Here are a few random photographs I took recently, while wandering around our Kingston yard. As the hurricane season approaches, there is change in the air…
I must have mentioned The Drought. Although some parts of the island have had rain, the unusually long dry spell has bitten very hard in the area we live in, in the shadow of the Blue Mountains. The days grow warmer, a dusty wind blows, and the drought enters its fourth month. Today, a light rain fell, dripped from the eaves of the roof, and then stopped, evaporating from the earth as quickly as it arrived.
The birds in our garden are trying to cope. There are few of our winter visitors remaining; the warblers that migrate to and from the United States seem to have left a little early. For the larger birds, our garden has become a haven, with particular focus on the bird bath. I feel we should have several of them, and have placed additional bowls on the ground in various parts of the garden. In the mornings, these bowls are empty, sometimes containing a tiny feather or two. Thank you, they seem to say; more water, please.
I have noticed the presence of two fine baldpates (White Crowned Pigeons). These very shy birds are now so anxious for water, it seems, that they are regular visitors to our humble garden. We are graced with their regal presence every morning, and every evening. Baldpates travel great distances and they may roam further during the days, foraging for food. But they return to the water pipe in the middle of our lawn. Although wasting water is something we are very careful about, the pipe does sometimes drip after we have used it. The baldpates love these small drops of water – just the right size for their beaks, perhaps. Balancing their large, slate-grey bodies, they take delicate sips. One remains on the ground, his white-capped head held erect, while the other drinks; they take it in turns. Then, when other birds arrive for a bath, they fly off, very swift on the wing.
And then we have the Smooth-Billed Anis, who are regular visitors to our garden throughout the year. Announcing their arrival with loud squawks (not at all tuneful, but then they are related to parrots), the Anis arrive in twos and threes and fours and sometimes more. They are large, black and ungainly. They flop down on the bird bath, seeming quietly relieved to have arrived safely at their destination. They then crouch in and around the bath, half-in, half-out of the water, their rather beautiful tails spreading like fans. They don’t mind being squeezed up – in fact, they are one of the few birds who do like to stay in close quarters with each other. And when they arrive, and start to splash (they are never in a hurry) there is certainly no space for our doves and the noisy grackles.
I wrote a blog post about the beloved baldpate almost two years ago. Here is the link to it: http://petchary.wordpress.com/2011/05/13/the-shining-baldpate/ It includes one of the few photos I have ever been able to take of this bird in our yard – right at the very top of our guango tree.
And so, we and the birds carry on, waiting for the rain. Please help them in your garden, too, by offering bowls of water.
There is a sense of unease. I can feel it in the wind. Unable to rest, it throws itself at windows and doors. It tosses down the small green mangoes that have not had a chance to ripen on our trees. The frantic carnival parties continue in the night. At a discussion earlier this week, anxious words and especially the word “But…” followed words of encouragement and promise. A pudgy-faced young man over in the East is telling his robotic marching toy people that war is imminent.
And the rain refuses to fall.
One of my most-loved writers is the German-Swiss novelist and poet Hermann Hesse, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1946. I suppose this is a legacy of my “hippy” years; Hesse was enormously influential during the 1960s and early 1970s among young Europeans. Born into a rigid Christian missionary family, Hesse became a spiritual explorer, partly arising from his parents’ work in India. Skeptical of organized religion, he came to develop a view of a universal spirituality that still resonates today. (In fact, I often find strong echoes of my 1960s explorations in today’s world. Coming full circle, as my brother pointed out recently, I am now meditating again, as I did in my early twenties). Hesse was also a pacifist, and his work was reviled by German nationalists during and after the First World War. He became a Swiss citizen in 1923.
Well, I recently retired my forty-year-old hardcover copy of “Siddhartha“ - it had become very battered over the years and was literally collapsing. I bought a new copy, but am not as comfortable with it, yet. It needs a few more re-reads, I think.
Meanwhile, a fellow-blogger posted a quote by Hesse that simply reflected my mood, and the discomfort of this little island I live on, Jamaica. Here it is:
“There is no escape…You say yes to the sunlight and pure fantasies, so you have to say yes to the filth and the nausea. Everything is within you, gold and mud, happiness and pain, the laughter of childhood and the apprehension of death. Say yes to everything, shrink from nothing. Don’t try to lie to yourself. You are not a solid citizen. You are a bird in the storm. Let it storm! Let it drive you!”
http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1946/hesse-autobio.html Hermann Hesse autobiographical sketch: nobelprize.org
http://www.hermann-hesse.de/en Hermann Hesse Portal – this is very revealing and well put together
Bird in the Storm… (jruthkelly.com)
Hermann Hesse (pensaleas.wordpress.com)
Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse – review (guardian.co.uk)
SopranoAscends SINGS! (sopranoascending.wordpress.com)
50 Spiritual Classics: Timeless Wisdom from 50 Great Books of Inner Discovery, Enlightenment & Purpose ~ Tom Butler-Bowdon (evolutionarymystic.wordpress.com)
Xaymaca is the Arawak (Taino) name for Jamaica. It means ”Land of Wood and Water.”
The Women’s Resource and Outreach Centre (WROC) has a small and unpretentious office in Kingston. And it has an outstretched arm, too – eastwards, over the struggling community of Bull Bay and its dusty environs to the rich pastures, rivers and hillsides of St. Thomas. WROC’s outreach program, which seeks to empower women (and men) in rural communities, grew from the organization’s Sustainable Livelihoods program eastablished after the devastation of Hurricane Ivan – a particularly vicious storm – in 2004. But WROC has actually been working in several communities in St. Thomas since 2001.
Sustainability is a key word here – and another one which came to mind when I visited the area last week is resilience. Resilience in the deepest sense of the word: drawing on reserves of strength, stretching and getting pulled out of shape, and “bouncing back.” But the bouncing back might not be a complete recovery; after a hurricane, things are never quite the same again, and never will be. One might perhaps be unable to return to how things were before. But one has armed oneself with skills, with resources – and with the strength – to be able to create and carve out an altered, adjusted life. It is about no longer depending on those elements that were – but that may never be (quite the same) again.
These are the complexities of climate change. As we headed out of the city, there were signs everywhere. As we crossed the Harbour View Bridge, I remembered the destruction of Tropical Storms: Nicole (2010) and Gustav, two years earlier. Last week, a trickle of water had worn a narrow path along one side of the wide, dry riverbed of the Hope River, which opens up into a rough and restless stretch of the sea coast on the other side of the long Palisadoes spit that takes you to Kingston’s airport. The Donald Quarrie High School, named after the Olympic champion athlete who came from Harbour View, sits precariously, on a flat area, now much too close to the sea. Huge waves flooded the school compound and several classrooms just last year during Hurricane Sandy; the school wants the Chinese engineering company that built up the Palisadoes spit to build them a sea wall. In 2007, Hurricane Dean stirred the waves to such fury that the sea knocked a huge hole in the schools’s Industrial Arts Department; while not far away, a once desirable housing development (Caribbean Terrace) has been steadily torn apart by successive storms since Hurricane Ivan. You can still see some of the solid concrete homes, overturned by the strength of the waves, knocked sideways like abandoned small toys.
Did you notice how many storm names I mentioned in that last paragraph?
The main coastal road took us across the dry Yallahs River, where as you cross the now-raised fording you look inland to the spread of hills, dark with forests. But the palette is different now; the landscape of St. Thomas is colored auburn, blond. As the road passed close to the shore at Roselle, we noticed that bulldozers were busy, piling up huge stones where once there was a rocky but attractive fishing beach. The ocean was always strong and lively here, with “white horses” piled up to the horizon. But we used to stop sometimes at the beach, where fishermen sold their catch. On the other side of the narrow road, a delicious waterfall slides over rocks, creating a natural (but not at all private) shower for local residents. That waterfall was small and modest last week, barely enough for a good wash.
At last, we reached the quiet village of Trinityville, having turned off the road and driven through pastures that showed the effects of prolonged drought. An arc of irrigation water hung over brown fields. As we drew closer, the exquisite rounded, green hills that I admired on my last visit came into view, now sunburned and dry. The several rivers we crossed en route were low, their waters trickling among dry boulders.
But when we arrived in Trinityville, they had enjoyed a shower of rain that morning. The air seemed to want to turn into water; humidity dripped from the trees. We met Ernest Grant, a goat farmer who had benefited from WROC’s sustainability project, with two of his animals. Guided by WROC’s energetic outreach officer Nkrumah, we then visited a greenhouse, tucked away among tangled foliage behind some houses, and flanked by large black water tanks (a regular feature of our landscape these days). There we met Lenford Brown and Clinton Bailey. They were growing 426 tomato plants in the greenhouse, which cost around J$1 million. They were also starting a seedling nursery, where young sweet pepper seedlings were already flourishing, with the assistance of the Digicel Foundation; delicious romaine lettuce was also growing nearby.
Mr. Brown and Mr. Bailey were hoping for more rain. They would like to have more greenhouses, expand their operations. They are also hoping to expand the market for their produce, although they already sell to local “higglers” (traders) and to those outside the community who sell in Kingston’s markets. The logistics of selling to hotels are not workable; roads in the area are poor, and it would simply take too long for the produce to reach its destination. There are no large (or even small) hotels nearby. The local market fluctuates somewhat, but it is there.
Mr. Brown, an astute and highly-focused graduate of the nearby Robert Lightbourne High School, has a business plan. He believes in value-added products. He has helped develop a tomato jam or ketchup. WROC also launched a delicious guava ketchup (sauce) at the Denbigh Agricultural Show in 2010; the project was funded by the European Union and Christian Aid to provide income to the rural residents. Now, guava is a resilient and abundant crop in the area, growing virtually wild; and it is nutrition-rich, with many possibilities for value-added products.
We moved on, climbing a little further to the village of Somerset, set a little deeper in the hills above the gently chiming Somerset River. There we met Joslyn (not sure if I got the spelling of his name right), who oversees another WROC project sponsored by the European Union, to build check dams.
What are check dams, you may ask? Well, they are small dams, built across gullies or water channels or ditches, to “check” the water flow. During storms or heavy rains, the water gushes madly down the hillsides, sweeping everything in its path. Crops, forested areas, even homes are damaged and destroyed, and entire hillsides with precious soils can be eroded, washing away into nothing and swamping the valleys below. The check dam slows the waters down; it creates pools, and the overflow slips over – often to another check dam below, which again slows the water and prevents that furious, destructive torrent.
From Somerset, we walked up the hill to one of the check dams under construction. On the way up, we saw the kind of damage that the dams are designed to counteract: the hillside torn away by landslides, exposing tree roots; and a house that had been abandoned years before when the hillside pushed down on it.
And here was the dam. The men joked loudly as they worked, shoveling cement under a bright blue tarpaulin. Another man walked up the steep gully from the site of another dam to be built lower down. At the end of the path, we met a group of women, sturdy and strong, who gave us a demonstration of how they carry river stones from the huge pile at their feet down to the dam, hand to hand, to be cemented into the structure. This turned out to be an interactive project; the whole group of us joined in, passing the large stones along. The visitors found this amusing; the women were serious in their work.
The higher slopes were a dull brown, with bright green fans of bamboo still flourishing where other trees had been cut down. Farmers are moving higher up in the hills to grow their cash crops, Joslyn told us – ackee, coffee, pear. It is cooler up there and the rainfall is better. Nevertheless, we saw many fruit trees in the village - “fruit trees are always cared for.” Mules and donkeys are still valuable in these parts, we were told; there are no roads – at least none suitable for cars – and to reach their farming plots on the higher slopes, farmers must hike for two hours or more on the animals’ backs. They have to do it. It’s a change for them, but they are adapting.
And what of the native trees, the hardwoods that used to flourish in this beautiful watershed of the island? There are very few remaining. During the 1980s, the Forestry Industry Development Company (FIDCO) operated in the area. According to locals and environmentalists alike, FIDCO’s logging operations, while replanting with fast-growing pine trees, did untold damage to Jamaica’s forests. The state agency, established in 1978, was finally wound up in 2000. A reforestation project is now under way; but again, to make the young trees take root and grow properly, proper irrigation is needed. Without water, the wood cannot flourish. And it is hard, very hard, to repair the damage.
We walked back down the hill for lunch, passing a small office made from a container, where a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer, Sarah Marshall works on a number of community environmental awareness projects. She’s doing great work, especially with the schoolchildren, we were told. As we ate our flavorful chicken and rice and peas and drank delicious fresh carrot and orange juice, delicately flavored with ginger, I reflected on the mysterious, quiet beauty of Jamaican country life.
Times change, the climate is changing; but I strongly feel that the women and men of Trinityville and Somerset are ready for whatever the future brings. With the ongoing support of organizations such as WROC and with adequate funding, these communities can face the future. They understand what is needed, and they are ready. I am filled with admiration for them all.
Thank you to WROC, and to the visitors from the Seven Hills Outreach Center in Boston, Massachusetts for allowing me to hitch a ride on their bus. And especially, my grateful thanks to the people of Trinityville and Somerset, in the living, breathing hills and valleys of St. Thomas.
You should go and visit them soon.
http://wrocjamaica.org/focus-areas/sustainable-livelihoods: WROC Sustainable Livelihoods
http://www.forestry.gov.jm Forestry Department, Jamaica
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E7APrx74afw Hurricane Sandy damages Donald Quarrie High: Jamaica Observer/video
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20100704/news/news5.html Caribbean Terrace a shell: Gleaner, 2010
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20110901/cook/cook1.html Check out Beechwood’s Gourmet Guava Sauce: Gleaner, 2011
http://www.jamaicaelections.com/general/2002/articles/20021016-5.html The dawning of truth: article by environmentalist Peter Espeut/Gleaner
“Water, thou hast no taste, no color, no odor; canst not be defined, art relished while ever mysterious. Not necessary to life, but rather life itself, thou fillest us with a gratification that exceeds the delight of the senses.”
While some of my readers, I know, are enduring blizzards, lashed with rain storms and knee-deep in snowdrifts, our island has lapsed into a somnolent drought. The days are long, quiet and unusually warm for early February. The hills are sere. Grey clouds occasionally drift overhead, offering nothing but a little shade from the sun. The mockingbird sings determinedly in the hush of midday. Our neighbor insists on making bonfires early in the morning. This morning, after I filled the bird bath, three white winged doves arrived and settled down, resting in the cool water. The National Water Commission is locking off water at nights and in many areas, all through the day. There is a “high pressure ridge.”
We need rain, and plenty of it.
A day trip to YS River and YS Falls in St. Elizabeth, Jamaica yesterday was, to say the least, refreshing. Here are a few of the photos I took there. All of my photos are posted in my photostream on Flickr at http://www.flickr.com/photos/bananakatie/ and there is a link to my Flickr account in the right sidebar of this blog.
Two things I appreciated about YS Falls (apart from the beauty of the place): environmentally friendly composting toilets (we should have more of these in rural areas); and the Gift Shop brews a mean cup of coffee – good, strong Blue Mountain.
http://www.jamaicamix.com/JamaicaCultureAndHeritage/StElizabeth.html St. Elizabeth, Jamaica – history: jamaicamix.com
http://www.digjamaica.com/st_elizabeth St. Elizabeth: diGJamaica.com
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2013/02/03/p-s-happy-world-wetlands-day-february-2-2013/ Happy World Wetlands Day! petchary.wordpress.com
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2013/02/02/pollution-flowing-from-land-to-sea-the-un-caribbean-environment-programme-part-1/ Pollution flowing from land to sea: The UN Caribbean Environment Programme, Part 1: petchary.wordpress.com
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2013/01/25/5498/ Two new environmental films by independent filmmaker Esther Figueroa: petchary.wordpress.com
My dear, devoted readers:
Could I impose on you for just two more days?
The Jamaica Blog Awards announced today that they are extending voting for two more days, until midnight (Jamaica time) on Wednesday, January 16. This means that there are two more days when you can, if you wish, vote for Petchary’s Blog (sometimes it may say you have already voted when you haven’t – but just try voting anyway! It’s a little glitch in the website I think).
I have shared below some examples of my recent posts, in the categories for which I have been nominated. Most of them are recent (that is over the past couple of months or so). You may have missed some over the Christmas period, so feel free to browse…
You may vote once each day here:
http://jamaicablogawards.org/jm/everyday-courage-by-petcharys-blog/ For my blog post on an amazing HIV-positive Mom, called “Everyday Courage.” This is a separate competition called #HashCon, organized by UNICEF Jamaica.
http://jamaicablogawards.org/jm/petcharys-blog/ Best Lifestyle Blog
http://jamaicablogawards.org/jm/petcharys-blog-news-category/ Best News/Current Affairs Blog
http://jamaicablogawards.org/jm/petcharys-blog-ja-focused-category/ Best Jamaica-focused Blog
http://jamaicablogawards.org/jm/petcharys-blog-best-writing-category/ Best Writing on a Blog
For more of my posts on HIV/AIDS and the amazing Eve for Life Jamaica, you might like to read these:
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/12/28/love-and-peace/ Love and Peace: A very special Christmas party for young and marginalized Jamaicans.
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2013/01/06/an-exchange-of-wisdom-even/ An Exchange of Wisdom, Even: The remarkable Vancouver-Jamaica Exchange Project.
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/08/09/end-patronizing-piecemeal-engagement-of-youth/ ”End patronizing, piecemeal engagement of youth”: by young HIV/AIDS activist Jaevion Nelson.
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/06/15/dark/ Dark: The tragedy of two murdered, homeless Jamaicans – a population especially vulnerable to HIV/AIDS.
For more of my posts on lifestyle topics, here are a few to sample:
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/12/31/some-of-my-favorite-things-of-2012/ Some of my favorite things of 2012: A personal collection… Earth Day, meditation, a sleeping fox in a London garden…
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/12/29/the-in-between-blues-freewheeling-down-to-2013/ The In-between Blues: How do Jamaicans amuse themselves between Christmas and New Year?
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/12/23/the-father-of-dub-poetry-gets-a-fine-award/ The Father of Dub Poetry Gets a Fine Award: My personal tribute to LKJ, the Brixton revolutionary.
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/11/24/fighting-on-the-home-front/ Fighting on the Home Front: Crazy shenanigans with birds, bees and more in my Kingston backyard.
For my news and current affairs posts, you might care to visit:
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2013/01/11/why-are-we-still-locking-up-our-children/ Why Are We Still Locking Up Our Children? A difficult discussion on Jamaica’s children in State care.
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/12/31/the-last-sunday-of-the-year-december-30-2012/ The Last Sunday of the Year: December 30, 2012: One of my weekly reviews of Jamaican news and current affairs, as seen through the media…
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/12/21/they-always-come-at-christmas-the-jn-foundations-acton-volunteers/ ”They Always Come at Christmas”: The JN “Act!on Volunteers: The power of volunteerism – a great experience with Jamaica’s elderly citizens.
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/12/13/violence-against-women-part-2-gently-unplugging-the-patriarchy/ Violence Against Women, Part 2: Gently Unplugging the Patriarchy: An extraordinary dialogue one very rainy night in Kingston.
For some real Jamaican posts, take a look at:
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/12/01/many-happy-returns/ Many happy returns! The one-year-old, action-oriented 51% Coalition seeks to get women involved in Jamaica’s development.
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/11/20/its-getting-beta-young-tech-entrepreneurs-in-jamaica/ It’s Getting Beta: Young Tech Entrepreneurs in Jamaica: Young Jamaicans make their “pitches” at a very special conference in Kingston.
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/11/09/the-global-spirit-of-reggae-music/ The Global Spirit of Reggae Music: The First International Reggae Poster Competition at the National Gallery of Jamaica embodied the vibrancy and worldwide reach of reggae.
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/10/24/sandy-between-our-toes/ Sandy Between Our Toes: Reflections on Jamaicans in the hurricane season – and my brief sojourn in the Blue Mountains.
Finally, for best writing in a blog, you might enjoy these:
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/07/12/our-beautiful-caribbean-sea/ Our Beautiful Caribbean Sea: A lament for the sea that laps our shores.
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/10/16/we-are-family-on-blog-action-day-2012/ We Are Family – on Blog Action Day 2012: On the theme “The Power of We,” and what it means “a yaad.”
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/08/29/a-tale-of-two-soursops/ A Tale of Two Soursops: A domestic – and very fruity – drama.
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/08/19/the-london-games-caribbean/ The London Games: Caribbean: Taking a closer look at the extraordinary individuals who achieved so much at the London Olympics.
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/08/02/the-gods-are-smiling/ The Gods Are Smiling: The Olympic Gods, that is. From the tearful South African swimmer to the matronly South Korean womens’ archery team, I loved those athletes, no denying it!
Thank you, once again, for all your support over the past year! As we wade into 2013, I am hoping to continue our relationship – and as always, your comments and critiques are more than welcome!
Of course, you can always join me on LinkedIn, Facebook (Emma Caroline Lewis) and Twitter (@petchary) – if we are not already connected, that is!
I am not very fond of the “Year in Review” thing. Most of the time, we don’t want to be reminded of the famous people who died; the inevitable (and increasing number of) natural disasters; the wars; the politicians.
So I just thought I would list (for myself and for you all, if you are interested) some of the things I enjoyed in 2012 – including happy memories of our five-week visit to England in the autumn. It is good to acknowledge and recall all these moments, these things that you have treasured. In no particular order (and I have probably missed out a lot; so much to be thankful for).
My book list is books I have read and enjoyed this year. Music and movies include some new, some old, and some I have loved for years now! And birds are just special.
I haven’t added any photos. This is just a plain list. But I plan to add a photo from each “favorite thing” in the sidebar, each day – starting from the top. Plus, I am going to work on some long-overdue 2012 photo albums over the next few days…
If you are not already celebrating, Happy New Year to you all!
∞ Earth Day with Jamaica Environment Trust. This year’s event was with Jana Bent, who read, sang and danced along with her book “The Reggae Band Rescues Mama Edda Leatherback” – thoroughly enjoyed by the children
∞ Looking up at the mountains from my front gate
∞ Picking blackberries alone, on a hillside in north Cornwall
∞ “Gangnam Style”: Yes, the video is sort of tacky, but it makes people dance, laugh and have fun and that can’t be bad
∞ Bill Maher‘s “New Rules”: Bill is outrageous at times but when he is really wicked and smirks, he makes me shout with laughter
∞ Café Cody: Online radio station (cafecody.com) that plays superb chill out music, a bit of jazz, soul etc… “From Mallorca, Spain“
∞ Walking through the autumn fields in Sussex, England with my brother
∞ Walking along Cornish lanes, studying wild flowers and butterflies and eating blackberries, with my husband
∞ The big guango tree in our yard, hardly touched by Hurricane Sandy, always filled with birds and draped with purple vines and bougainvillea
∞ Delighting in the Pre-Raphaelites exhibition at the Tate Gallery with my husband. Favorite painting: The Scapegoat by William Holman Hunt
∞ Singing “Hotel California” with my family, brother playing guitar, by the fireside
∞ The bright children at Trench Town Reading Centre planting seeds in pots
∞ Family wedding on Teesside in England, the bride’s veil bathed in sunlight
∞ Capital Pork (yes, that’s the name) at China Express restaurant in Kingston
∞ Sharing serious but empowering conversations on violence with women (and men) at Women’s Media Watch/Prana event
∞ Bill Hader playing “Stefon” on Saturday Night Live: “And the hottest thing in New York is…”
∞ Very cold soursop juice
∞ Deepak Chopra’s “21-Day Meditation Challenge”
∞ Walking aimlessly round the streets of London as darkness falls and the streets light up
∞ Palm fronds getting in the way
∞ Going through old family photos at my sister’s house in England
∞ Watching a fox fast asleep in the sun, on the lawn of our friends’ home in London
∞ Garnier Dark Intense Auburn hair color
∞ Mist, drifting cloud and deep green hills in Mavis Bank, Blue Mountains just before Hurricane Sandy
∞ Holding hands with an old gentleman at JN Foundation’s Christmas treat – Golden Age Home, Cluster H, Vineyard Town
∞ Re-connecting and meeting with old friends, thanks to the power of Google and Facebook
∞ “Homeland” with the infuriatingly chin-wobbling, tearful Claire Danes
∞ Sunday morning breakfasts at Café Blue with my husband
∞ Café Latte at Café Blue; strong black coffee at home
◊ Jonsi and Sigur Ros: “Go” and “Valtari” (respective albums). This music is so sublime it is impossible to pick out one favorite track. The ethereal, earthy sound of the Universe according to the Icelandic post-rockers.
◊ Bon Iver: “Holocene” from “Bon Iver” and “The Wolves” from “For Emma, Forever Ago”
◊ Youssou N’Dour and the Fathy Salama Orchestra: “Shukran Bamba” – one of many beautiful songs on “Egypt”
◊ Wilco: “One Sunday Morning” from the album “The Whole Love”
◊ Kurt Elling: “Blue in Green” from “The Gate”
◊ Jimi Hendrix: “1983…A Merman I Should Turn to Be” from “Electric Ladyland”
◊ Salif Keita and Cesaria Evora: “Yamore” from “Moffou”
◊ Puccini: “Tosca” (from start to finish)
◊ Gregg Allman: “Blind Man” from “Low Country Blues”
◊ Frank Ocean: “Thinking About You” from “Channel Orange”
◊ Tedeschi Trucks Band: “Midnight in Harlem” from “Revelator”
Birds (special section, bear with me):
♦ Of course, the Petchary: Our summer visitor from South America is noisy and imperious
♦ The Black-Throated Blue Warbler: Bright, beautiful, always close to the house – and close to me when I am in the yard.
♦ All the other warblers: Sweet, charming, occasionally singing delicate, whispering songs – our winter visitors.
♦ The White-Crowned Pigeon or Baldpate: Big, glossy-black, shy and regally beautiful
♦ Mockingbird or “nightingale” in Jamaica: singing his heart out every day, patrolling the front yard.
♦ Jamaican Woodpecker:
♦ Robin: Its sweet, wistful winter song haunted me in the English countryside
♦ Sparrow: The regular chirping of sparrows in the eaves reminds me of my childhood in London – instantly
♦ Blackbird: Its alarm cry in the hedges of the Sussex countryside at evening time is such a nostalgic sound
♥ The Stories of John Cheever
♥ The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
♥ The Rules of the Tunnel by Ned Zeman
♥ Bird Cloud by Annie Proulx
♥ Where I’m Calling From: Selected Stories by Raymond Carver
♥ The Whale: In Search of the Giants of the Sea by Philip Hoare
♥ Death of the Adversary by Hans Keilson
♥ The Sly Company of People Who Care by Rahul Bhattacharya
♥ The Magician King by Lev Grossman
♥ The Festival of Wild Orchid: Poems by Ann-Margaret Lim
♣ Blue Valentine with Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams
♠ All Good Things with Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst – my two favorite actors
♣ Marie Antoinette with Kirsten Dunst
♠ Batman movies with Christian Bale as Batman – he’s just right
♠ Flight with Denzel Washington
♣ The Band’s Visit with Ronit Elkabetz
♣ Everything is Illuminated with Elijah Wood and Eugene Hutz
♠ The Big Lebowski with Jeff Bridges and John Goodman
♣ That last Spiderman movie
♣ Ten Canoes with David Gulpilil and Crusoe Kurddal
♣ And Daniel Craig is delicious in everything
The great thinker and human rights activist Eleanor Roosevelt once said:
Great minds discuss ideas; Average minds discuss events; Small minds discuss people.
I am afraid to say that our Prime Minister spent quite some time this past week discussing people – namely, Opposition Leader Andrew Holness. Admittedly, Mr. Holness’ comments were far from inspiring. They may even have included the kind of chicanery that we have come to recognize in the utterances of our political leaders, of whatever stripe. Trying to fool us with words. However, our Prime Minister’s heavy-handed response (delivered in a somewhat raucous tone, including a strange and startling shriek, at one point) seemed like overreaction, to say the least. As one caller to a talk show pointed out, could she perhaps talk about national issues of importance to Jamaicans, instead? Perhaps she could discuss ideas, or even recent events or issues? Those two elephants in our living room, perhaps?
I do feel that we need vision, inspiration, encouragement – and yes, kind words from our Prime Minister, at this time. A leader should be buoying us up, not engaging in a “tracing match” with another politician. She is “Mama P,” who loves us. Just my thoughts.
Our Prime Minister then went away for a few days. Where, or for what reason, was not immediately clear. Rather odd for a head of State, one would think. But it later emerged that she had gone on vacation somewhere and needed rest. Certainly, she has looked very tired recently and rumors have circulated of illness, etc. I am not quite sure if this is of any significance whatsoever; just thought I would mention it.
Meanwhile, the two big news items of the previous week – namely, the sixteen Prados (plus other luxury cars) and the apparent suicide of a teenager in an adult prison, continued to linger like a bad taste in the mouth, for the whole of last week. The Prado issue, in particular, continues to rankle. A caller to Radio Jamaica’s “Hot Line” radio call-in show that “the most important thing in politics is perception.” Whether it is entirely “fair” or not, this is by and large true. The Jamaicans have a saying: “If it nuh go so, it nearly go so” (in other words, if it isn’t exactly so, it’s close enough to it). While some radio talk show hosts have been prevaricating and justifying and talking all round the vehicle issue, the average Jamaica is really angry – and not only those who are so poor that they have no possibility of owning any kind of car. In her Jamaica Observer column and on radio, Barbara Gloudon’s contention is, among other things, that the government did not communicate properly on the issue. That is certainly a part of it; they mishandled it terribly with the press, and have allowed the thing to fester. The Prime Minister’s defiant speech defending the Prados (during which she added, quite gratuitously, that government ministers are entitled to fly first class at all times when traveling) certainly did not help. The ministers now in receipt of the Prados have remained quite silent, so far as I know. The resentment rumbles on. Not only in the media, but in everyday conversations, the Prados are brought up and discussed.
And there is bitterness. The cost of living is soaring; there are no jobs. The pending agreement with the International Monetary Fund is still pending – possibly until early next year. It’s unlikely to be by the end of December, as the Finance Minister had predicted earlier. Even so, it is obviously not going to fix our problems, just like that. And the country’s infrastructure is sinking further into the mire (literally – we have had more rains which have created more problems for rural areas that were already devastated during Hurricane Sandy. Some drains in Port Maria are still blocked, despite the entire town being under water just a few weeks ago. It is pouring with rain in those areas again today…) Mr. Gordon Robinson and Ms. Carol Narcisse in the Sunday Gleaner came out swinging on the topic; links to their columns are below. And the Jamaica Observer’s cartoonist Clovis didn’t pull any punches either...
And even my good friend Jean Lowrie-Chin, who always looks on the bright side in her weekly column, seemed to have lost patience with it all last week, calling the government “uncaring and unresponsive” in the case of sixteen-year-old Vanessa Wint’s alleged suicide at the Horizon Adult Remand Centre in Kingston on the night of November 21. One paragraph in her column (link below) especially resonates:
“Those of us who have worked hard to reach to a certain level of comfort in life deserve to enjoy the fruits of our labour. But we have duped ourselves into thinking that enjoyment is driving around in locked cars, living behind burglar bars and watching our very shadows. Let us be very aware that the quality of life of each Jamaican affects every Jamaican.”
Yes, as I have said to myself many times – we uptown, middle-class Jamaicans are living in a bubble. When will it burst?
An autopsy on Vanessa should take place this week. Her uncle Javette Nixon says he wants transparency in the process and the family has hired an overseas-based pathologist to oversee the procedure.
Another sad and ironic twist: Vanessa ran away from home in 2009 and was locked up in the Armadale Correctional Centre for girls in St. Ann. She survived the fire there in which seven wards of State died.
Meanwhile, still no public words of condolence or regret from either the Minister for Youth Lisa Hanna or the Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller (responsible for Women’s Affairs) on the tragic death of a young Jamaican woman in the care of the State? But there was an offer from the head of Mustard Seed Communities, the marvelous Msgr. Gregory Ramkissoon. He has offered to take the twenty girls - girls - in the adult prison and shelter them. Oh, what a good idea, responds Minister Hanna calmly. She is to discuss this possibility with him, this week. Meanwhile so far as I know plans are still going ahead to move the girls from one adult prison to another, the “Gun Court” prison in South Camp Road.
One little question: Are there still any children in police lock-ups? At one point last year, I believe, there were around 100. They were all supposed to have been moved. Any confirmation that there are now no children in these horrible “black holes”?
Another question: What is the status on an enquiry into the Armadale fire? Was anyone held accountable? I must do a little research on this.
I am not generally a huge fan of Jamaica’s church leaders. They often don’t have much to say apart from condemning casino gambling, racing on Sundays and other crucial matters. But another “church man” I do have a lot of time for is the Anglican Bishop of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, Howard Gregory. He has been writing a column in the Sunday Observer for some time, and this time decided to tackle the issue of “preachers on buses” - pointing to an element of intrusiveness, and aggression, in the approach of these so-called Christians. He says he has even seen examples of very sick people being dragged from their hospital beds to be baptized by immersion. Bishop Gregory points to a “spiraling level of invasiveness” by self-appointed preachers in our public hospitals. Then, of course, for some time urban and rural residents have had to endure the amplified bellowing of preachers at all hours of day, often drowning out the screeching of so-called dancehall deejays. There is a time and place for everything! Once and for all, our much-touted religious freedom does not mean screaming and shouting at people, and haranguing fellow-citizens loudly and in public if they do not agree with your beliefs. That is religious tyranny.
OK. Got that one off our chests, I think. I wish all our religious leaders were as compassionate as Father Ramkissoon, and as sensible as Bishop Gregory…
During last week, Mr. Ronald Mason (one of my favorite talk show hosts) raised a very important economic matter: that of the expansion of the Panama Canal and Jamaica’s plans to establish a major transportation and logistics hub in Kingston. We are, after all, perfectly positioned geographically for such a hub. Minister of Industry, Investment and Commerce Anthony Hylton recently returned from a long trip to China and Singapore, where he was seeking investment in this huge $8-9 billion project. I thought he was to give a press briefing on the topic, but I don’t see any word on the Jamaica Information Service website. What was the outcome of those two weeks, Minister Hylton?
James Moss-Solomon spoke to Mr. Mason last week, pointing out that he himself had made a presentation on the opportunities presented by the Panama Canal expansion at a conference in 2002 – a full decade ago. “It has been staring us in the face for the past ten years,” he told Ronald Mason. “I am not accepting the excuse that it has come upon us in a rush.” Some dredging was done, for a different purpose, but “we did know that this was happening,” the respected businessman and former GraceKennedy CEO asserted firmly. And it’s already late. Very late.
Any word, Minister Hylton?
And I am amazed that the government’s information arm has the nerve to publish yet another article entitled “Untapped Opportunities under CBI” (that is, the U.S. government’s Caribbean Basin Initiative). Once again, a U.S. Ambassador to Jamaica has reminded Jamaica of this long-standing trade facility. She has offered the U.S. government’s ongoing support in what she hopes will be “an economic renaissance in Jamaica.” What is stopping the Jamaican government from taking advantage of this, and why has this been a repeated refrain? I know I have seen this headline before – last year, the year before, the year before that…
Meanwhile, the government has launched the “C-Fish Initiative” with funding from the UK government’s Department for International Development (DIFID). This is a sustainable fisheries project, providing funding for several fish sanctuaries. I know that the excellent environmental NGO, the Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation (C-CAM) is in the process of setting up fish sanctuaries in the Portland Bight area of Jamaica’s south coast. This is marvelous. But after an online conversation with a Facebook friend, who is a great lover of the sea and who has been kayaking around Kingston Harbour for many years, I wonder if this is also too late. My friend told me, after diving around the harbor’s outlying cays recently, there are basically no fish left, except for a few very small ones. No reef, but interestingly he did see a turtle. Over-fishing is the main culprit, he says.
Oh, please… Meanwhile, as if we don’t have more pressing topics to address, our charmingly dreadlocked Minister of State in the Ministry of Tourism and Entertainment Damion Crawford has been talking about “reviewing” the Noise Abatement Act. He seems to be ruling out the idea of “entertainment zones,” - but there may be “test zones.” Kingston residents like me must be hoping and praying that they don’t find themselves within or anywhere near these zones, where all hell will presumably break loose! But as it is, the police rarely respond to complaints from residents besieged with noise – yes, noise - at 3:00 a.m., as it is. So maybe this is all talk, and pandering to the “masses” while trying to reassure those who suffer and don’t “depend” on noise-making events for their income.
Puleeezzz… And then there’s the US$350,000 Patois Bible, which will be launched in Kingston on December 9 by the Bible Society of the West Indies, a UK-based organization that obviously thinks this a vital necessity for the poor people of Jamaica. Very well-meaning, I am sure. But when it was shown to Jamaicans on the street, they struggled to read it. In fact, the comments were very funny; one Jamaican said it gave him a headache. Oh by the way, it’s only the New Testament in patois; the Old Testament would be a complete nightmare, I am sure, and they haven’t decided whether to translate that.
To flog or not to flog? And then up popped the question of beating our children, again; what one caller to a talk show amusingly called “capital punishment in schools.” The Sunday Observer’s front page reported that one leading state-run primary school still gives its children a “slap” every now and then, to enforce “discipline” (oh, how Jamaicans love that word…) We had the usual arguments: “Well, I was beaten as a child, and it didn’t do me any harm” (yes, it did, now you beat your own children – and possibly others). The fact is that corporal punishment in schools is no longer a government policy. Of course, students still fight each other, and teachers; parents hit teachers; parents beat their children; and so on. Violence is the preferred method. It seems to come naturally, does it not?
My favorites of the week…
The Auditor General, Pamela Monroe Ellis. One newspaper describes her rather oddly as a “gentle giant,” but she is actually quite normal in size. I am also not sure if “gentle“ is the right word, either: she is sharp, puts her finger right on the issues. She is highly professional, performing her duties “without fear or favor,” as the saying goes. Her recent report, now being mulled over by parliamentary committees, revealed the Prados. She then moved on to the appalling losses at the National Water Commission (who, in the same breath, requested a rate hike). Ms. Monroe Ellis is puzzled, though. Despite what she considers a strong regulatory environment – the rules are there – there is a strong “culture of non-compliance” in the public sector, she notes. In other words, rules are there to be broken. Or, in an oft-quoted comment attributed to Minister Peter Phillips, “He who plays by the rules gets shafted.” OK, moving on…
The Contractor General, Greg Christie, finally stepped down on November 30, much to the dismay of many Jamaicans. Although his methods were at times a little harsh and his tone occasionally a little shrill, Mr. Christie has been held up (and rightly so) as a champion of integrity, honesty and incorruptibility. Because combating corruption was of course the name of his game. Not universally loved by politicians and other public servants, Mr. Christie doggedly pursued his goals, and once he had the bit between his teeth it was hard to shake him off. He is a very hard act to follow, too… Good luck to his successor.
The 51% Coalition, a growing partnership of women and organizations focused on amplifying women’s voices in society – especially on public and private sector boards – celebrated its first birthday last week. Please see my blog post here for more on the Coalition’s achievements in just one year.
Jamaican bloggers - what an awesome crowd! Almost all considerably younger than myself, this dynamic crowd met up recently at Kingston’s Knutsford Court Hotel, ahead of the Jamaica Blog Awards. I think this gets under way in January, and congratulations to the organizers for this concept. But in many ways the important thing is not the awards. However, the competition does encourage the growing community of local bloggers, which has blossomed over the last two or three years in Jamaica – and what they have to offer. There are fashion bloggers, food bloggers, very serious political bloggers, social commentary bloggers, entertainment bloggers and more. Big ups to them all, and let 2013 be a record blogging year for Jamaica!
UNICEF Jamaica, which has devised a great blogging venture for World AIDS Day (last Saturday). You can read more details of #HashCon2012 at their Facebook page. The theme of the competition is the “SHEroes” in the fight against HIV/AIDS. You can read my entry (“Everyday Courage”) on this blog, and you can vote for it at the Jamaica Blog Awards website from December 8-14. Jamaican bloggers, send in your entries now! And not later than midnight on December 7! Good luck to all…
Last but not least, I must point you to a new and incredibly useful online resource: diGJamaica.com, a great project of the Gleaner Company. It is not only fascinating to browse through; it has all kinds of relevant information on aspects of Jamaican life and society, focusing on different sectors. It includes all kinds of valuable data, a calendar of events, directories, government resources and many other items – all attractively presented with interactive slideshows etc. An excellent research tool. Kudos to Deika Morrison and her team! (And comments/suggestions are welcome).
One final question for our Public Defender: When can we expect to see the Interim Report on the deaths of over seventy Jamaican citizens in Tivoli Gardens, Kingston on May 24, 2010? I believe another deadline was missed, last week. Any word?
The following Jamaicans were murdered in the past week. My thoughts are with their grieving families at this time…
Kurtis Bucker, Waltham Park Road, Kingston
Wilbert Gayle, 48, Haughton, St. Elizabeth
Lily May Burton-Anderson, Farm Pen/Gayle, St. Mary
Winston Brown, Farm Pen/Gayle, St. Mary
Dane Peart, 40, Norwood, St. James
Unidentified man, Mineral Heights/May Pen, Clarendon
Marlon McKenzie, August Town, St. Andrew
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/mustard-seed-offers-to-care-for-females-wards-of-the-state (Mustard Seed offers to care for female wards of state: RJR)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121202/cleisure/cleisure3.html (Something’s broken in the state of governance: Carol Narcisse op-ed, Sunday Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121202/focus/focus1.html (State-sponsored rape – re: Prados: Gordon Robinson column, Sunday Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Patois-Bible-took-four-years-of-research–cost-US-350-000_13096136 (Patois Bible took four years of research, cost US$350,000: Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Patois-Bible-not-a-retrograde-step_13096374 (Patois Bible not a retrograde step: Jamaica Observer)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/westmoreland-fishermen-protest-plundering-from-honduran-pirates (Westmoreland fishermen protest plundering from Honduran “pirates”: RJR)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Is-the-shop-really-empty-_13094128 (Is the shop really empty? Betty-Ann Blaine column/Jamaica Observer)
http://www.televisionjamaica.com/Programmes/PrimeTimeNews.aspx/Videos/22555 (Recipients of the sixteen Prados are… RJR)
http://www.og.nr/rbt/10248-manager-of-dunn-s-river-falls-shot-and-injured.html (Manager of Dunn’s River Falls shot and injured: On the Ground News Reports)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121202/lead/lead21.html (Transport tycoon dead: Sunday Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Diaspora-engagement-and-its-possibilities_13055481 (Diaspora engagement and its possibilities: Terrol Graham op-ed/Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Cops-bracing-for-Jungle-12-violence (Cops bracing for Jungle 12 violence: Jamaica Observer)
http://www.televisionjamaica.com/Programmes/PrimeTimeNews.aspx/Videos/22480 (Simpson Miller tackles Holness: TVJ Prime Time News)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121202/lead/lead3.html (The gentle giant: Pamela Monroe Ellis: Sunday Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Vanessa-s-death-must-be-a-turning-point_13073768 (Vanessa’s death must be a turning point: Jean Lowrie-Chin column/Jamaica Observer)
http://seemydeath.com/suicides/4172-vanessa-wint-16-hung-herself-with-a-sheet-out-of-pure-fear-from-being-molested.html#axzz2E14uGxyf (Vanessa Wint, 16, hung herself with a sheet out of pure fear of being molested: Online Tragic Deaths)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=41403 (Foreign forensic expert for ward’s autopsy: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121127/lead/lead5.html (Hanover bleeds: murders surge in western parish: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121127/lead/lead3.html (Major crimes down island-wide: 49 fewer murders in St. Catherine North: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121127/lead/lead6.html (Work for idle hands: Simpson Miller says construction boom ahead: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/list/32449 (Untapped opportunities under CBI: Jamaica Information Service)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121127/letters/letters2.html (Who are we to believe? Letter to Jamaica Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121126/business/business2.html (Caribbean ports rushing to meet challenges of Panama Canal expansion: Gleaner)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads/32380 (Growth Inducement Strategy available online: Jamaica Information Service)
http://www.televisionjamaica.com/Programmes/SmileJamaica.aspx/Videos/22497 (Opposition Finance Spokesman speaks on TVJ)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads-111/32428 (Mining Minister confident Alpart will be open soon: Jamaica Information Service)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121128/ent/ent1.html#.ULbpLei7TYA.facebook (“Cyaa lock off di dance” – Ministers mull over noise abatement and keeping vibrant entertainment going: Gleaner)
http://www.televisionjamaica.com/Programmes/SmileJamaica.aspx/Videos/22544 (Toys for Tots: TVJ)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/brazen-gunmen (Brazen gunmen: RJR)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads-103/32432 (Initiative launched for sustainability of the fisheries sector: Jamaica Information Service)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/senate-passes-public-debt-management-bill (Senate passes public debt management bill: RJR)
http://www.og.nr/rbt/10284-mexico-lifts-visa-requirements-for-jamaicans.html (Mexico lifts visa requirements for Jamaicans: On The Ground News Reports)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121202/lead/lead31.html (“They don’t care about the rules”: Auditor General: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121202/lead/lead42.html (Jamaican marries lesbian lover: Sunday Gleaner)
Two elephants are standing in Jamaica’s living room right now. They are growing so large that we have had to move out most of the furniture. The last item we will remove will be the cosy armchair with the nice soft cushions. It will be hard for Jamaica to let that one go – it’s just so comfortable.
The two elephants are called Economy and Crime.
But dears – forgive us, there have been so many distractions over the past few months…In roughly chronological order: Jamaica 50; the London Olympics and its aftermath, which occupied us for a couple of months; Hurricane Sandy; and in the past week, the U.S. elections! Our Jamaican political analysts waxed lyrical on election night. I must confess that we were also glued to our television set, heart in mouth, on the edge of our seat; and then basking in the euphoria of President Obama’s win. We had to stay up for his stirring victory speech. Well, the elections blanketed the Jamaican media, with every radio and television station worth its salt running a “U.S. election special.” I get the feeling that Jamaicans find the U.S. vote more exciting, absorbing and inspiring than their own elections – its entertainment value is higher as it is at a distance, I suppose. And although most commentators agreed that the result would have very little impact on Jamaica per se, they still devoted many hours on TV and radio and many column inches to discussing it. For several days.
I repeat: the two elephants are called Economy and Crime. The politicians (and the print media) are trying their best to avoid discussing these two highly intelligent – and very large – animals. Only our diligent broadcast media and our talk show hosts, antennae waving in the cool winter breeze, seem to have picked up on the first elephant. No one pointed to the second one, although there was much focus on the white-collar variety. On the white-collar front we seem to have had mixed results, and success in some quarters. And yet the list of names at the end of my weekly post shows no sign of growing shorter (the numbers only fell during the week of Hurricane Sandy). Of course, those aren’t white-collar. Those are the “working class.”
Have I missed something, or have the media released the murder statistics for, say, September or October? If not, why not? By my count, fifteen Jamaicans have been murdered in the past week, as of 6:00 p.m. on Saturday – plus two brothers killed by the police. By tomorrow morning, there will likely be two or three more homicides (and I can now confirm that, as of Sunday lunchtime). You might think I am obsessed, but perhaps that’s because our local media is hardly talking about it. It seems to be a “given” – like our deteriorating economic outlook – just the norm. The print media studiously avoid reporting daily murders, unless it is something particularly egregious.
Meanwhile the police are seeking men with curious names like “Weed Seed,” “Duppy Film,” “Eggy” and “Wasp” (wasps bite harder than bees in Jamaica). Maybe they have “handed themselves in” to the police, by now. If not, they know what they might expect.
Before I go any further, a quick word – well, just a short rant – on the print media. I would like to suggest, seriously, that one of our daily national newspapers should simply become a lifestyle magazine – advertising a specific lifestyle: that of standing around at uptown cocktail parties with glasses in hand, or sitting in a restaurant, wearing the latest fashions, with one’s “BFF” (dresses exposing one shoulder seem to be de rigueur at the moment). There is an obsession with food and drink, and women in short skirts and high heels. All these people are grinning away happily, while the rest of the island struggles with floods and homeless people, sending their children to school without breakfast, and those little everyday injustices that don’t affect the grinning ones at all. They just want to get their pictures in the ever-expanding social pages. Oh, and the Saturday edition should just call itself “Hair and Nails,” or something similar.
Listen, I don’t want to sound churlish. Nothing wrong with having fun. And Jamaicans certainly know how to party! It’s the Fun Island!
Thank God for radio, which does try to tackle real issues seriously (to be fair though, the Gleaner has been putting some adrenalin-packed punches in their editorials lately…) A man who is fast becoming my favorite radio talk show host, Mr. Ronald Mason of Nationwide News Network, commented last week, “Why is there no sense of urgency?” Mr. Mason is gruff and blunt, with a touch of humor; he does not countenance the unofficial spokesmen/women for either party, who are always seeking a foothold in the talk shows. No propaganda for him. He reminds me of the late and much-revered Wilmot Perkins, whom we all miss dearly (but who could have been accused of bias at times). Mr. Mason used the word “autopilot” to describe the current state of our governance; and I have used this word myself in the past. “This country is in a financial crisis,” he insists, adding that “the people need to know” what is going on in the economy. Where is our growth plan? What is our job creation plan (no, not “JEEP”)? Where is our vision, our future?
And yet the newspapers’ Friday financial pages barely referred to the following facts that were revealed this week:
- Jamaica’s Net International Reserves have lost US$833 million this year and are now at their lowest level for ten years (US$1.1 billion), with thirteen weeks’ worth of U.S. Dollars remaining;
- Financial Secretary Wesley Hughes (the chief civil servant in that Ministry) is resigning – so far as I know, we do not know when, or why;
- The head of the Planning Institute of Jamaica, a key government agency, is resigning – Dr. Gladstone Hutchinson was on secondment from a teaching post in the U.S., but still not great news;
- Jamaican dollar bonds performed the worst out of fifteen Central American and Caribbean nations in October, with interest rates rising to over eight per cent.
There has been precious little comment from our political leaders, too – apart from the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), whose voice does not resonate strongly in the media at the moment. Broadcaster Cliff Hughes interviewed former Finance Minister Audley Shaw on the whole situation, and did not let him off the hook; the thing is, there has been foot-dragging and failure to step up to the plate in both administrations. The head of the JLP’s G2K young professionals, Floyd Green, suggested that “we are at a standstill” in our discussions with the International Monetary Fund. Is this really true? What is the true status of the IMF discussions, as of now? Or are we just waiting to hear something?
Only one Sunday newspaper column focused on Jamaica’s economic muddle; it is written by a Jamaican who does not live here, interestingly – a member of the so-called diaspora. Mr. David Mullings writes, “If we believe that Jamaica will be better off in a generation based on the current path, then we too are in denial.” The other Sunday opinion makers write about everything from (mostly) Obama to CARICOM to a trade agreement on rum – all of academic interest, if truth be told.
According to Bloomberg this week, a senior economist at JP Morgan asked the question: “How much longer can Jamaica muddle through this with virtually no growth?” Answers, please, Minister of Finance (they didn’t answer Bloomberg’s phone calls or emails, it is reported). With Belize and Grenada already there, will Jamaica be the next Caribbean country to default on its debt?
I am sorry. Too many questions. One major issue that the print media did a good job of reporting this week has been the terrifying, and seemingly intractable, issue of the lottery scam. Where will it end, one wonders. Alarming reports have emerged of the use of Jamaica’s humble postal service as a method of smuggling in the proceeds of the scam. The scale of all of this (which may be only the tip of the iceberg, who knows?) is frightening. Even more disturbing is the Jamaican government’s seeming inability to tackle this disgraceful state of affairs decisively. It has been said over and over that new legislation is urgently required to deal with the problem. It has not been forthcoming, although the government would like us to believe that they are taking it seriously. And how long has it been? Two years? Three years? The “lotto scam” has grown into a kind of monster – like the one in the sci-fi movie “Alien,” which feeds off humans and grows increasingly vicious and bloodthirsty. If you can bring yourself to read it, the Sunday Gleaner report below gives some idea of the scope of this nightmare that won’t go away.
The lotto scam was the focus of a recently published report by the very credible local think tank, the Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CaPRI). Unfortunately, CaPRI has not yet posted any information on their website (http://capricaribbean.org) that I can refer you to.
And then there is credit card fraud.
With the usual huffing and puffing of hot air, the Upper House unanimously passed regulations governing casino gambling on Friday. One Senator made an enormous issue out of the word “gaming” as opposed to “gambling.” I suppressed a groan. There are all types of gambling/gaming going on all over Jamaica already. Pontificating won’t make any difference.
And let’s not forget… Thousands of Jamaicans – yes the poor ones out in the “bush” – are still suffering from the after-effects of Hurricane Sandy. The media has not forgotten this, to give them their due. There are a few thousand still without power, as the Jamaica Public Service Company struggles to reach them on damaged roads. Some are still in shelters. Others are still suffering from really bad weather, which has persisted in the past few days in some parts of the island. Yesterday, almost the entire town of Port Maria was flooded after heavy showers; the north-east corner of the island is being battered by rain and wind as I write. It’s not over yet. Perhaps the Prime Minister could venture out at some point in the next few days to show a little sympathy and to promise succor and relief. Something could be arranged. And I am sure that a few of those famous hugs would do the trick.
Talking of St. Mary, I must hand out some major kudos to the Jamaica National Building Society for their outreach to this particular community in St. Mary, through a residents’ forum, over this weekend. St. Mary is reportedly the poorest parish in Jamaica – beautiful, and under-developed. Congratulations to Mr. Earl Jarrett and his dedicated team on their Disaster Recovery Program, with the theme “Leading with Action.” Just what we need.
“Big ups,” too, to the medical team of the California-based Integrative Clinics International, which visited the birthplace of Bob Marley (Nine Miles, St. Ann) to provide free health care to the residents of the small rural community. The volunteer doctors and nurses paid their own way to Jamaica. I am glad they had the support of Ziggy Marley’s Unlimited Resources Giving Enlightenment (URGE) Foundation and the Bob Marley Foundation (Ziggy is my favorite Marley, after Bob of course).
I have felt a surge of sympathy for the hard-working Mr. Errol Greene, Town Clerk at the Kingston & St. Andrew Corporation. His job is not an easy one. His somewhat battered-looking visage and his air of patience and determination, are quite endearing. On a regular basis, he dons his hard hat and marches out into the downtown area, ready to do battle with strident illegal vendors, who don’t go lightly. I am sure he has security back-up; but his job must be one of the most stressful in the city. Nevertheless, he aways has a twinkle in his eye. Cheers, Mr. Greene, and keep up the good work!
There is a Japanese expression “ganbatte!” which means “Keep going/don’t give up!” I would like to say this to Mr. Justin Felice, the former anti-corruption man in the police force who now heads our Financial Investigation Division; Ms. Leesa Kow, president of the Jamaica Money Remitters Association; Superintendent Leon Clunis, head of the Anti-Lottery Scam Task Force in the Jamaica Constabulary Force; Postmaster General Michael Gentles, and all those engaged in the fight against the scammers, who have caused untold suffering in Jamaica and the United States. Mr. Felice and the others are working so hard to combat this scourge; they need the support of political leaders. Once again, the Jamaica National Building Society has supported their efforts and held its second forum “to discuss strategies in support of Government and private sector initiatives to eradicate the lottery scam and address its impact on security, trade and foreign relations” this week. Well done, Mr. Jarrett et al.
And that brings us full circle to the issues of the economy and crime: how can we expect foreigners and others to invest in a country where a segment of the population has been working to swindle and rob overseas citizens of their savings (there have been some suicides, by the way)? And where so many Jamaicans are being slaughtered, week in, week out? Let’s get a grip. “Action” is a word JNBS use frequently in their slogans. We all want to see more action from our lawmakers. Get on with it, please, before it is too late.
P.S. Mystery of the week: I am completely puzzled by the Jamaica Public Service court case, and the perceived change in priorities of the Simpson Miller administration and Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell with regard to the issue of JPS’ license, granted by an earlier People’s National Party administration. I think I must be rather stupid. Can anyone explain what is happening? I must pay more attention and try to work it out for myself, I think…
As usual, I recall the grieving faces of Jamaican men, women and children who have lost their loved ones under violent circumstances. Below is this week’s sad tally of Jamaican citizens who have been murdered this week. I have noticed that many of them are young men in their twenties; and that something is going very wrong in the parish of St. Catherine. And are curfews the answer?
Killed by the police
Mytona Stewart, 25, Central Village, St. Catherine
Lincoln Stewart, 23, Central Village, St. Catherine
Daniel Hayes, 18, Old Harbour, St. Catherine
Unidentified man, Rose Hall, St. James
Pansy Morgan, 62, Watermount, St. Catherine
Unidentified woman, 25, May Pen, Clarendon
Shemell Gillespie, Waltham Crescent, Kingston
Unidentified man, Kingston Gardens, Kingston
Keneil Graham, 28, Bushy Park, St. Catherine
Unidentified man, Portmore, St. Catherine
Leroy McLeish, 27, Sheffield, Westmoreland
“Hot Head,” Sheffield, Westmoreland
Floyd Brown, Sheffield, Westmoreland
Navado Whitmore, 27, Dias District, Hanover
Unidentified man, Keesing Avenue, Kingston
Trevor Wright, Washington Boulevard, Kingston
Randy Bogle, 23, Old Harbour, St. Catherine
Richard Swaby, 24, Mandeville, Manchester
Sebastian Earl, 25, Watson Grove, St. Catherine
Marlon Blake, 21, Old Harbour, St. Catherine
Oneil Brown, Old Harbour, St. Catherine
Related articles and websites:
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=41022 (Police kill brothers in alleged shootout: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/murders-keep-st-catherine-police-busy (Murders keep St. Catherine police busy: RJR)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121111/lead/lead1.html (Mail, money and murder: Postal service under pressure as scammers move in: Sunday Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121111/lead/lead3.html (Security auditors called in: large sums detected in unlikely mail: Sunday Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/New-law-will-hit-scammers-_12968573 (New law will hit scammers: Jamaica Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=40872 (Burnt Port Royal body was Tandy Lewis: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121108/lead/lead12.html (Slippery slope: Lotto scam undermines financial sector: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121109/lead/lead1.html (Scammer fears: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/DPP-wants-more-power-to-fight-lottery-scam (DPP wants more power to fight lottery scam: Jamaica Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=41028 (Security worries for remittance companies: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-11-08/jamaica-bond-yields-jump-to-nine-month-high-after-belize-default.html (Jamaica bond yields jump to nine-month high after Belize default: Bloomberg News)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Denial-is-disastrous_12959710 (Denial is disastrous (David Mullings op-ed: Sunday Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=41026 (UTech security guards pointed out in ID parade: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=41029 (Police crack credit, debit card scam in Caribbean Estate: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/DNA-draft-Bill-expected-today_12955648 (DNA draft Bill expected today: Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Port-Doubt_12959068 (Delay in removal of prison said in conflict with Panama Canal timeline: Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/-They-took-my-leg- (“They took my leg”: Sunday Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/US-medical-team-helps-Nine-Miles_12966348 (U.S. medical team helps Nine Miles: Sunday Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Nannyville-youth-donate-books-to-community-school (Nannyville youth donate books to community school: Jamaica Observer)
http://www.og.nr/rbt/9921-choir-members-take-cover-during-shootout-in-mandeville.html (Choir members take cover during shootout in Mandeville: On The Ground News Reports)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/southern-regional-health-authority-faces-possible-lawsuit (Southern Regional Health Authority faces possible lawsuit: RJR)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Senate-approves-casino-gaming-regulations (Senate approves casino gaming regulations: Jamaica Observer)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/pioj-director-general-financial-secretary-to-demit-office-soon (PIOJ director general, financial secretary to demit office soon: RJR)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads-105/32238 (Jamaica decisive on lotto scam: Jamaica Information Service)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/security-guards-in-utech-beating-pointed-out (Security guards in UTech beating pointed out: RJR)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121111/business/business7.html (Consumers paying for 17% of JPS losses, says Paulwell: Sunday Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=41070 (More rains for St. Mary as parish recovers from flood; Jamaica Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/No-timeline-for–Sandy–relief-houses_12949270 (No timeline for Sandy relief houses: Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Gov-t–Joining-JPS-in-court-case-intended-to-protect-consumers_12941404 (Government joining JPS in court case intended to protect consumers: Jamaica Observer)
On the Sunday after Hurricane Sandy, with spirits somewhat restored, we spent the day with a new friend from Suriname. The gloom of the storm in the endless mists and forests of the Blue Mountains still weighed a little heavily, and our friend was far from home. So we endeavored to lighten her load (and ours, into the bargain) with a visit to the National Gallery of Jamaica.
We did not regret it.
As I noted in a recent post, a strong move is under way to “revive” the downtown area of Kingston. This can only work to the benefit of a cultural oasis like the National Gallery – a government entity, but certainly not dull or lacking in variety and vibrancy. The NGJ’s mission statement is “to collect, research, document and preserve Jamaican, other Caribbean Art and related material and to promote our artistic heritage for the benefit of present and future generations.” This is something which Executive Director Veerle Poupeye and Assistant Curator O’Neil Lawrence put into practice every day. Moreover…with her small and enthusiastic team, Ms. Poupeye has also, in her quiet, determined way, greatly expanded the Gallery’s outreach through innovative programs, such as its monthly Sunday openings (the last Sunday of each month from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.) These are free and include guided tours, musical interludes, children’s activities…and simply the enjoyment of permanent as well as current exhibitions.
Now, it is well worth while spending some time downtown, as we did, where the waters of Kingston Harbour sparkle brilliantly and the city somehow seems to regain its personality in the calm of a Sunday lunchtime. The day was quieter than usual, as the good citizens of Kingston pulling their affairs back together after the storm. But we had had enough of sweeping and cleaning and clearing up, and wanted to refresh ourselves; and we found many friends and acquaintances eager to do the same.
While we were away (or “off the island” as Jamaicans like to say) a remarkable exhibition opened at the National Gallery: the winners of the First International Reggae Poster Contest went on display. There were 1,142 entries from 678 designers in eighty countries – from every corner of the planet – an indicator, of course, of reggae music’s extraordinary global resonance. The first prize winner was Alon Braier, from Israel, who visited Jamaica for the exhibit opening. His piece was a serious portrayal of the “Roots of Dub.” The central figure, the engineer/producer, has one finger poised to press a button on the amplifier; in one corner, roots musician Augustus Pablo plays his haunting melodica tunes; in the other, a rather stoned-looking Lee “Scratch” Perry half-smiles, enigmatically.
Second prize, from Turkey, is completely different: a dazzling five-point, red gold and green star; third prize, from Italy, is a flowing portrayal of a singer with birds nesting, resting and then flying from his dreads with the logo, “Riddim is Freedom”; fourth – and one of my personal favorites – from Poland, is a fine portrait of veteran reggae singer Winston Rodney (Burning Spear); and fifth is a Jamaican entry full of vigor and complexity by Taj Francis, a graduate of Kingston’s Edna Manley College for the Visual & Performing Arts. The “top ten” can be found on the contest’s website – link below; including #10, which I find quite beautiful, from Greece.
All I can say is that we were so overwhelmed and impressed by the diversity of the 100 posters on show that we realized it must have been incredibly hard for the fifteen international judges to pick the very best. Some reflected the lyricism of roots reggae; some expressed the harder, more aggressive mood of dancehall and the first deejays; others simply celebrated the music, interpreting its messages for the most part as peace, love and harmony. I have posted a few other favorites of mine below, so that you can see the amazing range of moods and interpretations.
Reggae music is complex. It is not one thing. It is not just rhythm and baseline – although these are important components, to draw you in. It is so much more – and the “more” is what this ground-breaking exhibition encompasses – the quiet philosophy, the raw emotion of reggae music, for better or for worse.
Now to the even more important part: The posters are to be auctioned off this weekend – yes THIS weekend - at the National Gallery of Jamaica on Sunday, November 11 at 2:30 p.m. All proceeds will go to the Alpha Boys School (which deserves at least another blog post for itself), where many of Jamaica’s musicians got their training with the Alpha Boy’s Band. Alpha Boys is no ordinary boys’ school; it was, in fact an orphanage, founded by the Roman Catholic Sisters of Mercy in 1880 on Kingston’s South Camp Road. The flyer below shows Sister Mary Ignatius Davis, the iconic head of the school for an astounding 64 years, who passed away in 2003. The school teaches music and as well as academics has a strong focus on vocational training for boys from very deprived backgrounds (a number of them were homeless, alone, and without family, but Alpha takes care of them, gives their lives structure – and brings music). The illustrious alumni of Alpha include jazz trumpeter Dizzy Reece, singers Leroy Smart and Johnny Osbourne, pioneering dancehall deejay Yellowman; trombonist Rico Rodriguez; founding members of the legendary Skatalites, Tommy McCook, Lester Sterling and Dizzy Moore – among many others. What better beneficiary could there be?
The Alpha Boys are more than half-way downtown. Another important arrow in the bow that the poster competition has let fly is the campaign to build a Reggae Hall of Fame on Kingston’s waterfront. Something along the lines of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, which I have visited and which is a delightfully brash and enticing attraction on the lakeside, built of glass and steel. As a huge rock fan since the age of ten, for me it was like visiting a cross between a shrine and a garden of unexpected delights (their small but intimate exhibit on the Doors moved me nearly to tears, when I visited). I hope the reggae version might be something similar, for the true fan. On the Reggae Hall of Fame’s Facebook page (why don’t you “like” it?) Michael Thompson describes the vision as “a new approach for Kingston’s development, linking reggae with urban revitalization.” Aha.
So there you have it. Please come down on Sunday to bid for your favorite poster – or, if you cannot afford it, just enjoy a final look at the exhibit. The exhibition officially closes TOMORROW!
For more details, visit the National Gallery of Jamaica website or contact them via their blog, Facebook page or on Twitter. Support Jamaican art, and especially this amazing initiative!
http://natgalja.org.jm/ioj_wp/ (National Gallery of Jamaica website)
http://nationalgalleryofjamaica.wordpress.com (National Gallery of Jamaica blog)
http://www.reggaepostercontest.com (First International Reggae Poster Contest: website)
http://www.alphaoldboysassociation.com/history.html (Alpha Old Boys’ Association: History of the School)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120917/ent/ent2.html (Alpha Boys’ Home gets Royal Philharmonic treat: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://freestylee.net/tag/reggae-hall-of-fame-propaganda/ (Posters for Reggae Hall of Fame)
http://www.reggaehalloffame.com (Reggae Hall of Fame.com)
A Pause for Refreshment…and Art to Soothe the Soul (petchary.wordpress.com)
Sticks and Stones (petchary.wordpress.com)
What to See and Do in Kingston (channelvoyager.com)
Post-Sandy Cheer, Part One: Gastronomic (petchary.wordpress.com)
National Gallery of Jamaica’s Saturday Art-Time (repeatingislands.com)
National Gallery To Open ‘World-A-Reggae’ Exhibition (repeatingislands.com)
VIDEO: Hurricane Sandy hits Jamaica coast (bbc.co.uk)
A few more of my favorite posters, below:
- Clarks, the shoes that tap to Jamaica’s reggae beat (guardian.co.uk)
- Heart on sleeves: 50 years of Jamaican album covers tell the story of a nation (independent.co.uk)