“Limbo”: A New Jamaican Novel by Esther Figueroa

Sitting here in limbo
Waiting for the tide to flow
Sitting here in limbo
Knowing that I have to go

One of Jimmy Cliff’s most wistful songs, this one written in 1971, came to mind as I was reading Esther Figueroa’s recently published novel – described as arguably Jamaica’s first “environmental novel.” 

Limbo is, of course, a state of not doing anything. You’re not heading in any direction. While Mr. Cliff sounded calm enough in his song, quietly contemplating his next move, the hero of Dr. Figueroa’s novel is far from satisfied with her situation – and that of Jamaica in general. Flora is a feisty Jamaican woman approaching middle age, who heads an environmental NGO. Her mood veers between nervous anxiety and restless frustration throughout much of the novel, and she curses regularly. She cannot sit quietly in limbo, at all. Waiting for something to happen does not suit her temperament.

Limbo by Esther Figueroa.

Limbo by Esther Figueroa.

There are different kinds of limbo. The cover of the book depicts the “limbo” that was once an amusing attraction for the tourists (in the fifties and sixties) with “natives” bending over backwards under a pole, while others shake maracas playfully and beat drums. This reference to Jamaica’s tourism “product” is clever, and ironic. Flora’s expeditions around the island expose the negative impact of all-inclusive hotels on the environment and local people. She sees the monstrous Spanish hotels along the north coast, and in particular the cruise ship pier and the construction of a fake “Historic Falmouth” with oversized parking lots for buses. Of course, we know of the wholesale destruction of coastal mangrove forests that took place to create these tourist havens (heavens?). Flora is also angry at a place called Sea Fun World, where the dolphins are “better off than when they’re living in the wild” (oh, sure…)

A part of Gustav Dore's illustration of Dante's "Limbo."

A part of Gustav Dore’s illustration of Dante’s “Limbo.” Nobody really knows what to do with themselves…

But let’s get to the real limbo, now. This is the limbo of Dante’s “Inferno,” between heaven and all those circles of hell. It’s a place where there are no struggles or torments; but those dwelling there are waiting for redemption, in the hope of reaching heaven. They just sit around there, powerless, waiting for their fate to be determined. Which will it be, heaven or hell? In the novel, the question is asked, “Which circle of hell is reserved for those who have done irreparable damage?” 

“Forget vision…It’s about money and power,” says Flora in one of her moments of deep cynicism; she is talking about the government’s vision, or rather lack of it. But she doesn’t have much time for philosophizing. She takes the reader along at a rollicking pace, moving through intrigues personal and political, complex deals and corrupt maneuverings, family entanglements, love affairs past and present – even a murder mystery. Flora may complain of exhaustion, but her life is never dull. We meet crusading journalists, shady businessmen, wise fishermen, unscrupulous developers and influential talk show hosts. It’s great fun.

Woven into the narrative is a moving and very personal tribute to one particular person: a journalist, a fierce environmental campaigner and a good and true soul – one who is no longer with us. He is a dear friend of Flora’s, and if we know Jamaica at all, we will quickly recognize him (as we may half-recognize some other characters in the novel). The book is dedicated to him, as well as to environmental activist Diana McCaulay – who also heads her own non-governmental organization, Jamaica Environment Trust.

Flora tackles all of Jamaica’s major environmental concerns head on. Apart from unsustainable tourism, these include the choking tide of plastic on our seashores, toxic waste, over-fishing, the devastating impact of bauxite mining on rural communities. She does not lecture the reader, however. She discusses, she argues, she seeks to persuade, she uses all her social skills to try to influence others. But the “everlasting arguments” exhaust her. She feels the burden of being an activist with little support. At one point, Flora realizes she is “absolutely sick of trying to save human beings from themselves and from destroying the planet.”

And as events unfold, Flora is increasingly seeking to bring balance into her life. There are interludes of rest, enjoyment, sheer pleasure. Her best friend Lilac cooks delicious meals for her; I enjoyed the mouth-watering descriptions of Jamaican food, in particular – cocoa tea, fish and bammy from Port Royal, fragrant cornmeal porridge and much more. One of my favorite chapters describes a visit to Kingston’s Coronation Market with Lilac, where an abundance of local fruits and vegetables is heaped into the van in preparation for an uptown party, complete with soca music. A fishing trip, an escape by boat to a small island, where she stays overnight, sleeping in a hammock with her lover. These are the kind of things one dreams about doing in Jamaica. I think the word I am searching for is idyllic.

These moments of respite, amidst Flora’s weariness and frustration, express her profound love for Jamaica (and one senses, the author’s, too). But the book does not portray a “Come to Jamaica and feel irie!” prettified Jamaica; far from it. There is nothing sentimental about Flora’s non-negotiable, unequivocal love for her home, Jamaica – the land, and the “real” people.  Flora simply cares, deeply, for her country, and she has fought for it. She travels, she has studied overseas. But we know she does not want to live anywhere else; why should she?

The message is clear: This island of Jamaica has riches, abundant. We don’t have to tear her apart and rob her of them. She can keep them, and we can nurture them, because they will benefit all of us, for generations to come.

As Bob Marley once sang (and I think he was talking about those “big men” Flora had to deal with):“Think you’re in heaven, but you’re living in hell.” Limbo is, perhaps, the worst option. But the novel ends hopefully, in a small quiet place by the sea, where the breeze blows and the light plays over land and water.

This book is not about Jamaica. It is, truly, Jamaica.

“Limbo” is published by Arcade in hardcover, and is available at Jamaican bookstores and on amazon.com.

Author Esther Figueroa is a Jamaican independent filmmaker who has produced several films on environmental issues, including "Jamaica For Sale," a powerful documentary on the impact of tourism.

Author Esther Figueroa is a Jamaican independent filmmaker who has produced several films on environmental issues, including “Jamaica For Sale,” a powerful documentary on the impact of tourism.

 

 

 

 

A Fondness for Fantasy

Forgive me, dear readers. Or rather, I should say, “I crave your indulgence, my lords and ladies.” 

Why the fancy talk? Well, in the space of just a couple of days, I have become addicted to – or perhaps enslaved by – the television series “Game of Thrones.” I was assured by friends that, if I did not immerse myself in the previous three seasons, I would not have a clue what was going on in the fourth. And I intended to watch the fourth (which started this evening). So, for the first time, I plunged in headfirst with three “marathons.” Yes, three.

I have never spent so much time on the couch before. I have had to remind myself to eat. I have done one or two basic household chores very swiftly, in between episodes. My husband has given up on me. Now, at the end of it all, my head is aching a little. But I am feeling replete – just as if I had finished a heavy meal and wish I hadn’t eaten quite so much, but not really regretting it.

"The Lord of the Rings" by J.R.R. Tolkien.

“The Lord of the Rings” by J.R.R. Tolkien.

I have always had a weakness for fantasy and science fiction, having grown up on fairy tales in my youth. Some of my younger readers may not know, but in the late sixties and early seventies, when I was a wayward university student, the works of J.R.R. Tolkien became enormously popular among young bohemians. The sixties were a golden era for science fiction, and during our teens my brother and I had already devoured many of the great writers – Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Philip K Dick and so on. We didn’t live in the video age; it was all books. Anyway, “Lord of the Rings” almost became our bible. We taught ourselves to write runes, and speak Elvish even. And this was, of course, long before all the CGI stuff. The special effects were all in our imaginations.

A scene from Isaac Asimov's wonderful "Foundation Trilogy," a science fiction classic published in exactly the same era as "The Lord of the Rings" (the early 50s).

A scene from Isaac Asimov’s wonderful “Foundation Trilogy,” a science fiction classic published in exactly the same era as “The Lord of the Rings” (the early 1950′s).

This wedding feast scene at the end of last season ended in a bloodbath. It reminded me of the final scene of Hamlet, with some major characters littered about the set, and unfortunately not making it to Season 4.

This wedding feast scene at the end of the last season of “Game of Thrones” ended in a Shakespearean-style bloodbath. It reminded me of the final scene of Hamlet, with some major characters littered about the set – and unfortunately not making it to Season 4.

Anyway, “Game of Thrones” is based on books too – by George R.R. Martin (funny how the R.R. crept in). It’s like “Lord of the Rings” on steroids, and without the comforting quaintness of the hobbits. It’s definitely X-rated. Most of the main characters take their clothes off with the greatest of ease, and no one seems to wear underwear – at least, not the women. And then there’s the blood. Sometimes it goes slightly over the top, and I want the scene to move on so I can see what’s happening to What’s-His-Face or What’s-Her-Face. A lot of conversations seem to end in a fight of some sort, or a sexual excursion. But some characters actually manage to love each other.

One of the fearsome White Walkers. Not easy customers to deal with, as you can imagine.

One of the fearsome White Walkers. Not easy customers to deal with, as you can imagine.

How do I get one of these dragons? Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen.

How do I get one of those dragons? Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen.

So, how and why did I get hooked? Well, there is just the right dab of magic here and there, where it’s needed, and it’s not too heavy on the special effects. The sets, whether computer-generated or not, are beautifully done and very detailed. The locations are just perfect, from darkly dripping woodlands and snow-swept mountains to sunny Mediterranean cliff tops by a dreamy blue sea (it was filmed in six different countries). The music is moody, medieval and never intrusive (unlike the bombastic “Lord of the Rings” score). The costumes are beautiful. The dialogue is just right: a little flowery, a little clichéd at times, but that doesn’t matter in this genre. The story lines overlap and weave in and out of each other. There are several competing Houses vying for power; as my husband observed, it’s all a bit tribal.

Poor Jon Snow. I think he smiled during a love scene once, but he has a lot of inner angst going on. But it just makes him look even cuter.

Poor Jon Snow. I think he smiled during a love scene once, but he has a lot of inner angst going on. But that just makes him look even cuter. He is played by Kit Harrington.

 

Most of all, the myriad characters are a delight – from the once-debonair Jaime Lannister (now minus a hand but still rather endearing) to the cool slave liberator and dragon-momma Daenerys Targaryen; from the adorably tousle-haired, inwardly-torn Jon Snow (he doesn’t smile much) to the witty, smart and rather kind Tyrion. And several very interesting and strong female roles, which I love. There are not only grown-ups, but some very important children, too, who have their own adventures. Plus huge wolves, the aforementioned dragons, and a lot of dead people with bright blue eyes.

Queen Regent Cersei Lannister is a fascinating character, played by Lena Headey. She is cynical, secretive, bitter and only occasionally sympathetic.

Queen Regent Cersei Lannister is a fascinating character, played by Lena Headey. She is cynical, secretive, bitter and only occasionally sympathetic.

 

Lord Varys, the eunuch who knows everything about everyone at court, and is good at putting two and two together. Love him!

Lord Varys, the eunuch who knows everything about everyone at court, and is good at putting two and two together. Love him!

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Jamie Lannister in the season premiere of “Game of Thrones” on HBO.

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Jaime Lannister in the season premiere of “Game of Thrones” on HBO.

 

So I am going to bed tonight (as I did last night) with the clashing of swords, the thundering of horses’ hooves and the screech of dragons in my ears.

And of course, I can’t wait until next Sunday evening.

 

YOU beneficiary Khalia: “Here is home”

petchary:

I recently attended a screening of the powerful and moving documentary film “Songs of Redemption” at the Canadian High Commissioner’s residence. The occasion was a fundraiser for Youth Opportunities Unlimited (YOU), a non-governmental organization that has been around for over 22 years in Jamaica. YOU has trained 2,200 volunteers as mentors and trained 46 organizations to establish their own mentoring programs. Young people need adult support. Adolescents are quite isolated in society and often left to fend for themselves, and mentoring (for 2-5 years each, in the case of YOU) is one of the most effective ways of boosting their self-esteem and helping them to achieve their goals. Here is a personal story, recounted by volunteer Kate Chappell, that shows the impact of YOU’s programs on one young Jamaican woman. For more information, you can contact YOU at 759-2080; email: info@you-jamaica.com. Website: http://www.you-jamaica.com.

Originally posted on Jamaican Journal:

Khalia and YOU's Office Manager Mrs. Margaret Denton

“Here is home.” With those three simple words, Khalia describes the impact Youth Opportunities has had on her life. Now 25, Khalia came to YOU at the age of 14, and while she now lives in Missouri, U.S.A., in some ways, she never left.

“YOU teaches you to be yourself,” she says. “The programs are designed for young people to express themselves, define themselves, and be themselves.”

For much of her childhood, however, Khalia was expressing herself in ways that were neither healthy nor positive. “Growing up, I was a very angry child,” she says, referring to her early years in Kingston with her hard-working mother. “It was hectic because my mother worked a lot to make ends meet.” Khalia, her mother and sister moved around a lot. All the turmoil and the lack of a father figure took its toll: in grade 7, she was suspended twice for fighting…

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It’s Not Raining: Wednesday, March 19, 2014

I am unhappy that two drops of rain fell earlier, and then stopped. So, our little corner of Kingston remains warm, sticky – and rainless.

FILE - In this May 20, 2010 file photo, residents gather outside their house riddled with bullet holes during a media tour organized by government authorities inside the Tivoli Gardens neighborhood in Kingston, Jamaica.  In May 2010, in one of the bloodiest episodes in Jamaica's recent history, over 80 civilians were killed over the course of a few days while security forces hunted drug kingpin Christoper "Dudus" Coke. We await the start of an enquiry into the incident, if it ever happens. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd, File)

FILE – In this May 20, 2010 file photo, residents gather outside their house riddled with bullet holes during a media tour organized by government authorities inside the Tivoli Gardens neighborhood in Kingston, Jamaica. In May 2010, in one of the bloodiest episodes in Jamaica’s recent history, over 80 civilians were killed over the course of a few days while security forces hunted drug kingpin Christoper “Dudus” Coke. We await the start of the enquiry into the incident. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd, File)

Some interesting developments this week: Ms. Velma Hylton, QC has stepped down (granting my fervent wish) as a Commissioner at the upcoming enquiry into the Tivoli Gardens massacre of 2010. Ms. Hylton stated: “The Commission of  Enquiry is important to Jamaica and should not be hampered by politics and petty distractions.”  I am glad that you have withdrawn, Ms. Hylton, but the concerns were far from petty. Putting the politics well to one side, your appointment seemed neither fair nor ethical, after the comments you made at another enquiry into an earlier Tivoli Gardens slaughter. The government should appoint someone who hasn’t been involved in any previous investigations. Simple.

Another positive development is the announcement of an adjustment to the Airport Passenger Duty that the United Kingdom had imposed on flights to the Caribbean. This has been a thorn in the side of tourism interests for a long time. Let us hope that it will make a difference to our anemic tourism performance. And at least the Tory Government in the UK has done something right in its new Budget.

Vybz Kartel, looking pale.

Vybz Kartel, looking pale.

A couple of twists in the murder conviction of dancehall star Vybz Kartel. Firstly, a juror has been charged with attempting to bribe the foreman and possibly other jurors to persuade them to return a “not guilty” verdict. Secondly, Kartel and two others are charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice and will go to court on August 11. The latter charge arose from a false report by a supporter, Ms. Gaza Slim to a police station which suggested that Clive Williams (whom Kartel and others have now been convicted of murdering) was still alive.

Mr. Derrick Latibeaudiere got into hot water over houses from as far back as 2006, and was eventually fired as Governor of the Bank of Jamaica in October, 2009.

Mr. Derrick Latibeaudiere got into hot water over houses from as far back as 2006, and was eventually fired as Governor of the Bank of Jamaica on October 30, 2009.

Former Bank of Jamaica Governor Derrick Latibeaudiere is the new chair of the Housing Association of Jamaica, after the entire board of the government agency resigned recently. I find this appointment amusing, in light of a controversy during the last political administration over Mr. Latibeaudiere’s low interest loan to himself to help build a luxury mansion in the hills. This eventually resulted in his removal as Governor. I suppose heading a housing agency is a fitting portfolio for him. (If you need to refresh your memory you can read this Gleaner report: http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20091108/lead/lead2.html)

On the topic of government agencies in general, I tweeted today, and I repeat: “The level of political corruption and victimization in government agencies is appalling. I will say no more.”

The dump: Late on Sunday, the government announced that it had “activated its multi-agency Emergency Response Protocol” in response to the fearsome fire at the Riverton City dump. Very impressive. Less impressive were the radio interviews the following morning. The Jamaica Fire Brigade complained that it did not receive any water for over seven hours, and when the chairman of the National Water Commission was asked about this he said something about “the blame game.”  Meanwhile, the Acting Director General of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (clearly focusing on the emergency part of his portfolio) seems to have been pushed to the front as spokesman for this awesome coalition of government agencies.

Photo taken from West Kirkland Heights on Sunday of the horrendous tire fire at Riverton City dump.

Photo taken from West Kirkland Heights on Sunday of the horrendous tire fire at Riverton City dump.

I thought the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) was the government agency responsible for the maintenance and management of the Riverton City dump. Yet, since the five-acre section containing tires (supposedly to be recycled at some point) caught light, Ms. Jennifer Edwards who heads the NSWMA has hardly spoken.  Why the reticence, Ms. Edwards? How do you feel about the dump operating in breach of the law?

And what does the Minister of Environment and Climate Change etc have to say? (*crickets*) Any word from the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) (*crickets*)

With so much talk/lip service about climate change, you would think we could do better at protecting our forests; but the denuding of our hillsides continues apace. Conservator of Forests Marilyn Headley says 350 hectares or so is lost every year in Jamaica. Remember, we are only a small island. She is doing her best, one supposes. Public education and lots of outreach to farmers would help. But it’s not just the farmers slashing and burning. As we noted in a recent Panos workshop, much of the forested land is being taken for large-scale housing developments, especially in western Jamaica.

EWI: Having made it clear less than three weeks ago that it needed a lot more financial and other information before recommending that Energy World International (EWI) receive a license for the 350 megawatt power plant, the Office of Utilities Regulation is now ready to give the green light “by the end of this week.” Yes! That was quite a volte-face, it seems to me. One minute, major concerns; now, everything cool. I know that Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell declared on television in January that he wanted to sign EWI’s license as soon as possible. Was there perhaps some pressure exerted?

Conservator of forests/head of the Forestry Department Marilyn Headley. With her are (from second left) managing director of the Water Resources Authority Basil Fernandez; deputy director of Meteorological Service of Jamaica Evan Thompson; and Adrian Shaw, also of the Met Service. (Photo: Naphtali Junior/Jamaica Observer)

Conservator of forests/head of the Forestry Department Marilyn Headley. With her are (from second left) managing director of the Water Resources Authority Basil Fernandez; deputy director of Meteorological Service of Jamaica Evan Thompson; and Adrian Shaw, also of the Met Service. (Photo: Naphtali Junior/Jamaica Observer)

Dr. Sonjah Stanley Niaah, Senior Lecturer at the University of the West Indies, is author of "DanceHall: From Slave Ship to Ghetto." Her blog is dancehallgeographies.wordpress.com

Dr. Sonjah Stanley Niaah, Senior Lecturer at the University of the West Indies, is author of “DanceHall: From Slave Ship to Ghetto.” Her blog is dancehallgeographies.wordpress.com

The dancehall trial: Some of my tweeps have upbraided me on this. If I am not a dancehall “fan,” they say (and I am not, I just don’t like it) then it is my loss, since dancehall is “the most relevant aspect of contemporary Jamaica.” Really? I stand accused of “living in a bubble.” Well, we all have our own bubbles, I guess, some smaller than others. Meanwhile, Dr. Sonjah Niaah from the University of the West Indies is very knowledgeable on the topic, so as a final postscript to the Vybz Kartel trial I highly recommend that you read her latest blog post here: http://dancehallgeographies.wordpress.com/2014/03/17/convicted-the-exceptional-werl-boss-and-the-dilemma-of-social-responsibility/  Social responsibility remains, I believe, a key issue in all of this. And having read more about him, I suspect that Mr. Kartel needs to seek professional help.

While we are still discussing the fire and the murder trial, it may have escaped our notice that tourism numbers are not looking so hot, again – down 3.2 per cent in January compared to January 2013; and that the Jamaican Dollar’s slide has accelerated this month. On Friday, it was J$109.27 to the U.S. Dollar; on Monday it went to J$109.31. The Bank of Jamaica put out a statement on Sunday evening that it stood ready to intervene in the market to avoid anything “disorderly” happening.

Finance Minister Peter Phillips

Finance Minister Peter Phillips is focused on one thing only: passing the next IMF test. He must dream IMF at nights…

The IMF at work: Parliament swiftly passed two laws yesterday that will help restrain public spending: The Public Bodies Management and Accountability (Amendment) Act and the Financial Administration and Audit (Amendment) Act. Me and many other cynics will agree that such legislation would never have been passed without the International Monetary Fund (IMF) breathing down our politicians’ necks – especially an administration that still includes former Finance Minister Omar “Run Wid It” Davies. But anyway, good going, Minister Peter Phillips.

Anyway, André Haughton, who teaches at the University of the West Indies, says Jamaica is “poised for growth.” What, again? How long have we been poised?

Parry Town residents demanding water in their pipes. (Photo: Renae Dixon/Jamaica Observer)

Parry Town residents demanding water in their pipes. (Photo: Renae Dixon/Jamaica Observer)

Irate and “bex”: Every evening on prime time news we see residents waving placards in protest at – well, it could be one of three things: lack of water, poor roads, or a police killing. On Monday night, the people of Parry Town, in Ocho Rios, were furious, shouting down their local councilor. They blocked the road.

The White Knight in "Alice in Wonderland" wore spiked ankle bands to keep away the sharks.

The White Knight in “Alice in Wonderland” wore spiked ankle bands to keep away the sharks, and recited a deeply strange poem.

The White Knight: In a nice little PR piece, University of Technology lecturer James McNish tells us that “China evidently is becoming the white knight for many economies of the world.” I am assuming he means a friendly investor. In one of my childhood stories, “Alice in Wonderland,” the White Knight is friendly enough, but one of Lewis Carroll’s strangest characters. Mr. McNish extols the virtues of the huge Baha Mar mega-resort and casino in the Bahamas. It is being built by 3,000 (yes, 3,000!) Chinese workers and with a huge Chinese loan, too. Hopefully there will be jobs for Bahamians at the end of it all.

And the White Knight has come to the rescue of JEEP (our Prime Minister’s Jamaica Emergency Employment Program) – which had broken down by the side of the road some time ago. There have been delays, but an agreement between the relevant ministries and the China Harbour Engineering Company was signed on Tuesday in the amount of J$5.4 billion (more or less) for the revival of the government’s Major Infrastructure Development Program. Some JEEP jobs will come out of that, one expects and hopes.

The Negril Morass and Royal Palm Reserve.

The Negril Morass and Royal Palm Reserve. (Photo: Island Buzz Jamaica)

Drying out: The head of the Water Resources Authority Basil Fernandez notes that water supplies in western Jamaica are drying up, and this will affect tourism. A year or two back there was a water crisis in the tourist resort of Negril that affected hotels. Once when we were staying there the entire morass was on fire; we had to leave the hotel. A lot of this is to do with climate change – the tropics are drying up; and also to do with bad planning, especially in the case of Negril, which is a mess in terms of badly planned developments and hotels.

Big ups to the following, meanwhile:

The Jamaica Fire Brigade, which was on the front line and worked round the clock to bring the horrible Riverton City fire under control. Special kudos to their spokesman Emilio Ebanks (I love that name), who is very straight forward and focused.

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Caribbean Producers (CPJ): It’s always a pleasure to eat lunch at their Deli on Kingston’s Lady Musgrave Road. Now I have even more reason to praise the food distribution company, which has announced through its Managing Director Mark Hart that it will be adopting the Glenhope Nursery. I have visited there on more than one occasion and this would tug at anyone’s heart: the sight of rows of cots containing small abandoned babies, and a sad little playground where the toddlers play. These are all abandoned children, most “in need of care and protection” as they say. Muchissimos kudos, Mr. Hart!

Jamaica's formidable Director of Public Prosecutions Paula Llewellyn has a broad, broad smile.

Jamaica’s formidable Director of Public Prosecutions Paula Llewellyn has a broad, broad smile.

Director of Public Prosecutions Paula Llewellyn, who spent considerable time on Monday morning discussing some details of the much-sensationalized Vybz Kartel trial on Senator Marlene Malahoo Forte’s morning talk show “Justice.”  I was very impressed at her diligence in answering many of the questions about court procedures and the investigative process that had been hovering around after the dancehall star’s murder conviction last week. Ms. Llewellyn clarified a lot of issues for me and other listeners. It was also a reality check on the over-stretched and inadequate justice system. Did you know that more than forty cases had to be rescheduled because of the long Vybz Kartel trial?  Anyway, thanks to both ladies!

Norma Walters being escorted by her husband, retired Custos of St Ann Radcliffe Walters during an inspection of the grounds of the Seville Great House prior to her installation as Custos of the parish.

Norma Walters and her husband, retired Custos of St Ann Radcliffe Walters at the Seville Great House prior to her installation as Custos of the parish.

The first female Custos of St. Ann Ms. Norma Walters, who has succeeded her husband Radcliffe in the largely ceremonial -but influential – position.The office of Custos is a colonial throwback; but Ms. Walters can still play an important role in guiding citizens and their leaders alike, up there on the north coast.

Videographer/photographer Zomian Thompson of Modern Media Services/Drone-maica. Photo stolen from his Facebook page!

Videographer/photographer Zomian Thompson of Modern Media Services/Drone-maica. Photo stolen from his Facebook page!

Mr. Zomian Thompson and his Modern Media Services/Dronemaica, who do brilliant aerial photography and post “virtual tours” online. Check them out on Facebook. Their recent postings of tours of Goat Islands (beautiful) and Riverton City dump on fire (fearful) are well worth looking at.

The sad part is that the murders continue, while everyone discusses everything else. My deepest condolences to the loved ones of the following Jamaican citizens, killed since Sunday (but at least the police have taken their fingers off the triggers, and we are grateful for that)…

Unidentified woman, Kitson Town, St. Catherine

Wiggan Bennett, 46, Bel Air/Runaway Bay, St. Ann

Norris Garvey, 70, Gayle, St. Mary

On our roads: Two women, both street sweepers, were run over by a speeding coaster bus that did not stop in Dunbeholden, St. Catherine this morning. One is dead and the other seriously injured. I am so sick of hearing of these hit-and-run incidents. How can one knock down two women and not stop? What kind of conscience do these people have? These street sweepers start work before dawn, very often. It is so sad. And why does the media use this expression “mowed down” to describe the running over of pedestrians? Human beings are not lawns. It sounds awful.

Swept Away: “Werther” at the Met

I spent the afternoon sitting in the Carib Cinema weeping blissfully. At one point in the final act of Massenet’s “Werther,” I had the urge to throw myself down in the aisle and sob loudly. I am not sure if the small but devoted Jamaican audience would have approved – but some might perhaps have joined me.

Werther reminds Charlotte of his literary inspiration - the writings of a legendary Gaelic poet called Ossian - as he sings "Tout mon ame est la!" (All of my soul is there).

Werther reminds Charlotte of his literary inspiration – the writings of a legendary Gaelic poet called Ossian –  singing “Tout mon ame est la!” (All of my soul is there). His emotional aria “Pourquoi me reveiller” nearly brought the house down at today’s performance.

The brief ball scene in this production - not a part of the original libretto.

The brief, candlelit ball scene in this production of “Werther”- not a part of the original libretto, but done with great delicacy.

We were watching another in the series of Metropolitan Opera of New York’s live broadcasts, which are seen in some sixty countries around the world. There are just three left in the current series. There is little variety in musical offerings in Kingston – there is a dearth of classical music of any kind, and even anything approaching jazz seems to have died a death. So we are grateful, and lucky, and thank our local Palace Amusement Company for making it all possible.

The beautiful Werther, sung by Jonas Kaufmann. As you can see here, the sets depicting the changing seasons in the earlier part of the opera were very effective, with the use of video. Crows perched in wintry trees, burnt-orange leaves fell in autumn, and here was the dappled green of summer.

The beautiful Werther, sung by Jonas Kaufmann. As you can see here, the sets depicting the changing seasons in the earlier part of the opera made very effective use of video. Crows  flew to their perches in wintry trees, burnt-orange leaves fell; and here was the dappled green of springtime on a country estate.

Very grateful, indeed, for the  extraordinarily beautiful performances in the nineteenth-century French composer’s opera “Werther.”  This transported me back to my high school days, when I studied German for Advanced Level and was obsessed by the music, literature and art of the European fin de siècle. The heightened emotions, the melancholia, the world-weariness, the love of nature and beauty. As a teenager I just lapped it all up.

A young Goethe, painted in 1787 by Angelika Kauffmann. By the way, there was a 2011 film, "Young Goethe in Love." Please try to avoid it...

A young Goethe, painted in 1787 by Angelika Kauffmann. By the way, there was a 2011 film, “Young Goethe in Love.” Please try to avoid it…

I was very fond of the German poet, writer, lawyer and statesman Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who was actually pre-turn of the century, but working up to that same spirit of the times. At the age of 25 Goethe was already a superstar, with the 1775 publication of his first novel “The Sorrows of Young Werther,” on which the opera is loosely based. The vaguely autobiographical work (it is a “love triangle” of sorts)  was a huge European hit. And yes, Goethe himself fell in love a great deal, as you might expect. “Sorrows” is a classic example of the “Sturm und Drang” artistic movement of the time. It’s really hard to translate; but basically this was all about the individual and the vehement expression of one’s emotions, in response to the cool rationalism of the Enlightenment period (OK, it’s more complex than that, but in the interests of time and space…) In short, Sturm und Drang was a kind of eighteenth century punk rock movement (without the spitting).

Jonas Kaufmann in this production of "Werther." (Photo: Brigitte Lacombe/Metropolitan Opera)

Jonas Kaufmann in this production of “Werther.” (Photo: Brigitte Lacombe/Metropolitan Opera)

Well, let us look at this fictional poet Werther, in the handsome person of Jonas Kaufmann, the German tenor. Both Kaufmann and Sophie Koch, a wonderful French mezzo soprano who played Charlotte, have sung these roles together several times before, and it showed. There was nothing stilted about their acting; and as Charlotte sang, “Que ton âme en mon âme éperdument se fonde!” (“Let your soul and my soul merge desperately!”) their performances really did blend together effortlessly. (By the way, Werther was bleeding pretty badly at this point).

Charlotte (Sophie Koch) with Werther in the final scene.

Charlotte (Sophie Koch) with Werther in the final scene.

The New York Times recently described Kaufmann as “currently the most in-demand, versatile and exciting tenor in opera.”  Well, he’s in demand with me, all right. I would run a hundred miles and cross many seas to see and hear him perform again. His voice has been described as having “dark” tones. In the final act, his soft notes were as exquisite as his earlier passionate ones. And he is simply quite beautiful (see: http://www.jonaskaufmann.com/en/) I am quite tempted to go and see the encore performance, which will take place in Kingston at the Cineplex Cinema and in Montego Bay at the Multiplex on Sunday, March 23 at 11:30 a.m. 

The art direction included frames (sometimes asymmetrical and tilted) to create more intimate settings on the huge stage. Here in the final act, Charlotte gets ready to go and find Werther, who is already rather ominously contemplating a box of pistols in his room. This is a piercing moment when she stands outside in the darkness, fearful for Werther, while he moves about his room.

The art direction included frames (sometimes asymmetrical and tilted) to create more intimate settings on the huge stage. Here in the final act, Charlotte gets ready to go and find Werther, who is already rather ominously contemplating a box of pistols in his room. This is a piercing moment when she stands outside in the darkness, fearful for Werther, while he moves about his room.

You get the feeling that poor Werther is ready to end his own life from the beginning of this story. He is as much wrapped up in himself as he is in Charlotte. As Jonas Kaufmann himself jokingly said during an interview, you keep wanting to tell him, “Get over it… Give us a break.” 
But that wasn’t the way of the Romantics. They wanted to keep that candle burning. As well they should.
An image of the first edition of

An image of the first edition of “Die Leiden des jungen Werthers” (The Sorrows of Young Werther) by Goethe. Actually “Leiden” means more than sorrows. It means suffering.

Of Ports, Pinnacle and Paradise

petchary:

I am sharing this first blog post on the First of March from a good friend. She has a keen eye and sharp intellect and is a woman of strong faith, too. I do hope you will follow her – and look forward to the next post!

Originally posted on Thru Red, Gold & Green Spectacles:

Little-Goat-Island--A-S COAL INSTEAD OF CORALS     This week brought the shocking news that the proposed mega-port logistics hub to be build by Chinese company CHEC will include a coal-fired electricity generating plant. If the news of the total destruction of the land, fish sanctuaries and coral reefs is not enough, Jamaican citizens will experience the smoke, ash and waste products from the world’s worst fossil fuel. With all the sunshine and land available, I wonder whether China could not have been persuaded to use some of its millions of surplus solar panels to construct a solar power plant for the controversial project. I wonder too if the proposed ‘Chinatown” city for the project’s Chinese staff will also be powered by this plant.

The smoke rising from the coal furnaces will either blow east to Kingston, west to St. Catherine or directly up to the Sligoville hills, and Pinnacle. It all…

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Stuart Hall, Caribbean Thought and the World We Live In

I have to preface this article with a confession: Although I have lived in England and in Jamaica for most of my life so far, I had never heard of Stuart Hall, who recently died at the age of 82. He taught at my alma mater, Oxford University, a few years after I graduated. And I realize that Hall had actually lived in England much longer than I have, arriving there in the year of my birth, at the age of nineteen. I was preoccupied with other things than politics in 1980s Britain (including making money, and moving permanently to Jamaica). British politics was a mere backdrop for me, and perhaps I had moved on a little from my youthful radicalism (although, looking back on it, I may well have been influenced by Hall’s thought, without knowing him, from the late 1960s to the 1970s)

OK, confession over. A colleague shared this revealing article, written by esteemed academics at the Centre for Caribbean Thought, and I am sharing it with you below. I hope that you find it of interest, as I did. It begs the question, though: What is the state of “multiculturalism” in Britain today?

Jamaican-born cultural theorist Stuart Hall coined the term "Thatcherism." (Photo: Getty Images)

Jamaican-born cultural theorist Stuart Hall coined the term “Thatcherism.” (Photo: Getty Images)

There have been many tributes to the Jamaican-born thinker Stuart Hall. We at the Centre for Caribbean Thought  remember the 2004 conference “Culture, Politics, Race and Diaspora: The Thought of Stuart Hall,” where  with  mesmerizing eloquence Hall  addressed  ideas about thinking, activism, the Caribbean  Diaspora , politics and  the  complex relationships between culture, race, class and power. When we invited Hall in 2003  and informed him that his work would be the subject of a “Caribbean Reasonings Conference” his initial response,  typical of his character  was that he had not written much on the Caribbean; that  his work was not of the kind like that of Lamming, or CLR James. Yet in a lecture delivered at the 50th anniversary of the University of West Indies, Hall had noted that the 1998 event occurred at the same time as the 50th anniversary of the docking of the SS Empire Windrush in the UK. That landing began a new history of post-war Caribbean migration to the UK.

Hall arrived in the UK as a Rhodes Scholar in 1951. His life was a Caribbean life away, a diasporic life in which the new meanings of home were constructed while retaining  echoes of the former home. How could one forget the 1991 seven-part documentary series which he narrated, Redemption Song,” that deeply explored the past and present of the Caribbean? Hall was a Caribbean intellectual, one who was part and parcel of the post war Afro- Caribbean migration experience.  That he did not  return “home” like others – George Lamming, or Sylvia Wynter ( who returned for a while ) and others did not mean that he was not Caribbean . What it meant was that the Caribbean was now working through a different geographical and cultural location. He himself noted: “The fate of the Caribbean people living in the UK, the USA or Canada is no more ‘external’ to Caribbean history than the Empire was ‘external’ to the so called domestic history of Britain.”  

Living at the heart of the British colonial empire in its dying days and on the cusp of regional political independence was both a formidable intellectual and political challenge for Hall.  These challenges remained with him for a long time and as he said in an interview in 2012, “I am not quite English.” Hall’s preoccupation with Diaspora and race emerged out of this conundrum which he navigated. There is profound connection between Hall’s life and his writings and thinking about Diaspora and race for as he once said in a debate with a conservative political figure in London,“You cannot have at the back of your head what I have in mine. You once owned me on a plantation.”

When Hall became involved in British left politics it was at a moment when orthodox Marxism was reeling from the exposures and revelations of the brutalities of Stalinism. If in 1956 another Caribbean figure, Aimé Césaire resigned from the French Communist Party, stating that not only the bodies murdered by Stalin were an eloquent testimony to the negative practices of orthodox communism but that the colonial and race problems  required new and different readings of how societies were constituted, Hall along with others in 1960 founded the “New Left Review”  as one attempt to construct a new left politics. This desire to construct a  different left politics which was not a distant cousin of orthodox Marxism (what he would call in 1986 in an article on ideology, “Marxism without guarantees”) was critical  to Hall’s intellectual and political life. Indeed his work as the central founder of the field of “Cultural Studies” at Birmingham University was not so much about a study of the popular but more about thinking around the relationships between power and culture. It was to understand culture as a complex phenomenon which was always contested; but importantly he believed  that one could not think politically without grappling with the yeast of culture. It was this  understanding which made it possible for him to coin the term “ Thatcherism” as a hegemonic cluster of ideas, which were not just political but deeply rooted in  the cultural and social history of Britain.

Hall’s political thinking in recent years was to grapple with the ideas inaugurated by Thatcher and others  and what he called a year ago the “neo-liberal revolution.” He reminds us that Thatcher once said, “The object is to change the soul.”  In grappling with this new ideological configuration, Hall posited two sets of ideas amongst many which might be in part legacies for us today. The first is the notion of contingency. The idea that social and political life is not fixed, that there is no formal closure and therefore there is fluidity in what seems fixed and frozen. It is an important idea because it always means that in the darkest of times there are always “points of light.” The second is one which he took from the Italian political thinker, Antonio Gramsci – the idea of “common sense.”  His challenge to us was that we should understand how common sense gets  formed. In  an  article written by himself and Alan O‘Shea  in December 2013 , he argued that  the   “assumption that everyone is obviously going to agree with what is being proposed is in fact a means of securing that agreement.”  He also noted that the idea that “we all share common sense values … It is a powerful legitimation strategy.”

That months before his death Hall and others worked on the “Kilburn Manifesto’” a document about the possibilities of renewing the left in Britain, is indicative of a force field of determination. But perhaps even more so it was indicative of his deep desire to confront the world as we know it and challenge its assumptions. In London, Hall’s contribution to visual culture is well known, particularly his work with the group of Black Photographers and the establishment of Rivington Place. Hall had that rare gift of discerning the contours of the world in which we live. With unmatched generosity he worked across generations. He was open to the future and to the possibilities of a different world as he practiced a form of engaged listening and dialogue . For those of us at the Centre for Caribbean Thought he is a seminal figure and thinker of the 20th century.

Brian Meeks, Professor of Social and Political Change, Director Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of , The University of the West Indies, Mona

Anthony Bogues, Lyn Crost Professor of Social Sciences and Critical Theory , Professor of Africana Studies, Director, Center for the Study of Slavery & Justice, Brown University

Rupert Lewis, Professor Emeritus of Political Thought, The University of the West Indies, Mona

Short biography of Stuart Hall: Stuart Hall was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1932. The UK “Guardian” notes: “His father, Herman, was the first non-white person to hold a senior position – chief accountant – with United Fruit in Jamaica. Jessie, his formidable mother, had white forebears and identified with the ethos of an imaginary, distant Britain.” Educated at Jamaica College, he won a Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford University and moved to the UK in 1951, just after the migration of Jamaicans on the “Windrush.” He studied English at Merton College, and began doctoral studies on the work of Henry James. He was drawn towards Marxism and quickly became involved in the establishment of the New Left, after the Soviet repression of the Hungarian revolution in 1956 and other dramatic global events. In 1957 he founded the “Universities and Left Review,” and subsequently became founding editor of the “New Left Review.”  Moving to London and abandoning his studies, he became a supply teacher in Brixton and in 1961, a lecturer in film and media at Chelsea College, London University. He became increasingly involved in cultural activities and co-authored “Popular Arts,” with Paddy Whannel. In 1964 he married historian Catherine Barrett. He moved to Birmingham as the first research fellow at the new Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, Birmingham University, founded by Richard Hoggart. The “Guardian” notes that during this period Hall “shifted the terms of debate on the media, deviancy, race, politics, Marxism and critical theory.” In 1979 he became Professor of Sociology at the Open University (OU), which had opened just eight years earlier during Harold Wilson’s Labour Party administration in an effort to make higher education (through distance learning) much more widely available to those who would not qualify for a traditional university education. He stayed there until 1998, later becoming emeritus professor. His move to OU coincided with Margaret Thatcher’s election victory; in “The Politics of Thatcherism” (1983) he pointed out that her political beliefs reflected an authentic popular British ethos. From 1997 to 2000 he served on the Runnymede Commission on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain. Leaving academia, he collaborated with many young artists and film-makers, focusing on black expression and the immigrant experience. He helped secure funding for Rivington Place in east London, dedicated to public education in multicultural issues. A history of his life and work produced by film-maker John Akomfrah, “The Unfinished Conversation” (2012), and a widely distributed film, “The Stuart Hall Project” (2013) brought Hall to the attention of a new generation. In 2005 Hall was made a fellow of the British Academy. His published work (all collaborative volumes) includes: “Resistance Through Rituals” (1975); “Culture, Media, Language” (1980); “Politics and Ideology” (1986); “The Hard Road to Renewal” (1988); “New Times” (1989); “Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies” (1996); and “Different: A Historical Context: Contemporary Photographers and Black Identity” (2001).

Incidentally, Stuart Hall was a lifelong, passionate fan of jazz trumpeter Miles Davis. His 1959 album "Kind of Blue" is recognized as one of the most influential of all time.

Incidentally, Stuart Hall was a lifelong, passionate fan of jazz trumpeter Miles Davis. His 1959 album “Kind of Blue” is recognized as one of the most influential of all time.

Why should we admire the Monuments Men?

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petchary:

These were not just famous paintings. These were an intrinsic part of a culture. If you rob a people of the artifacts that constitute that culture, you take away their soul. I am sharing my fellow blogger’s thoughts with you, for your consideration.

Originally posted on idealisticrebel:

1452085_592388000815718_1216398192_n For centuries, when there was a war, the winning side would take the culture of the country they had beaten in the war, the art, the music, literature, and either incorporate it into their own culture or simply destroy it.  This was done in addition to raping, torturing and murdering the losing population.

The Monuments Men — a group of American and Allied “soldiers”, most of whom were actually art historians, gallery owners and artists, not soldiers at all– were different.  At the end of World War II, they went into Nazi-occupied areas, even into Nazi headquarters and private quarters of the Nazi elite, and not only rescued art and artifacts that the Nazis had systematically stolen from private citizens and museums in occupied territories, but they took the unprecedented step of returning these artifacts to the original, rightful owners, rather than simply keeping them for American or Allied museums…

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Days Away from Christmas: Sunday, December 22, 2013

 

I am trying to slow down for Christmas. Forced to, actually, by the lingering flu. I am happiest lying on the couch watching movies (I watched all the “Alien” movies in succession on Sundance Channel this week and concluded – as I already knew in my heart – that the first one was by far the best…)

But I am also happy writing my blog, and am taking the opportunity now to wish all my faithful readers the happiest of holidays, wherever in the world you are. I’ve so appreciated your comments, too. Please keep them coming!

Tessanne gets a warm welcome at Kingston's Norman Manley International Airport. (Photo: Bryan Cummings/Jamaica Observer)

Tessanne gets a warm welcome on arrival at Kingston’s Norman Manley International Airport. (Photo: Bryan Cummings/Jamaica Observer)

So Tessanne Chinour beautiful songbird, returned to Jamaica Friday evening on a private jet sponsored by telecoms firm Digicel. Now everyone wants a piece of Ms. Chin. Government officials were there to bask in her reflected glory (although politicians had nothing whatsoever to do with her success in winning “The Voice” talent competition, of course. But anyway). Tessanne will perform at an annual concert, Shaggy and Friends,” in Kingston on January 4. Shaggy, who has all the right connections, was instrumental in getting Tessanne this amazing overseas exposure.

Thanks to Shaggy for helping Tessanne Chin along the way...

Thanks to Orville Richard Burrell (better known as Shaggy) for helping Tessanne Chin along the way…

Christmas shopping: It hasn’t been a great season for retailers this year apparently. But we always leave things to the last minute, so Christmas Eve will be the day of sales. Having worked in this field in Jamaica for several years, I recall the almost manic intensity of that last-minute rush! Some retailers are getting clever: MegaMart, for example – a warehouse-type store in Kingston and Montego Bay – is open “24/7″ and is offering vouchers for people shopping between 2 and 6 a.m.! Actually, it makes sense. No crowds, only drunken party-goers and security guards to contend with…

Not broke, just…broke: Meanwhile Jamaica Chamber of Commerce President Francis Kennedy says Jamaicans are “not broke” this Christmas – just “ultra-conservative” in their spending. I wonder if some people know that it is actually possible to be broke. Very broke.

This contract business: An awkward issue has emerged, and Information Minister Sandrea Falconer had to put on her sternest voice as she went into damage control mode at a post-Cabinet press briefing Wednesday. But the Minister was, apparently, out of the loop on the matter of the awarding of J$733 million worth of housing contracts to Cenitech Engineering Solutions Limited. It transpired that the National Contracts Commission had already deregistered Cenitech because of various breaches – a fact that the Office of the Prime Minister says Cabinet was unaware of when it approved the awards on December 2, ratifying its decision on December 16. See the Jamaica Information Service website for its explanation. (Question: Is Cabinet a rubber-stamp operation?) This was a severe lapse in communication among government departments, at the very least. Note on Cenitech – from website: CEO George Knight was appointed in April 2013. Prior to this, he worked on major projects (including the Palisadoes and JDIP) as a senior engineer at the National Works Agency for many years.

Information Minister Senator Sandrea Falconer.

Information Minister Senator Sandrea Falconer.

Out of business: A shrimp farm (Caribbean Aquaculture Limited) in Old Harbour, St Catherine, has closed its doors due to a combination of factors. These are praedial larceny (a fancy term for stealing, or “tiefing”) as well as high electricity costs; but primarily, a huge increase in duty on the importation of feed and shrimp larvae. What to do? Is there any way one could use local feed and larvae? I don’t know enough about the shrimp business to have all the answers. All I know is that 88 more Jamaicans are out of work for Christmas…

Richard Hart at his home in London. Professor Rupert Lewis called him "the most consistent Caribbean activist." He received a Gold Musgrave Medal in 2005.

Richard Hart at his home in London. Professor Rupert Lewis called him “the most consistent Caribbean activist.” He received a Gold Musgrave Medal in 2005.

PNP founder dead, age 96: Richard Hart was a founding member of the People’s National Party (PNP) in 1938. He has an interesting political biography. Mr. Hart was one of the “four H’s” who were expelled from the party in 1954 due to their alleged communist leanings (the other “H’s” were Ken Hill, Frank Hill and Arthur Henry). He was re-admitted in 2001. He lived in Guyana and Grenada for a while, and then in London for many years, practicing law. In fact, he left the Caribbean thirty years ago, departing after the U.S. invasion of Grenada in 1983. His name may not be familiar to many Jamaicans, especially younger generations.

Website recommendation of the week: Do you know theroot.com ? There’s an interesting article for us on the Jamaican side, by U.S. academic Henry Louis Gates. Look it up: “Did my Jamaican kin descend from British loyalists in America?”

And on the sports scene there has been another West Indies batting collapse, Asafa Powell‘s drug hearing comes up next month…and my team Arsenal Football Club has been nudged off the top spot in the English Premier League (after many weeks) by the rampaging Luis Suarez (and the rest of his team, Liverpool Football Club). Hopefully it’s only temporary. We face Chelsea tomorrow… Nervy times.

Me and Thierry Henry at the Emirates Stadium in north London last year… Diehard Gooner! (My photo)

Me and Thierry Henry at the Emirates Stadium in north London last year… Diehard Gooner! (My photo)

National Security Minister Peter Bunting. (Photo: Gleaner)

National Security Minister Peter Bunting. (Photo: Gleaner)

Arrested: The police have stepped up their operations against alleged lotto scammers, arresting sixteen of them in several raids in St. James, Westmoreland and Trelawny this week. Let’s hope they can charge some of them, and that the charges will “stick.” And talking of crime, Minister Bunting has noted that his Ministry of National Security will concentrate on crime prevention next year. I am all for that. Community policing – yes, the way to go. And the Citizens Security & Justice program – keep that going. More drama this week… The Financial Investigations Division (led by former Jamaica Constabulary Force anti-corruption head Justin Felice) arrested an attorney, Dawn Satterswaite and two other women this week; they appeared in court on money laundering charges in connection with a convicted Jamaican drug kingpin named Andrew Hamilton.  Gunfire erupted in Rockfort, East Kingston, and in Windsor Heights, St. Catherine this week.

Nice car…This Mercedes-Benz motor car was seized by the police at the Central Sorting Office in Kingston Friday. (Photo: Norman Grindley/Gleaner)

Nice car…This Mercedes-Benz motor car was seized by the police at the Central Sorting Office in Kingston Friday in connection with the money laundering investigation. (Photo: Norman Grindley/Gleaner)

This is what passes for Jonkunnu these days. (Photo: Paul Henry/Jamaica Observer)

This is what passes for Jonkunnu these days. (Photo: Paul Henry/Jamaica Observer)

Christmas note: This photograph supposedly depicting Jonkonnu characters Pitchy Patchy and Belly Woman” in Kingston this week has so much wrong with it. Jonkunnu is a band of masqueraders that perform in Jamaica around this time of year. It’s a fascinating tradition, which has sadly declined in recent years. The one on the right is not Pitchy Patchy (who is multi-colored with strips of cloth), but an attempt at Jack-in-the-Green. And Halloween masks for faces? N.O.!!

And in The Economist… An article by our Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller. It’s a pleasant little PR piece, telling the world that “Jamaica faces 2014 with confidence.” The article is called “Sunrise over the Caribbean.” All kinds of stuff is rolled into it, including climate change, HIV/AIDS, the IMF, and of course how we can translate our sports and culture into economic benefit. There is the usual complaint about Jamaica being classified as a middle-income country, so we can’t get so much money (we would rather be called poor). But among all the “hurdles” and “challenges” there is no mention of the Elephant. You know, the one in the Room. Crime/insecurity.

Christmas bouquets to the following:

Children's Advocate Diahann Gordon Harrison (left) presents gifts and other well needed supplies to Director of New Hope Children's Home Amanda Williams at the home in New Green, Manchester on Tuesday. The Office of The Children's Advocate also hosted a treat for the 30 wards of the State.

Children’s Advocate Diahann Gordon Harrison (left) presents gifts and other well needed supplies to Director of New Hope Children’s Home Amanda Williams at the home in New Green, Manchester on Tuesday. The Office of The Children’s Advocate also hosted a treat for the 30 wards of the State.

Children’s Advocate Diahann Gordon Harrison, who donated supplies and hosted a Christmas treat for the children in state care at New Hope Children’s Home in New Green, Manchester, recently. Let’s do all we can for our children!

MegaMart (yes, the 24-hour supermarket mentioned above) for employing graduates from the Stella Maris Foundation’s skills training program – situated in inner-city Grants Pen. Thanks for giving them the opportunity.

Shauna Fuller for her efforts to raise awareness of the terribly debilitating women’s disease, endometriosis. I knew very little about it (I have to confess) before I attended a tea party at King’s House recently for Shauna’s BASE Foundation. Much more to follow on this…

All those who took the DELF and DALF examinations in French this year, whether they passed or not. I passed the DELF B-2 level (pause to pat myself on the back) but I was puzzled by the fact that so few successful candidates actually turned up to collect their certificates and have their photo taken with the French Ambassador at the Alliance Française de la Jamaïque, this week. This is a valuable qualification from the French Government. It was mostly the young ones who did not show up. I guess they had something better to do?

Recipients of the DELF and DALF Certificates at various levels in the French language at the Alliance Francaise de la Jamaique this week.

Recipients of the DELF and DALF Certificates at various levels in the French language at the Alliance Francaise de la Jamaique this week. (My photo)

The marvelous KC Chapel Choir.

The marvelous KC Chapel Choir.

Do go see and hear… The Kingston College Chapel Choir, who will be giving concerts with mezzo-soprano Raehann Bryce-Davis at the University Chapel, Mona, at 5 p.m on Sunday; at the Church of St Mary the Virgin, Molynes Road, on Sunday, December 29, at 5 p.m.; and at St John’s Anglican Church Hall, Milford Road, Ocho Rios, on Sunday, January 12, 2014, at 4 p.m. They are really a beautiful choir.

Fourteen of the nineteen police divisions have reported increases in homicide rates this year. The total stands at 1,130 to date, compared to 1,063 in the corresponding period last year (RJR reports). There have been especially large increases in St. James (from 145 to 163) and Westmoreland (from 66 to 87). These are painful numbers. And we must not forget all those who are mentally and physically affected by violent crime – the victims, and their families and loved ones – who are left behind and are suffering. My condolences to all… 

District Constable Paul Whyte, August Town, St. Andrew

Christiana Golding, Bond Street/Denham Town, Kingston

Unidentified man, Dumfries, St. James

Killed by the police:

“Paul,” August Town, St. Andrew

“Heavy Hand,” August Town, St. Andrew

“Homeland” finale day: Sunday, December 15, 2013

Events (and Christmas cards) keep crowding in on me, so it is harder and harder to complete my twice-weekly bulletins on time during the Christmas season! But, one tries…

I have given up trying to add links in to my news bulletins. They only work about half the time, which is frustrating for readers and for me too. So, if you do want to read more on any of the stories below, I suggest you look them up at jamaica-gleaner.com; jamaicaobserver.com; and rjrnewsonline.com. I do get stories from other sources too but you will find the top stories on these pages. My apologies for any inconvenience caused…

Schools found wanting (again): The Inspector of Schools’ latest report does not make for happy reading. Progress in about half of the 304 schools inspected was “unsatisfactory,” – with achievement in English Language rated unsatisfactory in 75 per cent of the primary level schools, and 50 per cent of the secondary schools. Good grief!

I am a little tired… of the regular hype we get from the Tourism Ministry – projections for the upcoming season. We are getting lots of stopover tourists from Czechoslovakia, apparently. Really now. “Jamaica on target to make stopover history” declares the Sunday Observer. Over two million stopover visitors expected for 2013? But hold on! According to the latest figures on onecaribbean.org (the Caribbean Tourist Organisation website), Cuba has already had over 2 million stopover visitors this year (without Americans)! And the Dominican Republic has had almost four million. Hmm. Am I missing something?

I actually got to read Mark Wignall’s column this week, as I bought a hard copy of the paper; how annoying it is that one cannot read the full column online. However, my mind has been going off in the same direction as Mr. Wignall in relation to the Goat Islands logistics hub and the lack of information thereon. Is it because the Chinese are concerned about our crime rate and are hesitating? Remember the Police Commissioner has had to reassure the Chinese Ambassador on more than one occasion that his nationals are safe, and toured downtown Kingston with him very recently. Mr. Wignall quotes Jamaican engineer Howard Chin, who believes that “the PNP government will be granting the Chinese extraterritorial rights to the Goat Island port facilities,” where they will be protected presumably. Good Lord. And as Mr. Wignall comments, “Something about this Goat Islands investment is not adding up.”

Head of the National Education Inspectorate Maureen Dwyer. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Head of the National Education Inspectorate Maureen Dwyer. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

It’s snowing cocaine for Christmas: A lot of jokes about a “white Christmas” in Jamaica are circulating, after a series of enormous drug busts at Kingston’s ports. A total of over J$2.5 billion worth has been found in containers in the past week – 1,696 pounds in weight. And all being transshipped somewhere else – from Venezuela, Colombia and Curacao. Is this going to impress future investors in the promised logistics hub, one wonders? Is this sudden jump in seizures due to increased vigilance, or to an increase in drug trafficking (which Minister Peter Bunting recently described as one factor in the increased crime rate)? I would like to see more investigative reporting on this development.

Dusting off the begging bowls: But do they need dusting off – they have only just been used? This time Finance Minister Peter Phillips (plus delegation) is off to China to seek investment, funding etc. Which government ministers have not traveled to China first-class, at taxpayers’ expense? And why is Minister Phillips going to seek investment? I thought that was Minister Hylton’s portfolio.

Frightening stuff: The Montego Bay, St. James blood-letting continues. After five were killed on Wednesday, we had another four murders at the end of the week. For Minister Bunting, the week after the launch of his “Unite for Change” program, this must be very alarming. Montego Bay’s murder rate is some way above Kingston’s this year. It was first blamed on the “lotto scam,” but I understood this to be under control (or is it?) The police arrested a couple this week, but how many successful lotto scam cases have there been in court so far? Now it is all said to be “gang-related.” Can the police tell us what is happening, apart from the fact that there have been 152 murders, nine more than compared to the same time in 2012, in this parish alone?

The Chinese are worried about crime: And I fully understand that. We all are! So the Police Commissioner took a walk downtown yesterday with the Chinese Ambassador. There are over 200 Chinese-operated businesses in downtown Kingston alone. I had no idea it was so many, although I am told it has always been so.

CCTV is a must: I really think businesses and whoever can afford it need to invest in CCTV though. In the UK and U.S. it is in every public space, and it has solved many crimes. But the cost is high – and who would monitor the footage? I would love someone to delve more deeply into the pros and cons.

A very odd-looking person: The police descriptions of wanted men (they rarely have photographs) sometimes verge on the bizarre. The police are looking for a person with “a straight face and a pointed mouth” right now. He has a “high forehead and protruding ears,” too. If I met this gentleman I am not sure if I would recognize him. Another man was of “dark complexion” but also “appeared to be bleaching” (his skin, that is) – so what color does that make him, roughly? Dark with light patches, I suppose.

And odd comments: I may have misinterpreted remarks made at a Rotary Club function by the head of the Court of Appeal Justice Seymour Panton, as reported on television. He seemed to be blaming journalists for the increased crime rate, saying that the media glorifies criminals. Sorry, I am not seeing that at all – although there may have been a tendency to do that at one time, but not now. Justice Panton did not give any examples of this glorification, but didn’t like the media describing a person as a “don.” But dons do exist, actually!

Justice Seymour Panton. (Photo: Gleaner)

Justice Seymour Panton. (Photo: Gleaner)

Another Christmas in jail: Talking of bleaching, the deejay Vybz Kartel will spend his third consecutive Christmas behind bars, as the second murder case in which he is a co-accused will drag on into the New Year. So Mr. Adijah Palmer’s highly-paid, arrogant defense lawyers will have ample opportunity to continue making witty remarks and parading in front of the court and media, flaunting their gowns like peacocks. I know, they are just doing their job. But this isn’t a network television series, is it.

Hurry along, now: Senator A.J. Nicholson had to apologize for the extreme haste with which many bills are being pushed through Parliament, ahead of the Christmas break. This is all to do with the International Monetary Fund‘s demands, he says. Yes, I am sure it is, but surely they should be properly debated? I foresee problems down the road…

Are we taking any notice? The European Union/UN’s very important Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction Project (what a mouthful) has ended. I hope that lessons have been learned and that the measures taken will have some effect for the future. EU representative Paola Amadei commented, “A careful environmental assessment of all projects is not a new fad but a necessity”  (Hint, hint). I really hope that the Jamaican government has taken on board the warnings and concerns over the impact that development has on our fragile environment (or what’s left of it). As Ambassador Amadei said, it’s not a question of either/or. What’s the next step, Climate Change Minister Pickersgill?

Minister of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change Robert Pickersgill (centre); head of delegation of the European Union (EU) to Jamaica, Ambassador Paola Amadei (left); and deputy director general, sustainable development and regional planning, Planning Institute of Jamaica, Claire Bernard, view a portfolio with photos of projects under the Government of Jamaica/EU/United Nations Environment Programme Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction Project, which has just ended. - JIS Photo

Minister of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change Robert Pickersgill (centre); head of delegation of the European Union (EU) to Jamaica, Ambassador Paola Amadei (left); and deputy director general, sustainable development and regional planning, Planning Institute of Jamaica, Claire Bernard, view a portfolio with photos of projects under the Government of Jamaica/EU/United Nations Environment Programme Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction Project, which has just ended. – JIS Photo

NWC story: The Sunday Observer has a story about dubious contracts and cost overruns at the National Water Commission as its lead story, based on documents it obtained. However, I am never too comfortable with reports that rely on unnamed sources (whether “highly placed” or not) for comment and that are “unable to contact” key actors who could shed more light. I am, however, concerned at the staggering losses the NWC continues to incur (J$3.5 billion in just five months this year) and the Office of Utilities Regulation’s decision to grant this highly inefficient organization a rate increase of eighteen per cent in October. Humph!

Harmony Hall in St. Mary houses a lovely art gallery. For many years it has hosted exhibitions of Jamaican intuitive art - its 32nd will be on December 29, 2013. (Photo: Harmony Hall website)

Harmony Hall in St. Mary houses a lovely art gallery. For many years it has hosted exhibitions of Jamaican intuitive art – its 32nd will be on December 29, 2013. (Photo: Harmony Hall website)

Harmony Hall for sale: We have been going to exhibition openings at Harmony Hall in St. Mary for decades now (and occasionally buying art, when our budget permitted). Now, after 32 years of managing this attractive Georgian property (then Prime Minister Edward Seaga opened it in 1981), the owners Annabella and Peter Proudlock are putting it up for sale. I feel sad, and hope that whoever takes it over will give the building as much love and care as they have done. And keep the art gallery open.

600 handcarts registered!! Yay! Mayor Angela Brown-Burke is thrilled at the success of her drive to register handcart operators. She thinks this will empower them to get loans, save money, even buy a house. Umm, err…

Will this handcart operator ever be able to buy a house? Well, the Mayor of Kingston thinks he will, if he is registered.

Will this handcart operator ever be able to buy a house? Well, the Mayor of Kingston thinks he will, if he is registered.

P.S. Our newspapers are getting increasingly sloppy. A Sunday Observer column by “Sean Major-Williams” (at the top of the page) is accredited to “Sean Major-Campbell” in the introduction. It’s not even corrected online. By the way, this is well worth a read – it’s the Father’s message for Human Rights Day last week, headlined “The link between the Kingdom of God and justice.” He offers a marvelous quote from Archbishop Desmond Tutu: “Christians shouldn’t be just pulling people out of the river, we should be going upstream to find out who’s pushing them in.” 

And I am so emotionally drained after the finale of “Homeland” that…I just cannot go on… (Is Brody really dead?)

This is Father Sean Major-CAMPBELL. Please note, Jamaica Observer!

This is Father Sean Major-CAMPBELL. Please note, Jamaica Observer!

Seasonal kudos to:

The Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) for its sheer determination in pursuing the stealers of electricity. JPS says it has arrested and brought to court over 700 people this year!

The Jamaica Institute of Environmental Professionals (JIEP) for its detailed and thorough presentation on the processes, procedures and considerations for the logistics hub last Thursday evening. Inevitably, the oft-repeated refrain was, “But of course, we have very little information to go on, so…” 

Jean Lowrie-Chin for her column (now available on her blog at lowrie-chin.blogspot.com) on our desire – and need – to see something Mandela-esque in our own political leaders. Oh, I wish! An excellent column and worth reading.

Gloria Simms is from the Trelawny Town Maroons in the hills of St. James. (Photo: Paul Williams/Gleaner)

Gloria Simms is from the Trelawny Town Maroons in the hills of St. James. (Photo: Paul Williams/Gleaner)

Ms. Gloria Simms (a woman you will never forget, once you have met her) heads the Maroon Women’s Indigenous Circle. She will travel to Suriname soon, with the aim of forging stronger ties with Maroons there. Her aim is poverty reduction and the development of eco-tourism and community tourism in Maroon communities. Ms. Simms is brilliant and I hope she has a very successful visit.

It is very sad to list the names below. My heartfelt condolences to all the families of those murdered in the past four days:

Desmond Samuels, Spring Mount, St. James

Unidentified man, Content/Maroon Town, St. James

Unidentified man, Content/Maroon Town, St. James

Barrington Dennis, 23, Orange District, St. James

Monique Watson, 36, Montego Bay, St. James

Rosemarie Reid, 46, North Gully, St. James

Andrew Duhaney, 30, Rough Road, St. James

Gussette Clarke, 41, Edgewater/Portmore, St. Catherine

Kevin Kirkland, 37, Newlands Road/Portmore, St. Catherine

Demar Campbell, 24, Caymanas Gardens/Portmore, St. Catherine