During the fire that tore through buildings in our community, I witnessed something heart-wrenching. There were women and men whose entire livelihood, home, memories, everything – got wiped out. There were firefighters fighting a losing battle, and the place was jam-packed with gawkers’ vehicles, and people four-, five-, six- deep, all staring, taking pictures and video with their advanced technological gear. I also saw a few brave souls who were obviously torn away from their revelry, yet gave no thought to their fancy clothes. High heels were kicked off, and one woman in particular begged and pleaded with the gathered crowd to find buckets and other empty containers to help create a “bucket brigade”.


    Part of my job requires witnessing events that change lives – and it also affords me a glimpse into the humanity that I am surrounded with. There were, of the hundreds who turned up to gawk , a small handful of those willing to help. When the call for help sounded, over and over again, the young, able-bodied men who all too often fulfill the stereotype of “lazy, good for nothing bums – land sharks”, simply responded with “What you gonna pay me with?” In the end, it was mostly women who provided the muscle.

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    There is no doubt that we have strong, independent women who have the muscle to carry on, doing the jobs of both men and women. This is of course, not in any way intended to insult the male reader – but watching the townsmen standing around as women hauled buckets full of water, one after the other, with only a few males attempting to help, put things in perspective. So many men stood to the side and gawked at the fire, eyes hungry for disaster, greedy for the first glimpse of true tragedy. No matter that there were so many people homeless, babies, mommies, daddies - without a roof over their heads, and no idea where to turn to in the next few days, weeks, months.

    The behavior I witnessed is a sad indicator of the societal structure of our communities. It seems that the muscle is put to use when overpowering, abusing and taking advantage – but when it counts, there is none to be found.

    The day after the disaster, I jumped into a random cab heading home – for, after all, life goes on – and duty calls. I clambered into the front seat, chattering about where I needed to go and explaining the stops I needed to go. My cab driver listened, and when it seemed I was done with my yakking, he smiled and said, “Good Afternoon by the way.”

    Startled, I said, “Oh, I am so sorry, I didn’t even realize I hadn’t greeted you. Good Afternoon.” We spent the rest of the drive home talking about the values we were raised with. Of course, I was taught better, and I often do my best to apply my manners on an every day basis. My driver’s gentle reminder - and the ensuing conversation that included talking about helping out each other, in any way possible, and looking out for the helpless, truly came at a time when I was battling my anger about the behavior I had witnessed.

    I felt ashamed that I prioritized my work, rushing to get information out there to the world, instead of staying behind and doing something - anything. I felt angry that the majority of the people I saw out ogling someone else’s disaster didn’t apply the values that they had to have been raised on. I also wondered if they had any responsibility instilled in them. Today, as they gawk at the rubble, do they feel any guilt, or twinges of conscience? Or is it that things have become so hard for everyone that it’s a dog eat dog world for the majority. I hope not. I think we all know that the San Pedro town we live in is not the San Pedro town of old. And it will never return to the old ways. But the few brave men, and the numerous brave women who pitched in – I hope you instill your bravery and generosity of spirit to your children, younger siblings, and friends. Those whose homes were saved from the hungry flames have you to thank for helping. Those who lost everything, but are seeing the outpouring of help from so many in the aftermath will eventually re-establish their lives. It will never be the same, but life will go on. For those who refused to help, in the face of such desperate need, the common saying in this town is “Today it is them. Tomorrow it could be you.”

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