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Open Features: A Prayer For Divine Intervention

"I’m sure God, like we lessor mortals, has learned to look the other way, when there is anything truly untoward to deal with,'' declares Mike Wood, reflecting on serious current-day events.

It was some time ago that I first realised voodoo was real;
not something fanciful, scoffed about at the sort of unmemorable dinner parties where guests’ sole purpose in living, is to monitor rising property prices. Back in the halcyon days when I still understood the meaning of night-life, I liked to frequent the pulsating Starlight Club in Nairobi. An insalubrious place which throbbed with the seductive rhythms of live Congolese bands, in steamy ultra-violet light; where Tusker and White Cap were consumed with relish. It was impossible after an evening of such entertainment, not to believe that one had been subject to a mysterious metamorphosis – that at the very least, Africa had seeped into
one’s veins. But I digress. On one such evening, I was sitting at
the bar, minding my own business, when a young woman with
large gaps between surviving teeth, approached me and suggested a dance. I was disinclined and lied to her that I had a bad leg. Accepting this, she disappeared into the mass of heaving humanity shaking to the beat of Kanda Bongo Man (or near equivalent). Later, without a hobble, I took to the dance floor with someone of my choosing, failing to understand the downstream consequences. Once immersed, it was difficult to get back to the bar, but we did eventually manage to fight our
way there to replenish drinks. Shortly I was interrupted again
by the dentally challenged one who now wore an angry scowl
on her face. She thumped my left knee and warned “Mzungu,
this leg will go bad”. A week later, I was running along a
beach in Mombasa and slipped on some rocks. My left knee
swelled like a balloon and key hole surgery in England,
followed. Coincidence? Maybe. But to this day I remain convinced that that young woman had powers she was able to
deploy when people like me messed her about.

God fearing folks will only laugh at such tales. But I have also come to believe that our Gods, whoever they may be, far from forgiving all our misdemeanors, can when the mood suits them, get back at transgressors. Who could forget the spine chilling moment in the movie “Ghost” when black creatures came up from the drains to haul the screaming Willie Lopez
away to subterranean depths, where doubtless a fate worse
than death itself awaited him. That’ll teach him to stab Demie
Moore’s lover!

Regretably, God doesn’t provide much advice on where and when he might be inspired to reap vengeance on those who
don’t play ball. For many years I worked with the UK Department for International Development. When I was responsible for Government tropical forestry policy, I remember sending one of my staff to Brussels to do battle with the Frogs, whose commercial companies were busily engaged tearing out all the mahogany and other valued timber species in Cote d’Ivoire (among other places) under the
pretext of “sustainable extraction” – a term which they knew
to be meaningless. Now I had a suspicion that the staff member in question, let’s call him John M, lacked both confidence and experience, but I sent him anyway, believing that he would benefit from the exposure. After all, he had to do little more than read a prepared statement. John M returned to London looking utterly miserable and told me that when push came to shove, he froze under the spotlight. In front of
microphones, simultaneous interpreters, and a gang of foreigners, all of whom he judged to be better informed, he simply seized and could hardly utter a word. Worse still, he confided, when he did manage to speak, it was complete gobbledygook. Poor John M. To this day, I regret
what I put him through. However, not for the reason you
might think. It must have been a God who found a way of giving me a clip around the ear, even if it took ten years to achieve. I climbed further through the ranks and now had responsibility for a new and expanding British aid programme in China. Not that a piddling £30 million per annum went very far with their 1.3 billion population. On one particular mission to Beijing, my job was to explain to interlocutors, whose English was immaculate, why the British Government had suddenly shifted from offering aid only in support of trade deals (like the French still do) to a policy which was entirely poverty focused. Before business got underway, it was
important to indulge in a bit of pre-meeting chit-chat, during
which I was filled to bursting point with strong green tea (the
Chinese joke that “long noses” – people of European descent –
cannot hold their tea!). Once seated around the conference
table, I suddenly began to hyperventilate. I felt my throat constrict and I had to take deep breaths. Oddly enough, I first
attributed this involuntary physical assault to jet lag. It would
quickly pass, I thought. Anyway, by the time I came to say my
piece, I started off with a few well enough constructed sentences, but thereafter, everything fell apart. I was just like John M had been. Not a startled rabbit exactly, but knowingly talking nonsense, and seemingly quite unable to stop myself. OK, so I had overdosed on green tea, but my British colleagues didn’t realise that, did they? And goodness knows what sort of impression I created in the Ministry of Education, whose officials were visibly taken aback. So I had been well and truly punished for my lack of sensitivity to JohnM and I too had to crawl back to my London-based boss to confess what had happened. Fortunately he was very understanding and
promoted me further. They say that civil servants are always
elevated to a natural level of incompetence.

Ever since that awful day in Beijing (which still gives me occasional nightmares – I am hoping that writing about it will
prove a suitable therapy) I have wondered what JohnM did to
invoke such successful divine intervention. My repayment was
ever so fitting. If JohnM could bottle it, he could surely make a

The experience has got me to thinking whether our world
might not be altogether a better place if we could call upon God
with reliability, any God will do, to send down a well directed bolt of lightening (metaphorically speaking) when people or nations misbehave unduly.

For example, now that Israel (with the blessing of Western
powers) has completed no fewer than 9000 heavy bombing raids on Lebanon’s civilian centres, couldn’t God send an earthquake or two to Tel Aviv, just to demonstrate he is even handed? Come on, don’t give me all that tosh about Hizbullah starting the war. Life in Israel – now full of gobby Americans – is already more or less back to normal. In contrast, the Lebanese people will take decades to recover from the destructive forces unleashed on them. Top of the range
weapons (some of them used illegally on residential targets, eg
cluster bombs) acquired in limitless quantities from Israel’s superpower provider.

Couldn’t God induce Tony Blair and George Bush to shoot
it out with pistols at dawn so that hopefully we could be rid of
them both? We can expect no change of direction in Britain
from Brown, if and when the Labourites are stupid enough to
allow him to walk into Downing Street unopposed. Labour will
still be up to its tarnished neck, wasting young British lives and
billions of pounds in far away wars, ostensibly fighting against
the prospect of future terror attacks. No wonder the British
health and pension services are in crisis. We could solve these
problems in quick time if we could just loosen the military
umbilical chord which is throttling the very life out of British

The trouble I am sure is that God is inconsistent. Instead of
causing Bush and Blair to fall into a vat of boiling tar, he rewards them with incalculable wealth and lets their wives out in public.

A bit closer to home, how much I wish that baby rapists
would wake up one morning to find that their nether regions
had been sliced off. That AIDS sufferers were cured overnight;
that a million Africans didn’t die every year of malaria; that the
murderers in Darfur would fall off their camels and break their
necks; that I could find a decent plumber!

In fact, come to think of it, as we now tend to do with governments, should we not demand that God be made more
accountable? Yes, yes, I’ve heard it before from countless men
with inverted white collars around their necks. God can’t be

held responsible for the action of men? WHY NOT? Surely if
God turns me into a blethering idiot in Beijing but can’t be relied upon to do in the bombers and the paedophiles, we should have the freedom to vote him out?

If he won’t do big stuff, can he at least be persuaded to do us
a few small favours. Couldn’t DSTV studios airing their endless repeats, mindless drivel and overloud adverts (OK, I’ll concede they’re good on sport) somehow go up in a puff of smoke?

And what about animal cruelty? Recently as I trawled through the news pages of iafrica.com, I came across the story of a 32 year old Pretoria (can we still call it that?) resident with the unlikely name of Oupa Jan Seemo. Such a nice man. He
tied a dog to the back of his Mercedes and took it for a spin
“to teach it a lesson”. Witnesses said that as the car sped around the corner of a block, the unfortunate animal swung through the air like a merry go round. Miraculously the poor beast survived but at the end of its ordeal, its paw pads had disintegrated and it couldn’t stand. Having read about this, I found myself praying to God again, any God, that Oupa Jan Seemo might find himself entangled in a combine harvester. If God isn’t persuaded to intervene, I know a woman in Nairobi who might prove more obliging.

For more sensitive readers there is both a happy and sad
end to the dog story. He was re-homed and is recovering. But the judge who considered this clear case of animal abuse, let Seemo off the hook. It’s amazing what you can get away with these days, isn’t it. I’m sure God, like we lessor mortals, has learned to look the other way, when there is anything truly untoward to deal with.


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