The Bike Phenomenon!!

I don’t know if I should be peeved. I am concerned, and I am also plain dumb-stricken by what this has done to us as a nation.

Yes, its Jamaica no problem, but we still need to draw boundary lines and as I write this I wonder if I would say this if I were a bike importer, retailer or rider. But as a tax payer, as a concerned citizen, as someone who has not yet lost anyone close to this pandemic I still have the luxury of being somewhat objective. I decry the situation, because we need to protect these young men from themselves-victims of ill-thought out decisions. We also cannot be blasé about the burden, sacrifice and costs it is bringing to bear on our health care system. How much it is costing families and loved ones- not just financially but also in terms of tears, the fears… and frustrations of other motorists who share the roads with them is astronomical. The way they are losing their lives is appalling or do we not care? And then I ask what do they (the riders) gain in return?  Is there a payoff too for the onlookers? Does the benefit to them outweigh the costs in general? Their desire, wishes and needs matter-YES OF COURSE, but we also know that sometimes in life what we want we do not get or cannot get especially it impinges on others, other times its simply not good for us. Our rights and freedoms come with responsibilities- a harsh reality a lot of us seem to not know, understand or ignore.

I know that for the most part, most of us have to be led, we are pretty good followers and thus because we are like that, we seem to respond better to punishment rather than positive reinforcements . Remove harsh penalties, relax strict enforceable rules, add in some corruption and we will self-destruct. This bike phenomenon is a very poignant example of this. I am convinced that the young men think they are doing what they want and what is right for them but, I find that difficult to believe or reconcile. Having a bike in my view has deep psychological underpinnings. I believe it is the symptom of an existential problem- they have no raison d’etre- and as humans we need purpose and meaning to make life worth it. We need to be grounded and have a belief in something powerful and outside ourselves- Religion was the main source of this before. Nowadays however, since we have basically debunked this anchor and we have not replaced it with anything concrete or helpful (except smartphones, gadgets, bikes), our young people seem empty and paralyzed. It is showing just how easily we are influenced, just how much we need to get in touch with our spiritual dimensions and just how little we know ourselves.  As such I believe that if we fully study and understand this bike business, we will understand too the drug, and crime problems we have.

I remember as a child the young men of that time all had bikes too. But I do not remember them trying to do stunts on the road ways, they showed respect for the authority of the police, especially those whose bikes were not road worthy. They were definitely not a nuisance to other road users and they certainly did not call themselves ‘suicide riders’. I refuse to believe that riders and pillions could be hearing and seeing everyday what is happening as a result of the wanton recklessness and still proceed to follow through. But they do, so you ask yourself why? What is missing? I believe it is highlighting a primal need for acceptance, love, recognition and validation- needs way more evident with the rise of social media. As far as I know, people who love and value themselves do not behave that way. I believe this is a poignant example of what is described as a ‘boys crisis’. But alas, its not only the bikers who have this problem for we too, do many other things that we know are not good for us, with reckless abandon. Perhaps thinking the consequences will come to others and not us. Who taught us these things? What or who failed us? Can we even blame anyone? But more than that, what is the solution? I have a lot of empathy for them, for us- for everyone involved.

As a people we like to point fingers…it is the police’s problem, it is the church’s problem, it is the teacher’s problem, if only we had a good leader, if only we had better roads, if only people had jobs, if only, if only etc. Yes these are credible responses, but too as far as I know its our problem- all of us. The quicker we realize this, the better. Garvey once famously said…..” injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” we see this play out in so many facets…..not least of which is the bike problem.

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The Greener Grass……

We live in a world where image is everything and images are everywhere. We all have the power to capture and share and it has empowered us beyond our wildest imaginations. I oft wonder if my grandmother were alive if she would have been using the jargon too, the way my mom is using them effortlessly. But that aside, this world in which we live has also afforded us the opportunity to curate stories about the lives we are living- some real, others imagined and the rest just plain fabricated. Truth, in so many ways is so nebular……..but all in all still exists- albeit maybe harder to find. So the questions on my mind are…..What is true? What stories are others making up about our lives based on the images? Do we correct the false versions? Or is that our intention? Does it do us any good? But lets sidetrack a little, is this the same thing that is happening to the truths of the gospel? Is it becoming harder to find, or easier to downplay? This however is for another time.

So I was at a ladies event recently where everyone present had to wear an African head wrap and of course, there were pictures. As I was sharing my pictures with my friends back home everyone was commenting how much fun I was having and just how living abroad is fun. The comments were very complimentary and kind which was much appreciated, but the former comments caught my attention. Aside from the fact that, assumptions were being made- I had to ask myself if it was as fun as was being implied. I didn’t volunteer any such information, the implication was made because we were all smiling on these pictures with a decent background.

As I explored these things in my mind- I realize there are a lot of details that pictures cannot and do not capture and so the mind fills in the blanks- either with previous facts- real or imagined, based on your current situation, based on knowledge of the person on the picture, based on the background/surroundings etc. And so yes, a picture does speak a 1000 words but what about the other 9000 or however many thousand words it doesn’t speak? Truth is, the event was not as fun as assumed…..for one, I had to literally force myself to attend after a full day at work- tired as hell but determined to keep my word. The temptation was certainly great to renege and go home- a decision made by people everywhere, everyday. Secondly, we all had to put on bug spray for some gigantic mosquitoes were roaming…and the sun was not very cool. Thirdly, I have no idea when I will ever attend another event……..maybe in another month, yes this is what the drudgery of life leads to, for who has the time and not many can afford to attend events/functions all the time……the flip side is also true, always being up, out and about will only lead to burnout and frustration.

But yes, I loved the wrap and was excited about that and the chance to engage in conversations and delight myself in sweet treats (hobbies of mine). I also got to go to a Botanic Gardens, one I wanted to see for a while now.  And by the way, we have way more beautiful and natural ones at home….so this is a call for us to preserve and appreciate them. But that aside, it fascinates me how we can build a narrative around images. Clearly, wherever you are you have to choose to get up and do something- and there are no shortage of things to do. I mean it doesn’t take much to meet up with your girls, eat dessert and talk…….Also, invariably the stories we build about others from their posts or pictures are always remarkable, positive and way more entertaining than our current reality- which always pales in comparison. Why is that so?

Its cruel to do this to ourselves and it has become the basis on which we live our lives….always bemoaning our current situation and wishing for the next thing or to be on the other side or to be that person, or to go where they went or do what they are doing. Truth is, images are snapshots showing us but a moment in time….what about the other 23 hours, 59 minutes and however many seconds that are not seen? We need to step back and evaluate and give ourselves a little more grace. Its like we see a lady on a day in a very striking outfit- right away we assume the rest of her closet will be just as remarkable and that ours need a revamp. That is enough for us…………never thinking we might be dead wrong, maybe that’s the only outfit she has. And what about the treelined streets with cottages and bungalows, surrounded by well manicured golf green lawns and beautiful blooms…..right away we assume oh these people must be blissfully happy, debt free and contented….but for the most part, we may be dead wrong…..a picture is worth a thousand words, but all those words may not be so wonderful.

I was speaking to a high school class mate on the weekend and as the conversation ebbed and flowed…he said …..” the grass is greener on the other side because they water it more, and pay a higher water bill”. It’s a truism in all its cliché and simplicity. And I wish to add that it is greener too because if you don’t make it green you may be fined.

 

 

 

 

The Contrasts

Our Health is free but health care is not.

Wisdom is free but getting an education is not.

Rain is free but water isn’t.

Love is free but expressing love is costly.

Fresh air is free, but not in all parts of the world.

Silence is golden and quiet times are essential….but not easily accessed these days.

A home is not always found in a house.

Everlasting life is free, but many are suspicious of this free gift.

Exercise is free, but so many choose to pay for it.

Play……is playing free these days?

Time is free but it matters how you spend it.

Faith, family and friends……..but they take work and reinforcement.

Laughter…..even when used to bully, heckle or manipulate. Counterintuitive.

Smiles……without the braces and whitening’s.

Encouragement and Hugs…….although we can be so tentative.

Sunshine, Sleep……we remember especially when they are lacking.

Respect……and this must not be earned.

And the list goes on and on and on and on……………………

 

 

 

Taxis……not Cabs!!

I have been driving in taxis for a long period of time and I love it. Back home, taking the taxi is not always the most pleasant experience but it was still good. I am taking taxis here too and its not always a pleasant experience either; albeit safer, and well organized. Funny how that works. Disclaimer: I am comparing a rural taxi experience in a developing country with a city taxi experience in a developed country.

Back home, a taxi can be a source of entertainment, as you are almost never alone for a ride. And so invariably stories and gossip abound, and we all like a good gossip although we cuss and whine about the number of us in a car. When I think back to taxis when I started high school, I considered the recent past a luxury ride. The further back I reflect the more I realize how much God was in those cars with us back then.

As I write this, I consider that these taxi drivers get a lot of free education each day! I am also thinking they must be very tired at the end of a work day as it takes a lot to solicit passengers each trip, ply the same route many times each day, dodge potholes, road bumps and traffic police, maneuver your car in the tight spaces in taxi parks, operate a ‘robot’ taxi. Very tired but hardly bored. I think too that taxi drivers back home are like hairdressers and barbers……they are in the know about a lot of things.

Contrast this to taxis here, highly regulated although just as competitive. Well dressed men who wait on a call or wait their turn wherever they are parked. Almost never the same route and I assume fewer trips per day, one or two passengers at a time, strict fare rules, electronic payment devices, GPS systems and ridesharing competition. I think of this and think, how boring it is to be a taxi driver in the developed world. Very boring but way less tiring.

I think of my friends home who are taxi operators- very cheerful and colourful characters. Always agitating for a fare increase, demonstrating about bad roads, complaining about the high costs of operations, cussing out the incumbent government or the opposition, seeking out a new ‘wife’, all knowing of everything that is going on.  A lot of camaraderie with their fellow colleagues……and they remain in the job for years on years and new ones keep joining the fray. I don’t think its so bad after all……although some will be quick to tell me its the economy….stupid.

I think of the taxi drivers I have met here. The Ethiopian who was jovial and happy with his thick English Accent, the Pakistani Muslim who was obviously upset about the legalization of marijuana, the Iranian who was true to his word, the Seikh who was so patient I was in awe, the Caucasian who was weeping about the state of the contemporary governments, the Nigerian with many stories who was retired but defraying boredom by operating a cab……and the majority who prefer to remain silent. A very different sphere of operation, but it may just be the economy too.

What can I say? There are some differences but not that many and quite a few men seem to make a decent living this way. I have had only one female taxi driver over the years…..I wonder why???? I have taken a taxi in NYC, Barbados, London, Canada and despite all these experiences, I think I love my taxis back home the most!!!

The Good Samaritan

Luke 10 v 25-37 is a familiar story. I have heard it enough times to be able to repeat it verbatim, and convince myself that I definitely would be the Good Samaritan. I also harshly judge the Priest and Levite. Which means, that that person is more than likely the deluded version of who I am, or who I am supposed to be. Suffice to say, this does not mean there are no more ‘Good Samaritans’, the world abounds with them, but the question I have been asking myself is……Am I one?

The Victim

A male……..so if you lived in my culture and you see a male hurt on a lonely road would you stop to help? What if you lived elsewhere, where there are ethnic and racial tensions- would you be concerned about a male lying on the road? He was robbed- by whom? And where were these robbers? Will we be robbed too? Or Is this a scam? It would take a lot of grace and willpower to stop and help this person……..because a lot of thoughts will fill our minds.

The Priest and Levite

Our first response is judgment. Two church people, how could they? I was led to think of this. Why would they just pass like that? Who was this man? Was he of their clan, if not was it illegal to interact with him? Were they late for an appointment? Were they really just cold and uncaring, prejudiced in some way? How often are we too busy to care too? How often do we think it’s someone else’s responsibility to care, like the Emergency workers or the Police?

The Samaritan

He cared, he stopped and he did more. He cleaned him, bandaged him, carried him to a place of safety, paid for his accommodation and food, stayed with him. He also made him feel seen, made him feel he mattered. We say, well he must have been rich. But do we know that? Do we always need cash to care? We say well he was discriminated against, so he knew what it meant to be disregarded. Well true, and don’t we all know what that is like? And have we ever wondered if he was a doctor just happening to pass by? Or where was he going? Was he missing some important meeting or appointment while he attended to this male? How often did he pass this way? Was this a familiar scene for him?

Although the above are all important considerations, what it comes down to-  is, he loved his neighbour. We get many opportunities each day to do likewise and they never show up at convenient times. Maybe we can’t do everything he did but certainly, there are a lot of ways to care and be kind. We can do whatever we can……Just do it!!!

So here’s to the original Good Samaritan, and all the other ones out there- current and aspiring.

 

How do I live without you?

Live is evil spelt backwards. The precise moment I recognized this, I also came to accept that evil coexists with life. And this is not to give credence or prominence to it, but just for us to reflect on what Jesus told us……..”in this world you will have tribulations……”

One of the things that bring us immense tribulation is grief. Loss of someone and something we love is both terrifying to contemplate and difficult to deal with. We grieve many times in our life over and over for varying things, we grief what we didn’t get and some of the things we get too……. but either way grief must never be suppressed. Grief when aligned with shame however, breeds just that.

My eyes were always wide shut before Andrew’s case (not his real name. ) It wasn’t the first time I heard of a child losing their mom, but it was the first time I had ever seen a child (and a boy none the less) openly grieve like that. It broke my heart about ten times over, and it was my awakening. Only a broken heart can do that. It showed me so many things. I am almost ashamed to say that before this I never contemplated what it meant to lose a parent, I didn’t think about grief beyond the funeral day. But from this one experience, I learnt:

1. Kids take their cues from us, and if we dismiss and behave as if grieving and crying especially, are signs of weakness or are for sissies then they will believe it too.

2. Any culture that revers rage and anger and tells us that’s where our strengths are, then grief and mourning was bound to become a bad words in that milieu.

3. I could do something to help, anything. When people cry out for help we should find a way to help. And also when they don’t cry out for help, sometimes it’s not because they don’t need help.

4. I want to start my own place where I can provide solace, comfort and healing for growing kids. An idea was born, I knew the ‘why’ but the what and how are still conceptions.

5. It serves us well to own, acknowledge, welcome pain rather than downplay it. I have seen how Andrew has progressed just from been open and vocal about his feelings….

I started reading everything I could about grief and grief management and I started researching how this was applied practically. Psyschologists and counselors have identified the Three P’s of grief…….personalization, pervasiveness, and permanence. I thought to myself this along with the well know stages of grief are enough to blow an adult’s mind, never mind a kid. Someone has to unpack these things for them and take them through the wilderness. I myself am not even qualified to do that, I don’t even know where to begin but that doesn’t mean I don’t have some skills that can be useful.

Since Andrew, the stories have only grown in number. My cousins two sons- and their case is especially sad because they are acting up, I mean really acting up. I worry about the consequences of having no one understand what is happening and I also worry about there being no intervention for them. The side effects will be felt, not only by them but also by their families, the community and country. We have to make the connection………

There are also other cases. The nine year old daughter of a former student of mine, teenagers, and the myriad others who we as adults just expect to toughen up, suck it up, forget and move on. Unfortunately that’s not how it works……pain not healed is only transferred. And this is not to say that those who access help ever forget totally. They don’t, they are only able to manage the feelings in a healthy way when they arise, as they inevitably will. Kids who have lost loved ones can become wholesome healthy adults but it’s not automatic, convenient or easy. There needs to be a lot intervention and a lot of love, they need to know that the love lost is about losing a piece of themselves, but even so that this can be transformed into something positive. It is a gift and it’s part of our shared humanity. They need to know that they are loved by others……….sometimes that’s all they, need just the knowledge that they are still loved, that someone cares.

Eventually all of us will experience loss…….but what will we do with it? Life is like that, it rubs us up and churns us and forces us to either adapt or die. The funny this is, adapting is just as natural as dying. Another thing is dealing with grief is not trying your best to make them forget, just as I don’t believe forgiveness equates to forgetting…..it’s so much more. Memories must be honoured and treasured, that’s healthy.

I still have both parents alive and for that I am grateful, and I am blessed to never experience major trauma yet I still carry with me to adulthood a lot of brokenness and pain from childhood. Children are fragile and are like sponge. It’s the adults job to train them and we have to train them about difficult and intangible things too. Unfortunately a lot of caregivers or guardians are themselves too immersed in their grief to properly process and help these vulnerable ones during this time. That’s one of the reasons it takes a village. Then there are the other issues, do boys grieve differently from girls? How long will it take to move from one stage to the next? Is there a one size fits all panacea?

Home……

I was listening to a podcast and I heard this …….we yearn to explore at times but there also comes a time when we yearn to go home. I started thinking about that.

There are many days when I love living here. I enjoy the walking trails, the predictability of the transportation system, a better health care, the attention to family, a society that reads and commemorate, the safety index (or the illusion) , no power cuts, and civic pride. I am enjoying the opportunity to diversify, broaden experiences, knowledge and relationships whilst recognizing more and more that at the core we are all the same. It has helped me appreciate clean water in its abundance, sunshine- and not only for its mood enhancing properties and Vitamin D. Even so, there are as many days, when I long for home. I mean really long for home. And in those times, when I think of Home I think about the good things. These things are magnified so much more from a distance, or are they just more appreciated now that you don’t have them or have to work at them or worse pay for them. I also think about the bad things, which strangely sometimes do not seem so bad from a distance. 🤔🤔🤔but at other times makes you recoil in fear.

I am a fierce protector of home…..and yet I wonder if when I get home I will feel like an alien. Will I feel afraid? Will I feel like that’s my home? I desperately want it to have the same feel and appeal……it must be home. Home is my identity. But I doubt it will be, I have changed I suspect home has too. If there is one thing I am learning though, its that we are adaptable and we must embrace change. To do that however, it is imperative that we make the most of now.- aging somehow has taught me this. But back on track, I think of our education system which in my opinion is superior to many others I have seen…..I pray we don’t try to change what we have because we feel it is bad. I listen to stories of complaint about our indiscipline, how long it takes to process a drivers license (max 3 hours on a bad day-imagine that), and I say to myself. Its not much different elsewhere- for I have heard people with similar complaints here. The human race is hard to please. Now, don’t get me wrong, we must speak up if we want meaningful change, and there are a lot of bad and a lot of things we need to fix- in both places by the way.  But I really believe sometimes too we get unrealistic and have too many high expectations.

I wonder sometimes if we have homelessness at home? I wonder if we have problems of loneliness at home? I don’t have to know for it to exist, but I know we have a very palpable class system and we have problems of crime and indiscipline of a very large magnitude relative to our size. (Caveat- having one instance of crime is one too much) We also have a lot of hopelessness and despair, poverty and a lot of disguised child labour. We have issues of unemployment and underemployment, health care needs fixing and myriad other issues. As a people we still struggle with who we are, we do not accept or appreciate what we have, but who am I kidding that’s the human race.   I have come to believe that these will never fully go away so we must focus on the things that matter (although these are  subject to interpretation). And this is not defensiveness, I am keeping it real.

I also know that media is powerful. Social media seems to have us wound up a certain way, the mainstream media is just as nefarious. What we focus on tricks us into believing that this ratio is reality. I am learning to balance my intake from media. For the most part I must get close to the ground, to really know the entire story. A snapshot or a perspective must always be taken with a grain of salt.

So home, home sweet home. What do you hold in store for me? Or better yet, what must I do for you? Can I ever be at home without you?