In 1988 this reporter was at the Yugoslavenski Institut Za Novinarstvo (Yugoslav Institute of Journalism) in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. I was nominated by my organisation, the defunct ‘’original’’ Daily Times, for a course in Informed Commentary organised by the UNDP. I was there before that country dissolved into chaos and subsequently broke into seven different living countries today. I was a living witness to the process that led to the split of Yugoslavia which had set in then. One of the cherished memories I have of Yugoslavia was that a small me got a chance to meet and shake hands with Mr. Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian leader and strong man who later died on March 7, 2006, while facing charges of genocide and war crimes at The Hague. But this story is not about Milosevic or Yugoslavia and what became of it later in the course of history so let us return to our main story.
That year, all of Europe was aglow and agog with the salacious love story of former and now late Greek Prime Minister, Andreas Papandreou, and air hostess Dimitra Liani. Papandreou was on a long trip from Athens to Hong Kong. In the course of the flight in Olympic Airways, the Greek national airline, he beheld the impressive looks, charms and carriage of the blonde air hostess, Dimitra Liani. She set his heart aflame and like a pimple- faced teenager falling in love for the very first time, he was in cloud nine and declared that Dimitra was the love of his life and that without her he did not think he will live any meaningful life any more or something to this effect. Papandreou had earlier had a pulmonary by-pass surgery. The superstitious Greek society attributed his quick recovery and general improvement in his health to the Dimitra flame that was burning so brightly in his reconditioned heart!
The Greeks are so well known for their gift for satire and humour. At that time, one Greek cartoonist wondered aloud in his cartoon whether the then 69-year old Papandreou had discovered a new sexual position called ‘’one leg in the grave and another one out of it’’ that he betook himself to a 34-year old girl, a ravishing beauty half his age with blood running riot in her body!
As a 20-something year old young adult and avid reader to the bargain, this enthralling love story of a prime minister with an air hostess nearly half his age soon became the love of my own life. There was no internet at that time but the International Tribune Herald and other major newspapers of the world were following every twist and turn of that fascinating story. I licked and lapped up every juicy bit of the story relating to Papandreou and Liani. I used to leave our hostel so early in the morning to be able to pick up a copy of particularly the International Tribune Herald and the New York Times at the newsstands to find out the latest about the story and to read one of my favourite columnists the American Charles Krauthammer who is often described as a conservative Republican columnist. I fancy myself as a progressive, left-leaning person but I loved the writing style of Mr. Krauthammer, an acknowledged conservative.
One of the grouses which Mr. Papandreou had against Margaret, his American wife of about 38 years then whom he had met in the USA when he was a student there, was that ‘’Margaret couldn’t cook me an egg’’. Commentators said the Greek society is particularly patriarchal and masculine in nature and Papandreou expected Margaret to be a sweet, indulgent and a lovey-dovey wife who will dot on every whim and caprice of her husband and massage his huge male ego. It is Margaret’s failure in that regard that drove Papandreou into the waiting arms of the scheming Liani. From now on in this story, every reference to the two women in the life of Papandreou shall be Mamandreou and Mistressandreou for the purpose of clarity of reference and easy following while Papandreou on the other hand shall remain solidly himself.
A great lady journalist, whose name I have now forgotten, who used to write for the International Tribune Herald and who was also on the story, did a two-page pull out on this fascinating love tale of the time with the title ‘There is Something Wrong with Men’ which we have borrowed as title of this piece. In it, she wondered how on earth a man of Papandreou’s status and dignity was ready to literally forsake everything by condescending to befriend an air hostess and abandoning his wife of 38 years. She, like most women, cannot understand the animal called man and which is why she concluded that there was something wrong with men.
In that fascinating piece of writing, the lady journalist also lamented how unfair life can be as she compared the change in status and fortune of the two women closest to Papandreou the moment he (Papandreou) fell into the soft embrace of Mistressandreou and abandoned Mamandreou.(Mistressandreou later went on to become Mrsandreou and she is still today playing a dominant role in Greek politics).
From that moment on, Papandreou used to carry Mistressandreou everywhere he went to as Greek Prime Minister. She was always with him whether he was addressing parliaments, visiting foreign leaders or negotiating difficult business deals while Mamandreou took to the lecture circuit, lamenting the evils of patriarchy and the terrible libidinal instinct in men. She said that when once Papandreou went to address the European Parliament in Brussels and was staying in a 69-dollar a night pent suite, Mamandreou was in a rundown 28 -dollar a night hotel, not far away in the same city, with the human rights crowd addressing a press conference with the topic ‘’Where is the Sisterhood?’’
Mamandreou cried aloud about why younger, fresher and more alluring women fail to see the pains they inflict on fellow sisters of the same or older age by using their feminine charms to snatch, say, a 69-year old husband from the legitimate wife of his youth. Since I read of former Mrs. Margaret Papandreou’s haunting lamentation of about 30 years ago this year, about the lack of fellow-feeling among women, each time the liaison of a young girl with a man old enough to be her father or grandfather breaks and the wife is humiliated and inflicted with much pains and the man is eventually brought down from the height of his fame and or power, the question I ask silently is ‘’Where is the Sisterhood?
Baby, you feel on top of the world now because you have succeeded in grabbing that rich and powerful man for yourself but don’t you realise the pains you are dealing to a fellow sister? You will doubtless say to me that he chased you ceaselessly and swept you off your feet with sweet promises but can’t you say ‘’no’’ and say it firmly enough to dissuade him? Can’t you do a Usain Bolt and sprint away from his presence and avoid every form of temptation to fall to his warm embrace?
Women love to portray themselves, or allow themselves to be portrayed, as victims of predatory males. This may be a soothing balm to their searing conscience but some of us don’t buy that crap. Women, I sincerely believe, are their own worst enemies. With whom do men betray their wives or girlfriends? Is it with fellow men? Certainly, no! It must, necessarily, have to be with women. Ninety nine per cent of affairs which girls have with men are with married men, whom they know or have reasonable cause to believe, are other women’s husbands. Why, then, are sexual peccadilloes always blamed on men and why are women not appropriately given their own share of the blame?
I sincerely think that if women develop a sense of sisterhood, a sense of solid solidarity with fellow women out there who may be known or unknown to them, it will be impossible for men to hurt the feelings of so many fellow females.
In my own self-admitted old school mentality, I reason that mothers, feminists and women lovers and sympathisers all over the world have a major task on their hands: namely, to bring up girls to realise that when she has an unapproved liaison with a man who is her boss, married man friend, father or brother-in law, she is hurting a fellow sister or woman out there.
I think this teaching and training is essential for the girl child now because the kind of righteous sex education which I got from my maternal grandmother of blessed memory still lives with me and guides my conduct even till today. When grand ma Emene Agabi noticed that I had come of age, she called me one day, sat me down and told me, like the real life coach that parents ought to be to their children, that I had now grown into a young handsome lad and that if I needed to make friends with the opposite sex, it should be with widows and girls of my age.
In my culture, widows are permitted young men, possibly to provide a learning curve! But married women are a taboo to them. Grandma set boundaries for me and even threw in a delicious bonus but I opted for girls of my age because if you get to know the true meaning of what widows are called in my language, a young, fearful boy will not dare go near them!. They are called unye ufo, which, if translated literally into English, means ‘wife of a ghost’! Somebody’s wife was forbidden me so I was not ready to go near anybody’s wife whether the man was a ghost or a living soul! (Watch out for my next piece to be entitled ‘There is Something Wrong with Women’ which will be a fitting sequel to this one).
–Alibi is an Abuja-based journalist