Christmas Is Forever

December 28, 2014

This Christmas, I found I was behind in some work, and I planned to do it. Is that a shocking admission? I bet you’re thinking, either that I’m a workaholic or do not give Christmas the reverence it deserves. I think you’re wrong on both counts.

Why? Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. I may celebrate my own birthday, but if I have work to do, I do it. I admit that I can’t compare Jesus to me, or even to my friends, whose birthdays I also celebrate in between work commitments. So, perhaps I need to explain the realisation, even revelation that hit me this year.

First, we do not treat Christmas like any other birthday. We celebrate the baby Jesus every year. I don’t do that with my birthday, I always celebrate how much I’ve grown from the past year, what I’ve achieved, why I’m grateful to God. I even take some time to think of where I’d like to be the next year. This is in between work of course.

Even while on earth, Jesus didn’t remain a baby forever. So, why do we focus so on baby Jesus. By doing so, we miss out on something most important, His purpose. His purpose on earth was so staggeringly significant that angels left heaven to announce it to shepherds (we celebrate that) and wise men travelled from distant lands to visit Him (we celebrate that too). In recognizing these, we concede that Christmas celebrates a momentous occasion, but don’t go further to explore why it was so significant.

Even more interesting, some focus on giving without recognizing that Christmas celebrates God’s gift of His son to us. We buy things for children, who discard them after two weeks. We buy the latest gadgets for adults, which get replaced by even newer ones. We buy treats for each other and consume them, and they end up as waste products, clogging up our disposal systems. But God’s gift doesn’t get replaced, and was not intended to be wasted. If that had been the case, angels wouldn’t have announced it, wise men wouldn’t have come from so far.

In a conscious or subconscious way, each of us knows that we’re here for a reason. If we didn’t think so, we’d just lie in bed all day. Even those who are forced by illness to do so are constantly wishing that it’s temporary. In the meantime, they look for ways to communicate to their friends and loved ones, or their carers. It has never been considered a term of endearment to say someone has no aim in life.

Furthermore, we all recognize that achieving that purpose must involve interaction with others. It’s not only those who lie in hospital that think that. Even the most selfish, filthy rich people know that to achieve their wealth, they had to buy or sell something to others. So, why do we celebrate Christmas with nativity scenes made up of dolls, Christmas trees, decorations and other things that cannot move or interact? Why don’t we celebrate our birthdays in a similar way? On your next birthday, would you commission an artist to depict the hospital scene with doctors, nurses, your mother and yourself being born?

So, if on our birthday, we celebrate our accomplishments, not our birth, I want to do the same for Christmas, and I find that there’s even greater reason to do that. You see, Jesus’ purpose was so marvellous that God could not keep the birth to Himself. It may have been humble, but it was an occasion that was momentous beyond human imagination. We all know about the angels and wise men, but the Bible also tells us about two prophets who told everyone about Jesus. Both were so old, but one in particular was made to wait for the birth before his own death. It was just like you’d tell a friend about a fireworks display, “you have to see this one!” Only the One saying this to Simeon was God Himself, who gives and takes life on earth. He said to Simeon, “this is so wonderful, I’ll make you wait to see it before you die!”

We all sing the carol “While shepherds watch their flocks by night …”. The last verse of the song goes “O Glory be to God on high and to the earth be peace, goodwill henceforth from heaven to men, begin and never cease”. Which means what?

The angel (and the book of luke says that it was one angel in chapter 2 verse 9) did not only tell the shepherds about where to find baby Jesus and how to recognize him. This angel was then joined by a multitude of heavenly hostspraising God and saying in verse 14: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favour rests.” In their praise, the heavenly hosts were telling us about God’s plan for Jesus, to bring glory to God and peace to us on earth. Jesus Himself tells us about the peace in the gospel of John, he said (I’ll paraphrase) I give you my peace, not like other men give peace. In this world you will have trouble, but do not be afraid, I have overcome the world. So, it’s peace that comes to those who understand His purpose, his victory over the world, and most important, that He did not come to do things like we expect. But He did come because God so loved us that He had to implement a plan beyond our own understanding to save us from the horrible place we’d found ourselves. That’s also in the book of John, in the famous chapter 3 verse 16.

My problem with how we celebrate Christmas is that we’ve designed it and forgotten its purpose. God’s purpose in Christmas is salvation that goes on forever, that is continuing right now, and that is ever available for those who believe. Instead, we’ve made Christmas a seasonal thing. It’s so seasonal that it’s superstitious to keep Christmas decorations on after 6 January. I should have my Christmas decorations on all year, because the real purpose of Christmas never ends. Because it never ends, it carries on being Christmas, whether I’m working or celebrating, whether I’m eating or sleeping.

At least there’s one good thing: The fact we celebrate Christmas 2000 years later is a subconscious admission that Jesus still lives. He once died, but He rose again, and now He lives in heaven, forever implementing His Father’s plan for our salvation.

If you really want to know, I did not work on Christmas day. Apologies to all those waiting for me to complete one task or another. In fact, this is the first time I’m seeing my computer since before Christmas. I ate so much that there was no room at the inn for Christmas pudding, and it had to be passed on to someone else. But that doesn’t matter, does it? There will be another Christmas next year, and By God’s grace, I’ll be there, pacing myself better so I can take a double portion of the Christmas pudding. More important, it’s still Christmas today, tomorrow, and every day of my own life on earth … and yours too, if you agree!

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Let’s talk about Oscar

February 25, 2013

Last year, hee was a hero in South Africa and the rest of the world; he was hailed for medalling in the Olympics, despite being a double amputee. Now, he stands accused of premeditated murder, his sponsors have abandoned him, and he has only his family to comfort him when he sobs uncontrollably in court. But let’s talk about Oscar Pistorius. Who’s this guy?

Before you read on, I must warn that my views here are my own alone, I don’t know of anyone who shares them, so don’t blame anyone else. I should also state from the beginning that this is a very difficult subject and it should be handled delicately. If I fail to do so, I apologise in advance. I realise that there is a family, (probably two) hurting at the death of Reeva Steenkamp. Her family can’t explaine it, they knew Oscar, probably liked him before this time. His family also knew her and it is hoped that they liked her enough to mourn her loss, even if it’s overshadowed by what they feel for their own flesh and blood.

What most people have done is speak their minds, without recognizing how difficult it must be for all concerned. So, before I say anything else, I want to say straightaway that I wish I didn’t have to write this and add to the horrible publicity around both families. Both Oscar and Reeva Steenkampwere in the limelight before the shocking incident that we’re all talking about. Now, misery is heaped on publicity.

But I want to add a little to the great debate of whose fault is it that Oscar shot Reeva Steenkamp. Of course I don’t know either of them, all my conclusions are drawn from what I’ve read or heard and how I’ve applied them to what I know. Who is Oscar? We all know he’s a disabled athlete. Let me add that I think he’s a very driven person, driven more than most others by the need to succeed. He needs to prove something to people. He didn’t want to compete as a disabled athlete, so he decided to compete with nondisabled athletes; and he did well.

Why did he do that? Because many disabled people feel that they’re hidden in a corner, treated as though they lived in a ghetto. Oscar wanted to tell everyone that he should not be regarded first as disabled, then as a human. He wanted us all to know that it’s the other way around. He’s first and foremost a human being who just happens to have a disability.

I know that feeling too. I have emailed several people, (or spoken to them on the telephone), who didn’t know I was blind until the met me. I’ve observed their reaction on finding out that I’m blind. I secretly laughed, because I won the argument. They first saw me as a human when we spoke on the phone, then they realised that I’m blind. Suddenly, that took over all their considerations, but before then, I was just another person.

But this is a hard place, because it means that in their public and private lives, some disabled people constantly having to prove to others that they’re human first. I don’t know how it is in South Africa, but I know of Nigeria. Some of my blind friends are doing this all the time, even with their in-laws. I know of someone in particular who told me that his in-laws don’t think he’s capable of doing several of the cultural things that others are doing. He’s having to just do them, despite what they say, like “don’t worry, we’ll get (someone else) to do it”.
If I have to be honest, I’ll admit that there are things I cannot do as a blind person, but I hate to admit it, because of what it means to others. So, I fight harder to prove this to others. One of my greatest problems is reading printed information. In the UK, they come at you like missiles. If I hold a piece of paper, I don’t know if it’s a cheque for £1000 or a bill for £2000. How do I find out? Do I take the pile of letters to a friend, who’s busy sorting through his own papers? Do I keep them until the bailiffs come and seize my possessions, or until the cheque is no longer valid? One day, my pastor’s wife challenged me. She said everyone in my church longs to help me sort these problems, if only I’d tell them. So, I’m trying, but I still feel I’m imposing on them.

Tackling visual information makes me feel vulnerable, so I understood Oscar’s testimony, when he kept stressing that without his prosthetic limbs, he feels insecure. But let’s take this argument further. It’s unpleasant but true; some people take advantage of disability to hurt the vulnerable. I have a blind friend who was set upon by a group of people. They knew he couldn’t see them, so they’d silently approach him and hit him hard, then silently disappear. They did this for a while. Since I know this is possible, I’m careful when I move around, because I know I’m equally vulnerable to such an attack. I’m glad that I don’t have a gun, but if I sense that sort of danger, I do wave my stick in a menacing way. And would you blame me? Perhaps, some of the times I’ve felt insecure, nothing at all was going to happen to me. Would I take the risk though?

And if I felt so vulnerable about myself, what about if I felt responsible for someone else. I just explained that disabled people feel they have to prove that they can be responsible, even for members of their own family. If he feels that he has a duty as a man to be responsible for the girl he claims to love, how would he react if he perceives danger? If he failed to protect her, someone is bound to say that it was his disability that prevented him from fully protecting and defending her. I presume Reeva Steenkamp herself would not have thought that, when people are in love, there’s a bit of understanding, and sometimes, an appreciation of each other’s limitation. But others?

I’ve seen how this can affect actions. I once made my sister cry by accusing her of not trusting me to look after her daughter. Anyone who’s seen me and K girl, or even seen how my sister trusts me with her would know the cruelty of that accusation. She’s been visiting me alone since she was 5 years old. It was a rare error on my part, for which I’m still sorry. After she’d explained the facts to me, it became clear that she was reacting to circumstances that I wasn’t aware of, and that her actions were honest, probably even correct. But my reactions? Before and after that incident, K girl and I faced the bustle of UK cities together, hefting heavy suitcases, negotiating the journey from Lancaster to Manchester, Heathrow, or to some friends in East London. My sister never dreamt of saying someone else could handle her daughter through those situations. If after having my niece visit for that many years, I still felt the need to ask the question, what does that say of me?

In the light ofy own experiences, I interpreted Oscar Pistorius’ statements differently from the prosecution. He says he and his girlfriend love each other. I hope that is true. He says that they’d had a great evening, Again, I hope that is true. Then, as she slept, he left the room for the balcony, without his prosthetic limbs. I think that if he felthe’d disturb her by putting them on, nd if he only wanted to enjoy some fresh air, he’s entitled to leave his guard down sometimes. I’ve done it several times, though I won’t tell you how. He didn’t hear her leave the bed, it is possible that she woke up when he left the bedroom. He hears sounds in the bathroom, which he knows is not very secure because workmen have been there with a ladder. He’s thinking fast, probably not considering everything at this point. He knows he has to protect his girlfriend, and he’s not very mobile … That’s where the vulnerability kicks in. What happens after that is pretty confusing, even for Oscar. At this point, he says he called out to her but got no answer, but remember, he’s focussed, like any driven person on something. He knows how to focus and sometimes, that can block outside factors, or he wouldn’t have got those medals. He silently picks up his gun and heads for the locked bathroom. I’m not going to attempt to describe what happens next, but honestly, I’m glad I don’t have a gun, and I’m not placed in that situation.

The sad truth is that we can’t get Reeva Steenkamp’s version. For me, that’s more important than the prosecution’s views. They’re only working from clues, preconceptions of crime and duty to the state. Outside of those things, these are humans, and they react like humans do. Human emotion is difficult enough to decipher, because each person has an individual makeup which affects their own reactions. The prosecution does have to prove a case though, and having said my piece, I intend to remain silent until we hear the court’s verdict.

However, I can imagine that whatever the results, Oscar Pistorius will leave with his actions all the rest of his life. It’s not about the charge of premeditated murder or loss of sponsorships, it’s about the girlfriend he killed. Nobody is saying he’s killed before, so it’s safe to conclude he’s not a natural murderer. That means that taking another life will sit on his conscience, whether it was accidental or by design, and if it’s the life of the one you love? …


September 26, 1990

September 27, 2012

It was also a Wednesday, and it was the 26th of September.  Most people celebrate 5th, 10th, 20th, even 21st anniversaries; today, I’m celebrating same day/date. 

In 1990, on Wednesday 26 September, I woke up, packed, went to Lagos and boarded a BA flight to London Gatwick (it was Gatwick those days, it’s Heathrow now) arriving at about 6 AM on Thursday morning.  On the Wednesday, I’d made a hectic dash through Lagos, saying goodbye to my friends.  In the UK, I took the Gatwick express to Victoria, paid a short visit to the Royal National Institute for the Blind, (It’s now Royal National Institute of Blind People and the London offices have moved from Great Portland Street to Judd Street) and boarded a train from Euston station to Lancaster.  I’d thought I’d be in Lancaster for about a year, but that was 22 years ago, and several houses, two degrees and several courses later, I’m still here.

But much has changed, apart from the obvious that I’ve grown older.  I was thinking about it, while thanking God this morning.  The first major change was that in December, Mrs Thatcher ceased being prime minister.  I remember speaking to a friend then.  She gave me an idea of the significance of the event when she said that any child who was born as Mrs Thatcher took office would by then have been in secondary school.  Amazing!  Unmatched since.  In January of the next year, the Baltic states began their independence struggle from the Soviet Union, and by summer 1991, the USSR was succeeded by the Russian Federation and all the other constituent states.

I’d come to study for a masters in international relations and strategic studies.  In a purely academic sense, one could say I benefitted from the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, in that it gave me my dissertation topic and Ph.D research interest.  But the world has now moved on from Iraq, what with Neighbouring Syria and Iran seizing the limelight.

There have been other changes too, in domestic life in the UK.  Perhaps these are not as noticed by most UK citizens who were born here, and had no reference point to judge the changes.  Let’s not focus on the less tangible ones, those are probably based on opinion and are therefore controversial.  Let’s try the ones we can observe.  My first train journey from Euston to Lancaster took exactly 3 hours and 1 minute, from 11:25 AM to 2:26 PM.  By the middle of the 90s, the journey was closer to 3 hours and 30 minutes.  Now, it’s 2 hours and 30, thanks to the high speed railtracks, new rolling stock and all the things that government praises privatisation for.  However, if I recall, with my young person’s railcard, the ticket cost £23.75; with the same card, it’s now £55.20.  The cost of stamps has also gone up, creeping from 21p (I think) to 60p (I think, since I don’t post many letters these days).

Fortunately, not all prices have gone up.  In those days, there was only one way to call Nigeria, using BT.  The competitor, Mercury wouldn’t let you call Nigeria.  I thought the service was cheaper, so I bought a Mercury phone card and went to a Mercury phone booth, but couldn’t get through.  So I called their operator and they said I couldn’t make the call.  They didn’t even offer  me a refund, even though I didn’t need the card for anything else.  There was no Mercury phone booth in Lancaster university.  But I digress.  The BT call cost £1.14 during off peak times and £1.34 a minute during peak periods.  Now, I can call Nigeria for 1p a minute (to the few landlines) and 5p to a Nigerian mobile, if I use the right phone card or get one of the few sim cards designed for international phone calls.

Things have changed in Nigeria too.  The roads are much worse than when I left, and that’s not just my imagination.  The currency has undergone an interesting transformation.  When I left Nigeria, £1 cost 18 naira.  When I got back in December 1991, it had become £1 to N25; but after the events of June 12 1993, £1 started to fetch N250.  I remember coming to Nigeria in November 1993 for my dad’s 60th birthday.  My brother talked about N1000 and I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.  Just 3 years earlier, that would have been unheard of for someone of his age.  Yet, everyone was talking like that.

In 1990, I came on a British Council scholarship.  I think most Nigerians who studied in Lancaster were on one scholarship or another.  There were probably about 10 of us.  Now, there are loads more Nigerians, and they’re coming with their own or their parents’ money.  There are probably 50 Nigerians now in Lancaster uni, but universities like Coventry, Portsmouth and several of the London ones  boast hundreds.  More than that, the only other Nigerians outside campus were doctors … not anymore.  In Lancaster, there are workers of all categories; some stayed over from studying at the uni, others moved from London, or even straight from Nigeria.

I’m struggling to remember the shy young man who stepped off the aircraft at Gatwick.  What would he be thinking?  I’d been to London before, but never ventured beyond the London underground routes.  I can only remember shops and hotels from pre1990 days.  Not anymore.  I know London well, even though I live in Lancaster.  In fact, I’ll be there again this weekend for the national day of prayer.  I’ve met so many friends in the UK now, I think I’m a little more confident about the country than when I first came here.  I’ve done wonderful things I never thought I’d do, skiing, abseiling, even train travel. 

 

I still remember my first experience of cross country travel in 1990.  I was travelling with a gentleman from the British Council who was there to ensure I was safely delivered to the disability officer of the uni.  The Lancaster university disability official took me to my room, showed me round and asked if I needed something.  So we went to the shops and I asked for toothpaste.  She started to read; first the list of toothpastes, then the various types, anti tartar, whitening, etc.  At the end of the process, I was as confused as when she started.   

I could keep writing, but I want to send this off before midnight.  I’m boarding the plane now, being assisted to a seat by the air hostess.  I’ve said my goodbyes and I’m wondering how I will manage on my first trip abroad without my parents.  I was about to hit 23 years.  Now, travelling alone is the only way I do it.

Thank you Lord for everything, for the transformation of the past 22 years.  Thank you for what you’ve taught me, how you’ve protected me and … just for everything. 

 

Because, it was coming to Lancaster that shaped my faith.  I learned a lot from the first few weeks, before I made friends, when I only had my Bible for company.  I’d never had a full Bible before, but my auntie had bought the new testament on cassette (yes, cassette) as a goodbye present, and I read through it in my first few weeks in Lancaster.  God bless her.

And if you’ve read through this, I wonder what you’re thinking too.  Maybe it’s revived some memories, maybe you’re just thinking, What’s caused all this nostalgia.  I’m thanking God.


The invasion of Cornerbrook

June 16, 2012

Last week, I was having a chat with my sister when the conversation moved onto September 11 2001.  I was on my way to the States to visit her; sitting beside me was my 5 year old niece, her daughter.  It was a holiday to celebrate my successful viva.  I hadn’t even bothered to do the few corrections I’d been asked to do after the 3rd September interview, I just wanted to enjoy myself first.  I hadn’t been to Washington DC since 1990-91, when I spent Christmas and new year with my uncle.  Excitement was in the air.

Then, right in the middle of the flight, the announcement that we wouldn’t be arriving in the States, but an emergency landing in Canada!  What was that all about?

I’ve blogged about this before.  We talked of how we’d all grown since then; my niece is now preparing for university, wow!  She was only 5 then.  She asked about the people I’d met in Canada.  And then, I went to my laptop and saw an email waiting for me.  It was from Jacqueline, the lady who’d been so good, a volunteer from social services who had been in charge of ensuring we were all comfortable in her hometown; we, total strangers trapped by an event we hadn’t even understood because we were flying when it occurred.

It was such a pleasure to read from Jacqueline; we hadn’t been in touch in several years.  But more was to come.  Only two days after that, I received another email.  This one was from one of our fellow passengers who had his son with him.  He wanted to get in touch with Jacqueline and wondered if I knew how to.  I was really surprised, I’d been in touch with him even less frequently than with Jacqueline. 

It turns out that Martin too hadn’t forgotten the experience.  About 4 years ago, he’d set up The CornerBrook School outside Nairobi Kenya.  It was named after the Newfoundland town that had hosted us so warmly with Jacqueline in charge.  He wanted to show us the pictures.

Two contacts with Cornerbrook in one week, that’s set me thinking.  I’ve written about being in contact 2with Jacqueline, and about the 10th anniversary of 9 11.  But how about those who were just going about their daily duties when they found themselves welcoming strangers.  Everyone was caught up in something dreadful, something new.  We were, we thought we were going to DC, but we landed in Canada.  Nobody was prepared for this.

We stayed hours in the aircraft, waiting for Canadian officials to set everything up.  By the time we got out, we were met by security, then driven in buses to our destination.  We got Cornerbrook and Jacqueline.

Here’s how I knew it was all voluntary.  Jacqueline said she worked with social services, so I might have imagined she was just doing her duty, but that’s not really true; her dad took us shopping, her boyfriend was with her, it was a family affair, and if they too were employed by social services, then …  And their work didn’t start at 9 and end at 5, or whatever time Cornerbrook folks work.  It started before we arrived on the scene, I can’t remember who was on the bus with us, perhaps Jacqueline, perhaps the Red Cross people who gave us something to eat and took me to the phone at the airfield to ring my sister.

When we got into the hotel, there wasn’t enough room for the 5 star treatment.  I shared a room with my niece, Martin and his boy.  But we got everything free, food, telephone calls, and the willing assistance of volunteers who took us places.

Nobody knew how long we’d be there, so Jacqueline and her dad took my niece and I shopping; our luggage was on board.  This was on September 12.  I know they stayed with us through supper and till we were all ready to go to bed.  And the next morning, they were back.  It was voluntary and it was wholehearted.  I like to know about the places I visit and Jacqueline and her dad told me about themselves and their community.  They gave me an idea of the location of Newfoundland in relation to Canada, told me all the interesting things I wanted to know.  Everyone we met was so friendly.  Everyone was shocked too, but that feeling was universal.  The difference was that Newfoundland folk were called upon to do something, and they did.  It was like an invasion, one day, things were peaceful, and then … all these strangers whose only claim to the place was that they couldn’t get to where they needed to go.  Plane loads of us too.

On the morning of the 13th, we returned to London.  They gave us food parcels because the return trip wasn’t covered in BA’s plans.  You won’t believe it, but I preferred being in Cornerbrook to returning to London.  The London hotel I stayed in wouldn’t at first allow me a free call to tell my sister I’d arrived safely, not until I told them I hadn’t sufficient British money to pay hotel phone charges, didn’t know where the nearest cash machine was located, had just been given the run of the telephones in a country that didn’t know me, her daughter was in my care and I only needed a minute to give her my number and make her call me back. 

 

I think they acted like they were doing me a favour, which they probably were; but I’d just been on this trip and didn’t really know what was happening, and I needed to tell everyone I was fine and … you know, well maybe you don’t.  The Comfort Inn Cornerbrook didn’t even want to know, they just told me how to get the outside line from my room and left me to it.  By 15 September, we were again on our way to DC, and this time, we got there.

Jacqueline and her dad were the people I most clearly remembered, but the hotel staff were wonderful too.  And wherever we met, when folks realised who we were, they were so good, so friendly and so caring of how we were coping.  That’s probably why Martin set up a school and named it after the town.  Maybe something in their values will rub off on those young boys.

Thanks Cornerbrook!


The Highway code: In Braille?

April 16, 2012

The March 2012 RNIB catalogue of new braille books contains an entry titled “The Official Highway Code” published by Driving standards agency. You don’t believe me? It’s in 3 braille volumes and the RNIB order number is 22805802. I would have missed this entry; when I get the catalogue, I usually look out for works of fiction. But I’m glad I explored the catalogue this time. It provided me one opportunity for uproarious laughter. The Highway code … in Braille?

But wait! Before you decide they’ve totally gone mad. On reflection, it’s probably a good idea to give blind people their own copy of the highway code. It must have been a very hard decision, for as the catalogue informs me, it was printed in 2007, and it’s just been produced in braille this year. There are books printed in 2012 that are already in braille.

Maybe this book will help me sort out the facts from rumours. For example, I used to think that the pedestrian had the right of way on a zebra crossing. Some people told me, but I’m not sure all drivers agree. Judging by the number of cars that have whizzed past my ankle as I tentatively stepped on the crossing, perhaps it’s not in the highway code … time to find out. To tell the truth, I’m not even sure that the code has any guidance for drivers at night. Should they wait at trafic lights when the green man shows up? I remember one morning a few years ago. It was about 5:30 and I was racing to the station to catch a train for the airport, so I could meet my dad. As I approached the lights, it started to beep. During the day, I had crossed this light so often that I knew that when it beeped, cars would normally stop and I could step across. But this morning, there was a car speeding towards me, and some commonsense prevailed on me to wait. I figured it was not the time to quote the law. While the light was still beeping, the car sped off, leaving me to wonder what could have happened if I believed the rumours that cars stop when the lights beep.

Many a time, I’ve been stepping across the road when the lights had supposedly permitted me. I would bump into a car that had crossed the line and just stopped. Maybe the driver saw the lights late, or maybe the sudden realisation that disobeying the lights this time might lead him/her onto the path of an oncoming bus affected the decisionmaking

To tell the truth, I’m not sure what to do with the lights. As I raced to church yesterday, late as usual, I approached another set of lights. I waited, but noticed that the cars had stopped. I wondered why, because I was sure the green man hadn’t come up, and I dared not cross the road. But the lead driver touched his car horn and I got the message. I rushed across the street shouting my thanks.

Someone once told me that cyclists are not supposed to cycle on the pavement, but on the road. So why is it that the one way bridge near my house is so full of cyclists, on the pavement, going against the trafic? The pavement is already so full , with other pedestrians, prams, wheelchairs, scooters, and lots more … and I’m usually late for something, or laden with shopping. What’s more, they expect me to stand aside while they break the law. Or perhaps that was a rumour too, and cyclists can do anything they like.

Next time you see me, I’ll probably be carrying a heavy rucksack containing all 3 volumes of the Highway Code. I’ll be ready to whip out the right volume, wave it at the offending driver or cyclist and say “you’re breaking the law, read this … oh you can’t, so I’ll read it to you”. Then again, I might discover that I’d been fed all these rumours, and drivers are not meant to obey lights, cyclists can do whatever they like and pedestrians take the law into their hands when they step onto the street.


Being interviewed by Aloted

December 7, 2011

I have a good friend, Victoria Oruwari, who is visually impaired. She is very unhappy about an interview that was posted in a Lagos newspaper, which portrayed her in a light she didn’t really like. What can she do? Especially as she typed her name in Google recently and found that the interview had moved to 7th place on the entries under her name. It used to be in 10th place. She says it means more people are reading it.

I realise that by writing this, I may be persuading more people to read the interview, pushing it even higher up, … that is if it is true that the more people read a story, the more popular it is. However, I write this because of my perception of journalists who interview people. I look at it as a game, the journalist is trying to sell a newspaper and the interviewee is trying to sell his/her image. Sometimes, (but very rarely) their interests coincide, but only sometimes. I haven’t seen a newspaper hurt by an interview, except in the libel courts. But I have heard of many complaining interviewees.

I suppose Itoo have suffered a little in this game. On 15 May, 1987, a Nigerian newspaper published an interview with 5 visually impaired students of the University of Lagos. I was one of the interviewees; I remember wondering how all 5 of us said the same things, yet the newspaper managed to find a different angle for each of us. I was portrayed as the cultured one, dressed in branded clothes. I recall that one of the most importantthings I said from the angle of the interviewee was that I had a girlfriend. Another friend of mine was portrayed as the troublemaker and his observations on the inaccessible entrance to Mariere hall was prominent. I too had noted this point, but my own observations received less coverage.

I don’t know how this interview affected the sales of the Sunday Concord, but it had two effects on the visually impaired community of Unilag. First, we were all called to meet some senior officials of the university and warned not to bring the name of the university into disrepute. The open ditch outside the entrance to Mariere hall remained till I left, I still encountered it while visiting some friends in the mid1990s.

On a positive note, a lecturer set up a fund which procured equipment for some visually impaired students. Professor Abiola Ojo died suddenly a few years ago, and I wrote a short post about his good works. https://notion.wordpress.com/2009/01/17/104/

I write all this because I’ve been interviewed again. Actually, this was very different. You can read all about it at http://alotedbabe.blogspot.com and this time, I hope you enjoy it. Aloted has done what all journalists should do, put down word for word what the interviewee has said. That way, she doesn’t get accused of manipulating my words. Of course, it helps that she’s a really good friend and wouldn’t want to distort anything I say, just to achieve increased readership of her blog. To tell the truth, she made no claims of being a journalist, which is a good thing. For that reason, if you don’t like the piece, blame me, I confess they’re all my words, except for the questions and the title.

I’m not sure this was planned, but Aloted’s blogpost came out a day before the international day for disabled people. In your own way, you increased awareness of disability, thanks Aloted.

But even with full responsibility, do I feel better about the interview? First, I feel really humbled and honoured that Aloted (and now her readers who have commented on the story) think I have something to say. At the same time, I’m not really sure I said it as well as I should. Maybe I sounded like one of those pompous ones who think they have a philosophy to spread. Maybe I went on for much too long (like I’m doing now). Maybe a more critical reader than myself would come up with some analysis that doesn’t put me in such a good light after all.

First confession, Although I agreed readily to the interview, I sat on it for a while. I suppose I was a little ambivalent, but here’s the second confession, having answered the questions, I’m curious for reaction.

For all that she’s not a professional journalist, Aloted asks searching questions. She made me really consider what I was saying. Maybe this is the way a real professional should go about it, put the actual views of the interviewee. I still don’t want to give the wrong impression about myself. Maybe responding to interview questions is like dressing up. You know when you’re leaving the house that people are looking at you. You may want to create the impression of a sharp dresser, a cool dude, an area boy or just your ordinary inconspicuous citizen. Whatever you put on, you do it consciously, or at least subconsciously, second guessing what the man on the street is seeing.

I don’t think it’s supersensitive or vain to wonder what you’re thinking after you’ve read Aloted’s piece. If I didn’t say it very well there, here’s all I really wanted to communicate. I’m visually impaired, but I have faith and hope. There’s a lot to learn about visual impairment, but there’s also a lot for visually impaired people to learn about sighted people. Understanding each other is the key to all the improvements we desire. I want to, and I can live a full life, and I’d love you all to join me in it. I know there’s much more, because each person is so multidimensional, a few words can’t do sufficient justice. So perhaps I shouldn’t bother trying to explain myself to you, I just can’t manage it after all. But if you don’t think it strange, let me know what you think of the interview.

God bless.


10 Years Ago

September 11, 2011

Today is another of those days when people are asking, “where were you this time, 10 years ago”. There are so many programmes, so many memories, so many stories. I suppose if I add another one, nobody would bother to read it, especially if they’ve read so many other more dramatic ones.

It seems to me that there are three kinds of connections to 9 11. There were those who were tragically caught up in the event, either because they were in the aircraft, or in the buildings. Those who are in that category can only tell us what happened if they survived it. Others were caught up in the aftermath, either as decision makers, rescue workers, or even as travellers. The third group comprises everyone else, those who were at work, were at home, were at play, were doing something when … “the latest from New York is that a plane has crashed into the World Trade Centre …” and suddenly, they all knew that things would never be the same again.

at 11:40 AM, I was in an aeroplane, taking off from Heathrow airport to visit my sister in Washington. With me was her 5 year old daughter; I was looking forward to a 2 week holiday to celebrate my recent doctorate, she was looking forward to being spoiled. Our expected arrival time in DC was 3 PM local time, but by 11:40 (DC time) I knew we weren’t going there.

I would have remembered the flight anyway, because the captain was one of the friendliest I’ve ever met. As we prepared for takeoff, he told us we were gong past the specially designated area for Concorde, which was undergoing tests after one of them had crashed. The final decision on its fate hadn’t been taken then. I thought “what a friendly guy”. Then we took off. It was a Boeing 767, and it was one of the smoothest takeoffs I’ve ever experienced. Indeed, the landing was smooth too, and takeoff and landing 2 days later. I think it must be a 767 thing, because the next time I travelled in one it was just the same.

Then our friendly captain informed us that we were going to have to make an emergency landing. You can imagine the thoughts that went through my head before he told us that he had very little information, but the US airspace was closed. Closed? Why? We didn’t know, not even when we landed in a usually empty airstrip in Newfoundland, I think it was called Stevensville. We sat in the aircraft We sat in the aircraft, being fed information by the captain, until about 7 AM the next morning, UK time. I hadn’t changed my watch settings yet, but I believe Newfoundland is 3 and a half hours behind UK time. And as we got more information, I had to explain to a 5 year old that some very bad people had done something really bad and that meant we couldn’t yet see her mommy.

I was glad to get off that aircraft, even though the security was tight at this unknown airstrip. I think they kept us waiting while they assembled the people who would process us in. It wasn’t only that it was cramped, it was also that I, the great follower of news stories was, for once, almost completely in the dark. In that confined space, rumours were flowing; Someone even said that nuclear war was under consideration. Maybe everyone else was in the dark too, but how was I to know. I had access to one of those expensive aircraft phones, the one you had to pay using a credit/debit card. I kept trying to ring my sister in DC and failing. It was only about half an hour before we disembarked that it occurred to me that the US was probably the most difficult place to reach. So I rang a friend in London and finally got information about what had happened, what governments and people were saying, and crucially, who had contacted my sister.

Eventually, we got off, were met by the Canadian Red Cross, were bused to a little town called Cornerbrook. The Canadian government and people were just wonderful. We stayed in some hotel and were given full access to the telephone to ring our families. We could watch television and actually find out what happened. A lovely lady from social services, who acted as a volunteer, took my niece and I out to buy some clothes, as ours were still in the plane. Her dad came along too, she even brought her boyfriend to meet us. On the morning of the 13th, we returned to London, despite my loud protests. I knew the captain was right, security meant we couldn’t go to the States, but I wasn’t thinking rationally. I just wanted it to be over and for life to continue. I wanted to relax again. Besides, my 5 year old niece had heard enough about bad people and wanted to be with her mum. The good captain came to me in the middle of the return flight and spoke to me and my niece. It was a calmer talk, because I was resigned to returning to London. BA took us to a hotel, and eventually, on the 15th, we were headed back to Washington.

My thanks goes to you (Cornerbrook residents) forever. Maybe I’ll come visit, a proper visit this time, not one forced on us by “very bad people” who wouldn’t let my niece see her mother.

I’ve done a lot of reading about that day, mostly from the political angle. That doctorate, it was in international politics, and my area of interest was Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and the UN efforts to remove them. I knew about weapons of mass destruction, if of a different type. I knew of government foreign policy, damaged national pride and all that. I’d read enough about terrorism and anti-American feelings among some elements in the Middle East and predominantly muslim world. This was terrorism, it was the use of a weapon of mass destruction, and it had the hallmarks of anti-American feeling, but in every other respect, it was unprecedented. I suspected even then that an unprecedented act was likely to lead to unprecedented reactions.

I sat on that plane, wondering what would happen. My knowledge scared me; You can’t imagine what was going through my mind. I remembered that the good thing about Canada is that it’s foreign policy stance is quieter than the States, and if there was an international explosion of violence, it was probably safe to be in Canada. But if security meant that we couldn’t ever get to DC, would I have to remain in Canada with my niece for an indefinite period? How would I manage, as a single blind man with my 5 year old niece, if things really god bad? What if the unthinkable happened, and those rumours about nuclear war were true?

When you’re in an aircraft in the middle of nowhere, with limited information, but sufficient knowledge of international relations to conjure worst case scenarios, that’s the sort of thing you think about. I think there is a time for rational thought, but that wasn’t it. And I couldn’t get over the thought that I was flying. Never mind that it was domestic flights that were hijacked. I was actually in the air, and one aircraft is as good as another for hurling at a building.

I didn’t want to write about international relations, not today. Everyone else is doing that. I wanted to write about something I really knew about. I could never tell what was happening outside the aircraft, and I’ve learned that nobody ever truely understands those high sounding things like foreign policy and strategic thinking. Too many others are involved, nobody has the full picture. Why should I speculate when I can write of what I know.

This week, it occurs to me that the American open tennis tournament is on. I tried to remember if it was on then, it’s the same city, New York, if it’s in a different location, Queens. I can’t remember, perhaps because I was too busy working on my viva, then getting ready for a holiday. But when I once again focussed on the news, I heard that the Rider Cup, which was supposed to have been held that year, (probably about that time) was cancelled. I’m trying to remember the news stories around that time. For someone so normally clued up on international relations, I can’t remember a thing. It just goes to show how some things can overshadow everything else. Come to think of it, do I still remember any of the world leaders of that time? Apart from President Bush and Prime Minister Blair, I’m not sure I remember who was in power in any of the other permanent members. Was it Shirac in France? Putin or Yeltsin in Russia? I’m sure I can’t remember who was in charge in China.

Have we learned anything in 10 years? I heard of a guy, he spoke at the memorial service this morning. He said he’d decided to be a forensic scientist after he’d lost his dad on that day. It was so moving. Then I heard that there were 3000 people being remembered as victims of those terrorist attacks. The same guy who said this on radio also said the US had lost 6000 people in Iraq and Afghanistan as a result of the war on terror. The US is in a state of high security alert right now. It all happened 10 years ago, but the effects are still here, in the mourning, the foreign policy, the memories.

I can write of my apprehensions, or the shock of full realisation, long after most others had fully grasped what had happened. I can write of my friends, with total gratitude. I heard later of those who started ringing round asking each other “wasn’t Ife supposed to be travelling today?” I know of how my sister worried. As a doctor, she was on standby. But that didn’t stop her pestering everyone she could. She knew I was going to the Comfort Inn in Cornerbrook, even before I got off the plane.

And all my friends who knew how to reach my sister, they just kept calling. She thinks you’re all angels … I know better, but I haven’t felt it necessary to disabuse her. (joke). Someone rang my sister and said “if there’s any place where there’s trouble, you can be sure Ife would be there”, then realising it was the wrong thing, she added “and if anyone is going to get out, you can be sure he will”. Thanks for that vote of confidence. I wish you could have told me that when I was on the plane. I just needed to hear that everything would be all right.

I was listening to a play about the Caesars. One of the characters said that a historian wishes he was there, when the event occurred, but a wise person wishes they weren’t there at all. Strangely, I always thought of myself as the historian, the one who would grab the radio whenever there was something happening … but this time? No thanks. I spoke to my niece, she still remembers the day. She remembers the people who helped, and the fellow passengers. I didn’t tell her that passengers and aircrew told me that she was the best behaved 5 year old they’d ever met. I was so proud of her, but she’s a teenager now. She’s still the best behaved teenager I know, but I don’t have that much experience of that.

And finally. On Sunday 16 September 2001, as we prepared to go to church in Washington DC, I was doing my thing, listening to the radio. I always take a radio with me to every city and spend hours going through the stations until I pick my favourites. America is good for that, there are so many stations.

But back to my story. I heard a 5 minute monologue from a pastor. I don’t know who he is, so I can’t attribute this statement, but I’ve never forgotten it. He said “God is SAFE”. God is
Sovereign;
Actively working for the victory of good over evil
Focussing us on the truth, that we could never exist without Him;
Encouraging us in His word.

I learned something good from that terrible day.