Friday, September 16, 2011

Living on Luck: Making Emergency Preparedness a Lived Reality

Countries that have been (so far) fortunate enough to escape the catastrophe that has befallen Haiti and Japan must feel lucky. But with luck should come awareness of the strategies/measures that must be put in place to ensure that, should the elements of nature decide to pour their solid, liquid or gaseous wrath in our direction, they will be in a position to still escape catastrophe through forethought and proper planning and preparation.

Preparedness must replace the luck mentality. And I see no place where a strong belief in luck or an unwavering testament to people’s faith in God’s providence is more evident than in Jamaica - the nation with the most churches per square mile.

Every year, around hurricane season, the piousness and religious zeal of Jamaican people increases thousandfold, as they cross fingers, toes, hands and feet, blot their house doors with the cross and pray for the providence of God to help them through another rough, potentially devastating season. The problem with that approach is - many of them survive the season relatively unscathed, and as a result, their belief in their luck's never-ending supply gets bolstered, even as the folly of their unpreparedness and refusal to prepare remains veiled to them.

At the end of it, they throw up their hands, utter a “Tenky Jesus” and carry on until the next hurricane season, and the next season of their mixture of fear, faith and luck.

I have no problem with God or religion. And I certainly have no grouse with Jamaicans being a people of faith. But let’s make this biblical: Faith without works - sensible, WISE works - is dead. Their failure to see that ‘luck’, ‘providence’, or whatever they call it, can run out, whereas good sense, proper planning and detailed preparation will always prevail, is what disturbs me.

We could easily move from the ‘maybe I’ll make it this year’ feeling of uncertainty to the confident statement of, ‘yes, I am prepared’. Damages could be minimised and it would cost this country less if we would stop living on luck, and starting living out emergency disaster preparedness, until it is ingrained in our culture, like it was in Japan’s.

And we should take instruction from the fact that despite their superior levels of preparation, Japan still endured more than they were able to bear. What about us - who are not prepared at all??

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Rainy Days And A Commuting Crisis Part 2

Or: A lesson in self-discovery

There I was. Caught in a classic catch 22. Take out the phone and make the call, risk being harmed or worse, killed, for a stupid BB (yes, right then, the damned thing seemed stupid and bothersome). Or not make the call and risk being stuck under that old shed with these strangers till midnight. I needed to go home. Badly. Cold, hungry and tired were beginning to make inroads on my will.

I took a careful look at the men around me. One was in shabby clothes, obviously a street runner (one of those men who spend all of their productive and consequently unproductive years on the side of the road harassing beautiful ladies, getting high, loading buses and dodging the police ...  an absolutely judgmental description, but, I promise you, also absolutely true). One was a really big and tall dude in a khaki uniform - I shuddered. He was a schooler but he looked like maybe he had repeat several grades several times. Scary. Another looked like he worked on a construction site, in a lumber yard, or some such place. Short, thick, muscular, hulkish. He was sighing and hissing his teeth a lot and I thought he could rip the phone from me with one brisk motion. The last man wasn't so bad. He was tall but thin - almost to a fault. I looked at him and felt a small measure of pity and solace. He looked so sad and malnourished. If push came to shove,  I could probably take him out.

The woman sounded like a security guard. She was short and fat. Maybe she would come to my rescue if I needed it. It never crossed my mind that she could have been antagonistic toward me  - funny how and when our biases are revealed.

I looked around me at this circle of strange faces, and thought to myself that before the great and terrible heavenly outpouring, they were all just regular people on their way somewhere. They were stuck under this shed, just like I was, and it was very possible that, at this moment, they were all more preoccupied with their own worries and troubles than they were with me and my BB. Maybe they hadn't even noticed me!

I stepped closer to a damp corner, and turned to face the wall. I slid my BB out of my handbag, and took another quick glance at the faces around me. Maybe they weren't criminals after all. I rang a friend and was halfway through relating my sorry dilemma when a bright flash of lightning struck - literally before my face!! I screamed at the same time that a huge peal of thunder clapped, and everybody looked in my direction - at me and my BB.

I looked back at them and felt like a mouse trapped in the limelight,  one hand clutching my handbag to my side and the other halfway through a wave (don't ask me how or why) with the phone held up in the air, visible for all to see ...

Funny how sometimes the things we try hardest to hide are the things that find their own way into the limelight.  Funny how much we can learn about ourselves in our darkest hours.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Rainy Days and A Commuting Crisis

A lesson in being grateful for small, old and outdated mercies

So yesterday in Kingston, Jamaica, it rained cats and dogs! I mean, I had to wonder if heaven did laundry, the water was coming so heavy. And the lightning and thunder? As a friend would say, looked like God was fierce ... and fearsome!

So the work bus trip left me, and I ended up stuck under the shed of an abandoned building on a somewhat secluded road. In dangerous downtown Kingston. Funny how I suddenly remembered that I was downtown, and that the place can be pretty dangerous for young, unarmed, female pedestrians ... Funny how I suddenly felt the penetrating gazes of the four other men who were stuck under the shed with me ... Funny how I started to earnestly beseech the (already wroth) Almighty to please let the one woman who was under that godforsaken place with us not get the taximan she was so desperately trying to call so I'd have some sort of female company till the rain eased up and I could escape the peril of four strange, suddenly menacing-looking men (yes, I know, what a horrible thing to pray). And funniest of all was the interesting dilemma I found myself in as it regarded my only means of commmunication with the *supposedly* dry and safe rest-of-world: my cell phone.

Now, up until recently, I had a Nokia 3310 - an ugly, ancient thing that caused me many days and nights of continuous ridicule from my friends and coworkers. The phone was so old that when it fell, it separated into five different pieces: the back frame, the battery, the front frame, the keypad and the sim card would all fly into different directions, and I would have to gather these relics to put my *hardy* phone back together again (say what you will about my old Nokia, that phone was hardy - I had that particular model from sixth form in high school and it lasted into the 21st century, so there!).

But alas, I had to retire that phone. It was becoming a bit of an embarrassment for a young, working professional. And quite the setback. So I retired it, and stepped up to the fast-paced, hi-tech BlackBerry world which, up until last night, I was very happy to enter.

But yesterday. In this dangerous place. Rain pouring. Five pairs of strange eyes on me. And my only means of communication? A posh, hot, steal-worthy BlackBerry phone. I suddenly realised the unsavoury side of having material possessions that criminals find attractive. It was quite the dilemma and, right then, I longed deeply for my ancient Nokia phone ...

Funny the things we see, hear, feel and miss in our moments of crisis! From now on, I'll remember to be grateful for small, old and outdated mercies!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

My Very First Blog Post EVER

This is the very first blog post I ever did. I re-read it on my old (currently defunct) blog and thought, well gaaa-lee!!! Wow. I was deep once, lol. So enjoy.

So I started this blog because, well... I started this blog because...

Blogs are supposed to be the revolutionary media through which the ordinary, everyday, not-so-well-known-if-known-at-all person can express his/herself to a (hopefully) wide and varied audience. They aren't even that new. The concept has been around for quite a while now. So that means I'm several years behind. And why?

I could blame my teachers and all those persons who are supposed to facilitate the educational process. I could say that they didn't encourage me enough to have an avid interest in the wider world of journalism, that they themselves didn't seem to know anything more than standard, ineffective methods of teaching... purely by rote, and that this unengaging, uninspiring sort of tutorship is to blame for me being so disgracefully out of sync with my chosen career, and it would probably be very close to the truth.

I could cite lack of mentorship or fellowship opportunities in a small, developing country like Jamaica. I could say that here, you have to be among a chosen few and have a certain level of experience or luck or links or precociousness in order to actually make any advances in a field like journalism; a field where jobs are limited, opportunities are few, and the salary is not too exciting either. And that would be no lie.

I could point out that in a society like mine, if you aren't studying to become a lawyer or a doctor, or someone who works in a bank, next to no-one recognises your career as anything significant or important. I could refer to the overwhelming ignorance about and therefore gross unappreciation for journalists or journalism in this country. I could explain that what we call the "grassroots man" in Jamaica has not yet come to terms with the role that good journalism plays in his development; that no-one has taught him to appreciate a concept so abstract, so he hasn't, and it really is no fault of his. Or mine.


But it wouldn't make a difference. It wouldn't change the fact that I am still only just starting a blog.

So I'm starting a blog because it's about time I did (and because some benevolent stranger named Pepe encouraged me to do it around the same time I was reading in magazines about blogs and had actually found a couple that were quite interesting).

I'm starting this blog because the whole concept behind blogs (I think) is to recognise the existence of people like me who may not have international acclaim or coveted millions, but still have something to say: I have a story worth telling, and if I get lucky, then someone, somewhere will think it's worth listening to.

I'm starting this blog because I am. And that alone warrants notice.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Celebrating International Literacy Day

The following is a message from the World Assembly of Youth in recognition of International Literacy Day.

Illiteracy is a crucial problem that affects all corners of the earth;
it has no boundaries and exists among every race, age group, and
economic class. According to the UNESCO statistics, one out of five
adults is illiterate while 67.4 million children are either out of
school or lack sufficient education. About 131 million youths aged
between 15 to 24 lack basic reading and writing skills.

Among many of the issues in literacy is gender disparity. Majority of
females lack education as compared to the male gender. Everyone needs
some basic education and has the right to it. Human rights to access
education must be exercised by all institutions with governments
enforcing such laws.

Knowledge is power when used to its full potential. To the societies,
literacy is essential for the development and economic growth of our
nations. We need to be able to read and write to get through our
important everyday tasks, excelling in school and be able to secure
jobs. Literacy opens up a window of opportunities to those who have it.

It provides people with the option of becoming members of a
self-confident and informed populace that can understand issues,
represent themselves, take responsibility for self-improvement
and family health, and better participate in civic affairs. These
are among the more priceless payoffs of literacy. It is also a vehicle
for tackling communicable diseases such as HIV, overcoming poverty and
a tool for achieving Millennium development goals.
Being the youth organization that we are, we are very much interested
in investing into the education of youth and raising awareness to the
issues of concern by all means. On this day, World Assembly of Youth
would like, not only to give insight on literacy issues but to also
encourage everyone especially the youth to pursue after knowledge and
hold on to it in order to preserve human potential.

May all be empowered with knowledge. Everyone can make a contribution
to the rise of literacy rates.