Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Introducing a condom with a bite

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 30 June 2010)

While the world has been glued to their television sets to watch the World Cup in South Africa, 30,000 condoms are being passed out in that country. However, these condoms are not like any condoms you have ever seen before – these condoms have teeth.

In a report for CNN’s International Edition on June 21, South African Dr. Sonnet Ehlers explained that she was “on call one night four decades ago when a devastated rape victim walked in. Her eyes were lifeless; she was like a breathing corpse.”

Ehlers told CNN, “She looked at me and said, ‘If only I had teeth down there.’ I promised her I’d do something to help people like her one day.” Dr. Ehlers created “Rape-aXe,” a condom the woman inserts like a tampon with teeth that attaches itself to the penis during penetration.

The condom, with jagged rows of teeth, causes pain to the man and he cannot urinate or walk while it is on. Only a doctor can remove the device and if the man attempts to take the condom off, it squeezes even tighter.

My initial response to this invention was that the woman could be subject to more violence from the enraged man. My next thought was how empowering it would be for women who constantly live with threats of rape to finally have a way to fight back.
It is sad that in today’s day and age, rape is still such an issue.

According to the report already mentioned, “South Africa has one of the highest rape rates in the world, Human Rights Watch says on its website. A 2009 report by the nation’s Medical Research Council found that 28 percent of men surveyed had raped a woman or girl, with one in 20 saying they had raped in the past year, according to Human Rights Watch.”

In Congo, rape is used as a weapon of war. Women are gang raped right in front of their husbands and children by eight to ten men at a time.

I volunteered for a period of time for a rape crisis centre in San Antonio, Texas. I would go to the hospital as a victim’s advocate when we were informed of a rape. I only did this for a short while, but my life was changed forever.

It is heart-wrenching to watch women of all ages, including very young girls, give account of being forced to perform various sex acts against their will. Through body-jolting sobs and anguished cries, they speak of being helpless and terrified.

However, the ones that stick with me the most are when the women are immobilised. They cannot talk, move, cry or scream. It’s like all life has been sucked out of them – just so a man can get off.

And then there are the worldwide victims of sexual abuse by paedophile priests. This is particularly heinous and I intend to speak on it further in another column.

I’m going to be brutally honest and say I am glad this South African doctor invented a condom that will bite back at rapists. I know the thought of what this condom can do will make every man cringe. But this device was not made for every man. It was made for the rapist.

For many victims of rape, justice is difficult to find and when it does come about, there is usually a long humiliating process of a trial, which means re-living the horror all over again. Sometimes justice can feel like a rape of a different kind.

If there is a physical way to make a rapist immediately regret his actions, I am all for it. In fact, I think every government in the world should have millions of these condoms distributed in the population.

Not only would it help to catch rapists, because they have to go to a doctor to have it removed, but I bet it would deter quite a few would-be rapists as well.

Is it cruel of me to be happy that finally, in the year 2010, someone has invented a way to make rapists suffer for their crimes? No, it is not. It is cruel that it has taken this long to invent such a device. If a man is going to put his penis into an uninvited vagina, he should feel some of the pain he intended to inflict.

It seems critics have accused Dr. Ehlers of developing a medieval device to fight rape. This is her response, “Yes, my device may be a medieval, but it’s for a medieval deed.” That is my sentiment exactly.

Imagine if women worldwide could go about their daily business without fearing rape. There are some places where this is a daily probability, like Congo. However, even in the U.S. and Guyana, women going out for a night on the town always have that in the back of their minds.

This device gives women a way to protect themselves and although that underlying fear of rape is still there, there is now one more way to fight back – a condom with a bite.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

How about a coalition of good leaders?

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 27 June 2010)

Last Sunday I posited that there are good people in all the various political parties of Guyana. In response, a friend on Facebook told me that if this is indeed the case, those good people should be “courageous” enough to shun the overarching corruption in the country. I agree with my friend.

I honestly do believe there are leaders who are good and care about the people. However, if there was ever a time to take a stand for the people, that time is now.

Talk of forming coalitions is rampant lately, but none of those are of much interest to me, aside from the AFC’s involvement. This is a party founded by former members of the PPP/C and the PNCR, to offer an alternative to the two dinosaur parties and their ways of doing things.

For the AFC to ally themselves with one of these two parties makes the AFC obsolete, and will no doubt upset quite a few of their most loyal members.
There are some saying the only way to unseat the current government is through a coalition. I am of the opposite opinion on this matter.

I believe that if the AFC does align itself with the PNCR, it will lose a good amount of support and, more importantly, it will lose the trust of those who want to believe it represents Guyanese, without regard to race. In any case, regardless of what the AFC does, I would like to propose a different type of coalition - a coalition of good leaders.

I am not going to name the names of these good leaders, mostly because I do not know who all of them are, but the people of Guyana do know. If you are a leader and automatically assumed you are one of these good leaders, then you are probably not one. Narcissists are power hungry and self-centred, which automatically disqualifies them as good leaders.

Sadly, because narcissists are very abundant in politics, when we take them out of the equation, we are not left with very many other candidates. Of the few who are left, there are two groups, the ones who knew immediately they did not qualify as a good leader and those who thought, “I wonder if I qualify as a good leader.”

It is the latter group of whom I am talking. These are the ones who are humble enough and hopeful enough to qualify for this Coalition of Good Leaders (CGL).
If this CGL is going to work, the candidates will need to have one more quality and it is the most important one – courage. Good leaders cannot sit by and watch as the people of their nation are pillaged so an elite few can live like kings and queens.

I understand the notion that the best place to affect change is from the inside – and I agree to a certain extent. However, there comes a point when a good woman/good man can no longer turn a blind eye. There is a point at which biding time turns to perpetual apathy if allowed to continue. There comes a time to throw down the gauntlet and take a stand for the people.

If every good leader looks the other way when bad leaders do bad things, there is no one left who will stand for the people. Moreover, if good leaders are forced by bad leaders to do bad things, it will not be long before that good leader finds ways to justify her or his actions to placate a guilty conscience, thus becoming a bad leader as well.

I am not a priest (the church thinks women are unqualified for this job – gobbledygook!), and I am not looking for confessions to soothe a bad leader’s soul. What I would like is to stir the souls of those few good leaders from every political party, walk of life and race.

Even if you have never run for a political office before, it is time to find other good people and bond together for the common good. One of my favourite quotes is by Edmund Burke. I will rephrase his quote for this column, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph in Guyana is for good Guyanese to do nothing.”

Just for the record bad leaders, the people know who the good leaders are, so do not try to pretend to be a good leader if you are not. Just like how bad people can spot a bad person, good people know when they cross paths with another good person.

Bad people continuously try to act “good,” but they always slip up, and most times they do not even realise when they have been exposed for who they really are inside. You can see it in their shifty eyes and how they watch their back. You can see it when they look at another person like they are prey – a victim.

Those who pretend to be good are only fooling themselves. Good people know. It is a feeling deep down that says something is off, something is wrong. Or it is that alarm that says get away as fast as possible. Listen to your instincts, good people, and find good leaders for the next election.

If you know a good leader who is biding time on a bad team, encourage them to take a stand for the people. If there is a good person who should have a part in governing the nation, encourage that person to represent the people in public office.

Find all the good people you know and gather together to decide what a good course of action would be for the months ahead as election time approaches. And for goodness sake, if you are a good leader – act like one!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Stella Says…Goo-goo, Ga-ga

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 23 June 2010)

King Kong, Mr. Miasmic Mess, Cocaine Chris and King Kaka; these are just a few of the kinder nicknames being casually tossed about for certain headline catchers lately. I have just one response. Really?

Is this how civil discourse is being conducted now? Seriously?

It is like we are on a playground and the only retort that comes to mind when another playmate has wronged us is poopy-head. To make matters even worse, many of those involved in these childish name-calling games are intelligent, educated adults. Though it seems they have yet to discard that playground mentality.

I’m all for adding a bit of fun to the printed page. I have assigned a few witty nicknames of my own at varying points, such as Sweet and Sensitive Freddie and Smart and Sharp Robert Persaud, MBA. However, as is obvious, the nicknames I assigned are still respectful of the person with whom I wish to debate or address.

Respect is a vital element of civil discourse. Regardless of how distasteful one may find another to be, it is imperative to find a way to express your opinions in a manner that demonstrates value for the opposing side.

Even if one does not esteem the person with whom there is a difference, one should still revere the office that person holds. To show blatant public disrespect for an office, such as the president of a country, not only lowers the value of that office for the period of time that said “King Kong” holds office, but for years afterwards.

The name-calling and mudslinging is so out of control lately that it baffles the mind to see otherwise intelligent and articulate persons behave in such a juvenile, immature and irresponsible manner. Seriously, it is time to clean it up and start acting like educated, civilised adults.

The tone of political rivalries in Guyana has escalated drastically and it is an ugly, ugly, ugly thing to see. I do not doubt for one moment that action should be taken to bring attention to certain governmental deficits – and more importantly to any criminal activities that occur by those in public service. However, what does it accomplish to behave like a juvenile?

If anything, the silly name-calling weakens one’s argument and calls in to question the competence of anyone who would use infantile antics to get a point across. Such behaviour should have been left far behind by the time a person is old enough to make open pronouncements about others in a public forum.

Moreover, denigrating an opponent with silly nicknames does not bolster the trust or confidence needed to work out the differences between the opposing sides. Name-calling only reaffirms the other side’s mistrust and suspicions. Nothing will ever get resolved in this manner. (I am assuming resolution is the aim, though this may be a lofty assumption.)

This really should not have to be said, since I know moms always teach their children that it is wrong to call others bad names, but with so many disrespectful nicknames flying about it suddenly seems vogue to behave like a child, so I supposed a reminder is in order.

Moreover, I really feel it necessary to point out how foolish a name-caller appears to the rest of us when they throw around those ridiculous titles. Seriously, “King Kaka”? That’s the brilliant insight you have to give us?

This silly performance creates an ambiance where I feel like someone is going to poke a head around the corner and yell, “I know you are, but what am I?” or “nanny nanny boo boo!” It is just so embarrassing to watch.

With all these babies around, I really hope I don’t have to change any diapers.

And please do not try to give me that, “He called me a name first,” nonsense. I really just do not give a damn who started it. All I care about is that the level of civil discourse is raised a bit higher than the current playground taunts.

It comes down to this, if one must resort to name-calling to get a point across, especially if that point is of national interest; perhaps it is time to pay your mom a visit and ask her how to express your thoughts clearly without displaying juvenile behaviour.

Trust me, Mom will set you straight. And right quick, too. After all, she had the patience to raise you in the first place, so she is an expert at taking the time to get a point across in a way that can be both comprehended and palatable.

Hopefully, that visit to Mom comes soon, because I’ve really been craving some intellectual stimulation a few levels above goo-goo, ga-ga.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Stella Says…Where is Guyana’s Champion?

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 20 June 2010)

There has been marked difference in the politics of Guyana in the last couple years. The division between the incumbent party and the opposition parties has deepened dramatically. Moreover, the tone of this division is so acerbic at times that one could choke on it.

This division, once reserved for the politicians and pundits, seems to have filtered into society at large to such a degree that one has to question the "One People, One Nation" notion; though “One Destiny” is most certainly all but written in stone.

There are many raising their voices – on all sides of the issues - to call others to struggle toward a direction they honestly believe to be in the nation’s best interest. But what these voices are saying most times causes further rifts and breaks the nation apart piece by piece.

Sadly, those with the loudest voices are not promoting unity or finding a way to work together for a better nation. Instead, those voices vilify entire sections of society - entire political parties or entire races.

It seems to me, this current course will lead nowhere productive. In fact, it is outright destructive. The prevailing racial boundaries that also define the political lines are nationally masochistic. Let's face it, Guyana will always have an Afro-Guyanese population and Guyana will always have an Indo-Guyanese population. As such, the most logical action would be to find a way to work together for the mutual good of all.

There are many who have escorted Guyana to this point in history. The people have followed their leaders and this is where the leaders have brought them. Each party vilifies the other. Each race vilifies the others. Those who condemn can see no redemptive value in those on the other side. Hurtful and inciting remarks are tossed about without regard of who will be hit by these verbal bombs. What a sad state of affairs.

And, worst of all, the media outlets are caught up in the name-calling and blame shoving, too! So much so that too frequently reading a news story feels like watching a child’s tantrum. In fact, there is so much editorializing in news stories that I have had to sometimes check to make sure what I am reading is not an opinion piece. And don’t get me started on the commentary and ridiculous “letters.” What the hell happened to an objective press?

Where are the wise men and women who will stand up to mediate this hostile environment? Where are the peacemakers who see both sides of the issue and can offer compromising solutions to avoid violent conflicts? Why is it that we are forced to choose a side or be considered weak? In reality, those who cannot open their minds to goodness in all peoples regardless of party affiliation or race are the weak ones.

Yes, I recognize there are bad people all around us and I believe we must consistently work toward the expulsion of those “bad apples” from leadership positions. However, I also know full well that not everyone in the PPP/C is a devil. Not everyone from the PNC/R is a scoundrel. And it is quite clear that not everyone in the AFC is a saint. Moreover, not every police officer is corrupt. In fact, there are probably just a few devils and scoundrels that give the rest a bad name.

When we paint with such broad strokes, we fail to see how diversity is actually a beautiful thing. The diversity that defines Guyana could be so beautiful if it were not used as a catalyst for hatred. Why are there no politicians championing the diversity of Guyana? Why do so many leaders use it to divide the people instead?

If you are a leader who constantly vilifies anyone who sides with another party - then you are part of the problem and should either change your ways or remove yourself from the public eye. In general, politics is full of pettiness, but this behaviour breeds deepened division – it does not encourage unity.

They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. The enduring method of politics in Guyana does not work for the majority of the people. It might work for a very few, but that is no way to ensure democracy – or stability.

To make things worse, it now seems the one party that championed unity, the AFC, is considering abandoning its promise of leadership rotation and reverting to the same method that has never worked. Insanity.

The elections are right around the corner and all the politicians will be promising change. But unless that change includes finding a way to bridge the gap between the races in Guyana, nothing else will ever change.

Sure, there might be some nifty new infrastructure developments or some social programs instituted, but as long as political boundaries are drawn along racial lines in Guyana, there will always be the chance of violent conflict. Is that the legacy the children will inherit - hatred and violence?

Therefore, when the race card is played in the next year leading up to the election – and there is absolutely no doubt that it will be – just remember that those who are playing that game do not want the best for Guyana. They want fear. They want hatred. They want division. And they want all of this for their own selfish reasons.

The only leader who deserves a vote for Guyana is the one who can and will bring unity.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Stella Says…If The Gov’t Gags The Media, the People Are Next

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 15 June 2010)

My column has always been from an observer’s point-of-view. I have long been an observer of Guyana on many fronts, but especially concerning the social and political issues. I have written numerous “Stella Says” columns from my safe desk, in central Texas.

The Guyanese culture is unique and intriguing, so much so that those who move away continue to feel connected to their motherland for the rest of their lives. Even this observer feels the pull of this captivating land.

When I quit writing this column two and a half years ago, I did not intend on a return to it. At the time, my health was at an all time low and it has taken me the better part of two years to get back to semi-normal life. But if I am to be honest, there was another reason for my quick departure.

The other reason was an overwhelmingly disillusionment with the way things were going in the country. I know, this is a paltry explanation by any standard, but it is – sadly - one of the reasons. Instead of staying the course, I ran from it.

I cannot offer any excuse for my cowardly retreat. I suppose at that time, with my poor health, I felt this was one fight I did not need to fight since I otherwise lived in relative comfort behind my safe desk – far from Guyana.

Soon after I quit this column in late 2007, my lower right lung collapsed and I was diagnosed with multiple food allergies, including wheat, gluten, eggs and dairy. I spent months re-learning how to cook without these ingredients, which are a staple in all of our diets.

I was also very slowly recovering from post-concussive disorder after hitting my head on the lock of a car trunk. Even three months after the hit on the head, the doctor could still see the mark of the lock on my head. Like I said, it has taken me all this time to get back to being healthy.

Throughout this recovery time, I started a bookstore that sells used, rare and collectible books. I love the bookstore and the slow pace it has afforded me during my recovery. However, in the past few months, my mind has been pushing me for more.

I started reading the Guyana dailies again – and that old fire was back in an instant. I might not be a Guyanese native, but I care deeply about this country and it is so difficult to turn a blind eye to the many injustices, the plight of the women and the rampant corruption.

I was forced to ask myself how I could have ever justified walking away. How could I have just quit?

The reason I was first asked to write a regular column for Kaietuer News in 2005 was because I initially wrote a letter to the editor incensed over the fact that the president of Guyana was suing a newspaper (Stabroek) for a letter it had published. Something caught Boss Man’s eye and he asked me to continue to write for the newspaper.

Look where the last five years has brought us. The progression from 2005 to 2010 clearly shows the government is not just stifling the media anymore, but wanting it shut it down completely. All the evidence shows the PPP/C has launched an all-out-assault on the free press of Guyana. Any objective observer could see this in an instant.

Therefore, I felt it was only right to echo the words from that very first letter (July 2005) to the editor in which I wrote:

“To maintain an open government system, it is imperative to encourage the free expressions of the people, as well any medium used to articulate such expressions.

…Democracy demands that the press be able to operate openly and freely without censorship or interference by the government.

Imagine if George Bush started suing people for criticizing him in such a way. American courts wouldn't be able to handle so many cases – and much worse has been said about him. Daily people call him a murderer and say he is trading blood for oil.

Surely, one must have a thick skin when seeking public office, but that does not negate the public's right to express their opinion.

In other words, Mr. President, if you don't want to be criticized – don't run for office.”

I am quite able to give credit where credit is due. Be it good (see my column from last Sunday where I applaud the PPP for passing the Sexual Offences legislation) or be it bad. And this situation with the government concerning the free press is bad. It is very bad.

I can see where this is going from my desk in Texas. The rest of the world can see it, too. If the people of Guyana want to continue down the road of true democracy, then it is time to tell your government to back off the nation’s free press.

Mark my words, if the people sit by and allow the government to silence the free press today, there will be no free press to stand by the people when they are silenced in another five years.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Stella Says…Score One for the Ladies!

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 06 June 2010)

I do not know if you have been keeping score, but I sure have. Team Ladies has been the underdogs in the game of life for…oh, a millennia or two (or three or four). So when I see a government call foul and start encouraging fair play – as Guyana’s government has done with recent legislation – I cannot help but jump up and yell, “score!”

Women are scoring big in Guyana with the passage of the Sexual Offences legislation, the inauguration of Women of Worth (WOW) – a micro-credit loan scheme to help single mothers start and run their own businesses, and the increased focus on training single women on how to find their way in the workforce.

Not only has Team Ladies scored, the game is now being played on a far more even playing field. Let’s face it; the game has not been fair for a very long time. Women have been beaten, forced into physical, mental and emotional subjugation, and treated as property to be bought, sold and discarded.

Women were kept from an education, from participating in political decisions and from speaking on religious issues. Once women were “allowed” to work outside of the house, they were still expected to continue with the work inside the house and not complain – after all, it was such a benevolent act to allow women to do something besides dishes and laundry.

Sadly, I could go on and on. Some of these unfair rules that have governed the game of life have been corrected in our part of the world. Though many still exist for women in other parts of the world. Moreover, some of these damnable issues are still woven into the fabric of our own so-called “enlightened” society.

If I came across the path of the Minister of Human Services and Social Security, Priya Manickchand, I would give her a big, long hug. It might get uncomfortable for those watching since my emotions of great appreciation would not allow me to just give a quick hug and leave it at that. I’d hug, and hug, and hug, and hug.

And I’d hope with everything in me that Freddie Kissoon would be there to see it. Let him steam over the fact that some people in this world acknowledge the good others are doing – even if he is incapable of such magnanimity.

I hope I never get to the place in life where I believe only those who think like I think can perform good acts. The PPP pushed this VERY GOOD legislation through. Minister Manickchand worked very hard to put together a highly comprehensive package that has changed the game forever in Guyana.

Like it or not, under the PPP, the government of Guyana has accomplished one of the most moral, decent and honourable actions I’ve seen from any government in a long time. The women (and children) of the nation are now far more equipped to live their lives to the fullest than they were even a month ago.

My only concern for the Sexual Offence Act is, of course, enforcement. I cannot help but wonder if the voice of a female victim will be heard in the police stations. Are the judges ready to implement the full force of this law? Will these remarkable changes be taken seriously in the humdrum of the day-to-day grind?

This is where the test begins. If society fails to understand that the rules of the game have changed, then no one wins. Not Team Ladies. Not Team Gentlemen. No one. In this game, only time will tell.
I am cheering for the home team. If the home team wins this one, the entire nation will have won a decisive victory. Go team! Go!