World Health Day 2014: About The Tiny Things That Kill More Than a Million

We have an implement called a “zapper” in our house. It is rather ugly, made of orange plastic and looks like a small tennis racket. But it does the trick.

It kills mosquitoes.

World Health Day 2014 info graphic.

World Health Day 2014 infographic.

This year’s World Health Day (which was today, April 7 –  or still is in our part of the world) focused on vector-borne diseases. Vectors are small creatures such as mosquitoes, sandflies and ticks. These tiny things are not just a nuisance. They affect more than a billion and kill at least a million people a year worldwide, putting more than half the world’s population at risk of diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever, river blindness and other terrible infectious diseases.

The Philippines Department of Health performs a "mosquito dance" to raise awareness of vector-borne diseases. (Jay Directo via AFP/Getty Images)

The Philippines Department of Health performs a “mosquito dance” to raise awareness of vector-borne diseases. (Jay Directo via AFP/Getty Images)

OK, so you might think this is a “developing world” problem that does not affect so-called First World countries? Not quite true. The West Nile Virus was carried by an airplane passenger from Africa and has caused many deaths in North America. The aedes aegypti mosquito, which transmits the dengue fever virus, has spread almost worldwide. With increased air travel this is bound to happen. And I suspect that climate change might have something to do with it.

Let’s talk about dengue fever, which is familiar to Jamaicans. I have vivid personal memories of it, about fifteen years ago. There was an outbreak in Portland, eastern Jamaica, where we had been holidaying. It takes a week or two to catch up with you. I had pain behind the eyes, headache, and terrible sharp pains in my limbs. In Jamaica dengue is known as “break bone fever,” and with good reason. Then there is the high fever (mine was so high that I was hallucinating at times). This lasted for about two weeks, following which I was exhausted and depressed for another few weeks. It takes a while to come out of your system. Dengue fever is no joke.

There is no cure for dengue fever – not even any special medication you can take. You just have to wait for it to go away, and you must not take painkillers with aspirin in them as this can cause internal bleeding. There is a severe form of haemorrhagic dengue fever, which can kill you, especially if you are a child or an elderly person. Now, dengue fever has spread dramatically over the last few decades; according to the World Health Organization, 40 per cent of the world’s population is at risk. In 2013, 2.35 million cases of dengue were reported in the Americas, of which 37,687 cases were severe dengue.

An aedes aegypti mosquito.

An aedes aegypti mosquito, which spreads dengue fever and also the chikungunya fever which has now arrived in the Caribbean.

A new mosquito-borne disease has appeared in the Caribbean recently. It is called chikungunya fever, and it seems to have started in St. Martin. Today, Health Minister Dr. Fenton Ferguson noted that it is now present in ten Caribbean nations. It is spread by the same mosquito as dengue fever, and the symptoms sound similar. Again, there is no cure and no vaccination against it.

What on earth can we do about all of this? While scientists try to find vaccines for this and other vector-borne diseases, we can take measures to prevent mosquitoes from breeding. Apart from spraying chemicals around (and can we please keep this to an absolute minimum?) we know we should not have garbage lying around. We should avoid having even the smallest breeding spot where there is standing water in and around our yards. Sleep under mosquito nets. I always close the windows and doors for a while in early mornings and at dusk, when the mosquitoes are most active. You might consider window screens. And do invest in that zapper!

Here's what Carron Hall resident Isilda Leanor, 72, wants to see for World Health Day in Jamaica! (Photo: HelpAge International Jamaica Facebook page)

Here’s what Carron Hall resident Isilda Leanor, 72, wants to see for World Health Day in Jamaica! (Photo: HelpAge International Jamaica Facebook page)

P.S. Here in Jamaica, HelpAge International Jamaica has participated in a campaign spanning forty countries called Age Demands Action on health. Specifically, HelpAge in Jamaica is calling for an end to discrimination against seniors in the healthcare system. This should be a year-round campaign, I think. Do support it.

The Antillean Nighthawk loves to feed on mosquitoes.

The Antillean Nighthawk loves to feed on mosquitoes.

And one more thing: Did you know that many Caribbean birds actually eat mosquitoes and other flying pests? The Antillean Night Hawk – that bird with the rattling cry that begins to dart around at dusk – and all the swifts and swallows. Migratory birds such as our winter visitor warblers, and even hummingbirds will eat mosquitoes. Yes, birds are very useful creatures.

ADA leaders in El Salvador join the campaign by calling on their authorities for better access to healthcare! (Photo: HelpAge International Jamaica Facebook page)

ADA leaders in El Salvador join the campaign by calling on their authorities for better access to healthcare! (Photo: HelpAge International Jamaica Facebook page)

World Health Day 2014 in Timor-Leste (East Timor) in southeast Asia - a region especially badly affected by vector-borne diseases. (Photo: Twitter)

World Health Day 2014 in Timor-Leste (East Timor) in southeast Asia – a region especially badly affected by vector-borne diseases. (Photo: Twitter)

Going West

Last Friday, before dawn, we set off on an expedition to visit a Twitter friend, whom I had never met. She was vacationing with her husband in the resort town of Negril, on the western tip of the island. We had not traveled to the west of the island for a very long time, and we decided to try out a local bus service that had been highly recommended to us, the Knutsford Express. Locals and visitors use it to get from one major town to the other, across the island. We decided to do the return trip in a day. Ambitious, but doable, we thought. It’s over 130 miles each way, but the roads have improved quite a bit.

Knutsford Express buses are pretty cool!

Knutsford Express buses are pretty cool!

We are not good at getting up before dawn, these days, but the bus left Kingston at 5. That meant lurching out of bed and down to the bus station with eyes half-open. Everyone around us seemed too alert. We got little bottles of water and a free newspaper. The buses are air-conditioned and the staff are charming and polite. They have an on-board toilet that reminded us strangely of an airplane toilet, only even smaller. And they have free wifi, always a big selling-point for me.

Then suddenly, about half way through the journey a screen descended, a few inches from our faces (we were definitely in the wrong seats) and a Tyler Perry movie started up. The inane dialogue and one-dimensional characters tormented us all the way from Ocho Rios to Montego Bay. After we changed buses for Negril, our driver had another TP masterpiece lined up, but we begged him not to play it. We don’t have to be entertained every minute of the journey, we figured. Watching the world go by outside was pretty interesting. It’s nice being a little higher up than usual – you see so much. But maybe some of us might like to read a book, too, or sleep, or just have peace and quiet. It was even difficult to have a conversation with your neighbor, without Latoya or Kevin or Brian intervening from the video screen.

View from Mt. Rosser, St. Ann.

Sunrise from Mt. Rosser, St. Ann.

Anyway, we set off at a good, steady speed (the drivers were very careful) and soon found ourselves climbing Mt Rosser, a steep hill notorious for its twists and turns. As we ascended, the rising sun slipped above distant hills and poured a crystalline, rosy glow over the landscape. I managed to grab a couple of photos.

An unfamiliar coast.

An unfamiliar coast.

The first stop was Ocho Rios, where we were glad to drink a cup of terrifyingly weak coffee. But it was still coffee. Back on the bus. Then the Tyler Perry. As his characters tried to work out their love affairs, with much pouting and many changes of costume, I happily watched the landscape slide by – unfamiliar towns and coastlines. With a very quick stop outside Falmouth, we were on our way to Montego Bay.

It had been a long while since we had even passed through Jamaica’s “second city.” Our memories of MoBay are few, but include a hectic weekend at an all-inclusive hotel on the so-called “Hip Strip,” which seemed to be in non-stop party mode. Now we hear the hotel has been closed for some time. Coming into the town, the towers of the luxurious Palmyra development stood empty. We drove along a hillside above the town and passed several properties in various states of disrepair, including at least two small hotels or guest houses, sad and abandoned. Down in the town again, we passed by shopping malls and more promising signs of economic activity: some commercial buildings apparently under construction. Driving through (and back again later) I thought MoBay had a disappointed look about it, though. Hard to put my finger on it. But it was just a quick trip through, so maybe I had a wrong impression.

Market scene, Lucea, Hanover.

Market scene, Lucea, Hanover.

Passing through smaller rural towns in Jamaica, such as Lucea (the capital of Hanover, Jamaica’s smallest parish) is like taking tiny glimpses into people’s lives – as short as a shutter opening and closing. Schoolboys in khaki uniforms wasting time along the road; market women chatting at their stalls; taxi operators cooling out under a shady tree. It’s everyday, it’s routine and yet has its own quietly pulsating life.

The beach is smaller than it used to be. Where we sat, to all seemed very cluttered.

The beach is smaller than it used to be. From where we sat, it seemed very cluttered.

Negril was exactly as we had expected and knew it always to be; or perhaps an exaggerated version of what we used to enjoy during numerous trips with our young son, some years ago. But nostalgia was short-lived. The main street that runs along behind the beach seemed more crowded than ever, with small hotels and apartments on top of dive shops and restaurants and duty-free shops. There were little signs tacked up everywhere, for motorbike rentals and tattoo parlors and car mechanics and water sports operators.

There were the inevitable Negril hustlers. Sometimes they are a shifting part of the landscape, walking up and down. Or they position themselves under a tree or against a fence and startle you with a sudden hiss, offering any and every possible service or product that a tourist could desire.  Our friends found it amusing – the first two or three times.

Near Montego Bay.

Seabirds near Montego Bay.

There was a silver lining, though. As a bird lover, I was delighted by all the bird life that I saw in Negril – bananaquits, warblers and American Redstarts in the trees. On our return journey, in the environs of Montego Bay, groups of waders foraged and ducks clustered on large artificial ponds. I wanted to tell the bus driver to slow down so I could do some bird-watching, but of course I could not.

Negril beach scene.

Negril beach scene.

Near Montego Bay.

Near Montego Bay.

Waiting for something or someone, in Montego Bay.

Waiting for something or someone, in Montego Bay.

Glistening Waters, a lagoon near Falmouth, Trelawny.

Glistening Waters, a lagoon near Falmouth, Trelawny.

 

The ride home was video madness. We sat further back to avoid the screen – but there was no escape, because there is a loudspeaker by every seat that you cannot turn up or down. So the audio was fed to us, the captive passengers. We had so many back-to-back episodes of a 1970s sitcom starring Richard Pryor and Redd Foxx that my head started spinning, as the theme tune played over and over. I can still hear it in my head now.

I think next time I will invest in a good pair of headphones before I get on the bus. Apart from that, though, the service was excellent – friendly, comfortable and efficient, and the fares are reasonable. I would heartily recommend Knutsford Express for getting around the island.

Perhaps crazy day trips are not for us any more. A more leisurely approach is required, next time.

Afternoon sun, western Jamaica.

Afternoon sun, western Jamaica.

 

Mid-Week Bulletin: Wednesday, December 11, 2013

I have been helter-skelter again this week so forgive me if I have missed something vital. Next week I will definitely slow down. Meanwhile, many Christmas cards are still waiting to be written…

What? Some church leaders are NOT right-wing fundamentalists!? But that’s un-Christian!! Online readers of the Jamaica Observer appeared shocked and outraged that an Anglican priest decried the discrimination and abuse meted out to gays during a church service for Human Rights Day last weekend. If most of these commenters were Jamaican, then anyone who pretends this country is not homophobic need only take a look at a few of these ignorant diatribes. They will have to eat their words. The way to get lots of comments in Jamaica (in this case, well over 100!) is to post an online article advocating for LGBT rights. We’ve got a long way to go. Read: “Pastor lashes out at injustices faced by gays” in the Jamaica Observer.

Are we committed to fighting corruption? Yes, I could rewind the Prime Minister’s avowed determination to fight corruption on taking office nearly two years ago (sigh). But ten years ago the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption first asked the Ministry of Finance (very politely, I am sure) for access to computerized Tax Administration Jamaica records. This government agency, who must feel like giving up sometimes, is still asking at regular intervals, to no avail.  And Monday was International Day Against Corruption! The Gleaner reports “‘Finance ministry not open to request for online access.”

More engineers needed: Our local manufacturers (a steadily shrinking group in our economy) are always vocal. I am afraid that otherwise people might forget we still have a manufacturing sector. But I totally agree with Mr. Howard Mitchell, who says we need to train more mechanical engineers – and keep them in Jamaica (many have migrated in search of employment). The University of Technology apparently graduates about 40 mechanical engineers annually. Read: “Grinding to a halt – Manufacturers say nation needs more mechanical engineers before economy crumbles” in the Gleaner.

At the behest of the IMF: Meanwhile Parliament is busy pushing through legislation to amend the Securities Act, to clamp down on Ponzi schemes. Meanwhile, the Jamaican operator of one such scheme is happily pottering around Jamaica while the case against him languishes in limbo; and another Jamaican swindler is doing time overseas, having never been charged or convicted in this country. Anyway, this legislation is demanded by the International Monetary Fund; otherwise it would likely never happen. Read: “Ponzi squeeze – House revises Security Act in bid to attract more investors” in the Gleaner.

A requiem for arsenic (sob): It seems the operators of Jamaica’s fancy and expensive golf courses are wringing their hands over a ban on a certain kind of weedkiller they use which contains…arsenic! Well, thanks for telling us at this late stage (one assumes all wildlife on golf courses has been wiped out meanwhile?) Apparently arsenic never goes away. The golf course operators seem more concerned about the cost to their wealthy customers of more environmentally friendly fungicides and herbicides than about arsenic seeping into our underground water. Read: “Ban on weed-killer to hit golfing hard” in the Gleaner. 

Something strange… Is happening at the College of Agriculture, Science and Education (CASE) which used to be a quiet place, tucked into lush green surroundings just off the main road leading to Port Antonio, Portland (a parish well-known for the lowest crime rate in the island, by far). There was another fire there early this morning, in which four students were injured, one seriously. This is the third fire at CASE this year; following one in March a student was charged with attempted murder and arson. A lecturer was found murdered on campus in September (case unsolved). There have been break-ins, and last month a student was stabbed by another. What are the police doing? What is the college administration doing? Has any journalist sought to investigate these many strange happenings?

The decline of television? Traditional television is on the decline, it seems. But in Jamaica? Well, not so. And who should know better than the former head of Television Jamaica Dr. Marcia Forbes, who has written an interesting article in the Carib Journal (www.caribjournal.com) on “Jamaica and the Future of Television.” Recommended read.

Congrats, congrats, congrats…

Tamika Pommells Williams poses with the Certificate of Excellence from TripAdvisor. (Photo: Facebook)

Tamika Pommells Williams poses with the Certificate of Excellence from TripAdvisor. (Photo: Facebook)

To Ms. Tamika Pommells Williams and her husband Ian Williams for their Certificate of Excellence from the travel website TripAdvisor (which I always consult before traveling and contribute to as a reviewer). The couple run the Ahhh Ras Natango Gallery and Garden near Montego Bay. TripAdvisor is a very influential and important website. Tamika has a beautiful garden (she often posts brilliant flowers on my Facebook page!) and her husband’s paintings are lovely. Congratulations to you both, and to your team!

  • Ms. Tessanne Chin (again) for being simply brilliant in another round of “The Voice,” the talent show on NBC. Her rendition of Simon and Garfunkel‘s Bridge Over Troubled Water” - a deceptively simple song that is hard to sing because of the range required – was passionate. (Did you know that the song topped the Billboard charts for six weeks in 1970, and was a huge global hit?) Now fingers and toes are crossed for next week’s finals. Emotions will be overflowing in the Jamaican Twittersphere, that’s for sure!
Tessanne Chin sings "Bridge Over Troubled Water" on "The Voice." (Photo: NBC)

Tessanne Chin sings “Bridge Over Troubled Water” on “The Voice.” (Photo: NBC)

Norman Manley Law School students, who won the World Human Rights Moot Court competition in Pretoria, South Africa recently – the fourth consecutive win for the Kingston-based law school. Many congratulations, and I hope this means that Jamaica will make greater strides in human rights in the future!

Final year students at the Norman Manley Law School, Ralston Dickson (left) and Donia Fuller (right), proudly show off their awards after copping the top prize. Sharing the moment is the chief judge, Madam Justice Bess Nkabinde, who is also a judge at the Constitutional Court of South Africa. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Final year students at the Norman Manley Law School, Ralston Dickson (left) and Donia Fuller (right), proudly show off their awards after copping the top prize. Sharing the moment is the chief judge, Madam Justice Bess Nkabinde, who is also a judge at the Constitutional Court of South Africa. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Ms. Monique Long, another student at Norman Manley Law School, who was recently selected as the first woman Executive Director of the Jamaica Youth Advocacy Network (JYAN), a voluntary youth-led program and training organization focused on development issues. Wishing you all the best in your new position, Monique!

Jamaica Environment Trust and the creative musical and animation teams that have put together a wonderful little animated song “Don’t Mess with Goat Islands.” Do look it up on JET’s new website (www.savegoatislands.org) and share the link!

"Two likkle lizard" (the Jamaican Iguana, as described by the Transport Minister) as featured in the "Don't Mess with Goat Islands" animation.

“Two likkle lizard” (the Jamaican Iguana, as described by the Transport Minister) as featured in the “Don’t Mess with Goat Islands” animation.

Monique Long, the first female Executive Director of the Jamaica Youth Action Network. (Photo: JYAN Facebook page)

Monique Long, the first female Executive Director of the Jamaica Youth Action Network. (Photo: JYAN Facebook page)

  • A policeman from the Greater Portmore Police Station offers his condolences to grieving neighbours of John-Michael Hett who was shot dead in the community of Portsmouth on Monday night. (Photo: Joseph Wellington/Jamaica Observer)

    A policeman from the Greater Portmore Police Station offers his condolences to grieving neighbours of John-Michael Hett who was shot dead in the community of Portsmouth on Monday night. (Photo: Joseph Wellington/Jamaica Observer)

A "Jamaica Observer" editorial cartoon. The well-traveled Prime Minister, on hearing that singer Tessanne Chin has reached the finals in "The Voice," asks the pilot to prepare for takeoff so that she can fly off to be there in person...

A “Jamaica Observer” editorial cartoon. The well-traveled Prime Minister, on hearing that singer Tessanne Chin has reached the finals in “The Voice,” asks the pilot to prepare for takeoff so that she can fly off to be there in person…

A “brilliant” teenager from Dunoon Technical High School was murdered in a drive-by shooting in Portmore. Seven – yes, seven – Jamaicans were killed in 24 hours, most of them in St. James. The seven included three women, one elderly. Saying that some of the killings were “gang-related” is really no consolation. A death is a death. My heart goes out to the grieving families and loved ones of:

Beresford Robinson, 74, Hill Run, St. Catherine

Wayne West, 49, Portsmouth/Portmore, St. Catherine

John-Michael Hett, 16, Portsmouth/Portmore, St. Catherine

Errol Forrest, Maizeland, St. James

Natasha Palmer, Hibiscus Drive/Norwood, St. James

Nicolette Palmer, Hibiscus Drive/Norwood, St. James

Shane Anglin, 27, Hibiscus Drive/Norwood, St. James

Romario Haughton, 19, North Gully, St. James

“Banga,” North Gully, St. James 

Cynthia Devanza, 78, Hopewell, St. Mary

Saturday Day Dream

There is something about sitting on a beach that puts you into a day dream. After a while, things get a little hazy, and you realize you have been staring at the same rock for at least ten minutes. It must be the hypnotic sound of the waves, the continuous, unhesitating wash of them. Someone says something to you, and you reply: “What?”

Dreaming sands: Saturday afternoon on Winifred's Beach. (My photo)

Dreaming sands: Saturday afternoon on Winifred’s Beach. (My photo)

So it was when we escaped from town for a day with visiting relatives, ending up on Winifred’s Beach in Portland, eastern Jamaica. Winifred’s has always been one of our favorites. The road down there has not improved (violently bumpy) but the glimpse of the water through the trees as you jerk along downhill (preferably in an SUV) is alluring. It’s a little more built-up than when we first visited close to thirty years ago, when there was only the occasional tent and one or two shacks selling drinks. Now there are two or three unpretentious  places where you can buy food. A couple of Rastafarian gentlemen diligently sweep the sand and tidy up, and ask for a small contribution for their services.

"Eating a food" at Neville's establishment on the beach. (My photo)

Hanging out at Neville’s eating establishment on the beach. (My photo)

The sweepers and tidy-uppers, who keep the beach clean. (My photo)

One of the sweepers and tidy-uppers, who keep the beach clean. (My photo)

Yes, Winifred’s is a public beach – an increasing rarity in Jamaica. Much of our coastline – especially on the north coast – has been hijacked by monstrous all-inclusive hotels or fenced off by the owners of villas. To walk along what’s left of the severely-eroded Negril beach, you have to run the gauntlet of security guards whose main purpose is to keep you off a particular stretch of sand (if you look like a tourist, you might be let through). This is a huge contrast to other islands I have visited (notably Barbados and Grenada) where all beaches are open to the public.

The beautiful and famous Grand Anse Beach near St. George's, Grenada has hotels adjoining it but remains a public beach. (My Photo)

The beautiful and famous Grand Anse Beach near St. George’s, Grenada has hotels adjoining it but remains a public beach. (My Photo)

Then, at Winifred’s, there is the spring. In one corner of the beach, it is a slightly muddy jade green at its deepest. A small stream makes its way gently into the sea. If you scoop up the sand there it smells strongly of sulphur. Its natural mineral waters (very cold) make your skin tingle, after a swim in the sea. My back felt wonderful after lying in it for ten minutes; I wish I could do it every day. At one time local people used to do their washing in the spring; the strong detergent was ruining the water and vegetation and flowing into the sea, threatening the coral reef. Now, there is a large sign up in patois telling people not to do their laundry there, and there were no signs of any washers.

Tree roots on Winifred's Beach. (My photo)

Tree roots on Winifred’s Beach. (My photo)

Dear Winifred’s. I floated on my back in water clear as glass, the sun in my eyes. A wave broke on my face and made my eyes red. Memories drifted back of sitting under the same tree with twisted roots with my parents, during one of their visits here. Of sitting on the edge of the water watching our son’s ecstatic play in the waves. Of calling him endlessly to come out of the water, because it was time to go home. He never, ever wanted to come out of the water, even when the shadows lengthened.

But there I go. Day dreaming, again.

A little girl and a sleeping dog. (My photo)

A little girl and a sleeping dog. (My photo)

Boys kicking ball on the beach. (My photo)

Boys kicking ball on the beach. (My photo)

Winifred's Beach is sheltered, enclosed by rocks and fringed with small coves. (My photo)

Winifred’s Beach is sheltered, enclosed by rocks and fringed with small coves. (My photo)

Planet Tourist

Last weekend, I was in another world. A world where the scent of sun tan lotion and chlorinated pool water fills the air. Where the sound of sanitized reggae music rings in your ears. Where the taste of weak piña colada and French fries lingers in your mouth. Yes, we touched down on Planet Tourist on a Friday evening.

“It’s like arriving at the White House,” commented one of my colleagues in awe, as our humble bus drew up at the entrance. Soaring white pillars and soft lights greeted us. I think I heard someone tickling the keys of a piano. I felt like a scruffy little woman from the city, suddenly, as we were deposited in a vast lobby area. Hotel guests sauntered around in various stages of semi-undress; but they all looked very clean and very stylish. (I learned later that the lobby is the only place where you can get free wifi; elsewhere, the cost is exorbitant). We were whisked off to a special room, where we were checked in and presented with a welcome drink by smiling uniformed ladies. I’ve no idea what it was, but was so tired from the seemingly endless journey that I gulped it down thankfully. It tasted sweet (like everything else).

The White House effect. (My photo)

The White House effect. (My photo)

Then off to our rooms. This was a major excursion in itself. This all-inclusive hotel on Jamaica’s north coast is simply vast. Every ceiling is so high that bats might well be roosting in its upper reaches. You cross acres of marble-tiled floor (or something resembling marble) to get from A to B. There are no signs, so one has the same kind of helpless, lost feeling that I have often experienced at Miami International Airport. This is just a more laid-back version, without the aggressive customs officers. You just kind of drift along for a while, then spin around and ask the nearest member of staff (if there is anyone near) “Where am I?”  My room number was so long that I couldn’t memorize it. Not very good with numbers. Apparently this hotel has close to 1,000 rooms.

Once in my room, I wondered if I would be trapped there. Afraid to venture out in case I got lost, I ordered something from room service. A waiter carrying a towering stack of trays tapped on the door twenty minutes later. I carefully removed mine from the top, afraid it was all going to go crashing. What an amazing balancing act. It was a modest toasted cheese sandwich. Room service there is 24/7, so if you wake at 3:00 a.m. with a raging desire for a cheeseburger or a shrimp cocktail, you can just pick up the phone and order one.

My room. It has columns, too. (They are very fond of columns). (My photo)

My room. It had columns, too. (They are very fond of columns). (My photo)

My room was cool and purred quietly, as hotel rooms do. It was also ridiculously large, with off-white walls and colonial Spanish-y dark wood furniture, including a big four-poster bed. I went over to the window and stood on the balcony. Below was an elaborately winding swimming pool, glowing with that harsh swimming pool blue. Beyond, somewhere, might have been the sea. To one side was a huge white tower with rows of balconies like mine. I didn’t see many humans, but it was late.

After taking a shower, I positioned myself in the middle of the vast bed, along with approximately 1,000 cushions. I watched a mawkish Lifetime movie about a feather-brained woman with an eighties hairstyle who fell for some trickster with lots of teeth. There were a couple of plumply adorable kids, too. I never watch these things at home, and we don’t have a TV in our bedroom either. Maybe that’s why I like to do these things in hotels. Sleep arrived quickly.

The next morning, I looked out of the window again. A delightful vista greeted my bleary eyes. The blue pool (no getting away from that) and arcs of water sprinkling the paths and carefully manicured gardens. Beyond the pool was a kind of ridge and, maybe, a beach? Beyond that, the glorious fuzzy blue of the Caribbean Sea, completely empty except for one fishing boat.

So blue. The view from my balcony. (My photo)

So blue. The view from my balcony. (My photo)

Dressed and ready for breakfast (where?) I stood in my doorway, looking to left and right. To my left, the hallway stretched off into the distance. I took the road more traveled, and found a small elevator, which turned out to be the staff only one, with metal walls.

Don’t ask me how I found my way to the dining room. I sort of used the lobby as a base camp and ventured out from there. By the time I reached food, I had five minutes to gulp down some crispy bacon and eggs and swill a cup of coffee before the workshop started. I envied those guests who were making a leisurely social occasion out of breakfast. I noted very few children at meal times, which was a relief for me. Well, I am not a morning person. And I need my head space not to be filled with whining vacationing kids.

The lobby, my base camp. Not sure what the huge statue represents, exactly. (My photo)

The lobby, my base camp. Not sure what the huge statue represents, exactly. (My photo)

A lonely fishing boat, far away…

A lonely fishing boat, far away… (My photo)

Fast forward to Sunday (I still had not been near the sea. It was just a blue backdrop). A noisy group of us decided to have lunch at a Jamaican-flavored outdoor restaurant where you could buy something resembling jerk chicken, burgers etc. I opted for some pasta (not much of a meat-eater these days). The atmosphere was a lot more laid back than the dining room, where everyone sits looking at each other and noting what is on their plate. Here the reggae music was louder and bouncier. The occupants of the table next to us were almost as noisy as us (being Jamaicans, we were all discussing politics at high volume) – but the Red Stripes had been flowing for a while over there, I think. But they were happy, comfortable, well-tanned visitors from chilly climes. We were intense Jamaicans from Kingston, just stopping over. So the quality of the noise was different.

Down on the jerk deck.

Down on the jerk deck. (My photo)

Then along came a tall, skinny young man in the usual mento-style flowery shirt and white pants that hotels tend to dress their waiters in. He was balancing a tray full of drinks on his head – at least six glasses full, none of them spilling. Quite a feat. Our neighbors found him delightful. As he approached their table, he started a series of songs and wisecracks, some of which may have been lost on his customers – but they laughed anyway, because they were happy tourists and they were enjoying themselves.

On the other side of this enormous property, a surprise beach… Not, apparently, a public one but all part of the complex. (My photo)

On the other side of this enormous property, a surprise beach… Not, apparently, a public one but all part of the complex. (My photo)

The young man put on quite a comedy act, complete with singing and dancing and harmless, inoffensive jokes. Our friends at the next table just lapped it up. He ended with a version of (yes, you’ve guessed it) Bob Marley’s “One Love.” The table joined in the chorus gamely, and sounded quite tuneful too. By the way, if you have been to a few all-inclusive hotels in Jamaica, you will never, ever want to hear that song again!

One of my colleagues commented quietly that the young man made her feel quite uncomfortable – a kind of performance for the tourists. I must admit it made me cringe a little, too. But, as I pointed out – he was doing his job; this is what he gets paid to do (and I hope it is decent pay!) And he did it well.

I got fidgety and decided to take a stroll around the huge deck (did I already say that everything here was over-sized?) festooned with those bristling straw roofs that are a staple of every tourist development. Leaning over a wall, I contemplated the peaceful ocean beyond. Looking down, I saw a small beach where one woman was tentatively poking her toes in the water…and beyond – well, a large, white beach curving round a bay. Where did that come from? A completely new beach. At least, it looked new. Questions: Was a beach there before, and if so was it open to the public? Answers: Maybe, and probably yes.

I noticed that there was no one swimming in the sea, although it was a lovely day. Many guests were wearing fashionable swimming outfits, with the obligatory floating draperies over them to provide a little modest covering. But they were all dry. No one was in the water. How different from a Jamaican public beach, where everyone heads straight for the water to splash around (even though most Jamaicans can’t swim!)

But there was no connection with nature, really. There were photographers, glossy duty-free shops, stores selling everything from T-shirts to fluorescent kitchen magnets to chocolate bars. There were masseuses and masseurs and tour operators and chambermaids in pink and white. There were entertainers and singers and bartenders and hairdressers and waiters. There were sports bars and restaurants and discos and lounges. It was a whole city. Everything you need, and many things you don’t need.

But where was Jamaica? Where was its beauty? A lonely cattle egret flew across the acid-blue swimming pool. That was all.

Back on the bus…to Planet Reality.

This enormous complex was built, by the way, in a pretty place called Pear Tree Bottom, and was officially opened six years ago. I remember Pear Tree Bottom well. But the memories are starting to fade.

Sunset at Pear Tree Bottom, before the development. (Photo: Wendy Lee)

Sunset at Pear Tree Bottom, before the development. (Photo: Wendy Lee)

 

Thirty Years Ago Today…in Grenada

I could not let today pass without noting that on October 19, 1983 Prime Minister of Grenada Maurice Bishop and seven of his advisers and ministers were executed by an army firing squad at Fort Rupert (now Fort George) in St. George’s. A faction of his New Jewel Movement had placed Bishop under house arrest five days earlier, because he had refused to share leadership of the political party with Deputy Prime Minister Bernard Coard. This was the only political assassination in the Caribbean – hopefully, the first and last.

Former Prime Minister of Grenada Maurice Bishop: Born May 29, 1944. Died October 19, 1983.

Former Prime Minister of Grenada Maurice Bishop: Born May 29, 1944. Died October 19, 1983.

Bishop had seized power on March 13, 1979, burning down the army barracks at True Blue while Prime Minister Eric Gairy was away at a United Nations meeting. These were the Cold War days; and troubled days they were.

Maurice Bishop meets with members of the Grenada Nurses' Association. (Photo: therealrevo.com)

Maurice Bishop meets with members of the Grenada Nurses’ Association.

During my recent visit to Grenada I did not visit Fort George, where Bishop and his ministers were killed. But I sensed that there were very mixed feelings about the period among older Grenadians. One told me Grenadians were all glad when the United States invaded, just a few days after Bishop’s assassination, because the country was in chaos and there was no food to eat. Others regretted the tragic chain of events, and pointed to the achievements of the Bishop regime during the few years he was in power.

In particular, everyone credited Maurice Bishop with the construction of the international airport at Point Salines (now named after him), which was officially opened just a year after his death. It was a huge step forward for the island. The Cuban Government reportedly provided about half of the funding for the airport to be built, plus much of the labor and equipment. Someone else told me that the Cubans had done much for Grenada at the time of Bishop’s revolutionary government. Everyone seemed to have their opinion about the Bishop era and its aftermath, and every opinion was different.

FILE - In this May 1, 1980 file photo, then Grenada's Prime Minister Maurice Bishop, center, is flanked by Cuba's leader Fidel Castro, right, and Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega in Havana, Cuba. A haunting Cold War mystery is getting a fresh look on the Caribbean island of Grenada, where the body of the Marxist prime minister is still missing nearly 30 years after he was executed during a bloody coup that sparked a U.S. invasion. (AP Photo/File)

FILE – In this May 1, 1980 file photo, then Grenada’s Prime Minister Maurice Bishop, center, is flanked by Cuba’s leader Fidel Castro, right, and Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega in Havana, Cuba. A haunting Cold War mystery is getting a fresh look on the Caribbean island of Grenada, where the body of the Marxist prime minister is still missing nearly 30 years after he was executed during a bloody coup that sparked a U.S. invasion. (AP Photo/File)

This airport, which Bishop called “of extreme importance to our revolutionary process,” replaced Pearls Airport, which was in Grenville – inconveniently situated over twenty miles away from the capital. We stopped at Pearls, only for a few minutes (how I hate guided tours). Of course, it is overgrown, and completely deserted apart from a few goats. I would have loved to explore some more; and tried to imagine what the place was like at night – imagining runway lights lighting up, ghostly planes taking off and landing, flying to Cuba and back with supplies.

I did see another haunted place though – what was once a mental institution, which had been mistakenly bombed by U.S. forces. It stands in ruins close to Fort Frederick, high above St. George’s. From the fort there are sweeping views of the town’s red roofs below, the harbor, and the wide blue horizon. On the other side are the quiet green hills and the outskirts of the town. Just below the fort to one side, we looked down at the mental home, where our guide told us at least thirty people died. It is not something that you will find much information about, normally.

But everyone has stories to tell. There are many stories. That is history, isn’t it.

Related articles:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/08/maurice-bishop-murder-grenada_n_1580944.html Maurice Bishop murder: Grenada seeks remains of slain Marxist Prime Minister: Huffington Post

http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/october/20/newsid_3720000/3720608.stm BBC On This Day

One of the many beautiful views of St. George's from Fort Frederick (My photo)

One of the many beautiful views from Fort Frederick – part of the waterfront of St. George’s. (My photo)

 

 

 

 

 

Another abandoned plane at the old Pearls Airport, near Grenville. (My photo)

An abandoned plane at the old Pearls Airport, near Grenville. (My photo)

The ruined mental home near Fort Frederick. U.S. forces bombed it in 1983. (My photo)

The ruined mental home near Fort Frederick. U.S. forces bombed it in 1983. (My photo)

An abandoned Soviet plane at what was once Pearls Airport. (My photo)

An abandoned Soviet plane at what was once Pearls Airport. (My photo)

Autumn Sighs: A Bit of Nostalgia from England

Autumn does not really exist in Jamaica, sadly. Yes, the temperatures ease a touch. The sun does not burn so hard. The light is a little softer. And the migrating birds arrive in our garden – bright warblers from Texas. So far, I have seen very few of our regular winter visitors, but hope to see more in the next week or so.

A year ago, I was in England, the country of my birth. At my sister’s home in Sussex, I enjoyed long walks across the fields and down paths lined with the burrows of various furry animals. Here are a few photos to give you a feel of it… Please indulge me if I share a few in the next week or two. I need to get this homesickness out of my system…

Evening time.

Evening time.

Tree embraced by ivy.

Tree embraced by honeysuckle.

A late bloomer.

A late bloomer.

Hydrangeas in the evening light.

Hydrangeas in the evening light.

The day is done.

The day is done.

A magpie. One for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl...

A magpie. One for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl…

A stile to climb over.

A stile to climb over.

Blackberries, best picked and put straight in the mouth, with a little warmth from the sun.

Blackberries, best picked and put straight in the mouth, with a little warmth from the sun.

The path often taken.

The path often taken.

Sweet peas.

Sweet peas.

Rose hips.

Rose hips.

The last of the roses.

The last of the roses.

Leftover hay.

Leftover hay.

I cannot remember the name of this plant...

I cannot remember the name of this plant…Ah! A reader has just informed me this is commonly called “plantain” (Plantaginaceae: plantago major and plantago lanceolata). The young leaves can be used as a pot herb and old lore says crushed leaves will stem minor bleeding and stop itching. Thanks for this, Del!

You can hear the church bells across the fields, from the village nearby.

You can hear the church bells across the fields, from the village nearby.

An old barn. That's my brother, who's the best walking companion.

An old barn. That’s my brother, who’s the best walking companion you could ever want.

Looking across the fields.

Looking across the fields.

This woodland, with dying bracken turning golden brown, is filled with bluebells in the spring.

This woodland, with dying bracken turning golden brown, is filled with bluebells in the spring.

Glimpses of Saint George’s

I spent a little time (very short, so these are truly only glimpses) in the capital of Grenada, St. George’s, recently. On my first day, I took a minibus and wandered around – alone and un-harrassed by anyone – during one warm and humid day, and spent a little time there too with groups during subsequent field trips. Here are a few photos I took that will give you an impression of the town of some 36,000 inhabitants (about half the size of the population of May Pen in Clarendon, Jamaica; and about one third of the total population of the island). The town was built by the French in 1650, and then later the British moved in. Despite the devastation of Hurricane Ivan in 2004, the town retains some lovely historic buildings, a charming waterfront and a lively atmosphere.

You can find more photos of Saint George’s (and more from the field trips, to follow) on my Facebook page.

Fort Frederick was built by the French in 1779. High on the hill, filled with flowers and views all around to dream on...

A corner of Fort Frederick, which was built by the French in 1779. High on the hill, filled with flowers and views all around to dream on… Next door are the ruins of a mental hospital, which the Americans bombed in error in 1983 – this fort, then occupied by Grenadian forces, being their target. The exact number of casualties varies from 14 to 47. A strange and disturbing episode in the history of this beautiful island.

The 340-foot long Sendall Tunnel was opened in 1894 to make life easier for horse-drawn carriages that kept falling up/down the hill. It's only 12 feet high and rather dark. Cars and pedestrians somehow squeeze through!

The 340-foot long Sendall Tunnel was opened in 1894 to make life easier for horse-drawn carriages that kept falling up/down the hill. It’s only 12 feet high and rather dark. Cars and pedestrians somehow squeeze through!

Yes, Carnival was in the air. A twelve-hour marathon here...

Yes, Carnival was in the air. A twelve-hour marathon here…

Some of the lovely churches did not survive Hurricane Ivan too well, but...still standing.

Some of the lovely churches did not survive Hurricane Ivan too well, but…still standing.

Angie's Restaurant, where I stopped for a cooling drink, has a substantial breakfast menu.

Angie’s Restaurant, where I stopped for a cooling drink, has a substantial breakfast menu.

Street corner (and a very steep street down to the right)...Blue blue sea beyond.

Street corner (and a very steep street down to the right)…Blue blue sea beyond.

I loved the red-brick and earth colored walls.

I loved the red-brick and earth colored walls.

I think this gentleman was posing for his photograph - head to toe in cool white.

I think this gentleman was posing for his photograph – head to toe in cool white.

"Fearless" with dancehall accoutrements... I noted this newspaper was founded after the invasion of Grenada by the U.S. in 1983.

“Fearless” with dancehall accoutrements!

One of the law courts and the law library, up on the hill.

One of the law courts and the law library, up on the hill.

Another part of the waterfront (I didn't go to this part) seen from Fort Frederick, which has a beautiful view of the town and beyond...

Another part of the waterfront (I didn’t go to this part of the town) seen from Fort Frederick, which has a beautiful view of the town and beyond.

Saint George's Central Police Station. Looking rather laid-back in the middle of a weekday morning. The man raising his hand in greeting was heading for the fire station next door.

Saint George’s Central Police Station. Looking rather laid-back in the middle of a weekday morning. The man raising his hand in greeting was heading for the fire station next door.

Street corner. And another lovely old building, with shops, apartments etc. Note policeman strolling across the road.

Street corner. And another lovely old building, with shops, apartments etc. Note policeman strolling across the road.

Saint George's is built on a hillside encircling a small harbor. I trudged up the hill (and as you can see, some of the amazing old buildings still need restoration).

Saint George’s is built on a hillside encircling a small harbor. I trudged up the hill (and as you can see, some of the amazing old buildings still need restoration).

A part of the waterfront, Saint George's.

A part of the waterfront, Saint George’s.

 

Winding Down the Summer: August 14, 2013

We had an exhausting bout of endless, heavy rain yesterday, and just steamed gently in the sun today. Not bad for mid-week. With the holidays nearly over, Kingstonians are returning to whatever “normal” passes for these days. School hovers on the near horizon. It’s a weary time of year.

Exam fever: Once a year, the media and Jamaican public get all worked up about examination results, the relative performances of high schools, etc. There is little focus on education for the remainder of the year. Education Minister Ronnie Thwaites seems to have ruffled feathers, though, by suggesting to a very large crowd of unemployed teachers that they should volunteer their services meanwhile, with a view to getting a job. Perhaps it wasn’t the right moment to say this, Minister Thwaites – at a government-run jobs fair. There were a lot of long faces, and a lot of muttering. What to do… I hear the second day of the jobs fair went better. Perhaps it was just the lousy weather yesterday.

Crisis? What crisis? Oh, there IS? Meanwhile, Minister Thwaites wants to “avert a Maths crisis” based on the latest dismal results in that subject area, the Gleaner says. But are we on the brink? No, we are already well into the Maths crisis, and we have been for years. Well, at least the good Minister is using that word. Crisis.

So now it’s the Brazilians: We are to expect another wave of tourists from overseas – this time from Brazil. Jamaica’s Ambassador to Brazil Alison Stone Roofe (such a nice woman) is hopeful. But haven’t we heard this from tourism officials before? At one time we were expecting a flood of Chinese tourists; then Colombians; then Indians. Oh yes, and not long ago it was Russians! (How is that going, I wonder?) Meanwhile, our tourism figures are looking less than rosy. The stats for June 2013 showed gains over June in previous years, but there was a 4% decline overall for 2013 over the numbers for 2012.

BBC World Radio (which is on FM in Jamaica) had a fairly lengthy discussion on the recent mob killing of Dwayne Jones, led by their on-the-spot reporter in Kingston. He was sitting in a café on a very rainy morning. Blogger Annie Paul and a representative of the local LGBT community Jalna Broderick spoke on the phone, along with a church leader from Portmore. The local media as well as churches got some flak from both ladies on the phone for paying scant attention to the incident. But as Nationwide News Network‘s Emily Crooks noted on Twitter, isn’t Dwayne’s horrific murder all part of the general atmosphere of crime and violence pervading the country, which our journalists report on every day? However, Emily, this should not be an excuse for not reporting this incident in more depth – as overseas media houses have done. (An Associated Press report on the incident is, of course, all over the Internet on the websites of most major media houses). You can probably still find the many comments on the BBC’s World Have Your Say Facebook page.

And the always thought-provoking “Live at Seven” followed up on an important discussion with prosecutor Caroline Hay (on the myriad difficulties of building a legal case in Jamaica) with a short piece on Dwayne Jones. CVM Television had interviewed him in another context – that of homelessness – some time ago. Images of Dwayne dancing round the room were poignant.

Police to be charged: The Director of Public Prosecutions has finally got around to ruling that two police constables are to be charged with the shooting deaths of three men in Shrewsbury, Westmoreland in March. This is how police killings go in court; sometimes the charges take much longer. The killing of the men (two of them brothers) caused deep anger and hurt among residents. One was a fireman.

Long hot summer downtown: Despite efforts to revive business in downtown Kingston, all is not really well, is it? We hear reports of rampant theft, regular shootings (and sometimes daylight shootouts with the police) and ongoing gang wars. Is downtown really that safe? What is happening with policing downtown?

What is going on in this country? I sometimes puzzle over strange and disturbing stories. On July 8, two brothers in deep rural St. Thomas were shot dead while working on their isolated farm. Now the Gleaner reports that at a wake for the brothers, Herman and Norman Rowe, a fisherman called Snake Eyes pulled a gun on a female relative of the men (at four in the morning). The woman’s husband, who was a policeman, disarmed and arrested Snake Eyes and also took a fourteen-year-old boy who was with him into custody. Snake Eyes and the boy were both from Bull Bay in St. Andrew – a good distance from quiet little Rolandsfield. What is really happening in Jamaica?

And what’s going on in the JLP? I understand there are rumblings in the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), and possible challenges to Andrew Holness‘ leadership. The local media has seized eagerly on this; political rumors are always to be relished. Now on top of that, JLP Member of Parliament for West Kingston and former Mayor Desmond McKenzie says he has received over thirty death threats in the past week! This seems to be a result of the MP’s comments after the tragic shooting death of eleven-year-old Tassanique James and the injury of two women in his constituency on Emancipation Day – August 1.

A shocking story: Fishermen near the town of Port Antonio complained about receiving electric shocks in the water, and guess what? Investigators found an illegal electricity cable running in the water along the shoreline – serving a nearby squatter community. A woman has been found guilty of stealing electricity. You can’t make this stuff up, can you? But the electricity thieves are apparently trying all kinds of tricks, and it’s not just the poorer communities we’re talking about: uptown, downtown, businesses and homes, they are all at it.

The hair biz: Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce has started a new business, selling swags of hair (real hair) to be attached to your own natural hair in various ways. This explains the shocking pink appendage that she wore for her championship-winning run in Moscow. “We retail different types of hair, namely Indian, Peruvian, Brazilian and Cambodian,” says Shelly-Ann. No offense to the lovely ladies of those countries who sell their hair, but I would feel most uncomfortable wearing an Indian or a Peruvian or a Brazilian or a Cambodian woman’s hair.  To each her own, I suppose. What’s worse is the very poor writing in the Gleaner’s “Outlook” article on Shelly-Ann’s “Chic Hair Ja” - as a fellow-blogger pointed out to me. Just because an article is about some light, fluffy, “women’s” topic doesn’t mean it has to be written in a series of ghastly clichés, mixed metaphors and poor grammar – does it?

NEVERTHELESS…Special big ups to:

  • Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, who reclaimed her World Championship status in Moscow on Monday with a great 100 meters win. Both she and Usain Bolt had lost their titles in 2011, but now both have them back!  Huge congratulations to them both.
  • Gleaner photographer Ricardo Makyn, whose photos from the athletics World Championships in Moscow have been quite wonderful. Somehow he captures the essence and the spirit – not just of sport, but of people. Well done, Ricardo! (You can see a selection of his photos of Shelly-Ann’s win at the link below).
  • And to all the students who were successful in the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) and Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations (in many cases, against all the odds). May all your dreams come true, boys and girls.
  • My “tweep” Ms. Stacy-Ann Hayles, for the launch on Twitter this evening of her brand new website, http://www.socialmediachica.com. Stacy-Ann is aiming to empower small business through social media. Get in touch with her and hire her for all your social media strategy needs, advice and campaign development!
  • Michael Abrahams for his delightful video – an overview of Usain Bolt’s career – painstakingly and cleverly done. Michael has a way with words. Very enjoyable. Link below…
  • Fearless columnist Gordon Robinson, who has a great way of addressing issues of governance. In this week’s column Mr. Robinson writes about the fiasco of the confiscated tapes (an incident that occurred while I was away) and the issue of press freedom in Jamaica. He uses Janis Joplin‘s lyrics, among others, to illustrate his point. Nicely done, and sharply to the point.

It has been depressing returning from two weeks away to this unrelenting bloodshed. The deaths of these Jamaicans (since Sunday evening, just three days) leave grief and heartbreak in their wake. Let us spare a thought for the families, left behind to grieve:

Unidentified man, Orange Street, downtown Kingston

Unidentified man, Glenmore Road/South Camp Road, Kingston

Elaine Steele, 37, St. Thomas

Kishane Haughton, 31, Norwood, St. James

Anthony Spence, Glendevon, St. James

Evan Scott Wilson, St. James

Jessica King, 22, Port Antonio, Portland

Lenville Fleming, Grange Hill, Westmoreland

Killed by police:

Owen Lilly, 23, Gimme-Me-Bit, Clarendon

http://theterribletout.wordpress.com/2013/08/11/whos-to-blame-for-jamaicas-shame/ Who’s to blame for Jamaica’s shame? The Terrible Tout

http://www.imf.org/external/np/sec/pr/2013/pr13305.htm New IMF Resident Representative in Jamaica takes up post: imf.org

http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/finance-minister-meeting-with-imf-team Finance Minister meeting with IMF team: RJR News

http://digjamaica.com/blog/2013/08/09/chart-of-the-week-overall-total-tourist-arrivals-for-june-2013/ Chart of the week: Overall total tourist arrivals for June 2013: diGJamaica.com

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130814/lead/lead1.html Brazilian benefits: Jamaica ready to boost tourism with links from South American nation: Gleaner

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130812/news/news1.html Stop wholesale distribution of national honors: Gleaner

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130813/cleisure/cleisure1.html Here’s the right message, Mr. Pickersgill: Gleaner editorial

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130811/out/out10.html Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce launches Chic Hair Ja: Sunday Gleaner

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p2LmE2xjn7U&feature=youtu.be Usain Bolt by Michael Abrahams: YouTube

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/2-000-plus-for-teachers–job-fair_14856342 2,000-pus for teachers’ job fair: Jamaica Observer

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130813/lead/lead2.html Review planned for teacher training to avert Math crisis: Gleaner

http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads-100/34794 Education Minister encourages trainee teachers to volunteer in the classroom: Jamaica Information Service

http://lowrie-chin.blogspot.com/2013/08/act-now-for-our-children.html Act now – for our children: Jean Lowrie-Chin blog

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Gov-t-takes-steps-to-address-child-behaviour-issues_14870943 Gov’t takes steps to address child behavior issues: Jamaica Observer

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=47151 Photos: Shelly-Ann’s gold world-leading run: Gleaner – Ricardo Makyn’s great photos

http://www.mercurynews.com/my-town/ci_23848325/visit-jamaica-is-trip-paradise-just-ask-locals A visit to Jamaica is a trip to paradise – just ask the locals: San Jose Mercury

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Portland-woman-found-guilty-of-stealing-electricity-using-undersea-cables Portland woman found guilty of stealing electricity using undersea cables: Jamaica Observer

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130814/lead/lead6.html Bird boys swoop down for hunting season: Jamaica Gleaner

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/entertainment/Will-JA-come-out-of-the-closet-_7821305 Will Jamaica come out of the closet? Jamaica Observer

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/letters/My-gay-family-did-what-my-parents-didn-t-14864006 My gay family did what my parents didn’t: Letter/Jamaica Observer

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/letters/Parents-make-kids-homeless_14870088 Parents make kids homeless: Letter/Jamaica Observer

http://iamquagmire.tumblr.com/post/58155073603/the-300-were-victorious The 300 were victorious: IAmQuagmire

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130813/cleisure/cleisure2.html Nothing left to lose: Gordon Robinson column/Gleaner

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130811/news/news4.html Cops calm Denham Town: Gleaner

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/-Spoilers–gang-war-rages-in-Kingston “Spoilers” gang war rages in Kingston: Jamaica Observer

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Marked-for-death_14871568 Marked for death: Police confirm threats sent to McKenzie: Jamaica Observer

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/St-Thomas-village-still-in-shock-over-double-murder_14849748 St. Thomas village still in shock over double murder: Sunday Observer

Trained teachers gather outside the Ministry of Education during a job fair in Kingston yesterday. (Photo: Jermaine Barnaby/Gleaner

Trained teachers gather outside the Ministry of Education during a job fair in Kingston. (Photo: Jermaine Barnaby/Gleaner)

Jamaica’s Ambassador to Brazil, Alison Stone Roofe, calls on Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Senator Arnold J. Nicholson, at his New Kingston offices on January 23, 2013 nine months into her tenure to report activities of the diplomatic mission in Brasilia. (Photo: Contributed/Gleaner)

Jamaica’s Ambassador to Brazil, Alison Stone Roofe, calls on Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Senator Arnold J. Nicholson, at his New Kingston offices on January 23, 2013 nine months into her tenure to report activities of the diplomatic mission in Brasilia. (Photo: Contributed/Gleaner)

Police and residents walk to the isolated farm where brothers Herman and Norman Rowe were murdered. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Police and residents walk to the isolated farm in St. Thomas, where brothers Herman and Norman Rowe were murdered on July 8. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

The Jamaica Labour Party’s Beverly Prince, who won last Thursday’s by-election in the Cassia Park Division of the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation, takes the oath of office at Tuesday’s monthly meeting of the council at its Church Street chambers in downtown Kingston. There seem to be problems within her party, though. (Photo: JIS)

The Jamaica Labour Party’s Beverly Prince, who won last Thursday’s by-election in the Cassia Park Division of the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation, takes the oath of office at Tuesday’s monthly meeting of the council at its Church Street chambers in downtown Kingston. There seem to be problems within her party, though. (Photo: JIS)

 

Police patrol West Kingston streets earlier this month. (Photo: Bryan Cummings/Jamaica Observer)

Police patrol West Kingston streets earlier this month. (Photo: Bryan Cummings/Jamaica Observer)

Here is a quote from John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Still so important today of course...

Here is an intervening quote from John Lennon and Yoko Ono. 

The hair. (Photo: Ricardo Makyn/Gleaner)

The hair. (Photo: Ricardo Makyn/Gleaner)

Jamaicans celebrate Shelly-Ann's win in Half Way Tree, Kingston. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Jamaicans celebrate Shelly-Ann’s win in Half Way Tree, Kingston. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce celebrates with her fans in Moscow after her 100 meter World Championship win. (Photo: Ricardo Makyn/Gleaner)

Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce celebrates with her fans in Moscow after her 100 meter World Championship win. (Photo: Ricardo Makyn/Gleaner)

The Ides of March: Sunday, March 17, 2013

Actually, the Ides of March were on Friday, March 15, just two days ago. We often hear the phrase “Beware the Ides of March,” without even understanding the sense of it. Blame Shakespeare. As a former student of Latin language and literature, I can assure you that the Romans were a highly superstitious lot, and very fond of omens. Reading animals’ entrails, birds, the weather, and all that. This period was not short of prophets of doom – and we have a few of those around ourselves, here in Jamaica.

Julius Caesar came to a sticky end in the Ides of March. The soothsayer did warn him (by the way, what IS a sooth?) Image from crystalinks.com.

Julius Caesar came to a sticky end in the Ides of March. The soothsayer did warn him (by the way, what IS a sooth?) Image from crystalinks.com.

It’s true that things are not looking rosy, in general. We were overwhelmed this week (and we knew it was coming) by the broadcast of a documentary on AXS TV on the “lotto scam,” narrated by Dan Rather, who visited Jamaica earlier this year. Segments were aired on CBS News and NBC News, and it was heavily publicized through Mr. Rather’s (and others’) social media outlets. Segments were, of course, aired on local television – including an interview with a young scammer in Montego Bay, who ran away when the journalist revealed that they were U.S. media. His face was clearly shown. I am not sure if you can download the full program somewhere – I’m not finding it online.

Dan Rather - "Rather Outspoken."

Dan Rather – “Rather Outspoken.”

I understand that Mr. Rather is planning further investigations, so this may not be the end of this negative publicity. National Security Minister Peter Bunting had a sense of foreboding about this one, and rightly so. Since the testimony, and the documentary, there has been much discussion about the impact on so-called “Brand Jamaica.” Now, to me, Brand Jamaica is a fabrication of the politicians and tourism officials. How attractive is Brand Jamaica to ordinary Jamaicans, one of my friends asked on Twitter this week – “that is the real measure.” Indeed, but that is for another discussion. The government has naturally been scrambling to do “damage control,” according to local media. No reported “fallout” – yet.

Photo: bewareof876.com. Jamaica's telephone area code is 876.

Photo: bewareof876.com. Jamaica’s telephone area code is 876.

But, why do the Americans have to clean up our mess again, other Jamaicans are asking? There are odd echoes of the “Dudus” affair… The same level of discomfort and a kind of humiliation. We are the bad guys, again. We are a very small nation, and we feel it. Yes, we take it to heart, even if we pretend not to.

Kim Nichols, the daughter of a victim of the lottery scam, testifies before theUS Congressional Special Committee on Aging. (Photo: Gleaner website)

Kim Nichols, the daughter of a victim of the lottery scam, testifies before the U.S. Congressional Special Committee on Aging. (Photo: Gleaner website)

Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, headed by Democrat Bill Nelson of Florida, sat on Wednesday to consider the matter, at the urging of advocacy groups such as the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). Minister Bunting had submitted written testimony. The recorded conversations between the criminals in Jamaica (what else can you call them?) and their sad, distressed elderly victims in Maine and other U.S. states; and the television interviews with them and their families – all made me cringe. It was very, very uncomfortable to watch and hear. A feeling of collective guilt infused many of the discussions on the matter – on radio talk shows, many expressed shame and at the very least, embarrassment. “Jamaica, the Nigeria of the Caribbean” was one online comment. We wondered how these old people could be so lonely, happy to hear the sound of a human voice even if it was that of a stranger with evil intent (I actually do consider the scammers evil, not a word I use lightly). Some called them “gullible” and “suckers” which I find unkind. Elderly people are vulnerable, almost like children.

Sun, sea, sand, scams, corruption... A beach in what we used to call the "tourism mecca" of Montego Bay. (Photo: tripadvisor.com)

Sun, sea, sand, scams, corruption… A beach in what we used to call the “tourism mecca” of Montego Bay. (Photo: tripadvisor.com)

My questions are: Why was the lotto scam allowed to continue for five or six years without any effective action being taken by the Jamaican government? Was the legislation – which the Senate will debate next week – only put together at the behest of the U.S. government? Who was/is benefiting from the lotto scam? Local politicians, businessmen, who exactly? Will they be brought to book? We all knew that Montego Bay has been booming for the last few years…How long will it take to extradite even one Jamaican – and how many are actually involved? Was someone “higher up” orchestrating the whole thing? Will the IT/call center business ever recover? Why was the local media, with some exceptions, unwilling to investigate over these past few years – were they under pressure?

According to at least one Opposition member, tourism is already in decline, even without all this unpleasantness. This is not good for our foreign exchange inflows, and I had heard that stopover visitors are seriously lagging behind cruise ship arrivals, even in the current winter tourist season. Suggestions are that cultural issues and environmental degradation are having a negative impact on visitors. Brand Jamaica is a tarnished mirror, in which we can hardly see ourselves any more, no matter how hard we try to wipe it clean. Let’s forget it.

Get Happy in Jamaica! Jamaica Tourist Board marketing.

Get Happy in Jamaica! Jamaica Tourist Board marketing.

 

And we should forget this one – quickly. Jamaica Tourist Board, what were you thinking? Here’s the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P9KSiitCnXg (Mr. Nicolaisen, I don’t blame you – you are an actor and you are making a living, but...)

There is no doubt that the lotto scam comes under the heading “organized crime” and must be dealt with accordingly. Extradition to the United States is fine in my book, so long as they are given a fair trial and brought to justice. And talking of organized crime, what is going on in west Kingston, the former domain of the aforementioned extraditee Christopher “Dudus” Coke? I hear rumblings that a new power structure is in place. If you visit Coronation Market regularly, you may have seen the signs.

The refurbished Coronation Market in west Kingston. (Photo: National Consumer League Jamaica website)

The refurbished Coronation Market in west Kingston. (Photo: National Consumer League Jamaica website)

Meanwhile, the police have taken a Kingston businessman into custody and he could face numerous charges, including murder and money laundering. But he doesn’t have a name – so he must be a “big man.” I am sure if he was from Arnett Gardens or Denham Town, we would all know his name, address and aliases right away.

Jamaican manufacturer Omar Azan. (Photo: Gleaner)

Jamaican manufacturer Omar Azan. (Photo: Gleaner)

Talking of foreign exchange: some local manufacturers are among those complaining about a shortage of foreign exchange. Former head of the Jamaica Manufacturers’ Association Omar Azan says the banks have waiting lists, and he was not able to get all the U.S. Dollars he needed to import raw materials. If this is a growing trend and it continues, there will be layoffs as production is cut. Opposition Finance Spokesman Audley Shaw already notes a “thriving black market” - he has been banging on about this for some time. More doom and gloom (if possibly exaggerated…in Audley Shaw’s somber tone…)

Former junior energy minister Kern Spencer and his personal assistant Coleen Wright in September, 2007. (Photo: barbadosfreepress.wordpress.com)

Former junior energy minister Kern Spencer and his personal assistant Coleen Wright in September, 2007. They both face money laundering, fraud and corruption charges. (Photo: barbadosfreepress.wordpress.com)

Do we need to be reminded of the “Cuban light bulb scandal” It occurred during the previous People’s National Party administration, resulting in a corruption trial that is still not concluded. But hey! The program to provide free energy-saving bulbs from Cuba to poor households through Minister Phillip Paulwell’s energy ministry is back! That’s all we needed. Former junior minister Kern Spencer (who cried in Parliament when his Opposition counterpart accused him) has had his trial successfully postponed a number of times; he was first arrested over five years ago.

A jolly photo of Mr. Simon Crosskill here; but actually his CVM Television program "Live at Seven" tackles some serious issues.

A jolly photo of Mr. Simon Crosskill here; but actually his CVM Television program “Live at Seven” tackles some serious issues.

Well, I was on television myself last week. I appeared on CVM Television’s “Live at Seven.” I hope some of you were able to watch the program, which focused on whether pregnant teens should be “excluded” (in other words, kicked out) of high school or allowed to continue their education before and after giving birth. As Chair of Eve for Life Jamaica, I am firmly of the latter view. Education is empowerment, and many of these girls have suffered from rape, abuse, incest and are being punished for it. My co-panelist, the President-elect of the Jamaica Teachers Association, suggested that everything was fine and the girls can, at principals’ discretion, return to school (or a different school) afterwards. He also said that the state-funded Women’s Centre of Jamaica was most effective in supporting these vulnerable girls. In other words (as is often the case in these discussions on the media) one would be led to believe that all is hunky dory, and the system works perfectly… Unless one knew better, of course. In columnist Barbara Gloudon’s words, “It is the girl who must pay the price.” See her take on the issue, below…

Eve for Life at our recent celebration of five years in operation. For more information on the organization and its work, please contact me!

Eve for Life at our recent celebration of five years in operation. For more information on the organization and its work, please contact me!

More on this in another blog. Suffice it to say I was nervous as hell, this being my first television appearance; but I was impressed by Mr. Simon Crosskill, host of the program, and his great young production team. An excellent program. You can find the latest edition online here: http://www.cvmtv.com/videos_1.php?id=921&section=live7 - updated daily.

A young lady I know and think highly of was also a guest on Power 106 FM’s youth program yesterday. Ms. Kemesha Kelly, who comes from a humble family in rural St. Ann, is a former Miss Jamaica Festival Queen. She is highly intelligent, enthusiastic and a terrific role model for girls. As usual, Ms. Kelly was overflowing with energy during her interview, discussing the “SWAG” (Something Worthwhile a Gwaan) initiative that she spearheads at the Marcus Garvey Youth Information Centre in St. Ann’s Bay. (A common refrain among youth is “Nutten Naah Gwaan” (nothing is going on). The project needs more funding support; if you are a local business or individual who would like to help, get in touch with Kemesha (or me).

The bright and beautiful youth activist, Kemesha Kelly. (Photo from her Facebook page)

The bright and beautiful youth activist, Ms. Kemesha Kelly. (Photo from her Facebook page)

When asked about the main challenges for Jamaican youth, Kemesha noted employment opportunities (lacking); crime and violence – youth are so often the victims and the perpetrators; and access to higher education, which she considers crucial. She is an aspiring human rights lawyer. I wish her all the very best…

Calabar High School celebrates wildly at the National Stadium. (Photo: Garfield Robinson/Jamaica Observer)

Calabar High School celebrates wildly at the National Stadium. (Photo: Garfield Robinson/Jamaica Observer)

More young people doing great (amazing) things: Over the last few days, the hotly-contested 103rd ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys’ and Girls’ Athletics Championships has taken the National Stadium by storm. Records broke left right and center, to the deafening sound of vuvuzelas (yes, they are still in use over here, unfortunately – we could hear them from our house!) Many congratulations to Calabar High School, who again came out on top, with two other Kingston boys’ schools, Jamaica College and Kingston College hot on their heels. The girls of Holmwood Technical High School overtook Edwin Allen High School, with St. Jago High School girls in third place – all, interestingly “out of town” schools in Manchester, Clarendon and St. Catherine respectively. Many, many congratulations to all! As someone observed, our successful athletes always rise above the divisiveness of Jamaican society. Do we care what political party they support, or which area of Kingston they come from? Of course not! They have transcended that political tribalism that breeds nothing but mediocrity.

Holmwood athletes celebrate. (Photo: Garfield Robinson/Jamaica Observer)

Holmwood athletes celebrate. (Photo: Garfield Robinson/Jamaica Observer)

And congratulations to all the winners of the Prime Minister’s Youth Awards. Special congratulations are due to Kimroy Bailey, a young engineer and fellow (award-winning) blogger who is highly focused on alternative energy. Let’s encourage those young people, in the sciences and other fields, who are doing the hands-on stuff and trying to raise awareness! We need those ideas. And action.

Kimroy Bailey at the wind farm. (Photo: kimroybailey.com)

Kimroy Bailey at the wind farm. (Photo: kimroybailey.com)

P.S. Just a word to journalists, especially the younger ones who are sometimes a little hurt when they are criticized. “Everyone tells us how to do our job,” one complained last week. Well, I for one will continue to criticize. As purveyors of the media product, you should also listen to what we – your consumers – have to say! I still maintain that there are far too many errors of spelling, grammar and pronunciation (some of them really embarrassing). And I also feel that browsing through the social media, commenting on what so-and-so is saying about such-and-such and reading it out, doth not good journalism make. It’s different if you are organizing feedback on a specific issue; fine. Otherwise, it looks like you are wasting time, and it’s irritating. It’s also not news – unless you suspect that the social media is more newsworthy than what your own radio/television station or newspaper produces?

Residents protest the killing of three men by the police in Shrewsbury, Westmoreland. (Photo: Phillip Lemonte/Jamaica Observer)

Residents protest the killing of three men by the police in Shrewsbury, Westmoreland. (Photo: Phillip Lemonte/Jamaica Observer)

The grieving mother of Cameka Duhaney of Lucea, Hanover. (Photo: Phillip Lemonte/Jamaica Observer)

The grieving mother of Cameka Duhaney of Lucea, Hanover. (Photo: Phillip Lemonte/Jamaica Observer)

This has been another week of terrible grief. The killing of three family members (including a fireman) in Westmoreland has traumatized the community where they live – and where they were setting up a small business, a cook shop. Residents of the lovely town of Lucea were horrified by a terrible murder/suicide (the suicide taking place in a busy public shopping plaza) which seems to have been the result of a woman trying to end an abusive relationship. My deepest condolences to the families, friends and neighbors. Whole communities in shock. We will all need group counseling, soon…

Omario Bryan, 17, Havannah Heights, Clarendon

Winston “Charlie” Dawkins, 63, Osbourne Store, Clarendon

Sean Powell, 31, Spanish Town, St. Catherine

Shane Stanley, 37, Green Acres, St. Catherine

Unidentified, Dyke Road/Portmore, St. Catherine

Unidentified, Dyke Road/Portmore, St. Catherine

Cameka Duhaney, 23, Lucea, Hanover

Sydney Smith, 43, Lucea, Hanover

Killed by police

Andrew Brydson, 28, Shrewsbury, Westmoreland

Tristan Brydson, 24, Shrewsbury, Westmoreland

Kingsley Green, 38, Shrewsbury, Westmoreland

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http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Murderous-rampage-in-Lucea_13877726 Murderous rampage in Lucea: Jamaica Observer

http://www.axs.tv/blogs/just-hang-up-the-phone-march-12-2013/ Just hang up: AXS TV

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130311/lead/lead5.html Defense attorney troubled by lottery scam law: Gleaner

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http://www.aging.senate.gov/hearing_detail.cfm?id=340977& United States Senate Special Committee on Aging – Hearing on Lotto Scam: http://www.aging.senate.gov/ – Video and audio here: http://www.aging.senate.gov/hearing_detail.cfm?id=339898&

http://anniepaul.net/2013/03/15/doubletake-first-mattathias-schwartz-now-dan-rather-what-ails-jamaican-media/ Doubletake: First Mattathias Schwartz, now Dan Rather – what ails Jamaican media? anniepaul.net

http://chatychaty.com/2013/03/dan-rather-talks-about-investigating-the-jamaican-lottery-scam/ Dan Rather talks about investigating the Jamaican lottery scam: chatychaty.com

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http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Lottery-scammers-are-not-operating-alone_13865327 Lottery scammers are not operating alone: Mark Wignall column/Sunday Observer

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