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Minute-by-Minute Decisions Will Not Work on COVID-19

Some of us do not seem to matter. There is little consideration to people living with illnesses and in need of medication, people experiencing poverty, elderly people, unhoused people, women, or children. The needs of these people are not anticipated, much less met by the competent authority. Decisions are made, restrictions are announced and we are all expected to figure out how we will survive. The emergency measures in response to COVID-19 have all been disruptive and failed to considered the most vulnerable among us, but the seven-day lockdown announced in the Prime Minister’s national address on Monday night was, by far, the most ill-conceived, nonsensical, harmful one yet.

Over the past 24 hours, I have seen people with the means to buy food and water say that they do not have enough to last. I have seen people talk about seriously taking inventory in the kitchens to figure out how to make what they have last for seven days. Some planned to shop on Wednesday or Friday. Some were expecting water deliveries later this week. Some abandoned long lines at pharmacies, thinking they could return in two days. Some were trying to figure out how to make less than one gallon of water work for two people. These are people with money. These are people who had plans. These are people who were assured by the Prime Minister of this country that there would be no lockdown that would prevent them from accessing grocery stores. How much worse is it for people who cannot afford to prepare?

The people who are unemployed and have not received any NIB benefits have very few options. No information has been shared on how unhoused people will be handled. Will they be fined for not being in a sound structure, or will police offer them assistance in finding appropriate shelter? When 311 is inundated with calls (as it has been since the address on Monday night) and cannot get through, how will police deal with people on the road whose information is not held by 311 operators? Will they be penalized for the failure of an inadequate system?

Equality Bahamas has been pushing for feminist policy since March. In a six-page document, many vulnerable groups are named, nine key areas in need of attention are listed, and recommendations are made for each one. The document addresses issues we anticipated and have since face including an increase in domestic violence, unequal access to information, and exacerbation of social and economic inequality. When policy decisions are made without attention to vulnerable people and critical areas, we find ourselves in situations like this one. People are frustrated, afraid, and made more vulnerable. Whatever measures are in place, people need shelter, food, water, and safety.

It has been a disastrous 24 hours. The same Prime Minister who told us not to panic shop and to ignore unverified information thrust an immediate lockdown upon us. A member of his own cabinet said the rumors of the lockdown were untrue. The National Food Distribution Taskforce appears to have been caught off guard. It seems that no one knows what is going on. Information is not being shared, consultations are not taking place and measures put in place either do not apply to people of privilege and power or have to be changed because they cause harm.

The Prime Minister has now reversed his decision or postponed the lockdown for an indeterminate amount of time. All we know now is that we cannot trust him and suspicion has been a function of survival. We have to expect the worst and do what we can to prepare for the measures he imposes upon us.

It is possible to acknowledge the utility of the lockdowns while questioning the practicality. It is possible to lead and make difficult decisions with empathy. It is necessary to consult with experts, practitioners, and citizens. It is critical that the people are appropriately prepared for what comes next. We cannot ignore the reality of people’s lives. Do not forget that there are people who do not have water piped into their homes. There should not be a lockdown without communication to them and law enforcement about access to water at public pumps.

We need a competent authority that considers all Bahamians and residents, anticipates issues before they arise, mitigates the issues, clearly communicates the strategy and puts systems in place to both enforce the measures and protect the lives of the people. That competent authority cannot be one person. It must sustain a practice of consultation. It must prioritize human rights. It must be open to feedback. It must be accessible to the Press and, by extension, the people. We all know the Prime Minister is certainly ill-suited to the position.

The Prime Minister needs to acknowledge his error, at least to himself. At worst, he sought to punish his detractors; at best, he completely forgot about the basic needs of human beings. He needs to consult with a diverse team that includes medical experts, small and medium-size business owners, artists, non-governmental organizations, media professionals and youth to chart the way forward.

The minute-by-minute decisions are not going to get us through this. Extended lockdowns do not solve the problem. Even if a lockdown would help us in the short-term, we need a plan for when restrictions are lifted, and it cannot be limited to regulations people are expected to comply with on their own. It needs to include enforcement and a robust campaign to inform, equip and compel people to comply.

Here are four areas that obviously need attention.

  1. People need money. They have been waiting for months, calling endlessly, and queuing only to be turned around and around. This process needs to be streamlined. Direct deposit would be easiest for people with bank accounts, possibly eliminating the need for a ride and definitely shortening the line for collection. Make it possible for people to check the status of disbursements. Use their email addresses or phone numbers to send them a code that can be used on the NIB website to get accurate updates. Send them notifications when checks are ready. Where direct deposit is not possible, make checks available at convenient locations in each constituency to reduce the number of people in one place and the wait time. If necessary, use last names to split the crowd by day or location.

  2. People need food, and they need nutritious food. People also need dignity. Move away from canned goods. Partner with farmers to include fresh produce. Give them grocery store vouchers so they can shop for themselves and get the items they need and enjoy. People in need deserve to have choices too.

  3. Regulations need to be enforced. Train and employ people to manage lines at grocery stores, pharmacies, and banks. They should ensure people are wearing masks properly—covering nose and mouth—and maintaining the six-foot distance. Leaving this to businesses has put this responsibility on security guards who are at the front of the line, opening the door, monitoring the number of people inside, checking temperatures, and ensuring people use hand sanitizer. It is unreasonable to expect them to be able to manage long, curving lines from their stations at the door.

  4. We need a plan for the next spike, and the details need to be shared with the public. If, for example, a large increase in cases will result in a seven-day lockdown, make it clear to the public that all households need to ensure they have sufficient supplies for a seven-day period at all times. Ensure that the National Food Distribution Taskforce facilitates this for people on the program. Advise of the metrics used to determine whether or not an increase in cases requires this measure so people can assess the situation for themselves based on the dashboard. As an example, if the indicator is over 1000 active cases and we are seeing 20 cases per day, people will know that they have about one week to prepare for a lockdown by the time we see 850 active cases on the dashboard. Even with this adjustment, it is necessary to consider people who do not have the means to prepare in this way and are not receiving a food assistance. They will need additional assistance.

The national address on Monday night was unreasonable and cruel. In addition to the usual condescension and unnecessary padding, the announcement of the lockdown felt like a punishment. We do not need to be punished. We need a plan that considers and responds to our circumstance and needs. We need to address individual challenges while focusing on the common good. We need a competent authority team to get us there. One man cannot do it.

Published in my weekly column in The Tribune — on August 19, 2020.

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Too Many Unanswered Questions and Lack of Respect

We are now in our second week of lockdown and received a national address from the Prime Minister on Sunday evening which gave very little information. Last week’s Ministry of Health briefing gave the usual information, though all of the questions posed by journalists were not answered. In response to some of them, health officials said the Prime Minister would address the issues on Sunday. Unsurprisingly, he did not.

Since the action by doctors and nurses, we have been asking for details on the PPE inventory and availability. This was glossed over with no numbers or policies provided. It was only said that there are PPE supplies available and they are topped up as needed. We do not know who controls access to them, how often staff are able to change them, if there was ever a shortage, or why there is a huge gap between reports from doctors and nurses and those from authorities. This needs to be properly addressed.

PPE is not the only issue on which authorities refuse to give clarity. It was not even possible to probe further as the Prime Minister insists on giving national addresses instead of press conferences which allow for questions from the press. One-sided communication is insufficient and unacceptable. The government works for us and it needs to answer our questions.

The Prime Minister’s limited communication with the nation has been severely lacking. His speeches are still padded, far too long and condescending. National addresses should not be sermons. They should not be lectures. They should not be scoldings. At the very least, they should provide basic information and respond to the questions deferred from the previous Ministry of Health press briefing.

Is no one making note of those unanswered questions? There is specific information Bahamians would like to have. What changes have been made to the budget? What is being done to prepare the hospital and other facilities to handle the increase in COVID-19 cases? What is the current pace of the National Insurance Board and Social Services in fulfilling requests for benefits and assistance and what changes are being made to accommodate more people and expedite the process? What factors will determine whether or not the lockdown is extended beyond the set two weeks?

In a 45-minute address, these kinds of details should be clearly communicated.

While we know these are uncertain times, the people want, at the very least, certainty that they will be kept up to date on COVID-19-related issues. Every time a national address is announced, people get anxious and start to make assumptions about what will be said. Ahead of the last address, many were expecting the lockdown to be extended due to the continued rise in cases. There was no mention of this in the address and it was a reminder that we are never given that much notice.

The delay in communication does not appear to be a consequence of days-long deliberation or snap decisions, but a conscious decision to give us the smallest possible window of time to make preparations. Yes, we know that with the announcement of lockdown comes the rush to grocery stores and gas stations, but we also know this is due to both household circumstances and the lack of trust people have in the government. We have been caught off guard before, and no one wants to be left unprepared.

There is a need to build trust and assure people that they will be able to get what they need. If this does not happen, there will always be a rush, and the small windows for preparation do not alleviate this. Instead, they concentrate it. This tactic does not make sense.

This country is not a kingdom or a classroom and should not be treated as such. We need clear communication, and that includes letting us know when authorities are considering a particular action that will affect our daily lives. It is not much to ask. If this lockdown is to be extended, the least the Prime Minister could do is let us know before this weekend so we are not all at the grocery store on Monday.

Have a plan to handle the lockdown at home

At this point, it makes sense for households and individuals to have lockdown plans in place. Here are some items to include in those plans.

  1. Decide who will be responsible for household errands. This person does the grocery shopping, fills prescriptions, gets water, and anything else that will likely require queueing. This person has a routine they meticulously follow to ensure that their household is not compromised. This may include taking no personal items aside from a card or cash for payment into the place of business, wearing gloves while in-store and handling packages (which requires a well-thought out plan), and calling someone to open the door to the house so they don’t touch anything. This should be the person in the best health.

  2. Do as much as possible online. Set up online bill payment with utility companies to avoid more lines and time in close quarters with other people. Ask your bank about paying bills using online banking. If you are nervous about using your credit or debit card online, there are ways to make payments directly from your bank account. You can all purchase a gift card to be used during lockdown for bill payment, ensuring that potential compromises have no effect on your bank account.

  3. Get on the same page with everyone in your household. If anyone breaks the lockdown, everyone in the household is at risk. Households should not mix. Agree to give up the parties and other events you usually host or attend, or find ways to do them virtually. The lockdown puts a barrier between you and other people. Don’t think only of the person you want to see outside of your household, but all of the people to whom they have been exposed, and the people to whom they have been exposed. You do not want to be a part of a contact-tracing chain, so stick with your household and get everyone else to do the same.

  4. Set up a workstation if you and others in your household need to work from home. It can be tempting to operate from your bedroom, but this can disrupt your sleep. Choose a space with good lighting, strong wifi (or the strongest available in your house), a cooling device, and a proper chair. Make it a practice to sit there during work hours so your brain understands what it needs to do when you are in that position and location.

  5. Share the load. No one person should be expected to work from home, keep the house clean, occupy and supervise the children, and prepare meals. Figure out how to balance the workload.

  6. Check in with yourself every day. Pay attention to the way your body feels, the way you are progressing with work, and your mood. Make sure you are eating on time, drinking enough water, getting fresh air, and able to think and talk about more than just the current circumstances. If you are in need of mental health support, call the Bahamas Psychological Association hotline—819-7652, 816-3799, 812-0576, or 815-5850.

As we spend more time at home, it can be tempting to fall into habits like working in bed, binge watching television shows, eating all day, and online shopping. Pay attention to the amount of time spent on these activities, the financial cost, and the effects on your well-being. There is a difference between a carefree day and general disorder. By now, you know what you are likely to do and can identify your coping mechanisms. Give yourself allowances and limitations. If you need help finding balance, ask someone in your household to help or set up a virtual buddy system. We are all trying to make it through difficult days. Remember that others are working through some of the same challenges and talking about them, setting goals together, and checking in can help. Even though we should not physically gather, don’t underestimate the importance of community.

Published in my weekly column in The Tribune on August 12, 2020.

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Let’s Do Things Better

Over the past few days I have been having conversations with people about the COVID crisis, the responses of different governments and the reactions of the public. I have been interested in the thoughts of artists, activists, educators, students and members of the press. There is one question I keep asking – what is your hope for when things change? Some answers are personal and some are broader and more inclusive. Every answer, however, focuses on learning. Everyone has been saying, in one way or another, that they hope we learn. Even deeper than that, they hope we use our newly acquired knowledge to do things, not just differently, but better.

We are being forced to listen, learn and adjust every day. We are learning some things the hard way. Some lessons seem a bit too late and many have been trying to reveal themselves to us for a long time.

It is good, however, to see that some people are already trying to shift. Food is an excellent example. While grocery shopping is still quite a task and certain items remain hard to come by, people are becoming more open to growing their own food. I have seen scores of posts on Facebook from people who suddenly and desperately want to grow fruit and vegetables in their gardens. People in apartments and without yard space are asking what they can grow inside with limited sunlight. There is more interest in food security.

Advocates like Erin Greene of Seasonal Sunshine Bahamas have been freely sharing information, ideas and contact information for experts – including Tsekani Nash, Whitlyn Miller, Liann Keigh, Phil Davis Jr. – in the field. Erin has, for years, been telling people to use the food they buy to grow more food, emphasising the ease of growing lettuce and carrots from the parts we usually throw way and encouraging people to save gallon-size water bottles to make them into hanging baskets. These ideas are perfectly simple, giving many people the ability to grow food.

The rush to buy seeds and seedlings shows we are beginning to understand that depending on other sources for all of our food is not a good idea. The mindset is shifting, we are less averse to touching soil, more willing to learn about farming and recognising the expertise of people we hardly considered before. We may be just months away from being just as proud of our tomatoes, sweet potatoes and lettuce as we are of our rose bushes, ficus hedges and bromeliads.

Reminders regarding assistance for those in need

  1. Agencies need to create a line management system. When there are many people on a line, especially in a limited space, it is difficult to maintain the appropriate distance. Make it easier for everyone. Offer drive-thru service and where that is not possible, have people in place to manage the line.
  2. This is one of the most difficult times in people’s lives. This does not define them. They deserve their dignity. Do not photograph people who are seeking assistance and do not share these images and offer demeaning commentary. It is cruel and unhelpful.
  3. Money is the best assistance. People need food, but the non-perishables provided are often high in sodium, lack nutrients and quickly become over-consumed. Allow people to prioritise their needs. Even if their focus is on food, they should have the opportunity to purchase fresh items. They may also need to purchase medication, phone credit, gas and other commodities. Help to make it possible by putting money in their hands.
  4. Some households have babies and elderly people. They have completely different needs including diapers and nutritional supplements.
  5. People will go to multiple sources for assistance. This does not mean they are greedy. It means they are getting information and doing their best to meet their needs. No single source is giving enough for people to go home and not worry for the rest of the month or even the week. They are trying to survive, and this does not deserve ridicule or rebuke.

Free entertainment abounds

During this time of lockdowns, curfews and quarantines, we are not short on entertainment. Celebrities are coming together to give free online concerts and, making it even more exciting, live battles.

Last Saturday, Babyface and Teddy Riley attempted a highly anticipated battle – part of the Verzuz digital battle by Timbaland and Swizz Beatz – on Instagram which had to be postponed to Monday night. Even the failure was entertainment with over 400,000 people watching in awe as Teddy Riley struggled to get his elaborate concert set-up to work. Babyface was relaxed in his studio, prepared with the only necessary equipment – his phone, speakers and a microphone. No one understood why Teddy Riley had so many people in his place – especially without masks and not practicing social distancing – but it was funny to see them all try to make things work. He had a standup microphone, a large screen running a design sequence behind him, a DJ in the corner, a dancer and it was all too much. There were a lot of sound issues that could not be rectified.

Babyface eventually left the live, saying he would return later. Everyone joked that he was gone to bed and would not be back. They were at least partly correct. Babyface later announced they would try again on Monday night. It was especially funny to see the response of other celebrities who were tuned in and hoping for an epic battle. Toni Braxton tweeted that it was “like watching old folks use Jitterbug phones”.

I decided to check it out late on Monday night, tuning in just in time to see Teddy Riley leave. Waiting for him to return and wanting the battle to be fair, Babyface tried to figure out what to do. Should he play a song? Should he just wait? Teddy Riley was taking a long time, so he eventually played a Toni Braxton song. He also attempted to play a song on guitar, but Teddy Riley was trying to get back into the live, so he had to stop and try to let Riley in. It did not work, and they decided to try it in the reverse order, with Teddy Riley hosting Babyface. After a few minutes of shenanigans and them not being able to connect, I gave up and tuned in to DJ D-Nice who has been running virtual parties for the past month. The rescheduled Verzuz battle, unfortunately, conflicted with D-Nice’s scheduled event with Michelle Obama. It was a live set by the DJ designed as an online voter registration drive.

There is enough happening for everyone with internet access to pick, choose, and refuse. Museums are offering free virtual tours, DJs – including The Bahamas’ DJ Ovadose – are hosting live parties, comedians are doing live sets, and many others are using their talent to bring people together while we are physically apart. There is no shortage of things to do, but let’s all remember to take some time to take care of ourselves and each other too.

Recommendations

Are you running out of shows to watch? I have three television show recommendations for you this week.

Little Fires Everywhere is a compelling television show on Hulu based on Celeste Ng’s novel by the same name. It depicts the connection between the white, seemingly perfect Richardson family and Black single mother and daughter Mia and Pearl Warren. While the book does not specify the Warrens’ race, the television show is intentional in exploring the race dynamic in a predominantly white community.

Other themes include class, mother-daughter relationships, and friendship. I highly recommend reading the book first, then diving into this series. The final episode of the first season airs this week.

In Sex Education, awkward high school student Otis decides to give sex and relationship advice to his classmates with the help of Maeve who takes the lead in setting up a sex therapy clinic. Otis gets his “expertise” from his mother is a sex therapist who does not shy away from the topic in their daily lives, but is not aware of his new business endeavour. Even as he helps his classmates navigate the teenage struggles of life and love, he is not particularly adept at keeping his own relationships intact. This British comedy-drama series is easy to watch, fun to talk about, and oddly educational.

People born in the 80s will clearly remember Living Single as one of the only television shows that aired on ZNS. Starring Queen Latifah, it followed the lives of six young black people living in the same building. Khadijah ran an cool magazine, Kim wanted to be an actress, Max was a lawyer who didn’t live in the building, but was there often enough, Regine was the chatty one, Synclaire was always full of joy, Overton was the handyman (and dated Synclaire), and Kyle was a stockbroker and general annoyance. They were a fun bunch.

Living Single ran for five seasons and it is often said that popular television show Friends was based on Living Single though the creators never gave credit where it was due. In a time of remakes, some of us hope it will make a return, but we can always go way back and start from the beginning.

Published by The Tribune on April 22, 2020.

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Minister of Social Services Doesn’t Understand Domestic Violence

Minister of Social Services Frankie Campbell spoke in Parliament about the work being done by the Department of Social Services. He noted, without call it by name, that the issue of domestic and intimate partner violence had been raised numerous times. I waited, with the tiniest bit of optimism, for him to announce systems and services to address this pervasive issue that is only exacerbated by current conditions. Instead, he said: “This is a time when [abusers] should reflect on the errors of their past and try to make amends[…] repent of their ways and seek to build those bridges that they would have broken down.”

First, not many people watch Parliament. This was made clear by the comments on the livestream which indicated that viewers had no understanding of processes (which, admittedly, are often time-consuming and make little difference). Second, abusers do not tend to take instruction from Ministers of Social Services through a screen. Third, abusers are not short on “apologies”. They do not, however, relish taking responsibility for their actions, being remorseful, or taking the necessary step to reform. This is why there is a cycle of abuse and there are many PSAs that show the stage where the abuser brings the survivor flowers, convinces them to stay – then repeats the abuse.

Campbell did not offer a solution. He did not even offer support for survivors. He noted the issue was raised and did exactly what everyone thus far, including the Prime Minister has done. He said words that meant nothing.

We need a hotline specifically for domestic violence. We need police officers trained on domestic violence intervention to answer those calls. We need more safe housing for survivors. We need a residential programme for people going through withdrawal from alcohol and putting their households at risk. Systems and services, not apologies. The Department of Gender and Family Affairs should be leading on this. It, apparently, has a gender-based violence coordinator. What, exactly, is the department doing? It is definitely not responding to requests for meetings to discuss issues of gender in the country, so the least it could do is use whatever expertise it has in its own staff to anticipate, identify, strategise and respond to issues and give advice to the minister who is clearly out of his depth.

Government Caused Panic

Following the weekend lockdown on short notice, introduction of a grocery shopping schedule and the announcement of a complete shutdown from Wednesday night to Tuesday morning was no great surprise.

Grocery store lines have been wrapped around buildings all week. Some stores chose to ignore the shopping schedule. Even worse, senior citizens and people with disabilities – given Tuesday mornings to shop and the option to shop on the day assigned by last name – were turned away from several stores on Monday. When challenged, store staff told them they could use “discretion”. This is disgusting and unacceptable. Community members and advocates have been pushing for policies that consider and respond to specific vulnerabilities.

It is cruel and reprehensible that anyone wielded power, claimed “discretion” and denied entry to senior citizens and people with disabilities who made their way to the store at the appropriate time. Those people need to be dealt with and the government needs to make clear its orders are not open to interpretation or discretion. They are to be followed and the dignity of people doing their best to navigate this crisis must be kept intact.

Dr Minnis and his team need to reassess their tactics and realise they are creating the panic they are trying to avoid. They, unfortunately, promised not to close grocery stores and have not honoured that. No one knows what to expect. The uncertainty, lack of trust and loss of control will not serve us; nor will incremental, ever-changing measures that result in large crowds assembling in order to meet their most basic needs.

Why are some people shopping so often? Why did some people wait so late?

Some people had no idea their households would consume so much food in one week. Some people are using it as an excuse to be on the road. Some people usually just eat takeout. Some people stocked up for a week or two and now need to replenish. Some people are not very good at planning? Some people were waiting for cheques to clear, to get prepayments for services or to collect benefits. Some people have no other choice.

There have been many criticisms as a new world is shaped by COVID-19. Our lives are changing based on the decisions made by governments and residents. Our government is far from perfect. It has made many mistakes that are fairly easy to pinpoint now. We, however, are not blameless. We have also made mistakes and we continue to err. We make bad judgments, posture as experts after very little study and believe ourselves better than everyone else. We are frequently unable to see beyond on our experiences and cannot be convinced to even try to look a little further. This is one of the reasons so many people, however close they may be to it, do not understand poverty.

Poverty is not a choice. It is not a series of decisions. It is not the consequence of a personal failing. It is a both a system and the failure of systems. It linked to race and gender, thrives on the inequal distribution of wealth and other resources and depends on us to blame it on the people living through it. Poverty steals decision-making power. It is a beast, looming every day, taunting the people trying to get around it.

Poverty is not just a minimum wage cheque. It is no cheque at all. It is five dollars here and eight dollars there for hair-braiding or coconut water. It is only having enough to get two of the five ingredients you need to make a meal. It is almost daily visits to the grocery store because there isn’t enough money to get food for the week. Minnis has memory of this and painted the picture in Parliament on Monday, but offered no relief to the people who know it best today. The grocery shopping schedule gives people three opportunities to shop every week except this week. What is going to happen, over the next five days, to the people who do not have more than five or eight dollars to shop at a time?

Tips to get through

For those who are not accustomed to spending this much time at home, this is a difficult situation. It is also challenging for those who enjoy being at home, but also appreciate the freedom of being able to go out to eat, sit by the beach, or visit family members and friends. Being restricted, in and of itself, feels like a punishment. In addition to thinking positively about this exercise and the lives we are saving, it is important to figure out how we function best and create the environment we need.

  1. If you are working from home, give yourself an office space. This could be a desk or a chair at the kitchen table. Try to separate work life from home life. Keep rest and work separate and allow yourself to have more restful sleep at night.

  2. Get active. Even if you did not exercise before, find ways to move your body for physical and mental health benefits. There are thousands of free videos and apps to get you into yoga, jumping rope, pilates, running, Zumba and many other physical activities.

  3. Introduce friendly, virtual competition. Do some of those puzzles making the rounds on Whatsapp. Start a game of Chopped on Lockdown by choosing three ingredients and challenging others to make a meal with them that their household would enjoy.

  4. Discover new music. YouTube makes it easy for you to find music you might like with its recommendations in the sidebar. Check out Bahamian DJ Ampero’s Mixcloud for great mixes with artists you already love and others you will want to know better.

  5. Read more. The are books that will take you on journeys to parts of the world you have never seen, introduce you to entirely different worlds, and help you to understand or rethink the way you live in this one. Ebook and audiobook versions are widely available.

  6. Learn something new. Have you always wanted to learn French? Do you need to finally learn the Electric Slide? Do you still need that website for your new business? Would you like to finally be able to twist your own hair? There is a how-to video for everything. Seriously, my friend showed me one for grating carrots.

  7. Schedule virtual dates. The friend you were going to visit next month, the person you partied with in college, the former coworker now working in another country, and the cousin you never see any more are just a Whatsapp, Skype, Zoom, or Hangout away. Have a catch-up session.

We do not know how long this will last, but let’s prepare ourselves as best we can. Let’s do our best to help others. Let’s follow the guidelines and flatten the curve. Maybe we can find joy in the little things for a little while.

Published by The Tribune on April 8, 2020.

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Choose Life, Play by the Rules

We are almost two weeks into our new and temporary way of living. It has been extended, as many of us expected, and it is in our best interest to follow the guidelines provided.

It became clear from very early that there are people determined to be defiant. It is not clear whether those people are just ignorant or have other issues. Many of us were concerned about the emergency orders and the power it put in the hands of a few from the very beginning. Most of us, however, have been able to reconcile that it is critical for us to take guidance from medical professionals, practice being “together alone,” and do our part to flatten the curve.

This is not a conspiracy. This is a matter of life and death. By staying in our homes, except for essential tasks, we choose life not only for ourselves, but for each other. We know the healthcare system does not have large capacity and COVID-19 could complete overwhelm it. It is currently within our power to prevent that from happening and protect the elderly and immuno-compromised.

I remain concerned about the most vulnerable among us and more people and organisations should be talking about and advocating for them. At one of the first press conferences, a journalist asked: “What about homeless people?” It was distressing to see and hear officials in the room laugh in response, as though the unhoused are not people, they do not deserve consideration and it is not required of officials to intentionally make provisions for them. Days later, we saw that unhoused people were arrested for breaking the curfew.

Let’s be clear. This is not funny, and this is not the fault of the unhoused. This is an embarrassment. It is evidence of the need to consider vulnerable groups. What are people without homes expected to do? Did anyone check the hotspots and attempt to provide housing for those without it? Well, they could not even be bothered to give serious thought to the simple question posed at the press conference.

Little has been said about women experiencing domestic violence. We can expect their situations to worsen as they are effectively trapped in their homes with abusers. Abused children are in the same situation. There were no messages directed at them. They were not even given a phone number to call if they felt unsafe and wanted to be rehoused for safety reasons.

There was no promotion of domestic violence hotlines or ways to reach police officer trained to respond to domestic violence reports. Again, a journalist asked about domestic violence and the expected surge, and all the prime minister said was they could call the police. In case you have never had to call the police to report domestic violence, let me tell you that it is not always helpful. It is often difficult to get officers to take it seriously under regular circumstances. How much worse would it be now, with a curfew?

We must hold this government accountable for the effects of its decisions and its refusal to put safeguards in place for vulnerable people. Unhoused people and those experiencing domestic violence are just two groups. Who else is being left out, and what are we, as citizens of privilege, prepared to do about it?

More questions please

A group of people, always on the job and keeping us informed, is one we do not always remember or thank. We see them on television screens and livestreams of the news and read their stories, but a lot of the work they do is invisible. They are members of the press. They tell us when Members of Parliament have failed to disclose their assets and liabilities. They report election results. They attend Parliament and let us know what took place. They find the right people and ask the right questions in order to keep us informed.

These days, they are focused on COVID-19 and the way the government is handling it. They are keeping abreast of the numbers, watching as things unfold in other countries, researching the virus and the varying national responses to it, and asking questions that help to give us a better understanding of the virus itself, what is being done to contain it and how effective our efforts will be over time.

It is important to note many of the journalists attending press conferences and covering the COVID-19 crisis are young people. They are researching, monitoring social media, thinking critically and asking questions we all want answered. The answers do not always come easily, or at all, but they are persevering. It must also be noted they remain professional in difficult circumstances, including in the face of outright rudeness.

The question and answer portion of the press conferences are quite limited. It seems each journalist is allowed a maximum of two questions and there is little room for follow-ups. It lacks flow, completely impeded by an unnecessary moderator. There is no need for anyone to interrupt the question and answer portion. Questions should be asked and then answered by the person best equipped to give accurate information.

It is also unhelpful for the journalists, already in the room so presumably checked and approved, to be badgered about where they work and how many people present are from that particular media house. Those issues need to be sorted at the point of entry. With less time spent on micromanaging journalists and offering largely useless commentary, it would be possible for them to ask more than two questions, or at least be permitted to follow up as needed.

A cursory look at the comments on the live feeds and social media commentary makes it clear many are frustrated by this “moderation” and would appreciate the facilitation of the media doing its job – getting pertinent information to us.

Focus on what matters

There is no denying this is a difficult time. We are practicing social distancing, losing income, trying to find credible information, being duped or trying to help others not to be duped by false information, unsure about how long this crisis will last, tired of the people in our households, upset that we cannot walk or run our usual strip and worrying about people in other households. It is amazing that so much is going on when we are not even moving. We have to do what we can to improve our mental health.

We need to limit news consumption, especially if it is a source of stress. There is no need to be online all day, every day, taking in reports from all over the world, anticipating the challenges we will face and getting riled up by radio talk shows. Take breaks. Decide how much news you can consume in a healthy way. This may be the morning news and evening news, it may be one or the other and it could be 15 minutes on social media. Decide what works for you, set the limit, and stick with it.

A lot is out of our control. This can stressful. Some of us want to stop our neighbours from going out. Some of us wish we could cook for our grandparents who live somewhere else. Some of us have no idea how we will pay the next bill. While these are valid concerns, we need to focus on what we can control. We cannot visit other homes, but we can call daily to check on people. We cannot make money appear in our bank accounts, but we can work on our resumes and cover letters, and we can work on passion projects. Let’s so what we can, and think less about what we cannot change.

One of the things we can do to restore some normalcy and bring joy to our days is connecting with loved ones. Check on those aunts, uncles, godparents and long distance friends. Set up video chats. Have virtual lunch dates, watch TV shows together and show off your gardens. I have had at least one video chat per day since Saturday and it has been great to catch up with friends I have not seen in a long time.

Admittedly, we talked a lot about the situations in our countries, but we also got into more pleasant conversation about favourite TV shows, best books we read so far this year, new relationships and what we are cooking. Talking to friends about ordinary matters is a reminder that we are people, there is good in the world and human connection feels good.

Let’s do our best to connect, find and spread joy and put our attention on the things we can control. Whatever energy we have, let it be put to good use, produce what we need and help people whose needs are greater than our own. While tourism is paused, let us be more hospitable to one another.

Published by The Tribune on April 1, 2020.

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Schools Are Closed, Now What?

COVID-19 is forcing us to change the way we live. It demands that we change our behaviour in order to stop the spread of the virus. We are not yet taking it as seriously as we should. We should not have waited for a confirmed case before taking action, especially when we have thousands of people moving in and out of the country, directly engaging with a large proportion of our population through the tourism industry. We are behind and rushing to make decisions when we could have been far ahead, learning from the experiences of China, South Korea, Italy and Spain. Finally, we are making adjustments, but it is coming slowly. We are not being given much time for transition. We have to be ready for sudden changes. It should not, however, fall completely on us.

The government has a responsibility to ensure everyone has a reasonable chance to get through this, and that means introducing feminist policy rather than making sweeping changes that leave gaps that increase the vulnerability of people who were already vulnerable. They need to give us the tools to survive their decisions. As an example, we can look at the decision to close schools. The closure of all schools was a good call. That said, it should have come with a comprehensive plan to manage all of the components that are missing as a result of the closure. It needed to consider the safety of children, the income of parents, food security and education.

This is no village

We have created a culture of selfishness. We do not care as much about our neighbours as we like to pretend. We do not live in little proverbial villages. We expect people to take care of themselves or suffer the consequences of their inability to do so. We also expect them to do it quietly. This was made clear by the comments on one of the livestreams of the prime minister’s address on Sunday night.

The prime minister made the announcement at eight o’clock on Sunday night that schools would be closed for one month starting the next day. This gave parents and guardians less than 12 hours to make other arrangements. People, obviously unprepared and unsure of what to do, commented on the video to ask what they were supposed to do with their children. Others responded that those children were their problem to deal with, the prime minister need not figure out their lives for them and they should let the same person who watches the children while the parents party watch them – no one.

The responses were rude, callous and evidence of the erosion of the moral fabric we pretend to have in this society. People are uncaring. Not only that, but we have a limited understanding of the responsibility of governments, and we have gone for such a long time without the government properly providing the services and resources it should, depending heavily on non-governmental organizations, that we are ready to accept it and ridicule others for daring to even question it.

Schools meet more than educational needs

Schools are primarily the site of education, but they are also providers of supervision, safety, lunches and routines. School closure does not just mean children will not be at school, potentially spreading the virus. It means many children will be without adult supervision. Parents and guardians have to be at work. Working from home is not a common option here and, even at this time, employers refuse to consider it. The foolish idea that people are only working if you can see them working prevails. This makes it impossible for people to ensure their children are safe when out of school. Add to this low wages and high cost of living and it is not difficult to see how many cannot afford to pay a sitter.

Children are, no doubt, currently at home alone with instructions to be quiet and not let anyone know they are there, or given responsibilities like taking care of the younger children and walking to a neighbourhood store to purchase food. Parents and guardians are forced to trust family members and friends to drop by and check on their children, hoping they do not, instead, cause them harm. We cannot close schools without making commensurate adjustments to worklife.

There are children on lunch programmes. The number is limited and the criteria strict, so it is obvious these children need to be provided with free lunches. What will they eat when they are at home? They receive free lunches at school because their families cannot afford to feed them otherwise. This does not change when they must now be at home. How can we close schools without thinking about the nutrition of the children who will be behind closed doors?

The disruption in children’s education must also be considered. We all know what happens after a school break when children have not reviewed their work. When they return to school, teachers have to go over old material with them. We cannot have them at home with no curricula to follow and expect them to return in a month and prepare for exams in a few weeks.

What will be done to ensure their education continues? Every child does not have internet access, so virtual school will not work for everyone. Will teachers prepare packages with review material and schedules for them to follow? Who will assist them if they need help? Will there be radio programming to occupy, educate and entertain them while they are at home, and guide them through their days?

These are only three consequences – changes in safety, nutrition, and education – of the closure of school in isolation. The government has not put any measures in place to support families through this change. There has been no announcement of assistance for families that have no one available to stay with their children free of charge and no money to pay someone to do it.

There have been no arrangements made for people to pick up or receive deliveries of the lunches that would have been provided at school. The government is making decisions and leaving gaps. These gaps are huge, and they are directly linked to poverty, hunger and child safety.

If this is an indication of the actions the government intends to take in the face of COVID-19, we are in trouble. We have to speak up now. We have to pay attention to the gaps, point them out, recommend solutions. If we fail to do this, we fail ourselves and our communities. We do not want to be left wondering why there are so many reports of sexual violence or cases of malnutrition in the weeks to come.

How do we make feminist policy?

Have you ever been in a running club? Or a cycling club? One of the strongest runners or cyclists is always at the back. They could go faster, they could be in the front and they could finish first. Clubs, however, are not about that. They are about building community through the enjoyment of an activity, and part of being in community is making sure everyone is safe and no one gets left behind. Someone is always at the back, making sure the slowest, least skilled, or newest person is in their sight.

Feminist policies leave no one behind. They consider the most vulnerable people, put them to the front and design policies that will work for them. This is different from typical policymaking which focuses on the majority and sees vulnerable people as outliers. If the policy will not work for the people with the greatest need and who are the most marginalised, it will not work. It will create greater gaps, and we do not need that.

We need to close the schools. Okay, let’s think it through. Who are the students with the greatest need? We will need to consider those from families with low incomes, those with specific learning needs, those with no one to care for them during school hours, those with disabilities, those with medical needs, etc.

We still need to close schools, but what programmes and services can we implement to ensure they are not left more vulnerable? These could include stipends for caregiving, lunch drop-offs, modified lesson material and scheduled visits from a medical professional. Beyond this, we need to look at other household needs like the ability to work from home and increased food stamps or stipends. Feminist policy identifies existing needs, anticipates the needs that would arise from the proposed change, and directly addresses those needs.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Unit shared an assessment of potential challenges and solutions arising from the COVID-19 crisis, from food (in)security to economic (in)equality, and the necessary response on through its social media channels.

It is important for everyone – government actors, non-governmental organizations, advocates, employers and citizens – to review, consider and act upon the recommendations made in the chart the SDG Unit produced. It is designed to help us to move forward without leaving anyone behind, and we should all be committed to that.

We, the Bahamian community, have to do this together to survive.

Published by The Tribune on March 18, 2020.

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A Little Disappointment Shouldn’t Kill the Dream

Last week was quite busy as I worked with the all-volunteer team of Equality Bahamas to plan and execute our annual International Women’s Day events. Every year, this process leads me to think about a range of issues, circumstances, gaps and solutions. From people – primarily young women – adding to their regular workloads as volunteers with non-governmental organisations to the response of the public to initiatives designed for and by women, there is no shortage of necessary discussions.

After the march and expo, I came across a Facebook post by someone I’ve known since elementary school. This is not a person I spend time with nor have intimate knowledge of, but I know basic facts such as her name, profession, close friends and other bits and pieces anyone can glean from shares on social media. I did not know anything about her position on political or social issues. Then I saw a days-old post about the (then) upcoming march I organised with a team of dedicated, enthusiastic young women. The post basically said she would definitely not be marching after being duped by We March which proved to be something other than the organiser had suggested.

There were three main commenters, two of whom completely agreed with the post. One person noted it was an unreasonable position to take, unfair to paint women organisers with the brush of a reckless person, and important to properly use non-violent forms of protest.

I struggle to find a word for the way I felt when I read this thread. “Disappointed” is not quite it. I know better than to expect everyone – or even most people – to get on board. I have come to expect naysayers and finger-pointers. I know people find it easy to call other people’s work garbage – and this is a euphemism for the word used – than to do the work themselves. Still, it is almost as though I expected more from this particular person. Why? Because I “know” her? Because she has never shown any signs of being against the expansion of women’s rights? Because she is a young woman and business owner who has surely experienced misogyny and sexism, and has definitely been disadvantaged by the systemic issues we have yet to properly address? Because I think she should care?

In reflecting on this experience, I have been reminded of two important lessons I have learned over the past few years. The first is that it is important to take conversations about rights, justice and feminism outside of the comfortable spaces. The Equality Bahamas team can talk about national issues and what needs to be done to tackle them all day, every day, but it would not change anything. We have to take our critique, our ideas and our plans of action outside of our own space, engage others in the conversation and convince them to take action with us.

To be clear, we do this regularly, but the reminder helps push us to think more about where we have not gone yet and what we need to do to get there. The second is that our greatest opponents in the fight for equality are systems and social constructs – not people. People – including some we know – embody those systems and constructs and they act in the ways that are dictated by those systems and constructs. For many, those systems and constructs are all there is. They have not had the chance to think about a world without them.

The day-to-day hustle to get to and from work, figure out how to pay the bills and keep groceries in the house and take care of the unexpected does not leave us much room for imagination. All some of us have is the memory of what has already taken place and the heaviness of the current situation. Reality does not encourage us to dream. If we never take the time to think beyond what we have, to envision what we do not yet see, we are doomed to a future that looks exactly like the present. To get beyond this point, we have to identify and deconstruct the systems that find homes within people and we have to create opportunities for people to imagine, create and realise more.

Leaders of organisations, movements and people have a responsibility to the people under the sound of their voices. They have to be more than charismatic. They have to be honest. Loyal. Communicative. Accessible. They have to be able to answer questions about where they want us to go, why and how we will get there. They have to be willing to go the distance, to train, mentor and elevate others to take the position they must eventually vacate. They have to do what they said they would do. They have to prove themselves worthy of the trust and support they receive. When they fail to be and do all of this, and without apology, we end up where we are now. We find ourselves surrounded by people who are disappointed, hurt and unwilling to act.

No one fighting for a cause can hope for another’s downfall. The failures, missteps, compromises and disappointments of one can negatively impact others, even when they seem completely unrelated. How can we reactivate imaginations that have been dormant for so long? This may be the challenge of this generation of changemakers – to reactive imaginations so we can see something better, then believe we can make it happen.

Why whistles don’t get to the root of the issue

When Philip “Brave” Davis suggested the government provide women and children with whistles, there was no way to keep it out of the headlines. Yes, he made other recommendations, but this one deserved a response. The knee-jerk reaction grazed the surface, but did not quite go deep enough to explain what is really wrong with the suggestion.

The whistle is not a new idea. Many of us are familiar with the “rape whistle”. We are expected to be equipped with these whistles and, should we feel unsafe, we are to blow the whistle.

The first issue is that the answer to an issue is not in the response of the person on the receiving end. Gender-based violence is a systemic issue. Gender is a social construct that prescribes ways of being for people based on the social and cultural expectations of each gender. Gender-based violence is the name for harm caused that is directly related to understandings of gender and how it controls us.

The man who attempts to harm a woman because she is seen as weaker and meant to be submissive is not likely to be scared off by the sound of whistle for various reasons. The whistle has to be accessible enough for the woman to blow it. If is it around her neck, it can become a weapon for strangulation. If it is loose, held in her hand, it can be knocked out. If she gets it to her mouth, she risks more physical injury because she could be caused to choke, or she may be struck. If she manages to use the whistle to make noise, this could aggravate the man and lead to further harm.

The second issue is the uncertainty about its effectiveness. Do we know what to do when we hear a whistle being blown in a parking lot? Is a Junkanoo group on the way? Is someone practising for sports day? Did a child get a new toy? What are we, as citizens, supposed to do when we hear a whistle. Do we know when it is a distress signal as opposed to something else, and do we know how to intervene if we determine it is a distress signal? On Saturday, we distributed whistles and one of the women decided to blow it in a public space when approached by a man she knew. Luckily, she was in no danger, but she noted no one paid any attention at all.

Women and girls are always told what to do and what not to do in order to prevent acts of violence against us, especially rape. Nowhere near as much effort is put into teaching consent, making a distinction between sex and rape and engaging men and boys in conversations about gender-based violence prevention. We need to get to the root of the issue. The problem is not that women and girls are not scared enough, vigilant enough, or bombarded with enough products – like mobile apps to indicate to friends that we’re in distress, pepper spray, and date rape drug-detecting nail polish – to prevent violence against us. The problem is that all the focus is on us and ways we can make sure the less prepared women or girl is the victim instead of us. We do not want to make someone else the statistic. We want to change the statistics. To do that, we need to start at the root, and not create another path to stress and further harm.

Published by The Tribune on March 11, 2020.

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Culture Clash: We Need to Prepare for a Plastic-Free Bahamas

The commitment has been made to ban single-use plastic in The Bahamas by next year. There have been a few mentions in the media since 2018, but I have not seen much happening to prepare the public for the changes to come.

Earlier this year, I read that single-use plastic bags would be banned in Halifax, Nova Scotia by the end of this year. I was surprised because plastic bags were being phased out for years. When I attended university there, it was a norm to separate waste. When I came back to Nassau on breaks, I’d walk around with cans or bottles for a long time before realising I would not come across the appropriate bin since we do not sort waste. In addition, while I was there, grocery stores started charging for plastic bags. The options were simple — pay ten cents for each plastic bag, buy a reusable bag from the grocery store, or bring your own reusable bag. Everyone there, including students from other countries, got with the programme. Eventually, plastic bags were not even an option in some of the stores.

On a recent trip to Antigua, I quickly realised there were no plastic bags. Some stores offered paper bags, some sold reusable tote bags and others encouraged customers to bring their own. I kept a canvas tote bag hanging on my door to remind myself to take it with me when I went to any store. Here, we fuss about certain items not being double-bagged and I have never seen anyone take their own bags to the grocery store. I rarely see anyone refuse a bag when they could put their small purchase in a bag they already have. How will we adjust when the ban is in place?

Major grocery stores should be taking the lead in preparing the public for the changes. They could start selling reusable bags at a reasonable price. Takeout restaurants and coffee shops could encourage customers to bring their own cups by offering discounts on beverages and promoting the option. It is time for a small business to make reusable utensils and lunch kits available for sale. We may even have the raw material to make them. Find out how the Small Business Development Centre can assist in getting that kind of business off the ground. Individuals can start buying the necessities, if only one item per month, to avoid a heavier burden at the end of the year. We don’t all want to get bamboo forks, spoons and straws for Christmas, nor do we want to see significant increases takeout prices in 2020. Let’s start talking about the options that exist, and those we can create. Prepare, prepare, prepare.

It is also important to note the ban on plastic straws is not as simple as it may seem. If it is not already, the Ministry of Environmental Health Services needs to specifically engage the disabilities community as bendable plastic straws are necessary – and not substitutable – for some people living with disabilities. The ban on single-use plastic will affect some of us more than others.

If this is the tunnel, where is the light?

While many celebrate the arrival of summer, this has to be the most difficult time to be in Nassau. It is hot with seemingly no relief unless you have the luxury of air conditioning. It is infuriating that something so basic – and increasingly necessary over the years as temperatures rise – is so cost-prohibitive. Many forgo the use of air conditioning because electricity bills are already too high. Even some who are willing to make the sacrifice are made to suffer as Bahamas Power and Light fails to properly manage its equipment. Even the free relief — dipping in the ocean — has been halted due to reports of sea lice or thimbles that bite and leave people itching for days. In this kind of heat, that is a risk many of us are not willing to take.

The outages come without warning, and there are two types of people — those who charge every device when they get below 80 percent and have a battery-operated fan, and those who are caught off guard every time and have come to almost enjoy posting angry comments on social media.

The bar for Bahamas Power and Light is so low that some of us were impressed when a load-shedding schedule was shared last week Monday. Unfortunately, it did not include every area, and the practice did not continue. We were, the very next day, back to being completely in the dark. We are all upset. We all say we’ve had enough. How many of us are prepared to stop paying the bill? How many are prepared to be without electricity? How many are willing to take action to compel BPL and the government to clean up the mess and provide one of the most basic needs for the residents of this country?

We are often stuck in cycles of recognising an issue, complaining about it, getting temporary relief (often knowing it will not last) and descending to the previous condition. The ongoing issue with BPL is one example. We are at the place where we do not care about the transformer problems and illegal dumping excuses. We want the problem resolved, but we keep getting bandaids. As we continue to pay electricity bills, however high the climb, sweat it out in our corners, purchase generators and keep them fuelled – and drive around for hours just to be in air conditioning – we ease the pressure. We signal that, even in our frustration, we are only prepared to whine about it for a few minutes.

BPL cannot even be bothered to give us schedule. It does not believe that we, as customers, deserve to know when the service we pay for will be disrupted. They are making decisions about who will be turned off and when, and choosing not to advise the public. Is this not enough to fire us up? To stop all payments? To get comfortable in the air conditioning on Tucker Road for a few hours? Maybe that is too extreme, requires too much planning and convincing, or would inconvenience us too much. Maybe there is another way to demonstrate our displeasure and apply pressure to the people who can do something about it for more than a few hours at a time. Are we ready to imagine, discuss and act on it yet?

The battery-operated fans, generators, air conditioned cars and mobile data are making us more comfortable and, yes, helping us to function, but let’s not get complacent. The problem still exists and it’s getting worse. We, the affected, may have to be the ones to inspire the resolution.

Published by The Tribune on July 17, 2019.

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The Bahamas — Not a Real Place?

Following the shooting of 15 people at a party in Montel Heights where the intended target ran into the crowd, the Commissioner of Police said: “I feel safe and I think you feel safe.” This is a puzzling statement, particularly given the incident being discussed.

How did he arrive at the conclusion that we feel safe? We have been expected to believe that criminals are killing each other, and as long as the rest of us keep our hands clean and away from bad company, we will be fine. Unfortunately, that is not the way crime works. Sometimes innocent people are hurt, whether or not it is intentional. What are we going to do about that?

The Commissioner of Police and the Minister of National Security said the shooters did not plan to shoot multiple people. This suggests the other 14 people were simply collateral damage, so we should all feel safe, right?

We have been further warned by the Commissioner to watch the company we keep, all while being encouraged to go about our “normal daily business”. The intended target ran into a crowd, resulting in multiple people being shot, but watching the company we keep will protect us? How can we read about people enjoying themselves at a party in one moment, and being on the ground with gunshot wounds in the next, yet believe that we are safe?

None of us are safe from a stray bullet if we ever dare to step outside.

We do not want to create a society in which people are unable to go anywhere or do anything because they fear an untimely death by a semi-automatic weapon, whether because someone wants the contents of their bags and pockets, or because they are in the vicinity of a target. We like to believe we are immune because we are good people, our family members and friends are good people, we live in good areas or in close-knit communities and we imagine we know exactly what to do if approached by a criminal. That is what we think until we hear about people at a party being shot, unable to make sense of it.

The truth is we are particularly vulnerable in certain settings. We cannot predict what will happen. We tend to assume, in many cases, we will be safe. We go about our daily business – and for some of us that includes particular precautions – without expecting harm to come to us. Even as we go on as usual, we remember what happened on the weekend. The victims were are at a party, and we go parties without knowing everyone present all the time.

What does it mean to carry on as usual and to watch the company we keep? What does it mean to feel safe, especially in a place with so few degrees of separation between people, inability to reach emergency services when one phone company’s system goes down, and too many guns (coming from somewhere, because we do not manufacture them here) in the hands of people who use them to solve problems?

The Ministry of National Security needs to focus on getting guns off the street and stopping them from entering the country. Figure out what it is happens at ports of entry and deal with it. Spare us the positive spins on statistics and illusions of safety. Deal with the gun problem.

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The Bahamas is in a real place and we have work to do if we want it to work for us

Hashtags that say a particular country “is not a real place” have become quite popular. It usually accompanies the story, photo or video of a ridiculous experience. It is often used to bring humour to an otherwise sad state of affairs, but is sometimes a sign of frustration or disappointment. There is very little to connect the broad range of experiences the hashtag connects except for the sentiment that the people participating in its use are not impressed. Whether it is a joke or a protest, it reduces the place to a particular deficiency and does not directly challenge systems or the people within them to do better, nor does it offer solutions. We can all think of situations that made us wonder where we are and why whatever was happening seemed to be acceptable. Take a minute to think of your own recent example.

As I write this, the electricity is off for the second time in a 15-hour period. I know there are people in Nassau who have been having a worse experience, suffering through outages for long periods of time and with greater frequency. Does anything rile us up more than this? It is hot and there is very little breeze. Households with babies and elderly people become especially miserable when everyone is hot, no one can do what they want to do and essential functions are more difficult to access. Traffic is a disaster near certain intersections. Many businesses cannot operate, or the cost increases because they have to run on generators. Other utilities are affected. We do not just lose the lights, but the ability to function. Feeling the heat becomes even more frustrating because its source, the sun, laughs at us and our refusal to acknowledge its ability to give us power. It just doesn’t make sense. Is The Bahamas a real place?

Days ago, I observed as people went back and forth, arguing about the announcement that scholarships would be made available for students with GPAs of 2.0 or higher to attend University of The Bahamas. Some said the standard was too low, and would ultimately lead to the devaluation of the degree. Some said students with less than a 3.0 GPA did not deserve scholarships. These were the two main arguments and they are terribly flawed.

Education is not just for the individual, but for the society we form together. It does not lose its value. The real issue is that some people derive their own value from the resources they are able to access that others cannot. They build a sense of self on the privilege — nothing they have earned — to access, use and control resources like information and services. Mobile devices do not lose their value when more people have them, but it sure feels great to have the latest model while everyone else is “behind”.

It is strange to see people argue against wider access to education, particularly for those who would otherwise be locked out due to financial need. We want stronger leadership, better customer service, deeper public dialogue and improvements all-around, but oppose access to tertiary education for a student with a 2.5?

It is important to note our school system is imperfect, does not adequately respond to student needs and misses opportunities to recognise learning differences and mental health issues, and does not account for this in curricula or examination design. We look at examination results and GPAs as if they are separate from other systems, practices, and circumstance. We do not agree that financial difficulty should not keep anyone from pursuing tertiary education. Is The Bahamas a real place?

A man convicted of rape had his sentence reduced because he is a first-time rapist. Is The Bahamas a real place? We are paying $9000 for the Governor General’s housing rental. Is The Bahamas a real place? BTC systems were down and it was impossible to reach emergency services. Is The Bahamas a real place?

The Bahamas is a real place when Shaunae Miller wins a medal or breaks a record. The Bahamas is a real place when Sir Sidney Poitier is on the big screen. The Bahamas is a real place when anyone outside of it says the wrong thing about it and faces the online abuse many Bahamians unleash. It has produced people who make Bahamians proud. It drew over a half million people to its shores just in the month of May. It may have a certain magic, blessing, or favour, but it cannot be great in the ways we want if we do not turn our lamentations into demands. If we do not turn our demands into actions. If we do not act collectively. If our collective actions does not have vision. If our vision is not stated, understood, shared and consistently used to drive us forward.

The Bahamas is a real place and Bahamians are real people. We have the opportunity to not only identify the challenges we are facing, but to create and implement solutions. Where is the hashtag for that? Before climate change takes us seriously and makes The Bahamas history, let’s understand we are in a real place and have work to do if we want it to work for us.

Published by The Tribune on July 3, 2019.

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Culture Clash: Lights Out All Around

We know it happens and with greater frequency during the summer months, but we are frustrated by the disruption and inconvenience of electricity outages. No one wants to be left in the dark, least of all to sweat and wonder when we will see the light again. When the electricity unexpectedly went off for hours on Sunday, multiple times in some places, we were not asking for much. We wanted to know what caused the outage, how long it would be and when each area could expect an outage.

It was a simple ask, but seemed to be too much for Bahamas Power and Light to handle. It would not give us a schedule of the electricity outage it was obviously controlling. It used its Facebook page to share the details of what led to the outage and how the issue would eventually be resolved, but it did not answer what many clearly stated was the most important question. We want reliable electricity, but since that does not seem immediately possible, we would like to know when it will be available so we can iron, do laundry, have hot showers and charge our devices.

We are not in control of the electricity provided by BPL. If it would provide a schedule, at least we would be able to plan accordingly. We do not only need electricity for what many consider to be frivolous activities such as watching television and powering other electronic devices. Electricity impacts sanitation, storage of food, entertainment, business operations and medical devices among other functions. In fact, a parent commented on the BPL Facebook page about reliance on electricity to administer medication to a child. This was a reminder of the essential nature of electricity and being able to plan around outages.

There is no discernible reason for the failure of BPL to provide a schedule. We should be able to visit its social media pages and website to see when our areas will be off. We should be able to call and find out – whether through an automated system or agent – what we can expect for the next 24 hours at the very least. We have good reason to complain about the failure of BPL to do its one job and its refusal to properly devise and share a schedule when it fails at that one task.

Some have attempted to shame the people making valid complaints, directing them to buy generators, as though they can be picked up from the side of the road. Generators are expensive, not only to purchase, but to maintain and fuel. The assumption that everyone can afford a generator demonstrates a lack of understanding of issues of class. The suggestion that it is an individual’s or household’s responsibility to provide its own electricity when paying for the provision of service and facing barriers to alternatives reeks of privilege and a lack of understanding of the provision and and maintenance of infrastructure.

For many, purchase of a generator is out of reach. For others, it is an unattractive option because it signals resignation to dealing with a system that does not work and becoming part of the growing number of people who are willing to buy their way out of discomfort while leaving others to suffer and complain on their own. Buying a generator may feel necessary, but it can also be a political decision. Either way, loud generators and burning more fuel is not the answer to the energy crisis we are experiencing in a supposed paradise of sun and sea, both of which are waiting to be part of the solution.

Let’s wake up and teach youngsters about sex – they’re doing it anyway

Deputy Leader of the Progressive Liberal Party Chester Cooper, in an address to the Women’s Branch, spoke of initiatives related to family planning and equality that his party is considering. Among them is an increase in the age of consent from 16 to 18. Similarly, an increase from 18 to 21 was suggested by someone else last week. There are numerous issues with these suggestions and those issues are connected to the intent and the most likely outcome.

An increase in the age of consent is often suggested to deter young people from having sex and to make the age of consent the same as the “age of maturity” at which we can access health care — and, by extension, contraceptives — on our own.

It is an undeniable challenge that young people can legally give consent for sexual activity for two years before they can access sexual and reproductive health care. The answer to this problem is not to increase the age of consent. That will not discourage young people from having sex. They will continue to have the same desires. We desperately need to ensure — through comprehensive sexual education and access to sexual and reproductive health services — that young people are prepared to appropriately respond to those desires. To effectively do this, we have to first recognize that abstinence is not the only way, nor is it realistic for everyone. It is possible to promote abstinence while providing information on the other options.

Comprehensive sexual education is needed in schools and it would be helpful for parents to play a role in providing accurate information, answering questions, quelling anxiety and providing resources for young people in sex-positive ways, whether or not they are sexually active.

Understand there is no harm in providing information. The danger is in lack of information, resources and access to the same. Comprehensive sexual education does not encourage people to have sex, but ensures they are equipped with the information and tools that enable them to make the best possible decisions for themselves and their sexual partner(s).

If the PLP is interested in initiatives that contribute to gender equality and improve family planning, it should engage with organizations working in these areas. Organizations including Equality Bahamas would encourage the party to push for the marital rape bill to see the light of day and work on its positive response (through action) to the recommendations made by the CEDAW Committee on numerous issues including women’s conferral of citizenship, sex-based discrimination, access to abortion, and elimination of discrimination against vulnerable people including migrant women and LGBT+ people. The PLP could pledge to institute a living wage, support domestic workers and create systems that enable women to safely report gender-based violence and easily gain access to the range of services they need.

Raising the age of consent does nothing for women, girls, or family planning. It is not a good idea, will not reduce the number of young people having sex and will not change their sexual practices. We need to change the way we talk about sex and include both consent and pleasure in our conversations. We need to ensure young people are able to access the resources we mention and know how to properly use them.

Have you ever opened a condom with your teeth? Started to put it on the wrong way, then turned it around and used it anyway? Put two on for extra protection? Stored it in your wallet? Have you engaged in sexual activities without protection because you thought they were safe? How old were you when you did those things, and when did you learn you were wrong? People of all ages are making these mistakes every day and this does not have to be the case.

We need to change the way we respond to challenges. No electricity? Get a generator. Young people are having unprotected sex, experiencing teen pregnancy, being preyed upon by older men? Raise the age of consent. If only we were ready to face reality and implement solutions that address the problem. If only.

Published by The Tribune on June 26, 2019.