July 10, 2016 By
July 3, 2016 By
If recent, the topic of “feminism” has come up quite a bit in conversation with my female friends. And I have a feeling it’ll keep coming up again, and again and again, especially as we’re stepping out of the relative bubble of school and into the everyday world.
I tend to look back at my old articles – either to see if/how much my opinions have changed, or for inspiration as I stare bleakly at an empty page and a blinking cursor. And I found one article from two years ago, where I wrote about “feminism today”. In the first paragraph I wrote about how this new wave of “feminism” casts the modern woman as this man-hating, alpha devoid of traditional “feminine” qualities and that it was ironic that Gloria Steinem, one of the founders of the modern feminism movement was about as “feminine” as you can get. But of recent, Gloria Steinem herself has been one of my sources of frustration.
Back in February, she suggested that young female voters were supporting Bernie because ‘the boys are with Bernie’. It broke my heart to hear someone I looked up to suggest that all female millennials were voting using their ovaries instead of their brains. And just the day before, on the campaign trail for Hilary, Madeline Albright whipped out her old saying “there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other” while extorting young women that they have to vote for Hilary. And while it’s true that we should be trying to build each other up and not tear each other down, it shouldn’t mean that we should automatically side with whatever candidate has the same reproductive parts as us. That’s not feminism.
Being able to exert your right to cast your vote for a candidate that you think would best run your country, wasn’t always an option for women. Now that we have that right, we can vote for whoever we want, we aren’t obligated to vote along gender-lines.
Feminism isn’t supposed to be like the position of the Sith from Star Wars- “if you’re not with me, you’re against me.” Feminism is just saying that females should play a greater role in defining what “femininity” is all about. But this pseudo-feminism thing, where a woman who chooses to be a stay-at-home mom is treated as being less of a feminist than a woman who chooses to be a career woman? That’s nonsense.
The whole point is CHOICE. That’s what feminism means to me – wanting EQUALITY OF CHOICE not wanting some utopian “equality”. Especially when to be “equal” is being equated with being “identical”. Females can be equal to males without being identical to males or their roles.
All I want is to be free to choose to go to college and get a job or to be free to choose to get married early and start a family. To me, when if I’m told that no, girls can’t be doctors – that’s when I have a problem.
As I’m spending more time in the “real world” and growing up, so to speak, I’m becoming more and more acutely aware of all the boxes people try to put you in.
There are expectations of me based off of my gender, of my race, off of my nationality. And spending the past month or so in the Obstetrics and Gynaecology rotation, after seeing female patients from all walks of life, I’ve had a lot to think about the expectations placed on females. And this new wave of “feminism”, it doesn’t allow you a way out of the box, it just paints the box a different colour and slaps on a different set of expectations.
I haven’t figured out how to deal with all of the different expectations pulling me in ten directions at once, and perhaps I never will. But I do know, that I don’t like being crammed into someone’s arbitrary box, so if I end up being a “career-woman”, or if I end up working part-time somewhere or if I end up being a stay-at-home mom, that’s perfectly alright with me, once I’m the one making the choice.
June 26, 2016 By
I have to take time off from my ruminations on “medicining” to talk this week about cricket. We must have our priorities in order, don’t we? And I’m a certified cricket tragic – just can’t get enough of the game.
Cricket’s always been one of the things that has brought us together as a Caribbean people – never mind it’s the source of some of the fiercest arguments you can imagine. You know the most passionate arguments are with families!! Now the West Indies in the ODI final against the Aussies and (more to the point) with the CPL starting next week, I’m sure the “words around cricket” will be flying faster and more furiously than ever before.
We Caribbean people, after all are acknowledged across the globe for “knowing their cricket”. We have a reputation to maintain!!! And with CPL, we now have our own individual country’s teams!!
One thing I really like about this CPL tournament (apart from the fact that we have our own team and we’re getting games in Guyana without begging anybody) is that many young, local cricketers are getting a chance to play. This opportunity will both give them a chance to experience what it’s like playing against International players and also a chance to shine and be recognised.
When the CPL was launched, I noted with the other tournaments like the IPL, CLT20, and Australia’s Big Bash, there were so many new players who impressed us and eventually made it onto their national teams.
I prayed, “Hopefully the same will happen for the West Indies – we’ll discover some new talent to revive the current team.” Well…look how our under-19 team did in the World Cup! Three Amazon Warriors incubated players!!
Guyanese have always supported the West Indies more than most, because we identify with the West Indies – we’re West Indians. We mightn’t strictly be a part of the West Indies geographically – we’re smack on top of the AMAZON.
But culturally and historically, we’re more West Indian that some of the islands. We’re cut from the same cloth, we all survived colonialism, we used cricket as our way of beating the rulers at their own game. So we’ll support the West Indies – they’re our team. But with them sometimes snubbing our Guyanese players, it’s difficult not to feel a bit miffed.
But with the CPL, we’re rooting for something else entirely. We’re rooting for our country. The Guyana Amazon Warriors are OUR TEAM!!! It’s Guyana versus Trinidad, or Guyana vs Barbados – not West Indies against the rest of the world. It’s a powerful thing, this nationalistic feeling. It’s a whole new adrenaline rush when it’s your country’s team that wins. It’s your country’s flag that you’re waving; your country’s colours that the players are wearing; it’s you, the Guyanese people who are being represented. All within the Caribbean family of course!!
In Guyana, we don’t have trouble having sold-out matches, we’re always starved for more cricket. I’m sure this set of matches in the CPL will be the same. It’s a wonderful opportunity for families or friends to hang out together to enjoy a sport that has brought together so many generations of sports enthusiasts. They scoffed at the new slam-bam format in the beginning – but now that T20 has brought is so many new fans, no one’s scoffing any more.
The local games begin on next week’s Thursday night; may the best team (Guyana Amazon Warriors) win. I may just sneak away from my books to be there!
Enjoy the view.
June 19, 2016 By
“It’s about time we make the well-being of our young people more important than ideology and politics. As a country, we benefit from investing in their future by investing in teen pregnancy prevention.” – Jane Fonda
During the past three weeks in my Obstetrics and Gynaecology rotation, I’ve seen a lot of pregnant women. Some, first time mothers, excitedly asking us to record the sound of their baby’s heartbeat and others, mothers many times over, sighing to us, “This is the fifth one.”
I’ve also seen some very young mothers – teenagers – still in school. Some of them with their family supporting them, others very much alone. In Guyana, it was clear that I possibly lived a sheltered life since I remember being surprised when a few years ago (2013), I’d read that according to a report by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Guyana had the second highest rate of adolescent pregnancy in both the Caribbean and South America: 97 out of every 1000 girls between the ages of 15 and 19 were giving birth. I hadn’t seen this either in my village or at QC. Recently, I read of a 17-year-old Guyanese girl giving birth to her third child!
But here at Port of Spain General Hospital, at least the teen age mother-to-be’s I was seeing were those that made it to clinic for their antenatal checkups. Going by the figures of teenage pregnancies, it would seem like there are so many more pregnant teens that never get to go to those checkups. Trinidad reported that they had 2500 teenage pregnancies in 2014, compared with our 3000 (with half of Trinidad’s population!) for 2013.
And missing those checkups is dangerous for both the mother and her baby. As I’d mentioned before, it’s incredibly important for pregnant women to have regular antenatal checkups so that the doctors will be able to deal with any of the myriad complications that can arise during pregnancy. And it’s doubly important for teenage mothers to get those checkups because there are so many extra complications that can happen due to their age.
Pregnant teenagers are at a higher risk of developing pre-eclampsia, a condition with high blood pressure, kidney damage, liver damage and a host of other complications that can progress to eclamptic seizures. They are also more likely to go into pre-term labour and deliver premature babies. Since teens often become pregnant before their bones are finished growing, their pelvises (‘hips’) aren’t usually wide enough, and a c-section often becomes necessary.
One of the requirements for this rotation was for us to accompany a patient to the Medical Social Worker. And after our visit, it was patently obvious why it was necessary. It was eye-opening and it certainly put things into perspective for us: suddenly complaining about the trials and travails of medical school seemed petty compared to those of several of our patients. We were forced to confront the harsh reality of abuse and incest that some young women have to face. And according to the social worker, those aren’t rare cases.
She explained to us that as doctors, we’re not just supposed to treat the patient and move on – we’re supposed to be advocates for our patients. And in cases where the patient is a pregnant minor, we’re expected to call the Child Protective Unit right away. The state and nation must move away from the “blame the girl” syndrome and recognise its duty to protect its girls. They are people too.
The report cited above has some good advice for us in the Caribbean: it called for a “…new approach (which) must target the circumstances, conditions, norms, values, and structural forces that perpetuate adolescent pregnancies on the one hand and isolate and marginalise pregnant girls on the other. Girls need to have access to both sexual and reproductive health services and to information.”
June 5, 2016 By
After my series on Indian immigration from a female perspective, I thought I’d share some of my experience as a medical student over at UWI. Maybe I’ll remove some of that “mystique” from the medical profession?! I really do believe medicine ought to be more accessible – in terms of what it is all about – to the general public to whom it delivers its services.
I’ve just completed my first 4th year rotation – general surgery. And I can say, it was quite the shock to the system being plunged into the hospital setting after three years of sitting passively in a classroom being lectured. For a 1st rotation, it was quite tough being thrust into surgery right away, but on the flipside, it forced us to connect much more of our book-learning with real life bodies over the past two months. We saw a lot, we spoke to lots of patients and got a lot of hands-on experience. Finally we were doing some of the ‘real doctor things’.
It was quite difficult getting used to the long hours every day and to being “on-call”. Was this endurance training to prepare us for what’s ahead? But it was quite satisfying being able to help our team to make interventions that were actually helping patients. We were moving out of the theoretical realm into the real world. Finally! We weren’t just practicing to take blood from plastic dummies, we were taking blood from actual patients that would be tested to guide their diagnosis and management.
While it’s spreading like wildfire in the rest of the world, diabetes is already a major challenge in the Caribbean. Several members of my extended family from both sides are diabetic. One of the most common conditions we saw on the wards was diabetic feet. Some of the complications of diabetes are poor wound-healing, nerve-damage and reduced blood-flow to their limbs. Because of the nerve-damage, diabetics don’t really detect pain as well as non-diabetics, so if for example they stepped on something sharp and injured their foot, they mightn’t even notice the injury.
And because of the reduced blood flow and their reduced ability to heal, there’s a greater risk of the wound staying open and becoming infected. It was quite frustrating to see that some of the patients let things get so bad that they were left with no other option but amputation.
So if you know that you’re diabetic, make sure you’re taking your anti-diabetic medicine, inspect your feet regularly for any bruises or cuts, and try to not walk around barefoot.
Nothing takes away the glamour of surgery faster than actually spending time in surgery. For every “cool” surgery we saw, there was a peri-anal abscess to drain or a gluteal abscess to drain. In the happy event that you’ve never had to encounter one of those, I can tell you that the smell stays with you – it lingers and becomes absorbed (it would seem) into the very fibre of your being. I’m exaggerating, but I think you get the point.
For some reason Grey’s Anatomy never covered any of those things in any of their episodes!
But I quite enjoyed the structure of surgery. There was an order to things, a specific pattern of doing things.
I’m now one week into my second rotation – Obstetrics and Gynecology. So far it’s been rather exciting seeing newborn babies and hearing their heartbeats. It’s all I can do to keep myself from going “aww” and squealing when I see how cute they are. I have seven more weeks in this rotation and I’m quite excited about all of the new things I’ll be seeing and doing!
May 8, 2016 By
The shortage of women on the plantations during and immediately after Indentureship, because the recruiters in India couldn’t secure even the one-third quota, had a great impact in reshaping social relations in the new community they would form in Guyana.
It played a major role in breaking down the caste and even religious distinctions that were so powerful in India. The low status given to widows or women with children there was also reversed as they were so in demand.
Coming from a rather patriarchal society, but who could now work independently, it forced a rethinking of the role of women since they now seized greater agency in choosing their companions or remaining with them.
I will illustrate these points with examples from my own family history. My paternal great-great grandfather Rambishun (b1869) left a wife and baby son in Ishmailpur, Bihar and arrived in British Guiana in 1888 where he “married” Sanichari (b1873), who already had a son, Rambharose. Not long after, Sanichari’s widowed mother married a Muslim man. Her oldest son, brought up as a Muslim, was younger than his nephew, my great grandfather. Interestingly, Sanichari separated from Bishun in his later years and raised her grandson from her firstborn, Rambharose, who had passed away.
Whether fact or fiction, the story is told in my family of one of Rambishun’s seven brothers arriving in Demerara to look for him, but upon discovering the latter had married a local woman outside his caste, returned to India without even seeing Rambishun.
If true, Rambishun and Sanichari would have been one of the few Hindus whose marriage was registered to have been checked in the immigration depot’s records. “Marriage” was a rather fluid relationship to the early indentureds, and even the ones performed by the Hindu or Muslim rites were not recognised by the authorities.
Remarkably, however, towards the end of Indentureship with an increase in the number of women from local births, the immigrants began to recreate the communities they had left behind in India. And to reintroduce in inevitably altered forms, some of the old social relationships.
The religions of Hinduism and Islam, which the immigrants had brought with them in their practices, provided the framework for this change, but it played out within the plantation environment. My paternal great grandfather Ramlagan (b1896) living at De Willem on the West Coast Demerara, for instance, was betrothed to a girl in Leguan at the age of eight in 1904. She was identified through “Jahaji” relations.
Ramlagan was expected to bring her to his home when he “became a man”, most likely between 14 and16 but never did. He had learnt to read Hindi, considered himself “modern” and was determined to select his own bride. As a young man, he was the driver (foreman) of a female weeding gang and there saw and courted his future bride, my great grandmother, Kaamoda (b1901) sometime around 1918. She boasted that while he had his way with “many girls” she withstood his charms until marriage!
However while she was famously very strong willed and independent, Kaamoda was typical of the women from that time onwards who allowed their husbands to strut on the stage as “the man” but behind the scenes was an equal when it came to running the house and making major family decisions. She worked from the age of six in the “backdam” and after marriage, also helped with the 3-acre “farm” Rambishun had acquired in exchange for his return passage to India.
It was on the site of the old factory at De Willem which has been abandoned and had to be laboriously cleared and levelled. She would also plant, cut and thresh paddy from the land she and Ramlagan rented.
All of Kaamoda first four children – sons – died young and it was not until 1929 that my grandmother Surujdai was born, followed by her sister in 1939. Kaamoda would have then been 38 years old – practically middle aged. She worked in the cane fields until she was sixty and then, along with Ramlagan, worked the farm and rice “bed” full time. They raised my father from the age of six.
May 1, 2016 By
They came in ships/From far across the seas/
At least with hope in their heart.
On the platter of the plantocracy
They were offered disease and death – Mahadai Das
This Thursday, the 178th Anniversary of that first landing of indentured labourers from India will be commemorated. One aspect of the entire Indian indentureship experience that hasn’t received its fair share of attention has been that of female indentureds. This omission spills over into the present in which Indian-Guyanese women continue to be generally treated as objects and even then, in footnotes. As a backdrop to considering the latter situation from an Indian female’s perspective, this week I will continue to examine its antecedents during indentureship.01
Arriving in Port Georgetown after a voyage of three months, the women were dispatched to the sugar Plantations along with the men. Because the planters wanted the indentureds to produce sugar, as with the African slaves, they also wanted them to reproduce – children. This would lessen the expense of shipping them all the way from India. So we see throughout the indentureship period between 1838 and 1917, planters pleading with the Indian colonial authorities to ship in more women beyond the one-third minimum.
Indian women were therefore in great demand in Guyana and this led to an early re-appraisal of their value by themselves as compared to their previous situation in India. Of the “one-third” women quota, less than half were married – and as we pointed out, some achieved this status at the depots while waiting for their ships to Guyana. So the Guyanese Indian woman-indentured was, in the main, a single woman for a variety of reasons.
A number were young widows, some with children like the grandmothers of Cheddi Jagan, while others would have been “put out” of their homes or ran away from oppressive situations. The historical record is heavy with planter requests for women of “good character”. While there would have been some women sent over by the recruiters (“arkatis”) from “the streets”, it is a sign of the times (to this time) that a single woman on her own without a man has to prove she is not “loose”. On the other hand, single men, who were the vast majority of indentured labourers, were never called “loose”.
Another reason for women’s poor reputation was their small numbers which led to men fighting viciously over them and “wife murders” were rampant because of suspected or real “infidelities”. Many could have been women not willing to put up with abusive relationships. Some overseers also used their position to extract sexual favours from female indentureds and this was a spark that led to several protests on the sugar plantations.
Apart from female scarcity obliterating caste distinctions in marriage, women with children were now not rejected any longer. My maternal great grandfathers on both sides of my family married women with children. In one case, one from an agricultural caste arrived with a child, married a Brahmin with whom she had two children (Sharmas) and then married a Muslim immigrant after the first husband died. She then returned to India after her second husband passed away and the children were adults. Phoolkoerie was an independent woman.
But indentured women still had to work in the cane fields – even during pregnancy – while not demanded, because of low wages, did so to help maintain their families. If the woman did not show up to work, money was deducted from the husband wages: shifting the task of “persuading” the woman to work to the husband. But it was women who played a key role to allow the Indians whose indenture had expired to achieve economic independence. They planted the “home garden” and “minded” the cows that could be sold to generate an additional income.
April 24, 2016 By
…remember one-third quota, coolie woman,
Was your blood spilled so I might reject my history…
forget tears among the paddy leaves? – Mahadai Das
Of recent, I have been forced to think about the question of “feminism” through the lens of being a member of a community that looks at the issue a bit differently than the metropolitan countries where the notion arose. For instance, the reality of worshipping God as female – Mother Saraswati, in my case, as I wrote about a few days ago – has to challenge you to question the feminist take on “patriarchal dominance” when females symbolise “power” and males, “inertness”. And the male gods all had to surrender their weapons to Mother Durga to save them from Mahishasura.
But with Indian Arrival Day coming up, I thought I would lay the groundwork for the Indian female’s experience in the West Indies to concretely locate the discussion. Now we all know about the first Indians arriving in the Whitby and Hesperus on May 5, 1835. But did we know of the 396 that were in those ships, only 15 were female – of which just 11 were adult women?
This gender imbalance was to characterise Indian immigration until it was ended in 1917 and had a profound impact on the community’s life in their new homeland. That first 1838 batch faced so much hardships on the sugar plantations under “drivers” who still conducted themselves as they had with the newly freed slaves, that two thirds of them returned to India at the end of their five-year contract – along with all the women. One quarter perished.
When Indentureship resumed in 1845, new regulations demanded that one-third of all immigrants should be women. And this is the “one-third” that the poet Mahadai Das (who lived her last years in my village) referred to in her poem. Finding the “one third” in India was not easy and was a constant source of complaints by the agents of the planters. In India of the 19th century, after a thousand years of invasions, the role of women were firmly fixed in the home to be “protected”.
But the India of the 19th century had also been devastated by famines and uprootings due to the British rape of the economy to funnel off India’s wealth to Britain. Within India, men from the now poverty-stricken north had become a familiar sight in other parts of their vast country looking for jobs. In this way, families were torn apart and many women would have been left adrift when their husbands departed.
As it was, most of the women who immigrated to the Caribbean were single – some being widows with children. But a major adjustment was made at the large “depots” where all the prospects were housed until the “shipping season” began.
At these depots the change from “Indian” to “West Indian” began – especially for women. While in the Indian villages, their single or widow status might be a burden, in the depots that was reversed. Many got married as the men faced the daunting prospect of becoming strangers in strange lands.
On the three-month journey to the Caribbean, men and women were forced into even closer proximity and while the custom of having the single women sleep near the married couples was in place, shipboard marriages were also common. They however also faced sexual advances from the ship’s crew and there are several documented cases that described their ordeal. However, the strong bonds that developed aboard the ships (“Jahaj”) made men and women become as close as any family. They called themselves “Jahajees” – shipmates – for the rest of their lives.
The story is told in my family of my Great-great grandfather Ram Bishun who was bound to Plantation De Willem along with one of his female Jahajees. And when she didn’t return from the backdam one evening, he went to search for her in the darkness and brought back to the logees her lifeless body that he fetched for miles in the night. (To be continued)
April 17, 2016 By
There are several diseases for which mankind have not managed to discover the cure at this time. Physicians can try dealing with the symptoms, but they haven’t found a way of actually treating the source of the disease itself. But in an article I read recently, there’s a new In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) technique that could reduce the risks of some of these disorders being passed on from mother to child. But several British Parliamentarians have argued against the therapy, citing the moral implications in substituting the damaged DNA in the mitochondria.
During one of my classes, we discussed a problem that was based on the types of Muscular Dystrophy, which affects the muscles of the body and is due to certain muscle protein not produced. We learnt through our research that it was an inherited genetic disorder and once someone was born with Muscular Dystrophy there aren’t currently any real treatment options. And then I read this article, and I saw that there are advances being made to manipulate the genetic code, so that mothers wouldn’t be able to pass on diseases involving their mitochondria to their children. And it really made me feel hopeful, that they could keep on making advances, and eventually we would find a way to deal with most inherited disorders, not just ones involving mitochondria. But then I felt disappointed to read about the British MPs opposing the technique.
But the article forced me to consider both sides of the argument. And very importantly, it made me realise that with so many rapid advances being made in the dynamic world of medicine, I’ll have to make decisions and consider these moral implications at some point in the future
A neighbour of mine, who is the same age as one of my aunts, suffers from Muscular Dystrophy and it is rather poignant to compare her vibrancy with the wheelchair bound individual I glimpsed through our fence since childhood. I know he will gradually, inexorably deteriorate until he is no more. I also had some experience with another genetic disorder- sickle cell anaemia.
When I was in 2nd form, my Math Teacher’s three-year-old daughter died of complications due to sickle cell anaemia. There’s no cure for sickle cell anaemia, it’s a genetic disorder and the faulty gene is passed on. I saw how devastated my teacher was, and who could blame her – she’d just lost her little girl after months of desperately trying to find ways for her to have the best shot at a normal life. But if a baby is born with sickle cell anaemia, there’s not much that can be done in the way of treatment. But what if they were able to do something in vitro? What if the disease could have been prevented? We’re a way off from coming up with a way to manipulate the genetic code to prevent sickle cell anaemia.
But we’re just making things even more difficult if politicians intervene by playing to public sentiments without considering the underlying science. Essentially advances in science in and of themselves are not “bad” or “good” – it’s to what use they’re put. In the case of MD, the science does not alter any aspect of the patient’s humanity – that which make them human – but simply allowed to live a fuller human life. The solution is to impose controls over the use of the scientific advance to ensure it is not abused.
I would like to hope that as a doctor I would make the choices that would give my patient the best possible quality of life. I’d like to be the type of doctor that takes the time to educate my patients about the dangers of smoking and alcohol abuse, so that I can prevent lung cancer and liver cirrhosis instead of having to treat them. And if there’s a chance to prevent a child from being born with an untreatable disease, I’d like to take it.
April 10, 2016 By