The Colourless Quilt: This is not an enhanced picture of few celebrities appearing on magazine covers or on display at a wax museum lighter than their real skin tone. Even Bobby Jindal, Louisiana governor whose parents are from India, and whose portrait hangs in the state Capitol. His skin tone appears lighter than in life.
These canvasses are ubiquitously recalibrating a once dark period in our history where the reflection of slavery lingers. It further highlights an abundance of bleaching cream being used across Caribbean, poor and developing regions for lighter appearance while ignoring the long-term health risk of skin cancer. This ghost that accentuates that beauty has not yet been defined and remains a shadow. Until some segments of our social media stop applying shades of beauty, many will continue seek hidden brushes.
However, her colour this season is not her pigmentation. This quilt is called “homelessness”. Today more women find themselves under bridges, train stations on hard, hot, and cold sidewalks. Quietly an annihilation has taken place, not even a Cover Girl mascara can mask these rough spots. One tends to believe that perhaps her pride or even stubbornness has contributed to what has become an open studio apartment that stretches a full block where many pass through daily, include well-groomed pets on a leash that is hastily pulled back from its curiosity to get close to her.
However, her chance at a hot meal where scores of food trucks lined the street across where she calls home weighed heavily on one’s conscience. Today, she won. Carefully her stiff blanket pulled back as I place few dollars in her hand, pulling slightly my head backward to escape a foul odour that emitted from her direction.
She paused and looked, and said, “It wasn’t always this way”
Her stretched hand remains me of a mechanic’s hand from a recent oil change. Her once perfect teeth also began to look like the colour of her blanket. Navigating the cold wind as it bounced off the buildings on to my face from the path of a reportedly abandoned $100 million-plus street trolley project few blocks away that has failed, and all that remains is a rail track in the street, you wonder what the real priority of our leaders is.
Suddenly, a tweet arrived, and read, “The dress code for the winter is.”
I replied quickly, “Dress code again for the homeless this winter, a single dirty blanket that matches the colour of the street.”
Hours later the cycle starts over again. This time she stepped away from the living room. It is clear that she likes classiness. The blanket lays flat, carefully folded with a black plastic bag, or a broken down luggage case tucked in the corner. You walk by and hoped no one moves her stuff until she gets back. Tomorrow, a new face has emerged. She sat few feet of this blanket with her little bag. You wonder what happen to the one you saw few days ago. Has she been raped, abused, moved to another place?
What is the Colour of Homelessness: Not all homeless women on the street have internal family conflicts. Most studies show that homelessness emerged as a public concern in the United States and in other industrialized countries in the late 1970s. As streets became more populated, some began encountering people living on the street-sides. Often society conceptualizes homelessness as a black issue.
Nevertheless, it affects all races. The national center on family homelessness reported 60 percent of homeless women have children under 18, compared to 40 percent of homeless men. A homeless mother is nine times more likely than fathers to be caring for at least one of those children.
The stigma that all homeless people are nuisance, or lunatics, especially in poor and developing countries must be debunked. Disasters such as the 2008 collapse of the global economy, and neglect by government are also a contributing factor. For example, when Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, or the earthquake in Haiti, many students suffered with difficulties to recover. Some lost parents, and became vulnerable to sexual abuse from having to live with strangers. Recently, according to the Department of Education, a record high number of homeless students were enrolled in US public schools. These children often have difficulties in school, are withdrawn, and lack confidence.
Approaching these woman, some rather take a detour to avoid for one’s perceived safety. However, regardless that does not cut the hundreds of thousands each night according to the US Department of Urban Development. Homelessness cuts across all continents. Australia has also passed legislation that is providing help in the form of accommodation, meals, laundry and shower facilities, and information and advice. For poor countries, it remains a deep struggle.
Getting her back home: Medical centers often see a high number of emergencies from this population. One report noted that they should be equipped to manage substance abuse, and mental illness. Philadelphia University noted, “Most efforts to aid them centered on reforming their behavior and not addressing structural economic issues.” People are considered homeless if they do not live in what we consider normal for habitation. Support for victims, and investment in affordable housing is key. Several homeless women are employed and the need for a minimum wage increase, as studies have shown, can create a positive transition.
Today, major cities worldwide have adapted to the new world economy, where most of these private and government functions are being conducted in a few buildings where the transformation young and talented people live. They share similar ideology and are often rich and expensive. The irony is that they cannot escape a homeless person a few blocks away, as affordable housing has decreased while the numbers of homeless people are increasing. Visitors and residents must be protected and enjoy their vacations. However, one should not be abused for profit. Inside the service economy on many coastlines, they are isolated and abused in a segregated zone. It is disturbing to see this vulnerability being scorned like an alien as if one is invading these new prestigious towns with a virus.
Our Responsibility: During the month of March, women’s accomplishments are celebrated. What will the next 20 years look like on this block? The cry for social justice and the centrality of women remain essential globally. If about 18 million school age women are out of school as the World Bank has reported; it needs more than law enforcement. Where are the social workers, civic and advocate groups beyond the side walk to get them behind a desk?
As a male, I do not claim to know what is best. However, I understood that this award illustrates relevance where relationships form and diversity emerges and strategies for the next year. However, their vulnerabilities from barbaric ideology, intolerance, location, or social stratification need more attention. Their right to exist cuts across borders. However, especially in poor and developing countries, family pride, lack of resources, guilt, shame, and ignorance often cause severe detachment.
Today, many cities have traded playgrounds, counselling centers and sidewalks for bike lines, and condominiums and dog parks. While you are out for another walk or run with a well dressed pet for an outfit next season, remember that folded blanket on the side walk because it does not take much to trade places.
Jamaica’s new congeniality push: When the Jamaican Parliament approved an act to decriminalize small amounts of “ganja” (marijuana, weed, pot) as it is locally called, many received it with joy. However, it will not change the economy overnight and it is more of a paper statement. The historic amendments call for a licensing authority to be established to deal with regulating the cultivation and distribution of marijuana for medical, scientific, and or religious purposes. The timing seems fine, as studies have added to the potential benefits to treat:
• Muscle spasms caused by multiple sclerosis
• Nausea from cancer chemotherapy
• Poor appetite and weight loss caused by chronic illness, such as HIV or nerve pain
• Seizure disorders
• Crohn’s disease
The announcement was welcomed by many bloggers. They believed it is now free to pull off the coastlines into local bars, on and off the beach for any amount. Contrary to that mind-set being formed, decriminalization has an uphill battle. Compliance will be difficult to enforce. Before the law is fully implemented, and the first smoke is cleared, who will become eligible to sell, how it will be regulated, taxed and restricted and in what zones? The legalization of marijuana can lead to some economic benefits as studies have shown. Quietly, few locals and possible dispensaries business dealers already questioning trust, safety, and price.
Tomorrow in Jamaica, one will not find long lines such as what occurred in Washington State and Colorado when the sale of marijuana was legalized in December 2012. Underground transactions will not finish and even before one departs the island, and the smell will not be restricted to certain areas. It will still be easier to light up before departure than clearing customs with an America passport, or any other nationality. Poverty will not be eradicated, and the potential for monopoly will only create more haves vs have-nots. The new legislation is not going stop criminals from committing other crimes, or decrease accident fatality. One is more likely to die in an automobile accident driving under the influence of alcohol than marijuana.
Ganja has been a topic of significant public debates in the US and other regions. One CBS study showed 80 percent of Americans approve the legalization
Potentially, Jamaica’s new law could dismantle some criminal enterprises associated with illegal drug trafficking and gang activities, where the murders rates remain high per-capita. According to several recent reports, in the Americas, Uruguay became the first nation to create a legal marijuana market in 2009. Argentina and Chile moved and decriminalized it later.
The decriminalization, especially for young people who might be arrested for simple possession, would cut a permanent criminal record that could have a long-term negative impact. The British Journal of Psychiatry noted that removing marijuana penalty does not lead to any new consumption. The criminalization of small amount of marijuana, as some argued, especially in the US, has led to an increase in the prison population, especially for minorities.
Did Jamaica just add marijuana to the tourist board in disguise?
It is the revenue stupid: The wave of pot legalization has become a lucrative business in America. Several marijuana products have been manufactured from brownies to body creams. An estimated $3 billion in tax revenue from legal weed across the US alone is reported.
On February 26, 2015, Washington, DC, despite objections from Congress, which has jurisdiction, allowed the decriminalization two ounces for anyone 21 and over, and six home plants allowed. The sale of marijuana is not allowed. The measures was passed in 2014. It is also not allowed in public housing or to be smoked in public. How many plants will be authorized in the hills in Jamaica and throughout the Caribbean?
While some argue the negative impact in the long-run, the argument being sent out of the Jamaican national security department is welcome news: “People must not be fooled that it is a gateway for more trafficking that has always been a problem.” However, it falls short, as legalization will not change anything. The drug will still find its way in to the US and other regions, but perhaps now with an approved stamp.
Jamaica seemed to be pushing the scientific benefits:
• What studies led to this change?
• What impact to date has the use and sale of marijuana had on its prison population?
• How many people were affected from simple possession or foreigners being incarcerated for even a pound of ganja?
• How many young people are unable get employment due to a marijuana criminal record?
• What role marijuana has played in the over 1,300 sexual assaults cases reported in 2013 alone?
Certainly, some visitors legally diagnosed with a medical condition and prescribed marijuana for medical purpose will now make sure in combination with their passports to Jamaica a prescription card laminated and attached with all travel documents. It is now an excuse to add an ounce with a Red Stripe Beer order.
This new approach could detour some of Cuba’s potential visitors when the US normalizes relations. However, it sets a tone to motivate more young people to start trying out marijuana where the use has been low despite the perception. Inside the Rastafarian culture that uses ganja for religious reasons, this is welcome news. This legalization will not increase the amount being used. However, liberation for many artistes dated back to late reggae superstar Peter Tosh’s 1976 song to legalize it. Moreover, several other songs have been recorded in support for continuous use of marijuana and the legalization. Finally, it has spun in their direction.
The Caribbean is not immune from other hardcore drugs. Tucked away in many hillsides and small districts, on white sands and behind some music shows, other drugs than marijuana have been quietly destroying some individuals’ lives. Furthermore, it has penetrated all genres of music, old and new, from reggae, soca, and calypso, rock, pop, and others.
Even before Bob Marley’s death in 1981, his name has been associated with ganja. His heirs, who have fought over his licensing on many products that bear his name from shoes and T-shirts, have cashed in on a brand of weed called “Marley Natural”. It will be on the market soon and perhaps on a rack after one has cleared customs. Subversive, not everyone is on board to potential island wide openness. Although anti-drugs advocates have been met with resistance that it is gateway drugs, a study by Yale School of Medicine says it may really be a gateway drug.
The Untold Stories: Despite the Positives: The scientific word is that cannabis has adverse effects. Smoking can alter one’s physical and mental health as well as interfere with social and occupational functioning. Often in the Caribbean region(s), when substance abuse is being discussed, it faces rejection, scorned on the surface as taboo. The lack of awareness is such as in the early stage of the AIDS epidemic and the anti-gay sentiments. These issues gained traction when it finally reached home, as close family and loved ones died from the disease.
There are plenty of addicts gracing the stages. The only start to rehabilitation is to take personal responsibility. Imagine how many concerts would have been canceled if a drug test screening was required before an artiste performs.
Society has to move from the ideology that, since it is not affecting one’s own family, then it is muted. The dealers who sell poor people illegal substances, many still live in the same buildings on the beach, and backstage at major concerts.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse noted that illegal drugs such as heroin, cocaine, in any form, produce the same effects once it reaches the brain. It produces similar physiological and psychological effects, but the onset, intensity, and duration of its effects are related directly to the method of use and how rapidly it enters the brain.
Putting out the Smoke: It was once said that an individual was arrested with five huge bags of marijuana. When the evidence was presented, he pleaded guilty in the parish court, and told the presiding judge that he had five bags originally. The point is being revisited to highlight how many bags will be reported when it is time for serious accountability on all levels, usage, buy, and revenue, regulation of shops, safety, and potential new addictions.
Jamaica is not Amsterdam: In 1976, the Dutch parliament decriminalized possession of less than 5 grams of cannabis. Many reports have noted that 90 percent of the customers in Amsterdam are foreigners. According to a recent report from the Amsterdam Coffee Shop, Mayor Eberhard van der Laan closed several coffee shops in 2014 believed to be near to schools. It leads to more speculation about the Netherlands back tracking on its drug policies. Given ongoing reported corruption in the region, this new venture might have more potential problems and not its intended purpose.
As the islands continue to struggle and modernize and re-energize the reparations fight like the Jews who faced atrocities during the Second World War, and now have an organized Jewish Reparation Fund, the region will need scientists, engineers, doctors, teachers, excellent universities, researchers, police officers, and not more weed producers. The hope is that this new law is not simply a Xerox copy of what is going on elsewhere simply because it is popular.
The jury is still out on this one. What next, prostitution?
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