November 23, 2014 By
November 15, 2014 By
In the judo-Christian notion of “heaven”, apart from the harp-strumming angels, the landscape is all lush and green with flowing rivers and luxuriant vegetation- at least that what I derived from growing in in a Christian-dominated country. I quickly concluded that Heaven was what you didn’t have and absolutely wanted. For me as a Hindu who doesn’t have to believe in “heaven” or “hell” and all that, I’m free to put my own spin on the concept.
For me heaven is a very rainy place. I just love the rain. To be more specific, I love the rain when I’m in bed. Really! So I guess heaven is a rainy spot with a comfy bed in a snug home and a roof that doesn’t leak.Some of the most pleasurable moments of my life have been waking up when the rain’s just started to fall and then burrowing down into the sheets for a little more of that sweet slumber.
So as you can imagine, I really hate having to get out of bed to go to class when it’s raining. It’s cruel and inhuman punishment, I think.
I mean, lying in bed, sometimes in that in-between reality connecting the dream-world with this harsh one here: isn’t this when you have your most creative ideas? The only problem is that we don’t remember anything when we’re roused. But we do retain that feeling of thinking “deep thoughts”. Not too coincidentally I’m studying the brain in school right now.
The rains have arrived over here in Trinidad. This means that every morning, when I look outside I’m greeted by the complete opposite of a sunny Caribbean paradise. It takes me probably at least 3 tries to get out of bed on those mornings. I’d try to get out of bed, only to be hit by a blast of icy coldness and I’d have to retreat back under the covers, to think about whether going to class was worth possibly catching hypothermia.
Invariably, the rational part of my mind wins over and I reluctantly stumble out of bed, get ready and bundle myself up in my coat, boots and about 15 layers of clothing. And then I get to class and still end up freezing, and I start to wonder whether that “rational” part of my mind is actually more masochistic than rational. What happened to all the “facts” I learnt in Geography about “tropical weather”??
As I wade my way back home through flooded pathways and torrential downpours, I start to re-evaluate my life and think about the things that really matter- like a nice hot cup of coffee, a hot water bottle and a blanket. Those thoughts help to get my through the storm. When I get home, it’s a struggle to extricate myself from the gazillion layers of clothing I’ve swathed myself with.
As I flop down onto my bed wearily, after grabbing a hurried bite…and burrow between the sheets. Thoughts of equating hell to going through all of that for a one-hour lecture recede.
I guess it’s kind of worth going through all of that for the aftermath, when you put some coffee to brew, curl up under a blanket and just sit listening to the rain falling… and falling… and falling.
November 9, 2014 By
November is “Lung Cancer Awareness Month”! This semester we covered the Respiratory System and everything that could go wrong with it. And whenever we cover an organ system, I’m always blown away by how intricately organized the undergirding system is. Everything in the body is arranged so perfectly so that everything is in balance- our homeostatic mechanisms keep everything in check! Talk about “clockwork”!
But even with all of its feedback mechanisms there to keep things running smoothly, we still need to take care of our bodies. We need to eat right, drink enough water, exercise and generally use a bit of common sense. For example, with ALL of the information around about how bad smoking is for our OVERALL health, people still START smoking. Why? This isn’t way back in the day when there was no research done about the effects of cigarette smoking on the body- when know that it completely messes up your organs- inside and out.
But while the smokers might be quite happy to do whatever it takes to die of lung cancer, they’re actually harming non-smokers as well. Me and you. Second-hand smoke – smoke inhaled by non-smokers from smokers around them – contains over 4,000 carcinogenic (cancer-causing) chemicals. So when you light up a cigarette, you’re not just taking risks with your health, you’re playing games with the health of everyone around you. You’re putting your spouse, your children and your friends – even neighbours, at risk.
And even if you choose to go and smoke in another room or before everyone gets home, smoke lingers. Smoke can stay in the air for up to 2 ½ hours- just because you can’t see it or smell it anymore doesn’t mean it’s not there still.
Once smoking becomes a habit, it can be really difficult to stop. Cigarettes contain nicotine, an addictive substance. But you can still ‘kick the habit’. There are nicotine patches, nicotine gum, different alternatives designed to help people give up smoking.
Seeing the amount of information out there about the dangers of smoking and to consider the type of treatment you’ll have to undergo to get a handful of extra years if you get lung cancer, it really is mindboggling that anyone would choose to start smoking.
I mean sure, in movies they make the heroes and heroines who smoke look like they’re so cool, taking a drag on their cigarette and casually punctuating the ends of their sentences with a puff of smoke.
But movies also make their action heroes look incredibly cool while they’re shooting and killing and stabbing.
Car chases in movies look super cool, but normal people are just collateral damage as the hero slams into their vehicle while chasing down the bad guy. Just because something is portrayed in a positive light in movies doesn’t mean you should go ahead and try it out for yourself.
Like everything else when we’re persuaded “we have to do something”…scratch it and you’ll find there’s a business angle that’s pushing the “something” on us. In this case, cigarette companies.The largest cigarette companies that make billions with their “killing sticks” are generally from the US or Britain. But when their own governments pointed out the dangers of smoking and insisted on warning labels, they simply switched to pushing their “goods” – actually “bads” to the third world – and women. Meaning us. Watch out for those ads!!
So do the right thing, don’t start smoking. Your life’s worth much more than a couple packs of cigarettes.
Smoking isn’t the only cause of lung cancer but it sure is the biggest one out there.
November 2, 2014 By
In Guyana, November’s set aside as “Tourism Month”. (See I still remember my “months” from Primary School.) While in Guyana, I guess I wasn’t as appreciative of all the natural beauty and fantastic sights that we have, as I probably should’ve been.
But then, it’s a little hard to walk around in perpetual awe over the beauty of your surroundings when the person walking right in front of you just dropped their empty Doritos bag right onto the street. Or empty water bottles are thrown through car windows. We really need to cut down on littering – it’s just so lazy and disgusting. And ugly.
Our Government has identified tourism as one of the sources of generating revenue for our national development and the themes highlight various aspects that we need to work on. This year, I read, they’re hoping for 100,000 returning Guyanese.
We’re assured our tourist numbers are inching ever upwards. So while we’re not exactly being overrun by tourists in downtown Georgetown, maybe that’s because our main product –- eco-tourism –- is far from the madding crowd. You’d be surprised how many folks are traipsing around our interior!
And why shouldn’t they? Guyana has so many beautiful sights to see and places to be – the land itself has done half of the work – all we Guyanese have to do is to market the beauty! That’s not to say it’ll be a cinch.
But I’m always floored by the fact that so many Guyanese haven’t even explored the coast. We don’t see ourselves as tourists. When planning family vacations, Guyanese mostly seem to leave out Guyana as a possible option. My family and I have toured the entire coast from end-to-end and we revelled in every moment.
I remember our fifth form Geography trip down to Lethem. All of us were awestruck by the mountains, the freshness of the air, and the all-round good feeling we had just being there.
If the Kanuku Mountains left me speechless, then the sunrise in Lethem took my breath away completely. Sure we had to ‘rough it’ and toughen up a bit, but it was worthwhile- I couldn’t ask for a better set of people to endure the 18-hour trip with!
And whenever I’m flying back home, looking out of the window, I’m always awed by how Guyana looks just spread out below us, with its rivers just winding through the forested land. And also by how fragile the coast is, protected as it was from the tumultuous Atlantic just by mangroves and that sliver of sea wall.
Why would anyone want to hop on a plane to New York instead of to Kaieteur Falls –- at least once? I mean, we locals get to visit the place at a discount – never mind the grumbles of the overseas Guyanese!
I implore all Guyanese reading this, to visit Fort Zeelandia, take a trip down to Lethem, the Orealla Regatta set for November 13 or just take a swim in Lake Mainstay. It’s your land to enjoy. Experience your country, experience the beauty, experience the magic! We can be tourists too, you know!
Also, being abroad has given me a greater appreciation for Guyanese cooking. We really do have some of the best food, here in Guyana. And that’s something we really need to emphasise when persons visit Guyana.
I do think we should stress our local foods much more – but surely our chefs can be a bit more creative. We might have to pander a bit to some unadventurous taste buds, but I’m sure most tourists really want to experience authentic Guyanese culture. Then, of course, we’d be perking up our local farmers.
Being away from home has made me miss it of course, and it’s also allowed me to view Guyana through new eyes when I visit. I’m looking for the changes, for the improvements; I’m more appreciative of this country that I grew up in.
We have a glorious country, full of rich heritage and wonder. So let’s remember that this November, and this Tourism Month, maybe we can do a bit of touring and visit parts of our country that we’ve never visited before.
October 26, 2014 By
Last year I came home for Diwali. But this year, in a rush of resolve, I decided that I’d stay on at Mount Hope. I reasoned that since last year I spent so much time during lectures daydreaming about coming home, I should really batten down the hatches and pay attention to my work this year.
But one of my friends pointed out that Thursday would be a holiday, we had no Labs on Friday, and both Saturday and Sunday would be free, which meant that a trip home would be very doable. And there went my vaunted resolve!! Before you could say “Diwali”, flights had been booked and all that!
So this year, I was again lucky enough to celebrate Diwali at home with my family at the old homestead. And it was incredible. The entire village was permeated with Diwali songs and bhajans. There’s something so very special about being surrounded by your family, singing bhajans, lighting diyas and eating good food. What more can you ask?
And of course, ambling over to neighbours to share the goodies we’d concocted during the day and imbibing the same from others. There are, of course, the “oohing and aahing” at the displays of diyas and lights in the houses around. Our family sticks to the traditional diyas as lights…no electric flashing neon lights yet.
Diwali is a time of renewal …starting a new year, by praying to Mother Lakshmi and making a resolution to do better in all regards you may be lagging. Her iconography doesn’t beat around the bush – the dominant “red” in her sari signifying hard work and effort, which will lead to the rewards signified by the second prominent colour, “gold”.
And talking about renewal, I also visited Georgetown the day after Diwali. As my mom and I were returning home during rush hour, I was so impressed by the way traffic was flowing near the Harbour Bridge.
Where was all of this when I had to schlep over to Queens for seven years?? There were Policemen directing traffic at every step of the way, no one was bullying, and there wasn’t any bottlenecking to get onto the bridge!
I kept wondering, “Is this real life? Am I dreaming that traffic is flowing so smoothly?” And before you wonder why I’d ever possibly be dreaming about the traffic situation at the Demerara Harbour Bridge, I’ve been having some pretty mundane dreams of recent. I wonder what old Freud would say about this.
One that stands out is the one with me at the Supermarket, meticulously selecting the PERFECT baigan to roast for baigan choka. Really thrilling stuff that. Then again it could just be that I’m fixated on Mom’s home cooking – which I’m trying to replicate over in the land of Carnival.
Returning home also gives me the opportunity to look at my homeland with fresh eyes. I know we have a far way to go. But I have to be honest. Things keep changing every time I return home. New roads get built, new houses get built and there’s always something new for me to exclaim over.
OK! OK! There’re still the folks at the back street playing their music at decibels high enough to test the limits of my eardrums. But nostalgia does soften rough edges.
On Monday, this little, mini holiday will be over and I’ll be thrust back into the daily grind of Med School. But before then, I’ll savour every last minute here at home sweet home. There really is no place quite like home.
October 19, 2014 By
Back in primary school, along with “as white as snow”, we crammed the simile, “as changeable as the weather”. My voracious reading also made the ubiquitous greetings, “nice weather” and “good morning” untethered from their moorings as commentaries on the PHYSICAL environment. Our good old Guyanese “rainy season” and “dry season” were predictable enough, to not need comments.
And so it was, I never quite appreciated just how fickle the weather could be until I came to Trinidad. In the morning, if I peer out through my windows I could see that it’s pretty much bright and sunny – a picture perfect “Caribbean day”.
So could you blame me for donning a light dress and casual shoes? But then two hours later, stepping out of class, I’d wish I’d brought a raincoat, boots and umbrella so I could get home without coming down with pneumonia. Not “good morning”. I finally understood why the English always walked with umbrellas.
Yet I must confess that I love the rain. Not “walking in the rain” or, God forbid, “singing in the rain” for me, however. Yes, yes, I know libraries are filled with poetry about that experience. Call me humdrum.
Pneumonia, hypothermia, and such things don’t really excite me, thank you! I just love the rain when I’m in bed. Really! I’ve heard of the joys of the “patter of little feet” – but that’s a while away. In the meantime the patter of raindrops on my roof and window panes, do wonders for me!
Some of the most pleasurable moments of my life have been waking up when the rain’s just started to fall and then burrowing down into the sheets for a little more of that sweet slumber.
But there’s a downside – when you have to get out of bed to get ready for class. That’s when I start making bargains with myself, “I could sleep in for 10 more minutes and I’d still be able to make it to class in time if I take that shortcut to class. But that route gets a bit muddy in the rain. No! It doesn’t matter; sleep is more important (read, “luxurious!”) I’ll deal with the mud when I get there.”
It’s cruel and inhuman punishment, I think, having to leave one’s warm, comfy bed to deal with raging winds and torrential downpours. I mean, lying in bed, sometimes in that in-between reality connecting the dream world and this harsh one here: isn’t this when you have your most creative ideas?
The only problem is we don’t generally remember any of it when we’re awake. But we do retain that feeling of thinking “deep thoughts”.
I was very pleased to read later (in a Chemistry text, of all places!) that one of the greatest of discoveries in organic chemistry occurred to the scientist Kekule while he was dozing. I won’t bore you with the details (I bore that ordeal for you!) save that it had to do with a snake seizing its own tail. I frequently tell myself that I’m channelling Kekule when I’m trying to snag that extra 15 minutes of sleep.
At this rate, I may be well on my way to making some breakthrough discovery during one of my frequent naps. Nobel Prize, here I come!
But even with all of my kvetching about the weather, I have to admit that there’s something nice about sprinting home in the pouring rain, changing into dry clothes, putting on a cup of coffee, snuggling up under a blanket, and just listening to the rain pitter-patter across the roof.
October 11, 2014 By
“The pen is mightier than the sword” – Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Richelieu, 1839
Yesterday, October 11 was designated “International Day of the Girl Child” (IDGC) by the UN in recognition of the challenges faced by girls and their rights that are still being withheld.
Here in Guyana, we’ve come a long way from the days when girls were married off by 16 and not expected to complete school (and now we’re totally DOMINATING Schools everywhere, FYI. Whoo!).
But the thing is, we still do coddle (protect?) our girl-children as compared to our boys, don’t we?? Boys are allowed to stay out late, not expected to call to ‘check-in’ as frequently and generally allowed to do a lot more things than girls on the sole merit that ‘they’re boys’. I mean, girls do mature earlier than boys – you’d think we’d be treated as the more responsible ones. And besides, it’s a bit unfair to the boy-children if you’re just overprotective of your daughters – bad things can happen to boys as well. But I’m digressing from the topic on hand – IDGC.
In a move to empower girls, Womenfound, the Afghan Women’s Writing Project (AWWP) and the Huffington Post are all working together to publish the works of Afghan women and adolescent girls. And I think that that’s an incredible idea. Writing is amazing on so many levels. By writing frequently, it becomes so much easier to formulate your thoughts and articulate them whether through writing or public speaking.
But most importantly for these girls, I think, is that through writing, their voices can now be heard. Being allowed to write and put your views out there into the world, to share your opinions is an amazing privilege. And an even more incredible thing is when people actually read the things you wrote.
Over the holidays in New York, I ran into several people who told me they read my articles and every time that happened, I cycled through different emotions: first came confusion (do you mean me? My articles?), then incredulousness (you actually enjoy what I’m writing?), then sheer happiness (wow! I feel so special – people read the things I’m writing!) and then gratitude that people not only took the time to read what I wrote, but also to let me know how they felt about my writing.
So I think this is a truly admirable initiative by the AWWP and the HuffPo because writing really does empower the wielder of the pen (or computer, nowadays). Through writing you can say the things that you might be too scared or anxious about saying in a speech to 200 people. Through writing you can gain confidence. I love writing, and I really think more people should write more frequently – even if it’s just writing about your day in your Diary/Journal.
So pay attention to your girl child, not just on IDGC, but every day. Some of us are dainty princesses and some of us are Xena warrior princesses and some of us just don’t like the idea of royalty. We’re all individuals, built differently, with different hopes and aspirations and hopefully we can all be allowed the chance to follow our dreams. To quote Mark Wahlberg’s character in ‘The Other Guys’, “I am a peacock, you gotta let me fly!”
October 4, 2014 By
Going to school in a foreign country is sort of like living in a cocoon. First of all, there’re the physical barriers from the rest of the society. Here in Trinidad, we’re in dorms within the huge Mt Hope Medical Complex.
(It’s actually named after their first Prime Minister Eric Williams, but no one really calls it that.) It’s fenced off, sprawling and practically self-sufficient: Medical School, Dental School, Veterinary School, Women’s Hospital, Children’s Hospital, General Hospital – you name it and they have it.
And then my dorms are even further sequestered within this compound – protected by guards and yet another fence. So when my friends and relatives back home ask me about whether I’m affected by all the crime and shootings and kidnappings in Trinidad, I can say honestly retort with a straight face, “What crime??”
But there’s the even denser cocoon from the rigours of medical school. You literally stagger from exams to exams and you just don’t have time to break out of the physical cocoon even if you wanted to. I’ve noticed that even some of those students who’re from Trinidad, stay on dorms many weekends. A person has to recuperate!
But the existence of a third cocoon slowly dawning on me, one imposed by the powers-in-charge sticking dogmatically to the curriculum of the school. Now I suppose every course of study must have to impart a set body of knowledge to those who signed on. But I didn’t expect that real world challenges in the field you’re slogging away at – in my case, medicine – would be totally ignored.
Take this Chikungunya epidemic that’s swept the Caribbean – and has finally reached Trinidad. Even after The Dominical Republic reported hundreds of thousands of cases, and my native Guyana thousands, it hasn’t even earned a mention from my lecturers. We’re still sticking to the dangers of cigarette smoking in public health!
I’d like to preach about the dangers of the “killer sticks” as much as the next person – but surely I think a medical student should have more than a passing acquaintance ABOUT a viral infection that’s most likely going to hit her and her friends sooner than later. When the acquaintance will be up close – and very personal!
And now there’s Ebola – one of the deadliest viral infections ever to have hit mankind. They say a variant might’ve been the cause of the Black Death that took the lives of countless millions in Europe in the Dark Ages. And not a word uttered in my cocoon. And the thing is, it’s getting closer to home, like Chikungunya. There’s the first case to have hit the west – in Dallas in the US. Well, my first cousin’s getting married in two weeks in Dallas.
Ironically, her dad, my Cha-Cha, works for one of the largest health companies in the world – Abbot Labs in Dallas. My school cocoon precluded me going up for the wedding, but my dad’s all booked and ready. But thank God for the Internet – subverter of the cocoon. You keep up on your own.
If any country might manage to contain Ebola – it’s the US. They have the money and logistical capability to conduct the mass quarantine that’ll be needed to prevent mass contagion like in West Africa. Remember that scary movie, Contagion?? It’s now become real life.
And this makes me worry about us in the West Indies. Are we going to be ready when the first case arrives here? As it certainly will? Well, probably not us in this cocoon called Medical School.
September 21, 2014 By
I think I’d better get down on paper, the memory of my vacation in New York. Even though I’ve been back only some three weeks, things are already beginning to get hazy. With my lecturers insisting they really have to drone on for hours at a stretch, and days on end, I guess there’s only so much the old grey cells can retain!
One thing that struck me in New York City was the sight of so many Chinese tourists. They were everywhere – even upstate New York!!! And it wasn’t by chance. The New York tourism folks are sending all kinds of teams to China to snag a share of their US$100+ billion tourist market.
As one newspaper pointed out, the middle class in China is larger than the ENTIRE population of the US…and they have as many billionaires. That’s a lot off dough rolling around!!
Having ploughed through seven years of various courses in high school that bemoaned our (Caribbean) declining tourist trade because of the decline of the West, I wondered why we also haven’t gone after this alternative tourist market. Jeez!! If the Americans can try to lure Chinese tourists to New York – why can’t we?? Even the flyers handed out by the touts on 8th Ave hawking NYC Bus Tours and the Empire State Building, had Chinese calligraphy.
With so many relatives in New York, I had the opportunity to check out their secondary migration. One aunt lives in Poughkeepsie, up the Hudson Valley. Even though I hadn’t visited for nine years, I still remembered the hills and forested areas of that part of the state very fondly.
The streets of Jamaica, Queens can get a bit too much sometimes!! The visit didn’t disappoint. From the famous vaulted ceiling over the great hall of Grand Central Station (where that scene from Madagascar was filmed and from where we took the train up) to visiting the palatial homes of the Vanderbilts and Rooseveldts outside of Poughkeepsie, a different New York presented itself.
I’m not sure many New Yorkers realised that their State was once owned by the Dutch, and in fact only became British after the treaty of Breda back in the 17th Century when it was exchanged for Suriname!! (Who snickered why I had to write WI History? Ha! )
But if one took time to notice, there were signs of the Dutch presence everywhere in upstate New York – from the stone fences, to the houses, to the artefacts – not to mention the names of towns and places. Having coffee and cake in the picturesque European-like village of Rhinebeck was a highlight of the trip.
We also spent a night over in the town of Schenectady, near the state capital of Albany. This also brought back scenes from my books. This was the landscape that Fenimore Cooper described in (often painstaking) detail in Last of the Mohicans. This was the land of the Mohican Tribe. But today Schenectady can be seen as a snapshot of 21st Century America: its once great factories closed; its products “outsourced” to China; and its cities plunging into ruin.
The population of Schenectady has declined by a third from its heyday when General Electric (GE) produced turbines and generators that lit up the world. My cousin Devi drove me past the gargantuan GE factory – that once employed 40,000 but is now one tenth of that.
The abandoned houses in the city attracted thousands of Guyanese from New York City – and they have done a wonderful job of gentrifying large swathes of what were slums.
September 7, 2014 By