Friday, May 30, 2014

That Tribal Tattoo...

A tattoo can be an interesting conversation starter since posing questions about its location, design and meaning creates an avenue to understanding the psyche of the bearer. Hence when I got mine, I knew I was going to be met with a barrage of questions from curious souls, especially because of its abstract origins. When asked about the meaning of my tattoo, I’d often say, in an attempt to kill the conversation, that it’s simply a tribal tattoo with no meaning. If I get a quizzical look in return, I’d expound by saying: “It’s abstract, so spectators have the carte-blanche to interpret it as they please.” That answer always puts an end to further questioning and frees me from further explanations.
Tribal tattoo
Photo: Shayera

I waited seven years to get tattooed. The long wait had less to do with fear, and more to do with finding the right tattoo parlor. During those years, I made several changes to the design and location of the tattoo I was hoping to get. I went from wanting Chinese characters on my shoulder blade to kanji characters on my ankle to having a black widow crawling down my back.

Later, my mind vacillated between a fairy on my lower back and a tribal tattoo on my wrist. The latter of the two ideas stuck with me for a while, but after pondering about the impression it may have on potential employers, especially since I live in conservative environment, I thought it wise not to get a tattoo on my wrist. Moreover, there was always that threat of boredom lurking nearby that would inevitably lead to a trip to the dermatologist to laser it off.

For someone who easily gets bored, I didn’t want a tattoo that would represent a single idea. I also didn’t want it to be located in an area where I’d see it often, plus I wanted the option of concealment so I could hide and exhibit it as I pleased. Another reason why the location was of importance was that I wanted the shape and design to remain unchanged in the event that I lose or put on weight. With all these criteria in mind, I figured a tribal tattoo on my back fitted the bill perfectly. Five years on and my tribal tattoo sits pretty on my upper back where I can only view it with the help of a mirror, hence neutralizing the threat of boredom.

Tribal designs have always intrigued me because they possess a mysterious and ineffable quality that predisposes them to different interpretations. In a way, they symbolize life in all its complexities, and just like life, they shouldn’t be figured out but experienced as trying to do otherwise will only drive one insane. Just as abstract art is never devoid of meaning, so is life full of surprises – surprises that may come as serendipitous events or unfortunate accidents.

Rainy days will serve as reminders to appreciate the sunshine and that umbrella. There will be some adventurous times as well as some soul-destroying periods of ennui. There will be some friendly faces along the way and the not so friendly ones. And since life is a journey, you will get lost and confused on some days, and on other days you will be confident of where you’re headed. Also you’ll discover and explore new roads, if you’re brave enough to take a detour once in a while.

My tribal tattoo serves as a physical reminder of what life should be. Life shouldn’t be defined, but should be seen as a long road with several paths leading to a destination. Life isn’t simple – it’s a mysterious, indescribable and abstract experience that we shouldn’t strive to understand. Its complexities shouldn’t be over-analyzed; they should simply be experienced with all the senses. 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Religion As a Tool of Oppression

In the spirit of Good Friday, I made a conscious decision to attend Mass, and since it was my first time in Eket, I thought it would be nice to experience Mass in a new and different environment.

My mom and I arrived a few minutes late, so we had to sit on the veranda as the church was filled to its capacity. And no sooner had I sat down than a churchwarden tapped my shoulder motioning that I follow him. Naturally, I ignored him. Then a few seconds later, he returned and tapped me again which prompted my asking what the problem was. He said I should come with me, but I declined saying if he had anything to me he could say to me where I was sitting.

When he saw I wasn't prepared to budge, he said I should go home and change because trousers are prohibited in church. My mom, who was seated next to me began to explain to him, much to my chagrin, that we’d gone somewhere and couldn't go back to change or we’d be late for Mass. Needless to say, her explanation fell on deaf ears because his reply to her was – “In Jesus name, please tell her to go back home and change”, to which I replied in a mocking fashion – “In Jesus name, please allow me to listen to the sermon”. With that, he gave me the evil eye and walked away annoyed.

This incident reminded me of a similar one that happened when I was 17. I was barred from entering church because I’d worn trousers. As I argued with the churchwardens over my clothing choice, the Irish parish priest, who wasn't presiding over Mass that morning, rose from where he sat to tell the wardens to let me in. Later that day, much to my delight, I heard I was the object of his homily in the subsequent Mass he presided over. Although I wasn't aware of what he said, I know he supported my act of protest because no one bothered me at Mass afterwards.

How is it that women can wear trousers in the Vatican without being harassed, but are banned from doing so in certain churches in Nigeria? The response I hear all the time is – “it’s not our culture”. It’s not our culture? OK, so is Christianity our culture? Are the western clothes we wear part of our culture? 

The originators of Christianity permit women to wear trousers in places of worship, so why can’t adopters of the religion do the same? The truth is men, who have always been custodians of religion, conveniently discarded sections of Scriptures that seemed unpalatable to them and selfishly imposed those sections that are restrictive or oppressive to women. It seems as if religion is a front to maintain unfair social mores that aren't beneficial to women.

Religion has long been used as a tool of oppression by those in power. Flip through the pages of the Bible and you’ll find passages condoning slavery which, by the way, slave owners were all too happy to highlight in an attempt to justify slave ownership. 

Another example of how the Bible can be used as an oppressive tool is found in the verse that urges women to submit completely to their husbands. This verse is often read ad nauseam at wedding ceremonies to make women believe they should always acquiesce to their husband's decisions or behavior, regardless of how incongruous they may be, simply because he is the head of the household. Why can't both parties rule the household equally? Does testosterone make one any smarter or more responsible? While society milks that verse for what it's worth, the preceding verse about men loving their wives as they love themselves is either mysteriously forgotten or mentioned en passant. 

Speaking of wedding ceremonies, how come women who opt to marry in church made to submit their wedding gowns for inspection? Are they little kids that they need to be given advice and direction as to what they can and can’t wear on their wedding day? Similarly, why are women subjected to pregnancy tests prior to their wedding and berated, if pregnant, while nothing is said to the fianc√©? If the Church is averse to wedding a pregnant woman, shouldn't the man be equally castigated for her 'plight'?

Lately, I've been wondering why women have to wear white, or shades closer to white on their wedding day, while men can wear any color they want. Is this society’s way of perpetuating the erroneous belief that women should be the picture of purity, but not men? There’s a bizarre notion that women have to remain virgins until married, even though men are tacitly encouraged to have sexual experiences before marriage. If that’s the reality we've accepted, then with whom are these men having sex?

Under Sharia law, a woman caught committing adultery is stoned to death or whipped, but nothing ever seems to happen to her 'partner-in-crime'. If at all any punishment is meted out to him, it’s often milder than the one the woman has to bear. Likewise, in the biblical story of the adulterous woman, one wonders why the Pharisees brought the woman before Jesus but not the adulterous man along with them. Are women the only ones culpable for adultery?

Religion is like a knife - in the hands of a chef it can do wonders, but in the hands of a maniac it can wreak havoc. History and recent happenings have shown how religious fanatics have used religion as a tool to oppress people or create hell on earth for those with differing views. 

Moreover, it doesn't help that some texts contained in these holy books are vague, thereby making interpretation contingent upon the interpreter’s bias. With this in mind, adherents of any faith should tread carefully and constantly pose these questions: what is the aim of the message being preached? Does it sit well with my conscience? Will it oppress my neighbor(s)? If tables were turned and I was at the receiving end of these teachings, would I be pleased? Essentially, one has to remember the golden rule: do unto others what you’d like them to do unto you.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Bring Back Our Girls!

For anyone who’s been following the news lately, you’ll know that Malaysia Airline flight MH370 en route to China flew off the radar 6 weeks ago and a search has been underway to find the plane and its passengers. There was also an investigation into the private lives of the pilot and co-pilot to ascertain whether the plane’s disappearance was intentional or an accident.

Also, for anyone who’s been watching the news of recent, you’ll know that a ship carrying 475 passengers capsized in South Korea almost three weeks ago. Following the horrendous incident, there was a concerted and continuous effort to find the 290 passengers who remained missing. For several days, rescuers searched while parents prayed and held on to the hope that their children will be found alive in the ship’s air pockets. Unfortunately, their search came up empty as there were neither air pockets nor any survivors found.

The two news stories above bear a similar characteristic to a third story, in that three of them involve the disappearance of people. However, the third takes a different, bizarre turn, in that there hasn’t been any sensible or comprehensive rescue effort launched for the missing people. In the case of the third story, the missing people happen to female students abducted from a high school in the town of Chibok, Northern Nigeria.
More than two weeks ago, over 200 female students were awakened from their slumber and herded into trucks by members of the Nigerian Islamist group, Boko Haram. Luckily, some of the girls were able to escape through their own efforts.

Since 2009, the group has been responsible for perpetrating terrorist attacks in Northern Nigeria, targeting both government officials and civilians alike. They’ve torched churches and were responsible for 2011 bombing of the UN building in Abuja. Recently, they bombed a busy bus stop on the outskirts of Abuja twice within two weeks of each other, and have been targeting schools in Northern Nigeria, killing students and burning down infrastructure which has led to the closure of several schools.

A combination of an ill-equipped army and the Government’s incompetence and reluctance to stamp out the menace that is Boko Haram hasn’t only led to its growth, but has also emboldened the group’s insurgency.

For over 2 weeks, more than 200 girls have remained captive performing domestic chores for members of the group, and possibly being raped by them. It’s been reported that some of the abducted girls have been sold as brides for as little as $12 to Boko Haram militants.

And what does the Nigerian government do about all this?

First, they tried hoodwinking Nigerians into thinking that the girls who had escaped were rescued by the Nigerian army. But, of course, the spurious claim has long been refuted, and since then the Government has folded its hands and made no attempt to rescue the missing girls.

Second, the Presidency, under the auspices of Goodluck Jonathan, thumbed its nose at Nigerians by attending a party a day after the girls were kidnapped. What kind of President goes partying when his country is under attack? Can you imagine the South Korean President partying a day after the ferry disaster, or Kenyatta doing so after terrorists attacked a Nairobi mall in Kenya?

Leadership and responsibility are intertwined. One can’t claim to be a leader and then absolve oneself from responsibility when the shit hits the fan. In the face of trouble and uncertainty, leaders proffer reassurance and hope to the distressed and ensure that the resources needed to resolve the issues at hand are made readily available. It’s also the responsibility of the leader to provide timely information to those under their custody. Case in point – the Malaysian airline has kept families of the passengers on flight MH370 updated on the search mission via conferences and various media outlets.

Similarly, the South Korean Prime Minister demonstrated leadership when he resigned from his post and accepted responsibility in the slow rescue response to the ferry disaster. Meanwhile, the vice principal of the high school that students on board the sunken ship attended, committed suicide because he felt responsible for leading them to their death.

While I don’t advice anyone commit suicide, the examples above demonstrate how seriously leadership and responsibility are taken in some societies.

It's shameful that the Nigerian government has made no visible or meaningful attempt to locate the missing girls, despite some media outlets reporting that they’re being held hostage in Sambisa forest. Furthermore, the President has yet to address the nation, or even visit the town where the attack occurred, which has left many Nigerians asking themselves and one another the question: How many ears must the President and his administration have before they can hear the cries of Nigerians?

If the current state of affairs doesn’t improve, one thing is for certain: Boko Haram will become bolder and more aggressive in its insurgency.