Sunday, 30 November 2014

Men in Uganda: Unappreciated, endangered but surviving

It is the end of an interesting month. No, it is not a paycheck, which is probably what you are thinking. Interesting, in that, this is the month of the man. November is when there is International Men’s Day, which is celebrated on 19th and the whole month dedicated to Movember. The latter being a charity drive to raise awareness of men's health issues, such as prostate cancer and other male cancers, and promote healthier lifestyles.

Movember is a blend of “moustache” and “November” because of encouraging men to grow a moustache or not shave it as a way to highlight the cause. But the back story of how this came about is interesting. What eventually became Movember was conceived during a boys’ night out in a pub, how typically male.

In 1999, group of young men in Adelaide, Australia, coined the term with the idea of growing moustaches—“Growing whiskers for whiskers”—to raise money for Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals through selling T-shirts. Five years later, another group in another Australian city, Melbourne, held an event where 30 men grew moustaches for 30 days to highlight prostate cancer and depression in men. This would eventually become the Movember Foundation charity. The initiative spread to other countries and continents. In 2012, perhaps for the first time, there was a Movember campaign in Uganda spearheaded by Victoria University Health Centre.

Now talking of prostrate cancer, which Movember especially focuses on, the figures for Uganda are scary. A study done by Uganda Cancer Institute shows that eight out of every 10 men diagnosed with prostate cancer die within a year. On top of that, at least five to 10 new cases are registered at the institute monthly. The twist is that these cases are mostly in advanced stages, partly explaining why death comes closely after that.

A clearer picture is in these figures from International Agency for Research on Cancer. Estimated number of new cases per year is 1,547 while estimated number of deaths per year is 1,314. So, the 223 who do not die this year may die the next year. It is therefore not surprising that prostate cancer is the most common cancer among Ugandan men and the rate one of the highest recorded in Africa.

The other issue in focus is male depression. Yes, men get depressed too…but it is masked in plethora of coping behaviour. On this, Mayo Clinic website elaborates thus: “But other behaviours in men that could be signs of depression—but not recognised as such—include: Escapist behaviour, such as spending a lot of time at work or on sports; alcohol or substance abuse; controlling, violent or abusive behaviour; irritability or inappropriate anger; risky behaviour, such as reckless driving.” Looking closely, is this not the profile of a typical Ugandan man?

Though there are a variety of factors that lead to male depression, feeling unappreciated can be one of them. And being a man in Uganda is “a hard paper”. You have to work twice as hard under twice as much pressure as the other sex to be this or that, to take care of this or that, be responsible for this or that, be this or that. Men are husbands, brothers, fathers, leaders or other thankless roles but when the songs are sung, they are curiously left out of the equation.

This is the essence of International Men’s Day. While not a UN-sanctioned day, its origins can be traced to Trinidad and Tobago and now marked in more than 60 countries across different continents. The theme is men’s and boys’ health, gender relations, gender equality, and positive role models. “Men make sacrifices every day in their place of work, in their role as husbands and fathers, for their families, for their friends, for their communities and for their nation.”

Incidentally, it was on International Men’s Day, November 19, when results of the recent census were released. As they say, men lie, women lie, numbers don’t: On top of being unappreciated, Ugandan men are an endangered species. The sex ratio, men to women, is 94.5 males to 100 females down from 101.9 in 1969. The number of men is declining: At 16.9 million men compared to 17.9 million women, it boils to 985,901 less men than women. Somehow, we survive as there will always be a baby boy born. Maybe things will be better. OK bye, I’m gone till November.

A version of this was also published in Daily Monitor

Sunday, 15 June 2014

3,477 days a dad: Figuring out F.A.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D

I will not start off by stating the obvious, that today is Father’s Day, you must have heard that already though it is not overly trumpeted like Mother’s Day, which is marked in May, was. And this contrast kind of reflects on how many people perceive the roles of these two parents.
While many tend to praise their mothers, they swing the other way when it comes to their fathers. For those, whose fathers were deadbeat dads, I would understand. At times it is surprising that people who shared with a roof with their dads, have anything but positive to say about them.

Some claim that their fathers were aloof, physically present but not unavailable. But if we begin to look at it from another angle, we will begin to understand our fathers and that they were from another generation. The expectations on them as fathers are different from what is expected from us.

We can now hold hands with the baby mamas or mothers of our children as we attend antenatal sessions, go into the labour ward, pick up our brood right after the midwife has cleaned up, and carry around those brightly coloured oddly shaped baby bags. And even be around for the immunisation jabs. For our fathers, the closest was just outside the labour room then he would probably hold the baby a few days, weeks or even months later. But from that day he had to hustle for baby to have milk and the mum and other business is taken care of.

And that is what fathers do; we take care of business. We make sure our people have food on the table, have clothes on their backs, and have a roof over their heads. This is essentially what it is, this is what we do, this is our responsibility. If not for anything, this single factor is enough to celebrate and honour our fathers and not only on the third Sunday of June.

Even before I became one, I always remembered this line by Laurence Fishburne’s character in the film, Boyz-N-the-Hood: “Any fool with a d— can make a baby, but only a real man can raise his children.” Thankfully, unlike the son he was talking to, I was not a teenage dad or even got one in my twenties. I guess I was not a fool with a d**k, but the constant question I am faced with is whether I am the real man raising children.

This is question I do not have an answer to; I wonder if my father also experienced such self-doubt at times like I do. He seemed to be always in control, to have all the answers, and to the right thing at the right time…in his quiet, laid back way.

As I grew older and understood him more, he seemed to have evolved into this philosopher-prophet. Some of the things he told me still ring true eight years after his demise. By that time, he related to me as more of a brother than a father. But we had not got round to talking about fatherhood. By the time he passed, I was a father to a two-year-old, he was a grandfather courtesy of me, my brother and my sisters.
Probably I would have learnt from his wealth of experience or probably not. May be this is about figuring your way through the maze. Like with many things in life, there is not formula to such situations. We just find our own way, just as the bird does when it flies from the nest.

I was first thrust into this fatherhood thing 3,477 days ago. It was an exciting time, I had eagerly waited for that moment for several months. But somehow the little one chose that time I left the hospital to catch some shut eye to pop. Since then, I have been back to the labour ward thrice. Yes, antenatal sessions, brightly coloured oddly shaped bags, immunisation jabs and all. With four sons now, I hope they will look back and say our father did right, just like I say my father did right. And that is the greatest gift I can ever receive on any Fathers’ Day.

Also published in Daily Monitor, June 15, 2014

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Why not legalise cannabis? It is medicine

This Sunday had me reflecting on why Christmas is celebrated more than Easter, yet the latter is the basis of Christianity while the former is by all indications, not even in the bible. I know this is a debate that can never be held rationally, most of us Ugandans hyperventilate when beliefs are questioned.

So, I turned my attention to something that struck me more about this Easter than those religious arguments. What was kind of unique about this Sunday is that it fell on April 20, code-named variously as 420, 4:20, 4/20, which is a kind of celebration for another kind of movement.

April 20 has become “Easter” or “Christmas” for cannabis fans, while several use it as an occasion to get high, it is point for those who campaign for its legalisation. The short of the long story behind 420 is that a group of students in California, calling themselves The Waldos, used to meet at a particular spot at 4:20pm to go and search for an abandoned field of marijuana. While they were not successful , the legend spread and eventually given a spin by The Grateful Dead, a popular rock band. Of course, there are many versions to the 4/20 story.

In a small way, weird some would say, I would also agitate for legislation. And I must add a strong emphasis here, for STRICTLY medicinal purposes and possibly industrial use but not recreation.

Some would ask, does cannabis, or marijuana as it is more popularly known, have any use apart from intoxication? Yes, it does.

You see, what gives the high is technically known as tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC in short. It is just one of the more than 400 known compounds in the plant. But I am not an expert of any sort, so I hope the testimony of Dr Sanjay Gupta will add weight to my thrust. He is a neurosurgeon and medical correspondent for CNN, a critic of medical marijuana who authored a 2009 article “Why I would Vote No on Pot” in TIME magazine.

By 2013, he had made the documentaries, Weed and Weed 2, and written an article on CNN blogs, in which he explores the medical properties of cannabis. To quote him: “We have been terribly and systematically misled for nearly 70 years in the United States, and I apologise for my own role in that. I hope this article and upcoming documentary will help set the record straight.” Later, he continues, “While investigating, I realised something else quite important. Medical marijuana is not new, and the medical community has been writing about it for a long time. There were in fact hundreds of journal articles, mostly documenting the benefits.”

So, what are these benefits? Cannabis can be used to treat cancer, because it kills off those cells. It relieves pains, relax muscles and its different compounds act on the body differently. So, in addition to cancer, it helps with seizures, migraines (types of headaches), Glaucoma (an eye disease) multiple sclerosis (which affects the nervous system), Alzheimer’s (which causes memory loss), Pre-menstrual Syndrome (the women would know this), HIV/Aids and disorders like ADHD, and Crohn’s syndrome, an inflammatory bowel disease.

Many times, there is news of police raids on marijuana gardens, some of which the owners say they use to treat cattle and poultry. Silently, I wonder at this waste of resources.

I say we, Uganda, should follow the example of Uruguay, which legalised growing, sale and smoking of marijuana in 2013 to curb the illicit distribution and sale. But in our case, let us restrict this to medical purposes. And I could not agree more, as the UN Office on Drugs and Crime notes, “It is important to distinguish between users of scientifically‐approved, legitimate cannabis‐based medications and those who seek to use “medical” cannabis as a shield for legitimising general cannabis use.”

Imagine Uganda tapping into the growing international market for medical marijuana, which is worth billions of dollars annually. Making an anti-homosexuality law in face of international pressure, threats and ridicule showed Uganda is capable of some bold moves. Let us legalise cannabis, it is medicine.

An edited version of this was published by Daily Monitor newspaper

Saturday, 4 January 2014

A blogger's New Year resolution

In one line, by 31 December 2014 I intend to check all those blogs