Diane Phillips Column

The upside of a down time

By Diane Phillips

There is nothing normal about the new normal, and that might be a very good thing. Not in all ways, of course, but maybe in some ways and maybe, just maybe some of those ways are worth stopping a moment for, thinking about and yes, appreciating.

If we look around, we see a lot of good in the new normal. While mothers all over struggle to become teachers as well as cooks and wage earners, one mother in The Bahamas has gone out of her way to make our lives special during this time.

Mother Nature has showered us with days of balmy breezes. She has given us, without our even asking for it, brilliant sunrises and sunsets so fierce in salmon, reds and pinks that a cell phone camera cannot capture them.

While we are in lockdown Mother Nature has exploded with energy. Think about this. If we were rushing to work and worried about the traffic jam, would we have noticed that the yellow elder and the poi-poi trees all bloomed within three days of each other last week? Maybe when I was rushing before, I did not notice their bursts of bright yellow and delicate pink at the same time or maybe they rushed out their majestic outstretched arms laden with soft jewelry as compensation.

In the alternate routine of the new norm we see a dazzling display whose raw beauty chokes us up. We let our imagination wander, and we wonder, did an artist look at a clear blue sky and say ‘I can make it even prettier’ and draw a hologram of yellow and pink flowers upon the azure canvas.

Mother Nature has sent us more birds than ever, birds whose flight we can follow with our eyes as they search for berries in the trees and whose songs we can hear now that there are fewer cars on the road. Trees, flowers, bloom, birds, the beauty all around us seems enhanced, the timing advanced.

“There are clocks of nature we just don’t understand,” says Pericles Maillis, a man whose knowledge of trees would fill a wikiBahama-pedia. “It’s part climate, part genetic and the rest is up to the Lord.” Despite a near wipe-out last year, and a worrying shortage of rain, the Maillis farm in New Providence and another farmer’s in North Eleuthera are both bursting with thousands of mangoes in their trees. Apple trees and guava bushes are loaded with fruit.

The lockdown has brought other benefits. We are learning to work productively remotely. We miss our friends, colleagues and associates but not the need to wear stockings. On a personal basis my underwear drawer has never been neater, nor my insurance files better organized.  I am waiting to find time to learn new things like many people already are. There may not be a lot of glamour in cooking, scrubbing bathrooms or much else of what I do when not at my home desk, but I find that I am better able to focus on one task at a time until it is completed.

None of this is meant to downplay the reality of an economy in freefall and what it will take to recover. But if having more time to appreciate the simple things, to spend with family, and to be creative helps to compensate, we need to appreciate both sides of the absence of normal.

There will be discoveries and inventions during this time. I have no doubt of that. I just wish that I had the know-how to invent a mini orbital sander that could fit into tiny spaces. Since I don’t have the workshop to test motors and put together a new power tool, maybe someone will do it for me and I’ll just go back outside, look up at the trees and listen to the songs of the birds. One thing at a time. The upside of a downtime.

 

Government preaches digital, private sector practices it

In the do as I say, not as I do category, the winner this week has to be the government of The Bahamas, though intentions were well-meaning.

When Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said these words in his Monday address to the House of Assembly: “We are in a new era…We have to enhance the use of digital technologies and delivery services,” did he not realize that the private sector has been working in the digital space with great success and is increasing its digital capacity all the time while government still wants you to show your face?

Nowhere is the dichotomy between the two worlds of the future and past more obvious than National Insurance (NIB). Headed by one of the brightest minds in the country, NIB has one foot in the digital age and a whole boot in antiquity. Bravo for the digital wallet concept, allowing even those without a bank account to receive and use funds.

Contrast that with an artifact from days gone by, the need to appear in person to make sure you are alive and someone else is not trying to collect your benefits when your ashes are on the mantel or your body six feet underground. Why, in this era, could pensioners, those with disabilities and others receiving recurrent benefits not use Skype, Zoom or live video chat on whatsapp, holding their passport and looking into the lens? To the best of my knowledge, though I have never seen it tried, it’s pretty hard for a dead person to whatsapp you and carry on a good conversation.

As for knowing who is dead, all NIB, has to do is require all funeral homes, hospitals and morgues to submit a weekly list of the newly deceased. All one heck of a lot easier to learn who died than to make the elderly and physically challenged traipse to NIB twice a year, wait until their name is called and ‘show their face.’ A national register of deaths may sound morbid but BTC, which continues to print a phone book, might just be willing to pay a few dollars for it and clean up some of the dead folks who apparently still have working phones.

If the Rotary Club of East Nassau can have more than 100 on a Zoom meeting as it has a few times since the lockdown and is expecting closer to 500 from as far away as Africa for its weekly meeting today, surely government departments that are lagging behind can make the leap from antiquated practices to the digital age with the help of a smart device you can hold in your hand. It’s not so difficult to move from good intentions to good practices, especially when leadership at the highest level and at NIB are tech-savvy and get it.

 

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