Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Malawi arrests newly-wed gays for ‘gross indecency’

Agence France-Presse 29 December 2009: Blantyre, Malawi — A gay couple was jailed for "gross indecency" in Malawi after the country's first same-sex public wedding ceremony over the weekend, as several African states were clamping down on homosexuality. A police spokesman told AFP that Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza, the first Malawian gays to publicly wed in a symbolic ceremony on Saturday "will appear in court soon to answer charges of gross indecency."

Homosexuality is banned in the conservative southern African country where the public discussion of sex is still taboo. Malawi's penal code outlaws homosexuality and sodomy, which is punishable by a maximum of 14 years in jail. Countries such as Uganda, Senegal and Burundi have intensified their efforts to repress homosexuality in a continent where 38 out of 53 countries have criminalised consensual gay sex.

Monday, 28 December 2009

The hidden rise of HIV among African immigrants in the UK

Hazel Barrett is head of the department of geography, environment and disaster management at Coventry university. She recently wrote in The Guardian newspaper of her findings in her research into the HIV/Aids epidemic among African immigrants in the UK.

"My research in the west Midlands with postgraduate student Betselot Mulugeta, talking to groups of immigrant men and women from the Ethiopian and Eritrean communities, has revealed serious misconceptions about the nature of the HIV/Aids epidemic in the UK. Lack of information tailored for different migrant groups, alongside lower awareness of HIV/Aids through media coverage as a whole, is a problem with real consequences.

Newly reported cases of HIV in the UK are higher than ever before. Between 1995 and 2006, the rate of HIV infection among black Africans in the west Midlands increased 100-fold, compared to a two-fold increase among white people, a three-fold increase among black Caribbeans and a six-fold increase among other mixed ethnic groups (according to the region's strategic health authority figures).

Taking the Ethiopian and Eritrean population as one example: they are predominantly young and single, tend to live alone and are often sexually active. Their culture and language restrict the information available to them. This group therefore represents a reservoir of HIV infection which is both a concern for the immigrant community itself and the host population. As social networks among the Ethiopian and Eritrean communities in the west Midlands do not condone or tolerate the discussion of sexual issues, external information networks are crucial in raising awareness of the HIV situation in the west Midlands and reducing stigma and discrimination of those who are HIV-positive.

The respondents in our study said they believed the UK was "civilised" and therefore they could not contract HIV/Aids, that the problem had been left behind in Africa. Some commented that they believed all migrants were screened before being allowed entry, and that drugs were available in the UK that would "cure" Aids. Perhaps most tellingly, interviewees said that Aids wasn't talked about in the UK and no information or warnings were provided, so they had assumed there wasn't a problem. Culturally, condoms are a difficult issue. It is considered unacceptable for either partner in a sexual relationship to ask for a condom to be used, because it's thought to suggest the woman is promiscuous or a prostitute, or that there is a lack of trust between them."

Continue reading

Friday, 25 December 2009

Its Christmas

Its Christmas day and I'm thinking that this day deserves a post all of its own. In Nigeria, there is a saying that goes, "Not everyday is Christmas", usually invoked when something that is expected to happen, does not happen. So on the day that is indeed Christmas, I hope that all those things that you had hoped would happen, but haven't happened during all the days that have gone by since last Christmas, will happen today.

Well, even if they don't, look at it this way...there's another Christmas coming along just 364 days down the road. So hang in there. I like to hold on to the belief that sooner or later, all that we hope for will come to be. Merry Christmas..

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Music in the moonlight

Hundreds of years after it was composed this music transcends time and speaks the same message that it did to the great man who wrote this piece while stone deaf. He lay his head upon the piano and felt the cords as he played, infusing the music with his intense emotion, the devastation that he felt at going deaf.. said to be at the lowest point in his life.. It is also said that Beethoven used a special rod attached to the soundboard on the piano that he could bite - the vibrations would then transfer from the piano to his jaw to increase his perception of the sound.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

And now, the weather..

It doesn't snow a lot in the UK, especially in the south east of the country, or the Home Counties, as they like to call the area..

So when it does snow, the wintry weather is guaranteed to make headline news and to be the first item on every news broadcast. Last winter it snowed so hard on one day, that London came to an absolute standstill. For the whole day almost every government office and private business was shut. Schools were closed, (for everyone's safety was the explanation given..). The London Underground was shut down, London buses were parked securely in their terminals. This was unprecedented. In fact, when I rang my office to explain that I was snowed in and wouldn't be able to make it to work because the pavement on my street was under 1 foot of snow and was therefore impassable without great risk to my person, the phone just rang and rang and rang.. It was clear that nobody else had managed to make it to the office.

In reality, it seemed more like everyone was glad for the opportunity to take the day off, because I couldn't imagine that all the children I saw on sledges on the shallow slopes in my local park, or others joyously building snowmen and throwing snow balls at each other, were "safer" in the park out in the wild wintry weather, than they would be in their perfectly safe classrooms at school. Many adults too, who otherwise would have been stooped over a desk doing a boring job in an office, let their hair down and rollicked in the snow alongside the children.

There's something about the snow in England and the effect that it has on the people who live here. When it snows people get excited.. It has been snowing again over the last few days and for the first time ever, I even had to scrape off ice from the windscreen this morning before I could drive my car, although I was glad when the heating inside the car finally kicked in and I realised how much better-off I was than those poor souls on foot, who were shivering and sloshing their way towards the bus stop through the inches-thick slippery snow and ice on the pavements..

The local Council had kindly seen to it that the main roads were gritted, so the drive to work wasn't too bad. The snow too was kind, because it stopped snowing long enough for the sun to come out and make it a quite pleasant afternoon. However, on the way back home this evening it had started snowing again. On the 10 O'clock news were numerous reports about the effects of the snow. Three of London's four major airports were closed for several hours, most schools were closed, most train services were delayed due to snow on the line, etc, etc..

The only other story on the news (apart from the goings-on at the Copenhagen climate summit and the obligatory shocking crime report from the Old Bailey), was that of an unfortunate couple who had picked today of all days, for their church wedding in a country church somewhere in Kent. Unfortunately, neither the couple nor any of their guests were able to make it to the church, because the roads had become impassable because of the heavy snow. The bride's sister is said to have telephoned a local radio station, which put out on air a call for help from people who own 4x4s in the area, urging them to come to the rescue of the couple. Help came, 4x4s arrived on the scene, the day was saved, the couple were married successfully and my hope is that they will live happily ever after..

Now in London its all about the weather, and in particular, the snow. I sometimes wonder how it is in places like Tromso, Norway or in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, or parts of Sweden or Finland and in the cities and towns of Siberia where heavy snowfall is normal. Surely in those places people aren't taking the day off every time it snows and sitting around talking about the snow all day long. I think the UK needs to get used to it and be better prepared for severe weather occurring more frequently, as the world experiences the effects of climate change, since this is what is predicted as the century progresses..

Friday, 18 December 2009

Minneapolis City Council Passes Resolution Opposing Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda

IGLHRC: For immediate release: (New York, December 18) - The city of Minneapolis, Minn., a sister city of Kampala, Uganda, passed a resolution on Friday, Dec. 18 condemning Uganda's proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Council members Scott Benson and Cam Gordon co-authored the resolution in light of the negative impact the law would have on all citizens of Kampala, pointing out that the bill "targets lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Ugandans, their advocates and defenders and anyone who fails to report them to the authorities."

The resolution amended the Policy Initiatives section of the Fiscal Year 2010 Federal Agenda for the City of Minneapolis to insert a section entitled "Human Rights Restrictions in Uganda." Noting that the Anti-Homosexuality Bill "[w]ould criminalize such activities as funding LGBT organizations, publishing or broadcasting or marketing materials on homosexuality," the Resolution affirms that, "[t]he City of Minneapolis opposes this legislation."

On October 14, 2009, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill was introduced in Uganda's Parliament. In its current form, the proposed bill would:

* Imprison anyone convicted of "the offense of homosexuality" for life;

* Punish "aggravated homosexuality"-including repeat offenders, or anyone who is HIV positive and engages in same-sex activity-with the death penalty;

* Forbid the "promotion of homosexuality," and jail defenders of LGBT rights

* Require reporting anyone known to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender within 24 hours or face up to three years in prison.

The resolution passed by the City Council of Minneapolis demonstrates the still growing international opposition to the Anti-Homosexuality Bill and solidarity with LGBT people worldwide.

Other sister cities of Kampala include Kigali, Rwanda; Rajkot, India; Ashkelon, Israel; and Hudson, USA.

For full text of the Resolution click here.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

At last..

Oh, by the way, that long awaited Boeing 787 Dreamliner made its maiden flight today.. A day to remember..

Noetic science? What is it?

Yes you guessed right. I've just been reading Dan Brown's latest novel 'The Lost Symbol', the same Dan Brown who wrote 'The Da Vinci Code' and 'Angels and Demons' and the other two novels. I've read all of his novels to date and I will continue to read anything he writes, because I'm enthralled by the sense of wonder that is conjured in my mind when I discover how progressively fantastical the story is becoming, as I turn from one wholly phantasmic page to the utterly stupendous next page..

So I came across 'noetic science' for the first time in the new Dan Brown novel and thought to expand my knowledge of this obscure branch of science by googling it. Of course there were the formal treatises and official sounding descriptions to trawl through. Then I happened upon a more light-hearted take on it, a blog post titled "What the heck is Noetic Science?", which taken together with the 31 comments left by readers, gave me something to ponder all afternoon. Please read the comments too if you can find the time. :)

Apparently, noetic science is a branch of science in which "scientists are trying to measure things we’ve long regarded as immeasurable, like prayer, intuition, or maybe even life after death, with the help of evidence-based research and peer review". Now tell me, how do you measure prayer and/or its efficacy thereof? Really!!

Anyway, all of this is taken very seriously apparently and this science has an entire Institute of its own, devoted to the study of such. Noetic Theory has even earned for itself a place in the pages of Wikipedia, where it is briefly described as "a branch of metaphysical philosophy".

This field of science got a boost when Edgar Mitchell a former US astronaut and member of the Apollo 14 crew that went to the moon, is said to have had a profound spiritual experience of some kind, or received some sort of 'revelation' while looking down on the Earth from space on his way back to the planet. (Read about it here). It was this same person who founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences in 1973 after his return to Earth and he also wrote a book titled 'The Way of the Explorer: An Apollo Astronaut's Journey through the Material and Mystical Worlds. Science editor of Howstuffworks.com, Allison Loudermilk, wonders what Mitchell's fellow astronauts thought of his career after he left NASA.. "Did they scoff? Did they have similar experiences? Did they also found institutes that will wind up in a Dan Brown novel?", she asks..

Monday, 14 December 2009

Parking woes..

Some months ago I wrote this post commenting on how I thought it is nightmarish finding parking space in this city where I live. This morning, I didn't find a place to park the car in the council estate behind our office building, where I would normally park for free while at work. I had noticed that in recent weeks finding parking space in that estate had become even harder than before. Today someone explained to me that the construction work on the the East London Line extension, a new railway line that runs directly behind our building, means that several more people, namely, railway construction workers, are coming into the area each morning; and that most of these people are driving their cars to work. Ah, so that explains it..

Anyway, I got to work and there was nowhere to park, so I was forced to park on the street in front of our office building. I parked the car in what I thought was a parking bay, at the cost of £2 for each hour you remain parked there. I was careful to buy the ticket and display it on the dashboard, since the very first thing I was to do on arrival at my desk this morning was to grudgingly write a cheque for £60, payable to Parking Services, London Borough of Hackney, in respect of a parking penalty charge I'd received last week for parking in front of the building without displaying a ticket, much to my chagrin. £60 is a lot of money to just throw away..

At 10am, I went down to the parking meter and renewed my ticket. It was valid until about 11am and I displayed the ticket prominently on the dashboard as required. At noon, I repeated the exercise. By this time I had already spent £8 just for parking, and the day wasn't even halfway through yet! Then at 1pm I went down again, but this time, there was a penalty charge notice stuck under my windscreen wiper. Yes, another one!! I was livid! As careful as I had been and after spending all that money, here I was again being slapped with another penalty charge for another £60! It was lucky the parking attendant was nowhere in sight when I arrived at the scene, because I couldn't trust myself not to have smacked him in the mouth with my fist before he even had the chance to explain.

I carefully examined the penalty charge notice and it appears that although I had been buying parking tickets as I should have, the spot where I was parked was not a parking bay at all. I should not have parked there in the first place. I had spent all that cash this morning just for parking, and all I got in the end was a fine!! I was so miffed that although it was just past 1pm, I went back into the office, shut down my workstation and fled from the office in a fit of fury.

Tomorrow, I will abandon this car at home and travel to work peacefully (and cheaply) by bus. I take back everything I said when I had just got the car. I stated then that I'll be driving everywhere, but now I'm not so sure any more..

Saturday, 12 December 2009

United Nations: Landmark Meeting Denounces Rights Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity

IGLHRC: For Immediate Release: (New York, December 11) - A United Nations General Assembly panel that met this week broke new ground and helped build new momentum for ending human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity, a coalition of sponsoring nongovernmental organizations said today.

The meeting included discussion of discriminatory and draconian "anti-homosexuality" legislation currently before the Ugandan parliament, and of the role of American religious groups in promoting repression across Africa. In a groundbreaking move, a representative of the Holy See in the audience read a statement strongly condemning the criminalisation of homosexual conduct.

The panel, held yesterday on the 61st anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, featured speakers from Honduras, India, the Philippines, and Zambia, as well as Uganda, where the proposed "anti-homosexuality law" shows the steady threat of government repression.

Sweden organised the panel in coalition with Argentina, Brazil, Croatia, France, the Netherlands, and Norway. It was sponsored by a group of six nongovernmental organizations that defend the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. The audience of 200 people included delegates from over 50 nations.

Ugandan lawmakers are currently debating the "anti-homosexuality" bill. While there were reports that the death-penalty provisions might be stripped from the bill, other punishments would remain that would drive many Ugandans underground or out of the country, participants said.

Speaking on the panel, Victor Mukasa, co-founder of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) and program associate for the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLRHC), described how he was forced to leave Uganda following police brutality and raids on his home. He said that Uganda's "anti-homosexuality" bill reflects a pattern of state-sponsored homophobia spreading across the African continent.

"Lack of security, arbitrary arrests and detentions, violence, and killings of LGBT people have become the order of the day in Africa," said Mukasa. "Nothing can change as long as LGBT people live in fear for their safety when they claim their basic human rights."

The statement from the Holy See said it "opposes all forms of violence and unjust discrimination against homosexual persons, including discriminatory penal legislation which undermines the inherent dignity of the human person.…[T]he murder and abuse of homosexual persons are to be confronted on all levels, especially when such violence is perpetrated by the State."

Also at the panel discussion, the Reverend Kapya Kaoma, an Anglican priest from Zambia who is project director for Political Research Associates (PRA) in Massachusetts, presented the group's new report, Globalising the Culture Wars: U.S. Conservatives, African Churches, and Homophobia.

Kaoma said that many anti-LGBT attitudes across Africa are fueled by US groups actively exporting homophobia. He called on US religious figures who have been promoting hatred and fear of homosexuality in Africa to denounce the Uganda bill unequivocally, and support the human rights of all people regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Citing their moral responsibility to prevent violence, he also urged them to make such declarations in Africa, not just before US audiences.

Other panelists highlighted governments' complicity in prejudice and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Indyra Mendoza Aguilar, coordinator of the L├ęsbica Feminista Cattrachas network in Honduras said that an atmosphere of impunity since the June coup in Honduras has meant spreading violence against already marginalized people.

"In Honduras, as in many countries, the state turns a blind eye to violence against our communities," said Mendoza Aguilar. "Today we issue a call for reforming our societies, free of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, free of impunity."

Vivek Divan, an Indian attorney and member of the team that led a successful legal challenge to India's colonial-era sodomy law, described the provision's insidious effects, promoting inequality, excusing violence, and permitting state intrusion into private lives. The Delhi High Court overturned the law this year in a landmark decision affirming diversity as a core value of the Indian state.

Speakers also stressed how torture, killings, and other grave abuses target people not just because of their sexualities, but because they look, dress, or act in ways that defy deeply rooted patriarchal norms for expressing masculinity and femininity.

"Now is the time to realise that diversity does not diminish our humanity," said Sass Sasot, co-founder of the Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP). "You want to be born, to live, and die with dignity - so do we! You want to live with authenticity - so do we!"

Thursday, 10 December 2009

On that filthy habit and New Year's resolutions..

It started at boarding school, in the 6th form, in those days of rebellion. I feared that sooner or later I would get caught by the school authorities. And that is exactly what happened one evening..

Over the preceding few months I had acquired a taste for completing the evening meal by inhaling tobacco smoke into my lungs. Leaving the dining hall after supper, me and my collaborators in crime would converge at the rear of the dormitory building, huddling together in the darkness, smoking cigarettes that we had purchased from the inhabitants of the neighbouring village who came up to the school's wire mesh fence to sell the cigarettes to us. Coins were passed to the villagers through the fence and in return cigarettes were passed to us, stick by stick. The villagers would sell other things to us too, sweets, biscuits, coke and the like.. But by the very nature of the arrangement, the supply of these items and the cigarettes was not guaranteed on any day. So it was wise to stock up on fags when the villagers turned up at the school fence with the precious commodity.

I thought it was cool to belong to this clique of students who were thought of as 'bad boys'. To be hidden behind the dormitory block seated on a rock smoking a cigarette in blatant defiance of the school's very stringent no smoking policy, surrounded by others who were doing exactly the same thing was not only exciting, it was 'hip'. And there was in my mind the thoughts about my suave and very 'sophisticated' older cousin whom I admired immensely...and he smoked! (He later died of throat cancer at age 45). Anyway, on this fateful evening I stocked up on cigarettes. We were in our senior year and we knew that we wouldn't be returning to the dormitory to go to bed at 9.30pm as the other students would. We were going to remain in our study rooms until well past midnight, and the cigarettes would definitely come in handy at that hour..

On my way to the study room after smoking, I briefly stopped over in the dormitory to retrieve my European History textbook and Shakespeare's Coriolanus, the two items I'd planned for my study time that evening. As I turned to leave the empty dorm I was shocked to be met at the entrance by the duty Housemaster, a tutor who was charged with the role of ensuring that students were complying with school regulations and were doing what they were meant to be doing, at the time they were meant to be doing it. This particular tutor was a terror, he had a reputation among the students and was feared. Anyway, he stopped me at the door and asked why I was still in the dormitory when I ought to be in my study room. Shakily, but still trying to sound as innocent as I could, I lied that I'd returned from the study room to the dorm to pick up my books. To prove it I leaned forward to open my rucksack.

Then I heard the Housemaster's voice say "Wait a minute, I smell something.."
He moved closer to me, sniffing audibly as he came, frowning..
"I definitely can smell tobacco on your breath", he said, "have you been smoking?"
I feigned surprise and then consternation at the thought that he might even consider that I might have been smoking.
"Me? No sir, I've never smoked a cigarette in my life...sir", my eyes wide in mock amazement, although what I really felt was a sense of alarm..
"Why do I smell tobacco on your breath then?" the Housemaster asked..
"Err, well sir, the man who sells sweets from across the fence behind there was smoking when I was buying sweets from him, so maybe it was he who blew his cigarette smoke into my mouth...sir".
"Let's see whats in the bag then, shall we.."
To my great horror, this man grabbed my rucksack, unzipped it and pulled out the contents. Sure, my books were in there, but so were my numerous cigarettes I'd just purchased so expensively.. Altogether, eleven cigarettes came popping out of my bag and I knew then that I was f**ked! I pleaded, I begged, I lied that I had never seen these cigarettes before, I didn't even know who put them in my bag.. I went down on my knees, but this Housemaster was having none of that. I was taken straight to the Principal's residence. The Principal's house happened to be within the school compound.

And so the next day at the morning assembly, I was called out to the front and arraigned before the whole school, disgraced and publicly shamed. The Principal announced to all the students and staff that I had acted dishonourably and with immediate effect I was to be expelled from the boarding house, indefinitely. And this was only three weeks before my A'Level exams were due to commence. I was young and my attitude at that time was to take it on the chin. I was a tough kid, I thought to myself.. In fact, I was invincible! I wasn't going to let this expulsion from the boarding house affect my performance at the forthcoming exam. I moved out of the boarding house that very same day, and moved back home to live with my Mum. I would attend school in the mornings and return home in the afternoons after school hours. This turned out to be a good thing, because although my Mum was angry at what had happened, she was sensitive, sensible and kind enough to know not to be unduly harsh with me, seeing as my exams were just around the corner. On my part I was defiant.

I put my head down and studied harder than I ever would have done had I remained in the boarding house. I was determined to prove to that Housemaster and the Principal that their boarding house was not all that. And that I could do just as well at the exam even if I came to school from home everyday. The outcome of all of this was that in the Upper 6th class of 60 odd students, only one student performed better than me when the results of the exam were finally released. But I had continued smoking, never once even considering the idea of stopping. Many of the really cool people I knew smoked, I thought, so why not? Mum was chilled out about it and apart from the occasional voicing of disapproval, she didn't seem to let it bother her so much.

Being away from the restrictions of the boarding house actually offered to me a lot more freedom and opportunity to smoke, and smoke I did, as much as I wished. And the fact that I'd performed well at those exams only deceived me further into taking a positive view of my smoking. Now, many many years later, I'm still dabbling in cigarette smoking. It is likely that I have already lost quite a few years of my expected years of life, having smoked all these years. And although I'm often told that I don't look my age, i.e., that I look younger than I really am, I wonder what it would have been had I not started smoking at all. Smoking is now a problem for me. It isn't the exciting, naughty, rebellious activity that it was when I first started out as a schoolboy. Quite a few people I have met have been repulsed by the fact that I smoke, even though I handle my smoking quite well, I think, because I try not to let it smell on my clothes, in my car or in my home. I dispose of the butt ends and the ash very carefully, and many others have been even quite surprised to learn that I smoke cigarettes, saying to me that I don't look like someone who smokes..although no one has been able to describe to me how a smoker should look. Now, however, I think of smoking as an utterly disgusting, filthy habit and would wish to quit smoking like yesterday, if I could.

In the UK, the cost of smoking is so high it is hard to believe. The government makes huge amounts in tax revenue derived from the money that we unfortunate smokers have to spend on our expensive but disgusting habit. The World Health Organisation recently released a new evaluation of just how dire the smoking crisis is. They say that tobacco use claims 5 million lives a year. I've had to have a few chest x-rays in my life, the most recent being about a year ago. But because each time that I've had an x-ray I've been told that my chest is clear, (which to me sounds a bit like, "Hey, carry right on smoking, you're doing fine"), I've never felt the compulsion to quit. Now if that is not self-deceit, then I don't know what self-deception is.

Okay, its December and once again I'm thinking that my New Year's resolution will have to be, to make 2010 a smoke free year. I've been doing this every year for the last five years or so, but I've only managed to make the 1st of January of any given year smokefree, predictably falling back into my unhealthy habitual smoking pattern from sunrise on the morning of the 2nd. Please join hands with me to make this dream come true this time around..

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Garuba 14

It was mid afternoon when I finally struggled out of bed. What had roused me actually were the voices that I heard coming from the front part of the house. Of course that was Garuba, there was no mistaking his distinctive voice. Abu and Ukpong too. They seemed to be reminiscing over the events of last night and were talking loudly, especially Abu, whose voice suggested exultation at how successful the party had been. I threw on some clothes and stumbled down the corridor. Entering the front room I saw that Ukpong and Abu were on the sofa, Abu lying sideways across it with his head cradled in Ukpong's lap. Garuba sat across from them facing the entrance from the corridor, so it was he who saw me enter before the others knew that I was in the room. Garuba looked up at me and grinned, but I couldn't help noticing the look of concern in his eyes, although he was trying to hide it perhaps so that Ukpong and Abu would not notice how really worried about me he had been. I said hello to all of them and went and sat next to Garuba, wishing that Abu and Ukpong were not present.

Abu said something to the effect that they had decided to leave me to sleep off the effects of my alcohol binge from last night and Ukpong asked how I was feeling now. I tried to smile and said that I felt a bit better than in the morning when I'd first got out of bed. Garuba remained silent. He had arrived at the house when I was still asleep and they all had agreed that it was best to let me sleep, so he had sat down with my house mate and her boyfriend. Still saying nothing Garuba took hold of my hand and abruptly rose from his seat, pulling me up with him. Then holding my hand he muttered that he wanted us to talk, so grinning at Ukpong and Abu he excused us and led me down the corridor to my room, pushing me inside ahead of him. He pushed the door shut behind him and leaned against it with his back. I turned around. There was a look on his face that I had not seen before. His eyes were communicating a message and I knew instantly what the message was. My dear Garuba was hurt. I turned my head downwards towards the floor, feeling ashamed and genuinely sorry that I had brought upon him this crestfallen feeling. Still he said nothing, so I said "I'm really sorry". At this Garuba asked in a quiet voice, "Tell me, how are you feeling? Are you alright?"

"Yes, I'm fine", I said meekly, as I stepped closer to him. Garuba reached out for me, pulling me even closer until our bodies were pressed firmly together, our arms wrapped tightly around each other. Then Garuba whispered into my ear, "I really do love you, you know..". I was overcome with emotion and the only reply I could muster was to say again how sorry I was, tears coming to my eyes. Garuba released me and cupped my face in his hands, then with a finger he wiped a tear from my cheek. His face was only inches from mine and as I stared into his eyes I whispered, "I love you too, will you forgive me?". He remained silent but pulled me close again and we just held each other, standing there quietly by the door for I don't how long. It was a very intense moment and we would have remained there for even longer, had there not been a knock on the door. Ukpong was at the door asking if we would be interested in having something to eat. She was just going to put together some lunch from the food that was left over from last night's party. I looked at Garuba and he smiled, nodding, so I replied to Ukpong through the closed door in a loud voice, "Yes, thanks." It was good that I wouldn't have to worry about food for me and Garuba for now.

In the meantime, I thought I really should shower and freshen up so I asked Garuba if he would join Abu in the front room while I went into the bathroom. Afterwards, all four of us sat together around the kitchen table and had the most delicious jollof rice and fried goat meat as we talked. And it was at this meal that I noticed for the first time those knowing looks that were exchanged between Ukpong and her boyfriend. Garuba seemed oblivious to it, but instinctively I could tell that Abu and Ukpong had already worked out the true nature of the relationship between Garuba and me. I wondered for how long they had known, because it didn't seem to me that knowing that Garuba and I were lovers, had caused them to treat us differently than they had done before. Abu and Garuba still seemed to be the best of friends, and Ukpong was still as sweet as ever. Later, in the car as we drove away from the house and into town I mentioned this to Garuba, but he just brushed it aside and said that I was imagining things..

After our lunch together, Abu had had to leave and return to Jos where his job was and where he lived during the week. Ukpong's friends Yetunde and Jumoke had arrived at the house shortly afterwards and in a whirlwind of loud girlie chattering, all three women had left the house together. Garuba and I were alone for the first time that day and for a while we just sat quietly, close together on the sofa, cuddling. We then thought we should go into town for some air and we eventually wound up at the Police Officers' Mess, where Garuba said he played squash sometimes. It just so happened that as we drove into the car park of the officers' mess building, Garuba spotted Usman's BMW and so we parked alongside it. We had not yet left the car when I heard a familiar voice calling out to Garuba. "Alhaji Garuba, ya ya de?" I had been in Bauchi long enough to know the traditional Hausa greeting, but it was the voice...that voice, Usman! Lord! What is this?

Garuba stepped out of the car, as while still inside I turned around in my seat and looked through the rear windscreen. I saw Usman in his sports kit with a squash racket bag slung over his shoulder, gesturing with his arms towards us. It was dusk and apparently he was just leaving, having spent the afternoon at the mess. Not surprisingly Audu was close behind him, and together they both walked across the car park to where Garuba and I were. Usman struck an impressive figure, I thought, but quickly looked away. I got out of the car as they joined us and we shook hands all round, Usman sweaty after his squash. Garuba and Usman immediately struck out in their friendly conversation, in Hausa of course, so naturally Audu and I were left together, again. And seeing Audu now was like meeting a long lost friend, although it was only the previous night that we had met for the first time. Audu was his usual sweet self, but obviously he knew nothing of what Usman and I had done in the dark the night before. And although Usman and Garuba both knew of it, there was no indication that they would let it affect their friendship in any way.

Usman in his ebullient manner suggested that since we were all together, we should head to Audu's place. I thought it was a good idea and would have loved us to, but Garuba frowned slightly and I was surprised when I heard him explaining that we had other plans and that perhaps we could do that on another day. Inwardly I wondered what these plans were that he was talking about, since as far as I knew we had made no plans at all. Anyhow Usman and Audu drove away, waving at us as they went by. Garuba and I got back into the car and just sat there saying and doing nothing. His mood had changed. To diffuse the situation, I put my hand on his hand and softly said, "Lets go home ..". He turned to look at me, giving me that naughty look that excites me so much, the hint of a smile on his lips. He turned on the ignition and reversed out of the car park and on to the Yelwa Road, and then turned the car in the direction of my house. The drive home would take only about 15 minutes but as we drove it seemed like forever. And I silently hoped that we would still have the house to ourselves when we arrived..

Author's note: I am aware that there are those who only recently became readers of this blog. For their benefit I have posted links to all the preceding parts of this story as posted on the blog previously. Garuba, Garuba 2, Garuba 3, Garuba 4, Garuba 5, Garuba 6, Garuba 7, Garuba 8, Garuba 9, Garuba 10, Garuba 11, Garuba 12, Garuba 13. Alternatively you can click HERE to see all the parts on one page.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

New York says no!

The New York State Senate defeated a bill today that would legalize same-sex marriage, after an emotional debate that touched on civil rights, family and history. The vote means that the bill, pushed by Gov. David A. Paterson, is effectively dead for the year and dashes the optimism of gay rights advocates, who have had setbacks recently in several key states.

The bill was defeated by a decisive margin of 38 to 24. The Democrats, who have a bare, one-seat majority, did not have enough votes to pass the bill without some Republican support, but not a single Republican senator voted for the measure. Still, several key Democrats who were considered swing votes also opposed the bill.

Read the full story as reported by The New York Times.

Monday, 30 November 2009

I am a mythical being, I don't exist

Among Africans generally, same sex attraction has been a myth. It has been as much the subject of whispered conversation or gossip, as it has been talked about in absolutist, loud, angry condemning tones, usually from the pulpit, but also in the media and even in social situations. There has been an overwhelming leaning towards intolerance and there appears not to have been until recently, a moderate middle ground. Outbursts of "This is an abomination!", "Our people don't do that!", "We will never accept this!", are familiar reactions. Sometimes, homosexual behaviour among Africans is blamed upon the "white man". Our continent's leaders have even publicly declared that homosexuality does not exist among Africans. Declarations such as, "There are no homosexuals in Nigeria", or "They have been corrupted by Europeans," are common.

I heard all of this as a young person growing up in Africa, while knowing that at no time in my young life had I interacted with anyone from Europe to the extent that he would have had the opportunity to impart his sexuality on me, if at all that was possible. The only Europeans I met were those who I ran into at the supermarket, or by chance at the swimming pool at a place we called 'The Club', sort of like a country club, which was a relic of the old colonial administration. The Club was originally intended to cater for the frolicking of that administration's large number of expatriates, for whom a posting to Africa was supposed to mean a life of comfort and luxury. After independence from Britain The Club remained in existence, but it was now the domain of big-wig Africans in top government positions and their expatriate friends in the private sector, more particularly the petroleum industry; expatriates who still saw Nigeria as a veritable gold mine. Then there were those Europeans who were fellow passengers on the very occasional flight in an aeroplane. As a youngster my movements were so tightly controlled and my parents so strict, that I simply had no opportunity to stray into the hands of a predatory African to be 'corrupted', much less a European. And not even if I had actually desired to be 'corrupted' and had actively sought it..(I use the term 'European' loosely, to include every person of Eurasian ancestry).

I heard these things being said and I knew they were wrong. But I had no way of pointing out to people that they could not be correct, because here I was among them, feeling same-sex attraction, having never even once been intimate with a European. This caused me sometimes to be upset and there was a strong temptation to be negative about my same-sex feelings. There are many gay men who unfortunately succumb to this temptation; self-loathing, sadly, is commonplace among gay people. But I refused to be negative. I knew categorically that I did not ask for the feelings that I had, and that I had had these feelings for as long as I had been sexually aware, which would take me back to when I was about seven years old. I was attracted to the boys more than I was attracted to the girls at school. I liked the girls too, but I liked the boys better. There was nothing to it. I was not influenced or taught, nor was I "corrupted". And I was never ashamed of it, despite all the negativity that surrounded it in the conversations that I heard. Indeed it is in being true to my feelings that I believe I have remained pure, by staying the same-gender loving man that I was intended to be. In other words, I could in fact have become "corrupted" had I sought to become a pretend-heterosexual man, while knowing deep down that this in actuality is not who I am. I am fortunate that I did not experience to a great degree that psychological and emotional turmoil many gay men go through as they progress through their teenage years into adulthood. I was always sure of who I was, but the downside was that I found myself in a very lonely place, since there were hardly any others that I knew socially who shared the same sexual feelings. And it was impossible to share these feelings with most of my peers at the time..

Over the years I have come to realise that there are many other gay Africans. We have remained hidden because our society has been firm in its intolerance towards us. But I am convinced that this intolerance is borne entirely from the lack of information concerning homosexuality among Africans. And this is where we come in, me and many others like me who through our blogs have sought to tell our story more honestly, clearly and persuasively than ever before. The result we see of this huge unprecedented amount of information about homosexuality and Africans being put into the public domain, is that among my generation of Africans and younger, there is a greater awareness of the fact that gay Africans are real flesh and blood human beings, who are entitled to live their lives happily just as everyone else. I see the beginnings of a shift in opinion, a shift that becomes apparent when we hear respected African men and women publicly voicing moderate opinions, and calling for restraint and caution when gay people have been maliciously vituperated in the media, as in Kenya and in Uganda recently. Times are changing and I am positive that this story will have a happy ending. I just hope that I am still around when that ending does come..

Sunday, 29 November 2009

The Saxophonist by Anengiyefa (Part 2)

The Saxophonist (Part 2) has now been published and to be found here.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Dour Londoners..

Let me start this by saying that I really do like London. I've lived here for quite a few years now and it is the only other city apart from Lagos that I look upon as 'home'. But..

Visiting London as a tourist was exciting. I'm sure it still is exciting for the thousands of tourists who clog up the streets during the summer months, seemingly under the impression that everybody they see around them is a tourist too just like they are. It was with this same excitement that I arrived in London years ago when I came to live here. But I was not a tourist this time, and it didn't take long for me to realise that not everyone I saw was as excited as I was.

It was in the spring and the flowers were in bloom. The air was crisp, and being fresh from dusty Lagos I thought the air smelt sweet. Then there was the fact that it seemed as if there was a giant air conditioner cooling the whole city. It was my first morning, a Saturday. And when I stepped out unto the street I was very excited. However, it struck me that the pavement was empty although it was obvious that every house on this street had occupants, since on each side of the road was a row of cars parked tightly together. So I was relieved to see that in the distance walking towards me was the figure of a man, although it was as yet impossible to make out the details of his appearance. Anyway, there was someone out here and I wasn't alone, so I quickened my step, walking towards this person who by now I saw was an older man with the olive skin of the people from the Mediterranean. I fixed my gaze on him, smiling, with the expectation that I would greet him as we approached each other. He was looking straight ahead, walking slowly, as of someone completely lost in thought. As we drew closer I could see that he was not looking at me at all, in fact it was as if he did not even notice that there was a person on the same pavement as he was.

My conditioning having lived most of my life until then in the congenial social conditions of African society, caused me to walk up to him and say the most pleasant "Good morning.." that I could muster, a broad smile on my face. The reaction I got was startling. First of all, it was as if he wasn't sure if I had said something to him. He turned his head towards me and when he was no longer in doubt that I had in fact spoken to him, the uncertain expression on his face changed to surprise. He was a much older man and in my culture one must always defer to the elders. So I greeted him again, bowing my head a little this time. Looking up at him, I saw that what was surprise had now changed to shock and then alarm. Then finally he looked at me in the the way you would regard an insect that suddenly appeared on your living room wall, saying not a word to me. His step had faltered only momentarily, and he just carried on walking as if I did not even exist. I slunk away, hurt and slightly confused..

Looking back now, I have tried to imagine what might have been going on in his mind at that moment. Probably those stories he'd read in the papers about knife-wielding black youths who rob elderly ladies in the street. It took this experience for me to learn that in London, you did not just walk up to random strangers and say hello. It seems to me that having been here all these years, I too have acquired a certain frostiness and become a bit like the Londoners who were here before me. I'm no longer as warm and amiable as I used to be.

I was out today doing my rounds from office to court and back and I made a conscious decision to make a note each time I saw someone smile. London is a very overcrowded city, thus you're guaranteed to encounter hundreds, even thousands of people in the City on a weekday. Of the very many people I saw, not one single one of them was smiling. I have heard people comment on how unfriendly London can be, and I regret to say that I will have to concur. The British famously refer to their aloofness as 'the British reserve', and they have set the tone for the rest of us who come here to join them. People hardly even talk to each other and the result is that understanding between individuals and communities is thwarted.