Tag Archives: Miami

The Zika Monster

Everywhere you turn, you hear a buzzing sound–that high-pitched synchronicity peeling through your eardrum deep into the dead of night.

That’s me.

Every night.

Even when there’s nothing really there.

I had planned to begin this blog post by focusing solely on education because I’m trying so hard to stick to the just to that topic of which I’ve dedicated my last 10 years of life to, but I just can’t do it.

See, I live in Florida, in particular Miami.

Miami is all over the news along with the earthquake in Italy and the campaign for the presidency.

In Miami, however, the Zika virus has dominated the attention of everyone.

Walking the campus on the first day of school, I saw students wearing long sleeves and smelling like Off. I just smiled and asked, “How are you today?”

Normally, I’d get an “OK” or a “Really tired” or even a “Super happy” every once in a while. But, this time, I just got “Hot.”

I felt their pain as a parent and a teacher. I knew somewhere my own children reeked of Off, so I just rolled my eyes at myself.

What is Zika?

The virus delivers flu-like symptoms, lots of achiness, and a rash. Pregnant women seem to be the worst victims because of the possible effects on the fetus.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people don’t usually get sick enough to even go to the hospital.

But, everyone here has already begun to panic. I received several texts telling me to use the strongest repellent possible and every time I look on Facebook, someone’s posting something about Zika. They really love giant, digitally enhanced photos of the mosquitoes with rounded, red bellies.

zika1

Of course, though, it’s the news that always sends us into a frenzy—talking, stressing, watching, then spraying ourselves with dangerous chemicals, rarely leaving the house, but when we do we smell like mosquito spray and we’re sweating in our long-sleeve shirts and pants.

Then, as a parent, we start to worry about our children.

We contemplate insane questions such as Should I send them to school? Should I demand that they don’t participate in P.E.? Should I send them with a can of bug spray so they can re-apply it like sunscreen? Should I keep them from playing sports?

An even more pressing question for many parents especially in Miami might be Should I have my child switch schools to an area deemed “less contaminated”?

Propaganda?

We begin obsessing, only to find that we all could be infected with Zika because we all might not even show signs of the virus let alone be tested for it.

And, we all know that’s the truth down deep inside, behind our collective, paranoid mindset and the media’s ability to control that.

We should take control of our situation and dismiss the rest of the jolts of information once we know what we need to know. At least, that’s what I plan to do.

Out of all the news reports and speculation on the virus, I just read a post that reveals the insanity we are experiencing around the world and over here in Miami.

The post Propaganda Machine Takes Aim at Zika Virus compares the media coverage and viewer reaction to the bird flu and Ebola. It also breaks down the facts into digestible chunks so you understand what’s really going on as opposed to panicking.

I consider myself a fairly logical person, but I’m emotional when it comes to my children, just like most parents. That’s why it’s so important to remember that monsters live mostly in our heads.

Written by Lisa Chesser

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Religion is in the details.

At the end of the first week back to school in Florida, I stood in a line with moms beaten, worried, and tired. We were from everywhere in Miami. We wore business clothes, jeans, and sweatpants.

The “perfect” mom with the straight, red hair, black V-neck sweater, and pencil skirt raised her eyebrows as the Latina mom in sweatpants rolled her eyes and said, “I finally understand my mom. I used to be so embarrassed when she’d hand out coupons at the counter and now I’m trying to figure out how I’m gonna pay for all this.”

She raised her eyes to the sky as if to say, “Save me! Help me.”

I pulled the plug from my ear, the earphone muffling the depressing music on the speakers at CVS.  “I know. I feel the same,” I said, desperately reaching out to her.

The redhead rolled her eyes again. “It’s crazy. They kill us.”

I looked into their eyes and the week of troubles emptied from my soul. The week of upset, anger, resentment, and fighting left me because I wasn’t alone. I was with women unlike me and just like me.

We knew pain. The kind of pain religious leaders just won’t ever understand.

The kind of pain kids frown at.

The kind of pain only mothers know.

And, my heart emptied.

In those few moments, no one could’ve predicted that my heart would empty. No religious mantra could fix me. But, right there, with women I didn’t even know, my heart emptied.

And, I was free.

Find those moments that free you and recognize them as religious.

They belong to you.

What do you think when The President visits your city?

English: In January 2009, President of the Uni...
English: In January 2009, President of the United States of America, George W. Bush invited then President-Elect Barack Obama and former Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter for a Meeting and Lunch at The White House. Photo taken in the Oval Office at The White House. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

President Obama visited and I thought, okay, I’m just too tired to think much about it. I wish I had more energy. But because I teach middle schoolers and work until I can’t stand anymore, I couldn’t feel the excitement I’d normally feel when The President visits our city.

How do you react when The President visits your city?

With Charlie Crist as guest, President Obama raises cash in Miami, chats with Cuban dissidents – Florida – MiamiHerald.com.

Venezuela’s Avatars Remind Us to Vote

Sometimes our heroes live under the ground, having never even been written about.
Sometimes our heroes live so far from us, we don’t even know who they are.
Sometimes these heroes are just walking along the streets that no one else will walk.
Sometimes our heroes need us to be heroes, speaking up, supporting them.

Some of my heroes brave the streets of Venezuela every single day, careful to watch who’s around them, careful to steer clear of this street or that, not that it makes much of a difference. They’re still robbed and kidnapped, often enough, they’re murdered. With crime increasing year after year, I wonder if I’ll ever see Venezuela again.

Capriles vs. Chavez

My husband’s family, those who remain there, visits us. They won’t let us visit them. Why can’t we visit? Why can’t we take our children?

It’s the same old story:  Politics. Men. Ideals. Ideas. Egos. Egos. Death.

My children might not ever see the way the mountains look when the sea meets them along a dirt road free of stoplights and buildings in the small islands just off the coast of Venezuela. They might not see the tiny, wooden restaurant ahead. They might not sip the fresh pineapple drink then break the soft-corn cachapa with their fork and mix the tangy with the sweet on their tongues.

But, it doesn’t matter because they’ll be safe. Safe from the violence that taunts Venezuelans on a daily basis, safe from the mask of right and wrong.

This weekend millions of heroes, just like us, will vote, here in the states (in particular in New Orleans) and in Venezuela. Chavez shut down the Venezuelan consulate in Miami. So, the Venezuelans now living in the United States have to vote in New Orleans because they can’t vote in Miami where many have taken refuge since Chavez became president.

When they vote they’ll attempt to right a wrong, a clear, undeniable wrong:  Hugo Chavez is president. It’s wrong because since he came to power  the crime and death rate increased so drastically that paranoia seems a silly, antiquated word.

On Sunday, October 7, 2012, Venezuelan’s will vote for Hugo Chavez or his challenger Henrique Capriles.

Hugo Chavez has managed to remain in power for about 14 years. The opposition and human rights observers call his government repressive because of his control over the media. Moreover, according to Venezuelan Violence Observatory, there have been 118,541 murders in Venezuela since Chavez took power.

To make matters worse, the Venezuelan government has condemned the American Convention on Human Rights withdrawing from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Guadalupe Marengo, deputy director for the Americas at Amnesty International said in a press release, “This move is an affront to the victims of human rights violations and to future generations of Venezuelans who will no longer be able to access this regional body when their rights are not respected in their own country.”

Venezuelan’s are heroes just for enduring. Their voices are being shut down by the man who’s supposed to fight for them.

If the voters are heard, someday you may be lucky enough to visit Venezuela, you’ll find beauty beyond Caracas, its capital. You’ll find islands and tiny villages with people who create possibly more amazing art and other products than any of us could dream of.

Most of you may not even care much about Venezuela. It was only mentioned in Avatar by the “American” colonel who fought Jake Sully to the death. The colonel spoke of Venezuela as a “mean jungle.”

That’s actually true as of the time of this post, but it wasn’t always that way.

Fifteen years ago my then-boyfriend and I, my now-husband and I, took our first trip there together. We knew then, like with many major cities, that we shouldn’t go to certain places at certain times when visiting his family in Caracas. We knew where to go, when to go. He had left because of crime, his Christmas presents stolen, and there weren’t many to steal.

Crime was a problem even 25 years ago when my husband’s family left for the United States. But, Chavez promised to close the divide between rich and poor. To say he did not deliver is an understatement. In fact, he lied. He still lies. The facts tell the truth.

When we were able to visit, the city itself, Caracas, made no difference to us except for family, food, and certain sites that we found necessary to visit and revisit as if we knew it might disappear someday. Simon Bolivar had once liberated the people, so we visited his statue and smiled, not really considering we’d spend over ten years without seeing it again. Certain districts such as the clothing centers, we frequented because, really, we loved buying great, cheap souvenirs.

Catholic churches, yes, a necessity.

Cachapas. Empanadas. Café of any kind. Arepas, Venezuelan-style. We ate. We drank. We enjoyed.

I miss it all so much as I sit safely here, in Miami.

We Americans take certain rights for granted. We also don’t understand the extent to which voting affects these simple beauties in life that go without our appreciation.

We also don’t recognize the hero within because, well, we’re everywhere. We’re Avatars and we don’t even know it. We definitely don’t appreciate our powers.

Let Venezuela’s plight, those invisible heroes among them, among us, let Venezuela’s vote count. Let it remind you who you are:

Powerful.

Powerful.

Avatars.

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The Little Christian Who Thinks He’s Jewish

With Yom Kippur coming up this Wednesday, my son reminds me that this teacher planning day is a Jewish holiday.

He says, “Memember?” tugging on my shirt, looking up at me. Yes, I thought, I do. I remember it all. How could I ever forget?

When he was turning four years old, I searched for a good school because the one he had attended when he was three left him acting like a mini hoodlum. I found a lot of good ones, but they were either too expensive or too snooty. I kept rolling right back to the Jewish Community Center. It housed a small, early childhood education center, and everyone there seemed so welcoming. I’d also heard some wonderful word-of-mouth reviews about the school and read some great articles about it.

So, I consulted my husband whose very Catholic parents applauded the idea. They themselves were members of the JCC gym. So, with the whole family’s approval, I confidently registered my son for Pre-K.

Not everything went smoothly. For one, I hadn’t thought about the difficulty of packing a Kosher lunch.

But, that wasn’t the most difficult part. It was the part about Christ because, yes, this four year old asked me about it. So, I did what any self-respecting parent would do. I first contemplated lying. After scrapping that pathetic idea, I asked him some questions instead.

The answers I got made all the difference.

According to him, Christ was a Jew so anyone who was Christian should also be Jewish. I told him that was the best answer to any question I had ever asked.

And it was. Not because it fulfilled my desire to avoid an answer I didn’t really have but because it was the kind of answer most adults can’t give.

We can’t give an answer because we forget. We forget the real meaning of religion. With all our piety, we forget that religion offers us a set of standards with which to understand our fellow human being, not destroy him.

The world we live in right now. This angry, vengeful place we all should share but can’t and won’t. In this world, we refuse to share. That’s the most basic concept we teach a baby. a child.

We can’t seem to get past those moments when we first possessed a toy and screamed then cried when another child tore it from our grip. We grow, we learn then we return back to being a baby, constantly craving more.

All those babies, screaming over who’s right and who’s wrong, could learn a profound lesson from a little boy.

One of my son’s collection of kipas (yarmulke).

He will always feel that a piece of him is Jewish. He keeps his kipas or yarmulkes in a drawer and asks me when’s the next Bar Mitzvah. He likes to bring out his menorah placemat during Christmastime. When we’re driving and pass the JCC, he asks when we’re going to visit again. I smile and remind myself we have to go back someday soon.

Liquid in my Eyes

Then, I read the latest news or listen to a report on National Public Radio and I’m reminded of the divide, the extreme, the hell we put each other through because of our beliefs. Instead of proudly admiring my son’s views, I begin to obsess over when he will change. When will he become one of us? Or worse, when will he turn into a baby all over again, screaming for what belongs to him, for what is “right”?

The shape of our world feels like liquid in my eyes, things always changing, but there’s a fire burning that the water can’t seem to extinguish.

We’re so furious, so hateful. It’s not just religion that fuels this fire. It’s the fact that so many of us lost the true value of it.

This is not to say that only a four year old possesses the ability to catapult right over knowledge into power.

I do see hope in the wisdom of his grandparents who rallied around my decision to put him in a Jewish school. I saw it in the JCC leaders and members. I see it in those who volunteer their time for various organizations such as Amnesty International.

But, for most it’s momentary.

The minute we insist we’re right and another person is wrong. It’s gone.

So, what if we didn’t try to be right? What if we just tried to make sense of the rights and wrongs by fitting them into each other? Like this little boy, what if we go back to Kindergarten and take our own basic lessons to heart?

Every Jewish holiday reminds me to do this. Don’t ever forget.

Written by Lisa Chesser

His placemat.

Europe Without Email? Just a Dream

The stacks of paperwork stared at me, but it didn’t matter because I was going to Europe for my honeymoon. Bleak cubicles boxed me in, but my emails reminded me Europe was waiting.

With both of us working fulltime at jobs that required 12-hour days, my fiancé and I could never have planned a honeymoon to Europe without email. The negotiations, the pricing, the bookings—email, email, email.

Before email became a common tool, it would’ve meant appointments, endless phone conversations, time away from work, and Europe probably would’ve been a pipe dream.

But, this was the year 2000.

Despite the incessant anxiety of planning a wedding and attempting to transport family from Venezuela to Miami, my emails set a reassuring hand on our shoulders, saying, “You’ll fly away soon.”

I remember thinking, “This isn’t gonna happen,” at one point as I was struggling to battle the seating arrangements for the wedding reception. Then, I turned to my desktop, seeking solace in what amounted to love letters from my fiancé. There, smiling, was an email titled, “Itinerary.” It was done. He had emailed me the agenda for our trip.

We would soon be sipping cappuccinos in cafés in Roma and Firenze. All momentary problems dissolved and those stacks of paper diminished to a simple task at hand.

Even our Eurorail tickets floated to us through email. So, I dreamt of the train that would take us to Vienna from Venezia.

Looking back now, I remember dragging our suitcases from the TRENI down the street to Hotel Alexandra in Roma and I wonder how we survived without our iphones. Facebook would’ve sounded crazy and WordPress would’ve been unimaginable.

The technology we have today would’ve not only made our trip more interesting, but it would’ve saved memories that often slip through my fingers. Most of the pictures I post pop up from my iphone. I can’t believe I lived without it.

But, that good old reliable email…that was just the beginning. Europe without email?

Just a dream.

Written by Lisa Chesser

Hurricane Isaac Meet Hurricane Grandma

My Great Grandma stood, hands on hips, staring out the sliding-glass door as the rain pelted the concrete. “What we need is a hurricane,” she said, her gray, cropped, curly hair making her look wise and crazy, which is exactly what I thought when I first heard her words.

But that wasn’t even the crazy part. The insane part materialized a week or two later when a hurricane, or the beginnings of one, showed up on our doorstep.

So, not to sound crazy myself, when I stood at the sliding-glass door a few weeks ago, the heat melting my brain, the humidity making it hotter, and said, “We need a hurricane,” I wasn’t that surprised when Isaac came rattling over our doorstep.

Hurricane Grandma

Shuttered in my house in Miami, feeling restless in my cave, I watched the wind and rain scatter tree limbs and fill the pool with water and debris. I thanked the Great Spirit for letting us keep our electricity this time, remembering Wilma’s punishment and hoping everyone in Isaac’s path would stay safe. Then I returned to my childhood when tropical storms and hurricanes meant huddling in our house with our cousins and watching Martial Arts on TV until the electricity went out.

We had never experienced anything too horrible or at least I didn’t remember much about it.

Hurricane Andrew

I did, however, remember the one that had devastated Miami. After my Great Grandma died, Hurricane Andrew left me in an apartment with no way out, fallen trees trapped me for days, a visiting New Yorker cried over a crushed car. I stood in long lines for water and volunteered to help people in shelters.

:The NOAA emblem is the property of the U.S. G...

Then my mind returned home to Isaac and I thought, “Why the hell did she say that we needed a hurricane? That is crazy.”

I pulled down some containers with old photographs and cried when I saw her. She had been my best friend when I was little. I’d sit on the floor and play with her canister of buttons while she watched General Hospital. She told the best stories on our walks to Winn Dixie down the street from her house. She even took the time to tell me to try one of her cigarettes, which I’d been eyeing for quite a while. When I choked on the smoke, she said, “Won’t do that again will you?” Then she made me a sandwich, and we read a book together.

Now, listening to Isaac’s rain as I sat in my house, in the dark, with man-made light keeping me up, I sifted through pictures, hoping something would trigger my memory, asking why she had said we needed a hurricane. I really didn’t want her to be crazy.

Please, don’t be crazy.

But, I finally got tired and gave up, sliding all the pictures together and putting them away. I kept some out and found some frames but decided to save them for another rainy day project.

Listening to the rain hit the shutters, I dosed off then my body jolted awake.

I remembered.

I took a different perspective. My mind’s eye panned away from Great Grandma looking even more silly and loveable in her terry-cloth jumper. As she kept staring out the sliding-glass door, she glanced back at us:  me, my mom, her mother, and my sister. We were busy fighting. We were also sweating. I couldn’t remember what the fight was even about, but my Great Grandmother’s glances were angry. She was sick of the heat, and she was even more sick of our fighting.

Then I heard her explanation. “We need that hurricane to cool everyone off. You hear me? You all need a good storm to show you what really matters,” she grumbled, stomping off to her bedroom and lighting a cigarette.

When the storm hit, we not only stopped fighting, we hugged each other. Huddled together in a bathroom, we worried about each other. We wondered who we could help, how could we help.

My Great Grandmother was wise and crazy, just crazy enough to know how a hurricane could stop fights.