Floods – Houston, we have a problem!

Floods Houston - Reboot SocialAs I watched on TV the devastation caused by the floods in Houston, I felt compelled to write this post. I have a personal connection to Houston. My daughter moved there a couple of years ago.

It is inconceivable to me that with all the financial, technological, and people resources that the United States has at its command, it is still struggling to bring the situation under control and get peoples’ lives back on track. It is a stark reminder that when it comes to the power and fury of nature, it doesn’t matter whether you live in Mumbai or in the fourth largest economy in the US – Houston.  

When our daughter called us to say that she and her fiancé – now her husband – were planning to move from New York City (NYC) to Houston, our reaction was:

“Houston?”

That was a couple of years ago. The move was work related.

Houston is not the first city that comes to mind when you plan to visit the US as a tourist. For that matter within Texas itself, Austin may be perceived as a cooler destination to visit, thanks to high-profile events like SXSW and Keep Austin Weird.

You go to Houston because you have business there, or are visiting family and friends.

So our first visit to Houston was to visit our daughter who lived in an apartment within The Loop, not far from the cherished River Oaks neighbourhood.

Right away, I could tell that the differences between NYC and Houston were glaring.

The pace was different.

Ironically, the concept of the New York minute is supposed to have originated in Texas.

Unlike NYC, people seemed to have more time on their hands in Houston. The city was sprawling but lacked public transportation. In my view, Houston would not qualify as a pedestrian-friendly city. Cars were the norm, even for short commutes.

Perhaps it’s the heat. Or, it may have something to do with their support for the local industry – Big Oil. Everyone knows Houston for its oil and NASA, but the healthcare sector and technology companies play a big part in its economy and in attracting young professionals to the city.

And of course its sports teams – The Rockets, Texans, Astros…

If you like it hot, you would love Houston.

The “eat out” culture was evident. Restaurants, bars, and Ice Houses with their crawfish bakes, Tex-Mex food, and patios were always packed and lively. There appeared to be no zoning laws for urban development. It wasn’t unusual to find a large, well-maintained house next to a restaurant adjoining a Doctor’s office that shared a wall with a spa.

People were friendly and helpful. Not having spent a lot of time in any of the southern states, I had expected people to be conservative and reserved. My apprehensions about Houston – a city perhaps less exposed to multi-culturalism – were quickly alleviated.

Anthony Bourdain said it best “Houston has been, from what I experienced, particularly if not more welcoming to immigrants and refugees from all over the world than most other cities I know.”

I did not know this.

Another thing that I did not know about Houston was that it is very vulnerable to flooding – more than any other major cities in the US. I had written off the April 2016 flooding in Houston as a freak weather event.

Boy, was I wrong!

Everything is bigger in Texas - Reboot SocialOne thing is for sure. Everything is bigger in Texas. Floods are no different.

Out of the blue, our daughter called us a couple of months ago to say that she had an offer from a firm in San Francisco. She had to move right away. As luck would have it, it didn’t take long for my son-in-law to find a job in San Francisco.

When they packed up most of their belongings and moved, leaving an affordable city and their friends were their only concerns. As stories of flooded basements, damaged cars, failed elevators, depleting food and gas supplies pour in, I can’t help wonder how it would have played out had they delayed their move by a few weeks.

I am not a particularly spiritual person. But, as I watch the buried houses, and people wading through the flood waters holding their possessions, one word comes to mind.

Providence!

I am sure Houston and its people will bounce back, but there is a lesson in there somewhere…

If you are interested in helping, please follow this link to Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund.

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Don’t walk left – A perspective on homelessness

I could see her from a distance. A perspective on homeless

For that matter, I wasn’t sure that it was a woman until she briefly lifted her head to tuck her straggly hair back behind her ear. She didn’t look a lot older than my daughter.

She was bent over the garbage bin by the roadside. Looking for food, I presumed.

We were walking around in an up and coming neighbourhood in San Francisco.

As we walked past the girl and her dog, I tried to ignore the fact that she was still rummaging through the trash – picking stuff up, inspecting it and discarding it. The dog sat patiently watching her – clearly used to the routine.

“Should we give her our left over food from the restaurant?” It was Alex, my son-in-law, always the compassionate one.

We had just had brunch at August 1 Five, a trendy Indian restaurant near the San Francisco City Hall. As usual, we had over ordered.

I hesitated.

I wasn’t sure of the rules of engagement on this one. What if she was offended?

“What if she is an art student, doing a project?” That came from my daughter. I could sense that she almost wanted it to be true.

While we debated the potential outcomes, Alex decided to go ahead and ask the girl if she would care for some food that we were taking home from a restaurant.

She appeared surprised, but grateful. We handed the food over and piled into our car.

She waved.

I could see her take a quick bite of the – unfamiliar – stuffed Indian pastry and tear off a piece for her dog. As we drove off, I felt that she actually liked it. The dog seemed less excited about the spicy treat.

I remembered the first time that we had visited San Francisco, a few years ago. We had stayed at one of the nicer hotels not far from Union Square.

“Don’t walk left,” the concierge had said matter-of-factly as he drew us a suggested walking route of downtown San Francisco. Seeing the surprised looks on our faces he added, “It can get sketchy.”

It didn’t take us long to figure out what he meant.

Nice clean streets suddenly turned into ones that had sidewalks monopolized by groups of homeless people who begged for money. People in San Francisco will remind you that the high cost of housing and government policies have played a large part in the sad situation. Throw in good weather, drug addiction, mental health issues, and a liberal society, the picture is complete.

Not unlike Vancouver Downtown Eastside and other big cities in North America.

Big city. Big city problems.

When it comes to homelessness in the US and Canada, I have mixed emotions.

On the one hand, I feel that people who live in North America have not seen real poverty – the kind where there are no homelessness services, shelters, soup kitchens, social assistance, needle exchange programs, and the like. On the other, I do understand that it’s unlikely that anyone would live on the streets, if they had the choice to live elsewhere.

I struggle with the recognized causes that contribute to homelessness in countries like Canada and the US – financial, societal, psychological, health, addiction among others. We can’t seem to find solutions to help homeless people get off the streets, or prevent others from becoming homeless.

We are talking about two of the richest, culturally advanced countries in the world!

If Norway can do it, why can’t we?

On a personal level, I wish homelessness didn’t exist. But that is wishful.

Until now, my interactions with homeless people have been minimal and not supportive of their plight.

Generally, I try and avoid eye contact, pretend it is normal for someone to be sleeping on a subway vent in the middle of winter, say no to the squeegee kids, and keep walking when the guy with the beer and the dog on King Street & Spadina shouts out, “You got a buck bud?”

Perhaps, it is time for me to think like Alex, and spare some change for the less fortunate.

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Memoirs of an Only Child

I am an only child - Reboot Social

Recently I caught up with a few mates of mine and the conversation was around siblings. Interestingly, the group had a mix of sibling hierarchy. Some were first borns, a few in the middle and others the youngest.

True to law of sibling hierarchy, the first borns were more assertive – the ‘enforcer’ type, the middle ones related to ‘acquiescence’ and ‘strategists,’ and the youngest didn’t care and were the ‘free birds’. Each one enjoyed their position and felt grateful to have siblings. Life according to them would have been boring without siblings.

I am an only child.

I am often met with a “oh! – don’t you wish you had siblings?”

Only children are often perceived to be pampered, spoilt brats, selfish, insensitive and narcissists. As young as my memory goes, my parents always insisted on me following the norms and etiquette society demanded. I can always remember myself sharing my pencils, books, food and toys with others, a tad short of being overgenerous, lest I am perceived selfish. Growing up, I was always concerned about those around me, albeit I would be the last person everybody would turn to when they ran out of friends. And I never perceived myself to be an extraordinarily gifted kid to be self-obsessed.

So here are some of the real challenges I have faced as an only child:

Bullying

Siblings make you street smart, naturally cultivate your defence mechanisms. Only children live in their comfort zone, nestled in the safety of their parents. I did not know how to defend myself or protect myself from the taunts and snipes made by my friends. I was meek, submissive, passive and an easy target for anyone.

One of my earliest memories of being bullied is in year 3.

I am acutely myopic and wear glasses since I was 8 years old. Without my glasses, my vision is a challenge. I can only see blurry images and virtually cannot distinguish faces or objects. Technology in those days (1981) was not as advanced as today. The high index / number of my prescription meant my glasses looked like “Coke Bottles”. And this is where it all started.

Besides being called a lot of “funny names”, my biggest worry was being pushed deliberately while on the playground making me fall, and dislodging my glasses. It would then be a frantic attempt for me to be on my knees and pat the ground to see if I could touch my glasses and find them. Can you imagine what this instils into the mind of an eight year old? FEAR.

Here is another one which sticks to my mind.

Usually my Dad takes me to the optometrist for getting my pair of glasses. Once it had to be my Mum and we ended up getting a frame which apparently was a total mismatch to my face and made me look like a weirdo. These images are still very clear in my mind – a group of kids standing in a circle around me and teasing me for my appearance. I broke down and in the middle of sobbing said “Please don’t tease me anymore. I will ask my Mother to get me a new frame today”. The little eight year old boy soon lost his CONFIDENCE too.

I started shying away from sports and any sort of physical activity. Books became my best friends. I read ferociously and created my own happy place. A world of characters, imagination, expression and emotions excited me. By the time I was in High School, I was a very engaged kid actively involved in drama and school plays. ‘Fancy Dress’ was my favourite. That FEAR element was crushed with numerous on stage appearances at school. My Mother was a big source of encouragement for all my on stage acts. We would bounce ideas of what costumes would go with each fancy dress theme.

Growing Up — Teen Years

This is a stage of life where a multitude of things happen. The most intriguing time was when the physical changes happened to my body. I was confused and had a lot of questions. I learned most of the Nature’s aspects from conversations overheard between senior students in the school bus. In my days, there was a fine line of things I could share with or ask my parents. I found it very difficult to accept the fact that I was the result of a sexual intercourse act. The word ‘Sex’ was taboo, because I never really knew what it was in its beautiful form.

My circle of friends changed when I started Uni. My reading made me have intelligent conversations with people who I looked up to as role models. I used every opportunity to get on stage and public speaking came to me naturally. I found my confidence levels soaring.

Every only child dreams of having that ‘one person’ who will stand as a rock for them. I found it in my wife. We often joke about being polar opposites in everything except for our values and upbringing, which makes us totally compatible. What I lack, she COMPLETES. To date she has worked with me to “Let Go” of many sour memories. I am very thankful to her for that.

We have an only child.

Like every parent, I want our child to be successful. I have shared my experiences with her as and when appropriate. I have also shared these few things as a lesson for life:

  1. You cannot let anyone bully you unless you allow them to.
  2. Never pick on anyone for a physical disability because you don’t realise how badly you are crushing their world.
  3. Stay calm – for you’re intelligent.

Be warm – for you’re kind hearted.

Stay strong – in the face of a storm.

  1. One family, one money, open to any conversation.

Some of us only children may talk a lot to ourselves, enjoy being left alone. But deep down, we have a warm and genuine heart, willing to share and care. We are trustworthy and loyal and will do everything to see others happy. (And I have to admit we often end up getting hurt).

So the next time you bump into an only child, chances are you are looking at a ‘silent achiever’ who has a very different story to mine. We may not brag a lot about ourselves, for we are used to keeping things close to our heart. Trust and comfort are our gatekeepers and once we build that with you, we open the doors to our world and let you be a part of it.

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Charlie Gard, an epilogue

I waited a couple of weeks to gather my thoughts before I wrote this post. Charlie Gard Epilogue

When Charlie Gard passed away, I felt numb relief. 

Living with uncertainty, constantly balancing on the precipice of life and death, is exhausting. Charlie’s parents fought so hard for him — living off the fumes of hope.

It sickens me how everyone in this story has been demonized. The plight of a little boy has been politicized to the point where your own opinion may have been clouded by the smog of political hate.

You can disagree with the parent’s point of view, but to accuse them of being child abusers, or being single-handedly responsible for Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) losing donations, or for threats being made against hospital staff, is wrong.

Similarly, accusing the hospital staff of trying to kill Charlie is ludicrous. GOSH genuinely believed in their opinion and assessment of what would be in Charlie’s best interests.

But as too many of us have experienced, medical professionals are not infallible. Doctors can be wrong.

Doctors have hundreds of patients, parents only have one.

There is no stronger advocate for a sick child than his/her parents. A parent’s heart never wants their child to suffer.

At the heart of this battle was a little boy and his family, diligently following the rules of the system laid out for them. They did nothing wrong, and everything right. For the first time in human history, the layperson has access to knowledge, the mysteries of medicine no longer confined only to the select few. The understanding of it is of course beyond most of us, but the ideas, the research, the differing opinions, are open and accessible.

As a lawyer, I have been trained to understand that there is rarely a right or wrong – you can always find a learned, legitimate expert to validate your point of view, to argue your case.

Good doctors encourage parents to research, reach out to experts, and tell them what you learn.  Other doctors get their backs up, and tell you that it is inappropriate and to not do it again (yes, this actually happened to me and Anakha).

When the world is full of options and opportunities, and in the absence of abuse, why is the arbiter the state and the courts?  It is an extremely expensive, dehumanizing, demoralizing, unethical David and Goliath situation. This is not the right process to put an already suffering family through.

It is a question of ethics — a value judgment — and whose values should have primacy?

As the parent of a severely disabled, terminally ill child, I get to experience the value and worth of my daughter’s life.  Another person may believe the life of a child who is quadriplegic or on a ventilator is valueless.  They are entitled to their opinion, and can make life and death decisions based on their point of view.

Ultimately the final say did belong to Charlie’s parents. They got their second opinion, and accepted that it was too late for Charlie, and they made the choice to let him go.

Their choice.

It should have always been their choice.

Thank you Connie and Chris, for bringing the scourge that is mitochondrial disease to the attention of the world.

We will always remember Charlie.

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Won’t you be my neighbour?

My neighbour - Reboot Social

The first evening it happened I dismissed it as a one-off. 

My neighbours with whom I shared an adjacent wall in our townhome complex obviously had some company over and were enjoying what sounded like a Wii-type interactive physical game that made a lot of noise.

Live and let live, I initially thought.

I knew that the owner, a woman slightly older than myself with whom I was on a first name basis and chatted with once in a while, had recently moved out and that her son and his friend were occupying the unit. They were students, only in their early twenties and destined to party now and again I reasoned. Plus, it was summer and the weekend and the time for letting off steam.

When it happened again several more times, I was irritated.

The noise level and thuds against the wall from this game or whatever it was (I never actually found out) were incredibly loud and hard. It sounded like they were playing tennis and hitting the balls as hard as Nadal or Serena except that hits came every second or so.

I still chose to not say anything, rationalizing that they were young and the son’s mother had always been nice. Also, I didn’t have any light sleepers in the house at the time. No young kids—just my elderly father who slept on the floor above, largely away from the noise.

But my main reason for remaining silent, if I’m honest, is that I normally dread confrontation and the prospect that a polite request from me “to please keep it down” might trigger a conflict. During the nights it happened, the noise would eventually stop, but only after a good long spell.

One night it started when a friend was over.  I told her it had happened before and that I hadn’t done anything about it. She seemed to be in disbelief that I hadn’t said anything given the vigour of the banging/thumping/swatting effect reverberating against the wall.

I vowed then that the next time I might see the mother, I would gently mention the noise level at her son’s parties. An indirect approach, I know. Perhaps passive-aggressive, too. But that was as far as my temperament allowed me to go. But I continued to worry that I was being too much of a pushover in the situation.

Fast-forward a few months.

I was about to start to teach a class at the local university where I worked. Because of my father’s increasing frailty at the time, and the external care and day programs for him that I coordinated, I always kept my cell phone with me even when I taught, in case of an emergency call.

One came that day. It was the local wheel transit operator.

He informed me that the driver who had picked up my father from his day program had dropped him off at the front door of our townhome as usual. Only this time there was no one there to receive him. Normally, a home care attendant was there to receive my father and take him into the house and help him up to his room on the third floor.

I learned later that day that there had been a mix-up at the care agency.

After getting the call at work, I had to use breathing techniques to calm the panic I felt rising in me as I quickly cancelled my class, grabbed my things, and rushed home. I tried to block images of my frail father, by then legally blind and with hearing loss, calling out for help in his gentle voice, seated on his walker, to no avail. I saw him getting increasingly anxious wondering why nobody was there to take care of him.

Although I lived a short bus ride from campus, it was the first time in my life I felt guilty about not having a car. I desperately willed the bus to go faster. Childhood memories of watching Bewitched flooded back to me. I lamented my inability to use magical powers and instantly transport myself to my front doorstep.

I have rarely been so distraught. At least, at least, it’s not raining I thought. A small mercy.

After what seemed like the longest 12-minute bus ride of my life, I raced the 100 or so metres from the bus stop to our townhome complex, arriving breathless from the effort and now fully in the throes of anxiety, guilt, and fear.

I finally saw my father. It was a sight I will never forget!

My next door neighbor, my friend’s son, was standing next to my dad, one arm around his shoulder and the other holding his cell phone; trying I presume, to get a hold of me. I could have kissed him, I was so relieved.

He told me he had heard someone calling out and had come over to investigate. He had found my dad and stayed with him. My dad looked comforted and secure. I thanked my neighbour profusely as he took his leave. Then I attended to my father.

I complained later that day to the government office responsible for the care agency that hired the care attendant. I also felt and processed a lot of other emotions afterward, eventually feeling the stress leaving my body.

One emotion, the memory of which has stayed with me now so many years later, is my deep gratitude that my neighbour had been there for my father when he needed help.

I thought back to all those summer parties, the astounding noise levels, and the endless back and forth worry in my head about whether I should confront my neighbour. Now, I was infinitely glad I hadn’t.

Whether or not bringing up the noise issue would have created poor neighbourly relations that would then have discouraged my neighbour from helping my father, I will never know.

I like to think it wouldn’t have.

But my parting impression from that experience was that my neighbour could now make all the noise he wanted and I would never complain because I was so grateful for what he had done.

Does this mean I would never raise a potentially divisive issue with a neighbour? No, I wouldn’t say never. I understand that sometimes noise and other neighbourly effects are a real nuisance and must be addressed.

But I would think long and hard before doing so.

My beautiful father has since left us.

But my own son, a newly-minted toddler, now lives with me (along with my spouse). Soon he will start exploring the neighbourhood and his independence; and should he ever need help, and mommy and daddy aren’t there, I hope a caring neighbour will be.

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Maneesha Deckha

Author: Maneesha Deckha 


Maneesha is a Professor of Law who lives with her husband and son in beautiful Victoria, BC. She is a vegan and an animal lover. Her articles and papers have appeared in many national and international publications including the Vancouver Sun.

 

Old habits die hard

Old habits die hard

“Do you eat it raw?” The question came from the portly gentleman who was sitting across from me at the table. It was directed at Olson, the attendee from Minnesota.

There were eight of us gathered in a hotel bar in Atlanta, GA.

Each of us represented a different company and had flown in from various parts of North America (read USA and Canada) to attend a day-long executive session with a strategic partner. We were in the process of winding down with a couple of pre-dinner drinks after a hectic day at the office.

I was the only Canadian at the table.

Somehow the conversation had moved from telecom, to cloud technology, to guns, and to hunting.

“Sometimes we eat it raw,” Olson replied.

He was not talking about sushi or sashimi.

He went on to explain that occasionally he and his friends would eat the raw meat of an animal they had shot, though for health reasons they would freeze it first. As he went on about the superiority of moose meat over beef, I tried to keep a straight face.

While I kind of sort of understand the concept of “eat what you kill,” I had always assumed that there was some heat and fire involved before the meat was consumed.

Clearly, I need to get out more.

To me, eating raw meat meant “medium rare” at the Keg Steakhouse.

Hard core hunters will point out that people like me are hypocrites.

On the one hand we have no qualms about wearing leather shoes, and eating meat – chicken, beef, pork etc. – bought from a store; on the other, we act holier than thou to the hunting and killing of animals. Someone has to kill those animals before the supermarket can stock their shelves, the argument goes.

As the conversation drifted further into unfamiliar areas like eating roadkill, I wondered how they would react if I told them that my favourite food was rice. It is strange that I would think of rice – a filler – as my favourite food. It is sort of like saying that my favourite food is “bread.”

But, it’s true. Old habits die hard.

Rice is what everyone ate when we were growing up. To be more precise, “rice with fish” or “rice with vegetables was the norm – all cooked the south Indian way.

Eating raw meat or fish were not a thing then.

Perhaps Olson and his friends grew up in hunting families and developed a taste for raw meats.

Now, I eat steaks on the rare side, I have no issues with carpaccio, beef tartare, or sashimi.

But, when someone recently asked me what Canadians typically eat at home, I was stumped.

Sandwiches?

Canadians eat a lot of sandwiches.

We just use different fillers between slices of bread and call it different names – breakfast sandwich, sub, hamburger, hot dog, panini, melt, club, Reuben, the list goes on.

The reality is that most “food” that people recognize as uniquely Canadian, fall into the “snacks” category – poutine, peameal bacon, beaver tails

I find that Canadian food is as diverse as its people.

Meat and potato, pasta and pizza, curries and chow mein are all “typical” depending on our cultural and ethnic background. As much as we like the simplicity of salads and sandwiches, most of the time, the food we gravitate to is influenced by what we grew up eating when we were younger.

Why else would my wife and I end up in an Indian restaurant during a trip to Rome?

Old habits do die hard!

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