Zen animates Bermuda’s bus service problems
In St David's, Zen Mello was often stuck waiting for buses that arrived late, or not at all.
He put all his frustrations down in The Bus: A Song about the Bermuda Bus System, and created an animated video to partner it.
It took off after his mother, Aisha Mello, posted it on Facebook.
“The bus comes once an hour in St David’s,” the 16-year-old said. “But nine times out of ten it does not come on time. Sometimes it does not come at all. It is particularly hard on old people and seniors.”
The pandemic made a bad situation worse: to reduce the risk of spreading Covid-19, fewer passengers were allowed on buses; to accommodate the number of sick drivers, service was limited to a Sunday schedule.
“Now sometimes when the bus comes and there are too many passengers waiting, we have to decide who is getting on the bus, and who is going to wait another hour,” said Zen, who had been relying on them to get to his classes at CedarBridge Academy.
He is grateful for the "reliable" minibuses that were drafted in to get students to school but is concerned by talk that they will be cancelled next month due to a lack of funds.
The Bus got hundreds of likes and comments after his mother posted it on the private Facebook chat group, Maj's List.
"It’s either late or too early, never in between. Coming at the wrong time, seems to be all that they know. You got to wait for hours, just to get a ride home," he chants in the song's lyrics.
Wrote one person on Facebook: “Young man, you need an award! I am so glad our youth is speaking up because ‘the powers’ aren't listening to your parents. Additionally, send a copy of this to every school and place of employment because those people act as if they are in the twilight zone and have no clue about the bus situation on this rock for years.”
Zen got the idea to write the song from his mother, while he was still in middle school.
“We were waiting for the bus. She said, 'Why don’t you turn a negative into a positive? Why don’t you write a song?'”
Ms Mello said she knew that her creative son was capable as he was "very smart and a high honour roll student”.
Zen completed the song but put it aside to focus on other things until the most recent bus struggles.
“I thought this has been going on for too long,” he said. “It felt like it needed to change.”
His father, Jamel Mello, helped with the music. The rest was left to Zen, who has been making videos “all his life”.
He is entirely self-taught, but would like to one day study animation, filmmaking, marketing and business.
Last summer he joined the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation's youth entrepreneurship programme and set up a business creating commercials and videos.
“I can also write jingles,” said Zen, who has only had one client so far. “I taught myself to play the piano.”
His next plan is a website to extend his reach.
“I would [also] like to find better software so that I could make higher quality videos,” he said.
He is proud of his work despite all the mistakes and imperfections he would like to improve.
“I like looking at it, but it is a little harder to show other people,” he said. “But I like looking at where I came from.”
His plan is to create more advocacy videos. A recent one is about the proposed cancellation of the school minibuses.
“I have been wanting to do one about school uniforms for a while,” he said. “We are not allowed enough freedom of expression, so I want to do something about that.”
A video last year questioned why CedarBridge makes community service mandatory when such acts are voluntary by definition. He feels forcing students to get involved makes it less appealing.
“Don’t get me wrong, I think community service is a good thing,” Zen said. “I just think it should be voluntary.”
His parents have always encouraged him to think for himself and speak his mind. His hope is he inspires others to do the same.
“My generation’s opinions matter because we are the future,” he said. “I want people to express their opinions and ideas and fight for what they believe in. I feel like we would do better as a people if we did. No one should have to feel pressured to stay in their shell. We can do anything our hearts desire. There is nothing that can truly stop us. The only limits are the ones that we set for ourselves.”