That senior tomorrow... is you
A professional who is looking forward to retirement remarked that he told his family abroad to "get my room ready because Jamaica is no place to grow old". Folks, this has to change. We are all hoping to live long, and not all of us have a room abroad. This was obvious as television news teams interviewed seniors at the Half-Way-Tree Transport Centre and at the National Council for Senior Citizens (NCSC) at West King's House Road.
As one lady contemplated the tripling of JUTC bus fares announced last Wednesday, she gave a litany of her ailments and said she had to take several buses, multiple times per week, to obtain her treatments, thus this would be a huge blow to her meagre budget. Another gentleman at the NCSC said he would have to walk when the fares increase.
We know those familiar election day scenes: PNP and JLP team members drive their vehicles to homes of the elderly, collect them, and take them to the polls. Some of these elderly can barely walk and are lifted into the cars, ever so gently. So much sweetness on election day. The next time we see the elderly, they are participating in demonstrations about bad roads, porous bridges and wronged relatives, with not a politician in sight.
In all fairness to Transport Minister Dr Omar Davies, he replied to a letter of protest from the seniors' organisation CCRP within a day, explaining that the JUTC was in fact offering a 50 per cent subsidy and inviting representation at a meeting the next day. Syringa Marshall-Burnett attended the meeting but, at the time of writing this column, the outcome is not known. Mrs Marshall-Burnett, who is chair of the NCSC and a CCRP board member made an excellent point in the news report on Thursday evening: This fare increase may not bring the expected revenue because some of the seniors have told her that they simply won't take the bus. They will just have to rely on the kindness of relatives and neighbours.
Mrs Marshall-Burnett and I both agreed that, if seniors are not able to travel to hospitals and clinics for treatment of the various ailments that advancing years bring, their deteriorating health could end up costing the Government even more.
We know it is a balancing act, but we need to see some balance in the way Government is spending taxpayers' money. Our Cabinet and Parliament are comprised of Jamaicans who have offered themselves to serve their country; they are well paid and pensioned, unlike the over 80 per cent of Jamaicans who have no pension whatsoever.
Imagine, when poor Miss Mary buys a phone card, the GCT she pays is funding not only a basic salary for Cabinet members, but also fully maintained high-end vehicles complete with driver and bodyguard. They fly past Miss Mary at the bus stop. Clearly, our politicians need to revive in themselves that idealism that first motivated them to step forward. Those SUVs and well-staffed offices are not provided for profiling. We have no account of how JUTC have sharpened its act since reports of waste and mismanagement. We have no figures explaining what salaries are being paid and how these increases were determined.
I am begging my media colleagues to stop quoting those politicians who say in response to citizens' complaints that they spoke to higher authority. Let them produce concrete evidence -- an e-mail string or text conversations. People of both parties will make all sorts of claims especially in this local government election season.
Let us be watchful and vocal, especially on behalf of the most vulnerable in our nation. Our elderly have given their best years to their country. They are the pillars of our families and communities. They deserve to be respected and protected. As we all look forward to a comfortable old age, let us remember that whatever policies we put in place today to help our seniors will eventually benefit us.
RIP, James Foley
An article written by journalist James Foley for the magazine of his alma mater, Marquette University, brings some measure of comfort as we consider his horrific demise. After being freed from his first kidnapping in Libya in 2011, he described how he tried to connect with his family through prayer: "I began to pray the rosary. It was what my mother and grandmother would have prayed. I said 10 Hail Marys between each Our Father. It took a long time, almost an hour, to count 100 Hail Marys off on my knuckles. And it helped to keep my mind focused."
The final sentence in the Hail Mary is: "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen."
Despite that first kidnapping, Foley decided he had to return to the Middle East to report on the suffering of the Syrian people. It was there, in 2012, that he was captured by IS. His cellmate, a French journalist Nicolas Henin, said in a BBC interview that, although one develops survival instincts in prison where you grab at everything, "James was the opposite -- he would share everything. If you were cold, he would share his blanket; if you were hungry, he would share his ration". James Foley lived the life of a true Christian and died a martyr for the truth.
Serious journalists know that their career is more than a profession; it is a vocation. Here in Jamaica, journalists have faced some terrifying moments (yours truly included), but we soldier on in the name of truth.
Foley's death has revealed to the world the depth of evil that is IS. Now the international community must act not only to avenge his sad loss, but also to bring justice to the good people of the region who have been living under a reign of terror.
Dr Martin Luther King Jr said: "Undeserved suffering is redemptive." The only way we can try to understand how such a good person could have had such an unspeakable death is to consider him a holocaust -- a sacrifice for some greater good.
Courageous Novlene Williams-Mills
Congratulations to Novlene Williams-Mills on her fantastic run last Thursday in the women's 400 metres at the Stockholm Diamond League. The Jamaica Observer reported that she triumphed "on a wet track in 50.09 seconds, ahead of Sanya Richards-Ross and Francena McCorory". Her strong outings are all the more impressive after her battle with an aggressive form of breast cancer that resulted in her having a double-mastectomy in 2012.
Last year she spoke of the loving support of her husband, Jameel: "I hoped my husband still loved me the same. We met when I wasn't like this, and now he's seeing a whole different person. But I didn't have to worry about him. He was my nurse, my rock."
During the recent Commonwealth Games, Williams-Mills told Observer reporter Sean Willams: "When you have family and friends like mine, don't matter what, you have got to keep going... A friend once told me that God always gives His toughest soldiers the toughest battles to fight, and I think He gave me that battle; and you know what, I am still fighting."
Thank you for the inspiration, Novlene.