By Raffique Shah
May 02, 2022
Good news is hard to come by nowadays. So young journalists, spawned on a diet of blood, gore, corruption, crime, suffering and worse, have become nihilists without knowing what the word means. And readers of conventional newspapers and electronic media audiences, especially the misnamed “social media”, will not recognise a decent story if it hits them between the eyes, so immersed are they in the lies, half-truths and raw sewage that pass for information on the 5G superhighway that rules our lives, imprisons our minds with such stealth, we degenerate into clones, drones and assorted mindless, brainless creatures to the extent that when we look into the mirror, we see nothing, because there is nothing to see.
Readers will hardly believe what sparked my interest in pursuing a trail that would lead me into a handful of oases in the vast desert of nothingness. I was concerned about the nation’s children heading back to schools two weeks ago, what with the deadly Covid virus still running amok in the country, and the human beasts behaving as only they know how to “jackass” any-and-every-thing. Then I saw reports of scores of schools not being fully ready to receive their pupils and staff. Really, after two years of inactivity, time enough for entire new schools to be built and equipped, but ours are under-equipped.
No desks for pupils? No chairs and tables for teachers? I can only imagine the state of toilets, drinking water, and so on. Who were responsible for ensuring these routine tasks were completed before the resumption of classes? Are they still on the job? Really, chairs looking as if they were salvaged from bombed-out buildings in Ukraine. Are we living in that war-torn wasteland, or in Yemen or Palestine, where their warmongering neighbours open fire on them anytime they seek entertainment, with live sub-humans as targets?
Then, as if proclaimed by some supreme commander who had only to say the magic words, desks and other furniture arrived at some of the affected schools. That was not the story that attracted me. It was from whence they came: the URP Furniture Workshop, no less. I did a double-take. Yes, I heard correctly: there is such a facility that carries the URP stamp—I almost wrote “stigma”—that produces, among a range of wooden products, furniture for schools. I did not get the location, but I was pleasantly surprised to learn it also engaged in some agriculture.
Two men who seem to be senior officials, one carrying the title “joiner”—I had not seen that term used in ages—told of some positive activities taking place at the workshop. We build from infant-size tables and chairs to furniture for senior classes at secondary schools, he said with pride. And it’s all local. We use lumber from cypress and cedar trees from local forests, he added. And soon we intend to try pitch-pine. We build book-shelves and cupboards, doors and windows.
Now, even if this complex is subsidised by taxpayers, it is worth its weight in woodwork. I don’t see any sane citizen criticising such a venture. If anything, we should ask for more such URP and CEPEP initiatives that should aim to grow into co-operative-type businesses, and bring to an end loafing at street corners with coveralls stamped paid-for-by-the-taxpayers, a most shameful symbol of misuse of public funds.
Last week, too, I decided to cut down and get rid of a few trees in my yard that had no more than nuisance value. Really, when lemon trees refuse to bear fruit after five years, surely something is radically wrong with them—and with a “soursop” of similar age. A younger “saijan”, in contrast, threatening to over-run the driveway, was also put to the chainsaw. There were some branches from the prolific Indonesian starch mango that had to go.
Now, my neighbour, Shazam, a man of multiple talents—he retired a few years ago from leading the “tech-voc” faculty at the Pleasantville Senior school where he had worked for some 30 years—offered to do the job. He wanted to show just how competent and polite graduates from that school were. Over the years we have known each other, he regaled me with stories intended to erase the stigma the school unfairly carried, to show that mostly, they were normal children who sought opportunities to uplift themselves by mastering skills that were badly needed in our society. He believes there are mostly bad parents and bad teachers, not bad pupils.
The ex-pupils he brought to do the needful last Thursday lived up to the image he had painted for me. The young men were polite, they knew exactly what was required of them, they clinically cut the offending trees and cleaned up after themselves. Within a few hours my yard looked… well, pleasant. Shazam was proud of their work. Thanks, fellas.
The future is not all lost…