Thursday, June 14, 2012
Farewell to a Belizean Child
Like so many Belizeans right now I am still so sad, confused and angry that one more young life has been taken from us, that one more precious smile is gone, that one more family has been devastated by the senseless violence that continues to rip our country apart.
Everything you did, from helping grow food on your family farm and brightening the San Ignacio markets with your smile when you sold it, to your participation with the Scouts, your church and your community, it all seemed to benefit Belize.
You showed so much promise that everyone who knew you would surely say, “Jasmine represents the future of Belize”.
And today, through my sorrow and anger, I realised that you still can represent the future of Belize, that even in death you can make a difference.
And that’s why I am writing this Jasmine, to put a promise into words that I’m going to start working to make sure you are a part of our future. Instead of just being snuffed out, your life can become a light to illuminate a path for all of us and guide us out of the darkness that is enveloping Belize right now.
If this sounds crazy I just ask you to hear me out. This is the promise I make to you, your family, your friends and your fellow Belizeans, and I am asking them to join me.
I am much older then you were when you were taken from us, Jasmine, and I have seen a great many things happen in Belize over the years.
I remember a Belize when money was scarce, but we were rich in so many other ways. Our streets and our children were safe. Old people were respected and treated with courtesy and kindness. You never passed anyone without a smile and a greeting, even just a simple nod and a friendly “yes, mon.”
There was no TV, but that was all right – we made our own entertainment, and every street and every village had their own stars, someone who could sing, play guitar or drums, tell stories or just make you laugh. I miss that laughter so much.
When I was younger I left Belize to work, and I tell you couldn’t wait to come home. That’s when I first realised that we had something all the money in the world couldn’t buy – we had ourselves. We had each other and this beautiful little country we worked so hard to make our own.
I remember we were proud of Belize. It felt good to say, “I’m from Belize,” because back then, when people thought of Belize, they thought of a beautiful peaceful little country. When the tourists first started to come I remember them telling us how lucky were, how friendly Belizeans were, how our little country was a sparkling Jewel. And we knew it was true. There was no better place in the world to live.
Now look at us Jasmine. Innocent people are being gunned down in the street, stray bullets are killing children in their bed, and young boys are murdering to get membership in gangs where there is no future but more death, jail, and misery. Always having to act tough, never a smile, full of crack-fuelled courage that’s just a cover for the constant fear.
And like a disease their fear and paranoia has spread through the community. Everyone seems to be locking themselves inside these days Jasmine, staring into a box, too afraid to go outside and be with real people, with their neighbours, listening to music and each other’s’ stories, feeling like a part of a community, a neighbourhood.
How did we become so afraid, not of some foreign invader, but of each other? I tell you Jasmine, sometimes I wake up in the morning and think this is a bad dream.
But now I believe this is a nightmare that we have the power to change. Your death made something click inside me. I’m sick of being ashamed of my country, of being afraid in my own town, and now I know that the only cure for this shame is to do something.
And this is why you can still be part of our future, Jasmine. For me your murder was the last straw, and you inspired me to start doing something to help change things. And if you did this to me, you can do it to a lot more of us.
That would be the most beautiful tribute we can pay you. “Yes man, things changed after Jasmine Lowe’s murder.”
So that is the promise I make to you today. I am going to start doing something and I am going to ask all Belizeans to join me. I am asking every pastor and church member, Scout leader, community leaders, organisations, clubs and everywhere where people meet to start getting together ideas for a very important day, the 15th of September, Jasmine Lowe Day.
I pray that after that day, people will talk about the two Belizes - Belize Before Jasmine, and Belize After Jasmine.
Before Jasmine we felt powerless. Crime was out of control, the gangs were running the streets, and people were too afraid to do anything about it. Just keep quiet and mind you own business. Don’t make yourself a target. Just get by, there’s nothing you can do about it.
Then came Belize After Jasmine
After Jasmine we had people power. If over a hundred people could brave the jungle at night, cross the river, walk through the water, forget their fears so that they could join together to hold candles to light up the dark night and bury you with love and respect, that proved we are still a people who care. By joining together to comfort the family by telling them that they are not alone, that showed that we are still a community, that we still have a heart.
You did that Jasmine. You brought people out of the comfort of their homes on a dark and wet night to show that they care, to express their love and humanity.
And if over a hundred people can suddenly heed the call and come together on a dark night, why can’t a hundred thousand people come together to stop the madness? Why can’t all of us join together to rise up and demand a better Belize?
I know that there are many more good people in Belize than bad. I know most Belizeans love their families, work hard and look out for each other. I still see it every day. I still love my country.
But good people hardly get noticed. It seems like you’ve got to commit a crime to get on the news these days, and even there the competition is fierce.
But what if the good majority demands to get noticed? What if, After Jasmine, we show some real People Power? If we show our numbers we will get noticed, we will make the news, and people will have to take notice.
Every church, NGO, Scout group and any organisation can join in. Even your old Karate club Jasmine. If every group in every village came together, we would be united in demanding that our politicians show the same will we are showing and do something.
And we won’t let them tell us there’s nothing to be done, Jasmine. No, that’s when we remember you and all the other victims and say, Guess What? There’s a lot that can be done. We can see Special Constables on the street. We can see the Police Cadets program expanded, we can organise the boy scouts, girl scouts, church groups, and everyone who wants into neighbourhood watch and other programs.
The thing is, we’re at crisis point in Belize, and that calls for extraordinary action. And the best way to get the world’s attention is by joining together. People Power has changed governments and systems around the world, and if we show we are united, something will get done here.
September 15 2012 will mark 100 days since the terrible day when we buried Jasmine. What a tribute if on that day people all across Belize wore a coloured ribbon and organised to gather in the Macal River Park and all across Belize to celebrate her life and show how many of us are willing to come out to demand that things change, that our children have a future, that our streets are safe again and that laughter returns to Belize.
September 15 gives us time to meet with each other, to send letters to the editor about what we are thinking and to our elected officials asking them what the government plans to do. Jasmine, imagine if we all rise up with one strong voice saying this madness has to stop! We will get noticed.
At least we have a chance, and we go to bed at night knowing that we did something. If we do nothing, the horror will only get worse.
Sure, some people are just going to shake their heads and say that it will never happen, that the situation is too far gone, that Belizeans organise, and that After Jasmine is an impossible dream.
Even your father is too young to remember Jasmine, but in our fight for independence, we had huge rallies and demonstrations. You think they just handed us our independence, no we had to fight for it, and we had to show that enough Belizeans wanted it, and wanted it badly, that the tide had turned on colonialism.
Now we must demand independence from fear and violence, rape and murder, and with enough of us, we can turn the tide on crime this time. And it’s only right we do it before the September celebrations, when we celebrate how we first came together as a nation. Now we need to demonstrate how to survive as a nation.
Do you think it’s impossible, Jasmine? Do you remember that two thousand years ago another innocent was murdered; someone else died a terrible death. That time it was a man and that man’s life and his death inspired something that changed the entire world. That something was hope. That something was a message that said, ‘We don’t have to live this way anymore. We are better than this’”.
You know what happened after that, Jasmine.
This week I am going to start. And if people read this and talk about it with their friends, teachers, pastors, MPs and any and everyone who will listen, maybe, just maybe your brief, bright spark will ignite a blaze, something that will burn though our complacency, our hopelessness, our despair and surrender to what can only be described as evil.
That could happen, Jasmine, and you will have contributed to our future, your life will have made a difference, and while we must live with the sorrow that can never have you back, at least we can take comfort that we kept your spirit alive and with you achieved something miraculous.
A sad but still proud Belizean