Fri | Aug 18, 2017

Orville Taylor | Hurricane cynics, shut up!

Published:Sunday | October 9, 2016 | 10:00 AM

Stupidity is a worse disease than the cholera spread by the UN peacekeepers in Haiti because at least with the latter, if you observe simple rules, you won't get it. Moreover, if one contracts cholera, one might not immediately know it, but invariably, its noxious evidence flows in the end.

Now, after Hurricane Matthew hesitated just like his namesake did in writing his gospel, it was difficult to hear logic amid the cacophony as fluency turned to effluence. Imagine a tropical cyclone that at one point, was a Category Five hurricane and four times wider than Jamaica. With swirling winds of 250 kilometres per hour, faster than any car ever raced at Dover or Jamworld, if Matthew had even brushed wind 'gainst us, we would have fought in vain to stop the massive destruction.

Never mind the miss or the fact that our houses are better constructed. More than 200 Haitians lost their lives, up to last Frday's count and thousands are reeling from the effects of this monster. Wealthier and better-prepared Bahamians are licking their wounds, and even more prepared Floridians had their butts kicked. In evacuating the more than two million residents, Governor Rick Scott warned, "This storm will kill you." Interestingly, around 29,000 Haitians live in Miami's Little Haiti, and perhaps as many as another 180,000 in South Florida overall and approximately 40,000 to 50,000 in The Bahamas. So, it looks like Matthew is really after them.

Nonetheless, given the experience we have had with hurricanes and tropical storms over the past 60-plus years, our disaster-preparation team was on alert and not taking chances. Apart from the whitetail dove, black ants, and other of God's creatures, which have their ways of predicting a storm, our only reliable sources are the international data and years of statistics about the probability of the path hurricanes will take. These are provided by international partners who have aircraft and daredevil pilots that fly literally into, and above, the cyclones to give us solid information.

But hurricanes are like fires. They generally follow expected paths and courses. But like fires, they will strangely not touch something before them and inexplicably obliterate another dwelling that was slightly off the beaten path. Indeed, there are amusing stories of belligerent residents who attempt to set fire to their neighbours' house, but as fate would have it, the only arson is their own home and, of course, that which their community members give to them.

However, it is a fool who, when told to prepare for the advent of fire, stocks up on water and extinguishers but then curses the messengers when the fire burns houses next door and stops at his gate. Such is the nonsense from the critics of the warnings from the Met Service and the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management, which did everything to protect us. Perhaps the cans of 'bully beef', sardine, mackerel, and Vienna sausages will spoil within three weeks. Or maybe the extra rolls of toilet paper won't be used ... . Well, certainly they ought to be. The irony is that the majority of those who complain that they stocked up on too much food and water didn't have lots of money to fill a larder anyway.

On Wednesday, I went down and prayed, giving thanks that Jamaica was spared the wrath of Matthew, although some of us were silently hoping that he would come and blow the cover off the gunmen who have been wreaking havoc in the west.

Still, in all the reverencing and recognition of a greater power, there was also the biggest bit of foolishness. Doubtless, some deeply religious souls whose personal relationship with Jesus is closer than anyone else take credit for prayer-warrioring the hurricane away. This occurred because we are a God-loving people and Jesus always answers prayers.

While I don't want to rudely awaken them by asking them where in the Bible Jesus said to pray to him, I have to pose the default question. "So, if Matthew avoided Jamaica because of God's love for us and the genuineness of our prayers, does this mean that he hates Haiti and it's because the Haitians don't pray? Or perhaps, God only speaks English, and when Haitians say, "Bondye!" he doesn't recognise his name.

Maybe that is why our pastors pray with fake trembling lips and in 'JamericanPatglish'. Indeed, even the most incompetent speaker and writer of the Queen's English feels that she has to take on the unwieldy post-Elizabethan King James diction and strain her jawbones with endless, 'thine', thou, art and ye. The most genuine prayer I have heard recently is that of a little basic-school boy, who honestly and innocently asked, "God, help me not to ... cause is big people ting dat."

Of course, the same set of prayer warriors don't deny that they serve a jealous God who does whatever and whenever He pleases. Furthermore, it is neither rocket science nor 'sciance', but for all its voodoo and poverty, Haiti's homicide rate is a third of Jamaica's. These 'evil' Haitians don't murder each other with the frequency that godly Jamaicans do. Ask the 'gun-for-food' traders; guns are not edible to the Haitians, but a Jamaican butt-exposing shotta in his sister's tight pink pants would prefer to starve than sell the 'machine' and buy food.

We dodged the bullet and that's that. Simple! As for our negative view of Haitians, the maxim 'But for the Grace of God, there go I' must be borne in mind. True, we have better infrastructure and many other socio-economic variables. However, we need to understand that Haiti's development was stymied because the West punished it for daring to liberate itself from France and becoming the first modern black state. We need to read and learn that although the Haitian Revolutionary War, which began in the 1790s, was the first successful ouster of white slavers by enslaved Africans, our own Dutty Boukman was part of that initial spark.

One should also note that Chief Tacky had an amazing run in mid-1760, and from all indications was well on his way to rout the British from here and establish a black nation in the Americas a good 30 years earlier. Given the significance of Jamaica to Britain's industrial revolution, the world would not have forgiven us and we would be up a ship's creek, holding the wrong end of the stick.

So, in all the post-Matthew hysteria and hindsight, let's give thanks and share our corned beef with the Haitians. It tastes the same in Kweyol.

- Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI, a radio talk-show host, and author of 'Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets'. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tayloronblackline@hotmail.com.