A New Year, and What Children Bear

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A Pierce-Arrow from the 20s or 30s

The first weekend of 2014 is upon us and I have already broken a few promises I made to myself; but I am not disheartened. I am learning to see every single day, nay, moment, as an opportunity to travel the course I’ve charted and I am never, ever, giving up on this journey. You shouldn’t either.

2013: It Was a Very Good Year

I welcomed 2013 staring at the moon over Bourbon Street1 with some amazing CouchSurfers, and at the moment the fireworks went off, I made a wish. It did not come true but life handed me far better than I could have thought to wish for. I did not know that I would discover South America and the amazing people who live there, or that I would have won an award for my blogging2, or that I would hold a gun in front of the Delta Saloon in Virginia City, NV while feeding a donkey a carrot. It was a very good year.

Madiba: Gone but Not Forgotten

I felt an immense sense of loss on the eve of my 25th birthday when Nelson Mandela died, but I was also grateful for the reminder that someone existed who was incarcerated for longer than I have been alive, yet remained free. He was free of spite, hatred, anger and self-pity. And now, he is free of the burden of an ailing body. RIP Tata.

“They say we die twice, once when the breath leaves our body and once when the last person we know says our name.” Madiba will be alive for a very long time.

Resolution: Make Happy Children, Make Children Happy

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Christ The Redeemer: I will never forget this evening, not because I saw a famous landmark, but because it was the same day Nelson Mandela died.

Children suffer abuses every single day, and I worry about them. They are not always physical, but their little hearts bear many scars that they may not understand. Consider this conversation between a three-year-old girl and her mother that I overheard on a shared taxi ride many years ago. To this day, it still haunts me.

“Wha you a go tell Papa seh we go do?”3

“We go look fi Dukie over Cross.”4

“Yes, but you fi tell Papa seh we go roun’ a church.”5

[no response]

“If you no tell Papa seh we go roun’ a church mi nah go love you again.”6

[still no response]

“Me a Papa and you a Krissy. Krissy, whe you and you mother a come from?”7

“Over Cross”8

“No, mi nuh love you again. We go roun’ a church. [pause] Krissy, when you and you mother a come from?”9

“Roun’ a church Papa.”10

“Yes, Krissy. Mi love yuh now!”11

“Krissy love yuh too Mammy.”12

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Little Drummer Boy at Uruguay’s Llamada Madre

Even before we could properly put it into words, we have been looking for love and approval. The occasional little person may be naturally rebellious or stray from this general rule at some stages of development but most of us, as children and adults, are intent on making our parents happy. We know that if Daddy and Mommy are pleased with us we are more likely to be shown love and receive positive reinforcement. Krissy’s mother knew this well and capitalized on her daughter’s vulnerability. There could be any combination of reasons why she did not want the father to know that she went to visit “Dukie over Cross” and she might have encouraged Krissy to lie to avoid a potentially dangerous situation for them both but this is simply not something a child should have to go through.

We are born dependent, automatically entrusted to a mother and/or father who may or may not know how to bring out the best in us or may not even care to. It is widely believed that parenthood automatically and suddenly changes us for the better but, from an observer’s viewpoint, I have no evidence to support that theory. Some parents mean well but they are often guilty of losing focus, paying more attention to less substantial aspects of their task than the single most important thing- being a positive role model for cultivating an independent, happy adult who is beneficial to his/her community.

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Children should smile

Some people bear the responsibility heroically, while others are failing miserably. Some parents have neither the financial nor emotional resources to succeed, while some have one but not the other: a parent who does not have enough money to supply the needs of his/her child will usually not be emotionally stable enough either13. Human life is a precious, volatile thing and people who do not

want the responsibility of parenthood but have it thrust upon them tend to end up further infecting the wound of humanity by poisoning the additional lives they have been entrusted with. That is why I believe a woman should have the opportunity to choose whether she will become a mother – not only by being empowered to negotiate the use of contraceptive methods but also through

access to safe and legal abortions within the first trimester. At this juncture, I would like to declare that I am very happy to have had the opportunity to live – although my mother was not wealthy, she has been an exceptional parent. I would love if every child could live and be well taken care of but the Jamaican society does not currently provide that opportunity.

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Good enough reason, I suppose.

It is a shame for a state to force a woman to carry a child that it is unable to financially support her with. The poorest children in Jamaica may qualify for benefits under the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH) but in my experience it is far from enough. I am not sure what the benefits are to the individual family but to students of a particular school it is very much lacking. The school provides children who qualify for PATH benefits with a lunch only two days per week14 and if the student does not have a good attendance record, she will be disqualified from the programme making it even more impossible for her to attend school.

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Virginia City, NV: I had to pay to feed the donkey but the picture was worth it, no?

I know one child who used to sell his free lunch ticket in order to have fare to attend school the following day. He considers this a worthy trade-off as he is unable to bear the discrimination between the portions served in lunches of students who purchase with a PATH ticket and those who pay cash. It’s a crying shame that a child is made to feel inferior [by a government employee] because of what his parents cannot afford. I have seen it over and over again but I am still not desensitized to the oppression of the poor, especially by those who are not much better off.

Society is failing both the poor and rich by emphasizing inequality, but the poor tend to have fewer second chances. We start children off with one teacher in a classroom of 50, yet we blame them when they ‘graduate’ being unable to read the first word in this post. The children who do the worst academically [usually poorer] are separated from those who do better on entering high school; they spend five years of their lives wearing a label that reads ‘not good enough’.  A few will defy the odds, but most will continue the cycle of underachievement and poverty.  The rich who grow up feeling superior and more entitled will buckle at the pressures of the real world, if ever s/he is faced with them. Children who are disadvantaged and victims of spite can grow up to become oppressors themselves and in many cases advocates against this oppression. There is no way to know in advance, so we have to do the best we can.

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New Year, New Leaf: One of my pictures from a journey into one of Brazil’s tropical rainforests, Tijuca.

These are my other resolutions.

  1. I will stop trying to school people on the internet.
  2. I will eat healthier and exercise more frequently.
  3. I will blog more (weekly, at least?).
  4. I will travel [even] more.
  5. I will read more fiction.

I believe that they are very good goals and I will try my best to adhere to them.

I wrote this message for myself and I will share it with you….

Be still. Take it all in. Let go. Retrieve. Establish and celebrate your presence in each moment of your life because it will never happen again.

Happy New Year

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The posse on Bourbon Street: 01/01/2013

  1. New Orleans []
  2. Jamaica Blog Awards: Best Writing []
  3. What will you tell Papa we did today? []
  4. We went to visit Dukie in Cross []
  5. That is true but you should tell Papa that we went by the church []
  6. If you don’t tell Papa we went by the church, I will no longer love you. []
  7. Pretend I am Papa and you are Krissy. Krissy, where were you and your mother today? []
  8. In Cross []
  9. No, I no longer love you. We went by the church. [pause] Krissy, where were you and your mother today? []
  10. We went by church, Papa. []
  11. Yes, Krissy. Now I love you! []
  12. Krissy loves you too, Mammy. []
  13. there are many good, poor parents but this is the exception []
  14. the benefit was initially for three days but had been reduced due to the economy []
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