Good Friday Music

Good Friday is almost over. It has been blissfully quiet on our usually busy street. The only sounds have been the springtime wind in the trees, the song of the “nightingale” (our mockingbird) perched on the lamp post, and the occasional, obligatory bark from our dog, when she felt she really had to register her presence. You would never have thought you were in the city, at all.

The fantastic German tenor Jonas Kaufmann as Parsifal in the Metropolitan Opera of New York's latest production.

The fantastic German tenor Jonas Kaufmann as Parsifal in the Metropolitan Opera of New York’s latest production. (Photo: Ken Howard/Met Opera)

At the end of the afternoon, we felt as if we were awakening from a very long meditation. We had played our entire four-CD set of Wagner’s “Parsifal.”  We often don’t get past the first CD, but when you listen to it in full, it slowly and steadily seeps into your soul and your heart. It is sublime. It is hypnotic. It requires focus.

Richard Wagner (1813-1883)

Richard Wagner (1813-1883)

OK, I know Richard Wagner doesn’t have a good “image.” Unfortunately, Adolf Hitler was a big fan; some of Wagner’s own views were controversial to say the least. Hitler thought Wagner’s epic operas fitted in beautifully with his concept of heroic Germany. And Wagner was not a particularly lovable person. But then, nor was Johannes Brahms, who wrote such fine music but was a miserable, bad-tempered man.

Flower maidens try to lead Parsifal (Jonas Kaufmann) astray. (Photo: Sara Krulwich/New York Times)

Flower maidens try to lead Parsifal (Jonas Kaufmann) astray. (Photo: Sara Krulwich/New York Times)

But if we can (please) put all of that on one side, “Parsifal,” Wagner’s last opera, is more than just an opera. At five and a half hours long, it is a journey. It took Wagner four years to compose. At its first performance at the Festspielhaus in Bayreuth in 1882, he was already ailing. It is based (loosely) on a thirteenth-century epic poem called “Parzival,” about one of the knights of King Arthur’s Round Table, but there is much more to it.

A scene from "Parsifal."

A scene from “Parsifal.” (Photo: Ken Howard/Met Opera)

A part of Act 3 is called “Good Friday Music.” It was actually prepared as a separate piece, and it’s the scene where Parsifal arrives at the Castle of the Grail (the Holy Grail or chalice) and rests in a meadow filled with flowers.“This is Good Friday’s magic spell” (Karfreitagszauber), says the knight Gurnemanz. In 1865, Wagner wrote to his friend and patron, King Ludwig II of Bavaria: “A warm and sunny Good Friday, with its mood of sacred solemnity, once inspired me with the idea of writing Parsifal; since then it has lived within me and prospered, like a child in its mother’s womb. With each Good Friday it grows a year older, and I then celebrate the day of its conception, knowing that its birthday will follow one day.” 

The final act is filled with hope, redemption, and a kind of emotional and spiritual cleansing, hard to describe. Here Parsifal holds the Holy Grail. (Photo: New York Times)

The final act is filled with hope, redemption, and a kind of emotional and spiritual cleansing, hard to describe. Here Parsifal holds the Holy Grail. (Photo: New York Times)

If you read the story of “Parsifal,” you might think to yourself: “What the heck?”  This opera may sound like a sort of religious hotchpotch, with maidens and knights thrown in; but it is not. The music transcends and blurs the lines. The final Act simply shimmers with emotion, with hope, redemption and all those wonderful words that give our lives meaning. And I don’t see it as a purely “Christian” work; Wagner was not particularly religious, but interested in spirituality in his later years. He was reading the work of Persian Sufi poet Hafez at the time, and was apparently planning to write an opera about the Buddha.

Evgeny Nikitin as the magician Klingsor in "Parsifal" at the Metropolitan Opera of New York. (Photo: Sara Krulwich/New York Times)

Evgeny Nikitin as the magician Klingsor in “Parsifal” at the Metropolitan Opera of New York. When we saw the opera at Covent Garden in London many years ago, the Jamaican-born Willard White played this role. He was very sinister, indeed. (Photo: Sara Krulwich/New York Times)

“Parsifal” is not easy to understand, and draws on many cultural references. There is magic. There is darkness and fear; there is passion, and even an (attempted) seduction scene. It could actually have a lot of appeal for younger audiences, given the enormous popularity of “The Lord of the Rings,” “The Game of Thrones” and other lengthy, vivid and powerful fantasy narratives. However, it requires huge amounts of patience, and the attention span of our young people does not extend to well over five hours. It unfolds slowly. Slowly, and beautifully.

The opening Vorspiel (Prelude) of the opera is calm and stately. “Parsifal” ends on lingering, peaceful notes. It is springtime, the weather is sweet, and all’s well with the world.

I hope you had a wonderful Good Friday.

P.S. To our great chagrin, the current Metropolitan Opera of New York production – with the stunningly charismatic and accomplished tenor, Jonas Kaufmann in the title role – was not among the operas chosen for the worldwide HD live broadcasts. I can understand why; its length is a major drawback for that kind of thing. But I am so sad that I will not be able to see the wonderful Mr. Kaufmann – whose performance in Massenet’s “Werther” was exquisite – as the wandering fool Parsifal in our local cinema. Never mind. 

Tenor Jonas Kaufmann in the latest production directed by Francois Girard at the Metropolitan Opera of New York. (Photo: Ken Howard/Met Opera)

Tenor Jonas Kaufmann in the latest production directed by Francois Girard at the Metropolitan Opera of New York. (Photo: Ken Howard/Met Opera)

Thank you, Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I was extremely saddened by the news of the death of Gabriel García Márquez, the great Colombian writer. He passed away at home in Mexico City, aged 87, after being hospitalized for a lung infection recently. 

"One Hundred Years of Solitude" has sold over 50 million copies in 37 languages.

“One Hundred Years of Solitude” has sold over 50 million copies in 37 languages.

Saddened is not a strong enough word, really. His works have always taken me into a world of intricate beauty and enchantment, infused with wisdom. Although I cannot speak Spanish, the English translations have always been enough to transport me to that world. The language alone is entrancing, but Márquez was always the greatest of storytellers. Importantly, he was my personal introduction to Latin American literature. He got me hooked. As you can see from the book reviews posted in this blog, I have remained absorbed and fascinated by the fiction coming from this continent – so close to our islands that I can almost feel its breath. In fact, I have just finished reading “Maya’s Notebook” by Isabel Allende – who has been a California resident for many years but keeps the “Americas” between the pages of her novels. And I do love that phrase, “the Americas.”

Here’s a wonderful quote from the Nobel Laureate’s speech, on receiving the Prize for Literature in 1982. He described Latin America as a “source of insatiable creativity, full of sorrow and beauty, of which this roving and nostalgic Colombian is but one cipher more, singled out by fortune. Poets and beggars, musicians and prophets, warriors and scoundrels, all creatures of that unbridled reality, we have had to ask but little of imagination, for our crucial problem has been a lack of conventional means to render our lives believable.”

So, for all that, thank you, Mr. Márquez. 

Here’s a short review I wrote of one of my favorite works. I plan to systematically re-read and review all the others, now.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez at the University of Guadalajara, Mexico in 2007. (Photo: Getty Images)

Gabriel Garcia Marquez at the University of Guadalajara, Mexico in 2007. (Photo: Getty Images)

Chronicle of a Death Foretold (Petchary book review)

If you have not yet ventured into García Márquez’ world of vivid beauty and disturbing visions, this may not be the best book to start with. It has the seductive shock value of a really good horror movie (if you enjoy that genre); and the startling chill of a mountain stream on a hot summer’s day. Well, take a deep breath before you start.

From the very first line of the novella, we know that Santiago Nasar is to be murdered. I am not giving away the plot here, as we know this simple fact from the beginning – and in the next few pages, we know who did the terrible deed. So, this is no murder mystery. Where is the mystery then? Why read beyond the first page? The utter strangeness and bewildering puzzle of this tale is not how (this is horrifically described at the end), but why? Why did it still happen when everyone saw it coming, and why didn’t they stop it?

By “they,” I mean the residents of a small town on the Caribbean coast: a town of sea breezes and banana groves, almond trees and balconies around the main square. The narrator returns many years later to try to unravel the story. It begins early one morning (was it cloudy or sunny? Accounts differ) when the well to do, handsome Arab merchant Santiago Nasar rises with a hangover, and dresses in white unstarched linen, hoping to meet a bishop who is due to visit the town. The memories of those he encounters that morning, and those he had met the night before at the wedding festivities, are tinged with fear or scorn, pity or indifference. Moving through the story, pale and innocent, Santiago Nasar almost sleepwalks to his death – a death he does not understand.

The story is disturbing in its simplicity, yet intensely complex. The extraordinary characters are finely drawn with a few vivid strokes, and their conversations are brief; yet there are many things they do not wish to discuss. While the action is close to melodrama – sometimes slowing down, sometimes rushing headlong, like a movie – there is a quiet sense of nothing really changing, underneath. Life goes on.

I am reminded of that bleak little spaghetti Western: Clint Eastwood, cigar clenched between his teeth, rides into a town filled with guilt-ridden, silent inhabitants. But this story has none of the heavy morality of revenge. The murder happens because it simply has to, and that’s the end of it. The scent of it – the sickly scent of Santiago Nasar’s butchered body – hangs over the town.

“Fatality makes us invisible,” a magistrate notes, resignedly, in his brief. No one is punished, no one really mourns. And life goes on.

Dear reader, this tale will haunt you like a brilliant, yet troubling dream. And, even if you want to, you cannot change the ending of dreams.

Author Note: Gabriel García Márquez was born in 1928 in Aracataca, on the Caribbean coast of Colombia, and brought up by his maternal grandparents. His grandfather, a veteran army Colonel of liberal views, and his grandmother and her sisters, with their love of superstition and folklore, were all strong influences. Following his parents’ wishes, he began to study law, but his real passion was reading classical and modern literature and writing; in 1950 he abandoned law and began a journalism career. He was European correspondent for a Bogotá newspaper, which was meanwhile shut down by the Colombian dictatorship. After living in Paris, then moving to Venezuela, he traveled through Eastern Europe in the 1950s, seeking socialist solutions toLatin America’s problems. He reported on revolutionary Cuba, where he befriended Fidel Castro. He finally settled in Mexico City, where he worked on screenplays and published his novellas: “No One Writes to the Colonel” (1961), and “In Evil Hour” (1962). In 1967 his masterpiece “One Hundred Years of Solitude” brought him instant fame and numerous international prizes. “Autumn of the Patriarch” followed in 1975. Still devoted to political and social causes, he sought political asylum in Mexico in 1981. In 1982 he received the Nobel Prize for Literature. “Love in the Time of Cholera” (1986) and “The General in His Labyrinth” (1990) followed. Returning to his journalism roots, he bought a Colombian news magazine and wrote a non-fiction work, “News of a Kidnapping,” on the Colombian narcotics trade in 1996. Since becoming ill with cancer, García Márquez has focused on writing a three-volume memoir.

Chronicle of a Death Foretold was also made, rather unsuccessfully, into a film. Skip the film, READ THE BOOK!

gMyEN

The Mid-Weeker: Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The long Easter weekend is nearly upon us, and not a moment too soon. There’s a slightly “frazzled” feeling (or is it just me?) We all need a little break, I think.

“Time out”:  I agree with broadcaster Cliff Hughes that we all need to take a little “time out” in the matter of Youth Minister Lisa Hanna’s remarks regarding the issue of child abuse (a huge crisis, as she correctly noted) and the Alpha Boys’ School. Sadly, it has escalated. The Minister has “fired back” today at the school’s press release, which I published yesterday, with a letter to the Sisters of Mercy released to the media. Her communications man, former journalist Oliver Watt, insisted on radio this evening that her remarks were not inappropriate, and this is what she clearly believes. A Jamaica Observer cartoon on the matter was really distasteful and cruel – I’m not going to publish it here. We need to pull back now and allow all parties to work things out quietly and outside the glare of the media. (But let’s face it – if the Minister had not made those comments, there would have been no horrible cartoon…)

Terrence Williams, head of the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM), speaks with members of the media while Kahmile Reid, senior communications officer of INDECOM, looks on during a recent press briefing. (Photo: Rudolph Brown/Gleaner)

Terrence Williams, head of the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM), speaks with members of the media while Kahmile Reid, senior communications officer of INDECOM, looks on during a recent press briefing. (Photo: Rudolph Brown/Gleaner)

Excellent news: There has been a dramatic reduction in the number of fatal shootings by the police in the first quarter of this year – from 76 last year to 40 this year. That’s a decline of 47.3 per cent! Could it be that the police are aware that they are now being watched more carefully – and more importantly, that they are being held accountable? Last month they only killed four people, compared to 19 in 2013. This seems a tremendous vindication of the work of the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) – which has been very busy this year, having completed 88 investigations and recommended that sixteen police officers be charged with criminal offenses. Congratulations are also due to Minister of National Security Peter Bunting, who seems to be getting a better grip on things and supports INDECOM’s work. Good. Now keep it up!

Signed and sealed (but)… Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell finally broke his silence and told us he signed the license for Energy World International (EWI) to supply 381 megawatts of power back on April 4. It was amended (what were the amendments?) and re-signed on April 14, and included a draft (draft) Implementation Agreement between the Government and EWI. The Minister will meet with the Energy Monitoring Committee (EMC) to explain everything to them and then make the license arrangement public. Shouldn’t the EMC have been involved earlier? The Private Sector Organization of Jamaica is still expressing concern over the lack of transparency, while the Opposition’s Karl Samuda is waffling away about it, as is his wont. Well, we shall see what we shall see. (What about the financing?)

Finance Minister Peter Phillips. (Photo: Jamaica Information Service)

Finance Minister Peter Phillips. (Photo: Jamaica Information Service)

An independent central bank: Something I thought would never happen anytime soon has just happened. The omnibus banking bill currently being pushed through Parliament at the behest of the International Monetary Fund includes clauses that remove certain powers from the Minister of Finance in relation to the Bank of Jamaica (BoJ). The Minister will no longer appoint the BoJ governor, nor will he monitor banking institutions, grants licenses etc. This is quite remarkable. If this legislation had been in place when Omar Davies was Finance Minister, the collapse of the local banking sector under FINSAC would never have happened.

Appealing: Lawyers for Deejay Vybz Kartel and his three fellow convicts have filed appeals against their life sentences in the Supreme Court. As expected.

One of the wider parts of the Bog Walk Gorge, looking towards the historic Flat Bridge over the Rio Cobre.

One of the wider parts of the Bog Walk Gorge, looking towards the historic Flat Bridge over the Rio Cobre.

Not feasible: Mr. Howard Chin of the Jamaica Institute of Engineers says the idea of the damming of Bog Walk Gorge, which the ubiquitous China Harbour Engineering Company is looking at, is not a new idea. Decades ago it was considered, but ruled out because of the porous nature of the rocks and other reasons.

National Security Minister Peter Bunting. (Photo: Gleaner)

National Security Minister Peter Bunting. (Photo: Gleaner)

 

 

 

 

Congratulations and cheers!

Professor Mervyn Morris is Jamaica's first Poet Laureate for fifty years.

Professor Mervyn Morris is Jamaica’s first Poet Laureate for fifty years.

  • Professor Mervyn Morris, who is Jamaica’s new Poet Laureate! I am not sure whose idea this was, but it’s a great one. The Jamaican public also got the opportunity to vote. Professor Morris is a poet with an economical style – every word counts – but he is not lacking in acute observation and often a wry humor. I love his poetry, and he is also a calm, quiet, erudite man (also a former Rhodes Scholar at my alma mater, and a Fulbright Scholar by the way). This is well deserved! And by the way, he is Jamaica’s first Poet Laureate since Independence. Pretty cool.
  • Five women who were sworn in as judges by Governor-General this week. Carol Lawrence Beswick, and Ingrid Mangatal, who will act as Judges of Appeal. Justice Audre Lindo, and Marcia Dunbar Green will act as Puisine Judges of the Supreme Court; and Rosemarie Harris, who will act as Master-in-Chambers in the Supreme Court. Kudos to all!
  • CVM Television, who are keeping the fires of investigative reporting alive with their reporting in the local news and on the excellent current affairs program “Live at Seven.” Their latest report was very well put together, and I look forward to a response from the police on their allegedly faulty firearms!
The Black River Morass, which is a part of the Portland Bight Protected Area.

The Black River Morass, a large wetland area in St. Elizabeth.

  • Nationwide News Network recently reported from the Black River Morass in St. Elizabeth – the reporter took a tour to take a look at the problem of invasive species – namely, the paperbark tree and the water hyacinth. Very good, and I hope they do more of this reporting, which reminded me of the BBC actually!

My deepest sympathies, as always, to the families of the following who were murdered this week, and are now grieving…

Owayne Barrett, 33, St. Catherine

Nigel Steele, St. Catherine

Jeffrey Silvera, 35, Ocho Rios, St. Ann

Dean Watts, Canaan Heights, Clarendon

Daniel Anderson, 22, Rectory Road, Clarendon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A woman prepares to make her way cross a section of Clock Tower Plaza flooded by water from a broken hydrant (inset) in the vicinity. (Photo: Joseph Wellington/Jamaica Observer)

A woman prepares to make her way cross a section of Clock Tower Plaza flooded by water from a broken hydrant (inset) in the vicinity. The usual incompetence (and waste) from the National Water Commission. (Photo: Joseph Wellington/Jamaica Observer)

Alpha Boys’ Home Statement by the Sisters of Mercy

MY DEAR READERS: This is a statement from the Sisters of Mercy, who administer the Alpha Boys’ School for abused and abandoned boys on South Camp Road in Kingston. Alpha Boys’ is an educational institution founded by Jesse Ripoll in 1880s. It has a tremendous tradition of musical accomplishment. For more information on this wonderful place, go to: http://www.alphaboysschool.org

I am also publishing below the statement a column written by Jean Lowrie-Chin in yesterday’s “Jamaica Observer.” This column also makes it clear that Alpha Boys’ has been struggling financially for years; but despite the closure of its residential program there is much hope for a new and brighter future for Alpha boys. 

Let us show the Alpha Boys – and all our children, especially those in State care – more love, compassion and respect.

The Sisters of Mercy are forced to break our silence in the face of unfortunate statements on the Alpha Boys’ School and resulting media commentaries, including a shocking cartoon, which have been disrespectful and have caused great stress to our students.

It is bad enough to make harsh remarks and direct hurtful “humour” towards adults, but when directed at children, it is irresponsible and indefensible. We wish to express our sadness at this turn of events on behalf of Alpha students and children in State care everywhere in Jamaica.

The untruths and half-truths that have been voiced and published in the press about the closure of the residential programme at Alpha Boys’ School have caused serious damage to our boys who are presently living at Alpha. We seem as a society to be unable to strike a balance between fair political comment and good journalism on the one hand and sensationalism in politics and journalism on the other hand opting only for sensationalism. Let us stop blaming the victims in this case and bring the voices of reason to bear on what is a very positive and life-giving move for the future students at Alpha Boys’ School.

The Community of the Sisters of Mercy have made a decision regarding the closure of only the residential programme at Alpha Boys’ School based on many factors related to finance and personnel. These are not new problems and over several years we have raised the issues of inadequate finance and social misbehavior to the attention of both Governments. The residential program at St John Bosco Children’s Home in Mandeville which is also operated by the Sisters of Mercy will continue to provide residential care to over 100 boys.

However our decision is now timely in the present climate and direction of the Child Development Agency’s (“CDA”) new thrust toward foster care and family reintegration: our decision goes hand in hand with the CDA’s thrust to put the responsibility for child rearing back into the home. Support services will also need to be a part of this transition.

The restructuring of Alpha will facilitate the Sisters of Mercy along with the Ministry of Education and HEART to offer remedial education for more than 200 boys, along with technical and vocational education. Our renowned music education will also be expanded to include radio, sound production and commercial components.

Truth – “What is truth”? Pilate’s dilemma comes to mind as we read and heard the words of those who testify against our management of the Alpha Boys’ School. We hope this statement will address that question, and that all parties will allow our precious children to receive the respect they deserve.

___________________________________________________________________

15 April 2014

Sister Marie Chin, Regional Administrator

Religious Sisters of Mercy,

“Alpha”, 26 South Camp Road

Kingston 4.

 

Mercy alive and well at Alpha Boys’ School

Jamaica Observer, Monday April 14, 2014

AFTER almost 130 years of nurturing Jamaican boys, the Alpha Boys’ School is closing its residential facilities. On the positive side, however, the school will expand its educational offerings. You would think that an institution like Alpha would have no difficulty receiving a decent subvention for its good work. But, like many others of its kind, it has been struggling financially.

“We understand that the decision to close the residential part of Alpha Boys School has been subject to misunderstanding and misinterpretation,” commented Sister Marie Chin, area administrator of the Sisters of Mercy, when I called her after hearing the reports. “We appreciate this opportunity to explain that the closing of the residential part is due to a constellation of factors that are as much social as they are economic.”

She said pointedly: “The problems that have arisen in this programme did not materialise overnight; nor do they belong solely to Alpha Boys’ School. They have grown exponentially alongside the deterioration of societal values and norms, our seeming incapacity to halt our country’s downward spiral into alarming dysfunction, and inadequate government funding to meet the social and developmental needs of our people.”

It seems that the Minister of Youth and Culture Lisa Hanna may have misunderstood the situation, as she ascribed the change in operations to deviant behaviour among the students. Sister Susan Frazer, the administrator for Alpha Boys’ School, wants to make it clear that it is a small minority that gives cause for such concern. The students are deeply hurt by this comment, so we hope that the minister will explain to them, that her sweeping statement resulted from a misunderstanding.

Thank goodness the great Usain Bolt lifted their spirits when he visited Alpha Boys School last Wednesday and presented gifts to all.

“The Sisters of Mercy remain firm in their long-time commitment to boys at risk,” said Sister Marie Chin. “Neither Alpha Boys’ School nor St John Bosco (which the Sisters operate in Manchester) is closing. In fact, Alpha is undergoing a restructuring that will enable the ministry to help more boys who are at risk. Part of the restructuring will include closing the residential part only of Alpha Boys’ School as the Sisters of Mercy join with the Ministry of Education and HEART to offer literacy, numeracy and remedial educational along with technical and vocation education for more than 200 boys.

“With the escalating cost of living over these last years, the amount of funds that Government has given per capita to private children’s homes, such as Alpha Boys’ School and St John Bosco, for housing, clothing, food, and education has proven to be woefully inadequate,” said Sister.

After several attempts to address this situation the Sisters of Mercy have had to acknowledge some hard facts: “Our childcare system is broken, and we can no longer continue doing business as usual. It is no longer enough to simply provide beds for our children. We must seek alternative ways to enable our vulnerable children to enhance their potential as human beings and to become employable and responsible citizens capable of taking their rightful place in society. And, with the changes we are initiating, we are pursuing that path.”

Alpha Boys’ School graduate, the legendary musician Winston ‘Sparrow’ Martin is the bandmaster for the school and outlined the plans for the expansion of their cherished and esteemed music education which has developed such other talents as Cedric ‘Im’ Brooks, Dwight Richards, Lennie Hibbert OD, Tommy McCook, Don Drummond, Johnny ‘Dizzy’ Moore, Rico Rodriguez, Winston ‘Yellowman’ Foster, Dizzy Reece, Lester Sterling OD, Dalton Browne, Nicholas Laraque, Leslie Samuels, Harold McNair, Wilton ‘Bogey’ Gaynair, Bertie King, Leslie Thompson, Damon Riley, Tony Gregory, and Leroy Smart.

They have played with many top bands, including Bob Marley and the Wailers, The Beatles — yes, those world-famous Brits — and our legendary Skatalites. Alpha past students have worked with or now work with Beres Hammond, Beenie Man, Jimmy Cliff, Stephen Marley, Damian Marley, and Nomaddz.

“The future developments at Alpha Boys’ School mean larger numbers of students will be able to take advantage of a comprehensive music industry training programme at the school,” said Sparrow Martin, “including but not limited to: training in performance; work in the newly created sound studio; radio technology; as well as the ‘business’ of music and recording”.

He said that Alpha Boys’ School Radio (http://www.alphaboysschoolradio.com/), features local and international productions and has been gaining worldwide popularity, with over 60,000 unique listeners. Many of them have contributed to the recently completed Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign which will enable the school to build its own radio studio. Here, the students will be trained in production, presentation, promotions, and programming.

Thanks to the Jamaica National Foundation, the school is also developing a state-of-the-art music recording studio, where there will be instruction in recording techniques, audio engineering and audio production.

“Alpha now has its own top band, the Alpha All Stars, a touring band consisting of Alpha graduates playing jazz, ska, rocksteady, and reggae,” said a proud Martin. “The band will be an opportunity for Alpha alumni who demonstrate an ability to perform and will facilitate the transition from school to work. This is a music enterprise, so instruction will include an introduction to and practical experience in contracts, booking, licensing, promotion, and publishing.”

Additionally, students will be trained in screen-printing, woodwork, general maintenance, landscaping, hydroponic farming, and other skills. It is a model that has worked well at St John Bosco, where farming, meat processing and catering are helping that residential facility, also run by the Sisters of Mercy, to be self-sustaining. It is noteworthy that the catering manager there is none other than Newton Coote, who was rescued at seven years old after his hand was set on fire by an abusive father. Newton, who is now 40, is an exemplary leader at Bosco.

Clearly, mercy for Jamaica’s children remains alive and well with the Sisters. Alpha Boys’ School will continue to educate and train Jamaica’s boys so that, like Sparrow Martin and Newton Coote, they can become responsible citizens, embracing the dignity of honest work and enjoying the fruits of their success.

Jean Lowrie-Chin

Late again! Sunday, April 13, 2014

My apologies again for this belated “Wh’appen in Jamaica” post! I can’t seem to catch up with myself.

Police Commissioner Owen Ellington: some concerns over his TV interview. (Photo: Gleaner)

Police Commissioner Owen Ellington: some concerns over his TV interview. (Photo: Gleaner)

Really, Mr. Commissioner?  Several things worried me about Commissioner of Police Owen Ellington’s television interview with Dionne Jackson-Miller this past week. The program posed questions from Jamaican men and women on the street; good idea. Commissioner of Police Owen Ellington asserted, right at the end, “Jamaicans are not afraid of the police.” Really, Mr. Ellington? I so wish that were true. He also told us that the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) began investigating allegations of extra-judicial killings in the Clarendon police division long before the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) – but said that the division has been “stigmatized” because of INDECOM’s announcement – which he did not seem very happy with. If it was up to him, he seemed to suggest, he would rather have kept things quiet for a while longer?

As for his remark regarding Vybz Kartel’s “gang” being responsible for about 100 murders That puzzles and concerns me, since the appeal will be coming up soon. Can Commissioner Ellington substantiate this allegation? Was the JCF investigating these murders?

The boards: The Opposition’s Dr. Horace Chang has expressed concern that some chairpersons of government agencies are over-stepping their mark and acting like executive chairpersons, “which is in direct contravention of national policy, as stated in the Public Bodies Management Act.” Perhaps this explains recent upheavals in the Housing Association of Jamaica and National Housing Trust. We should keep an eye on this.

Energy World International's Managing Director and Chairman Stewart Elliot points to where the Liquefied Natural Gas storage tank will be located when the company begins construction of its electricity generating project soon. Elliot was on a tour of the Cane River area of East Rural St Andrew yesterday with a group that included (from left) Commissioner of Police Owen Ellington, Member of Parliament for East Rural St Andrew Damian Crawford and Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining, Phillip Paulwell. Energy World was recently granted a licence by the Office of Utilities Regulation for the supply of additional generating capacity to the national grid. (Photo: Joseph Wellington/Observer)

Energy World International’s Managing Director and Chairman Stewart Elliot points to where the Liquefied Natural Gas storage tank will be located when the company begins construction of its electricity generating project soon. Elliot was on a tour of the Cane River area of East Rural St Andrew yesterday with a group that included (from left) Commissioner of Police Owen Ellington, Member of Parliament for East Rural St Andrew Damian Crawford and Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining, Phillip Paulwell. Energy World was recently granted a licence by the Office of Utilities Regulation for the supply of additional generating capacity to the national grid. (Photo: Joseph Wellington/Observer)

Powerful stuff: Well, the folks from Energy World International (EWI) have paid us a visit, buoyed by the news that Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell will sign the license for them to supply 381 megawatts of power. EWI must provide a performance bond of US$37 million, among other things. It appears the Minister has not yet signed the license, however, and he is going to update us on this, he says. The Minister says he is “quite startled” by a Sunday Gleaner report that the government plans to disband the Energy Monitoring Committee (EMC) as soon as he has signed. The private sector must be relieved to hear this. The most important thing is that oversight is critical; we need the EMC to keep the focus on transparency. There has been precious little of that, so far.

JPS tweeted this graphic a few days ago - "The Real Cost of Energy."

JPS tweeted this graphic a few days ago – “The Real Cost of Energy.”

Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS), our electricity suppliers, are meanwhile involved in a series of public consultations concerning their request for a 21 per cent (yes!) increase in rates – which are already four or five times electricity rates in the United States, for example. The first meeting this evening in Kingston was reportedly relatively civil, with the expected fireworks not happening. Perhaps we are all too depressed to even complain?

Yes, crime IS a major impediment to investment, says leading businessman Richard Byles. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s latest report shows that Jamaica has the sixth highest murder rate in the world (39.3 per 100,000). It’s interesting that eight out of the top ten countries for homicide rates are in Central/South America and the Caribbean.

Portia Simpson Miller

Portia Simpson Miller holds a boy’s face firmly in place before planting a kiss!

Agonizing over child abuse: Our Prime Minister once again spoke out against child abuse, pleading with Jamaicans not to abuse their children, during a speech about something else. I am sure her concern is genuine, but telling people “Don’t do it!” doesn’t really “cut it.” The PM repeated some of the more unpleasant examples that the Youth Minister regaled us with the other day, while demeaning the students at Alpha Boys’ School. She told family members to take their misbehaving children to a leader, pastor etc – “a person that can demand respect and doesn’t beg respect.” She lost me there.

Report it! The Office of the Children’s Registry and UNICEF recently published findings that only one in ten Jamaicans who are actually aware of child abuse actually report it. This is absolutely tragic and hard to accept. 82 per cent of children aged 10 – 17 years old that they interviewed said they had experienced or witnessed some kind of emotional or physical abuse. People, report it! You can go to the OCR’s website (www.ocr.gov.jm) and click on “Make a Report” and there are several confidential ways that you can do this. You will also find their latest report for January – June 2013 there.

Sunset in Port Royal. (My photo)

Sunset in Port Royal. (My photo)

No longer so sleepy: The small town with a famous (notorious?) past – Port Royal – has been suffering from a crime wave, and blame is being placed on a growing squatter community. We always love driving out to Port Royal for fish. I hope the police can deal with it quickly – it has always been a peaceful place.

I spoke about social media activism a few days ago, with Dennis Brooks (a “tweep” and Liverpool Football Club fan – on a high at the moment) about using social media platforms to advocate for causes. I describe myself as a social media activist. If you want to hear Petchary chirping away with Dennis, the link is on SoundCloud here: https://soundcloud.com/nationwide-newsnet/timeline-social-media-activism

Noel Watt, principal of Dunrobin Primary School, along with students Kelsie Spaulding (left) and Kayla Spaulding, didn't get a drop of water from these pipes at the school yesterday. - (Photo: Gladstone Taylor/Gleaner)

Noel Watt, principal of Dunrobin Primary School, along with students Kelsie Spaulding (left) and Kayla Spaulding, didn’t get a drop of water from these pipes at the school yesterday. – (Photo: Gladstone Taylor/Gleaner)

Drying out: The water shortage is becoming so dire that some schools in Kingston closed this week because of the lack of what our local media like to call “the precious commodity,” rather quaintly. Jamaicans are finally starting to take the issue of water conservation seriously, and I suppose it’s never too late. Meanwhile, Kingston’s Mona and Hermitage reservoirs are 36 and 20  per cent full, respectively, and getting lower daily. Heavy water restrictions are being put in place.

Special, special thanks and kudos to:

Projects Abroad Jamaica Country Director Dr Bridgette Barrett speaking about the Belle Haven Centre which is to be built in Central Manchester for children and women living with HIV/AIDS at a Rotaract Club meeting at the Northern Caribbean University last Wednesday. (PHOTO: PROJECTS ABROAD)

Projects Abroad Jamaica Country Director Dr Bridgette Barrett speaking about the Belle Haven Centre which is to be built in Central Manchester for children and women living with HIV/AIDS at a Rotaract Club meeting at the Northern Caribbean University last Wednesday. (PHOTO: PROJECTS ABROAD)

  •  Projects Abroad Jamaica and the BrigIT Water Foundation in Australia, who are working to build a home for women and children living with HIV and AIDS in central Manchester. I heard of these plans some years ago, and am so glad the project is about to get off the ground after a long search for a suitable location for the Belle Haven Centre, as it will be called.
The boys at Alpha Boys' School enjoy the donated sports gear. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

The boys at Alpha Boys’ School enjoy the donated sports gear. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

  •  Usain Bolt (so dear to our hearts), who donated sports gear to Alpha Boys’ School – just in time for their sports day on April 16. This is a much-needed morale-booster for the School, which has really suffered from negative press in the past week or so. Let’s support the boys and the School…
This photo is to prove that I did, in fact, meet Yohan Blake. And what a nice person he is.

This photo is to prove that I did, in fact, meet Yohan Blake. And what a nice person he is.

  • And fellow-sprinter Yohan Blake - whom I met recently and grabbed a photo-op with! – for his continued kindness and generosity through his YB Afraid Foundation, which he founded in 2011. He has brought amazing benefits to the Mount Olivet Home for boys – including a fully-equipped computer lab, improved educational and skills training facilities, wonderful sports facilities, and the list goes on. Mr. Blake (still only 24 years old) also reaches out personally to the boys, chatting with them on Facebook and regularly visiting the home. He is awesome.
Mount Olivet Boys' Home's beautiful computer lab. (Photo: Gleaner)

Mount Olivet Boys’ Home’s beautiful computer lab. (Photo: Gleaner)

In the kitchen at Mockingbird Hill Hotel with the children from School of Hope. (Photo: Facebook)

In the kitchen at Mockingbird Hill Hotel with the children from School of Hope. (Photo: Facebook)

  • Hotel Mockingbird Hill, in beautiful Portland, which has been reaching out to the children with special needs at the local School of Hope. The Hotel is seeking donations of toys, games and other suitable material for the children.

 

My condolences to the grieving families of the following Jamaicans, who were murdered in the past few days. Police Constable Davian Thompson shot his wife dead at their Kingston home; his body was found in a gully the following morning. The police believe he committed suicide.

Latoya Campbell-Thompson, 27, Constant Spring Road, Kingston

Dion Watt, Canaan Heights, Clarendon

Irvin Campbell, 17, Little London, Westmoreland

George Ricketts, Wentworth/Port Maria, St. Mary

Ricardo Barrington, 27, Gloucester Avenue, Montego Bay, St. James

Charles Bryan, 38, Montego Bay, St. James

Kirk Millington, 33, Montego Bay, St. James

Killed by police:

Kirk Rose, 37, Alexandria, St. Ann

“Junior,” downtown Kingston

And on the road: A 65-year-old gentleman who was riding his bicycle along the road in Trelawny was hit and killed by a truck, which did not stop. Why have there been so many hit-and-run accidents, and why so many crashes in western Jamaica recently?

A crowd watches from the bridge on Shortwood Road in Kingston as undertakers and police take Constable Davian Thompson’s body from the gully yesterday morning. Police believe the cop committed suicide after killing his wife Saturday night. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

A crowd watches from the bridge on Shortwood Road in Kingston as undertakers and police take Constable Davian Thompson’s body from the gully yesterday morning. Police believe the cop committed suicide after killing his wife Saturday night. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

The (Un)bearable Lightness of Being

I put the bracket in the title above, because at this stage I am not sure whether it’s bearable, or not.

It’s not so easy to center yourself, to find and explore your inner self. For me, the hard part is the physical part.

The lovely practice space, evening time. (Photo: Facebook)

The lovely practice space, evening time. (Photos from Facebook page)

So it was with some trepidation that I first approached the TrueSelf Centre of Being, a haven of tranquility among tall trees and many birds in uptown Kingston. I was attracted by an invitation to join a special Yin Yoga session for activists, conducted by a gentle Canadian woman with blonde dreads. I consider myself an activist, more or less. It was a long evening, with the whistling and chirruping of crickets and frogs as a soundtrack and the scent of candles and incense wafting across the space. But I hardly noticed the time passing. We did a lot of noisy exhaling. Our teacher propped me up on occasion with various objects, to prevent me simply toppling over in embarrassing fashion. I realized I can hardly sit cross-legged any more.

After that, I felt ridiculously stretched and at the same time loose and relaxed. I spent the following day feeling very comfortable with my body (apart from aches and pains here and there). So I ventured to dip my toes in again, and this time it was Kundalini Yoga – a morning session, complete with birdsong. This was possibly the most rigorous workout I have ever experienced – including those hectic aerobics sessions I used to attend in my younger days. I have all kinds of things wrong with my back (I won’t bore you with details). By the end of the class, it had been twisted, stretched and massaged in a hundred different ways, while sweet and soothing music murmured to me in the background. For the next two days, my muscles quietly complained to me – including some I never knew existed – but I felt great. Invigorated inside and out.

Some of the lovely items that bring my stiff old body some comfort!

Some of the lovely items that bring my stiff old body some comfort!

Looking out...

Looking out…

Yesterday, I took my husband along to a Tai Chi session. We are both complete novices, my only brush with martial arts having been a huge enthusiasm for judo at high school in England. We were both nervous. We both, of course, found it ridiculously hard even to walk in the correct way from one end of the room to the other. For those who don’t know, or have never practiced yoga (or tai chi): None of it is as easy as it looks. It is incredibly demanding. You find yourself in an impossible position where you are supposed to have reached the floor – and you are only half way down. And then you remember – oh, I’m not breathing! Breathe…

I have seen people doing Tai Chi in the park; it looks so easy and relaxed. Well it isn’t easy, although one day it might get easier. We are both determined to try. If at first you don’t succeed…

At the end of our Tai Chi class, we went outside onto the lawn. Grey clouds floated around, serving no useful purpose. With our toes deliciously tucked into the thick grass, we raised our arms and faces to call down some rain. Later that afternoon, large warm drops of rain fell for five minutes, and then stopped. No, we were thinking of a bit more than that, Oh Rain God.

Did I mention that all of the above has been an uplifting experience? Truly. My head feels clear and alert, and the rest of my body is trying hard to catch up. I could get addicted to this.

Moreover, Deepak Chopra is starting one of his online meditation series on Monday. “You will hear a soft bell…” In the end, both my mind and body will feel so light, I might just float away.

Namaste.

The TrueSelf Centre of Being is on Facebook, and you can contact them at (876) 819-7899 or trueselfpractice@gmail.com. Do some good for yourself and sign up for a class today! 

The Centre's peaceful garden. (Photo: Facebook)

The Centre’s peaceful garden. 

 

 

 

 

 

Mid-Week Mutterings: Wednesday, April 9, 2014

This week has been hot, with a strong, restless wind. The reservoirs are low, and we need a few days of rain to restore us.

Which reminds me: The Meteorological Service has a new website, http://www.jamaicaclimate.net. A lot of work has gone into it and I highly recommend it. It has the regular weather forecast – but much more, lots of maps of drought and rainfall patterns, predicted patterns and long-term forecasts.  The Met Service says it is designed for planners and farmers. It’s well done.

Minister of Youth and Culture, Hon. Lisa Hanna (right), makes a point while addressing a press briefing at the Ministry, in St. Andrew, where she provided an update on the latest reports on child abuse. Beside the Minister is Chief Executive Officer of the Child Development Agency Mrs. Rosalee Gage-Grey. (Photo: JIS)

Minister of Youth and Culture, Hon. Lisa Hanna (right), makes a point while addressing a press briefing at the Ministry, in St. Andrew, where she provided an update on the latest reports on child abuse. Beside the Minister is Chief Executive Officer of the Child Development Agency Mrs. Rosalee Gage-Grey. (Photo: JIS)

Minister of Youth and Culture Lisa Hanna gave a press conference yesterday, which set us all in a pickle. Minister Hanna informed us that the residential part of the famous Alpha Boys’ School, which educates young, abandoned and orphaned boys – would be shut down in June. This is extremely sad news; as I have noted previously, the school (which has been around for 135 years)  is famous for the great Jamaican musicians nurtured under its roof, through its Boys’ Band. But Minister Hanna did not stop at that announcement (which she made apparently on behalf of the Sisters of Mercy, who run the school). She launched into a lurid account of the boys’ behavior – including “the sexual predatory nature of the boys on one another” - citing it as the reason for the closure. Of course, we all gasped in horror, and it made for dramatic media reports later that evening.

JN Foundation volunteers engaging boys at the Alpha Boys School.

JN Foundation volunteers engaging boys at the Alpha Boys School. (Photo: Gleaner)

Alpha has strongly denied that the boys’ misbehavior was the reason, calling it a “rumor.” I published their statement yesterday. Puzzlingly, local media houses (apart from the Gleaner) barely reported this denial. Did they not consider it important, or would they rather take the Minister’s statement at face value? There’s an interesting note in the “Jamaica Observer,” though: “A Jamaica Observer source indicated that the home was being granted less than a quarter of funds that was being given to Government-run orphanages despite repeated pleas by the nuns to be brought on par.” Could this be closer to the truth?

It’s not the first time that the Minister has regaled the Jamaican public with shocking details of child abuse and its consequent effect on children’s behavior. But, as Minister responsible for our youth, what action is being taken to deal with it? She vaguely mentioned some pending “initiatives” at the press briefing, but no details. If this really was going on at Alpha Boys’ School, is closing it down and moving the boys somewhere else truly a solution? How does this sensational speech reflect on the reputation of a revered and much-loved institution – and on the boys themselves and those who work with them?

The Health Minister has conceded that there is a shortage of prescription drugs at public health facilities. Why is that?

Josh Stanley and his brothers up to their ears in ganja on the TV show "American Weed." It's a family business, it seems. I think he's third left. (Photo: Critically Rated blog)

Josh Stanley and his brothers up to their ears in ganja on the TV show “American Weed.” It’s a family business, it seems. I think he’s third left. (Photo: Critically Rated blog)

Talking of drugs, a rather nice-looking fellow from Colorado has been in Jamaica, promoting the many economic benefits of legalizing ganja (marijuana). This is not the first time overseas lobbyists have visited, and one assumes they are eyeing some benefits for themselves, too. “What Jamaica stands to gain right now? Everything,” says Mr. Josh Stanley. Meanwhile, the government remains largely silent on the matter, although it seems likely that decriminalization for small amounts for personal use will happen at some point this year.

Dr. Winston De La Haye. (Photo: Gleaner)

Dr. Winston De La Haye. (Photo: Gleaner)

But psychiatrists disagree: Deputy Chair of the National Council on Drug Abuse (NCDA) and the Jamaica Medical Association representative on the board Dr. Winston De La Haye (who has many years’ experience in the field of treating drug addicts) disagrees with NCDA Chair Dr. Wendell Abel, who told the media the board had agreed to “consider looking at decriminalising for private personal use and also for religious purposes.” Not true, says Dr. De La Haye. They didn’t agree!

These men, some of the gunshot victims in the ongoing feud in West Kingston, yesterday join residents of the area to stage a protest, calling for an end to the ongoing violence. (Photo: Lionel Rookwood/Jamaica Observer)

These men, some of the gunshot victims in the ongoing feud in West Kingston, yesterday join residents of the area to stage a protest, calling for an end to the ongoing violence. (Photo: Lionel Rookwood/Jamaica Observer)

“Persons of interest”: Nine, including a member of the Coke family, have turned themselves in to the police today, in connection with the recent gang troubles in West Kingston. Meanwhile, the beleaguered Member of Parliament Desmond McKenzie struggles with credibility issues among his constituents. It’s sad, and miserable. I feel sorry for Steve McGregor too, the policeman in charge. He means well.

Earl Witter has resigned as Public Defender. His interim report on the Tivoli Gardens massacre was tabled in Parliament on May 1, 2013. (Photo: digGJamaica)

Earl Witter has resigned as Public Defender. His interim report on the Tivoli Gardens massacre was tabled in Parliament on May 1, 2013. (Photo: digGJamaica)

Public Defender Earl Witter – always a controversial and rather combative figure – has retired after over seven years in the position. He has handed all the files on the Tivoli Garden massacre of 2010 to the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM). Deputy Public Defender Matondo K. Mukulu is the interim Public Defender until the Governor General confirms a new appointment.

Will the DNA bill ever be passed? National Security Peter Bunting says not any time soon. A lot of training, infrastructure etc. would be necessary (of course). It seems he doesn’t have the time, patience or resources for it right now. So don’t expect it to go anywhere near Parliament this year, folks.

Remanded: Four policemen suspected of being part of an alleged “death squad” in the Jamaica Constabulary Force were remanded in custody yesterday.

Sprinter Sherone Simpson has been banned from competition for 18 months. (Photo: Getty Images)

Sprinter Sherone Simpson has been banned from competition for 18 months. (Photo: Getty Images)

On sports: Olympic sprinter Sherone Simpson is suspended for 18 months after testing positive for a banned stimulant called oxilofrine, during last year’s national trials in Jamaica. I understand she will appeal. Olympic discus thrower Allison Randall was banned for two years. Asafa Powell also tested positive and will hear about his fate tomorrow.

Edwin Allen High School's (from left) Christania Williams, Shawnette Lewin and Monique Spencer at the Penn Relays a year ago. (Photo: Gleaner)

Edwin Allen High School’s (from left) Christania Williams, Shawnette Lewin and Monique Spencer at the Penn Relays a year ago. (Photo: Gleaner)

I also agree with Sherine Williams and Renée Dillion, third-year journalism students, who wrote in the Gleaner this week that the amazing female athletes in the recent Boys’ and Girls’ Champs in Kingston did not receive as much attention from local media as the boys. I had noticed this apparent bias myself. Christania Williams ran the second fastest time ever in the 100 metros, for example. Perhaps there is also an “urban bias.” The winning girls’ teams are always “country” schools and the boys’ champions are high-profile “traditional” Kingston high schools.

In the ATM: A touching television report focused on a mentally disturbed man, who had locked himself into a bank ATM cubicle in May Pen. He was in there for an hour before firemen prised open the door. Those gathered outside expressed sympathy; they knew him. He had been a Math teacher at a local school, they said. But a Gleaner report flippantly noted the man was “putting on a show” for curious onlookers, and had to be “forcefully restrained” by the police - adding that something must be done about these people roaming the streets of May Pen. This is yet another example of insensitive reporting on mental health issues.

Professor Emeritus Norman Girvan. (Photo: Walter Rodney Foundation website)

A true “Caribbean man”: Professor Emeritus Norman Girvan passed away today. (Photo: Walter Rodney Foundation website)

Distinguished Jamaican academic Norman Girvan died today, aged 72. He had been very sick after a fall while hiking in Dominica. Professor Girvan was a Professorial Research Fellow at the University of the West Indies’ Graduate Institute of International Relations in St. Augustine, Trinidad. He wrote and discussed a great deal on Caribbean integration, culture and development, globalization and Caribbean history. But he was also a very active academic; he got involved in helping to solve regional matters. If you would like to browse through some of his work, you can go to his website at http://www.normangirvan.info.

Jamaica jerk conch. (Photo: Stephen Charoo from his Recollections of a Foodie blog)

Jamaica jerk conch. (Photo: Stephen Charoo from his Recollections of a Foodie blog)

Recommended blog! This time, I have found a yummy one, from self-confessed Jamaican “foodie” Stephen Charoo. His latest post includes recipes for non-traditional jerk dishes. The link is stephencharooblogs.wordpress.com.

Congrats and “big ups” to:

Celebrating: Jean Lowrie-Chin (far right) and other founding members of ProComm. (Photo: Twitter)

Celebrating: Jean Lowrie-Chin (far right) and other founding members of ProComm. (Photo: Twitter)

  • ProComm - a great PR company celebrating its 35th anniversary this year. Wishing you many more years of success!
Writer and filmmaker Esther Figueroa at the launch of Jamaica's first environmental novel, "Limbo" on Sunday. (Photo: Twitter)

Writer and filmmaker Esther Figueroa at the launch of Jamaica’s first environmental novel, “Limbo” on Sunday. (Photo: Twitter)

  • Two Jamaican authors: Locally-based filmmaker and environmental activist Esther Figueroa launched her first novel, “Limbo,” over the weekend. Stay tuned for my book review!
Jamaican writer Roger Williams. (Photo: Gleaner)

Jamaican writer Roger Williams. (Photo: Gleaner)

U.S.-based Jamaican writer Roger Williams published his first novel last year, but I am only just hearing about it. Interestingly, his novel “Turn Back Blow,” focuses on cruelty to animals and animal rights.

  • Columnist Grace Virtue really is one of my favorites, as you might already know. Her latest Jamaica Observer column is headlined “10 Things We should not be Confused About – Part 1.”  I like her comment: “Christianity and morality are not synonymous.” 
  • Mr. Keiran King has also written a very decent article in the Gleaner - heavily influenced by astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson and his current TV program “Cosmos” – he could have given Neil some credit, I think. But a good article on “Your God is too small.” Both he and Ms. Virtue thinking refreshingly outside the box on what makes people “tick.”

My sad condolences to the families and loved ones of these Jamaican citizens, who were murdered in the last two days:

Neil Brown, 37, Kitson Town, St. Catherine

Ronald Wallace, 32, Innswood Estate, St. Catherine

Cheaveast Hearst, Newlands/Portmore, St. Catherine

George Phillip Myers, Newlands/Portmore, St. Catherine 

Melbourne Smith, 60, Crawle/Riversdale, St. Catherine (mob killing)

Owen Cole (U.S. resident), Waterford, St. Catherine

On the road: Yet another young child – this time a six-year-old boy on his way home from school – was killed on the road. A sugarcane truck, loaded beyond the legal limit, ran over the little boy in Frome, Westmoreland. My condolences to his parents, who appeared dazed and distraught on the television news.

The Roma: An Ancient Culture Still Struggling for Respect

Today is International Roma Day.

Now, that may mean little (or nothing) to my Jamaican readers. But perhaps I can illustrate this with a childhood memory or two.

When I was young, I remember being at Waterloo Station in London. We were on the way to the south coast, I believe. I remember being fascinated by a big woman with skin like mahogany, wearing voluminous black clothing. She looked very old. I thought she might be some kind of magic person (I lived in a world of fairytales, at that age). I remember she was speaking a language I did not understand.

That was in the city. Near my grandmother’s house in the country, there was a lovely roadside spot with tall trees. I was always curious about the people who lived in caravans there (they even had the old-fashioned kind, with horses). They fascinated me. They looked different. Sometimes they just disappeared. Then they returned, perhaps a few weeks later. They lit fires. In the orderly, rather dull middle-class world in which I lived, their regular appearances were extraordinary, exciting and mysterious. I invented lots of romantic stories about them.

These are the kind of "gypsy caravans" I remember seeing as a child. In England, Roma people are often called "travelers" - a term many Roma dislike.  (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

These are the kind of “gypsy caravans” I remember seeing as a child. In England, Roma people are often called “travelers” – a term many Roma dislike. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

But I was told not to go near any of these people. They were regarded with fear and suspicion. They were “gypsies.” They were different. They were thieves and criminals. They were dirty. They had too many children. They had their own religion and a language we did not understand.

Many Romani people live in great poverty and are subject to mass evictions and tremendous harassment by right-wing groups in several countries. This photo is of a Roma settlement in Belgrade, Serbia, taken by Boja Vasic.

Many Romani people live in great poverty and are subject to mass evictions and tremendous harassment by right-wing groups in several countries. This photo is of a Roma settlement in Belgrade, Serbia, taken by Boja Vasic.

Yes, the “gypsies” were truly living outside of society; they were ostracized and they were discriminated against. They were not allowed into the local shop, and “respectable” people would never allow them inside their homes. This was the attitude decades ago; but many Roma (as they are officially named) are still fighting discrimination and living in poverty. According to Amnesty International, “Numbering between 10 and 12 million people, the Roma are one of Europe’s largest and most disadvantaged minorities.” They live in 38 countries. The majority live in Turkey, Romania, Bulgaria, Spain and Russia, according to the European Union (EU).

French police inspect an illegal Roma camp in Aix-en-Provence to control and check the identity of its residents on August 19, 2010. France sent dozens of Roma home on flights to Bucharest on Thursday in the first mass repatriation since President Nicolas Sarkozy unveiled a crackdown on crime and immigration with the dismantling of some 300 illegal camps that has been condemned by rights groups. Some 60 Roma left on a chartered plane from Lyon and about a dozen boarded a flight from Paris, the first wave of transfers in a campaign to send 700 people living in squalid camps across France back to Romania and Bulgaria by the end of the month.  REUTERS/Philippe Laurenson  (FRANCE - Tags: SOCIETY POLITICS)

French police inspect an illegal Roma camp in Aix-en-Provence to control and check the identity of its residents on August 19, 2010. France has deported hundreds of Roma people since President Nicolas Sarkozy unveiled a crackdown on crime and immigration with the dismantling of some 300 illegal camps that was condemned by rights groups. The eviction of Roma communities has continued in France since 2010; last year hundreds were evicted from a camp in Lille. (REUTERS/Philippe Laurenson)

There are over 300,000 Roma people in Bulgaria. (Photo: BGNES)

There are over 300,000 Roma people in Bulgaria. (Photo: BGNES)

International Roma Day was officially declared in 1990 in Serock, Poland, the site of the fourth World Romani Congress of the International Romani Union (IRU).On April 8th 1971, the first World Romani Congress was held in Oprington, near London. The day highlights the plight of many marginalized Romani communities – but also celebrates their rich culture and traditions.

Roma families like the Baloghs have left Hungary in droves in the hope of finding freedom from persecution in Canada. Claudia Balogh, middle, hugs a relative, as her husband Miklos, left, looks on in their home in Budapest on Oct. 22, 2012. (Ed Ou/Reportage by Getty Images for CBC)

Roma families like the Baloghs have left Hungary in droves in the hope of finding freedom from persecution in Canada. Claudia Balogh, middle, hugs a relative, as her husband Miklos, left, looks on. (Ed Ou/Reportage by Getty Images for CBC)

International Roma Day.

International Roma Day.

So who are the Roma?

They are an ancient people. According to academic studies, the Roma originally came from India. The roots of the Romani language are there; and recent genetic studies also show they moved from north-west India around 1,500 years ago, eventually settling in the Balkans in the 12th century. In several countries, they became slaves or serfs of one sort or another during medieval times. From the 19th century onwards, large groups of Roma migrated to North and even to South America. Nazi Germany systematically persecuted the Roma; along with Jews, homosexuals, black people and those with disabilities, they were sent to concentration camps. Up to 1.5 million Romas are estimated to have been killed during this period. They did not fare well under Communist regimes either, however, with forced sterilization a common practice.

Romani children in Romania.

Romani children in Romania.

Roma carry their possessions through the village of Gyongyospata, eastern Hungary, in 2011 after a far-right vigilante group set up a training camp near their homes. (Bela Szandelszky/Associated Press)

Roma carry their possessions through the village of Gyongyospata, eastern Hungary, in 2011 after a far-right vigilante group set up a training camp near their homes. (Bela Szandelszky/Associated Press)

Although originally Hindu, and adhering to some Hindu family practices to this day, most Roma today are Muslims or Christians. It’s all quite mixed up though, depending on the country they live in. Romani people are very musical and greatly influenced many forms of European music over the centuries; they are famous for their wedding music, too. The Spanish flamenco musical form is actually Roma music.

Roman Catholic Roma and Sinti people (Sinti are related to the Roma) play during a pilgrimage in Germany.

Roman Catholic Roma and Sinti people (Sinti are related to the Roma) play during a pilgrimage in Germany.

Christian gypsies during the pilgrimage at Saintes-Maries de la Mer, France. Many Romani communities today are Muslims. (Photo: Wikipedia Commons)

Christian gypsies during the pilgrimage at Saintes-Maries de la Mer, France. Many Romani communities today are Muslims. (Photo: Wikipedia Commons)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement for International Roma Day, today (at least one million Roma live in the United States). Here it is:

Today of all days, all the American people are particularly thinking of the Roma around the world. We celebrate the rich Romani culture and contributions to our societies in Europe, the United States, and beyond. We also renew our commitment to remove the obstacles that keep millions of Roma on the margins of society and prevent them from realizing their full potential.

We each have a responsibility to speak out against hateful anti-Roma rhetoric and all forms of violence, wherever they occur. We must help provide Romani communities the opportunities they need to build a better future for their families.

The United States will continue to work with our European and international partners to promote tolerance, dignity, and equal treatment for all Roma.

A Romani woman walks on a street in France.

A Romani woman walks on a street in France.

Modern-day Roma continue to fight for the rights of their people. Magda Matache, who heads an NGO that defends the rights of Roma, observes: “I think the role of activists, but also of society, is to find the means to help those who lost hope and fell below the level of human dignity, in order to regain equality, so that, one day, we, the Roma, shall all feel and understand that expressing and giving continuity to our identity makes us honorable.” 

These comments, of course, could apply to many marginalized minority groups. A healthy democracy is not about the will of the majority; it is about how we protect our minorities and support diversity.

The Roma are a proud people whose often tragic past has been one of struggle for respect and dignity. Let’s hope for a better future for them.

Magda Matache, the Executive Director of Romani CRISS, an NGO that defends the rights of the Roma, notes: "I think the role of activists, but also of society, is to find the means to help those who lost hope and fell below the level of human dignity, in order to regain equality, so that, one day, we, the Roma, shall all feel and understand that expressing and giving continuity to our identity makes us honourable."

Magda Matache, Executive Director of Romani CRISS, an NGO that defends and promotes the rights of the Roma as full European Union citizens.

 

Statement from Alpha Boys School Addressing Rumors of Home Shutting Down in June

PRESS RELEASE from ProComm

Contact Information: Dominic Bell  dominic.bell@procomm.com.jm Tel: (876) 478-5624

Statement from Alpha Boys School Addressing Rumors of Home Shutting Down in June

The Alpha Boys School has advised that the school is not closing in June and that the students continue to attend classes and trade training in a safe and supervised environment. There is absolutely no truth to a rumor suggesting that the home is shutting down largely due to inappropriate behavior among Alpha boys.

Alpha Boys School and the Sisters of Mercy, are in fact, pleased to announce the completion of a successful Kickstarter fundraising campaign only just completed yesterday, Monday, April 7. The campaign raised over US$23,000 with the support of an international community of donors to fund the renovation of a room at the old junior dormitory. The room will become the new home of Alpha Boys School Radio for Alpha students to learn audio production and radio broadcasting skills. In addition, Alpha’s music studio is soon to become a reality and the Alpha screen printing program will be unveiling its new facilities on campus in the next month with backing from a variety of local partners.

Winston ‘Sparrow’ Martin, the current bandmaster and a past Alpha student, is part of a special advisory committee for the school’s organizational planning process. In response to the rumours, he gave a firm denial:

“Alpha Boys School is not shutting down,” says Mr Martin. “There is absolutely no truth in that. Alpha, is in fact, taking significant steps to increase and expand the education and vocational programs. I have been a part of the transition process and I am looking forward to these positive developments at Alpha Boys School.”

Alpha Boys School has provided a safe place for youth to learn and live since 1880. Alpha is now completing a thorough organizational planning process that will enable the school to continue to serve youth at risk, and in greater numbers, for another one hundred years. Alpha Boys School, is also, now engaged in talks with additional training and education partners to expand its educational and vocational offerings. The Alpha Boys School of the future will be one that graduates dozens of students every year with certified skills training, real world experience and meaningful career advancement opportunities.

J-FLAG and JYAN Launch Human Rights Essay Competition for Jamaican Secondary Schools

This is an initiative of J-FLAG and the Jamaica Youth Advocacy Network (JYAN) to encourage discussion on human rights issues for minority and marginalized populations in Jamaica. Please do share and encourage any Jamaican secondary school students you know to participate! Thank you.

Background
There is a dearth of discourse and opportunities for students to learn about human rights issues in Jamaica. This is particularly true of those sociocultural, political and legal issues that affect the rights of vulnerable and marginalised populations such as people living with HIV (PLHIV), women and girls, people living with different abilities, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people who experience layers of stigma and discrimination.

Discourse on human rights is important because it raises awareness, encourages research, and engages stakeholders in an effort to reduce and eliminate all forms of stigma and discrimination experienced by the most vulnerable among us. Such discourse also underscores the principle of respect for diverse populations entrenched in our motto – ‘Out of many one people’.

The Essay Competition

Given the limited exposure of secondary school students to human rights issues, it is important that avenues be created for secondary school students to conduct research in this area while developing their critical thinking skills. J-FLAG has therefore partnered with the Jamaica Youth Advocacy Network (JYAN) to launch a secondary school essay writing competition for students 13 to 19 years of age.

This essay writing competition will encourage students and teachers (who will supervise students) to incorporate knowledge garnered from their participation into their classrooms, clubs and societies, and in discussions with their peers to continuously raise awareness about this and other related issues.

We also hope that this will encourage the development of a stronger sense of citizenship and a deeper understanding of the rights guaranteed by all persons under the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms regardless of being male or female, race, place of origin, social class, colour, religion or political opinion. All essays will be uploaded to an online repository accessible by the public as part of J-FLAG’s public awareness and education programme.

Competition Period:

The competition will run from Monday, April 7, 2014 to Friday, May 9, 2014 at midnight.

The winner will be announced on Friday, May 16, 2014 and the winning essay will be read at the Annual Larry Chang Symposium as part of J-FLAG’s observation of the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT).

Essay topics

  1. Category 1 – students who are 13-15 years old and registered at a secondary high school in Jamaica. Students will write on the following:

Human rights are for everyone. Discuss

  1. Category 2 – students who are 16-19 years old and registered at a secondary high school in Jamaica. Students will write on the following:

The right to freedom of expression is absolute. Discuss

Prizes
The winner from each category will receive a 7” Samsung Tablet 3, a gift certificate valued at $10,000 each and a winner’s plaque. The winning teacher from each category will be rewarded with a spa treatment.

The runner up from each category will receive a gift certificate valued at $10,000 each and a gift basket. The runner up teacher from each category will also be rewarded with gift baskets.

Rules

  1. All essays should be typed with 1.5 line spacing, using APA guidelines, and must be accompanied by a reference page.
  2. For category 1, essays should be 300 – 500 words in length. Essays exceeding this limit will not be considered. Essays below the minimum word count will not be considered.
  3. For category 2, essays should be 1000 – 1200 words in length. Essays exceeding this limit will not be considered. Essays below the minimum word count will not be considered.
  4. All essays must be submitted via email to humanrightsessays@gmail.com in Microsoft Word format only. You will receive an immediate verification that your essay has been received. If you do not receive a verification email within one hour of your submission please call 849-1403.
  5. A cover page with your full name, age, name of school, your email address, contact number, and mailing address must be submitted with your essay. Your cover page and reference list are not included in the word count.
  6. Proof of age must be submitted with all essays. This may be a certified copy of your birth certificate or a letter from your JP, teacher or doctor, which should be scanned and emailed along with your essay to humanrightsessays@gmail.com.
  7. Essays will be graded based on the following rubric:
    Content: 10     Analysis & Persuasion: 8     APA formatting & Reference : 4      Style & Grammar: 3

For further information, contact: Latoya Nugent, Education and Outreach Officer, J-FLAG. Email: theignosticnugent@gmail.com  Tel: 849-1403