aware, Oxfam is very concerned about gender inequality and committed to putting poor women’s rights at the heart of what we do. With this in mind I can assure you that Oxfam did take your complaint seriously and followed internal procedures carefully to fully investigate the points that you raised. Unfortunately , like the police, we found that there was insufficient evidence to corroborate your allegation of events that had taken place, some 3 months earlier. The allegation of sexual assault is an issue which we take very seriously and although we could not find evidence to confirm that the assault did take place, the matter was followed up and appropriate action was taken in line with our procedures. I appreciate that you were disappointed by these findings.

I understand that you did speak to both Catherine Layton (HR Adviser) and Martin Knops (Oxfam’s Counsellor) about events that took place whilst you were in the UK. At the time you did not categorise them as a criminal offence of sexual assault but as an ‘incident in a hotel room where you refused to have sex with your manager’ and indeed had asked to speak to them both ‘in confidence’. This confidentiality was maintained by them both as you had requested. Had you allowed Catherine to take this forward on your behalf as one of the options she suggested to you at the time, or indeed expressed it in the more serious language that you are now using, then the situation may have been different. This was the decision that you made at the time and I feel that it is not appropriate of you now to blame them for respecting your request for confidentiality.

With regard to your termination of employment from Oxfam, I am aware that you raised an appeal against this in line with our procedures. The appeal was heard by Kathleen McGarva, the Deputy International Director, and she was satisfied that the termination of your contract complied with the law in Nigeria which is the law that governed your contract of employment and that the termination was not due to sexual victimisation from a senior manager of staff. Kathleen is an experienced senior manager in Oxfam, based in Oxford who had no prior knowledge or involvement of this matter. I am satisfied that she considered your case very carefully in a fair and transparent manner when reaching her conclusion.

I am satisfied that that Oxfam has acted fairly in fully investigating your complaints and allegations and your request for damages is not appropriate.

Thank you for writing to me about bringing this to my attention.  I do wish you the very best for your future.

Best regards

Barbara

Barbara Stocking 

Chief Executive, Oxfam GB  

 

 

Maybe she was right, maybe it was all my fault. Except I’m pretty damn sure I DID describe it as a sexual assault, EXACTLY  as it happened, in very vivid detail too, to both Martin and Catherine.  Whatever could have given them the idea that is was an ‘incident in a hotel room where you refused to have sex with your manager’? (How sleazy does that even sound? Ugh!) Now they would have me second guessing myself!

I thought I was really over it. Just a couple weeks ago I was telling my friend that I had finally recovered from it all except the jack hammering of my heart says maybe not.

How do I feel about it now? I still feel angry. And powerless.

“Honour you anger” Martin Knops said to me all those years ago.

 

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Some Highlights of Nigerian Labor Law Act Cap 198 Relevant for Small Business Owners

April 28, 2017

 

  1. Employees must be paid in cash
  2. Payment by check can only be made with the prior consent of the employee
  3. Employer cannot impose conditions on how or where an employee spends his wages
  4. Any advance on salary cannot exceed one month salary and minimum recovery time is 3 months
  5. If there is an outstanding advance employer cannot make a new advance except in necessity
  6. Employers can only make deductions in respect of fines for willful misconduct or neglect if employee has been previously notified and agreed in his contract
  7. Pension scheme deductions must be consented to by employee
  8. Overpayment deductions can only be made if discovered within 3 months
  9. Total deductions from employees salary cannot exceed 1/3 of monthly salary
  10. Contracts required to be signed within 3 months of employment
  11. Any change in terms of contract must be communicated within one month to the employee
  12. Employment contracts terminate on death of employee, expiry of notice or expiry of fixed term contract
  13. Statutory requirements for notice
    1. 1 day if less than 3 months
    2. 1 week if more than 3 months but less than 2 years
    3. 2 weeks if more than 2 years but less than 5 years
    4. 1 months if more than 5 years of continuous service
  14. Conduct that would enable employer terminate contract without notice

a. Gross misconduct such as fraud, theft, insubordination or criminal neglect

  1. Either party can waive the right to notice or to accepting payment in lieu of notice
  2. All wages are to be paid before expiry of notice
  3. Employer not liable to pay for days employee absent
  4. Payment in lieu of notice only applies to salary not overtime or allowances
  5. Normal working hours are fixed through mutual agreement
  6. Work in excess of working hours constitutes over time
  7. If employee is to work more than 6 continuous hours he/she is entitled to 1 hour aggregate break/rest interval
  8. Worker entitled to one day of rest in 7 days
  9. Workers entitled to up to 12 days of paid sick leave for temporary illness if certified by a registered doctor nominated by the employer
  10. After 12 months of continuous service employee is entitled to 6 working days of paid leave
  11. Sick leave and annual leave pay only includes salary (not overtime or allowances)
  12. Women are entitled to 6 weeks leave before birth and confinement and 6 weeks of leave after birth and confinement at 50% of salary
  13. Employer not liable for healthcare costs of said woman
  14. If you have more than 25 employees you are required to set up a pension scheme (Pension Act Cap 346)
  15. Employees in hazardous occupations (mining, heavy machinery etc) must be insured against injury (Workmen’s Compensation Act Cap 407)

You Are What You Eat

April 16, 2017

Only in Nigeria do people be eating like we eat and argue that after all their ancestors ate like that. Our ancestors also walked every where, spent 8 months out of twelve on the farm and generally burned more calories than they ate. Only the petit bourgeois elite had fat wives because it showed they didn’t go to the farm or the market. Just like the white elite too. Except in their case it was pale skin as a sign you didn’t have to work in the fields like a peasant. And the consumption of rare and rich food was equated with privilege.

All that elitist bullshit. Anyway, my point is we really shouldn’t be eating like our ancestors. We do not work like them. We probably have a sedentary office job and a driver. It’s not about ‘diet’ or ‘a diet’. Its a lifestyle thing. How much we eat and what we eat is all about what we do for a living but most of us are so programmed in our primitive brain stem that we need to feel full and comfortable. You know, in case you have to run from a man eating lion in the jungle. Or slave hunters. Or in case there is a famine. Who knows?

Then again as we age we just can’t eat as much as we did when we were high revving teenagers. The metabolism slows down and shit and things like beer guts and spate tyres and love handles tend to multiply. You just have to consume less calories. Even if you are one of those people that doesn’t add weight no matter what you eat, sensible calorie restriction is indicated in positive long term health outcomes.

Of course food is never just about food. Just like sex is never just about sex. Its comfort and nurture and reward and punishment and power. Most modern humans have a complex relationship with food and body image compounded through mass media. Then there is of course the social  and cultural significance of food (link to old post on food politics) Its a minefield.

We love Nigerian food but we know we just can’t eat it as much of it as we did when we were younger. And that’s cool. We adapt. And its easier to adapt than we think.

The Gospel According To Lesley: Talking About Beauty, SLEEP WELL O

March 12, 2017

 

Sleep covers a multitude of sins. Take my word for it. Have you ever recovered from an illness and someone says “Ah, you look so well”? Sleep and rest are linked to all sorts of good outcomes. I used to sleep three four hours a night. If I slept a long time I slept 6 hours. And no matter what time I went to bed I couldn’t sleep beyond 9am. My conscience would have me out of bed and running around like a headless chicken after an all night binge that ended at 7am.

“Work hard and play harder.” I famously said once. “Not on two hours of sleep” the Universe replied and hit me with thyrotoxicosis.

Now I get my uninterrupted 8 hours of sleep every night.  If I go to bed late, I wake up late. If I have a sleep deficit I make up for it real quick. Next night where ever possible. And I sleep late on Sundays. Every Sunday. Just lounge around in bed reading, napping and ringing the bell for service.  If god could rest one day out of seven then so can I god damn it. Its my definition of ‘Keeping The Sabbath.’ No other rules apply.

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Oil painting by Oresegun Olumide

In Nigeria I can bloody well do that too because everything runs on ‘African Time’ anyway. Even the Mexicans know about it. When we plan events and we want the event to start by 6pm we never put that on the invitation. We put noon on the invitation hoping the guests will start to arrive by 6pm. And start at midnight anyway. Go figure. Anyway its part of our planning process, African Time is. I know all you Nigerians in abroad find it infuriating. Kpele.

Depending on the power dynamics I can arbitrarily reschedule a 9am appointment or even not inform you that its been rescheduled at all if I need a couple hours of extra sleep. You’re probably late anyway. My sleep is more important than your good will.

It wasn’t easy putting my needs first, at first. My ‘oyibo’ conscience would scream at me and burden me to get to the meeting and I would convince myself that 3 hours of sleep was okay because I felt just fine.  Margeret Tatcher famously slept 4 hours a night. She had Alziemers or dementia or something when she died. So did my late mother in law who also had sleep problems.

I don’t play with my sleep o.

My bedroom is the nicest room in the house, airy, comfy and soothing. Music, yes. television, no. No television in bed. Only a couple of books on the night stand. My boudoir. I try to fall asleep and wake up feeling happy to be alive.

I also know how to sleep rough. Catching as many or as few hours as possible in the most uncomfortable conditions. Because  sometimes even where you sleep is determined by power dynamics and you sleep and wake up with uncertainty. And maybe work hard to escape and create a personal sense of security. Or status. Or dignity. Refusing to give in to those forces. Or giving in.

Don’t compromise where you sleep o and – as my friend used to say – who you sleep with it. And why.

Till soon.

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The Gospel According to Lesley: The Evil Step Mother

February 23, 2017

Since I have introduced My Evil Step Mother let me say something about her.

She didn’t stand a chance. My Mother is a Goddess. Which woman can compete with that? My Evil Step Mother lost the popularity stakes before you even began. And she didn’t make it any better when she decided to comb my matted dreadlocked hair instead of just cutting it off when she first met me. Dreadlocks? You may wonder. Yes. I had dreadlocks at the age of four because my father didn’t comb my hair in the one year after we absconded from the Soviet Union before she joined us.

Her name was Lilia. I’m still trying to find out if she is dead or alive and whether maybe she left me something in her will. Because I have an enduring fantasy that somewhere somehow I have a long lost relative that will leave me something in his or her will. Being remembered in a will, inheriting something, is like being affirmed or validated, its like saying ‘you belong.’  Agatha Christie’s characters were always left something in someone’s will.

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Lilia wasn’t all that bad really. I know she crossed the road once rather than walk on the side walk in front of a Jewish centre and that she regularly made fun of my father’s nose, our fat lips and our kinky hair. I know she had a racist opinion about every thing from black sexuality to black crime which she shared freely with me even when it wasn’t age appropriate. I know she only married my father to escape The Soviet Union. My Mother would never have considered doing such a thing. Like I said, a goddess but she didn’t know that my father would take me when he left. She didn’t even know that he could.

I also know that Lilia Nikoliayevna Zviaglosky did not sleep with my father. We’ll come to that later.

In my imagination Lilia was evil because she made me sit to learn sewing, knitting and crocheting when I would rather be outside playing in the woods behind our estate or swimming or something. I was a bit of a feral child. She did evil things like comb my hair, which hurt. She tried to make me learn the Russian alphabet and how to read and write in Russian. She even made me go to bed at 8 o’clock on Summer nights when it was still bright outside. I would lie in my bed listening to children playing outside in the sun and hate her. She was so evil she cut up my beautiful white synthetic leather boots that were all the rage in America in 1974. Then she stitched up the cuts and made me wear them to school! (I was too young to own it and it was too long before Michelle Pfeiffer popularised that look in 1993.)

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I thought she was a real evil bitch. Unlike The Goddess, my real mother.

There is a price to pay for everything. Lilia paid the price. Eventually she divorced Dr. Agams and last I heard married some guy named Fred G. Paradin. Fred used to take her to Vegas on dates. The Divorce was epic. Dr. Agams filed a cross petition and included the CIA, FBI and KGB as co-respondents but not Fred. Shortly after that Dr. Agams brought me to Nigeria. (Specifically to Umuaka, a Mediaeval Little Kingdom on the banks of the Njaba River in rural south east Nigeria where I was to send the second decade of my life.)

After living in Nigeria Lilia doesn’t seem like such an Evil Step Mother after all.

You haven’t seen or heard about Evil Step Mothers till you come to Nigeria. Nigerian women seem to think that being nice to their husbands offspring by other women is a crime. Its like the default setting is Evil Step Mother Mode. I think maybe it has something to do with loyalty to your mother’s hut in polygamous homesteads. A mothers primary responsibility is to protect you from abuse. Children without mothers were targets and little better than orphans. Men never raised kids.

Evil Nigerian Step Mothers will starve you, beat you, cut your prick off if your a boy, or your eyes and tongue, shave your head if you’re a girl, especially if you are a pretty girl, make you do all the house work like Cinderella,  make you sit on the dining room floor to eat while her children ate at the table and generally make your life so miserable that you eagerly marry the first person that asks you when you are 15. Just Google ‘step mother Nigeria’ and see for yourself.

I can hear you saying “Not me! Never.”

So long as you know that your step children will never like you and will never be grateful for whatever kindness you show them. A Nigerian woman spent years raising her step children like her own. When her husband became terminally ill these step children manipulated her and her three children out of her home of over 20 years and brought their mother, who was married to someone else by then, to bury him when he died. The poor woman and her there children got nothing from the estate.

So I still call Lilia, My Evil Step Mother. I’m The Ungrateful Nigerian Step Child. And I’m still hating on her for what she did to those boots.

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What Lessons Can We Learn From Anna Nicole Smith’s Life?

February 19, 2017

Last week was ten years since Anna died. I guess if you’re still news worthy ten years after your death you are a cultural icon. There were stories all over the internet about her daughter and how she is doing now. Larry Birkhead the baby daddy and caregiver made a few tasteful appearances and interviews. Nothing overtly exploitative even though we all know he must have been paid. He kept on saying that Dannielynn was not inheriting any millions and that it wasn’t Anna’s estate supporting them. He said it often enough for me to doubt him. When asked how he made a living Larry said he earned money through photography and ‘flipping houses.’

Anna did not die without assets and her assets have been quietly going up for sale over the past few years. Her LA house was sold, as were some of her personal effects and memorabilia. Dannielynn remains her only heir. Her second husband Howard Marshall gave her quite a few gifts including jewellery and art work. Just before she died she was reportedly paid $1 Million for footage of her birth and an exclusive interview with Howard K Stern her lawyer and best friend.

I’m not sure if I care, I’m only commenting because Larry made so much effort to deny he is profiteering from her estate. I guess like Anna he is intent on proving that he is not a gold digger. Does that phrase even apply to men?

Anyway I was intrigued and dug into the story a bit more than I did when it was breaking. I first became aware of Anna as the new Guess? jeans girl back in 1993. She was beautiful and she was being hyped  as the new plus size super model wanna-be. As a young woman obsessed with her weight and resentful of the super thin models that bombarded me every time I opened Vogue and Cosmopolitan, Anna was a refreshing image. It was refreshing when media hyped larger models Cindy, Linda Evangelista and Naomi. Come to think about it this hyping of plus size models is becoming kinda of tired. They have been touting bigger models since the 1990’s and still present them as a new trend. So how long before its accepted as main stream?

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I was only vaguely aware of her return to the spotlight as the Trimspa spokesperson. It was a story about a woman losing weight after all, like all women that obsess about their weight those kind of stories tend to catch our attention. It wasn’t until she got pregnant and ran off to the Bahamas that I really started to pay attention and followed the story till she died.  But not so much that I can remember where I was when her death was announced on 8 February 2007.

As the drama played out and videos started emerging of her obviously medicated and frequently  incoherent my knee jerk reaction was that Howard K. Stern was an evil Svengali manipulating her. And when she finally died, 5 short months after the death of her son and the birth of her daughter, it became just another tragic footnote in celebrity history.

“Don’t make me trade one baby for another” she reportedly said.

A lot has been written about Anna Nicole. In my quest for a new angle I watched a documentary by Lisa Ling on ‘Sugaring.’ Sugaring is where younger women hook up with older men with the understanding that the men take care of the women financially. Dr. Phil asked them “Are you hookers?”

“No more than a woman that chooses to be a full time homemaker financially dependent on her husband” one of the women replies.

Lisa Ling keeps suggesting that the women are cheating at life by trying to ‘skip some steps’ or taking a short cut. She looks at them bemused throughout the documentary.

“I pay for myself, I always go Dutch” she says. I cringe for a second. I don’t. Especially not if I’m invited out.

Growing up in Nigeria it was accepted that men invite a woman out  and pay. Mostly because women didn’t just go out on their own anyway, unless they were ‘working girls’ and charged at the end of the night. It wasn’t till the 90’s that a new breed of financially independent middle class women started going out with the ‘girls’  and each girl paid for herself.

It would seem a bit cliche to rant about an invisible patriarchy that limits a woman’s opportunities for self actualisation. Or to point out the obvious differences in mind set and access to available opportunities for poor vs. rich and educated vs. uneducated and rural vs. urban women.

In my digging around I come across ‘White Trash Nation’  a 1994 New Yorker cover story by J. Friend. “Welcome to the age of white trash” he wrote. Anna’s picture accompanied the cover headline. The article is uncanny in its prescience. Reading it I realise that Trump is the new White Trash Hero. And deja vu, in a 20/20 show they dredge up an early quote from Anna admiring Trump and suggesting he become president and make her his First Lady. Knowing Trump Anna wouldn’t have been his style. He likes ‘classier’ women – European women.

The parallels between her and Melania can’t be ignored.

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Both from small town lower class families, both turned to ‘modelling’ to get out, both took off their clothes for money and both married rich older men that they met through their work. The comparison ends there. Melania is European and Anna is ‘white trash’ a racial slur used to describe poor white Americans that were ‘poor as slaves’ and lacked ‘social grace.’ In Europe ‘white trash’ or the most economically disadvantaged whites are the gypsies or the Roma as they are called now. Demonised, excluded, discriminated, rejected.

Anna met Marshall her second husband and ‘never danced again’. ‘My husband threw money at me’ she infamously said. ‘Its very expensive being me.’ And she didn’t curb her hard partying jet setting lifestyle after she married him. Melania on the other hand played hard to get, was discreet, financially prudent and convinced Donald that she was immune to poaching. In an interview with Larry King shortly after their wedding in 2007 Donald very proudly announced that Melania is like the  fortress in Song of Solomon. Powerful men like that kind of thing, its probably one reason Donald would never have considered marrying Anna. She was too available.

Anna was actually the more successful of the two in their chosen career. She made the cover of Playboy, was Playmate of the Year and landed a multimillion dollar ad campaign and even appeared in a couple of movies before her hard partying ways crashed her career almost as soon as it took off. She also seemed to think she could have her cake and eat it; marry Marshall and claim half his estate without actually cohabiting with him.

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Watching Melania I can’t help think she played her cards well. She never contradicts Donald, doesn’t nag, massages his ego and infantalises him. ‘My boys’ she calls him and her son Barron. Its like watching Carla coo at Nicholas. It’s weird to watch. Beautiful women confidently and brazenly patronising powerful men. It’s like watching public sex, too intimate and uncomfortable.  A display of power, a challenge to all those morality stories about the evils of leveraging your feminine charms in relationships with powerful men and the world. And a validation of all those other stories about ‘bottom power.’

I think a lot of violence against women might be fuelled by suppressed male rage against this reported male powerlessness and vulnerability to female sexuality. Even Anna’s second husband Howard Marshall is quoted as saying that a man in love does stupid things. Adam, Samson and Julius Caesar might agree. And while Anna may not have seen any better options for upward mobility she doesn’t strike me like a victim as some people would like to portray her. No more than Melania is a victim. These are women that made choices and exercised agency.  We all have to face the choices we make.

When I left my first husband and became a single mom in the city of Lagos in the late 1980’s I was about Anna’s age. But I was also a graduate. I came to Lagos to study for the Nigerian Bar exam and never went back to the village I spent the past ten years in. I never overcame my personal values against transactional sex of any kind.  This often brought me into conflict with female members of my clan who considered male patronage (of the financial kind) just one more perk of being a pretty woman and what a waste of pretty and yellow if you didn’t cash in on it.

“I won’t look this way forever” one of the young women tells Lisa Ling. The young women all express sentiments I heard often growing up in the village.

“Why waste your time on a poor, abusive and inexperienced boy who will not appreciate you or treat you well, when you can be with an older richer man who will take care of you and spoil you?”

In Lagos I declined offers to be a cocktail hostess, the fourth wife to a 70 year old polygamous millionaire with a penchant for ‘half castes’, some bad-o’s mistress and the Venus De Milo campaign girl. Venus De Milo was the biggest skin lightening  brand in Nigeria at the time and the Venus De Milo girl was bigger than Miss. Nigeria. I declined the campaign offer because the fee wasn’t big enough, not because I had anything against modelling.

“What do I care about the fee?  I’d do it for the exposure” one of the strippers Anna worked with in Houston said about after Anna’s Playboy and Guess campaign appearances. The fee I was offered for the Venus de Milo campaign felt inadequate for the massive exposure it would have brought. I wasn’t looking for a husband or a sugar daddy, I wanted to be a successful lawyer. I wanted to be appreciated and respected for my mind. I was excoriated by friends and family.

I tried to talk to my oldest aunt about love once. She was unable to grasp the very western concept. Women married for security, not love. Another aunt regularly and vocally upbraided me for ‘giving it up for free.’

“Since you’re giving it up at least get paid for it’ she always said. ‘Free’ sex was the height of irresponsible. And inconsiderate. “After fucking all those men you expect me to give you money?” she asked her daughter. And once her daughter became sexually active she never gave her another kobo. Her daughter made her proud eventually. I’ll never forget the last time I saw my aunt. She took delight in recounting for me all the things her daughter, who eventually became the not so young fourth or fifth wife of a rich polygamous Nigerian man, had bought for her.

“Two freezers, two refrigerators, a generator, a pick up, a washing machine.”

My aunt owned a beer parlour.

The marriage didn’t last.

“At least she got a lot out of it before it collapsed. What did you get out of your own marriage? Foolish girl.”

It wasn’t that a man was a woman’s only opportunity to a better life. Rather it was the waste of a good opportunity by a beautiful woman. You could fry chicken and flip burgers for minimum wage all your life or you could land yourself a rich boyfriend, sugar daddy or husband and live easy. What’s love got to do with it?  Or appearances?

While Anna’s and Melania’s rags to riches stories are cliche they might not draw the same criticism in Nigeria they do in the west. In Nigeria they might be seen as symbols of feminine success. It’s Anna’s hard partying ogbanje lifestyle that forms a cautionary moral lesson for women in Nigeria and Africa. Melania on the other hand is, for a certain type of woman, the epitome of how to do it right. Get the man, and keep your head down.

Ask Bianca Onu Ojukwu, Halima Diende Fernandez, Shola Okoya, and Frances Iwuanynwu or even Emir Sanusi’s new teenage wife.

😉

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The Gospel According To Lesley: Talking About Beauty II

February 12, 2017

Last month I wrote about some of the stuff I’ve done over the years in the name of ‘beauty’ and promised to fill you in after I think about it some more.

For many many years I tried to prove that I was just as hardy as the Natives. Because the natives always told me I was soft because I was half white. They said we are not strong like them. So I used to run around under the sun at noon and otherwise look very hardy during the hottest time of the day and all day till the sun went down. We got up and went to bed with the sun.

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Sun Hustle by David Osagie, Digital Artist

They were right. I was wrong. I am not as hardy as the natives. All that running around in the sun just over heated me and made me sick. So nowadays I follow oyibo advice – I stay out of the sun. My friends tease me because I use these uber cute and kitschy sun umbrellas and hats if I’m even 2 minutes in the sun.

I avoid  being outside between 10am and 5pm. If I could get away with it I would only come out between 7pm and 7am but they might call me a vampire. The natives are very superstitious. They go to bed early. There will be no one to do business with at that time of the night anyway. The ones that stay awake may not make good business partners.

Nigeria proves the stereotype that only bad  things happen at night.

I used to eat a lot of garlic. I still eat garlic but not so much. My ayurveda diagnosis does not recommend it. I eat just enough to prove I am not a vampire and to keep real vampires at bay. Beware the ones that go “Hmm. You eat garlic.”  Like its an accusation of witch craft.

The most common age related damage I seen on Nigerian women is sun damage.  Even in the ones that are not so yellow.  We live almost at the equator, with only gods knows what type of environmental ozone and atmospheric damage making us super vulnerable to the worst of the sun’s radiation.

SPF just doesn’t cut it for me. It also made me sweat too profusely so I dont use it. I just don’t go out during the hottest part of the day. Oyibo is deceiving you to buy sunscreen. The smart oyibo’s are the ones in Spain and Greece. The ones that close all business and take siesta during the hottest part of the day. Americans like to  suffer. Always busy. You understand why Nigerians of the Igbo extraction like them so well? By the way you can read a short history of the tan here.

I don’t want or need a tan. Nor do I need to worship the sun. I’m pretty sure it will rise tomorrow, that I’ll have roughly the same number of hours of sunshine and that I will get some living in Abuja. Imagine what it must be like where they have 24 hours of night or 24 hours of day for a season?

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Dark Side by David Osagie, Digital Artist

The changing lengths of  the days in London, Moscow and St. Pete’s freaked me out good enough. After four months of cold short days cooped up indoors I almost rushed out to worship the sun too.

Around here we tend to worship the rain storms, thunder, lightning, the earth that yields food, water, rivers, oceans, creeks and springs. My skin loves the rainy season when the air is heavy with moisture. In Nigeria we have real rain storms. The rain in England is civilised. You can walk for hours and not get wet. In Naija you are soaked within seconds by just one gust.

Avoid the heat too. In the absence of air-conditioning in the village I found that generous applications of nzu, a chalk like mud from the river beds, when left to dry on the skin, would cool the body and leave the skin wonderfully moisturised. I would lounge on a mat under the mango tree in white chalk and a wrapper reading or listening to music on the radio. Of course the natives thought I was crazy. What do they know. Suffer head people. Running around in the sun. Perspiring. Smelling funky.

Avoid the sun joor. Apu na anwu.

Chao bella

 

 

Child Custody in Nigeria FAQ: Who Owns The Child? II

February 9, 2017

‘Ownership’ of children is a feature of many customary laws in Nigeria.

Customary laws vary from one tribal group to the other. In some Igbo-Nigerian communities payment of the bride price determines ‘ownership’ of children. In ‘An Anatomy of Female Power’ Chinweizu has previously argued that the payment of bride price in Nigeria does not entitle the payer to the woman but rather to the fruit of her womb and I agree with him.

Among some Igbo-Nigerian groups and in Umuaka where I come from and grew up in particular under tribal laws where a marriage is not formalised and a bride price is not paid any child a woman bears ‘belongs’ to her father’s house and enjoys full inheritance rights. Likewise, if a woman left or divorced her husband she had to repay him the bride price her paid or any children she had thereafter ‘belonged’ to him, no matter who was the biological father. However, these tribal laws have been held to be repugnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience and are not usually enforceable by the customary courts anymore. Likewise, tribal laws that deny mothers access or custody without a consideration of natural justice, equity and good conscience are repugnant. However, it takes a good knowledgable lawyer to make that argument before the court.

In Yoruba-Nigeria the practice was that a child could claim a right to inheritance so long as the father had acknowledged him during while the father was alive. Sharia law, which is classed as a customary law in the Federal republic of Nigeria, apparently privileges mothers in custody issues whether they were married or not.  Customary courts just like statutory courts have a lot of discretion and it all depends on the arguments they are presented to them.

Lagos State is the only state in Nigeria that has created a family court procedure to deal with disputes relating to guardianship, custody and adoption that is not related to matrimonial causes in its Child Rights Law 2007. So if you are in Lagos and are unmarried and have a custody matter that is the law to refer to.

Nevertheless there is still a lot of confusion regarding children that are born to parents that were never married under statutory or customary law. There is also an increase of children born to parents that are not married under statutory and customary law. There seems to be a presumption that once a father is named on a birth certificate as such it secures his ‘rights’ to the child. I figure the courts will be busy untangling those complications for a few decades to come.

I’ve heard from a lot of people that the Social Welfare Office’s, which are increasingly called upon to decide questions of custody and maintenance in cases where the parents were never married have been ruling that once a child is 7 years old the father can take custody. This is wrong and dangerous and needs to stop. The law remains clear that the best interest of the child is paramount in deciding custody and neither parent  is entitled to automatic custodial rights. Both must show that they can meet the best interest of the child and not only that the other parent cannot.

In a decided case the father when asked what arrangements he had made for the children whose custody he was seeking said they would stay with his ageing mother in the village as opposed to staying with heir mother on the university campus where she lived and worked. The judge despite his conservative leanings ruled the children live with their mother even though he could not bring himself to grant her custody.

Perhaps the confusion lies in the meaning given to the word ‘custody.’ Custody is not ownership. We’ll consider ‘custody’ in my next post. I’m already over my 500 word limit. Or guideline.

Chao

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Child Custody in Nigeria FAQ: Who Owns The Child?

February 7, 2017

First of all we really need to stop thinking in terms of ‘ownership’ of children. Children are not chattel. You do not own a child. They are little people. Dependent little people and adults are parents, guardians, care takers and providers. Not owners.

That said what people usually mean when they ask that question is who gets ‘custody’ when the parents of a child are separated, divorced or even never married. Or who the child lives with because the parent a child lives with will influence the child’s future behaviour and personality.

Both parents have an equal right to raise, influence and make decisions for their juvenile offspring. (Nwosu vs. Nwosu [2012] 8 NWLR) Where the parents are cohabiting there is no usually issue and in many households the father assumes the role of head of household and makes decisions for everyone else with or without consulting his wife, the mother. It all depends on their personal dynamics.

Custody issues arise where either party wants to leave or end the relationship between the parents of a child or children. In Nigeria most men seem to think that they ‘own’ the children and presume that they will get custody especially of male children. Then again most men seem to think they own their wife too.

Both the Matrimonial Causes Act and the Child’s Right Act are clear that issues of custody are to  be decided in the best interest of the child and the courts have held that neither parent has an automatic right to custody.

If you are in a statutory marriage (that is one registered at the Marriage Registry and issued a Federal Government Certificate) and want a divorce, judicial separation or nullification of that marriage and believe that the best interest of the children is served with you or a woman in a violent abusive marriage that stays because you won’t leave without your children here is what your lawyer needs to do;

  1. After drafting and filing our petition for judicial separation, divorce or nullification and being assigned a court BEFORE serving your spouse your lawyer should file an exparte motion (known as an interlocutory relief) for temporary custody pending the determination of the petition AND a motion on notice for temporary custody simultaneously.
  2. The court will hear the ex parte motion and make a ruling which will be served on your spouse (The Respondent) with the notice of petition and the motion on notice for the same interlocutory relief asked for in the ex parte motion. The court will set a date before the exparte ruling expires in 7 days to hear the motion on notice thus giving the respondent a chance to challenge your request to the court for custody pending the determination of the main petition.
  3. After hearing the motion on notice and the respondents answer the court will either uphold its previous ruling or make a new one. This ruling is only binding till the matrimonial matter before the court is decided and then the issue of custody will be considered again and a final ruling be made at the end of the trial.
  4. Either party to a matrimonial petition can apply for an interlocutory order for custody.

The court will seek to determine what is in the best interest of the child and will consider the child’s age, gender, special needs, living environment, child care arrangements, plans to further the education of the child, financial ability of parent proposing arrangements, and the parents temperament and lifestyle. However, financial privilege alone is not enough determinant of a child’s best interest. (Nwosu vs. Nwosu)

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