December 21, 2014 By
December 14, 2014 By
“I just think we’re living in a time of massive, amazing change, like the Industrial Revolution on acid ” – Kelly Lynch.
I’m pretty sure that I’ve mentioned before that I use Skype a lot – and by a lot, I mean all day, every day. I could search through my old articles to confirm, but I’m in the midst of studying for finals and I am also too lazy to check.
But I’m 248 per cent certain that I have before because Skype pays me a lot of money to promote their product by mentioning them at least once a month in my articles. No that’s not true – that’s just my wishful thinking.
But seriously, this little app on my phone has been a godsend ever since I started Med School here in the land of Carnival. I’d like to point out that there is nothing Carnival-like about Med School – there’s a lot of frustration, anger, tears and the occasional excitement over holding a brain or a lung.
Those are the things they happen to conveniently leave out of their “Visit Trinidad” brochures, I’ve noticed.
But am I homesick? Yeah, I am – we’re a pretty close-knit family and while I was looking forward to finally getting out of the nest, there were lots of butterflies about how exactly I’d be able to fly on my own.
But Skype really pulled through for me and I could see and hear the rest of my family – it was kind of like I was back home – kind of. But yeah, we could trade “What did you do today” stories, my Mom could see I was keeping myself well-fed and I could feel that I hadn’t been banished to Siberia.
My Dad tells stories about him going over to New York to study in the early 70s – about how he would rush to the mailbox every afternoon when he came home to his apartment, praying for a letter from “home”.
It might take a month for a letter to be sent and the answer to be received. Skype has made those kinds of letters obsolete. My Mom can take me over to the living room and show me her latest obje d’art while I can show her how I’ve evolved into a domestic goddess – my room is now always spic and span (except during Finals Week). As you may know by now, I enjoy cooking (when I don’t have exams looming that is) and improvising new dishes. But what do I do when I want a reasonable facsimile of Mom’s home cooking? I just Skype her – and Mom can show me what she means by “a little of this and a handful of that”!
As a young person growing up in this age of the information and communications technology revolution, we take much of the change engendered for granted. And I’m sure we’re not appreciating the effect the gradual cumulative change all of this will have on our lives.
It’s like I read of the unnamed young man in “Miguel Street” going away by ship to London. Today, it’s just a hop, skip and jump away. Has London gotten nearer?
And with innovations like Skype, if you don’t want to hop, skip or jump…then with a touch of a button on Skype you’re in any other country where you know someone. Last week, returning from India, my Dad walked me around the lounge at New Delhi Airport!
All hail Skype*!
*Although come to think of it, I mostly use FaceTime now. What can I say? I’m fickle.
December 7, 2014 By
“There is no need to request You, Oh Durga,
To protect and save us.
For does the mother on whom children solely depend,
Ever need such a request?
And So our salutations to You;
So pray the Gods to You.”
As a Hindu young woman, who happens to worship God as female – in my case specifically Saraswati, in whom all knowledge reposes and emanates - I’ve sometimes wondered how some Hindu men who also worship the Divine in her various female forms and incarnations, can inflict violence on females.
But of course, violence against women isn’t confined to Guyana and certainly not only to Hindus.
It’s just that since we Hindus are supposed to have elevated women to the ultimate Divinity, I was kind of hoping our menfolk would’ve seen us as in a bit kinder light that those from other religions that insist that God is a man.
In Hinduism, by contrast, while God is ultimately beyond categories – including sex or gender – the conceived female aspects are actually endowed with the Shakti – or animating power.
In other words, the male manifestations are posited as completely inert without the female. Can’t do a thing! So we have, for instance, the Creator Vishnu with his female counterpart Lakshmi. She’s the power behind whatever “creation” – or “projection” if you chose – that’s going on. One third of Hindus are “Shaktas” – whose major object of worship is the Mother in her various manifestations.
In all his human incarnations – whether as Ram or Krishna – Vishnu is accompanied by his Shakti. As Ram, for instance, his double is Sita. Bringing matters to the human level then, supposedly to provide a model for us to imitate.
When one marries, the woman is said to be “the Lakshmi of the house”. In offering prayers to the Divine, the male householder is incomplete and the offerings aren’t accepted if he’s not accompanied by his “Lakshmi”.
So what goes with all this wife beating and violence against females in our society?? Why hasn’t our elevation of women as Goddesses increased respect for women? Well for one, in the “modern” world, we have all accepted that “religion” is just one aspect of “life”.
Religion as a seamless, integral way of life is “old fashioned” and “backward. Traditional Hinduism, we are convinced, can’t be “modern”. So our menfolk worship the Mother of the temple in the temple and then knock around the Mother of the house in the house.
The view that the man is the owner of all he surveys – in reflection of the Fella with the grey beard who’s floating in the sky above looking down at us – undergirds what is called “patriarchy”.
In modern Hindu homes, unlike the original model of society in which the female was equal in her own domain, boys and men are still socialized to see females as “their own”. And in a capitalist society, this becomes translated as their “property”. And more to the point “sexual property”, which he “jealously” guards.
If we’re ever going to get rid of this mind numbing violence that’s inflicted daily on females, this structural power imbalance between males and females which starts in the home – ironically by mothers – must be eliminated.
What was it they said about “the hands that rock the cradle”? It can help to make “ruling the world” a bit more fair.
All hail the Devi!
November 30, 2014 By
I try to follow the goings on back home as best as I can. The internet makes that feat achievable just by a few taps on the old iPad’s virtual keyboard! But with finals looming tomorrow, I must confess that I’m not so up to date on the intricacies of the “No-Confidence” maneuvre versus the “prorogation checkmate”.
Now I want to make this very clear. Contrary to what many of my friends and acquaintances back home might believe, I’m not too enamoured of politics. My Dad’s foray into that vocation gave me a whole new perspective: it’s not one that I would want to make my own.
But on the other hand, everything that I’ve learnt up to now has made it clear to me that we, the ordinary folks, ignore politics at our own peril. And it’s a grave peril.
You see, even though we may be taught differently – politics pervades every ounce of our being and every second of our lives.
Its challenge is basically the same with all the social institutions we create to make our lives a little better or simpler or just. We create these rules on how we ought to behave but pretty soon – and evidently inevitably – they take on lives of our own.
Take this expression that’s being thrown around so casually back in Guyana – democracy. It sounded so simple when I was in Primary School. We all sat around in a circle and decided what game we ought to play.
We voted…and even though our game mightn’t have been chosen, we were always consoled by the thought – “next time”!! And when you came down to it, the other persons’ games were also fun to play!!
Now I know by now that running a country is much more complex than selecting a game to play. But really, are they so different in their goals??
With games, the object is to have fun and in the end…all games are fun in some way or another. Now in running the country, I always thought the goal was your make life “better”.
And while we may differ on the specifics (for me “better” means being able to sleep longer during rainy day…under my coverlet!) I really do suspect that in general we all want the same things.
We want things like a decent job, good roads and radio disc jockeys who don’t talk too much. So when I see the life or death intensity with which politics is played in Guyana, it frightens me.
It’s not as if it’s like in the old days when there were severe differences in ideologies and so on.
From what I see, all the parties in Guyana seem to have the same perspective on how to get going with developing our country.
So the intensity must have to do with deciding who will get into power. Over here in Trinidad, I don’t get the feeling that the politics is so intense. At election time…things do heat up, but never allowed to get out of hand like in Guyana. I’ll never forget being trapped in a bus on the Agricola Public Road while cars were being burnt in 2012.
It looks like whether through prorogation or No-Confidence, elections are in our near term future. I just hope that our political leaders don’t raise the temperature too much. And as far as democracy is concerned – it’s our duty to participate and let the politicians know how we feel.
I’ll be voting for the first time, this go around, you know.
November 23, 2014 By
This semester we’ve been covering the nervous system. I’ve always been fascinated by the brain and all of its neuronal connections, so I was definitely looking forward to this section (and terrified because it’s an enormous amount of material to cover in a relatively short time).
Well, it did turn out to be an enormous amount of work, but thankfully, it turned out to be really interesting as well. I’m even more intrigued by the brain now than I was before.
For our anatomy lab sessions, they usually provide us with several brains to examine. And as I looked at all of these brains just resting on trays, being lifted up, flipped upside down, poked and prodded by curious med students, I started to think about how we were being kind of cavalier with the organ that once held someone’s memories and thought and emotions – their whole life story, really.
Just looking at the brain, sitting on a tray, drenched in formaldehyde, it doesn’t look especially impressive. You see its general shape, all of its fissures and gyri, pick it up and it’s not even that heavy.
But then when you learn about the parts of the brain and about what each part does, it blows you away. You learn that this strip of brain in front of this central fissure – that deals with motor activity – and this part behind the fissure – that deals with sensory information. Each part of our brain is specialized to do a specific task.
All of it got me thinking about what makes us who we are. I started thinking about how our brain stores all of our memories and experiences, processes all of our emotions and controls how we act and behave – all of those things that make us who we are.
And I realized that I found a new way to procrastinate – by having an existentialist crisis. And I also realized that my brain is thinking about itself. And I started to worry whether our brains are actually separate sentient beings that are tricking us into thinking that they’re a part of us.
I mean, all of our scientific discoveries have been by people using their BRAINS to think. And these brains could make us think whatever they want to think – they control EVERYTHING. I don’t think I’m making sense anymore.
I mean, my brain is the one coming up with these thoughts – it wouldn’t just give away its masterplan to me. But who is “me”? If I’m my brain, that mean my brain is talking to itself about itself? I think I’m having another existentialist crisis right now. I’m just going to stop this right now.
Moving on, it really is very exciting learning about the nervous system. It’s pretty cool knowing what nerve controls my eyelids. And if I ever get stabbed in the back (literally) at least I’ll know what parts of my body will be affected depending on what level of my spinal cord gets injured.
I’d just like to point out that this does not mean that I ever want to get stabbed in the back- either figuratively of literally.
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