If the basic human rights of a country’s citizens are ignored, violated, abused, politicized and forgotten, we have a nation where its citizens become the servants of those they employed to serve them. The citizens beg for what is already theirs by natural rights and praise those they employ for doing what they were frankly hired to do. This creates a society where subtle, silent and public oppression is blatantly manifested and carried out.
I write this post for the sole reason to encourage people: those waiting with great expectation to hear their name called, ones who heart skips a beat when the phone rings as they anticipate getting ‘the call‘, every parent who feels like a failure despite all they have accomplished, and for the children who bear the burdens of unspoken pains, sadness, and shame. And finally, I write for all those whose voices cannot be heard, for the ones that only the walls see their tears, pain and suffering which only God knows all too well.
However, I also write to tell leaders of the past and present that you have failed many and have done so miserably! Your honey-coated words gave false hope that afterwards stung like a viper. And though you manipulated the systems for political mileage and used it to grant favor to friends, family and party cardholders, you can never kill the resolve and resilience of people who have real hope based on truth.
Sadly and without shame, you conveniently seek the use of the finger of those whom you have neglected for years once every five years for your empowerment. You use innocent people as pawns in a chess game for your benefit and to their destruction. I write because I am angry; I am sad; and because many in authority are walking shells of corruption, vice, decadence, nepotism, politicizing everything which their hands touch, and bringing suffering those already abused and abandoned.
The ownership of a home is one of the many things, which unites people all over the world. A family works hard to gain this basic need and property ownership is a basic right that should be protected for all humans. In April of 1998, while working I received a telephone call, that call would change my life and my children’s lives forever. On the other end of the phone line was a neighbor informing me that my two stories, four-bedroom house was engulfed in flames. At first, I laughed, for I thought it was a joke. Immediately after, my nephew called I was hearing what he was saying but just could not accept or believe it. How could a house that my family and I sacrificed to build be gone in a moment?
God could never be so cruel, I thought, but boy was I wrong in my thinking! Once again the God I had placed full faith in allowed darkness to touch my life and this time not only did it touch my life but my children’s life. For the next few years we lived through pain, tears, and hardship. It seem to me that God was willfully having me do penance or punishing me for some unknown sins which occurred before my birth. I even imagined that he created many of us as test cases, to allow the darkness of this world to touch our lives where he can say to the unseen worlds “this is what your world have been spared from, HORROR, PAIN, AND SORROW.” I tried the best I could to fit what I understood about God to my situation.
Our house was not built in a first class geographical location, but it was built so that renting would not be necessary; my mother would have a place to grow old with memories, and that my family could be united, having strong family ties and bonding. This was something, which I never had as a child, and I wanted my daughters to experience. But sadly, God had other plans for us, as my nephew who was on the other end kept shouting, “The house on fire” I went literally numb. My thoughts of unbelief kept running through my mind and afterwards my emotions began to spiral all over the place.
Two of my co-workers accompanied me to the scene and upon nearing our street all I saw was smoke, I heard various sirens, and looked upon neighbors faces. I saw only sorrow as they looked back at me. As I approached our house, it was after 1 pm. What I saw I could not believe and I do not know how I kept standing, how I kept a brave face or how I kept sane. Because right there before me was a thin line for me to just trip and be carried to the mad house. It was more than I –one person—could bear.
As I continued to hear various voices, some shared their opinions of what may have caused the fire; others told of how we need to not let it slide and still others said poor people never receive justice. For us, ‘justice‘ was a word, not an action that had fallen in these streets. In our experience, equity did not enter. The various eyewitnesses gave their reports. The police informed me on all that I have to get done. Yet in all this, I am wondering where will my daughters sleep. A few weeks before the fire there was frequent electrical surges in the area; then there was the sparking from the wires connected to the electricity pole numerous reports were made; eventually, the electrical company sent a crew to rectify the problem. However, a week later eyewitnesses report seeing sparks that morning from the pole and hours later they saw smoke coming from the roof of our home. I recall saying, “Only when a house is burnt down will they fix the problem properly.” Oh, the things that we say and later see them manifested.
Like most companies and governments no one likes to accept ‘blame’ or take ‘responsibility’ when something negative happens. It is either passed over, blamed on those who managed previously, placed on the innocent or pushed on the unborn. So the electrical company had investigators interview the people in the area who told them the same thing over and over. And an insurance person spoke to me on three occasions. Yet, every time I inquired it was the same stories: “we have not finalized the report,” “we are still investigating,” or something similar. I got literally tired of calling or going into their office. I guess they are still investigating over seventeen years or they have passed the blame in their report to persons who were not at home. I got tired of the fire services saying, “We cannot give a civilian the fire report; it must be requested by the police or a lawyer.” Now, I realized that the system is purposely set up to frustrate, discourage, and dishearten citizens.
That morning, like many mornings before it, I left home at 6:00 am, to get to work at the hospital supplies office for 7:00 am and would prepare like other days to take up my evening job at an office in Woodbrook. Unfortunately, that day would not end like other days, with me sitting with the children helping them with their lessons, answering their numerous questions until I will say “you are talking too much” nor was it ending with me telling them a goofy story which they found delight in and loved to hear or with me embracing them to sleep and cherishing such moments. It would not end with my friend and I having a heated academic or religious debate, which would end with either laughter or one of us saying, “Let us agree to disagree.”
This day would end with my family being scattered. My children were sleeping under the roof of strangers. My mother was in utter disbelief and grieving. And me, I was just staring at the dark skies and looking into a dark future. Passing through abuse gives you an unknown strength you never knew you had. And it would end with us having no home to go back to with all the fire, smoke and water.
When crowds began to lessen and friends and co-workers said good-bye, I looked around and saw my daughters looking up at me with those wide eyes as if to saying “mummy will fix it.” Children expect their parents to be superheroes and to always fix it, to always have the answers and to always be there to support and soothe their pain. If they only knew that I had no answers and did not even know where we were going to sleep the next few hours, or if we were going to sleep at all.
It was then it hit me like a ton of bricks crashing down. We had just lost everything. The only thing we had was the clothes on our backs. Memories were all gone in the blink of an eye. Years of sacrifice all turned to ashes. This seemed like a dream that I would like to wake up when it’s finally over. Yet I am still going through this nightmare. In reality, I was not dreaming. This was not a joke. The social systems and leaders of our nation would all fail us. A fire takes everything from you, and sadly even a piece of your soul. It cripples your will to survive, and it erases you from society where you have to work twenty times harder to make it up for what you have lost.
Have I dealt with all the things, which hit me and overturned me in this life? Have I dealt with many times of darkness, which touched my life? HELL NO! As one doctor said to me recently, “Sherna! You cannot deal with everything. Even the greatest among us have issues. We all have issues. I have issues. There is none without issues. Do not judge yourself so harshly and if others judge you then clearly they have dealt with all their own issues and you must be happy for them. For the world has some people with no issues. ” I smiled at that advice for he clearly saw that I was judging myself too harshly and had to pull me out of it.
I looked at the fear in my daughters eyes, I looked at them tear up. I also saw the shame and their wondering and asking their questions, “Mummy where is beauty?” Beauty was their spoiled pompek dog. Their questions continued: “Mummy where would we sleep?” “Mummy where would we live?” “Mummy, mummy, mummy?” All I could have done was to hold them and say, “Jesus would make it better.” Did I believe what I told them? I hoped he would have mercy, but with my track record I was not seeing the loving God or Jesus which I had regained belief in coming through for us. It seemed once again Jesus failed me as much as mortal man would fail me. But that night having nowhere to sleep I found my way in the house of the Lord for a word which may answer my questions, stem my rage, give me solace and grant me hope.
On my way home that night I wondered about the morning and wished that the sun would never rise because with the rising of the sun I will have to face my darkest fears, answer questions I wish would not be asked, and looked at the ashes that now represented our life and family. I would have to face my daughters and respond to their many questions and I would have to wonder as to where we would sleep the next night, what would we eat, where would clothes come from, how would I get to work and how would the children get to school. How would this loss affect us individually and collectively? Could I start all over again with an empty bank account? And would the system and process I believed in fail me or assist me.
The verbal support of many present gave me hope in the system, in those in authority, and in the unseen. Sorrowfully, for the next few days the system failed us, but worse the system is still failing us even today. The then Member of Parliament came to the scene of the fire the same day with a contingent and said, “I will do a letter for you tomorrow to take to the housing ministry. I will call the housing minister and inform him of your situation, and ‘if’ you need anything else please let me know.” Thank heavens, I did not use expletives for the use of them. However, I would have been excused and justified after the phrase “If you need anything else please let me know.” A family has lost everything and you are saying, “If you need anything else please let me know.” That offer I never took up; these were the people who stood and spoke about representation.
I did get the letter from the Member of Parliament the next day. The MP writing that letter seemed as a career highlight and historical milestone but unfortunately it also seemed as though I was being granted a favor. As I waited for over two hours to receive this letter, I remember sitting there with my daughters and just holding back the tears feeling like an outcast and reject waiting for the crumbs to fall from the Lord’s table just to bow and shout thank you. I also received a letter from the minister of social welfare. At the time he called and spoke to someone in my presence and directed me to that person within the ministry. I also received a letter from the then social welfare officer for the district. I had three letters to take to the ministry of housing and felt confident as I went to the ministry of housing with my two sidekicks with me. Somehow I fooled myself into believing that maybe the system (people) would assist us and maybe an exception to the normal rule would have been put into place being we were victims of a fire. Wretchedly, that was indeed a fool’s thought. As I left that building in tears walking the street dazed while my daughters pulling my hands and asking, “Mummy what happen?” Then holding my hand tightly as if their protective instinct kicked in and said, “Mummy Jesus will make it better. We will be ok and Jesus will work a miracle” they began to sing, “Jesus loves me this I know for the bible tell me so, little ones to him belong they are weak but he is strong.” What else could I do but just join the chorus band?
You see, when I got to the ministry of housing, I was told that “every application no matter who gave you a letter, no matter who signed a letter, or no matter who in authority called the office, no matter your circumstance you must go through the same process and be placed on the waiting list and presently there were no vacant homes or apartments and when one comes available I will be notified,” that was over 17 years ago and today I am still waiting on that call.
I cannot even recall the amount of letters I have hand delivered. I purposed myself to forget the names of all prime ministers over those 17 years. I prefer not to remember the ministers of housing, the permanent secretaries, the chairmen who passed through the ministry of housing and for whom I hand delivered letters, and I willfully forgot all the political parties who governed this country and the lies they told, the demagoguery they used in various speeches, the deception and manipulation to get into office.
However, what I will remember all too well is the voices of those who I have heard boasting of receiving keys with no housing applications–those who made an application this month and received a unit the next month. I recall easily the voices of those who have more than one housing unit while opting to renting out units, the voices of those who have received ten homes for their support of various political parties who won the contested elections, the voice of that hairdresser who showed pictures of home and keys which was hand delivered to her at her saloon, the voices of those who used the under table option of paying workers at the ministry of housing thousands of dollars to secure them a home, the voices of those who have given homes to friends, family, pumpkin vine family and the voices of those who shout “It’s our time NOW.” Moreover, I will not forget the voices of women whose backs were against the wall and had to give their bodies in exchange for a house, nor the voices of those who issued monies under the table and still have no home.
What I will never forget is the faces and voices of despair–the mother who the system has wearied and she has given up hope, the child who has never known what it means to have a home, the family who has to move ever so often because the rent has increased, the breadwinner who leaves or dies, and the children who are separated because the room is just not big enough. I will never forget the family who lives in a one-room shack with no proper facilities, our old aged citizens who are becoming a growing statistic and classed as street dwellers. I will never forget the fear and pain in the eyes of a parent who feels inept because their child is ashamed to bring a friend at home because they have no idea where home is, or the voice of those who are waiting for over twenty years, and the voice of those who have died waiting.
I will never forget the voice of those who believed that the governments past and present were for the people to serve the people, and I will not forget the voice of those who have lost faith but still seek to hold unto to a glimmer of hope. Hope is all we have. It is that thin line which keeps many of us sane and alive. It gives us a reason to move on and live; I believe we must keep hope alive. Our hope must not be based on mankind or the government, but in God working through those who are willing and available to minister and act honestly in their employed positions.
So, I still have hope that through God-loving people a government will arise who truly cares for the people and will serve the people and not their avaricious selfish gain and gluttonous appetite. We must keep this true hope alive that through men and women changed by God a government will arise which believes that every creed and race will find an equal place; we can have a government which will show empathy, compassion and be fair in their dealings. Government filled with godly people can have motives that are pure and will be responsible; they will maintain and hold fast to transparency, accountability, fulfill promises spoken, and be incorruptible.
Using God’s principles the government will not build a welfare state but will engage and encourage the people to be partners in governing their country, to be independent, and to provide its citizens with the tools to be self-sustainable and financially independent. We can have a government that will not sell themselves and their values to the highest bidder and in return they must compromise themselves to repay that bidder. The government will not use nepotism, and bogus companies to syphon the public money filling the pockets of the rich and leaving the poor empty-handed.
My case may be seventeen years overdue and though I am tired, saddened, and disgusted by the process and the system, each day I hope for something better. I encourage others to what can be better. And I look for a future where my daughters would effect change in a positive way to impact lives; though their lives have been hard, though they had many bitter experiences separate and together and though, they too look forward to a home! They have excelled pursuing their degrees and they continue to rise above the ashes.
For me, I was ashamed for years that I felt as though I failed my children’s expectation to make it better. But knowing that I tried doing all I could do and knowing the systems failed, I realized that there is nothing to be ashamed off. For I tried and I am still trying to fulfill a child’s dream and expectation that mummy will fix it–the dream of having a house and a home. So if I have nothing to be ashamed of then why should I be ashamed to speak; if I have nothing to lose; why should I be afraid to share, and if I have no conscience; then I would not care. But I do have a conscience and I do care so I write to give others hope.
My name maybe still on the waiting list but I can hope. You may be experiencing or have experienced something worst than me, I say to you never lose hope; never lose confidence that miracles happen every day. Work not to be comfortable with the present system of things, but we can work to better the systems. May these words encourage you to never give up the fight. Many times there are no fairytale endings to our stories but there is always an ending which gives hope and says to us never give up, always fight. In doing so, we can be motivated to make things better for others and our children, if change does not happen quick enough for our own circumstances. And as a loved one would always say to me, “Everything does not look as how it sounds or sounds as how it look.” You do not have to look like your trauma, or sound like your pain, you can look like a million dollars while enduring your trauma and sound like a nightingale while living your pain. We can do this because we know we are making a difference; we are fighting for a better way. I believe that God through men and women will manifest to meet the needs and the church must learn to be the body of Christ and stand up. We must learn to be available to be used by God to move the physical and spiritual mountains and to bring healing to our land.
The Edge with Sherna Alexander Benjamin