I’d just sat down to write a feature centered on what some on the Internet have declared “a huge concern”—young Saint Lucians taking their own lives—when the inimitable tones of Alvina Reynolds redirected my concentration. Mentally kicking myself for once again having left the TV on when no one was watching, I headed for my living room to eliminate the disruption. But then the health minister had suddenly segued to a subject not unrelated to what I planned to write, inspired by an earlier discourse with a desperate 30-something grandmother fearful her 20-year-old daughter might at any time do irreparable harm to her 18-months-old grandchild.
Staying with Ms Reynolds demanded limitless patience. Every three or four lines she spoke about health-promoting habits and good nutrition were interrupted by ad hominem assaults on her immediate predecessor and his opposition colleagues. But I stood my ground, resisted the urge to shut her up. After all, I’d had fair warning the moment the MP rose from her upholstered swivel chair that her sole purpose on the occasion was to lend support to the year’s Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure.
Powdered, en-rouged and coiffed doubtless with the NTN cameras in mind, it seemed the health minister had stood up on her high heels only to prove yet again her first duty to the nation was to praise the prime minister, not to bury him—regardless of how obvious was his need of a vision, a plan and a strategy for the next fiscal year!
As it turned out my uncharacteristic patience on the day paid off. Hopping about from one foot to the next, arms flailing like a charismatic preacher on the arcane high of divine inspiration, the MP ranted and raved with seeming orgasmic satisfaction about her colleagues on the government side—even the deadpan Speaker—who she claimed were, like herself, health nuts, jogged daily and put nothing into their mouths that was not uplifting to body and spirit, and obviously had benefitted from such discipline. Truth be told, the minister spoke my language despite that there seemed to be a wee bit too much fanaticism in her sound, possibly a natural fallout from her earlier pre-politics preoccupations!
And then came the punch line that had me laughing so loud I startled my dozing German Shepherds into a barking frenzy: “You see,” said Ms Reynolds, her voice lowered dramatically, penciled eyes staring straight into the NTN lens, “you see, you are what you eat!”
Yes, so spoke the health minister Alvina Reynolds, the still unconfirmed MP for Babonneau, while the nation’s two fattest citizens rocked unconcerned in their parliamentary chairs, like trained circus pachyderms. Presuming there is truth in the health minister’s assertion, that we are what we eat, still it’s not easy accounting for the shocking metamorphosis that had taken place over the years before the nation’s very eyes.
To the best of my admittedly limited knowledge of such things there are no ranges in this country where deer and buffalo roam. Nor bison and elephants to be butchered and consumed in mass quantities. But then, who can say for certain what are the side effects of consuming too many monster porkies reared on steroids?
But let me be fair to the health minister and acknowledge much of what she said last week concerning our nation’s food choices was on the button.
Most of us spend far too
much time preparing to die young: not only do we take every opportunity to stuff ourselves with tasty but poisonous imported garbage, few us even bother to exercise. When we visit our beaches on Sundays and holidays, our main purpose to further swell our bellies with thrice-fried rice and oily chicken, stewed pig with vats of macaroni and cheese, all of that washed down with rivers of booze and other heavily sugared beverages.
“It’s time we started talking about prevention,” said the health minister, clearly not including herself among the defaulters. However, what she never touched on, to my disappointment, was the mental state of the nation, a mistake, considering the numbers that annually pay the price, the majority not yet past their 30s.
Consider, the grandmother mentioned in my opening paragraph. For over a year, she told me, she had been seeking to no avail assistance from Human Services. I was her last
resort. Maybe I knew
someone that might be willing to help, she said, “before it is too late.”
Her story: Her 20-year-old daughter was just 17 when she discovered herself with child. She kept her pregnancy to herself, never confided in her mother. The way she put it to me: “I just saw.” Her unemployed daughter had turned 18 when her baby was born. Granny was “quite upset” but there was little else she could do but accept her daughter and grandchild, and hope for the best.
Shortly after giving birth the young mother had gone to live with her boyfriend. For three weeks or so they were together and then mother and child moved on, this time to the house of the grandmother’s mother. After a few days she rejoined her boyfriend, only to leave him again and return to her original home after two or three weeks.
“The baby could barely crawl when my daughter started slapping him around,” the grandmother told me. “No matter how much I talked to her, she just wouldn’t listen.” It was just about then that Granny turned to Human Services. She was afraid for her grandchild.
“Someone took the case,” she recalled. “She came by to investigate and saw everything I had told them was true. But to date nothing has happened. My daughter told me the grandmother
on his father’s side was willing to take the baby boy. She wanted to know how I felt about that. I said it was a great idea because I was thinking the child would now have a chance of surviving.”
She herself had met the paternal grandmother. But nothing came of the meeting. “I don’t know what happened,” she told me. “Maybe somebody changed their mind. But there is not much I can do. I buy the baby a little stuff sometimes
but . . . Just yesterday my daughter was slapping him around again, hitting him, punching him. My own mother
quarreled with her. I asked my mother to call the police, since I had not witnessed the slapping myself. She never did.”
Granny went on: “My daughter broke into my house last week. She’s done that many times before. Usually she takes whatever food there is, money, and jewelry . . . anything she can sell. Even my underwear, bras, tops, pants, her 16-year-old sister’s clothes. She and her sister are quite close and that bothers me a lot.”
Granny acknowledged her relationship with her 20-year-old daughter had been “pretty cool until my divorce five years ago.” The girl took to telling her friends her mother had “left a mansion to live in a suitcase, but she was not a bird and hated living in a cage. I have talked to counselors, pretty much everyone you can think of. But nothing’s changed.”
Granny is convinced her daughter continues to be very upset that she and her father were no longer living together. “She thinks it’s all my fault. I believe that is why we are not close. After the divorce she refused to attend school. She would disappear for days. She was just 15 when she started doing this. One time my mother reported her missing on DBS. When she came back she was laughing at us.”
Granny says her daughter has had job offers but never shows up for work. She exists just to make trouble and to be everything but a good mother to her baby.
“She told a counselor the other day that it was the counselor who needed counseling, not her. I am now unemployed. I just want the Human Services to do something, if only for the sake of that baby. If this situation continues I expect any day to find that child has died. The baby is always dirty; always bruised, it’s just not right. The child has even been eating dog mess.”
Finally, this is what the desperate granny told me: “I feel I’m being terrorized. My daughter is capable of anything. I go out and expect to return to find my house no longer there. I am surviving now on my small savings. I also have a boy of 14 to care for.”
Perhaps the health minister will read, or be told, about the plight of this particular at risk baby, on whose behalf I was contacted. Maybe the minister will realize overeating and consequent obesity and the need for national jogging are just the tip of the iceberg, when it comes to the nation’s well being. My information is that hundreds of very young children all over the country are in the same straits as this story’s baby. Hopefully, with more money to spend than has been allocated the tourism ministry, Human Services will be better placed to save the baby humans that are expected to be the leaders of tomorrow!