Due to seasonal activities and the arrival of relatives from New York for a short stay, this post will be curtailed and quite incomplete. So, forgive me.
On crime-related matters:
921 “rape kits” awaiting analysis: It was admitted in Parliament last week that the physical evidence from 921 rape cases is still awaiting analysis at the government forensic laboratories (which Minister of National Security Peter Bunting said he wanted to “strengthen” quite recently). This is frightening. It will take a year to clear up the backlog, but there seems to be no indication that this is possible, and meanwhile there have been hundreds more rapes this year. This is symptomatic of the painful (Gleaner: “921 rape kits awaiting analysis, authorities struggling with backlog”).
All hell broke loose in rural St. Elizabeth on Friday. Television cameras swerved around in the half-dark, as huge crowds of residents lay in wait for a 30-year-old man to emerge from a house where he had allegedly chopped his 18-year-old girlfriend and mother of his child (she died later in hospital). The police had a terrible time keeping the baying mob away. They struggled for eight hours to extract the man from the house but eventually succeeded with the help of soldiers, while the angry crowd threw rocks and even fired shots at them. When I watch this kind of thing on our TV screen, dark shadows creep over my heart. The story behind all of this is so tragic and increasingly commonplace: the girl became pregnant for an older man at age fifteen. From the reports I have seen, it appears that her family knew that he was physically abusing and threatening her; but they had allowed the situation to continue. (Sunday Observer: “Eighteen-year-old allegedly chopped to death by her child’s father”).
But the newspaper headline was “Crime of Passion.” No, this was not a crime of passion. It was the end of a relationship that had been abusive for years (yet unreported), beginning with the rape of a young girl under the age of consent (which is sixteen) and her subsequent pregnancy. So sad. Older men, leave the young girls alone! It is not cool. Nuh guh deh!
Violent lyrics: The difficult and complex discussion continues in parliamentary committee (and in society) over a clause in the proposed anti-gang legislation that intends to ban lyrics promoting violence. Justice Minister Mark Golding specified this would refer to violence against the police and informants. (Violence against the LGBT community, children, women etc is presumably not as heinous?) Hopefully he will re-think this. Minister Damion “Rasta Yute” Crawford is, of course, strongly opposed to the whole idea, because violent dancehall lyrics are cool with him (National Security Minister Peter Bunting told him that no, it’s not the same thing as violent movies – that’s the Broadcasting Commission!) However, this smacks of censorship. Plus, it won’t work. Better to educate people on…I am not going to call it “Jamaican culture.” I sincerely hope that advocating violent rape is not a part of our culture. (Gleaner: “Split on hate music – legislators battle over proposed criminalization of violent lyrics”).
What the hell are “warheads”? The local media seem to be using this word more and more, and it has always annoyed me. But now, it has caused major PR problems for Jamaica. Private sector leader Chris Zacca has expressed great concern about the way in which a major find at Kingston’s port was reported – and then repeated all over the international media via an Associated Press report as “missile warheads” and “heavy weaponry.” They are actually the tips of regular bullets. The find of a bullet-making machine along with the bullets (not missiles!) last week is alarming, however. I hope the police track down the person that the shipment was assigned to (could they not have laid in wait and caught him/her red-handed?) Meanwhile, this description of the bullets needs to be corrected – immediately… Although, actually, it is rather too late I fear.
Sweetness and light at CHEC: I just read a lovely little PR piece from China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) – the future builders of the “logistics hub” that may destroy our beautiful Portland Bight Protected Area – about what a lovely company it is to work for. It gave me a warm glow inside… (Gleaner: “China Harbour bridges cultures through stimulating activities”).
Ganja as medicine (no, NOT to get high): Since the Minister of Health put his firm stamp of approval on medicinal marijuana a week or so ago, other doctors have come out in support. The pioneering Dr. Henry Lowe is eager to develop an extract through his firm (and presumably make money from it) and most Jamaicans think it’s a good idea, according to a local opinion pollster. Five per cent even think it’s great to wash their hair in ganja! (no, thanks). So it’s all go. Let’s see where we end up with it. (Observer: “Ganja medicine”).
Caribbean “wars”: I attended a very interesting presentation by the Caribbean Policy Development Centre, including contributions from Barbadian Julius Gittens (a former journalist of no mean order) on the matter of free movement of workers within the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) – specifically domestic workers and artisans. I learnt a great deal and there is much more to say on this issue that is consuming many Jamaican commentators. I agree with columnist Barbara Gloudon (who incidentally is married to a Trinidadian) when she says, “We must do something and quickly. We should be sensible and sensitive enough to recognise that build-up is better than tear-down.” But the “Trinis” are the mean old bad guys now (although I’m guessing that many Jamaicans still love their soca music). Come on now. As the Beatles once sang, “We can work it out.” (Observer: “Neighbours at war?”)
Hope someone can help brave five-year-old Demario Willesley, who is suffering from a rare kind of eye cancer and also has sickle cell? And his mother desperately needs a home as they are imposing on relatives. (Gleaner: “Optimistic Demario”).
Have you ever seen a headline “Eight heterosexuals in custody for robbery” ? No, I thought not. Why does a report on the arrest of some young homeless men (living in a gully in New Kingston) need to focus on their sexual orientation? Observer and CVM Television somehow thought this was relevant.
Perfumed bouquets of flowers go out to:
Roslyn Ellison and the amazing staff at Trench Town Reading Centre, who celebrated twenty years last weekend. It was a fantastic, well-supported event. Deepest thanks too to the great writers and performers who took the time to come down and engage the children. They loved every minute of it.
Scotiabank – and in particular Mr. Lissant Mitchell – for their ongoing support for the Trench Town Reading Centre. They are fantastic, and what is particularly touching is that it truly comes from the heart.
The amazing Eve for Life team for launching a brave, challenging but extremely important campaign, “Nuh Guh Deh.” Men, stop having sex with young girls! Leave them alone… The launch event was emotional, but also provided the opportunity for much sharing of information and experience. Eve for Life will now be carrying the campaign forward with community chats. And “big ups” to all the organizations who were present (including UNICEF, which has provided tremendous support). (See the Sunday Gleaner reports, “Nuh Guh Deh!” and “Wrong road!”)
Dr. Carolyn Gomes, a Jamaican woman whom I admire enormously, who has just stepped down as Executive Director of the human rights lobby group Jamaicans for Justice (which she co-founded) after thirteen years at the helm. Carolyn has had an enormous impact on Jamaican society, whether some Jamiacans would like to believe it or not. She has endured abuse, vitriolic criticism and numerous death threats over the years, but has soldiered on regardless. I wish her all the best as she moves on to head Caribbean Vulnerable Communities (CVC) – another great NGO that defends the rights of the powerless and marginalized. The Jamaica Observer wrote a good editorial about her on Friday (“Putting Dr. Carolyn Gomes in context”).
Jamaican bloggers: In particular, new kid on the block Donald Oliver (http://thedonaldoliver.wordpress.com) and cucumberjuice.wordpress.com, who did an excellent job of tweeting Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller‘s speech and Q and A session during her latest overseas trip to Brussels. Look them up and follow them! Hailing up all Jamaican bloggers, at home and abroad!
Congratulations Zahra Burton and 18 Degrees North on their award for Sagicor Health Reporting from the Press Association of Jamaica for their story on HIV. All the more remarkable because it is their first season on TVJ. Stay tuned for another season next year. They are already hard at work on new investigative pieces that shed light on issues in the Caribbean.
And in the traditional media, broadcast journalist Dionne Jackson-Miller – a regular tweeter too – who is the Press Association of Jamaica’s Journalist of the Year. Many congratulations! Dionne is thorough, rigorous and fearless. Now, I would love to see her have more women interlocutors on her excellent television and radio programs. A bit more gender balance please…
Kudos too, to all the journalists who received awards on Friday night. Special “big-ups” to the husband and wife team of Kayon Raynor and Petre Williams-Raynor, who each won awards.
Condolences to the families and friends of all these Jamaicans who have died violently in the past few days.
Kimberley Simpson, 18, Bromington Hall/Nain, St. Elizabeth
Marcine Williams, 80, Linstead, St. Catherine
Michael Williams, 53, Linstead, St. Catherine
Michael Hall, 59, Red Ground/Old Harbour, St. Catherine
Lorenzo Stewart, 40, Johnson Mountain, St. Thomas
Owen Reid, 42, Johnson Mountain, St. Thomas
Valdane Laing, 27, Beacon Hill, St. Thomas
Killed by police:
Dean Kemar Nelson, Greenwich Farm, Kingston
Mark Dwight Clarke, Swallowfield, Kingston
Davion Morris, 22, Montego Bay, St. James
Several years ago, I read a book called “What is the What.” It is the extraordinary autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng, as told to novelist Dave Eggers (Eggers says he wrote it “in Valentino’s voice” but it is partially a novel, too). Valentino was one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, who literally ran from his home village of Marial Bai into the bush when rebel soldiers arrived. He was a young boy. Sudan‘s civil war dragged on horribly for twenty years or so, ending in 2005. Marial Bai was destroyed, its residents killed or abducted, and Valentino (Achak) never saw his parents, nor many of his childhood friends, again.
I could not put this book down. It gripped my heart – the emotional impact was so great: the terror of the boys as they fled through the dark, afraid to stop, their numbers growing, sometimes preyed on by lions – and humans. I remember one point in the narrative where the boys were so hungry they climbed trees and ate birds’ nests and their occupants. Then there was the frustration and hardship of nine years in refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya, before Valentino was able to migrate to Atlanta, Georgia (where his early years as a young man were not without their pressures and disappointments).
The end of the book simply made me cry. So…read it. And be inspired.
When “What is the What” was published, Valentino and Dave Eggers set up the Valentino Achak Deng Foundation with funds from book sales in 2006. Its first project was the Marial Bai Secondary School, which opened in 2009 and is the first high school in the entire region. Yes – in his old village, now in South Sudan. In only its fifth year in operation, the school is already making an impact in the new nation. The Foundation aims to keep education as its main focus.
Of course, this is a non-governmental organization that depends on fund-raising. You can read much more about the VAD Foundation and the school, and see lots of great photos, at the website: http://www.valentinoachakdeng.org You can donate funds and also there are volunteer opportunities at the school. The Foundation is on Facebook and on Twitter (@VADFoundation) and you can join their email list for updates. You’ll be impressed.
And it’s Christmas. I hope you might feel generous towards the young people of Africa’s newest nation, which has a bright and promising future. This hope fuels Valentino’s determination to bring strength out of sorrow. Hope and renewal springs out of war, hardship and bitterness. The children of South Sudan need our support.
Here is my review of “What is the What,” which I wrote about three years ago: http://petchary.wordpress.com/book-review/what-is-the-what-by-dave-eggers/
- South Sudan Fights to Implement Rule of Law (voanews.com)
- Returning to Sudan’s Abyei region to vote for secession (bbc.co.uk)
- UN Extends Mandate for Security Force in Abyei (voanews.com)
- South Sudan’s New Refineries to Bring Fuel Independence Closer – Bloomberg (bloomberg.com)
Twenty years is a good, long time. Through trials and tribulations, joy and success, the Trench Town Reading Centre has soldiered on through two interrupted decades. Twenty years of educating the children of Trench Town – and that’s education in the broadest sense of the word. Planting trees, creating art of all kinds, playing drums, spelling bees, listening and learning. During the summer program, the Centre is humming with activity.
Most importantly, the Trench Town Reading Centre has brought the fascination and love of reading to the children. Just watch them when a new book arrives. They cluster round it, turning the pages slowly and carefully, studying the illustrations. A book is a discovery, a small treasure.
So now, the Centre celebrates (with the kind sponsorship of the Scotiabank Foundation, who are steady supporters). Drop by on Saturday, November 23 between 12:00 noon and 4:00 p.m. for music, poetry, performances and sheer enjoyment with the kids. They love visitors, and if you want to bring a book or something to read or perform… They are the greatest audience!
- Take a look at the videos on YouTube. Here is the latest from Summer 2013 – it will make you almost feel you are there! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ggQQAYYo18&feature=youtu.be
- The website gives you a history of the Reading Centre from its early days up to 2010. Lots to explore here: http://www.trenchtownreadingcentre.com You can also make donations on the website…greatly received and carefully used!
- The Facebook group (Friends of Trench Town Reading Centre) is the only official Facebook page in English and is updated very regularly with photos and news, here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/trenchtownreadingcentre/
For more details, call (876) 570-4211 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Look forward to seeing you there!
I had the honor and pleasure of reviewing this book for the Kingston-based Ian Randle Publishers. I found it a remarkably gripping and emotional experience. The words of the boys simply tear at your heart. I would highly recommend the book for anyone working with at-risk youth, educators, sociologists, psychologists – or anyone concerned with the state of modern Caribbean society. Christmas is coming, so hurry out and buy a copy for someone who cares.
Congratulations to the author, Debbie Jacob, for writing such a brave and honest book. Ms. Jacob is Head Librarian at the International School of Port of Spain in Trinidad and Tobago, and a columnist with the “Trinidad Guardian.” She still teaches the boys at the Youth Training Centre (a euphemism for what we in Jamaica would call a Juvenile Correctional Centre).
Here is my review:
Whose wings are these? The title of this earnest, often passionate book seems to refer to the wings of our dreams, as depicted in the well-known Langston Hughes poem that prefaces it. But wings have other functions: not only the spiritual, but also the physical means of escape, of freedom and – in the case of some birds – of dominance.
I know this is a cliché. But this book simply proves that yes, one person can make a difference. Debbie Jacob gives a searingly honest account of her experience teaching English Language and Literature (at CXC level) to a group of young men – with “issues.” They are behind bars, at a Youth Training Centre (or YTC, a euphemism for a boys’ correctional center) in Trinidad. It is a bleak environment, which the boys sometimes describe in uncomfortable detail. Many are there for years, either serving their sentences for various violent crimes or awaiting trial.
Ms. Jacob lets the boys speak for themselves. Their narratives are sometimes disjointed and incoherent, often eloquent; but always yearning, in the way that young people yearn. Now, how did Ms. Jacob, a white woman from the United States who taught privileged children at the International School, elicit such outpourings from a group of angry, bitter and essentially lonely young men? She is from a different, comfortable world. She cannot easily comprehend the life of deprivation from which they come, and is not always aware of the nature of their crimes. But she does not concern herself with this. She simply wants them to pass the CXC examinations; although as it turns out, she and her students want more than mere academic success.
The answer is simple. Ms. Jacob treats each one of the boys as an individual from the outset. Likewise, the reader does not see them as stereotypical “bad boys.” Her CXC English class of eight is an extraordinary group of personalities: complex and demanding and difficult. We get to know them through their letters, essays, book reports. They express their deepest feelings more easily through the written word, even if their grammar is not always perfect.
As a teacher, Ms. Jacob realizes she is not a “textbook person.” Although the boys are initially obsessed with rules and structure and bring “God” into every sentence, she decides to teach them skills rather than teaching a syllabus. The CXC is a two-year course and she is not always confident in her ability to teach them to the standard required for the examination in just eight months. It’s a daunting task. So she focuses on reading, obtaining as many donated books as possible. The boys devour them. And so, her teaching methods evolve. Several issues emerge, including the importance of culturally relevant reading material – Naipaul, rather than Hemingway. Ms. Jacob points to the enormous value of reading – widely and deeply. The students’ reaction to the books is quite telling. “Water for Elephants” became a favorite, and Jahmai (a leader, who went on to do well in the exam) was a great lover of the classics.
The author describes how her relationships with each of her students develop, step by step (sometimes there are backward steps). She and her students learn to trust each other – and to support each other, and this evolves naturally, over time. Ms. Jacob shows that her relationship with a student is not a “one-way street.” The boys encourage her; and sometimes adopt a protective, almost nurturing approach to her, such as when there are severe floods in the area.
Ms. Jacob’s students write stark, even beautiful prose. It has been revised and “tidied up,” but their authentic voices form the most compelling part of the book. The language is uncompromising and the emotional impact so strong that the reader, like myself, might even feel a little tearful.
The author’s tone is never condescending. She does not see herself as a benevolent do-gooder and she is clear-eyed in her assessment of her students. Nor does she look at them as a kind of academic experiment. But her concern, even love for the boys flows through the book. She wants to give each of them wings, but knows that not all of them will fly. This is a simply written, straightforward account of a painful and complex process, that of growing up. Even more “bitter,” (one of the boys’ favorite words) when all the cards are stacked against you.
In an early exercise for their teacher, many of the boys wrote that they would like to be a bird: preferably an eagle, in command, powerful. And free.
To obtain a copy of this book, contact Ian Randle Publishers, P.O. Box 686, Kingston 6, Jamaica (11 Cunningham Avenue).
Tel: (876) 978-0745; 978-0739; 946-3173 Fax: (876) 978-1156
Next Monday, October 21, is Jamaica’s National Heroes Day, and next week is Heritage Week. For the past two years I have posted a Jamaican poem. This year, I found three poems from a poet whom I admire greatly, Professor Mervyn Morris. His poetry is spare and simple in its elegance – and, in his case, brevity is the soul of wit. Now retired, Professor Morris has taught Creative Writing and West Indian Literature at the University of the West Indies since the 1960s. And he is a former Rhodes Scholar – so we have an alma mater in common. His poetry often holds for me a kind of wistfulness and longing, faint regret, and an ironic shrug of the shoulder. How I feel about life, sometimes.
These three poems are taken from “I Been There, Sort Of” published by Carcanet Press in 2006.
enfold me in their loving
For Janheinz Jahn
alive inside the daylight
close up invisible in air
float from the pages of your book.
We called their names.
Enter my father, laughing,
a substantial black.
(When I was young he died.)
Behind him his black father,
Fathers who fathered me.
My mother’s mother shuffles in,
dragging her gentleness along the glare.
She indicates her father,
who looks white.
I start to hear the irons clink.
He dissipates my terror with a wink.
Sentences for Heritage Week
for the energy it frees.
Do not spend precious time
hanging from family trees.
Below are links to poems by two young Jamaican poets, Ann-Margaret Lim and Ishion Hutchinson, that I posted last year and the year before.
Happy Heroes’ Weekend to all!
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2011/10/18/abeng-a-poem-for-national-heroes-day/ Abeng: A Poem for National Heroes Day, 2011
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/10/16/the-festival-of-wild-orchid-a-poem-for-national-heroes-day/ The Festival of Wild Orchid: A Poem for National Heroes Day, 2012
Our Met Office forecast “severe weather” for the past couple of days, but it is a sunny, breezy Sunday in Kingston town. Not that we want severe weather, but recent weather forecasts have, to be honest, been wildly inaccurate.
Shaw gathers momentum: Meanwhile, it is pouring rain in Mandeville. As I write, Phase Three Productions is live-streaming from the official launch of Audley Shaw‘s bid for the leadership of the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) in that town. Phase Three’s Marcia Forbes is tweeting photos. There is apparently some confusion as to whether Mr. Shaw’s middle name is Fitz Albert or Fitz Gerald. It seems Mr. Shaw’s campaign is gaining some traction. He has acquired high-profile backers, such as former Agriculture Minister Dr. Christopher Tufton (who himself has strong leadership qualities) and former tourism man Ed Bartlett; and rumor has it that some “big men” (private sector interests) are also in support.
I am just hoping for a much more vibrant Opposition in the future. The past two years have, frankly, been very unimpressive. Under Mr. Holness’ leadership, my perception from the outside is that the Opposition has spent much time licking its wounds (and re-opening some).
Social media campaigning… I am not sure why Opposition Leader Andrew Holness and his challenger Audley Shaw are pretending that the use of social media is not important to their respective campaigns. It appears they are both using it quite effectively. Mr. Shaw is a regular tweeter.
…and no more bitching: Sorry to use that word, but the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) already has a reputation for factions (yes, I remember the “Gang of Five” in the early 1990s). So let’s start debating the issues. You have enough material to work with! And a word of advice: Jamaicans want details! They want to know “how” things are to be done. We already know the “what” and the “why”…
The Azan Aftermath: What is all that noise about now? Why, it is the Azan supporters, clamoring for their beloved leader to be reinstated as Minister of State in the Ministry of Transport and Works (curious that his boss, the usually strident Omar Davies, has been so reticent on all this). The supporters (including the People’s National Party Youth Organization) say that Azan has now been “vindicated” (or, as I saw somewhere, “ventricated.” New word!) since the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) announced she will not press charges against him.
The CG’s office is the enemy, again? There are also murmurings in some People’s National Party quarters, I understand, for the Contractor General (CG) – one of Jamaica’s main anti-corruption watchdogs – to resign, following the DPP’s announcement. Just a reminder that the CG’s office was set up in 1983 under Edward Seaga’s JLP administration. Under the current administration, Minister of Works-and-Other-Affairs Omar Davies has taken up the gauntlet and has been seeking to undermine the CG, in my view. Four months ago, if you recall, he got the Attorney General (AG) to propose changes to the Contractor General’s Act. Last year, the same Minister and AG tried to avoid reporting to the CG on the findings of Davies’ “oversight panel” that would fast-track large infrastructural projects – but finally gave up the fight in July of this year, thankfully.
This is an administration that declared it would fight corruption. Instead, it seems to be fighting anti-corruption bodies such as the CG, and defending its own officials under suspicion of corruption. Our Prime Minister warmly hugged Minister Azan at last weekend’s annual conference, if you recall. One hug speaks a thousand words.
All this worries me in relation to the Goat Islands mega-project, which remains shrouded in mystery, especially since the port aspect of it seems to fall under Minister Davies’ jurisdiction. Why is there no information coming from the government on this? Why is the media not trying to investigate?
Meanwhile, the charge of “political corruption” against Mr. Azan, referred to in the CG’s report remains. The fact that he will not be charged for fraud is only a part of the story.
Toughing it out: The smooth-talking Mayor of May Pen is putting a brave face on things meanwhile, despite the DPP’s intention to prosecute him for misleading the CG over the shops in Spalding Market. I think he will soon be charged, and then might possibly consider stepping down? The Opposition members of the Clarendon Parish Council want him to, of course; but they are in the minority, so will not prevail.
Productivity in the public sector has been declining over the past five years, says university lecturer Peter-John Gordon. “It may be acting as a sort of sponge for labor,” he added. And how on earth is that going to move us forward? There are major problems, here, that must be examined more deeply.
Slipping… The standard of editorials in both our daily newspapers has been quite sloppy of late, with a lot of woolly-headed thinking and lame conclusions. The editorials don’t even get important facts right (see the letter to the Gleaner - link below). Please sharpen up, people – we need more cogent analysis in these difficult times.
Farewell to Bunny: With much fanfare, the last remaining “original Wailer” Bunny Livingstone has announced that he will be leaving Jamaica and going to settle in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. I wish him well. The 66-year-old Mr. Livingstone says Jamaica is a “failure,” adding: “the politicality and the teachings and the other things that are taking place in Jamaica does not relate to my existence” (sic). St Vincent Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves‘ long-winded speeches on reparations seem to have attracted him. However, is St. Vincent governed any more skilfully than Jamaica? Certainly, their PM can talk for longer, if that is a plus. Perhaps Bunny could have considered staying, and as a music legend contributing in more positive ways to his country.
Things to keep an eye on… The parliamentary debate on the Commission of Enquiry Act, which was suspended last week; there are many issues to be resolved here. The Trafigura case(I have not seen a court date set when the Prime Minister and senior officials are to testify to prosecutors representing Dutch authorities). Measures to prevent major road accidents, especially school buses; what, if anything, will be done? Charges against Mayor Barnswell – when?
I am handing little Sunday bouquets to:
- My friendly neighborhood bookstore, Bookophilia. Always warm and welcoming, with a good cup of coffee (and tea) available behind the counter, it is a favorite hangout spot. It has a nice comfy sofa too. Apart from all that, an interesting selection of books (I always find some good material on their fiction shelves, and being a LatAm lit fan could not resist Isabel Allende’s latest). What makes it a standout though are their regular events – live poetry and music sessions, art exhibits, children’s story time, Motivation Mondays, and much more. Find them on Facebook, on Twitter (@Bookophilia) and drop by 92 Hope Road in Liguanea, Kingston 6, next to The Paint Shop. And they are open on Sundays! Buy books!
- Hon. Barbara Gloudon, for her beautifully written column on the Portland Bight Protected Area/Goat Islands issue in Friday’s Jamaica Observer. The link is below. Ms. Gloudon always writes with marvelous insights. I am thankful for her support for the campaign against the proposed logistics hub/megaport in this wonderful area – which is not only beautiful but harbors productive fish sanctuaries and bird breeding sites in the mangroves (a designated “Wetland of Importance” under the Ramsar Convention). I am sorry I missed her broadcast from Little Goat Island on her RJR radio talk show on Friday… and appreciate her concern for Jamaica’s precious natural (and cultural) heritage.
- The YMCA quietly does amazing work with marginalized youth. The boys in their early teens, for example, that others have given up on; and boys who live on the streets. These boys have endured real emotional and physical hardship growing up, and bear the scars. It is very challenging work. The YMCA and its director Sarah Newland-Martin (who really believes in the boys) truly deserve our support; they need new classrooms. Please support them where you can.
- Lord Bishop of Jamaica Howard Gregory, whose column in today’s Sunday Observer on corruption gets my two thumbs up. Despite being an eminent church leader, Bishop Gregory is so down to earth and a real straight talker. Here is one quote from his piece on the Azan saga and its aftermath: “What must be a matter of serious concern is the conduct of our politicians, whose behavior has come under scrutiny. We have seen over time behaviors of arrogance, defiance, and disrespect for those entrusted with legitimate authority to rule on such matters [ie corruption]…” Indeed.
- Ms. Donna Duncan of Jamaica Money Market Brokers, who recently gave a talk in Digicel’s “Extraordinary Leaders” series. Her thoughts? We all have greatness within us; live and lead according to your values; and great leaders help others to be their best selves. Yes, we may have heard this all before, but these are the essentials of leadership.
My quote for today: I got this from a Nigerian friend on Twitter (yes, Africa has quite a social media presence these days…) “Trust is like an eraser; it gets smaller and smaller with every mistake.” Perhaps some of our public figures should meditate on this one.
The sadness and grief continues. There are still too many fatalities on our roads, and too many violent deaths. We must also always spare a thought for those injured in these tragedies; it is not only the dead, but those affected who have to pick up the pieces of their lives and carry on. My condolences to all the families of these Jamaicans, and all those who are suffering physically, emotionally and mentally from the trauma. Each violent act leaves many scars.
Unidentified man, Rousseau Road, Kingston
Radcliffe White, 48, August Town, St. Andrew
Unidentified man, Kitson Town, St. Catherine
Unidentified man, Sandy Bay, Clarendon
Clarence Morgan, 61, Clarendon
Carlene Francis, 36, Great Pond/Ocho Rios, St. Ann
“Tony,” Steer Town, St. Ann
Related articles and links:
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/letters/Open-letter-to-Minister-Robert-Pickersgill_15146109 Open Letter to Minister Robert Pickersgill: Letter to the Jamaica Observer
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/The-sea-is-my-employer_15145080 ”The sea is my employer”: Barbara Gloudon column/Jamaica Observer
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130928/cleisure/cleisure3.html Government should not neglect environmental consultation: Letter to the Gleaner
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads-107/35158 Country poised to meet 2015 deadline – Minister Hylton: Jamaica Information Service
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Develop-Royal-Palm-Reserve-into-attraction—-EU-head_15145048 Develop Royal Palm Reserve into attraction – EU head: Jamaica Observer
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130928/news/news5.html Nature kisses art at Mountambrin Estate: Gleaner
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/DPP-clears-Azan DPP clears Azan: Jamaica Observer
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/dabdoub-to-challenge-contractor-general-findings-on-spaldings-market-issue Dabdoub to challenge Contractor General findings on Spaldings Market issue: RJR News
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Mayor-under-fire JLP councillors to move no-confidence vote against Barnswell: Jamaica Observer
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130928/lead/lead2.html Police to probe Barnswell: Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130928/letters/letters2.html Get the facts on ECJ appointment: Letter to the Gleaner from Governor General’s office
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Dynamic-media-supporting-better-leadership_15119864 Dynamic media supporting better leadership: Jean Lowrie-Chin column/Jamaica Observer
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/temporary-replacement-found-for-dismissed-permanent-secretary Temporary replacement found for dismissed permanent secretary: RJR News
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/editorial/Is-Mr-Holness-institutionalising-political-tribalism_15139836 Is Mr. Holness instutionalizing political tribalism? Jamaica Observer editorial
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130928/news/news1.html Debate on Commission of Enquiry Act suspended: Gleaner
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Chuck–PM–security-minister-must-address-crime-issue_15139068 Chuck: PM, security minister must address crime issue: Jamaica Observer
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/indecom-concerned-about-apprehension-of-mentally-ill-by-police INDECOM concerned about apprehension of mentally ill by police: RJR News
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Holmwood-driver-slapped-with-manslaughter-charges_15145975 Holmwood driver slapped with manslaughter charges: Jamaica Observer
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130929/lead/lead61.html Rejected by Jamaica: Pathologist snubbed locally, embraced by Yale: Sunday Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130928/news/news7.html Limited by challenges, but big on hope: Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130929/lead/lead7.html ”I will be great!” youth vows: Sunday Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130929/lead/lead6.html YMCA in need of new building: Sunday Gleaner
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/letters/So-that-explains-the-smell_15145599 So that explains the smell: Letter to the Jamaica Observer
http://repeatingislands.com/2013/09/27/bunny-wailer-to-turn-back-on-jamaica-for-st-vincent-and-the-grenadines/ Bunny Wailer to turn back on Jamaica for St. Vincent and the Grenadines: Repeating Islands
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads-117/35160 Prime Minister urges special consideration for SIDS: Jamaica Information Service
There have already been many tributes, and the articles linked below express the loss much more beautifully than I can. Every life lost – rich or poor, young or old, African or not – was a shining star (suddenly, brutally extinguished). But Professor Awoonor brought a power and passion to our world that only writers can bring. Born in Wheta, Ghana, the eldest of ten children, he based much of his early poetry on traditional dirges, wedding celebrations and other oral expressions of his native Ewe tribe, in the griot tradition.
He was also a diplomat, a statesman. Professor Awoonor was Ghana’s ambassador to Brazil and Cuba; and the country’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations from 1990 to 1994, where he headed an anti-apartheid committee. Prior to this, he had been jailed in 1975 for several months on political charges. He was passionate about what he called the “distresses” of his country and “the chicanery of politics and the men who indulge in them.” He had no illusions about Ghana’s struggles, and seemed to feel that they were not over. He studied at the University of Ghana, London University and the State University of New York (SUNY) Stonybrook; and taught at universities in the United States and Ghana.
Awoonor and his son were in Kenya for the Storymoja Hay Festival, a four-day literary event. “Together we are discussing the birthing pains of countries,” said Awoonor. He was scheduled to speak with fellow Ghanaians that same evening, as part of a celebration of poets from East and West Africa. The festival closed early after a tribute to Professor Awoonor (as the siege at the mall continued), with requests to donate blood for the many injured in the Westgate attack.
Jamaicans may not be as familiar with Professor Awoonor’s work as they are with another African literary giant who passed away not long ago, Chinua Achebe. But Ghana and Jamaica do have strong cultural, linguistic and historical links. Most of the Jamaican Maroons, for example, were from a special group called the Coromantyns or Coromantees – mostly from the Fante and Asante tribes of Ghana, very brave people. My English niece worked in Ghana for six months and said she was constantly reminded of Jamaica (which she had visited three times previously) in the way people spoke, behaved – and looked (people often say that my Jamaican husband looks like Kofi Annan. He does).
And the connections remain; poet Kwame Dawes, for example, was born in Accra but grew up in Jamaica. Kwame has been living and teaching for many years in the United States and is currently Chancellor Professor of English at the University of Nebraska and the Glenna Luschel Editor of Prairie Schooner. He gives back generously to the literary world; he founded the African Poetry Book Fund last year and is co-founder and director of the Calabash International Literary Festival in Jamaica. I have warm memories of him tutoring me during a Calabash workshop series in Kingston.
Kwame had participated in the Storymoja poetry event with Professor Awoonor (his uncle) the day before he died. He tweeted afterwards that Awoonor was “full of jokes” at the event, and shared a photo of them on the panel together.
“It is a big tree that has fallen,” said his brother Robert. Professor Awoonor’s son Afetsi was with him in the Westgate Mall and was wounded. He returned to Ghana with his father’s body.
Professor Awoonor’s funeral will take place on October 3, followed by a state memorial service on October 11 and a final burial in his hometown in southeastern Ghana on November 11.
This was one of the last poems that Professor Awoonor wrote, which the Wall Street Journal published online after his death. It will appear in a new collection of his poems scheduled for publication next year.
ACROSS A NEW DAWN
Sometimes, we read the
lines in the green leaf
run our fingers over the
smooth of the precious wood
from our ancient trees;
Sometimes, even the sunset
puzzles, as we look
for the lines that propel the clouds,
the colour scheme
with the multiple designs
that the first artist put together
There is dancing in the streets again
the laughter of children rings
through the house
On the seaside, the ruins recent
from the latest storms
remind of ancestral wealth
pillaged purloined pawned
by an unthinking grandfather
who lived the life of a lord
and drove coming generations to
despair and ruin
But who says our time is up
that the box maker and the digger
are in conference
or that the preachers have aired their robes
and the choir and the drummers
are in rehearsal?
No; where the worm eats
a grain grows.
the consultant deities
have measured the time
with long winded
arguments of eternity
And death, when he comes
to the door with his own
inimitable calling card
shall find a homestead
resurrected with laughter and dance
and the festival of the meat
of the young lamb and the red porridge
of the new corn
We are the celebrants
whose fields were
overrun by rogues
and other bad men who
interrupted our dance
with obscene songs and bad gestures
Someone said an ailing fish
swam up our lagoon
seeking a place to lay its load
in consonance with the Original Plan
Master, if you can be the oarsman
for our boat
please do it, do it.
I asked you before
once upon a shore
at home, where the
seafront has narrowed
to the brief space of childhood
We welcome the travelers
come home on the new boat
fresh from the upright tree
Related articles and links:
http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/remember/july-dec13/poetry_09-25.html Death of Kofi Awoonor in Nairobi Attack is “Great Loss” for Ghana and Poetry: pbs.org
http://www.pbs.org/newshour/art/blog/2013/09/poet-kwame-dawes-remembers-uncle-kofi-awoonor-with-reading-of-the-weaver-bird.html Poet Kwame Dawes remembers uncle Kofi Awoonor with reading of “The Weaver Bird.”
http://ghanagist.com/tribute-to-prof-kofi-awoonor-by-kwame-dawes-a-wall-street-journal-feature-ripkofiawoonor/#.UkYdtxYSwyE Tribute to Professor Kofi Awoonor by Kwame Dawes – a Wall Street Journal feature
http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2013/09/i-will-say-it-before-death-comes-the-murder-of-kofi-awoonor.html I will say it before death comes: The murder of Kofi Awoonor: New Yorker
http://www.hayfestival.com/storymoja/index.aspx?skinid=10¤cysetting=GBP&localesetting=en-GB&resetfilters=true Storymoja Hay Festival Nairobi
http://storymojahayfestival.com Storymoja Tribute to Professor Awoonor
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/11/24/african-postman-we-remember-differently/ African Postman: “We Remember Differently” – Chinua Achebe
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/11/11/african-postman-fifty-years-of-the-african-writers-series/ African Postman: Fifty Years of the African Writers Series
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/06/19/african-postman-the-dangerous-mix-of-politics-and-religion/ African Postman: The Dangerous Mix of Politics and Religion/Wole Soyinka
Some of you may have missed my book reviews. Since the English Premier League is well under way, I thought I would share this review I wrote a couple of years ago of a delightful book by a great Uruguayan writer and left-wing intellectual, Eduardo Galeano. He shares my deep love for the Beautiful Game.
Soccer in Sun and Shadow by Eduardo Galeano
I am a football supporter. But “support” is not the right word. It sounds dry, and there is nothing dry about football. It is pure passion.
This passion Galeano feels. The daring and sheer beauty of a player who knows his relationship with the ball (that “crazy feeling”), who loves and dares it to do better, who turns on it and sends it far away, watching it take flight. The exhilaration of those improvised steps, back heels, feints, step overs, bicycle kicks – in all their impulsive, if well rehearsed, tricks and turns and tumbles.
Early on Galeano declares his disillusionment with the modern game: it has been destroyed, he believes, by the evils of commercialism, It’s a profitable spectacle: “a soccer that negates joy, kills fantasy and outlaws daring.” This is all in keeping with his Latin American left-wing credentials, of course. He clings to the image of a group of boys kicking a ball in a dusty street, and afterwards singing: “We lost, we won, either way we had fun.”
Indeed, modern football is about money: sponsorship, fees, the trading of players. The individual player, the freedom, the delight in his skills is subservient to the almighty team. The team serves its manager – and its fans (not enough about the fans in this book, I felt. What would football be without us – imperfect, adoring creatures that we are?)
This book is successful at many levels: its graceful language; the short chapters with titles in lower case, like “the man who turned iron into wind,” and “the perfect kiss would like to be unique.” The author illustrates each page with tiny, impish figures (the cover depicts “god and the devil in rio de janeiro”). Many chapters are simply headed “goal by zico” or “didí and she” (“she” being the ball), describing the extravagancies of a striker or goal-keeper.
Woven into the elegant descriptions of Platini and Pelé and Puskas (Galeano works from the first South American championship in 1916 right up to the 2002 World Cup), is a mixture of social commentary and world history in small chunks. A wry, oft-repeated refrain amongst these brief catalogues is: “Well-informed sources in Miami announced the imminent fall of Fidel Castro, it was only a matter of hours.” Mr. Galeano writes with reverent nostalgia about the “spiky-haired, dark-skinned poor” of Buenos Aires, the Boca Juniors fans; and the “Black Marvel” of his native Uruguay, José Leandro Andrade. There is moral indignation about “soccer’s new monarch,” Sep Blatter, and “soccer for robots.”
These are the lights and shadows of football in the book’s title. But no – that joy of the people in their game is still there; it always will be. From my office window I look out on a narrow lane where, every afternoon after school, a football rises and falls above the zinc fences; I imagine shouts, scuffles, laughter.
This is the world’s game, and it will continue speaking its unique, universal, wordless language.
Author Note: Eduardo Galeano was born in 1940 in Montevideo into a middle-class family. He left school at age 16 and began a journalism career at age 20. He was editor-in-chief of the journal “Marcha,” the daily “Epocha,” and the University Press. After the military coup of 1973, he was imprisoned and then forced to flee Uruguay. He had meanwhile published a novel and several books on politics and culture. In Argentina, he founded and edited “Crisis,” a cultural magazine. “The Open Veins of Latin America” (1971), essays denouncing the exploitation of the continent by European powers, made Galeano famous. In 1976, a bloody coup in Argentina forced him to flee this time to Spain, where he wrote his famous trilogy “Memory of Fire.” In 1985 he finally returned to Uruguay, where he still lives. With other left-wing intellectuals he joined the advisory committee of TeleSUR, a pan-Latin American television station in Venezuela, in 2005. In 2006, he was among a group of writers and artists demanding sovereignty for Puerto Rico. Last year, he underwent a successful operation for lung cancer.
I drew up a chair.
I spent a warm Saturday in Kingston sitting around a table with five creative people. They were all poets (except me; I cannot describe myself as such. OK, you can call me a tentative poet, if you like). We were in The Drawing Room.
The Drawing Room is a comfortable space, where people’s thoughts can meet and intersect; where ideas can merge and then, perhaps, go their separate ways. This project was founded by Jamaican poet Millicent Graham and Joni Jackson in 2007. George Davis, Hyacinth Hall and Sonja Harris are also members. This summer, three poetry workshops will have taken place; the third, with Mbala will take place on September 21st (10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.) And a writers’ retreat – in the country, of course – is also planned. It is not all about writing; the project aims to foster collaboration among artists of many kinds, who are willing to share their work and create a community. You can read much more at the link below.
Last Saturday, we were Autopiloting, with the young poet Ann-Margaret Lim handing over the controls to us. Actually, we were challenged to write poetry in ways that we had never written before. Not to write in our “usual” way (for me, being a complete novice, there was no usual way). I was somewhat awestruck by the high-powered people around me, who were established poets. But I tried to hold my own.
As we got stuck into the haiku form, for starters, wonderful phrases like “Saturday’s breeze” floated in the air. By the way, haiku have three lines; the first has five syllables, the second seven and the third five. One marvelous Japanese poet, Matsuo Basho, made the haiku popular back in seventeenth-century Japan. He was a full-time poet. I recall reading his poetry when I was at college; he made four long journeys on foot, writing poetry along the way. (I have a degree in Japanese, and focused a great deal on literature).
But I digress. We walked around the front yard of the house, to get some inspiration from nature, and diligently wrote our haiku. Then, exploring other poetic forms, we touched on iambic pentameters, and then the villanelle. What is a villanelle, you might say? It sounds more like a dance than a poem, and in a sense it is. It has a great rhythm to it. It is nineteen lines long, and it has a repetitive quality, too. The example of a villanelle that we studied was the plaintive, yearning “Mad Girl’s Love Song“ by Sylvia Plath. Ms. Plath is one of Ann-Margaret Lim’s most beloved poets, along with Derek Walcott, Olive Senior and others. “I think I made you up inside my head,” the poor mad girl repeats.
I was relieved to learn that we were not going to attempt a villanelle. I’m not sure I was strong enough for that.
In between working on poems, we philosophized quite a bit on the nature of poetry, and what it meant to create poetry. “The purpose of art is to be, and to be true.” Millicent told us that we should write, at the very least, three drafts of a poem before we can begin to be satisfied. Form is a vehicle, we learned. It’s important, but it just helps you to express yourself. Form is not an end in itself. And we nibbled on cheese and crackers and fruit and other brain food (and, in my case, large quantities of caffeine).
We were accompanied, from time to time, by the gentle guitar strumming and singing of musician, percussionist and poet Mbala, an all-round creative Jamaican. There was a touch of Bob Marley, of course. When we struggled with love poems, he chimed in with “You Don’t Know What Love Is” – a beautiful song recorded by everyone from Chet Baker to Cassandra Wilson and back (I happen to love Kurt Elling‘s version). As we relaxed a little, we were treated to some Jobim - “Corcovado” … Quiet nights of quiet stars / Quiet chords from my guitar / Floating on the silence that surrounds us / Quiet thoughts and dreams / Quiet walks by quiet streams… And that girl on the Brazilian beach. You know the one.
On that note, we started auto-piloting. We threw all form to the winds, and were instructed by Ann-Margaret to write, and keep on writing. At least six pages. But to write without thinking, in a continuous flow of consciousness.
Like James Joyce? I wondered. But I suspect his flowing stream was very much contrived. Ours was not to be. We were not to think before writing, but just write. I got lost in a long thing about the sea, and water, and colors. From such auto-piloting – a free run of thoughts and images – at least two or three poems can appear, said Ann-Margaret. Once we got started, we all rattled on, scribbling and scribbling until the end of the workshop.
When I left, there were still a couple of auto-piloters, pens running across paper as fast as they could.
Words have a way of doing that.
Footnote: Millicent Graham was born in 1974 in Kingston. She is the author of the poetry collection “The Damp in Things,” published by Peepal Tree Press in 2009. In that year, Millicent was one of 17 writers selected for the prestigious University of Iowa’s International Writing Program, a three-month residency. She was a fellow at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in Middlebury, Vermont in 2010. She has been published in journals and anthologies, including Jamaica Journal, Caribbean Writer, BIM and City Lighthouse. Her work has been presented at the Calabash International Literary Festival and has received numerous literary prizes and grants in Jamaica.
Ann-Margaret Lim lives in Red Hills, St. Andrew. She is the author of the poetry collection “The Festival of Wild Orchid,” published by Peepal Tree Press in 2012. In the same year, the book was nominated for the UK Guardian First Book Prize. It was named on the longlist for the prestigious 2013 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature. Ann-Margaret has also participated in the Calabash International Literary Festival.
http://thedrawingroomproject.webs.com The Drawing Room Project website
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oSBJaPeBUWM The Damp in Things – promotional video
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DCDWAv1Sx98 Ann-Margaret Lim at the Poetry Society of Jamaica
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130310/arts/arts5.html Jamaican poet named on 2013 OCM Bocas Longlist: Sunday Gleaner
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2013/04/21/word-flow-word-play/ Word Flow, Word Play: petchary.wordpress.com
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/12/23/the-father-of-dub-poetry-gets-a-fine-award/ The Father of Dub Poetry gets a fine award: petchary.wordpress.com
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/06/02/jamaican-women-write/ Jamaican Women Write! petchary.wordpress.com
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/05/18/the-joy-and-the-business-of-writing/ The Joy (and the Business) of Writing: petchary.wordpress.com
Bolo the Monkey is on the road. Just over a week ago, his travels took him to Trench Town.
And the children were waiting.
The man who created Bolo, author Jonathan Burke, has a gentle demeanor. He easily won over the children at Trench Town Reading Centre, as soon as he stepped in the door. Tanya Batson Savage, the energetic publisher and editor, and Scarlett Beharie of Blue Moon Publishing were there too. And we got straight into the book, no hesitation.
Now, as we should know, Bolo the Monkey is a determined young fellow. When asked what they understood from his story, the children immediately responded, “Don’t give up!” and “Follow your dream!” Yes, the children of Trench Town Reading Centre are good listeners. They don’t miss a thing.
The children also asked Jonathan questions about writing. How long does it take to write a story? Does he write it down, or use a computer? How does he get his ideas? Jonathan responded that he “writes stories in his head” first, and then writes them down. He encouraged them to start writing themselves. I do hope they will.
There is absolutely no doubt that the children not only listen, but do indeed love to read. One small boy who arrived late immediately commandeered a copy of “Bolo the Monkey” and began to turn the pages. Meanwhile, the others were listening to a second story – the dramatic and disturbing “Primrose and the River Mumma,” from Tanya Batson Savage’s own “Pumpkin Belly and Other Stories.” Read by the author herself, with considerable energy…
I got the distinct impression that they wanted us to stay longer. But we had to leave, after a flurry of group photographs – these are always very popular – and some hugs.
Below are some photos of the fun we had, courtesy of Blue Moon Publishing, and myself.
Trench Town Reading Centre is on Facebook at Friends of Trench Town Reading Centre and the website is http://www.trenchtownreadingcentre.com.
Do read my earlier blog post about Bolo’s launch in July: http://petchary.wordpress.com/2013/07/08/bolo-the-monkey-wins-our-hearts/