I am nervous. I am living in fear of the aedes egypti mosquito, which is once more Jamaica’s Public Enemy Number One. I am feeling the humidity all around me. I feel I am wading through it. But I am readjusting, slowly. So, this is called “Sunday Sinting” (translation: Something) because I have been away for so long (longer than originally planned) that I am just responding to the physical environment around me, for now. It’s just a little something to keep us going. Until I have gotten myself tuned in to what has been happening/is happening, I don’t feel able to comment much on what has been happening in Jamaica in general. I hope that is fair enough… More next Sunday (and much in between, too).
As you can see from the photograph, the mosquito that spreads dengue fever in the tropics is all decked out in stripes and polka dots like a tiny, sinister circus clown. I had dengue fever about twelve years ago, and will never forget the experience. My fever was so high that I was hallucinating: innocent leaves at the bedroom window turned into ugly, angry faces peeping in at me. Sharp, sudden pains afflicted my arms, legs, anywhere (it is aptly named “break-bone fever“). So – if you have not yet had this disease – please don’t take it lightly. The worst thing is there is no real “cure” – you just have to lie there, trying to cool down the fever, and taking painkillers (but not aspirin). And waiting for it to go away. Even when it’s gone, you are actually left feeling physically and mentally “down.” It completely drains you; the particular strain of dengue that I had took weeks to get out of my system. I exaggerate not.
The view seems to have been that the Simpson Miller administration was somewhat slow to admit to the current outbreak of dengue fever, which is particularly concerning in the broader Kingston area – as well as in Portmore in St. Catherine, where mosquitoes are a perennial plague. Perhaps this should have been taken into consideration when the developers decided to build hundreds of houses on a swamp. Whatever the case may be, it is never too late to learn how to prevent its spread. Don’t be careless and leave water standing in your yard for any time at all – that is always one of my personal rules anyway. And keep windows and doors shut during early morning and dusk, when mosquitoes are at their most active – this is particularly true of the aedes egypti. Especially at dusk. I am also hoping to hear the droning sound of the fogging truck passing down our street, soon. The smell is horrible, but fogging helps – I think.
Of course, dengue is not just a Jamaican thing. Our neighbors in the Dominican Republic have recorded around 6,000 cases and at least thirteen deaths this year. India is experiencing an outbreak. Cases have even been recently recorded in Florida and on the Portuguese island of Madeira, of all places. But, as Health Minister Fenton Ferguson told us this week, let us not panic (and yet, illogically, when a government official tells us not to panic – I always start to do just that…)
Meanwhile, the intrepid team at Nationwide News Network decided to try to tackle the issue of crime this week. Emily Crooks and Naomi Francis got serious and assembled a high-powered little group in the studio for a one-and-a-half-hour discussion. All of them appeared to know exactly what they were talking about, and unfortunately, appeared to be covering much of the same old ground. At times, Dr. Carolyn Gomes of Jamaicans for Justice sounded weary; Opposition Spokesman Delroy Chuck, irritated; and the Peace Management Initiative’s Horace Levy, slightly exasperated. Dr. Anthony Harriott from the University of the West Indies patiently pointed out that over the past twenty years, “effective policing ought to bring homicide rates down to 20 per 100,000.” Of course, it hasn’t. The most recent United Nations figures show we have over 50 murders per 100,000. North America‘s homicide rate is 10.2 per 100,000. Ugh.
But crime is not just about murder rates. And there were a couple of revelations during the discussion that made me gulp. How can we tackle crime without a complete revitalization and rationalization of the justice system? Minister of Justice Mark Golding conceded that a) the justice system is in disarray (“duh”); and b) that no additional funding will be available to rectify any of the system’s burning problems, any time soon. We know what the problems are, and they were rehashed: a chronic juror shortage, inefficiency on many levels, pending legislation that never seems to get passed. But the moderators tried to keep re-focusing on solutions (and also tried, unsuccessfully, to obtain “promises” from the Minister on actions, and to hold him to deadlines on specific issues).
Let’s have some implementation, Dr. Gomes and Mr. Chuck urged. Less talk. Civil servants must be held accountable, said Dr. Harriott. Let’s “build community capital,” Mr. Levy emphasized. Again. On the law enforcement side, Mr. Chuck asserted that the police have retreated from the principles of community policing, leading to a worsening of police-community relations. Minister Golding says there is no such retreat on the policy front.
The strongest contribution to the discussion came, in my view, from Jamaican Bar Association head Ian Wilkinson. He did not mince his words, noting that “successive governments are to blame for the weaknesses” in the justice system. “The Jamaican government as a whole has abdicated its responsibility to the people” by not committing any funds to justice over the years – make that decades – said Mr. Wilkinson. For a healthy society and economy, he pointed out, Jamaica must have a properly functioning justice system. The tiny budget allocation is “absolutely awful,” said Mr. Wilkinson. He put forward suggestions for a five-year plan for justice. At the top of the list is an additional J$5-6 billion (at least) for justice issues. He said it is a disgrace that Montego Bay does not have a proper court and is terribly under-served.
One disturbing issue emerged. The Minister’s opposite number Delroy Chuck declared that although the previous political administration under which he served had appointed new judges to speed up the number of cases dealt with, the judges are “not yet working” because there is no office space for them! I would love to hear more about this. Can it really be true? I did not catch the Minister’s response. I would love to hear more about this.
Talking of crime and justice: I realize that the grief and suffering has continued unabated during the five weeks that I have been away from the island. I tried hard to avoid local news. I just needed a break. But somehow the story of a horrendous multiple rape in Montego Bay broke through to my consciousness. And in the three or four days since I have returned I have heard of several incidents that have involved the shedding of the blood of Jamaican citizens, the shock of the bereaved and their grieving. My heart goes out to all those who have lost loved ones violently in the past week. Below is my regular list of those who have left us, their lives abruptly severed. It is probably incomplete…
Until next time, when I will be more thorough in my coverage of Jamaica’s happenings. Meanwhile, tomorrow is National Heroes Day, a national holiday in Jamaica. There will be the usual pomp and ceremony and speeches and messages from our political leaders. I think we should also reflect on what it takes to be a hero. What are the essential qualities of a hero, asks Dr. Orville Taylor in his op-ed (the link is below)? Having mulled this over a bit, he concludes that two of our National Heroes, the founders of our two political parties (or “gangs,” as the Gleaner newspaper continues to identify them), do not qualify as heroes. I agree. What do you think, dear readers? Do we even need heroes in 2012, and what purpose do they serve? Do we need a different kind of hero?
I am not convinced that we need heroes or “messiahs.” What we do need is people, working together, supporting each other. And sensible, action-oriented leadership. No more speeches, please!
Some of those who lost their lives violently this week:
Phyllis Watson Turner, 76, Shrewsbury, Westmoreland
Leroy Morris, 41, Rum Lane, Kingston
Gregory Cooper, 25, Hagley Park Road, Kingston
Andre Edwards, 25, Savannah Cross, Clarendon
Oral Smith, 23, Savannah Cross, Clarendon: killed by a mob
Matthew Grant, Sligoville, St. Catherine
Radcliffe Bell, 46, Priory, St. Ann
Killed by the police…
Cassell Robinson, 30, Race Course, Trelawny
Unidentified man, Old Harbour, St. Catherine
Unidentified man, Washington Boulevard, Kingston
- Jamaica Steps up Efforts to Combat Dengue Fever (abcnews.go.com)
(Dengue fever outbreak confirmed)
(Government commits additional #14 million to tackle dengue: JIS)
(India RealTime/WSJ blog)
(Dengue fever confirmed in Florida girl)
(Were all our heroes really heroic? Busta, Manley don’t qualify: Orville Taylor 0p-ed)
(National Heroes: Jamaica Information Service)
(Where are the jurors? Jamaica Observer)
(Slain Trelawny gang leader was suspect in vigilante shooting – police)
(Four accused of Zion mob killing granted bail)