This is a back-dated blog post. Yes, Hurricane Sandy was overwhelming. While the United States is just beginning to feel the effects, we in the Caribbean gritted our teeth and got through it all last week. But of course, the storm itself is not the thing. It’s the aftermath that really gets you. Like a bite from a rabid dog. It hurts at the time; but afterwards you have to get the shots, which is worse…
And let’s not forget this: dengue fever is still a concern, with another death reported today and a sharp increase in suspected cases (now officially at 2,198). The Ministry of Health says it has stepped up its vector control efforts, which is good news. We have yet to see or hear that droning fogging truck emitting its fumes in our neighborhood, however. We have resorted to plastic “mosquito zappers” with rechargeable batteries, made in China. Highly recommended. They look like harmless little badminton rackets in bright colors…but they bring with them a deadly charge. The air smells of the sizzling flesh of mosquitoes and any other flying insect that is stupid enough to get “in harm’s way”…
But seriously…Due to the huge rains we had last week, mosquito breeding sites have multiplied. I have been touring our yard, sweeping and cleaning up; even a leaf holding a small amount of water can breed a few mosquitoes in a day or two. And it will be up to us to keep things clean. As usual after a storm (or in fact at any time) there is a “severe shortage” of trucks to clean up, according to the Ministry of Local Government. So don’t expect the garbage truck any time soon. And let’s be careful.
We are all quite comfortable in the Kingston area, I believe; and the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) reports 90 per cent of power is restored in Kingston/St. Andrew. But tales of woe have been pouring in from elsewhere since last week, with hundreds still cut off in several communities in St. Thomas – the eastern side of the island, which was most badly hit. It’s clear that JPS is facing some pretty major challenges in two or three parishes. The television screens last night showed huge damage, roads still blocked by trees, debris… and fallen light poles. And the light poles (and, by extension, the lack of maintenance) have been a major topic of discussion in relation to our monopoly power company. Meanwhile, the humorous Mr. Robert Lalah observed wryly, regarding the complaining uptowners who had no power for a day or two: “It’s tough having to charge our smartphones at the office and missing the latest episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians , but all will be back to normal soon enough.”
Meanwhile, the National Water Commission has not yet grasped the value of social media, Twitter etc, it seems. It has informed us that over 100,000 of its customers are still without water, five days after the storm. Sorry, not impressed – but I do know this is partly dependent on the restoration of power. Still, I think Jamaicans might have appreciated a rather higher level of communication on the part of the government agency.
Be that as it may, I have posted several photos from local media below; as well as the most recent reports on the situation on our beleaguered island, post-Sandy. There are the usual reports of widespread damage to agriculture (the banana crops are always the first to go, virtually flattened – but they are the first to grow back); people who have lost their homes and belongings – clothing, books and furniture, all sadly spread out in the sun to dry, zinc sheets and plywood scattered; roads and bridges torn away by swollen rivers, with curious residents on the river banks seemingly hypnotized by the churning brown waters. Oh, and five people escaped from a police lock-up in Portmore. One, who has been charged with shooting with intent, is curiously nicknamed “Pastor.”
Fortunately, however, we had only one death related to the storm: an old gentleman in Bedward Gardens, August Town was hit by a boulder. By comparison, the death toll in Haiti keeps rising, although unlike Jamaica they did not get a “direct hit.”
Now, with a mixture of jaded cynicism (we’ve been there, done that, many times), curiosity and somewhat muted sympathy we watch those living on the east coast of the United States evacuating and preparing and trying not to panic. Hurricane Sandy does seem to have grown horribly since she gave Jamaica a direct hit last Wednesday. And of course, there are many thousands of Jamaicans over that side, especially in New York City. So they are in our thoughts. No doubt, once Sandy has done her worst over there, there will be comparisons of how the mighty United States held up, compared to our very small island.
And what of the impact of natural disasters on politicians? Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller cut short her official trip to Canada last week to return to Jamaica when the warnings of Sandy’s approach began. This was generally praised as a good move. She also made an announcement about being prepared, etc. And then came a somewhat strange and curious interview with one of our leading broadcast journalists, Cliff Hughes, on Nationwide News Network (more about them, later). The Prime Minister does not often do live radio interviews – in fact, any kind of unscripted interaction between her and the media is quite unusual. Mr. Hughes handled the Prime Minister with kid gloves, enquiring several times about her health and general well-being, and throwing some soft questions her way. Then, almost imperceptibly, the conversation turned to the sensitive matter of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the worrying signs of Jamaica’s economic vulnerability. One could sense the discomfort at the other end of the phone line. The responses became a little confused – at least, I was confused. By my recollection, the Prime Minister said that she could not tell the Jamaican people exactly what was happening regarding the status of the IMF agreement; how could she, if she herself did not know what was happening? (Did I hear this right? Can’t she tell us anything at all?) She then fell back on her defensive mantra: She has ministers to do the work in their respective portfolios, and she expects them to do it well. She does not interfere with their work (but hold on, don’t they report to her, as prime minister?)
Sorry, but I don’t really understand this. Really, I don’t. Especially when the PM added that she realizes Jamaicans are “used to” Prime Ministers who talk about every issue affecting the country; but she has a different approach. She has her ministers.
So now, the Cabinet met today to consider the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy – the cost, of course, being a major factor. How will this affect the IMF negotiations (and is it entirely correct to call them negotiations, at this stage)? I believe the government has sent a letter to the IMF and is waiting to see what happens next. Anyway, the day before Sandy the Opposition Finance Spokesman Audley Shaw took on the issue in Parliament, suggesting that the possible deadline for the possible signing of an agreement with the men in Washington is a bit of a moving target. Meanwhile, the Gleaner is getting fidgety again, worried about a “lack of urgency” on the part of the Government.
More on this in the weeks to follow, one predicts. The IMF all tangled up with Sandy. What a muddle we are in, once again.
I will end with a major drumroll: for all the emergency services, both governmental and non-governmental, for their sterling work before, during and after Hurricane Sandy passed, with surprising efficiency and speed, across our island (although I was never quite sure whether it was east to west or north to south?) The police imposed curfews, resulting in no reports of looting (so far as I am aware) – and also resulting in the number of murdered Jamaicans being reduced, as you can see from the list below. The Office of Disaster Preparedness & Emergency Management (ODPEM) did a good job of keeping us informed, and prepared. Non-governmental organizations like the Jamaica Red Cross, Salvation Army and others responded effectively, despite their always limited resources. Food for the Poor and the YB Afraid Foundation of Olympic medalist Yohan Blake also brought much-needed help (food and other supplies) to residents of Portland. Some Members of Parliament (notably Damion Crawford in the much-afflicted East Rural St. Andrew) and local councillors appeared to be working hard on the ground.
Perhaps… perhaps, the stars of the show were the often much-maligned Jamaica Public Service Company. Yes, I know many of you Jamaicans may not agree (especially those who are still without power). But their engineers worked hard for hours on the broken light post down the road from us, in the pouring rain last Thursday night; and did not stop until they had restored light to our little area at around 1:30 a.m. Their hard work was much appreciated. And their public relations effort – their continuous flow of information throughout the period – was/is laudable. Ms. Kelly Tomblin, the President, appeared on Television Jamaica’s popular morning magazine program, neatly attired in jeans and leather boots, to provide an update. She has been incredibly accessible and is speaking on the radio as I write this. As for Ms. Winsome Callum, the firm’s head of communications…She is a master (mistress?) of public relations practice. Her combination of sincerity, clarity, empathy, professionalism and sheer cool is unrivaled in Jamaica. Congratulations, Ms. Callum, on receiving my Order of the Petchary Award this week. It’s my second highest award, I would say, and it comes with a hearty pat on the back. I was, actually, informed and reassured after her excellent interview with Dionne Jackson Miller on RJR a few days ago.
Now, back to Nationwide News Network, whom I also really appreciated last week – Mr. Cliff Hughes, Mr. Vernon Darby and the whole supporting crew of reporters and producers, who did a fine job throughout the storm. They kept us continuously informed, fielding phone calls from anxious and stressed Jamaicans, when other radio stations were playing “soothing” music. Thanks Nationwide!
Meanwhile, over in the U.S., Mr. Wolf Blitzer of CNN has put on his World War II voice, while intrepid reporters stand ankle-deep on flooded roads, and hang on to their hats in the windiest spot they can find. Somehow, coverage of a natural disaster (or potential disaster) becomes dull and repetitive after a while… Nevertheless, fingers crossed and take care to all our friends on the east coast.
Here’s to calmer waters.
Jamaicans killed by the police:
Dwayne Anthony Reid, 31, Mandeville, Manchester
Unidentified man, Guy’s Hill, St. Catherine
…and by others:
Sarvan Morrison, 24, Old Braeton, St. Catherine
Donna Collen, 53, Tawes Pen, St. Catherine
Rayon Anthony Champagnie, Airy Castle, St. Thomas
Unidentified man, Ivy Green Crescent, Kingston
Unidentified man, Montpelier, St. James
Courtney Edwards, 35, Coronation Market, Kingston
Christopher Lawrence, 37, Kitson Town, St. Catherine
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Restoration-slowest-in-Eastern-parishes–JPS_12862589 (Restoration slowest in eastern parishes – JPS)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121029/lead/lead1.html (Road to recovery: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121029/news/news1.html (11,000 farmers affected by Sandy)
https://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/10/24/sandy-between-our-toes/ (Sandy Between Our Toes: petchary.wordpress.com)
Sunday Scribble: October 21, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)
A Pause for Refreshment…and Art to Soothe the Soul (petchary.wordpress.com)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121025/news/news2.html (IMF in limbo: Jamaica Gleaner)
Soggy Jamaica cleaning up after Hurricane Sandy (miamiherald.com)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/editorial/Now-for-the-post-Sandy-recovery_12836191 (Now for the post-Sandy recovery: Jamaica Observer editorial)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121029/cleisure/cleisure4.html (Blackout from Sandy most vexing/Robert Lalah: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121028/cleisure/cleisure1.html (Where is the Government? Missing the point of the critics: Jamaica Gleaner editorial)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Sister-P-s-Canadian-love-in_12845822 (Sister P’s Canadian love-in/Keeble McFarlane: Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Has-Sandy-complicated-Government-s-path-to-new-IMF-deal-_12854867 (Has Sandy complicated Government’s path to a new IMF deal?/Claude Robinson)
Recently I had a conversation with Sameer Verma of San Francisco State University about an innovative venture he's involved with -- the One Laptop per Child project. Verma, an open source software (OSS) activist, was invited by Professor Evan Duggan, Executive Director of the Mona School of Business and new Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of the West Indies, Mona, whom he went to school with, to spearhead the OLPC project in Jamaica.
- Jamaican Inspiration (petchary.wordpress.com)
- 50-50 Reflections (petchary.wordpress.com)
- Jamaica 50 Special: Monday, August 6, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)
- One Laptop Per Child, 7 Years Later: An infographic (teleread.com)
- Sunday Squalls: August 26, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)
Yes, we may be short of a lot of things in Jamaica, but we’re certainly not short on sunshine. As the sun thankfully dips behind the rooftops (the sun isn’t thankful, I am) I am just about to start this blog post with very little idea of what has or has not been going on this week. We took three days off away from all media, computers etc (unless you count switching to ESPN for the Euro 2012 semi-finals). Thanks ESPN! (I was quite upset by Italy’s sad defeat at the hands of Spain today, but the Italian team delighted me during the tournament with their creative, attacking play. Spain played like a passing machine, but seemed to wake up for the final). Ah well. The drama is over. We now await the start of the new English Premier League season.
Meanwhile, back on the Rock, shock waves from last week’s “bloody weekend” – including the resurgence of gang warfare in the August Town area of St. Andrew – continued to ruffle the media; and the annual hand-wringing exercise over the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) examinations kicked into top gear. On the former, I feel deeply sorry for the many peaceful and law-abiding residents. August Town is not, to my mind, a typical “inner city” area with all that the term suggests. The first time I visited there about twenty years ago – and I have done so a number of times since – I have felt that it was more like a village. The area is close to the University of the West Indies campus, on the outskirts of Kingston. There are narrow streets, small houses surrounded by low walls, a number of churches, and a bus service into Kingston. It is essentially a cul de sac, so the bus has to turn round and go back. There is the usually-dry Hope River (an escape route for criminals, I understand), and some houses on the other side. There is a primary school with a large yard, and the police station close by. What is most striking is the steep green hills on all sides – so close, so green, with one huge white scar where limestone was quarried. And yet, in true inner-city tradition, August Town has “corners” where young men gather, and is divided into areas called “Vietnam” or “Jungle 12.” And the small community (it really is small) which was ironically named after Emancipation Day on August 1, 1838, has a plague of gangs, mostly (or originally) politically-motivated. Since 2008, residents have been lulled into a sense of false security after the signing of a so-called “Peace Treaty” between gangs; this was negotiated through the efforts of an organization called the Peace Management Initiative (PMI) and the local community organization headed by the well-meaning Kenneth Wilson. I have my severe doubts about these peace treaties; how can they last? Gangs are gangs. Deputy Commissioner of Police Glenmore Hinds, who is in charge of crime, does not believe in them. But Mr. Wilson has, on this occasion, complained that concerns expressed by residents in the area prior to the latest outburst were ignored by the police, who were not “proactive” enough and could have prevented the murders if they had listened.
Enough hot air has been expelled on the topic of the GSAT results to inflate a balloon and carry it half way round the world. Educators and officials, retired and otherwise, have all weighed in with interviews and columns in the media. Should the test be abolished? How can we breach the “social chasm” described by Minister Thwaites that afflicts our educational system (but hold on…doesn’t this afflict every aspect of our society, Minister Thwaites?) Meanwhile, one high school said it simply could not accommodate all the students who had been placed there by the test; and one of the conceptualizers of GSAT is quoted as saying – perhaps rather brutally – “I hear the minister apologizing to schools for being called failing, when in fact they are worse than failures. Some of them should not even exist.” Oh dear. Expect more of the same this time next year.
Speaking of education, one commentator on the Jamaica Observer website commented wryly, “I wish Jamaicans were as passionate about education as they are about two men in pink dresses.” Yes indeed, the “homosexual debate” drags on endlessly, with the usual obfuscation, manipulation, misinformation and religious propaganda. The latter gets plenty of airtime in the media, with religious leaders coming out of the woodwork all over the place with their arguments, and of course their Bible quotations. Thank God for sensible and clear-thinking people like broadcast journalist Dionne Jackson-Miller, who tried to make some sense out of it in her latest blog post (see link below).
The rumblings over whether Jamaica should remain in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) – called by some a “talk shop” – continue intermittently. Speaking to the Sunday Observer today, CARICOM Secretary-General Ambassador Irwin LaRocque intones, “I think the single most important reason for keeping CARICOM alive is to serve the development of our region. It can’t be anything but that.” Well, as young people say… Duh. My italics, by the way – it appears CARICOM is on life support? Well, it is worthy of note that a recent ECLAC survey on Caribbean GDP growth last year (and predictions for this year) pointed out that it was the non-English speaking countries of our small region that have registered – and will register – strong growth. For example, Haiti, Dominican Republic and Suriname – six, 4.5 and 4.3 per cent GDP growth predicted this year; Jamaica, Barbados and St. Kitts & Nevis – just one per cent each. Go figure. By the way, CARICOM’s annual summit for heads of government will meet this coming week; among the “big issues” to be considered this week is – yes, you’ve guessed it. West Indies cricket.
But hey! Summer is here, and the seasonal distractions from the serious issues of the day are multiplying daily. Why worry about regional development, education and so on? It is hot. We all need to chill out. The rich ones will be disappearing overseas in a few weeks’ time – and of course, that includes our politicians. And there is sports. With the Olympics mere weeks away, the National Trials have been taking place over the last few days at the National Stadium – which, strangely, has been three-quarters empty, even for races with superstar Usain Bolt (who was beaten not once, but twice by his reportedly more focused rival and training partner Yohan Blake). Jamaicans adore their athletes; but there seems to have been confusion over entrance tickets. Besides, people probably just don’t have the money to buy them. Much cheaper to watch them on television.
And then, there is Jamaica 50. Of course, I still have questions (don’t we all?) For example, why was an International Reggae Day concert in Emancipation Park suddenly canceled at short notice? Why is the Portland Jerk Festival, which happens every year, a Jamaica 50 event – and such a costly one (J$1,400 at the gate)? Is there a schedule of Jamaica 50 events, and if so where? I tried to download the enlarged schedule pdf document on the Jamaica 50 website (“proudly presented” by the Jamaica Information Service), and got this message: “This is somewhat embarrassing, isn’t it?”
Yes, it is. However, the website did remind me that we are just five weeks, 1o hours, 40 minutes and 18 seconds away from our nation’s fiftieth anniversary. And there is a basic schedule here: http://www.jis.gov.jm/ja50/v2/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/JCDC-CALENDAR-OF-JAMAICA-50-NATIONAL-EVENTS1.pdf. For the month of July, there is Reggae Sumfest; the Festival Song Contest; and other regular annual events. OK, OK… I know, we don’t have any money, but are these really Jamaica 50 events, or just wearing the cloak of Jamaica 50?
Meanwhile, the politicians talk. And talk. Minister of Agriculture Roger Clarke and Minister of Education Ronald Thwaites are the two current Champions of Talk at the moment. Speeches galore. Minister Clarke, an amiable and obese man, raised scattered laughter when he asked his audience whether they agreed that he had thrived (thriven?) on a good healthy diet of Jamaican food. The Opposition Jamaica Labour Party has been largely quiet, apart from Justice and National Security Spokesman Delroy Chuck, who is clear and sharp in his commentary. There is an occasional obscure piece of waffle from the Opposition Leader, who seems to have gone back into his shell. Among other serious issues, Mr. Chuck has asked why the monthly meeting of the National Security Council has only taken place once since the new administration took office six months ago; if this is true, what is the story behind this?
Our Prime Minister is also very quiet, and only speaks when spoken to at the moment, like a well-behaved child in Victorian days. At least, I have seen very little reported.
But let’s give a huge round of applause to our very own Jamaica Defence Force and to all the other participants – including those from overseas – in the Jamaica Military Tattoo 2012. This was only the fifth in Jamaica’s history, and by all accounts our military outdid itself. Congratulations to all involved.
On the arts front, congratulations are also due to the urban arts festival Kingston on the Edge (KOTE) 2012, which took place over the past week. It was an extraordinarily lavish schedule of art in all its forms – grassroots, uptown, downtown, in-between – showing how vibrant and creative our much-maligned capital city truly is. Special congratulations to Veerle Poupeye, director of the National Gallery of Jamaica and her hard-working staff for their ongoing work (and for their monthly Sunday openings); and of course, to Karin Wilson Edmonds and the many others who worked so hard to make KOTE 2012 a huge success. I have to add that this is largely a private sector effort – thanks to all the sponsors and supporters, and may it be even bigger and better next year!
And of course, the sports. Mr. Yohan Blake and Ms. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce are worthy of special mention for beating the favorites in the National Trials in both the 1oo and 200 meters. But congratulations to all the young men and women who put out all their efforts and the best they have to offer. I am sure those who qualified for the London Olympics will continue to strive and do well for Jamaica.
Let’s round things off with another old and hoary “chestnut”: It’s “health tourism” time again! For the umpteenth time, this wonderful idea (it is a great idea actually) has been taken from the shelf and dusted off, this time by Industry, Investment & Commerce Minister Anthony Hylton. The Jamaica Information Service describes health tourism as “a new growth area with significant potential.” We first heard these words – or something very similar – approximately fifteen years ago. Well, let’s give it another whirl. I am sure the long-suffering “diaspora” will be thrilled to hear about it – or did I hear a stifled yawn from across the waters? Surely not. It’s a new area, folks! Let’s talk about it some more!
Well, dark has descended and I have rambled on too long. We are due for at least a few more days of hot, dry weather, with clouds that drift high above and have no intention on raining on us here in Kingston.
It’s summer, we haven’t solved the mystery of the noxious fumes yet (more on that another time) and…let’s try to have a great week!
My deep condolences to the family and friends of all those who were murdered in Jamaica in the past week. This may not be a complete list, but my thoughts are with all those who are mourning the loss of their loved ones.
- Kemado “Joe” Edwards, killed by the police in St. James
- Unidentified man found in a cane field in Llandilo, Westmoreland
- André, in Barnett Lane, Montego Bay, St. James
- Bryan Morris, 33, in Sheffield, Westmoreland
- Sylvia Beckford, 40, in Sheffield, Westmoreland
- Judith McCauley, 31, in Sheffield, Westmoreland
- Unidentified man killed by the police in Camrose, St. James
- Courtney Willis, in Nuts River, St. Thomas
- Unidentified woman chopped to death in Manchester
- Fabian Buckley, 26, in Duhaney Park, Kingston
- Newton Steer, 40, in Red Ground, St. Catherine
- Hugh Modest, 47, in West Meade, St. Catherine
- Cyril Kelsey, 59, in Leeds, St. Elizabeth
- Norman Noble, 48, in St. James
- Mario Balotelli, One of Soccer’s Most Gifted and Eccentric Players (nytimes.com)
- Gianluigi Buffon: Italy must improve to beat Spain in Euro 2012 final (thesun.co.uk)
- Sunday Songs (petchary.wordpress.com)
- Jamaica National Trials 2012: Seeking emancipation for Veronica Campbell-Brown and Usain Bolt in 200m (theislandjournal.wordpress.com)
- http://newsandviewsbydjmillerja.wordpress.com/2012/06/28/jamaica-and-gays-are-we-homophobic-or-not/#comment-482 (djmillerja.wordpress.com)
- In Memoriam (petchary.wordpress.com)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Peace-dream-shattered (jamaicaobserver.com)
- Minister reassures Jamaicans after 10 killed in bloody weekend (caribbean360.com)
- Blake shocks Bolt in 100m dash at Jamaican Olympics trials (edition.cnn.com)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Mystery-fumes-dissipate_11848158 (jamaicaobserver.com)
- http://www.jis.gov.jm/ja50/v2/ (Jamaica 50/JIS website)
- http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads-112/31081 (Spectacular Military Tattoo: Jamaica Information Service)
- http://www.caribjournal.com/2012/06/18/haiti-led-caribbean-gdp-growth-last-year-will-again-in-2012-eclac/ (Caribbean Journal)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Jamaica-won-t-leave-Caricom–says-LaRocque_11851491 (jamaicaobserver.com)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/The-simple-truth-about-homosexuality-and-same-sex-marriage_11837769#ixzz1zQHZKyR2 (jamaicaobserver.com)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Homosexuality-and-religion-in-our-politics_11817993 (Mark Wignall column)
- http://newsandviewsbydjmillerja.wordpress.com/2012/06/28/jamaica-and-gays-are-we-homophobic-or-not/ (Dionne Jackson Miller blog post)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/The-big-issues-for-this-week-s-Caricom-summit_11837771 (Rickey Singh on CARICOM summit)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/GSAT-defence–Retired-educators-who-conceptualised-exam-say-test-not-the-problem_11804900 (GSAT defense)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120630/news/news1.html (Jamaica Military Tattoo)
- http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads-107/31098 (Health Tourism remarks, JIS)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120629/lead/lead2.html (Sickening fumes…Jamaica Gleaner)
- Bouterse installs CARICOM youth leaders (kaieteurnewsonline.com)