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St-Vincent-Volcano-1979-Eruption

 

Today is exactly forty years since the sole volcano on St Vincent island erupted. On April 13, 1979, the La Soufriere awoke and began a series of eruptions which would ultimately disrupt day-to-day life in St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG).

The timing of the eruption was rather interesting. Some would even say superstitious. You see, April 13, 1979, was a Friday. Friday 13. Black Friday. That Friday was also Good Friday. So, a Christian holiday commemorating the crucifixion of God’s only Son, clashed with the world’s commonly held notion of the “bad luck” Friday.

Could these two phenomena have caused a sleeping volcano to violently awake?

In 1979 the Vincentian government and people were pursuing the country’s political independence from Britain. Although this independence was later granted on October 27 of that same year, the volcanic eruption must have caused many stakeholders to take a second look at becoming independent at that time.

The 1979 eruption of La Soufriere should be fully documented. Many citizens today were not yet born to have experienced it. And those of us who were around back then, might not be here for any future eruption. While the volcano is probably best viewed as a tourist attraction yielding a prime fitness hike and opportunities for socializing, we must not take for granted the innate power of this volcano to become potentially lethal to life here in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

I have few memories of the 1979 eruption, possibly because I was just a toddler who had not even started primary school at the time. We lived next to the village church in those days. Since my parents were Spiritual Baptists, the building was commonly called “Praise House”.

So on that Good Friday 13 April, 1979, I remember everybody in the village moving about with a hustle and bustle. All the adults had a piece of cloth tied around their nostrils. I didn’t know why. But I was given one, too. My parents took turns holding my hands as we walked to and fro most unusually quickly.

I still see images in my head of a very crowded Praise House. Even at that tender age I knew that there must have been an unusually high turnout to church on that day.

But what left the greatest impact on me from that day forty years ago now, was what I saw when I looked up. I don’t remember paying attention to the sky before that day, but I just knew what I was seeing up there was not normal. That is what terrified me most of all.

The clouds up above looked just like the sauce in a boiling pot. All I could have seen were clouds tumbling, rolling, bubbling. My gazed fixated on that mysteriously frightening scene, even as my parents tugged on my little arms to keep up with them. Of course, I would have heard my parents and the other adults speaking about what was the cause of this boiling sky, but my young brain could not make sense of the words “volcano, eruption, La Soufriere”, etc.  Well, we call the volcano “Soufray” for short. Nicknames are a cultural identifier in these rural villages.

Our village was not too badly damaged. Nothing beyond the falling of ash–as experienced island wide. Certainly, it did not stop or change our way of life too much. The men in particular continued going to their mountain lands to farm. The women and children continued staying at home in their village houses. (Other communities were not so fortunate as they had to be evacuated to places far from their homes).

Many of the schools had to be used as the new homes for displaced citizens. So you know schools would have been put on suspension in the interim.

I had actually hoped for a more visible national remembrance on this particular anniversary. But apart from a newspaper editorial and one person’s twitter post, nothing of prominence has taken place to observe this 40th anniversary. Especially with all the radio call-in programmes and social network commentating, I had hoped for a better Vincentian acknowledgement.

Soufray is an indelible part of our culture. It’s dormancy may very well be allowing us to continue to live on the island. Interestingly, and maybe ironically, the government is right now moving in cranes and other heavy duty equipment to commence serious drilling at the volcano. This, as they seek to materialize new geothermal energy.

It is a scary thing when your job becomes your life. But that fear dwarfs in comparison to the realization that your monthly income is housed in a freezer while the prices of basic daily needs and wants are placed on tags in an ever rising river. Something has got to be wrong, year in and year out,  work as hard as you can, you have no overtime, no bonus, no increases to look forward to. Yet this is a depressing reality for hundreds of public sector workers across St Vincent and the Grenadines.

Workers must have been relieved when they heard from the IMF’s last report about the recent improvement in the Vincentian economy. But they must have been equally alarmed at that report’s plea for government to “broaden the tax base”. Unless you are in the shoes of the average Vincentian worker you may not be able to appreciate the “joggling” which such workers are already doing. I used the word “joggling” because that is the quoted word used several years ago by the minister of finance when he chose to speak on this matter.

The question is: Just how much joggling can the average worker endure before having to add the straw that breaks the camel’s back?

I remember when I first became conscious of the parliamentary process f presenting the country’s annual budget. As a teenager, I used to whistle to myself and think, “Boy! three hundred and something million dollars! That’s a lot of money!” Well, guess what the budgetary estimates now look like–over one billion dollars.

There is a very simple truth guiding the ever increasing national budgets over the years. That is, life today is just more expensive. On all fronts, factors of production, distribution and supply are costing more dollars to get the job done. Now, managing money is never always easy. Even the smallest child with a five dollars can tell you that at the end of the day.

I remember asking the manager of the local bank where my deceased mother had opened my first account, why the bank closed the account. The manager’s reply was that the international climate these days demands that bankers find ways of covering their operational costs. In their instance, it meant taking out $10 from every account on a monthly basis. That manager also said that every financial institution these days will have to resort to similar actions if they wish to remain a viable financial institution.

Nonetheless, to use a line from Walter in A Raisin in the Sun, “Money is life!”

In other words, if you want to find out a person’s values and who or what they really deem important, just follow their spending pattern. The same holds true for corporations and governments alike. To see who or what a government values, look at where money is allocated. Or, some might say, look at where money is NOT allocated.

Understanding what I am saying here calls for more than just word recognition skills. You are not going to be able to objectively digest this message if words such as government, salary, and public sector workers have automatically activated the political Hulk in you, causing you to see only political colours, opposition support or condemnation of the government you voted for.

One of the things I have matured to grasp is that the typical leader of government in the majority of our Caribbean islands were once in the proverbial political wilderness. While they persevered and may have “earned” a right to be elevated to the highest office in their respective countries, it is ultimately the electorate who enabled these leaders to realize their dream jobs.

I just wish such leaders would commit themselves to help the average voter realize the acquisition of their individual dream jobs as well.

Every citizen has a role in developing his or her country. Everyone cannot become a politician or a political leader. But everyone deserves a chance to have equal access to the life transforming power of the wealth and opportunities in their country. Oh, for readers who can process this information with critical thinking minds instead of the reflex responses of politically myopic mindsets.

You see, selection of governments in our Caribbean civilizations has become too much about voting for someone who you can idolize as a political star. It is a known secret that in many constituencies, people don’t vote just for the candidate, they vote for a candidate primarily because of who they want to become prime minister. (I have wondered what would be the results in the Grenadines constituencies if the opposition party fielded candidates who maybe school dropouts or do not meet the typical politician criteria).

That is somewhat sad and regrettable. We make politicians and political leaders into our version of Hollywood movie stars, yet for the many average voters their general standard of life does not change. But for some reason we seem quite contented to fight for our celebrity star to get into power, while we remain graveling for a better life for ourselves. I have to say “we” because I have also been on this bandwagon.

Nonetheless, I long for an emerging electorate in the Caribbean, and in St Vincent and the Grenadines, who will be able to make independent decisions to vote. No democracy is strengthen or protected when voters vote for a party just because their parents did or it is the tradition in their village or locale. As a voter, you should never allow a party (or friends, neighbours, villagers for that matter) to make you feel that you are obligated to vote for a certain party.

I went on that tangent to bring home the point that as workers in SVG who depend on our salaries to make a living, we must be able to independently decide who we vote for in general elections. I have envied and commended governments in neighbouring Caribbean countries who have either given consecutive Christmas bonuses in the form of double salary, or who have increased their workers take-home pay over the last couple years. One political leader made it clear that even as his country reels from the economic body slam of a category five hurricane, it was paramount that the government choose to honour its workers at that time.

That is in line with my philosophy of treating public servants. Elections are due every five years. I believe that at least once within those five years some tangibly public expression of valuing should be made to workers. If, indeed, the economy does not allow for a suitable increase in workers’ salaries across all levels, then certainly a one month tax free (or even half month) salary should be given to workers–especially those who do not benefit from the so-called perks and allowances.

Ordinary folks in all manner of economic hardships are joggling with fixed salary amounts every thirty days. From utility bills to mortgages and rent, to basic food, clothing and transportation expenses, they are financially tired and often broke before the next pay day. Do you know how an average shopper feels to have calculated the total of the displayed prices mentally, only to find out at the cashier’s desk that they have to spend tens of dollars more all because of taxes–VAT to be precise?

I often wonder, why is it that the consumers cannot have the prices of goods and services frozen? Why must salaries be frozen but businessmen can increase prices every Monday morning?

Governing, like any other leadership, is about making the hard decisions. I’m not saying that public servants alone must be given salary increases. Every citizen in a country should feel some form of economic relief during any five year term of any government. In fact, no worker—public or private—who is putting their 100% into their jobs, should not be meted 1%  for labour increases. And any meaningful salary increase should be just that. You should not have a salary increase but cannot feel it in your spending power.

If that is the case, workers are just being politically sweet-mouthed. Life in the 21st century is too hard, too short and too frustrating for hardworking voters to rest in the 98 degrees shade of leaders who are already living their dream jobs and dream life. Oh for the day when the average Vincentian can feel just as honoured as Guyanese feel when each of them is allowed a once-in-a-lifetime chance to import a vehicle free of custom duties!

You may not be a public worker–you may not even be a worker–but you are at some time a consumer. Aren’t you that bit unhappy about the nonstop price increases on the goods and services you need to enjoy your present, or past, quality of life? Vincentian consumers need to make sure they get value for every hardworking dollar that is spent. What courage those Georgetown housewives had in the 1930s when they marched all the way to Kingstown in protest of a one cent increase in the price of matches!

Some might say but that is only a one cent increase. To the housewives, that one cent was a serious dent in their budget. They  literally knew the heat they were feeling in their kitchens.

Remembering Junior

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Murders happen every day, but when fifteen year old Lesandro Guzman-Feliz, better known as “Junior”, was chased into a grocery store in the Bronx, dragged out back into the street, and stabbed and hacked to death by at least five men–it was the wickedest, most heartless and coldblooded killing I had ever seen. I don’t even recall seeing such a gruesome scene in the most action-packed movie on television. By the time his mom got to the hospital, her beloved baby boy was already dead. His mom was pictured crying on her son’s dead body (see above pic).

But it is the friendly, ever happy character of Junior–along with the discovery that he was mistaken for another person–that really torments our grieving anger over the death of this young life. In the days and weeks following his brutal death, numerous videos and pictures have been surfacing online to show the sort of person Lesandro was to his family and friends.

No life should be taken in such repulsively horrendous fashion. Junior was not just killed or murdered. He was slaughtered. So frighteningly horrific was his final moments that a new category apart from “homicide” should be created for his butchering! I wail inside to think about the total fear, helplessness, pain, shock, panic and torture which Lesandro Guzman-Feliz had to endure all by himself on that night of June 20, 2018.

One of the inhumane trends which his death brought to the discussion table is how easily it has become for people to use their phones as video recording devices in times of emergency, rather than use the phone for what it was originally made for: that is, call for help.

One of the chops from the cutlass (machete) ripped through the right side of his neck, thus totally cutting the main artery that runs from the heart to the brain. In fact, there is a picture which shows Junior standing on the lonely street with his hands raised (I would like to think he had started talking to the Lord). You can clearly see his bloody neck from his deadly chop. Blood had started to gush out of his frightened body as water escaping from a busted dam.

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And that blood was not going back in.

Junior has to be praised for his emotional strength and will power. He did not stay on the ground after the violent tornado-like attack. He stood up and tried to get help from inside the same store he was dragged from just minutes before. Realizing that help was not being offered to him, Junior went back outside and ran off in the direction of the hospital.

He was already dying.

In his last moments alive, Junior is seen sitting on the steps of a security boot at the hospital’s entrance, his body and legs washed in his freely flowing blood. Passers-by tried to stop the bleeding.

But it was too little too late.

From the time he entered the grocery store, to the moment he passes away on the steps at the entrance of the hospital, every horrifically sad moment is captured on one video recording or the other. Such a private affair as one’s death was made into such a public spectacle. To be honest, Junior’s death reminded me of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. I make this connection because of the sudden development and play-out of violently inhumane acts which killed such an innocent human being.

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Lesandro Guzman-Feliz must not be allowed to be forgotten. One of the things that adds insult to injury when murders have happened is that as time goes on, people stop observing or remembering the deceased. Yet the bereaved family can never regain their loved one. This is why I was happy to hear the local governing officials announce that in January, 2019, the street where Junior suffered so helplessly will be renamed in his honour.

You probably already know that twelve men from the Trinitaros gang, including its district leader, have been arrested, charged and remanded into custody for the trial of murdering Junior. While we all hope the prosecution will be able to secure  relatively smooth guilty convictions, it is unfortunate that there will still be lawyers who are going to do everything in order to defend these gang members. I understand and respect the due process of the judicial system. But that does not mean that I still do not wish that there can be an exception in this instance.

After watching the videos of Junior being hunted, cornered, and butchered, I feel it would have been suitable karma to not arrest the killers but instead, over a couple weeks or months, single each one out with an equally vicious team of avengers who would mutilate, butcher and abandon them in a lonely street…and it should all be captured on video as well.

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Furthermore, why must modern societies allow breathing spaces for gangs to exist and thrive? Even dangerous snakes are removed from human settlements once their presence is discovered. The same way the military tracks down, hunts and terminates terrorists, it is that same treatment that should be given to all who proudly acknowledge their allegiance to violent gang membership.

All of humanity needs to make sure that Junior’s literal human sacrifice was not in vain. We must take drastic policy and security measures to safeguard all human beings, no matter their ethnicity or geographical residence. No other child, teenager, young adult or elderly citizen should ever have to suffer Junior’s death in the future. Junior wanted to spend his working adult life as a police detective to help other victims of crimes; but it became a tragic irony when he himself became a victim on that summer night.

Junior’s family will forever remember June 20th each and every year. They will also feel the renewed pangs of the senseless loss and bitter loneliness on all occasions meant to bring families and people together in joy and good times. We must also feel their loss and bear their painful remembrance.

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I have prayed that on that night of June 20, 2018, the promise found in St Luke chapter twenty three and verse forty three would have come true for you, Junior.

The winning song, and especially its shocking props and audience-involved presentation, in the recent Soca Monarch competition, made it abundantly clear to me that it is time to defend Christianity.

For about the second time in his performance career, the artiste, Delroy “Fireman” Hooper, took the title with a song that basically poked fun at the Christian faith. On the first occasion some years ago, he had fans laughing, mimicking and reveling in the belittling of the Spiritual Baptist denomination. This is a denomination that endured years of persecution through discrimination, prejudice, incarceration and physical abuse from colonial rulers in the Caribbean. It is probably the only denomination as well that has some connection to our ancestors original religious practices that they had back in Africa.

I am not saying that “Fireman” is not a talented performer, or that he is not an individual with commendable or even praiseworthy human characteristics. Just from knowing him as a man about town he does appear to be a relatively humble and respectful law-abiding citizen. However, I cannot help but think that he somehow enjoys ridiculing Christians in his songs.

My position is that at the level of  a national festival or activity such as Carnival, no one should be endorsed or allowed to pull down or mock any religion or religious denomination being practiced in the country. It is also clear to me that the fact that “Fireman” is developing a habit of winning the soca crown by mocking elements of the Christian faith, means that he is not alone in his particular opinions. Certainly, the judges, CDC officials and thousands of his fans agree wholeheartedly and see nothing wrong with using our premier cultural festival to ridicule our nation’s largest religious faith.

Why is that?

Well, based on the opening lines of his recent winning rendition, “hypocrites and haters” are the targets of his chanting mantra: “run dem out, run dem!”

One of the unfortunate realities in the Christian circle is that the issue of hypocrisy at times seems unstoppable. Nonetheless, Christians are not perfect people. Each of us has the responsibility to be honest with ourselves and face our own hypocrisy in this regard. I have realized that JESUS  says to the conscious hypocrite: “Now that you know you have been a hypocrite, stop being one. My blood was shed to also forgive you of your sin of hypocrisy.”

In essence, then, none of us have an excuse when we meet the Creator the Lord Jesus Christ after the death of our physical bodies. Jesus Christ will say to us that none of our messed up situations on Earth was stronger than the power of His blood shed upon the cross and the power of His love given to and through His Church and gospel.

In other words, at our Judgement Day court hearing, we will learn that no hypocrite (and indeed no human being) has an excuse why they should not have qualified to enter heaven.

I wanted to take the above two paragraphs to speak on the issue of hypocrisy because many people have stopped going to church because of it. Nevertheless, it must be made clear that we must learn how to go to church to experience Jesus and not just to be in a comfort zone with people.

After that purposeful detour, let’s return to the central argument in this post. It is the cross of Jesus Christ that has been the symbol of the Christian faith throughout the ages. It is this same cross that “Fireman” has used as nothing more than a mocking target, as though the cross is a clown’s hairdo in a circus.

There is an inherent danger in this whole scenario because that song and that performance night in particular might have sent a message to some sinner in need of repentance that Jesus and His cross is nothing more than a big joke or laughing-stock.

Vincentians are today becoming less and less tolerant of each other when they perceive any differences exist between them and their neighbour. The song in question also poses a threat that it can further serve as a means or reason to promote social and religious divisions. It can and may even lead to cursing and violence as certain ones attempt to do just what the song encourages them to do–run dem out!

Within recent times, matters have reached before the law courts where Vincentians had decided to take matters into their own hands because they believe that their fellow Vincentian citizens were indeed being haters, bad minded or hypocrites. We saw that in the beating of a bereaved widower as the deceased was being buried. It also played out in similar violent fashion in other communities.

We cannot try to get  an enjoyable life for ourselves by drilling into people that it is okay to punish, banish or physically hurt others just because we think they are different. That is a no-win situation as all of us have to live in this land. It is a painful lesson we continue to learn the hard way when we have political campaigning and then seek to govern a people already divided by the said campaign strategies.

Traveling the highway of facilitating demonizing and discrimination of people because they are different will never take us to a destination of peace and happiness in our land.

I am convinced that the time has come for Christians to let their voices and presence be heard and felt. Remaining silent is a luxury that the peace of this country cannot afford. Whether haters, bad mind, hypocrites, concerned, not concerned–the future of our land needs everyone to have a dialogue and talk about the changes we need to begin to take to save our nation from all the overwhelming vices and threats coming to us from all directions and places.

Amen.

The 2017 hurricane season is far from over, but already several Caribbean islands have had their future jeopardized by intense hurricanes in the space of a few days. Even the common man on the street, who is not schooled in meteorological information, will easily admit that this year has seen troubling, deadly unprecedented hurricanes.

And it continues.

We in St Vincent and the Grenadines had just held a concentrated series of response efforts to help Vincentians and other citizens in the BVI who were crippled by hurricane Irma. Physical donations were placed on an 1800 ton barge for the BVI. But before the vessel could have reached its destination, up pops hurricane Maria, forcing a speedy return to the safe waters of St Vincent and the Grenadines.

Now, even though this post focuses on the Caribbean, it is important to state that hurricanes Irma and Harvey (its predecessor) also brutally assaulted Texas, Louisiana and Florida, causing billions of dollars in accumulated damages. This acknowledgment is necessary so that a balanced perspective of the overall issue is not lost or trivialized in any way.

Of course, the Caribbean people are no strangers to hurricanes and tropical storms. But any blind man can see, as they say, that the frequency and intensity of the 2017 hurricanes have been abnormally shocking. There have been some hurricane seasons in the past when there were few–or no–hurricanes. And even when there was a hurricane or two, they were usually geographically spaced out and occurred far in time from each other.

But it looks like hurricanes no longer respect the Caribbean islands.

Right now, the BVI, Barbuda, the UVI, Puerto Rico and Dominica are all reeling from the effects of category five (major) hurricanes. In my living memory, we have never had multiple islands in need of regional and international help all at once.

The barge I mentioned earlier has left for a second time to deliver relief supplies to anxious relatives and friends in the BVI. Simultaneously, we are raising other relief resources to help Dominica.

My heart aches painfully for Dominica. They have suffered a double whammy!

On August 27, 2015, tropical storm Erika left at least thirty persons dead in Dominica with communities such as Petite Savannah all but buried under massive mudslides from torrential rains.

Two years later, on Monday September 18, 2017, hurricane Maria, packing category 5 winds of over 160 mph, took direct aim at Dominica and steered its small eye from the southern end to the top of the island with  surgical precision.

As I saw the satellite imagery I could not believe it.  The eye, flanked by the brunt of its most destructive winds, literally followed the contours and shape of the island to a T. It was as if hurricane Maria was a car in some child’s video game, and Dominica was its roadway.

Early in the storm, Dominica’s prime minister alerted Facebook followers that his own house roof had gone and that he was at “the complete mercy” of hurricane Maria. Around 2 AM on the morning of September 19th he told the regional and international community that his island and people will need all the help they can get because Dominica had “lost all that money can buy or replace”.

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Hurricane Maria, just before it made landfall on Dominica with 160 mph winds

I also recognize a highly skilled friend in Dominica who tragically lost his house in 2015 when Erika brought down tons of mudslides on their house, burying his mom and dad instantly, while trapping his feet in the rocks. His dad’s body was never found.

Now an orphan, he and his surviving siblings (all young adults) have had to face the nightmare of Maria a mere two years later.  This is a tragedy that one will not even desire for one’s enemies!

Can you imagine what it must feel like to be trying to rebuild your life after one tragic storm, only to be knocked down again by another disaster in such a short space of time?

As you can imagine, hurricane Maria completely knocked out all means of communication with Dominica, so there has been no word of that family’s fate; however, I trust that they did survive, and they are not numbered in the seven or so fatalities which I have heard about so far in Dominica.

At the time of this post, hurricane Maria is pounding the Dominican Republic and other nearby territories as it barrels northwards now. Meanwhile, radar images are showing non stop tropical activity in the eastern Atlantic ocean.

It is clear that we are not out of the woods as yet.

The speed with which Maria and Irma reached category 5 status has left everyone astounded. Some have even questioned whether or not somebody somewhere has found a way to manipulate weather systems. A plot which would make for a great James Bond film, no doubt.

Nonetheless, meteorologists are citing that the increasingly hot temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean is giving hurricanes a boost. There also seems to be little shear or high pressure systems which usually make it difficult for hurricanes in the tropics to develop into monsters.

After seeing the unbelievable way in which the eye of hurricane Maria navigated the island of Dominica, it has dawned on me that another  such major category five hurricane can do another impossible thing in the Caribbean. That is, it can very well happen in the future that a hurricane, moving in a WNW direction, can pummel the Eastern Caribbean archipelago in one horrific slow-moving and deadly day.

Or night.

I also realize that most–if not all–of the times when a hurricane makes landfall, seems to be in the dark of night, as if the hurricanes know they must also generate panic, fear, and blindness to terrified citizens trapped beneath their destructive clutches of floods, wind and rain.

And even if one hurricane does not do this, it is also quite possible that several hurricanes can strike different islands in the same hurricane season. Or, each year might have one or two  islands being disrupted again and again by natural disasters. And, like Dominica and the Virgin Islands, it might very well be that the same islands will be affected year after year.

The question is, therefore, how much rebuilding can small, generally helpless Caribbean islands sustain in an intensifying hurricane zone. I actually heard a citizen on Puerto Rico asking a television reporter this very question, because Puerto Rico had been affected by hurricane Irma just days before hurricane Maria knocked out all electricity on the island.

Incidentally, hurricane Irma had earlier made the water supply on Puerto Rico a scarce, scarce commodity.

Facing future hurricanes is now a matter of individual islands and regional security. It is not just something the Caribbean can entrust to each territory’s office of disaster management. Indeed, the head of the BVI’s disaster management acknowledged that their headquarters and equipment which they took over forty years to acquire, were all destroyed by hurricane Irma.

Caribbean citizens, from child to adult, must become immediately sensitized to environmental responsibilities and acts of protection and conservation. Studies in regional climate change impact is a must. The construction industry must galvanize support for creating structures that are more resistant to high winds and flooding.  Additionally, each island (and the entire region) now needs not just a hurricane management or response plan, but general disaster coping and survival protocols.

Let me also say that we must begin to look closely at hurricane shelters. I do not think that every building that is owned or operated by government should automatically become a hurricane shelter. The same is true with churches. There are instances where existing hurricane shelters are also suffering similar damages and loss as the home from which many persons run away in the fist place.

Every local community also needs a disaster response and management group with persons trained and equipped to deal with some basic aftermath issues, such as medical and counseling. Every family should have access to hurricane shutters and knowledge of the kind of foods which can last without electricity, for about 4 days.

Let us not forget that the Caribbean is in an active earthquake zone. Many Caribbean islands have dormant and active volcanoes which each has the capacity to decimate the island it is on.

Right now Mexico is counting its dead from a major earthquake which hit even as hurricane Maria was beating up on the Caribbean. Who is to tell if in the future a hurricane and/or volcanic eruption will be affecting one or several small islands simultaneously in the Caribbean?

There has to now be a paradigm shift in leadership, education, corporate and civil collaboration, as well as a new thrust and partnership with the international community. Such a shift must go beyond individual islands’ politics. Now more than ever, Caricom and the OECS must have faith in each other and their abilities, otherwise I am afraid the fate of the Caribbean will be one of literal ruin and destruction. Presently, no human being is living on the island of Barbuda after hurricane Irma. Our human civilization in the Caribbean can be easily placed at risk of extinction by the onslaught of intensifying hurricanes in the Caribbean in future hurricane seasons.

 

 

Earlier this month I just happened to be switching channels just in time to hear the USA’s president verbalize an unprecedented defense and rationalization of the white supremacists’ actions in Virginia that left one woman dead. To be honest, I was not particularly surprised–or even shocked–by these proclamations.

I knew instantaneously that I had tuned in to history in the making. For never before had an American president come to the defense of racist Americans who wanted nothing better than to marginalize, alienate and eradicate minority ethnicity such as my own black people.

Ever since the Republican convention in the summer of 2016, it became succinctly evident that the now 45th US president had no personal appreciation for black America, and by extension, minority America. He has been an unscrupulously driven businessman who mastered the art of doing things his way. By giving him the victory on election night, those fifty eight million Americans gave this president the ultimate green light for the rest of his life.

Losing the election was the last sane mechanism by which he could have been stopped. Alas, that did not happen.

Now more than ever, president 45 does not give a damn about any opposing critique or opposing sentiments.  In this president the stage is being set for the opening of the modern day portal of cruel racial divide and prejudice in the United States of America.

But to be fair, it is not this president who is responsible for the feelings of racial hatred and renewed will for white dominance once more in American communities. It is my view that ever since the Civil War, the American society never really pursued or attained closure as regards the issues of race and slavery in particular. There have always been at least one in three white Americans who have felt a sword piercing their nationalist hearts every time the civil rights activists made breakthroughs in racial equality.

These Americans have for years allowed their displeasure and inner condemnation of minority groups to lie dormant, pretty much as a mighty volcano which has not erupted in years or decades. Instead, they have heeded the palliative of polite American education.

I feel also that having a black person occupying their highest position in the land for the last eight years have lit some serious fires in the emotional furnace of many a white American. And some black ones too, unfortunately.

Race issues in America is not over. In fact they are far from over. The truth is that president 45 is just giving voice–and face–to the pent up anger, hatred and disapproval of blacks and other minority groups by a silent majority of rural, middle class Americans. These are the ones who turned out to register their desire to make America white again, to make America’s leaders white again, in the last presidential elections.

I can’t help but think that if President Obama had known his successor was going to make it his priority to undo his legacy, Obama just might have showed a different persona and power which the oval office afforded him.

We must face the unspoken truths that America has a race problem. It has always had a race problem. But just having periodic laws passed by congress along with a few photo ops with white and black leaders have not–and will never–bring America to the finish line where race is concerned.

Leaders in congress, in the White House, as well as in the media and business establishments must open their mouths in admittance of this socially chronic non-communicable disease which is silently killing America’s future. Citizens across the fifty united states must be able to discuss all their hate, hurt, pain and gains in truth-and-reconciliation town hall meetings and forums.

An immediate solution might not be reached but tensions will mitigate because people of all colours would no longer need to pretend that America is not divided or that race is not really of consequence in America.

It is quite possible that a more racist supporter of white dominance can occupy the White House in the future, and that other such like-minded leaders could start to emerge from their various closets across the spectrum of gender and economic employment industries.

Now more than ever the state of the union matters because the race is definitely not over in America.

 

 

2017-02-14

First international flight lands at the Argyle International Airport (courtesy Elroy Martin’s facebook)

The Argyle International Airport opens in St Vincent and the Grenadines today, February 14, 2017, ushering in a totally new era in the socioeconomic journey of this small multi-island state. At $729, 000, 000, it is by far the largest capital project in our country’s thirty seven years’ history as an independent nation. The international airport was an accomplishment which many believed could not be successfully done, but one politician’s ambitious goal became the nation’s golden egg. As the saying goes, even a blind man can see that the realization of an international airport for St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) is bigger than any one man, any one government, any one political party.

A new future is now possible. Tomorrow’s history has been changed infinitely.

Vincentians can now feel as citizens of this modern globalized world. Without a doubt, this was a dream for many generations of past Vincentians; to many, it was the kind of dream that you thought was silly because it was practically far-fetched, or was useless to pursue as it was not going to happen in your life time.

Now much has been said about the almost unlimited challenges and delays associated with the building of the Argyle International Airport. But it is the future challenges which this airport brings to our Vincentian citizens that I wish to speak to in this post.

I felt a sense of the political maturing of our island’s politics when the new leader of the oppositions commented in parliament that the international airport is too big a project to fail. He stressed the need for all Vincentians to work together in order to guarantee the success of the Argyle International Airport (AIA). I commend his wisdom. Effective leadership will periodically require a leader to bow graciously to the achievement and success of opponents. We should never allow the trees of our selfish wants to block our view of the forest of our country’s progress and well-being.

Vincentians of all walks of life are converging at Argyle today to witness the many historic landings and take-offs by regional and more so, international carriers. Some three international flights will touch down at the airport today.

But these flights have been chartered. Come tomorrow, the airport will be empty as all the supporters and party enthusiasts return to their various places of residence or occupational localities. I would hope that the relevant arms of government would have been in deep negotiations with business and tourism markets to foster a desire for people to want to travel to SVG.

However, that is one side of the coin.

The other side is that we need to begin changing the expectations and attitudes of our people here in St Vincent and the Grenadines. Having an international airport must not be allowed to be only thought of as a one day public holiday event to go watch inaugural flights, drink and be merry, and then return from whence we came.

Now is the critical time that a new educational thrust be initialized in schools, villages, liming places, community centers, places of work, social media, electronic and print media–all with the purpose of helping locals to understand and feel the new possibilities that an international airport brings. This is a life-changing development for all our people.

Beginning today, simple, varied, but new linkage industries must start to blossom on mainland St Vincent and in the 32 Grenadines islands. We must begin to cultivate and show forth opportunities, attractions and localized experiences that will make visitors, investors and people from various parts around the world want to come to SVG.

We cannot just sit back and wonder where are all the international flights. We must not allow ourselves to have to indefinitely continue to travel to  regional hubs for our connecting flights to other parts of the world.The government, in particularly the prime minister, has given us all this new international airport. Now we must give sustainable life to the airport. It’s a time when all the creative, critical thinking and entrepreneurial skills of Vincentians must be set ablaze.

This is a national day of thanksgiving to the Lord. Long live the Argyle International Airport.

 

 

 

The magic of the holidays are once again fading as another new year gets lost deeper in the 2017 calendar. Someone commented on cable television that if only the celebratory mood, goodwill, carefree hours and ample food and drinks could last all year round. That is synonymous with the writer who penned the wish that every day should be Christmas Day.

Well, the reality is that every day is not a holiday. I suppose the last week in December and the first week in January are the days when the inner urge to believe in the empowerment of self through resolutions is at its strongest. But soon after the public holiday of January 1, and the world seems to disembark from the fantasy of best wishes and peaceful co-existence that it fights so contagiously to create each year, the dreariness and  imperfections of the human culture once again nibble away at your consciousness. Who knows, maybe some people who dislike the holidays, or who don’t celebrate them, do so for this very reason: they believe in their simple wisdom of  not giving themselves an end of year “high” only to have to jump off to a crashing low on January 2nd. Prevention is always better than cure, isn’t that so?

But a fundamental challenge still exists. How do you brace yourself to face the onslaught of the upcoming twelve months? Can the good intentions of those new year’s resolutions carry their weight? Unfortunately, we all know that by the time February slips around many of us are already soiled and buffed by daily work and personal activities that we unconsciously laugh at ourselves for having been foolish enough to having adopted a “new year new you” philosophy.

Is it really a waste of time to try to change ourselves or our lifestyles at the beginning of the year? Are such yearly ambitions doomed to failure, a mere reshuffling of the chairs on the deck of the Titanic?

I suggest that the problem is we tend to put faith in the calendar time period of the holidays as well as the human camouflage of a purposefully feel-good campaign of goodwill to all men. When we do that, we miss a universal truth which whispers in our ears every day of the year. The power to change is always present in every human being. Our failure is that we marginalize and trivialize the key ingredient of our will power.

Think about it. Don’t you make decisions during the rest of the year? Don’t you follow through with these decisions which result in necessary change and betterment of your living conditions? Those decisions are impactful because we determined in ourselves not to deviate from them. We make up our minds that we will not falter.

Similarly, life changing decisions can be made at the end or the start of any year. We just have to make sure that the decisions are being made, not on the man-made high of the fairy tale holiday season, but on our own desire for really being different and wanting a better existence. If we truly look at the man in the mirror and make up our own minds about wanting to do something to make us better off then we can make such a decision in January, June or November.

The beginning of the year is as a good a time as any to ask ourselves what we really want. Reflect on your situations and decide the personal outcome which you would want to see become your reality. I was inspired last year when a  graduate student said that the best way to plan for the future is to create it. Those are powerful words. There comes a time when we must come to an awareness that it is our duty to create and own the upcoming days, weeks, months and years in our lives. But as most of us begin to grow into our own, because we are not accustomed making life changing decisions for ourselves, we somehow procrastinate and look for a green light of permission from other people around us.

That is a habit which we must stop with immediate effect. Just as persons who would have been in the arena of success have made their own decisions, you who have not before known success have that same human right and responsibility to master your destiny through your decisions. And there is no better time to start that today.

Yes, home and work responsibilities, coupled with environmental stress, will continue to permeate our lives in 2017. The headlines making news are probably not going to get any better either. The possibility of some new “mosquito-borne” disease is also likely to be named this year, too.

But nothing that is happening around you can deter or stop the decision that is made within you.

Again, the question is being asked: What do you want for yourself and your life in 2017? After you have answered that question, know to yourself that you have the ability to do what it takes to make your answer your 2017 reality. There might have to be hours of hard, non-enjoyable work, but work hard anyway. You might have to burn the midnight oil while everybody else is sleeping, but stay up late anyway.Very few months or years will pass without soe form of human conflicts, quarrels or arguments, but pick your quarrels and confrontations astutely, and battle on anyway. After all, didn’t even the Bible, through the wisest man, say that there is a time for peace and a time for war?

In fulfilling the legacy of the made up mind we must never forget that the next December will come. Now this might seem like foolish thinking in March and July, but if there is one fact that is irrefutable it is this: time does not stop moving. No matter how good or how bad right now may be, time will continue to move on. If you don’t believe me, just look at your watch. Isn’t the seconds quietly ticking away? Then surely, the time of your payoff will come.

So, if you know that time cannot stop in the present, then your fuel that drives your passion must be that when that future time comes in December, you will be in a position to enjoy the future reality which you decided you wanted for yourself in January.

Although I’m using the new year’s resolution practice as the main argument here, the same principle applies in every area of life, in every situation. If you are hoping to pass exams in June, make up your mind now to push ahead; June will come and you will pass. If it is a matter of health, of wealth, of family, of community or of longevity, make up your mind right now and don’t back down when the going gets tough. You will find it easier to carry on with your made up mind’s decision because you already expected the tough times.

But remember as they say–tough times don’t last but tough people do.

So whatever road you are on at the start of 2017, let’s raise our glasses of a made up mind and drink to the situations of the next twelve months which we would look back on at this time next year as the defining times that cemented our better future. Happy new year, everybody.

 

 

 

Another Year Comes to an End

Although the end of year reflection, celebration and new resolutions have become automatic events in modern civilizations, 2016 has packed a punch in a way that no other year in recent memory quite has done. This year has been like going to your favourite restaurant and ordering that delicious pizza, only to discover that upon eating it, it has unexpected spicy flavour which makes you immediately look for water to cool your taste buds.

Many people are this week looking to cool the effects of 2016. Somehow you feel that the vast majority of people who have been scorched by the life episodes of 2016 are looking for something more than just the ordinary end of year social gatherings. So stingy has the year 2016 been. And it was a long year. Quite possibly the number one memory which most of us will take into the new year is the unprecedented presidential election results in the United States of America. The results showed a harsh wake up call to the reality that elitism and main stream media have failed and potentially will continue to deteriorate in relevance to twenty first century lifestyles.

America has positioned itself on another pioneering path. Whether it leads to advancement or anarchy, only time will tell. But the people have spoken. Democracy has prevailed. Or was democracy aided by a former cold-war adversary?

Brexit. That’s a word that is now indelibly etched into the memories of people all around the world. And, yes, we have 2016 to thank for that. The people of Britain voted to leave the European Union in their historic referendum in June 2016. It was the second most consequential political earthquake of 2016. Again, the Brexit vote showed that the age of elitism and traditional political correctness is existing under a setting sun. So shattering was the result that Britain’s prime minister, David Cameron, moved out of Number Ten Downing Street, giving way to someone who can lead the country out of the EU. Cameron accepted personal responsibility for the defeat.

The political atmosphere in many of the countries which many of us in less developed countries see as the “Promised Land” means that there is a certain degree of heightened uncertainty and anxiety about whether or not we would be able to migrate to these counties. America and Britain are classic examples. In these countries, many of their current citizens–and policy makers–are showing more and more unwillingness to accept foreigners, refugees or any non-citizens to their soil. Will 2017 be the year of marked deportation and blocked migration to America, England or even Canada?

But perhaps the one thing about 2016 which has shaken the boots off of all of us was the seemingly unusual coincidence of the deaths of many celebrities in the entertainment and literary works spheres of life.This month, December, has taken several such celebrities. It is as though Death feels it has his own deadline to meet before the year ends..

However, life’s analysis, lessons and resultant mood in 2016 must not be determined only by those internationally popular developments. Indeed, to the world most of us is a nobody, but to the one person who values us, we mean the world to them.It is equally important to value your own individual experiences, challenges and lessons in your local part of the world. One of the things that is reverberating in my own mind is the newly passed sentence on a fourteen year old girl, to twelve years in prison for the murder of another teenage girl in 2014. This happened right here in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

To me, this sentence marks a definite shift in awareness of the justice system to the growing number of young people who value cursing, fighting, drinking and sexing more than they value respect for authority and traditional values.This judge would have made history in SVG because it is the first time a defendant so young is being sent to prison. Unfortunately, one feels it is not the last time a teenager, or school age child, will be sentenced for committing a serious crime in this country.

I think all of us have been guilty of innocently assuming that at midnight on December 31st, all the unpleasant or unwanted situations of the past year are somehow magically erased and we begin the new year in a new world. That is of course the foundation of a false consciousness. Life’s circumstances do not change just because the calendar changes. I am always mindful that  the many persons whose deaths we mourn each year were most likely alive and well at the beginning of the year. They probably were also celebrating Old Year’s night and New Year’s Day. Little did they know that they were also celebrating the advent of the year in which they would die.

Sadly, I also believe that this Old Year’s night, 2016, there are persons who would be watching the fireworks, drinking the champagne, kissing loved ones and making merry, who would not be around on Old Year’s day 2017. And it can be anyone of us. So, does that mean we should not celebrate the new year? I’m not saying that, but we should be graciously humble in acknowledgement that the new year is just another period along the time line of our lives which will bring its own share of ups and downs.

The twenty-first century has seen a disturbingly regrettable trend of more and more parents of academically average children playing less and less active role in their children’s education during the school year here in St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG). Every year, even before students can get into their summer flow, the back-to-school hype literally invades their minds via radio, television, and now the internet and telephone advertising. Parents are enthusiastically busy getting their children registered into new schools, buying books, uniforms and paying other preparatory expenses. But where do these parents disappear to after day one of the new school year?

A successful education system, such as we allege to have in SVG depends on the collaboration of the student, teacher, school, home and community. Learning is indeed a partnership. But partners in this education process are becoming woefully negligent and even uncaring. Years ago, it was the norm to find that parents would make it their business to know their children’s teachers, to keep in continuous contact with the school and to reinforce education policies and school decisions at home.

But today, the environment and world of learning that schools offer students in the classroom is tantamount to a fleeting fairy-tale feeling of bliss while at the movies, because after the school bell rings, many children are returning to homes and communities with very contrasting views on schooling and life values.

It is a reality we cannot afford to ignore much longer.

Generally speaking, the education policies, from the Ministry of Education to the individual school regulations, have been doing their fair share of keeping students on task and actively involved in their learning. But there is very little structure and support for the students outside their classrooms. As it is now, far too many children, some as young as those in primary schools, are being just left on their own to literally become young independents. They are home alone after school, they have no set bed time hour, they go wherever they want, they do whatever they want, and on mornings they are told by their parents who go to work and leave them at home, to get themselves ready for school ad go to school.

Of course, many of them don’t habitually go to school, or they go to school regularly late.

So the question is: Why is this generation of parents neglecting their most vital parenting responsibilities as regards their children’s education during the school year? Well, perhaps the following real-life incident might shed light on the causes.

When summer was ending in 2014 I was making my way through the market when some parents began talking about the reopening of school. “Let school hurry up open,” the first parent said. “Yes,” was the quick reply of a second parent. “I can’t keep any food in the fridge for this whole month of August.” A third parent then said, “My electricity bill went sky high because the children home watching TV every day.” Then a fourth parent said: “The other day I go home and meet the water hose turned on. The water run whole day because the child at home and been playing with the hose.”

The above comments suggest to me that the primary function of school for the average parent is to give them a relief from the “burden” of looking after their own children on a daily basis. Something is causing a paradigm shift in local parenting. This is evident from incidents when a parent is highly upset that she has to report to her child’s school because he or she was suspended. Long ago the anger would have been focused on the reason the child was suspended in the first place. Now it is aimed at the school for disrupting the parent’s “vacation” from life without the child around.

This parenting shift is also real when a parent can also declare in front of their child that they don’t love or care about that child; that their money, attention and love is going to the brother or sister at another school. That’s an actual development.

The time has come for parental courses, tutorials, help-a-thons or the like, to be made available for many parents. Many of them are proving unable–or unwilling–to cope with their basic responsibilities of parenting their school-going children.

No child asked to be born, so when that child is born it is the duty of the parent to start living a sacrificial life for the child; however, what is happening is that many parents wish to continue living as though they have no children. That is a recipe for the failure of the child.

Yes, parents may have to work, but they should not just accept that they leave home before the child wake up, or that they come home late at nights hours after the child reached home from school. Parents, you have an equal responsibility to make sure some mature adult is there before and after school.

Children are also  leaving home and returning from school with no adult to inspect or monitor the contents of their bags or pockets. The moral straying in this area is infinite. From not taking books to school to bringing back books, cell phone, drugs or money that does not belong to them, are all possible results because children are unsupervised at home or left unchecked.

When a child can buy their own uniform, stitch in the pants, or wear multiple pieces to school–something is wrong with the way parenting is done. When a child’s report from December is still uncollected in June–something is wrong with the way parenting is done.

Has the time come for parents of school-going children to sign a legal parenting contract which spells out specific things that they must do after registering their child, or getting the new bag, books and uniform for September?

Could it be that the twenty-first century parents are having children as a consequence of sexual activity, rather than having intercourse because they genuinely want to have children?

The answers to  those questions are critically important if schooling has to once again become the noble and proven way of giving indigent children an escape from poverty.

In too many instances, school is being reduced to a mere baby-sitting hub where children only give priority to the after-school lime with their fellow students from across the island when they gather in the capital city and stand at the bus stop for hours each and every evening.

Education is still a valuable asset, and schooling is still a fundamental necessity but we are fooling ourselves if we only make back-to-school an emotional hype of making a social statement and then abandon the children to sink in the academic seas of actual reading, studying and doing home-work. We should really not celebrate back to school without prioritizing going back to parenting.

 

 

 

 

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