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Friday, 28 December 2012

The Old Angus and Alice

It was three decades ago in Scotland; Alice’s family lived in the west coast, in a town named Ayr, situated on the Firth of Clyde in south-west Scotland. As a kid Alice used to run out to the west coast with her cousin Alana. In the west coast there were so many magnificent views of the Islands and Arran. Breathtaking islands are Isle of Arran and Ailsa Craig.

Isle of Arran, also referred to as ‘Scotland in miniature’ is the largest island in the Firth of Clyde and has been a centre for religious activities since the 6th century. It is a well-liked destination for geologists. Its intrusive igneous landforms are cynosures to the geologists who often troop off to the island to view an overwhelming God’s piece of work displayed in a magnificent way. Though Keith Montgomery saw it as one of the most famous places in the study of geology, it is divided into highland and lowland under the influence of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf Stream and both create its mild oceanic climate.

Ailsa Craig used to be a haven for Catholics during the Scottish Reformation in the 16th century, but has become today a ‘bird sanctuary’, sheltering an enormous number of gannets and puffins. It displays a triangular mountain jutting out of the sea in bravura vividness.

 Alice’s father was nick-named Old Angus; a local farmer and a veteran butcher. At this time of the year Old Angus would be found well into the night and the rest of the next day plucking chickens, geese and turkeys. That was how Old Angus eked out a living for his family. He did that for other local farmers and butchers and got paid afterwards. He later became an inspiration to plebs who could not pass college. Alice’s nostalgic vista of his father is always re-freshened at this time of the year. That was when Old Angus was found dead in his butcher hut. He had toiled so hard in his life that he seldom rested. Alice loved her father so much that even when her parent’s marriage were in crisis as a result of their frequent loggerheads, and her mother, Alison, was squeezing down on her father like a giant Anaconda, she would stand by his side. Alice understood her father; she understood what and how it felt like when a man worked his ass out 24/7 to ensure his family’s needs were well taken care of and his inconsiderate and nagging wife wouldn’t do nothing but constantly breathing down his neck that his bests were never enough.

Alice sat in a corner of her father’s outbuilding in rumination of the last amazing and memorable days she had with her father before the Grim Reaper squeezed out the already weakly life in him. In the building were two long walls, covered in gray tiles with about six rails with meat hooks running across in front of them. On one wall, there were chickens or whatever hanging, waiting to be plucked. On the other wall, there were chickens in the nude waiting to be taken. She would recall her father holding a chicken or turkey or whatever on his lap in that astonishing dexterous way of a veteran, and she would stand, knee-deep in feathers, watching her father pluck the chickens or turkeys in no time at all. For her, the dexterity and legerdemain exhibited by her father and the resilient efforts to provide for them were enough reasons to be proud of him.

As a teenager, Alice could not tolerate the smell of cigars of any brand. As she sat in solitude in her father’s outbuilding, she recalled at his time of the year when her father and her uncle, Allen would sit at the balcony expecting to find in their Christmas gift boxes packets of cigars. They would even anticipate that someone would be so kind to put in the box a box of cigars as presents. Both loved smoking as Jesus people love crucifix. None of them was a better smoker than the other. Asking them to quit smoking was like asking Hitler to give up his powers. The cigars they smoked were habitually Robert Graham’s. They felt like Lord Advocates as they sat down in the Adirondack chairs after Christmas sumptuous dinner and smoked their Robert Graham Cigars. Never-to-forget were times when Alison would suggest both men lit up their cigars because she knew Alice would never stand the smell and thus would leave the balcony to flee from the smell. It was Alison’s gimmick to get Alice out of the way whenever she wanted to rant and rave to her husband and poor Allen who always took the fall for everything done by Old Angus. Allen could do anything to save his only brother’s ass, but the only thing he could not do for Old Angus was to take his place when the Grim Reaper came with his great caravans.

Alice did not only reminisce about his never-wanted-to-end moments with her father, she also flashed back to never-a-good moment with her mother. When she was in her teen, like any other teenager living with her parents, she was expected to do some house chores at home. She did not quite mind doing them, but not the kind of job her mother often ask her to do. She loathed being asked to clean the brass and was always loath to execute the task whenever she was asked to do it. It took her ages to clean up the brass. But it was not really about the time cleaning the brass consumed; rather it was about pride. Brasso is used to clean the brass and it makes the cleaner’s hands black, and smell sour. There were no rubber gloves available in their house. If a guy asked her out for a drink on a Friday, which was usually the day her mother thought wise to ask her to clean the brass, she felt so embarrassed having black fingers on a date with a guy when she should have a neatly manicured fingers. May be that was why Alice was never on her mother’s side on any feud between her parents.

At this time of the year, apart from sitting in the outhouse in reminiscence of her father’s absence, one of the jobs Alice always adored doing was making and icing cakes. She often experimented with varieties of decorative patterns that never failed to yield geometric designs of what looked like the ancient tried-and-true snow scenes. She had just produced, though in the rough, an iced cake with a picturesque petite hydrangea and an ornament at the center. Old Angus looked in spine-tingling at the captivating object presented to him by his adorable and lushly looking daughter and all he could barely utter was I love you my angel. Old Angus, in great awe, wondered how long Alice had spent in working on those decorative twisted cords with convoluted designs brandished in stars. The iced cake displayed at each point a beautification with miniaturized silver balls. Old Angus thought him and Old Angus would all break their dead-and-alive tooth on them as they were as hard as rubbles and as crusty as crusty breads. They did not know that would be the last flurry moment they would ever share as living humans. May be they would have another one, but as mortals. Her tears flowed torrentially as she got up and walked back to the main building to spend the rest of the day with her kids.


Thursday, 27 December 2012

Living the dream

Though she grew up in a town where there were scarcely educated people, the resilience in her to break away from the chronological circle of illiteracy and re-write the story of education in Mmili-Oma village motivated her to carve out a career path. She loved teaching; it was a natural gift from Offor- the village deity that gives gifts and defines one’s destiny in life. Her dream was to become a professor in the university. That fetched her, the appellation prof. as she was fondly called. She was an avid reader. Despite the marital and associated domestic challenges Chizor insisted on pushing forth her dream of becoming a professor unlike otherwise similar girls in Mmili-Oma who would abandon their education once they got married. Men of Mmili-Oma were historically known for their adverse disposition towards educated women. As Obigbor, the town crier, would say, most men don’t like women who are educated as those women often oppose their husbands and always want to be thick madams- women who always want to be in charge. But Chizor was of different species; her story was different. She loved Eke to pieces. Her love for Eke was blind; it was unreserved and immeasurable.

Chizor met Eke when she was 18, on the brink of her desire to enroll in a university. But no one is willing to bankroll her education. She was an orphan; her parents died when she was four and left her in custody of her father’s only sibling, Okpara. Unfortunately, Okpara was an advocate of never-marry-an-educated-woman. He tried all he could to thwart Chizor’s efforts to go to the university, even to the extent of bringing a man to take her hands in marriage when she was 14, but all was a wild-goose chase. University education was not affordable. You could not attend a university unless you were from at least a well-to-do family as lifestyle in the university was swanky and reserved. Motivated by her desire and resilience to keep her dreams alive she started toiling to raise fees for at least her first year in the university. She worked as a bricklayer in a local construction company in the neighbouring town, Osisi-Oma.

Eke had a notion different from otherwise similar men in Mmili-Oma who dreaded educated women. Though he was a blockhead, he liked hanging out with educated people. Eke liked breast milk so much that her mother breast-fed him until he was three. Among his peers he was the last to stop breast-feeding. Even at the age of three he did not want to stop until his mother started rubbing ndole- bitter leaf on her teats to make the taste sour in his mouth so he would not ask again. He managed to pass his primary six when his mates were already taking their junior secondary exams. Having known too well that education was not in any way his calling, he joined his father in his Okrika business- selling of fairly used clothes. By the time his mates were writing their senior school certificate exams Eke had become a rich man. It was in one of his return to the village for Christmas celebration that his eyes caught the adorable and lush Chizor whose waistline set up ruckus in the mind of any man who set his eyes on that part of her body. Her convex and tube-like cascading breast ignited un-quench-able amorous pleasure on Eke’s mind and that aroused his supple and tubular lower body. He started asking questions about Chizor but the feedbacks were not encouraging as he was told that Chizor was not interested in any love affair with any man and that her interest was to go to the university and become a professor. That acted like a catalyst to Eke’s amorous feelings towards Chizor. He swore to do anything possible to win Chizor’s heart, even if it would cost him a fortune, after all I am a rich guy, says Eke.

Eke gave his best shots to Chizor and she fell in love with him, and they started dating. He respected her wishes to go to university and assumed the responsibility of taking care of her. They got married after nine months of their successful relationship and were blessed with a baby girl they named Mma. Chizor’s daughter, Mma, was an epitome of beauty just like her; a chip off her old block. Prior to Mma’s birth, their love was extraordinaire; it was likened to that of Romeo and Juliet. But their love took a twist turn after Mma was born. Eke had wanted a first male child. Chizor had become unavoidably busy with academic studies. Eke had become an international business man, always jetting off to negotiate businesses around the globe. He had been exposed to a different style from his business associates he mingled with. He had been introduced to different beautiful women with figure eights. He had seen different hotties whose L-shaped figures were enough to get a man’s adrenaline pumping to burst. And he had become licentious!

Two years after Mma’s birth, Eke suddenly fell ill after he had come back from his usual business trips. He went to the hospital and was diagnosed; he found he was HIV positive. He didn’t believe it as he barely had any knowledge of the dreaded disease apart from the stifling stigmas. He couldn’t bear the agony of living with HIV. He couldn’t help it, and he took his own life!

Chizor didn’t know she was HIV positive until six months after her husband’s death. She had just rounded off her degree at the university and had secured a graduate assistantship in her department as she was the best brain in her department and faculty in general. A non-governmental organization (NGO) had come to her campus on a campaign about HIV/AIDS and had offered a free medical test for HIV to students and staff of the university. Though Chizor had been living an academic life, she had no inkling of the disease. She was tested and was found positive. She was surprised and devastated. She had never made out with any man in her entire life except her husband, Eke. She was well known for her fervor in keeping up a good hygiene. She never had any reason to inquest her husband’s death as Eke alluded in his suicide note to a failed business venture that gulped his fortunes. But her HIV status had warranted her to launch an inquest. And there she was told at the hospital by Eke’s doctor who claimed he acted on Eke’s wish not to reveal his HIV status to anyone.

Caught up in the labyrinth and jumbled thoughts of whether to live with the most dreadful disease or not, Chizor cried all the time and felt sorry for herself and her only child. She felt her days were numbered; she was sure she would soon die. But her consolation was that Mma was free of HIV. It took her several months to accept her condition and coupled with Alero’s counsel to her that living with HIV is not the end of life. Alero, who co-ordinates the NGO’s HIV programme in Mmili-Oma, had been living with HIV for a decade. Alero’s counsel assured her she could live with the disease. Chizor attended all the NGO’s campaigns and seminars and started to feel more confident. She was involved in so much training that she became a trainer herself. Thus she was offered a job at the NGO as a social worker on their HIV programme. Her life took a positive transformation!

As a graduate assistant Chizor was offered a full funded scholarship to do her graduate studies, which she concurrently ran with her position as a social worker with the NGO. With her good sense of humour, there was so much trust in her that people could talk to her. She met people with different problems on top of their health issues. She counseled them overtly and in-discriminably; she never kept her own counsel. She helped single mothers like her who were struggling to feed their children and at their wits’ end. As a psychologist she provided emotional and practical supports to them. She set up an informal group that provided reciprocal supports to each other- a platform where people living with HIV were able to meet on a regular basis. She showed people that they could live like her; that they were not and would never be alone. She taught them many ways to cope and carry on living a normal life.

Chizor got her PhD and two years after her groundbreaking doctoral research she was granted professoriate, which was her life’s dream. She loved teaching and counseling, particularly when heavy-hearted people would come and thank her and tell her they had been inspired. She lived happily and rewardingly.


Sunday, 23 December 2012

Reflection on today’s gospel 6

I can feel it all around me. I can hear the melody of the wind-bell blowing and chiming Christmas-Christmas-Christmas. The shopping malls are overcrowded as a result of massive Christmas shopping. Some are really shopping, while some are window-shopping. I guess those are the things that raise the tempo of excitements about Christmas, and without them the shopping malls will not be cynosures anymore, especially at this time of the season. Traffics are congested and roads are clogged. Both add to the excitements too! The decorations in all nooks and crannies tell the whole stories about what is going to happen in a couple of days. They look really Christmassy.

Today’s gospel reading pointed to the excitements about Christmas with the story of the visitation. We read the message at Luke 1:39-45. We saw how excited Elizabeth was when she heard Mary’s greetings. Even the baby (Jesus) leaped in her womb in excitement. That was a depiction of spiritual attitudes we should emulate in this season; attitude of faith and humility. We saw that faith portrayed by Mary (I guess that was why she was chosen to be the mother of God to start with) in Elizabeth’s words: ‘blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished’ and we saw the attitude of humility portrayed by Elizabeth with all sense of sincerity when she heard Mary’s greetings. Elizabeth’s heart was filled with Holy Spirit, and in a loud cry, said ‘but why am I so favoured that the mother of my Lord should come to me?’

In this excitement I engaged in a conversation with an old man I always sit beside in the church. I asked him what he found most exciting about this period that is fast coming- Christmas. He told me it was about his childhood memories which the period of Christmas always brings to life. He told me a brief story of how he enjoyed on every Christmas day as a kid and continued to enjoy even as an old man his favourite TV programmes- Z Cars. I could see the excitements all over his face as he told the story. I couldn’t help it, but to submerge my mind into the surrealism of a TV series that were set in a made-up town somewhere around Liverpool was the readily available option.

As our journey towards the Christmas comes to an end, we have no option other than to live Christmas with faith and humility, as Mary and Elizabeth had shown us. There is actually no valid point in concealing the happiness and gratefulness that comes with the attitude of faith and humility. Mary and Elizabeth believed God’s words without questioning them. Was not that a great risk? Mary’s faith made her become the mother of God, while Elizabeth’s humility made her recognize the honour of being paid a visit by someone she revered so high. However, this should be a clear indication to us that the birth of Jesus Christ on Christmas day is a sign of God’s visit as well as his coming to stay with us. Thus we should recognize his presence, but we can only take notice of his presence through the eyes of others. This period is essentially the time to show others that we have recognized God’s presence and we celebrate his coming. There is always opportunity available for us to share our joys and assist the needy. 
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