Safety it would seem is not in numbers

‘The Lindt cafe siege was very distressing for everyone. I used to work very close to that building, in my first job as a clerk in the Taxation Office, which was in the upper floors of the Commonwealth Bank building on Martin Place. And Lily had been planning to go that cafe on Monday, to use a Groupon voucher for Lindt chocolates! Gift buying can be hazardous! That tragedy is a reminder that life is precious. I suggest that you give someone a hug and give them some Lindt chocolates. God bless, all the best and keep in touch.’ — Rob Ryan​, Aussie journalist turned ESL teacher


Police stand near a police line to stop pedestrian access close to a cafe under siege at Martin Place in Sydney, Australia (AP)

It was a harrowing scene unfolding, hands of the hostages up against the windows of the Lindt Chocolat Cafe … shaking. Whatever was being said, the stress was etched in their faces.

It’s a day Sydney will never forget. A “lone wolf” attack inspired by radical Islam.

Sadly as flowers flowed into Martin Place another tragedy was unfolding, this time in Pakistan: 145 mostly children slaughtered by Taliban terrorists in a school attack.

It makes one feel that safety is not in numbers and if you read news reports about previous lone wolf attacks, it appears safety is all but lost. NBC News reminds us about “the killing of a Canadian soldier in broad daylight, followed by a shootout in Parliament and a hatchet attack on two New York City police officers posing for a photo on the sidewalk.

CNN goes further to suggest we get “used to a new normal” way of living where terrorism is part of our daily lives. We just have to “live with this risk”!

All in the name of Citizen Jihadists inspired by the words of Abu Mohammed al-Adnani in a 42-minute audio statement in September which appeared to be a rallying cry, according to a The Boston Globe report.

‘‘If you can kill a disbelieving American or European — especially the spiteful and filthy French — or an Australian, or a Canadian, or any other disbeliever from the disbelievers waging war, including the citizens of the countries that joined a coalition against the Islamic State, then rely upon Allah, and kill him in any manner or way however it may be.’’

It’s really hard to go about your day-to-day business with thoughts running through your mind as to whether you’re safe in your own backyard. But Sydneysiders must, especially now the Christmas season here, a time when thousands of Australians take a summer break and travel in numbers, participate in sports events from fun-runs to fund-raising.

Now is not the time to let terrorists win. Perhaps Australians can find some comfort in the comments of Americans quoted in USA Today after the Boston bombing:

“Joy is where one finds it, but we can’t let terrorists stop us from looking for it.” — Rich Barnes

“Just how safe are we as a nation of freedoms? We are as free as we make ourselves. We can cower in the dark corners of our basements, or we can show that our freedom is stronger than any radical group or individual. Stand up and show that we are strong and not afraid to face our greatest fears to stomp out people who intend to do us harm.” — Lou Creole

In the words of US World War II’s General “Vinegar Joe:  Illegitimi non carborundum or perhaps more importantly now than ever: If you see something, say something!

Judy Wilkinson is an Australian freelance writer and blogger, currently based in Chicago, USA, and returning home for the summer holidays.

Mum’s the word in Latin America

Mother’s Day in Panama is different from Mother’s Day in North America in two important ways. First, Mother’s Day is celebrated in December. Second, they up the celebration anti by adding on a national holiday. —

Few holidays bring a nation to a standstill in Panama like Dia de la Madre and in 2014 there’s even more reason to celebrate because the international holiday turns 100.

However, Panamanian moms don’t just get a special lunch on Sunday as their Northern American counterparts do, they also get a day off work [the next day]. Technically everyone enjoys the national holiday because all businesses but retail and service industries are closed.

Dia-de-La-Madre-2013-5Panama celebrates Mother’s Day officially on December 8. It is the only country in the world to have chosen this date — linked to the highly revered event from the Catholic calendar: Observance of the Immaculate Conception, honouring the Virgin Mary.

“Respecting one’s mother is a characteristic of Hispanic life that is highly cherished,” writes Adriana Fazzano in news magazine, the Parklander. “The role of a mother in Latin America is one of a role model and a facilitator of love. With that role comes the outstanding devotion that most Hispanic children have towards their mothers.”

LET’S CELEBRATE It’s been a huge year of celebrations for Panamanians and none more so than the 100-year anniversary of the Panama Canal [August 15, 1914] and Independence Day [commonly called Separation Day] on November 3 to mark the nation’s secession from Colombia. Dancers in colourful national folk dress joined soldiers marching through the historic city of Casco Viejo as part of the military procession celebrating independence from not one, but two countries, reported The Huffington Post, commenting that, “November 3 may be held as the beginning of the country’s sovereignty but before the celebrated date, Panama obtained its first independence — liberation from the Spanish crown”.

PanamaIndependenceThis year’s Independence Day celebration, which attracted a letter of congratulations from US Secretary of State John Kerry, was held amid a flurry of Panamanian holidays, including Día de los Difuntos (Day of the Dead, on November 2), Flag Day (November 4),  Colón Day (November 5), the Uprising of Los Santos (November 10) and, of course, that second Independence Day [from Spain] usually held on November 28 but in 2014 moved to December 1 to make way for Black Friday.

BLACK FRIDAY The US Christmas shopping-spree phenomenon — that has also gripped the UK — bumped Independence Day [from Spain] celebrations in Panama, causing upset for some. Black Friday has been observed in Panama City since 2012. It began as a move by the government to attract local tourism to the capital. Immigration census stats show it drew as many as 35,000 regional tourists in its first year.

BlackFridayPanamaTwo years on up to 100, 000 are believed to have participated in the event, which attracts gun-toting policía and guards who trawl the malls. They even patrol inside stores, which is off-putting for unsuspecting tourists queuing for or exiting the probador [fitting room]. And like everywhere else, it is a case of get out of the way. Panamanian shoppers are on a mission and, with up to 70 per cent off items at some of the more exclusive stores, most gringos are happy to take a backseat to the herding throng. Of course, Mother’s Day only adding to the frenzy for locals looking for the perfect gift.

Panama isn’t the only Latin American country to observe Black Friday. It was introduced in Mexico in 2011 as a way for the government and retailing industry to create an annual weekend of discounts known locally as El Buena Fin [Spanish slang for “the good weekend”], and coincides with the Mexican Revolution holiday. When Buena Fin was launched by then President Felipe Calderon, a LA Times blog proclaimed it “a distraction to allow Mexicans to momentarily forget the doom and gloom of the drug war and the country’s wider economic woes…”

There’s no such woes in Panama. Job stats have never been better and Panamanians are enjoying la buena vida [“the good life”] fuelled by an influx of overseas tourists, US expats relocating in droves given it has been named the best retirement haven in the world [again], as well as the wealth all those taxes the canal brings.

But back to those Panamanian moms. Things will be more subdued over the two-day Mother’s Day break. Local taxi driver Roy Campos says: “It’ll be a slow morning [for the shops]. After church, Panamanian mothers and their families will visit the mall because it’s the only place they can enjoy FREE air-conditioning!”

Freelance writer and blogger Judy Wilkinson has escaped the 6ºF [-14ºC] ice pellets hitting Chicago for 26ºC [80ºF] sunshine and Black Friday bargains in Panama City.