I gave up on making resolutions a few years ago. In years past on the 31st of December, I would sit in a corner with some type of alcoholic drink and make insanely grandiose vows about what I would and wouldn’t do in the new year. I’d forget them after about a week. So I’ve decided to abandon the resolution habit and focus instead on making small realistic promises to myself that I know I can keep.
Last year, I promised to spend time with the people who matter and for the most part I did that. Those who know my story know that I’ve been in the wilderness quite a few times in my life and I feel eternal gratitude to the people who stood by me during those times. The ones who I couldn’t be with physically, I made sure to keep in touch. I made a personal phone call on birthdays and special occasions. I made an effort to let them know that they matter to me.
My 2017 list is also brief. I want to visit home this year. And if not pay off my student loan, at least make a sizeable dent in the balance. If all goes well, it will also be the year when my divorce is finalized, an event that I’m surprised I have mixed emotions about. My soon-to-be ex-husband was one of the first to wish me happy new year. He did the same for Christmas and for my birthday last November. Our close 13-year friendship prior to the disastrous nuptials is now stronger than ever. I guess some people make better friends than they do partners. I’m talking about me.
Perhaps love will find me this year, although I secretly hope that money finds me first. Sure it can’t buy happiness but I’ve been poor and I wasn’t happy then either. Right now, I’m in a good place where winning the lottery won’t get to my head (I hope). I’m already happy with who I am and where I’m at in life.
I have discovered that I am most passionate about helping people and bringing joy to others. And I also realize that people matter over material things every time. I spend more time cultivating relationships with those who I have things in common. When 40 is looking you in the eye, you suddenly realize that it’s great to have drinking buddies, but having someone to call in the middle of the night when you just want to vent about the latest nonsense going on in your life is a privilege that should not be taken for granted.
I’m learning forgiveness and, one day soon, I hope that I will stop having visions about poisoning the people who’ve wronged me. It’s a slow pace but I’m steadily becoming a better person, I think.
I’m a work in progress.
You never really appreciate some things about Jamaica until you find yourself far away and immersed in a culture which is vastly different from yours.
The tendency to stick everyone with a nickname like ‘Puncie’ or ‘Reds’, and how we like to “tek bad tings mek joke”.
The concern I had for my family over the passing of Hurricane Matthew was masked by belly busting laughter courtesy of the videos and memes circulating on social media effectively mocking the impending disaster. It seems to have worked, because Hurricane Matthew tek shame and turned his attention elsewhere.
But even as I breathed a sigh of relief that Jamaica escaped the real fury of the hurricane, there were two issues that caused me to pause over the last few days. One, that there are many today who downplay the extent to which Mother Nature can unleash its fury, and seem to think that being prepared for a disaster, even if it never comes, is a waste of time. I doubt that those who’ve been unfortunate enough to have been caught in the throes of an angry hurricane would neglect to purchase even two candles and a tin of bully beef. Even now, our neighbours to the north, Haiti, are reeling in the aftermath of the same hurricane that spared us.
Using the lessons learned from past hurricanes, weather forecasters and the Government of Jamaica erred on the side of caution. Category 1 Hurricane Sandy in 2012 barely clipped Jamaica, yet still caused extensive damage particularly in the Eastern end of the island and left one person dead. I was in Portmore at the time, where more than 100 light poles went down.
The Jamaica Observer reported that “Entire houses in areas such as Manchioneal, Portland, were destroyed and prominent among structures severely damaged was the Annotto Bay Hospital in St Mary, which lost its roof.”
Neither Hurricane Dean in 2007, nor Ivan in 2004, made direct landfall in Jamaica, yet both left millions of dollar in damage to property and the agricultural sector, and resulted in loss of life. So if you think that being prepared is a scam by the wholesales to get your money, next time try being unprepared for one of these behemoths.
The second point of concern is the contempt those of us with means often display for those without. Jaevion Nelson’s ‘Dear Middle Class’ thread on Twitter was immediately attacked, but such is the way of social media and Twitter especially where everyone is a bully behind his/her keyboard.
But Nelson raised some sobering points. Persons who refuse to go to shelter have more to consider than just life and death. Our shelters are not exactly safe havens in the real sense of what an emergency shelter should be. In the past, people who have sought shelter became victims of various crimes including theft and rape. It is advised to bring only what you need to the shelter so that you don’t take up too much space, yet it’s almost a given that you may end up sleeping on concrete floors with nothing to eat for days. Later, some return home to find their precious possessions looted.
When told to go to shelter for ‘safety’, people who can barely afford to survive day to day, know that they are not in a position to just buy back what little they own after the hurricane passes.
Truth is, it’s usually the very poor who are faced with the choice to go into these ill-equipped shelters where they may very well be worse off than if they had stayed home. This is not likely to be a quandary faced by the middle and upper class of the Jamaican society. Simply put, people who say “if it was me I would leave home immediately and go to a shelter” more than likely have never been in a position where they had to make that choice.
So, dear middle and upper class people of Jamaica, stop dishing out advice to poor people on how to live their lives. First, take some time to find out why they feel the way they do about certain issues, and why some decisions, though to you it may appear to be a clear choice of life and death, are not as clear cut for them.
Denise Clarke is a journalist and public relations consultant who is currently teaching English in Japan. She writes this blog to cope with her longing for ackee and saltfish with slightly ripened slices of roasted breadfruit.