Perhaps it is exhalation, rather than sighs. The island is (mostly) recuperating from Hurricane Sandy, and the general consensus is that things could have been worse. For some, however, life post-Sandy is still fairly grim. Those at the eastern end of the island, where the infrastructure was already in pretty bad shape, are really suffering. It is always the rural poor who suffer the most from storms. Now, over the weekend, heavy rains and flooding (especially in the parish of Portland) have rendered roads impassable and have slowed the recovery effort. Many remain homeless, waterless, powerless in Portland, St. Mary, St. Ann and St. Thomas. The Jamaica Public Service Company – which I have praised in my last blog and continue to commend for their diligent work – has encountered huge technical challenges in restoring electricity to these areas. We city-dwellers are relatively well-off and comfortable, now. It is about the haves and the have-nots, and sadly there are still many of the latter group.
Meanwhile, we read a string of reports noting the billions of dollars’ worth of damage inflicted on different sectors of the economy. All week, the numbers floated around over our heads like butterflies – the kind you can never catch. Because, ultimately, do we have the money to make all the necessary amends after Sandy? That was a rhetorical question; you know the answer.
A few ministers, and quite a few Members of Parliament and local councillors, toured selected areas and made solemn pronouncements about what needs to be done. Promises were made. And the Opposition Member of Parliament for Western Portland, Mr. Daryl Vaz (who has been rather quiet lately) launched a storm relief fund for the parish with the inestimable Food for the Poor, headed by Andrew Mahfood – which will match donations with $100,000. This appears to be a bipartisan fund, and it extends to neighboring parishes; one hopes that the private sector will chip in. Portland often calls itself the “neglected parish”; along with St. Thomas next door, it suffers from low self-esteem – and the serious under-development of its people.
Well now. Just yesterday, the delightful, bubbly Ms. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, a double gold medalist in the London Olympics, graduated from the University of Technology (UTech) in Kingston and became that learned institution’s first Ambassador. I am not quite clear what her duties will be. Although of course this would have been planned months ahead, it seems a little unfortunate that UTech’s celebration of its latest batch of graduates should take place less than two days after a screaming mob of students descended on the college’s guard house, calling for the security guards to “kill the battyman” (yes, I heard those words on the video). Please see my previous blog, Sticks and Stones, for more information on this. I wonder if any of the students involved were actually on the podium, proudly receiving their degrees.
Although this blood-chilling event last Thursday night was extensively reported in the broadcast media and discussed at length on radio shows, the island’s newspapers seem to have been steering away from it. That is, apart from a solid editorial in today’s Sunday Gleaner. Please see that link below, as well as links to other locally written blogs that have addressed the issue with, I believe, considerable thought and insight. I will be re-blogging one of them shortly, and I do hope you will read them all. These are people who, like myself, have observed what is happening in civil society in Jamaica. And by the way, much of what is happening ain’t pretty.
Anyway, I congratulate Ms. Fraser-Pryce on her achievement – none of this is her fault – and I am sure she will be a lovely Ambassador, whatever that entails. A new assessment center for children with disabilities is to be opened and named in her honor, and that is good.
Just a quick footnote on this matter: Has anyone – the UTech leadership, the politicians, Jamaicans in general – thought about the possible global repercussions of the UTech matter? YouTube videos are powerful weapons. The moron who uploaded the video of this human rights abuse thought it was great fun to show the world this illustration of Jamaica’s homophobia and “wild West” mob-rule mentality. But it may have back-fired – not only on those who participated in this scene of persecution, but on Jamaica itself, including its law-abiding citizens. Could the world fall out of love with the Jamaica of Usain Bolt, gold medals, beaches and reggae music? Isn’t its image tarnished with violence, lawlessness and bigotry already? Doesn’t this video make matters worse? Or do Jamaicans and Jamaican leaders not realize that people around the world do sit up and take notice of such matters, which here in Jamaica might be brushed aside with a quick statement or public relations piece? What impact will all of this have on our tourism industry, for example? It’s not only Hurricane Sandy that may put a dampener on things in that respect. Take a read of the online article below - “Un-coupling Usain Bolt and Jamaica.” It will make you wonder…where are we heading?
I really hope the leaders of Jamaica – in politics, academia and in the church/churches specifically – are sitting up and taking notice, too. And talking of leadership… Once again the commentators are asking for a sign from our Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller that she is truly engaged in the people’s business. Jamaicans often call her “Mama P” or “Sista P” - suggesting her warm, fuzzy family image. She hugs people a lot. And kisses. It’s quite endearing. I think she even hugged Prince Harry during his visit. But as one columnist noted today, why was she not doing just that with the people of Portland after Hurricane Sandy? Today’s Observer cartoon compares her unfavorably with President Barack Obama, who has been doing quite a lot of hugging and comforting. By contrast, our political leader reportedly flew over the storm-ravaged areas in a military helicopter, and did not set foot on the ground. A missed PR opportunity of major proportions. She doesn’t have ministers to do that. She has to show leadership herself, in person.
Bearing in mind her comments on gay rights during a televised election debate about a year ago, I would also love “Mama P” to reach out to the victim of the attack at UTech, to express regret and wish for his wellbeing. Perhaps even to condemn the incident? But I won’t hold my breath on that one.
On the economic front, there are still concerns that we are not being told much about the prospects for the completion of an agreement with the International Monetary Fund. The head of the Private Sector Organization of Jamaica, Christopher Zacca, hinted in a speech last week that more information would be most helpful to him and his colleagues, at this point. And I know I am a skeptic, but what if no agreement takes place at all (is it a given)? I am not sure how we would then proceed. Anyone?
Meanwhile, I went through the usual torture of watching the television prime time news this evening. Why do I watch it? my husband asks. A man grieves over his mother; another woman tells the story of her daughter, who was abducted and has never been seen again, breaking down in the end. Should the television reporters air these stories? Or should they “balance them out” with nice, “positive” stories of sweetness and light, as many Jamaicans contend? They do have a point. Of course, life is not all bad. But news is news, and “soft news” doesn’t quite have the same impact, I am afraid.
Talking about “soft”… Let me seek to balance things out with a few tributes this week. Let me open the first envelope…
I was pleased to see a piece in today’s Outlook (in the Sunday Gleaner) about Ms. Becky Stockhausen, the intrepid Executive Director of the American Chamber of Commerce. In my previous life at the U.S. Embassy I often had the opportunity to work with her and I always enjoyed it. Becky is a woman of action, and she has a lot of heart, and I like that. This determined native of Akron, Ohio could have given up on Jamaica years ago, but she has been here for thirty years. She has made a difference; and I always feel that she is on the right track. By the way, I like the series “10 Things You Didn’t Know About…” It works.
Congratulations to the lovely ladies of the new CVM Television series “The Naked Truth,” which started up a few weeks ago. It appears to be modeled on the highly successful U.S. program The View, in which a group of women with various personalities discuss the news and current issues, both serious and trivial, in what seems to be an intuitive and spontaneous exchange. The hosts, Shelly Ann Weeks and Paula Kerr-Jarrett, are making a good job of it so far. It is a work in progress and there are awkward moments – but such is the nature of this type of program. It will evolve…. PS: I do not like the title of the series at all. It is supposed to sound suggestive, mildly salacious, I guess. Well, if it was a group of men, I am sure that the name of the program would be something different, less…silly.
- Not long ago, I wrote a blog post about the slender little soursop tree in our back yard, and the mysterious case of our disappearing soursops. I was pleased to see a really well-written story by Paul H. Williams in the Gleaner, about this fruit’s healing properties. I adore drinking the juice, but understand that it is the leaves and bark that are really powerful. Drinking such a potion has kept Yvonne Kirlew cancer-free for years, now. The story has a South Florida connection. You can read it below.
Congratulations, too, to the four selected artists for the Super Plus Under 40 Artist of the Year competition. As usual, there is such impressive talent on display. This year, three of the artists have links to photography; and last year’s winner, O’Neil Lawrence, was also a photographer. Do go down to the Mutual Gallery in Kingston and vote for your favorite before November 19; there is a Jury Prize and a Public Prize. You can visit the Gallery’s website for more details. The private sector support for this competition is great, and especially the enthusiasm of Mr. Wayne Chen of Super Plus.
Below is a list of Jamaicans murdered over the past week. It has lengthened again, I am afraid. The storm has passed, and it is back to business as usual.
I am sorry.
Until next week…
Donovan Johnson, 39, Spanish Town Road, Kingston
Two unidentified men, Old Harbour, St. Catherine
Unidentified man, Gutters, St. Catherine
Donald Chin, 19, Montego Bay, St. James
Conrad Oliver Dunkley, 57, Burnt Savannah, St. Elizabeth
Tanisha Hamilton, 28, Thompson Town, Clarendon
Derek Henry, Vere, Clarendon
Sylvester Thomas, Top Hill, Portland
Maureen Cox, 50, Retirement, St. James
Owen Walters, 23, Mocho, Clarendon
Alex Elliot, 20, Mandeville, Manchester
Stephen Collier, 40, Mandeville, Manchester
Ian Malcolm, 24, Anchovy, St. James
Samuel Young, 62, Sandy Bay, Hanover
Yvonne Smith-Waldron, 51, Windsor Heights, St. Catherine
Sheryl Desouza-Wright, 53, Windsor Heights, St. Catherine
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Trial-starts-for-three-cops-on-murder-charge (Trial starts for three cops on murder charge: Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Cop-witnessed-colleagues-abduct-men (Cop witnessed colleagues abduct men: Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Flooding-in-north-eastern-parishes (Flooding in north-eastern parishes: Jamaica Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121102/letters/letters1.html (Where will they live, Prime Minister? Letter to the Jamaica Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Vaz-launches-storm-relief-fund_12890369 (Vaz launches storm relief fund: Jamaica Observer)
http://www.og.nr/rbt/9719-burnt-body-found-in-port-royal-identified-as-tandy-lewis.html (Burnt body found in Port Royal identified as Tandy Lewis: On The Ground News Reports)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121029/lead/lead2.html (“I weep over my city”: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/In-these-times–we-need-decisive-leadership_12902600 (In these times, we need decisive leadership: Claude Robinson op-ed, Sunday Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121103/news/news4.html (Soursop stories still creating stir: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/08/29/a-tale-of-two-soursops/ (A tale of two soursops: petchary.wordpress.com)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/A-week-after-Sandy—-the-good–bad–and-ugly_12895097 (A week after Sandy: The good, the bad and the ugly: James Moss-Solomon op-ed, Sunday Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121104/lead/lead8.html (Unsung heroes: Sunday Gleaner)
Sunday After Sandy: October 28, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)
http://bloommagazineonline.com/2012/11/03/1508/?fb_comment_id=fbc_299908706777015_1353453_300089816758904#f15ff8214c (Un-coupling Usain Bolt and Jamaica: Bloom Magazine)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Opposition-spokesperson-on-education-condemns-Utech-beating (Opposition Spokesperson on Education condemns UTech beating: Jamaica Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121104/cleisure/cleisure1.html (Let’s see what our leaders do: Sunday Gleaner editorial)
http://www.dianamccaulay.com/apps/blog/show/19730499-i-promise-to-love-you-for-the-rest-of-my-life (I promise to love you for the rest of my life: Diana McCaulay blog)
http://rawpoliticsjamaicastyle.wordpress.com/2012/11/03/gay-violence-at-local-university-symptomatic-of-jamaicas-increasing-descent-into-anarchy-and-mayhem/ (“Gay” violence at local university symptomatic of Jamaica’s increasing descent into anarchy and mayhem: Raw Politics Jamaica Style blog)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121104/lead/lead93.html (UTech’s class of 2012 challenged to be game changers: Sunday Gleaner)
Gay Bashing in Jamaica a national policy? (anniepaul.net)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/editorial/Not-enough–Minister-Thwaites_12864823 (Not enough, Minister Thwaites: Jamaica Observer editorial)
Owen Ellington battles on for his job, but …… Checkmate ? (commonsenseja.wordpress.com)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/editorial/Sandy-s-double-trouble-for-the-economy_12885451 (Sandy’s double trouble for the economy: Jamaica Observer editorial)
Jamaica’s deadly homophobia also kills heterosexuals (76crimes.com)
http://elitestv.com/pub/2012/11/student-beating-raises-issue-of-homophobia-in-jamaica (Student beating raises issues of homophobia in Jamaica)