I am generally an optimistic person. I think some of my friends would call me “feisty,” in fact (in Jamaica, this is pronounced “facety.”) But yesterday was one of those days when that positive energy seemed to fade away. The stars withdrew into their deepest holes, and it became dark. Full dark.
In June of last year, I experienced that darkness, after two young homeless men were found beaten to death, just a few minutes away from my home. The young men were reportedly homosexual. Whoever committed this act (was anyone charged? I don’t know) and whether the victims were gay or not had, to me, no relevance. The fact is they were homeless. They wandered the streets every day with their friends. They are still on the streets, and their sometimes unruly behavior has become, for some of my worthy and upright neighbors, a “problem.” There was curiosity for a few days, and all kinds of lurid stories of the young men’s lifestyle. For me, it was a dark day. The plight of these young men – of the homeless in general – was ignored. Like the poor, they are objects of ridicule, to be paraded on the evening television news. (I would love one of these self-satisfied neighbors of ours to imagine – just for a minute – what it feels like to be homeless? To wake up on a grass verge with the rush hour traffic passing by? Dirty, cramped, hungry, thirsty, sick?)
That was a dark day. Yesterday, the shadows crept into my mind again when I heard about more violent death – that of youth advocate Omar Bailey, who was reportedly shot dead in the head, chest and neck. His body was found in an open lot, face down in a pool of blood, in Westchester, Portmore last Sunday. Omar was a National Youth Parliamentarian, among other leadership challenges he willingly took on. He was a leader, an activist, and he was influential. As one of the earliest members of Youth Crime Watch of Jamaica as Head Boy of Waterford High School, I was honored to know him and many other enthusiastic young people training for that program in 2004; I used to look back fondly at the long list of names of all those youth who participated. We shared a hot, hectic and exciting week at St. George’s College in Kingston during the training. Looking at the names, I used to wonder how they were all getting on, several years on.
I still wonder how those Jamaican children are doing. And now one of them is dead.
There is a term which government technocrats love to use – Most At Risk Populations (MARPs). To me, Jamaica’s youth, whether male or female, gay or straight, uptown or downtown, urban or rural, need to come at the top of this list of MARPs. To quote another youth activist, Jaevion Nelson: “Jamaican youth are at risk in a number of ways that affect their overall quality of life. Unemployment, sexual violence, under-education, poverty, early sexual debut, teenage parenthood, and systemic disenfranchisement are among a litany of concerns they face in a society that is already struggling to address a host of other issues affecting its citizens.”
A litany of concerns, indeed – the list is long. Jamaica’s youth need all the help they can get. We need to help them fight back the shadows.
Meanwhile, I had a sleepless night. And bears had a lot to do with it. Yes, bears.
I had an extended and extraordinarily vivid nightmare – you know, the kind that seems to go on all night, like a movie in your head? And even when I woke up, disturbed and confused, and fell asleep again, the dream continued. I could not shake it off.
I was at a conference of some sort; in a lovely setting, as conferences often are. It was a long, low, rather beautiful old house, by the sea. The coastline was rocky. The sea was blue and festooned with white waves. The breeze was fresh and bracing. Yes, I did actually feel that wind. The house was surrounded by tall trees with feathery leaves. It was sunny and bright, but inside the house the rooms were gloomy, with low ceilings. We seemed to move from one room to another, bewilderingly, and constantly, holding meetings and talking, talking, talking.
And then there were the bears. At first, there were glimpses of them. A huge, furry paw. A black nose. An unmistakable silhouette, under a feathery tree. They were inside the house. And they were outside the house. After a while, we could not find people. We would be sitting round a table talking, and someone would say, “Where is so and so?” There seemed to be fewer of us. Confusion reigned. We even tried to do a roll call.
And I attempted, single-handedly, to conduct a search for a missing colleague. I went systematically through the house, and realized, to my growing horror, that there were bears in every room. I entered one bedroom, where (oddly, considering the growing sense of panic in the house) two people were sleeping soundly in separate beds on each side of the room. There was a cupboard in the wall. It was increasingly dark and hard to see (and none of us turned on any lights, for some reason) but I saw the door of the cupboard swing open, as I entered. There was a bear in there, I knew. I shut the door quickly, leaving the two sleeping ones to their fate.
There were various varieties of bears. Some were grizzlies, built like a small house, towering on their hind legs occasionally. Others were smaller black bears with very spiky fur and pointed faces. And there were polar bears, too; we identified at least two. These were the most terrifying of all.
Even when I couldn’t see them, I knew they were there.
They were all planning what to do with us. It was only a matter of time. And as our fear grew, we all just left, chaotically. There was no announcement that the conference was over. We just fled. We didn’t pack our bags; we jumped into our cars. Some left on foot, braving the trees where bears lurked in plain sight now. I heard screams, but didn’t see anything. We made panicky phone calls. The sun had set and the sky was burning red.
And I woke up.
Fear is a funny thing. One of my favorite writers, Graham Greene, was very good at writing about these dark emotions:
“One of the things which danger does to you after a time is -, well, to kill emotion. I don’t think I shall ever feel anything again except fear. None of us can hate anymore – or love.”
—- Graham Greene - The Confidential Agent(1939)
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/06/15/dark/ Dark: petchary.wordpress.com
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2011/04/09/rights-and-wrongs/: Rights and Wrongs: petchary.wordpress.com
http://wildernessarena.com/dangers/animals/other-dangerous-animals/bear-danger-and-defense-against-attack Bear Danger and Defense against Attack
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/2533.Graham_Greene?auto_login_attempted=true Graham Greene: goodreads.com