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Archive for June 2008

What do you fear?

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There is a commonly used ice-breaker in team building sessions that consists of anonymously writing your greatest fear on a slip of paper which is then shared with the group. The point of the exercise is to walk in the other person’s shoes for a bit. Slips are placed in an envelope and everyone in the group pulls one and says what they think.

Every time I have participate in this exercise the outcome is similar, people try to guess what the other person is thinking, it has also provided an insight into perception and our need to constantly solve other people’s problems instead of understanding that it really has nothing to do with us and our purpose is just to be.  The themes are usually common, failure, death, illness, financial security, we find out that maybe we’re not so different after all. 

In a group that I was in, someone had listed their fear of dying of cancer. Now that I can understand all to well. It’s the number one killer in my own family and it comes very close to home. But you know, I refuse to let it govern my life, and I am extremely resentful of people who use it to attempt to coerce me into things. Several years ago an insurance agent, who knew me was trying to twist my arm over an insurance policy, her fatal mistake, mentioning my “situation”. Her take, you’re going to die of cancer because some of your family did. Well hold up a moment there. I know I’m going to die, that’s the only certainty in life after all. But why would I spend my entire time agonising about it? Thanks, I prefer to enjoy my time here and when the end comes I’d like to be sliding into where ever waving a bar of Valrohna chocolate in one hand, a glass of red in the other, screeching YEE HA, I certainly lived! Sure I try to eat well, exercise and generally take care of myself but I refuse to be a cringing, frightened, shaking shell constantly anticipating the worst. 
So what might be my greatest fear? The fear of not trying things because I’m afraid to live.

 

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Written by coffeewallah

June 28, 2008 at 11:06 pm

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The voyages of the starship Enterprise

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“Space, the final frontier, these are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise….our mission to boldly go where no man has gone before”. These words are familiar to Trekkies across the globe, but we may have forgotten their true significance. They represent a time in our history when man attempted so large a feat that it has yet to be repeated. In the late sixties charged by President John F. Kennedy, America traveled to the moon, they did not do this because it was easy, they did it because it was hard, to make a point. Probably for the same reason that Sir Edmund Hilary scaled Mt. Everest, because it was there.

We owe much to the space race, it gave us personal computers, NASA had to fit a computer into a little space and IBM rose to the challenge. Kevlar, food preservation techniques, training techniques, they were all refined by the space programme. Most of all, the space race made us a global village, the need for global communications fast tracked  in order to keep watch on space craft. Man’s imagination knew no bounds. We made a few trips to the moon, scientists are still studying the wealth of material that came out of these missions and the world has never been the same. 

I’ve been watching the Discovery Channel series “When we left the Earth”. It is staggering in its scope utilising footage, photographs and interviews with surviving crews and techs from the period. Even more amazing, I remember the “live” broadcasts from the moon, they were carried across the globe via delayed transmission. I was a toddler when man first walked on the moon but I have an early memory of sitting on a 100lb bag of flour in my Granny’s shop asking my uncle why everyone was so quiet. “We’re listening to the man on the moon.” It became my ambition every night to see the man in the moon. Keep in mind it was the early seventies, colour tv was a distant luxury, you had to call the operator if you wanted to make a long distance call, AIR travel was uncommon enough that whole families went to the airport to send of relatives and friends, computers still filled a whole room and needed punch cards. 

When you look now at the risks that were taken and the lives given to the programme it is still pretty riveting. As I have said before, ironic that we’ve had all these technological advances and get we’ve never gone back. Have we become so blase that we have no imagination any more? The men who walked on the moon are all in their mid to late seventies, soon there will be no one who has had the experience of walking on the moon. When you listen to these men speak of their experience you cannot help be awed yet I’m pretty sure if asked, very few can remember their names and yet, thanks to the magic of television and re-runs, we all know Captain Kirk. 

Written by coffeewallah

June 23, 2008 at 12:32 am

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Christopher Columbus was an illegal alien…

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Yesterday the EU endorsed controversial new rules to expel illegal aliens. They include forcible repatriation, long stints in detention before being repatriated and bans on re-entry. Interesting really when you consider two things: Europeans ventured out and plundered several continents for their own gain, this action led to the death of many native peoples including the Native American, Maori, Canadian Indian, Amerindian, Eskimo etc. and wiping out cultures in order to enslave populations and provide goods and valuables. Europeans were responsible for the Atlantic slave trade and indentureship. Nice bunch eh? When you consider how many resources were plundered and shipped back from the “new world” and sent to the “old world” the amount is staggering. And it continues to today with large petro/gas, diamond, manufacturing companies. It would be true to say, historically, Europe is responsible for creating some of the issues that they now face from illegal immigrants trying to flee their homes for a better life.

Now it’s also true that Europeans are not responsible for all hardship experienced; life might not be the most wonderful in some parts of the world for any number of social, natural and economic reasons. Natural disasters have not helped the situation at all like the drought causing famine and plague in Africa that we have all become familiar with. Not to mention the ever popular dictator of the day who buys his arms from where? Some of the biggest arms manufacturers are based on “the Continent”. European entities like the World Bank and IDB perpetuate the slavery with loans that can never be repaid. Irish singer Bono for years has used his celebrity to shine light on the plight of third world nations who suffer on at the hands of wealthy nations. 

Think about it, Switzerland and Belgium are noted for their fine chocolate, ever see a cocoa tree growing anywhere near there? And just where does De Beers get their diamonds from? Can two months salary assuage the guilt of the diamond miner risking life and limb to make a better life for his children? How about spices? Isn’t that what Columbus set sail for, lucky for him he managed to find a whole lot of other people to oppress on behalf of the Church and Spanish crown. As living conditions and the scarcity of food get worse in the third world Europe braces for an onslaught of immigrants by closing their borders with a huge clang. We don’t want THOSE people here, never mind our fortunes were once based on the sweat of their brow. Oh no, Europe certainly does not want a bunch of coloured folk with different cultural values to come and sully their superiority, it’s okay for them to play football or join track and field teams to represent these countries, after all talent is always welcome. But pity the poor dull sod who comes to sweep your streets, clean your sewers, drive your taxis, wait tables or whatever other menial tasks that you deem too good for your people to do. They are trying to make a better life, can you blame them.

No I don’t hate Europeans, I quite understand what they are trying to do by keeping people out, the wealth stays there and there is always somebody to exploit at a later date right. But maybe if instead of spending some of that wealth on arms and armies they would channel it into programmes that would benefit larger numbers of people without the repercussions of payback then  maybe it would be easier to stomach eh. Stop being so hypocritical.

 

Written by coffeewallah

June 20, 2008 at 7:25 pm

A Whale Story

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“Call me Ishmael. Some years ago – never mind how long precisely – having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.”  So starts Herman Melville’s epic, Moby Dick, my whale story  though watery, is a trifle different. As a conservationist I am hardly likely to out harpooning whales, on the contrary, it was once a life ambition to go work for Greenpeace, guerilla tactics to save the environment, don’t you just love it! Glamourous ideas of leaping into the ocean in front of boats, chaining oneself to buildings, sure the pay was lousy but you got really good legal representation.  So I didn’t end up working for Greenpeace though I was a member for a while, but I’ve still managed to find myself on protest marches, been part of a human chain facing down bulldozers; no surprise then that one day I found myself holding a whale.

Whales are fascinating creatures, graceful behemoths in their environment, mammals like us humans, but seemingly without the need for drama, death and destruction. They’ve been around as long as mankind, perhaps longer and yet, we seem to so resent them. I’d read that one of the justifications for resuming commercial whaling, aside from the so-called “cultural” was that whales are a threat to fishing stock. Isn’t that crap.  I’m not saying that people do not have a right to honour their cultural heritage, on the other hand, if historically, it was your culture to practice cannibalism, should we honour that? Humans claim all manner of things in the name of culture, but who defines what culture should be and why hang on to customs that are no longer relevant in a current context just because, not for any other reason.

And someone tell me, who gave man the right to decide that we should “own” the world’s fish and question another species right to also eat. We, collectively as a species, have managed to destroy our habitat in a way that no “wild” animal does and yet we are not satisfied we want to oppress every other species on earth. 

I wonder what they must think of us, because surely, they do think. I’ve been out whale watching a few times, had never gotten close but my fascination was unabated. And then several years ago while driving to work in the traffic one morning there was a report on the radio of a mass stranding on Mayaro Beach. Friends were calling my mobile phone, are you going? I was in Port of Spain, Mayaro is on the other coast, I’d just spent an hour in traffic, you bet I was going! I turned around and hightailed it home to grab some shorts. Along the way my ex-husband got in touch with me, he also was going so off we roared together one more time to save the whales. 

There were hundreds of people that day, twelve pilot whales in varying sizes and degrees of distress, two dead, the rest done for if we didn’t get them into the water. Strangers became instant comrades, driving off the circling vultures, winged and two legged.  We walked along the beach, volunteers were hauling whales into the water, trying to get them past the rolling breakers. The sea was choppy that day, the currents treacherous but some committed humans decided to help another species. A smaller animal lay there, barely breathing when I knelt down, five strangers responded to my call and I found myself cradling the head of a whale. What a moment. My position was on level with her eye, we looked at each other and I found myself talking to her. 

Slowly we heaved and got into the water, and stayed there for hours. Buffeted by waves, sand and salt in our eyes. Holding on for dear life supporting our friend who seemed to know that we were trying to help. Gradually getting into deeper water, still being battered by the waves, hope, because she was still breathing. Oh. My. God. I was swimming with a whale! I had to get out after about three hours, my arms could not hold her and I couldn’t tread water anymore. My ex-husband stayed longer, enough for the team to realise that she was managing on her own and let her go to swim further into deeper water. At least we hoped she would. 

That day, with the sun beating down on my head, clothes wet, sticking everywhere, trying to catch my breath on the beach I reflected on Mr. Melville’s story and was glad that the whale got away. 

If you’re interested, take the time to stop whaling now:  http://www.stopwhaling.org/site/

 

Written by coffeewallah

June 18, 2008 at 5:08 pm

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Bookish wonder

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“I had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills. The Equator runs across these highlands, a hundred miles to the north, and the farm lay at an altitude of over six thousand feet. In the day-time you felt that you had got high up; near to the sun, but the early mornings and evenings were limpid and restful, and the nights were cold. ” These words are indelibly etched on my memory spoken in a weird accent by actress Meryl Streep as the opening monologue of Out of Africa, a film by Sydney Pollack.

Despite Meryl’s accent this is one of my favourite films as is The English Patient by Anthony Minghella. Both Mr. Pollack and Mr. Minghella died this year, a loss to the film making world. While both films featured good acting, my admiration is for the technical aspects, the quality of the shots, the well planned, well blocked shots. Both films have a haunting quality and they aptly capture the mystique of the African landscape written so lovingly by both Baroness Blixen and Michael Ondaatje.

I’d read Out of Africa years before the movie was made having plundered my future in-laws bookshelves one August vacation. It is an extremely beautifully written book, the descriptions so vivid that I could see them in my mind’s eye, in a sepia tinted wash of course. The Baroness’ life was exotic enough that as a young woman who thirsted for something different, I could wish to be like her. Maybe without the venereal disease imparted by an unfaithful husband but glamourous huntress capably running my six thousand acre farm.

Years later the English Patient similarly captured my restless imagination. Similarly sweeping in the storytelling it is a book that I have read time and time again. Anthony Minghella’s film was also beautifully shot. The opening sequence of the shadow of a biplane traversing miles and miles of ochre sand dunes against a red sky, breathtaking.

When you think about it, some of the best films were not the ones with the pretty boys and girls but those where the technical crew laboured to produce something spectacular, Lord of the Rings and the New Zealand landscape, The Last Samaurai, Memoirs of a Geisha, The Painted Veil, all good novels fortunately translated into good films by the power of a really good shot, fine editing etc. Now you know why the Academy Awards such excellence, for it is truly valuable.

Written by coffeewallah

June 10, 2008 at 11:24 am

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Trinidad and Tobago v England

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I am a Soca Warrior, win or lose I am a fighter…..

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June 1, 2008 at 12:52 pm

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