Letters & Opinion

Queen-sized Majestic COVID Lessons! You’ll never know what you can learn from Mom in just one day, no matter your age…

Image of NRC Chairman Earl Bousquet
Image of Earl Bousquet
Chronicles Of A Chronic Caribbean Chronicler By Earl Bousquet

Against that background, Her Majesty would not have in any way insisted on any form of observance, far less celebration, of her 94th birthday.  My Majesty, on the other hand, with not a worry in the world on her shoulders too heavy to carry, decided on her 86th birthday to keep on doing those outstanding things that surprise us every year.

This year, she did it again – but quite different.

First, she decided to go into what she described as ‘One Day of Self-Quarantine under full lockdown’.

I’d called that morning to thank her for surviving COVID, to wish her the best for her special day and for many more birthdays – and to tell her my sons and I would be popping over to see her later.

Then came the second surprise. She replied: ‘You have age for COVID. Stay Home!’

The last time she spoke to me in that tone, I was still a child. But then, I guess I still am – and will always be…

As if I didn’t hear, I asked if we could come ‘for just a minute’ – and she dropped the second birthday bombshell, telling me: ‘I told you to Stay Home – and if you want, call me on the video on your phone and the boys will see me and talk to me and tell me Happy Birthday…’

I was hearing, but I couldn’t believe my ears… I was like, ‘Wha’ de…’

I mean, put yourself in my place…

Here was my 86-yar-old mother doing to 63-year-old me just what I hate my 20-and-30-something-year-old four sons and one daughter — and their like adult friends — to do to me. They’d ask me for a telephone number they know I readily know — and when I ask them to ‘Take it down’, they’d tell me: ‘WhatsApp it to me!’

I never let the opportunity pass to point out to the likes of them how the technology has made them all ‘So lazy’ that they don’t even want to use a pen or pencil to write a number they need, their heads so deep in the sands of this ‘paperless’ era when writing by hand is fast becoming an ancient art.

But how could I say that of or to My Mother?

I had mixed feelings for the rest of the day, proud that My Majesty still so cared for her sons, that she was more tech savvy than I ever thought and her embarrassing exposure of just how out-of-touch I was with her level of online connectivity and mobility.

Her cell phone is one of the first made and according to her, ‘It does not use wi-fi.’  But she’d obviously lay in her bed or sat in her chair the day or night before and thought deeply of how to tell us to observe the Social Distancing and Stay-At-Home emergency protocols without offense.

So, My Majesty resorted to voluntary imposition of a self-inflicted ‘One-Day, 24-hour Quarantine’ on her birthday.

But, try hard as Her Majesty did to stay away from being in the public eye, she still ended-up on the front page of a British newspaper in an appropriately-selected photo of monarch of all she surveyed smiling and waving to her subjects, under the caption: ‘Born to wave over us!’

It was as if Tuesday was my Extra Lessons Day.

After my second WhatsApp video call to my mum and her bright exchanges with her grandsons, I turned my TV on to NTN to follow the House of Assembly meeting discussing the proposed extension of the emergency to May 31.

MPs, masked and spaced-out by social distance, squared-off, as ever, over the government’s handling of COVID-19, government speakers arguing it’s handled the crisis ‘the best in the region’ and the opposition asking if so, why the month-long extension.

At the House lunch break, I switched to BBC TV and the ‘Breaking News’ headline that appeared was that the UK Parliament had just decided to allow only 50 of the 650 elected MPs to attend meetings at Westminster during the crisis, others to attend virally by Zoom. But MPs zooming-in from home are required to be aware, conscious and careful of the ‘e-messaging’ images in their backgrounds while speaking – and no pajamas!

CNN has a different ‘Breaking News’ item: COVID-19 had created a political miracle in Israel, where, after three inconclusive general elections in one year failed to form a new government, the two major parties led by the prime minister and the opposition leader agreed to form a national unity government to fight COVID-19.

Next was RT, where the lead news item was that neither Britain nor France were willing or able to give definite dates for reopening of school, both governments arguing it was much too early.

After the House debate resumed, I continued to simply SMH over the current crisis facing the nation’s education system in this COVID-19 time, which could have been avoided had the ‘Free Laptops’ programme initiated by the previous administration not been declared ‘Dead on Arrival’ by the current one in 2016.

Similarly, I looked at the state of our health services ten years after government decided to build three new hospitals and trained 400 nurses to man them and SMH again at the fact that more than ten years after the St Jude Hospital fire it is still under construction – at a time when hospitals have been built in days to fight COVID-19 in China, the USA, UK and as close to home as Barbados.

Then I SMH, yet again, at the fact that after all those years and millions of wasted dollars, when COVID-19 knocked on Saint Lucia’s doors, there were only 120 beds available at all the island’s public health facilities.

We can’t doubt that we laid the red carpet for COVID-19, even though we have done remarkably well or are remarkably lucky that while 15 Saint Lucians have died overseas (including New York), none at home has had to be hospitalized for COVID-19 – and none has died.

The jury is still out as to whether we have a handle on the virus or whether we should thank our Lucky Stars, or whether too many people are still not yet tested, but while we try to figure it out, the World Health Organization (WHO), the Pan American health Organization (PAHO) and the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) are all warning that we are not yet out of the woods and the worst is yet to come.

Like everywhere else, people and businesses are anxious to ‘get back to normal’, but the government has wisely decided to not take the chance of too-early relaxation of restrictions at the cost of a costlier second COVID-19 wave.

But back to My Majesty…

I ought not to have been surprised that at her age she would ask me to ‘WhatsApp’ her.

I’d actually forgotten that Saint Lucia has perhaps the highest level of cell phone connectivity in the OECS region among elderlies, something established over two decades ago by an official survey commissioned when Digicel was challenging Cable & Wireless to enter the region.

It was so real back then that a Saint Lucian calypsonian scored high on the local charts with a popular song entitled ‘Granny Texting’ – about having given his Home Alone granny a cell phone to text him in case of emergency while he was in Castries paying bills monthly, but she would only each time text him: ‘Don’t forget my KFC!’

The National Television Network (NTN) is doing a good job broadcasting official COVID-19 information from the Command Center all-day-long, but in this new Social Media Age, like with President Trump’s Twitter Page, the press and public are increasingly being directed to The PM’s Facebook Page for COVID-19 updates.

I may be less tech savvy than My Majesty, but if my traditional understanding of the English Language still applies, it would appear that while Saint Lucia definitely has many, many more cell phones than its 170,000 people, not many use them for news.

By the time the House Debate ended with both sides approving the extension of the original Proclamation that became a Declaration of an Emergency referred to as a Statutory Instrument (SI #56 of 2020) the following things were clear:

The Prime Minister is planning for responding to COVID-19 over a six-month period, but while he insists there should be no politicization of COVID-19, monthly parliamentary meetings continue to be running commentaries on The Politics of COVID-19; and while two of his Cabinet Ministers behaved on Tuesday like the parliamentary opposition was only out to dis and dismiss the government’s COVID-19 efforts, the Prime Minister said he’d never seen the opposition more cooperative, polite and civil than it’s been since the COVID-19 crisis began!

Tuesday was indeed Lessons Day for me, thanks to my dear mum, my Queen Majesty, who didn’t forget to remember to remind me, yet again, that she was a cat before we became kittens and that she continues to reign over her loyal subjects with the softer iron fist gloved in and with the ages and wisdom of sages.

After all, if the eight-years-older QE2 can daily manage her own email, iPad, Zoom, Twitter and Facebook accounts and three-years-younger Pope Francis and 13-years-younger Donald Trump can also so easily seem to daily handle their online accounts followed by hundreds of millions upon millions, why should my Queen Majesty not be able to tell me how best to tell her Happy Birthday by WhatsApp?

Gimme a Covid break…

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