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)
From the outside, the Petchary family’s yard looks calm. Trees sway gently in the beautiful “Christmas breeze.” Our magnificent guango tree – almost untouched by Hurricane Sandy – stands tall and strong, draped with our purple-flowering vine. The sweet sounds of Sigur Ros (my favorite band – Icelandic post-rock), Caetano Veloso and others float from the windows on sunny afternoons.
But under the surface, conflict stirs. All is not well, and a quiet, daily struggle goes on.
Well, not always so quiet. The crack of our mosquito zapper disturbs the calm November air (how beautiful the weather is at this time of year). And it is not just mosquitoes that are meeting their fate in the metal wires of this hideously-orange made-in-China object badminton racket contraption (We are still living in fear of dengue fever, as we are getting mixed messages from the Ministry of Health as to whether it is actually on the decline, or not. Mosquitoes – not a problem).
No, it’s the bees that are the enemy, attacking us fiercely at the flank. And I know we shouldn’t kill them – I was brought up to believe you should never kill a bee – but we have actually used our weapon of choice against them in the last few days of this ongoing conflict. And it seems to have worked.
It all started with the apple tree. A friend’s mother gave the tree to us when we first moved in to this house, over twenty years ago now. It is rather symbolic of our arrival in Jamaica. It has flourished ever since, its thick green leaves harboring many birds. And then it flowers, and the entire tree comes to life with bees.It hums and vibrates with their presence. I love it.
Then the downside. We feed and nurture our hummingbirds, bananaquits (and in the winter months, our beautiful visiting warblers). The feeder hangs from a branch of the apple tree. Even our beautiful Jamaican Oriole (the “Banana Katie”) visits it regularly, although it’s a little too heavy and the feeder swings precariously. However, once the bees are on the tree, they soon discover another source of delicious sweetness besides the nectar of the tree’s sugar-pink flowers. Soon, both our bird feeders are besieged by bees – a few scouts first, then a growing cluster of furry brown bodies. The birds fly down and are immediately frightened off. Our favorite little Black-Throated Blue Warbler – a gorgeous and friendly little winter visitor – cannot feed.
We sprayed them with water from the hose, but they returned within minutes. We tried knocking them off. We unhooked the feeders and shut them away in an old wardrobe in the yard. The bees flew around in desperate circles, searching for their food source that was suddenly gone. After a few days, we brought the feeders out again. Ah! Back came the bees. We waited for the apple tree to stop flowering – but the bees still remembered that lovely syrupy feeder (they are very smart little creatures) and returned to that spot.
So, we brought out our secret Chinese-made Weapon of Mass Destruction – and used it. I am ashamed and sorry to say that we dealt with the pestiferous bees very effectively. After a brave, determined (and rather stupid) fight-back – yes, I did think bees were smart – they got the message, after a day or two. The bird feeder means instant death. The rearguard action seems to have failed and they seem to have retreated. Our warblers and quits are sipping the syrup that was always intended for them, and can move freely (some of the warblers are so tame that one actually sat down by my feet on the ground the other day and looked up at me).
I am not proud of the extreme force we used in battling the bees. It is a bit like the Israelis hitting back at rockets from Gaza; the firepower is disproportionate. But we were defending the birds’ territory. Sadly, there was some collateral damage; but such is the nature of war.
It doesn’t end there. We have also been fighting off an invasion of grackles. What are grackles, you may ask? The Greater Antillean Grackle, to be precise. Its name – and its Jamaican nickname, “Cling Cling“ - suggests that it makes a lot of noise. And so it does. The grackle forces, unlike the disciplined army of bees – are a bit like those “barbarian” armies depicted in films like “Braveheart“ - ragged, wild, and extremely noisy. If the grackles wore kilts, they would throw them over their heads and expose themselves. Yes, you remember that movie. Blue faces and all that.
Such is the fighting spirit of the grackles. Every day the hordes have descended, screeching, piping, croaking. They crouch on the mango tree branches. They flap their wings, throw their heads back and emit horrible, ear-piercing sounds. They push our doves off the water bowl in the front yard, and splash, making loud clucking noises. When I clap my hands at them, they cluck even louder, fly a short distance away and watch me. When I go back in the house, they start sneaking back. They are not only hoodlums, they are crafty hoodlums.
Now (again, I am keeping my fingers crossed) the grackles may be in retreat. But only because all the red berries on our palm trees are finished. Gradually, our mockingbirds (nightingales) and doves are starting to sing and coo, and even the small birds can bathe in peace.
I mentioned that we feed the birds. We give them bird seed. This suddenly created another problem: a small squadron of mice arrived. Not rats (thank God). Our dogs love chasing them, so we have some fierce warriors on our side. I actually find mice rather cute, but my husband detests them. A line of mouse traps surrounds the bird table. One evening, I heard a loud snap. A mouse had just lost its head. my husband informed me (too much information, for me). Yes, war is gory, and messy.
So, it seems as if we are slowly winning the campaign. We have had to fight off several attacks from various small creatures on different fronts. We are just trying to restore our yard to its customary harmony, you understand. We are a bit like the United Nations peace-keepers, without the pale blue helmets – but unlike them, we have actually been forced to fire shots.
There is a de-escalation of the conflict, now. Almost a ceasefire. But hostilities could flare up again, at any time.
If this occurs, in the words of the great Mozambican freedom fighter Samora Machel, “A luta continua.”
The struggle continues.
Don’t let their Hitchcockian manner scare you, grackles are just here to roost (victoriaadvocate.com)
Cape May sighting has birders atwitter (dispatch.com)
Gardens: bird feed (guardian.co.uk)
As the month of June closed up shop for another year, and before we forgot to truly celebrate, we decided to recognize our wedding anniversary by getting out of town – just for a couple of days – to a small guest house in White River, which is close to Ocho Rios in St. Ann, on Jamaica’s north coast. The house is snug, encircled with flowers, a soft powder blue like the sky. A forest stands behind, filled with birds. The hosts are kind and the staff gracious, and the food – well, I could devote several blog posts to the meals we ate, but you, my dear readers, would be salivating too much, and that’s not healthy! Or is it?
An account of a very lazy two or three days may not be exactly riveting for the reader, but this is really a hymn of praise to the innkeeper, Ms. Elise Yap, and her brother – known as the Barefoot Chef. I would prefer to call him the Incredible Amazing Gourmet Chef, or something like that – although, in truth, I did not see him wearing footwear of any kind. It is hard work keeping such high standards as these, and the Yaps succeed admirably. The rooms are all tastefully furnished with sturdy, local hand-made furniture that we much admired. The colors are bright and cool – tropical pastel blues, greens and earth colors. The garden is a carefully cultivated riot of green, dotted with pinks, reds and golden yellows.
And, most importantly for a guest house, it feels like home.
We settled comfortably in within minutes, with a warm welcome and a complimentary Ting (Jamaica’s best soft drink made with real grapefruit juice). We stayed in the Cozy Cottage, at the back of the house, which has a private and secluded feel. You can laze in a hammock under the arbor in the daytime. You can sit outside in the evenings with candles burning and listen to the astounding orchestra of tree frogs, backed up by the occasional chorus of cicadas. We also indulged in some football – the Euro 2012 semi-finals – as the house has cable television. Later, we stirred ourselves, still a little stiff from the two-hour drive from Kingston, and walked down to the White River, which is just a couple of minutes away from the house, walking past a lovely spreading guango tree down to the water’s edge.
White River is well named. It has a light, almost silvery quality as it froths over the stones. Even the deeper pools shimmer like polished metal. The rock is bone-white limestone and the tree roots curl at the edges of the water like knuckles. The water is cold – there is nothing more delicious than river water on a humid summer day in Jamaica. We did not bathe there this time, but you can. It was tempting.
Instead, we walked back and moved to the swimming pool for a leisurely afternoon swim. The water was deliciously lukewarm. My nose, of course, instantly burned red – as it always does – with my forehead also emitting a pinkish glow later that evening (not quite bright enough to read by). I retreated (too late, damage already done) to share the shade of an arbor draped with sugar-pink bougainvillea with my husband. This is one of those pools where you don’t need to bake on an expanse of achingly hot concrete, unless you are seriously into tanning; there are shady spots, which we appreciated.
As I said earlier, to write about the tantalizing breakfasts and delectable dinners, cooked by the afore-mentioned Barefoot Chef, would take me a very long time. But just close your eyes and try to imagine cassava pancakes with caramelized banana and walnut topping; lychee cake and the most mouth-melting chocolate cake you can imagine; sweet and sour fish, piles of stir-fried Chinese vegetables, flavors of lemongrass and other fresh herbs and spices; grilled mahi-mahi (which Jamaicans unfortunately call “dolphin,” but it’s not) with feta cheese and watermelon salad; French toast and juicy jerk sausage. And of course (always very important for me) really good coffee. A sustained period of rousing applause for Mr. Yap!
So yes – we were lazy, self-indulgent, deliberately indolent, in fact. I was barely energetic enough to lift up my very interesting and amusing book – a novel called “The Sly Company of People Who Care” by Rahul Bhattacharya (I must write some more book reviews, and soon!) It was an effort to find my camera and try to focus it on the antics of the hummingbirds on the upstairs verandah where we ate. A feeder with syrup hung at each end of the verandah. Two Mangos – no, not a fruit, the Jamaican Mango is actually a hummingbird – had taken it upon themselves to patrol the verandah from dawn to dusk, doing their best to prevent the slender and glossy Red-Billed Streamertail (Jamaica’s national bird, the “Doctor Bird”) from taking even the tiniest sip from the feeder. The Doctor Birds always give themselves away with the whirr of their wings, so find it hard to sneak up incognito. The Mangos position themselves one at each end of the verandah – one on the telephone wire, the other on the top of a tree of suitable height – and stand guard, it appears all day long. The only thing that cramps their style somewhat is when human beings like us appear on the verandah to chat or feed ourselves. Jamaica’s national bird hardly gets a look in. Having said that, the Mango is an appealing bird – stockier, darker, but equally graceful. When the light catches its feathers, it shimmers with dull gold and magenta and purple, like an old piece of jewelry that needs to be taken out of its velvet box to be appreciated.
Of course, there are more birds, and a place full of birds is bound to score high marks with me. Tall trees with vines hanging like strings from their branches, with untidy bunches of wild orchids festooning their trunks, stand like a regiment behind the house. It is marvelous to see a group of parrots, their crooked silhouettes swinging on the topmost branches against the pale early morning sky , and to hear them argue with each other in crochety old man’s voices. Or to watch the wayward flight of a Jamaican Crow, cawing loudly as he flies, as he tries to avoid the persistent attacks of a small mockingbird, swerving like a mini bus that is being steered badly, but never managing to shake off the much smaller bird.
There are also flowers, in abundance, pouring over arches, dipping over walls, standing like glorious colored sentinels in the front garden of not only The Blue House, but those of its neighbors. The neighbors are, indeed, engaged in the orchid wars. One house is almost hidden behind a stand of dark purple, white, burnt orange, butter yellow, and startling pink orchids. Orchids stand like soldiers along both sides of the path leading up to the front door of another neighbors. It is a war of flowers.
The Blue House is a home, and it is also a place of intense magic. A clap of thunder cracks the sky; the sun sails behind paper thin clouds; the river flashes across the stones; the tree tops soar. It is not Frida Kahlo’s Blue House, but it could also inspire art. If I had a week to spend there, I would be able to write, and write. No distractions, just to focus on the real things.
Thank you. And do visit there soon. Soon, you hear!
- Earth Day Plus One: Postscript from the Garden (petchary.wordpress.com)
- Jamaica, She is Royal (theislandjournal.wordpress.com)
- Jamaica’s Rich Biodiversity Faces Multiple Threats: International Day for Biological Diversity (petchary.wordpress.com)
- A Taste of Jamaica: A Recipe for Mango Smoothie (trifter.com)
Yes, summer is definitely here. Gusty winds, the sun burning grass, and the birds are frequent visitors to our bird bath. And a huge cloud of Saharan dust blowing across the Atlantic from West Africa… The Petchary – my namesake, and a summer visitor – is snapping at the other birds on the telephone wire. And my weekly news review nearly got blown away with the wind and sun and dust.
LAST WEEK, AS ANTICIPATED, WAS LARGELY A MONEY WEEK. THE BUDGET, THE DETAILS OF WHICH FINANCE MINISTER PETER PHILLIPS BATTLED THROUGH LAST TUESDAY, DOMINATED THE NEWS. THE JAMAICAN PUBLIC HAD BARELY DIGESTED THE HUNDREDS OF BILLIONS BEFORE THE REACTIONS STARTED COMING IN, DRIP BY DRIP. THIS WEEK, ONE CAN EXPECT A FLOOD OF RECRIMINATIONS, COMMENTARY FROM FINANCIAL ANALYSTS, QUERIES AND COMPLAINTS. TODAY’S OBSERVER, FOR EXAMPLE, INCLUDES A FRONT-PAGE EDITORIAL ON WHAT IT SEES AS A SEVERE IMPACT ON THE ALREADY AILING TOURISM SECTOR, HEADLINED, “THE TOURISM GOOSE IS COOKED.” THE GOOSE THAT LAID THE GOLDEN EGG, THAT IS. I GUESS THE GOLDEN EGG HAS BEEN SCRAMBLED, TOO.
But let’s start with sports, for a change. And it’s all been a struggle, too. Yesterday, Panama beat the Jamaican “Reggae Boyz” (1-0) at the National Stadium in what was supposed to be a good preparation match for World Cup qualifiers (I’m talking football/soccer, of course). It was not so much the scoreline, but the lackluster effort of the Jamaican players that disappointed the fans, who uncharitably booed their performance, at the end of the game. And just as the Finance Minister exhausted himself during his budget presentation, our superstar sprinter Usain Bolt struggled hard to win a race with a slower-than-usual speed at the Golden Spike athletics meet in Ostrava, Czech Republic. He is very busy with all kinds of marketing and promotions and has a new music track (his husky voice repeats, “I need to go faster.”) Poor Mr. Bolt is under serious pressure. And now, for those who follow cricket, the West Indies team was “crushed” during their tour of England, losing the Test series. All pretty woeful. But one brushes the Sahara dust off oneself and tries again, eh? Better luck next time, I’m sure.
Back to the Budget (and don’t ask me why the font has changed – I know, it’s annoying but I can’t seem to fix it). I felt a certain sympathy for Minister Phillips, who did not sound as if he was enjoying himself as he presented his first Budget as Finance Minister. I could see him mentally mopping his brow. The presentation actually offered us some of the “bitter medicine” that former Prime Minister Andrew Holness had (rather unwisely for him) foretold during the election campaign. We, the long-suffering and over-taxed Jamaican public, did not enjoy listening to it, either. The two items that jumped out at me with alarm bells ringing furiously were the imposition of General Consumption Tax on books, and the heavy taxation of the tourism industry. Yes, we know that Minister Phillips has to plug the gap – which is now 19 billion Jamaican Dollars within the 612 billion. Eighty per cent of the budget will go to debt payments and public sector salaries, by the way.
What it boils down to, Dr. Phillips suggests (and I believe he is right) is that, although it would be lovely to go for the stimulus approach, as Eurozone leaders are now leaning towards, little Jamaica just can’t afford it. Dr. Phillips called a stimulus package a “mirage” that would not quench our thirst. Our debt burden (at 128 per cent of GDP) is one of the highest in the world, and is crippling us. Economist Wilberne Persaud called the debt crisis a “modern-day tragedy” last week. We have no choice but to “bang our bellies” and tighten our belts. Sacrifices will have to be made – but no one wants to make sacrifices. Many of us – in particular the hard-pressed “middle class,” or what is left of it – have already sacrificed so much. Ms. Maxine Walters eloquently pointed this out in a Letter to the Editor, bemoaning the plight of the “educated poor.” The less educated poor, of course, will continue to get poorer (despite the Prime Minister’s professed love for them) – and the rich will get richer (especially those who avoid paying their taxes).
Keith Collister, the Observer’s financial analyst, had two very useful articles last week. In one, he calls the tax package in the budget “very severe.” In the other, he points to several “signs of distress” in the local and regional tourism sector. The Observer (owned by tourism mogul Gordon “Butch” Stewart) has not minced its words on the subject. I can’t help but agree. I thought tourism was our precious foreign exchange earner?
As for the tax on books, a Facebook correspondent reminded me this morning that Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller herself vehemently opposed such an imposition, just two years ago in Parliament. Ms. Simpson Miller, then the Opposition Leader, called a proposed tax on books a “huge mistake.” This is recorded in Hansard, if you don’t believe me. But then, haven’t we come to expect such changes of heart? (I am being kind; others might call it hypocrisy). Anyway, we are choking down that bitter medicine now. And we still have the IMF to deal with. Five months after the triumphant General Election, things are starting to look a little wobbly, a little off-key.
My friend and a great columnist, Jean Lowrie-Chin, has as usual sought to put a positive spin on things today. What’s the point of hand-wringing? We just have to deal with it. Jean’s column last week was equally hard-hitting in that “gentle but firm” style of hers, which I greatly admire. She touched on another tricky topic: the unedifying and downright depressing saga of the lotto scammers. Last week, to our great shame, some local residents (their faces hidden from the camera) expressed support for the scammers (many of whom have been rounded up in recent weeks) and went so far as to say that cheating elderly, lonely and often helpless Americans out of their life-savings was “pay back” for slavery. Another shameful incident that the television stations highlighted last week: demonstrations by parents and students outside a primary school, where a teacher had been arrested on suspicion of sexually molesting a twelve-year-old student (who is now doubly traumatized by the school community’s response). Nothing good is going to come out of any of this – but I hope, at least, that we can move on and do better next time. Ignorance is a terrible thing.
Unhappy anniversaries: There were two anniversaries last week which were dealt with, if somewhat superficially, in the local media. It was as if the budget news was bad enough, and we couldn’t take the reminders of two painful episodes that took place in May, all in the same week. On May 22, 2009 seven girls who were wards of the State died in a fire at the Armadale child facility in St. Ann. The painful details still burn in our heads – the burnt mattresses, the scorched windows, the anxious relatives clustered at the gate in the night. As youth activist Jaevion Nelson noted in his excellent op-ed piece in the Gleaner last week, the Government’s initial response was appropriate, but in general the issue of child protection remains sorely neglected. Jamaicans for Justice made a number of recommendations to the Government; a Commission of Enquiry followed the fire and highlighted many severe deficiencies in the system – but I saw JFJ’s Susan Goffe on television recently asking for at least fire extinguishers to be placed in children’s homes. Are we serious?
We also remembered, with a sense of dread as well as deep sadness, what is now euphemistically called the “incursion” by the police and military into Tivoli Gardens on May 23, 2010. Tivoli was then the West Kingston stronghold of Christopher “Dudus” Coke, the don who was called by residents “Prezi.” They were searching for the chubby-faced Coke, who was led away in handcuffs by Drug Enforcement Administration agents not long afterwards. Meanwhile, 73 residents of Tivoli Gardens (the official number), mostly young men, were dead. An agonizing television report last week recalled the grief of a mother whose son went missing during the attack; she discovered that he had been lying in the street, grievously wounded, for six hours. He died as she eventually got him to the hospital. Human rights activist Yvonne McCalla Sobers noted in the Gleaner last weekend that there has simply been no closure. The Public Defender’s report on the issue has not yet materialized. The Director of Public Prosecutions is not ready to rule on the shocking death of accountant Keith Clarke, whose house was attacked by the military in the middle of the night and who died in a hail of bullets. There will be no Commission of Enquiry, which Amnesty International has been calling for. Questions and more questions remain unanswered, piling on top of each other.
Meanwhile in New York, the long-drawn-out drama of Mr. Coke’s sentencing hearing created some dramatic headlines, with witnesses giving what appeared to be damning, and certainly detailed evidence. There was excellent reporting from the Gleaner’s Fern Whyte (also on Power 106 FM) and from CVM Television’s Andrew Cannon – who is on the ball, as usual. Congratulations to my former colleague, Fern! Meanwhile, Mr. Coke (and the rest of us wait until June 8 for the final episode to unfold in court.
Not the cheeriest of weeks, I suppose… And the Jamaica Observer continues its unrelenting anti-gay stance – it seems to be a mouthpiece for the fundamentalists, such as Reverend Peter Garth. Today they have wheeled out a “reformed” gay American, imported by Reverend Garth & Co. Columnist Betty Ann Blaine (the one who declared Jamaicans to be “Christians, not homophobes”) fights a strong and passionate rearguard action. Thank God (I have probably blasphemed here) for columnist Tamara Scott-Williams, who pointed out in the Sunday Observer that the so-called “Gay Manifesto” that Reverend Garth and others arm themselves with is in fact a satire.
But hey… There is a glimmer of light somewhere, isn’t there? The TeenAge section of the Jamaica Observer continues to keep its standards up, and I especially like the Teen History feature for Jamaica 50 (don’t get me started on that topic, though; I would still like to know what will actually be happening at our Independence celebrations this year, but cannot penetrate Mr. Robert Bryan’s slick marketing jargon. Don’t use the word “legacy” Mr. Bryan – oh, what was the legacy of the Cricket World Cup, again?) Can someone please tell me what the Jamaica 50 celebrations will consist of?
I was delighted that the wonderful charity Food for the Poor provided a new home for the tragic little rural family in Stepney, St. Ann, who were living in a ruin. Congratulations, too, to the Geology Department of the University of the West Indies, which celebrated its fiftieth anniversary last week. Appropriately enough, the original Professor of Geology unveiled a huge boulder (what type of rock was not specified) on the campus grounds. I’ve always been fascinated by those people who go around with a small hammer, tapping on rock faces. I rather think it must be fun to be a scientist.
Talking of science and so on, may I commend the Caribbean Maritime Institute for their forward thinking. They are engaged in a project to turn seawater into drinking water,using clean energy. Big ups to the CMI, as well as to the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and the local Solar and Fire Protection Services Limited, who are also partnering with it on an excellent project that trains inner-city students to make LED lights. Marvelous!
Thanks also to the World Bank’s Giorgio Valantini. He believes in young people, and asserts that “an engaged, employed youth” with IT expertise can move Jamaica forward. Jamaica, do we believe in our youth? As I asked in an earlier post, are we listening to them?
Mr. Omar Robinson is not only charming and hospitable, but also a true professional who fully deserves the award of Hotelier of the Year from the Jamaica Hotel & Tourist Association. Congratulations! We met him quite a few years ago at a Sandals/Beaches resort in Negril. He is now General Manager of the beautiful Round Hill resort in Montego Bay. They are lucky to have him!
And the Jamaica Cancer Society’s Relay for Life celebrates ten years this year. The event will take place on June 9-10 (overnight, that is) at the Police Officers Club on Hope Road, Kingston. Check for enrollment details at http://www.jamaicacancersociety.org/relayforlife.htm. And you can also donate online.
I am proud of the efforts of the Jamaican diaspora to support Jamaicans at home. Last week, Children of Jamaica Outreach Inc (COJO), a U.S.-based organization headed by Gary Williams, presented scholarships to three wards of state who had no funds to pursue further education after leaving state homes. Grace Kennedy Group CEO Don Wehby had some important things to say about the plight of our children at the ceremony, too. Well done and thank you, COJO!
Last but not least… The past week or so has been a wonderful one for culture! You will read more from me on this, but I would like to congratulate rising poetry star Ann-Margaret Lim on the launch of her first volume, “The Festival of Wild Orchid” (available at all good Kingston bookstores, Bookophilia, Bookland etc). It was good also to have the Calabash International Literary Festival back under the theme Jubilation! 50 - a happy reunion in hot and humid Treasure Beach, St. Elizabeth. I ventured to the Open Mic for the first time, and the audience were kind to me! On the same weekend were two other great events: Performances by the Dance Theater of Harlem organized by the U.S. Embassy’s Public Affairs Section (so appreciated by Jamaican “culture vultures” who stayed in town specially); and yesterday’s Festival of the Dancing Child, organized by the effervescent, dedicated dancer Kofi Walker and attended by hundreds of eager participants. Kofi, your dedication and love knows no bounds!
The arts uplift, when the news does not!
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/videos/video.php?id=433 Usain Bolt runs a music track
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120526/sports/sports1.html ”I just never got going”
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120525/lead/lead91.html Budget in brief
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120525/business/business8.html Jamaica’s debt crisis a modern-day tragedy
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Let-s-make-the-best-of-it: Jean Lowrie-Chin
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/letters/Equity-lacking-in-Jamaica_11525491: Letter from Maxine Walters
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120527/lead/lead6.html: Lotto scam: A Tale of Glamor, Death and a Free Ticket to a U.S. Jail
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120522/cleisure/cleisure5.html: Armadale Still Burning: Jaevion Nelson
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120520/letters/letters2.html: Tivoli Gardens – No Closure After Two Years: Yvonne McCalla Sobers
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120523/lead/lead9.html: Amnesty International calls for Tivoli Incursion Probe
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120523/lead/lead1.html: Deadly “Dudus” tales
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120524/lead/lead1.html: ”Dudus” eyes June 8
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Gay-Manifesto-the-rantings-and-ravings-of-a-revolutionary_11543999: Tamara Scott-Williams column
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120523/lead/lead4.html: COJO presents scholarships to three wards of state
Sunday Simmer (petchary.wordpress.com)
Sunday Stunner – Early Edition (petchary.wordpress.com)
Gold, Silver and Bronze (petchary.wordpress.com)
Beautiful tribute from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology which does wonderful work round the world.
- Searching For A Ghost Bird (npr.org)
- eBird: Engaging Birders in Science and Conservation (plosbiology.org)
- 12 Ideas for Birdy Gifts That Give Back, From $2 (birds.cornell.edu)
I promised myself (and you, my dear, patient readers) at least one blog post on Brazil, after an afternoon of browsing through my somewhat inadequate but much-loved and much-played collection of Brazilian music. But then, what happened? The days on this often beautiful, often crazy island seem shorter, the hours wander along, and it’s nearly Christmas.
Jamaica is often beautiful because this is, simply, the best time of the year. The mornings are sometimes fresh and bright, sometimes grey and dreaming, with rain tapping quietly to the ground from the awnings on our windows. The afternoons are slow and balmy, the warm sunlight stroking the lawn and the cluster of orchids under the lignum vitae tree (without burning them, as the sun would in the summer). Our yard is constantly fluttering with birds – small, bright and busy “winter visitors” – the Black-Throated Blue Warbler, the Prairie Warbler, the American Redstart. In the high rainclouds today a John Crow (in regular parlance, a Turkey Vulture) made slow circles on gusts of air. I could see the sunlight through the tips of his wings.
The crazy part is that it’s election time in Jamaica. At least, we are hovering on the edge of an announcement of an election date. The Jamaican version of the Westminster system (or “Westminister” system as it is often called) inherited from our colonial masters involves, among other things, a kind of guessing game as to the actual date of the election. And not only when the date will be, but when it will be announced. And not only when, but where the announcement will be made. And not only where, but how. And if it is announced this weekend, can we have an election by the end of the year? And if not, when?
This charade has been going on for the past few weeks, with ever-heightening anticipation as to when our new, youthful Prime Minister is going to “call it.” Well, it is now clear that THE DATE will be announced tomorrow evening in the town of Mandeville, before a leaping, dancing, flag waving, green T shirt-wearing, shouting, cursing, beer-drinking, ganja-smoking and highly emotional cast of thousands – or as many as the Prime Minister’s party can afford to bus into the town. The God-fearing inhabitants of Mandeville might as well pack up and migrate to Kingston for the day, and let the wild ones take over.
And political followers are indeed wild, and to be given a wide berth. Since last year’s World Cup, they have also discovered, most unfortunately, the power of the dreaded vuvuzela – in the correct color of course, green or orange.
Tonight, the opposing team (or “gang” as one of the newspapers famously terms them) is holding a mass rally in central Kingston, which involves roads being closed, the attendant and obligatory noise factor, garbage and confusion all round. All sensible Kingstonians stayed home tonight – but the Orange Team is out there, carrying on in exactly the same way as the Green Team (see previous paragraph, above) only with a different cast of characters parading on stage, waving, stamping their feet, and gyrating to carefully-selected, adrenalin-pumping bursts of music.
Yes, the politicians do a lot of dancing. In fact, one team member derided his/her counterpart in the opposing team for not being able to dance. Dancing is an important qualification for a politician, on an island choking with debt, reeling with joblessness and continually struggling with endemic crime, urban blight and rural under-development.
Of course, the local media love all of this. We have been bombarded with detailed accounts of the various constituencies; so-called “political analysts” are waylaid by journalists in hallways and at public functions, so as to grace us with their pearls of wisdom; we are overwhelmed with meaningless sound bytes; and the newspapers are filled with pompous, often politically biased and occasionally “balanced” opinion columns and editorials on every aspect of the campaign. Not to mention the endless opinion polls, which offer half a dozen conflicting pictures of what the average Jamaican really thinks, and how he/she is going to vote. The coverage I find most interesting and engaging is simply the photographs: every picture tells a story, they say, and Jamaica has some great photo-journalists. Oh, and of course the cartoons, which bite so hard they make me laugh out loud in the office some mornings.
It’s not often that the Petchary is entirely sympathetic with the police, but in times like these one can’t help but feel sorry for them. They put out stern warnings through the media that “no part of anyone’s body should protrude from the side of a bus,” but almost every body part imaginable is thrust through the windows of the buses careening along every highway and byway, filled with the aforementioned flag-waving, blaring mob. The police insist that they will enforce the law, but a kind of madness takes over.
And then the Prime Minister surprised us, this evening, by making a national broadcast on “issues of national importance.” What – we pondered, our political antennae twitching furiously? The announcement of THE DATE? But no. After a quick burst of the usual stirring, triumphant music that always precedes such broadcasts, the PM’s round, cheerful face appeared on the screen talking about transparency and a somewhat murky scandal that has been plaguing his election campaign. No need to go into details, but it involves the Chinese, and a lot of bulldozers and earth-moving equipment, and some government offices that look as if they jumped from the pages of Architectural Digest, and some swiftly penned resignation letters.
So that was that, and we move on to the momentous Sunday. Next week, Jamaica will remain beautiful in its winter colors – but it will become a great deal crazier. The birds will sip water from our bowls, and flit among the bushes, their wings gold and blue and green; and the peaceful Blue Mountains (not so much blue but burnt sienna and emerald and tan-colored) will gaze down on the city, bursting with blaring music and a heady mix of conflict and confusion, excitement and rumor and frustrated ambitions.
There was a film some years back called “Crazy-Beautiful,” with the excellent Kirsten Dunst as a wayward teen in love with the dreamy-eyed Jay Hernandez. It all ended happily ever after, after some romping in bed, lots of tears, and lots of smiling through tears.
But I wonder when Jamaica will emerge from its adolescent years into adulthood, and be just beautiful, without the crazy.
The balmy, sweet weather that Bob Marleysang about (which song, Marleyites?) is here in Kingston, and to celebrate the Petchary’s husband had a large branch chopped off our splendid guango tree this week. It will take a while, but he will be forgiven. At least it’s not the seething hot time of the year when sunlight hurts.
We need some sweetness, as the news grows more disturbing every day. Between riots/civil war in “the cradle of the Arab world,” a presidential hopeful who prides himself on his ignorance, protesters getting hauled off by men in black…and on the island of Jamaica the bitching and bickering gets louder every day as we all teeter on the edge of a general election. And on the environmental front things are, inevitably, grim and grimmer. To quote the chair of the International Union for Conservation of Nature‘s (IUCN) Species Survival Commission, the “animal walking around with a gold horn” is walking around no more. The IUCN has declared the Western Black Rhinoceros officially extinct. As if that’s not depressing enough, the Northern White Rhino may also be extinct, it adds. And the Javanand Sumatran Rhinos are also on the brink.
And why did the rhino have a gold horn, one asks? Because ignorant human beings (largely the Chinese and Vietnamese and yes I am pointing fingers, it’s well-known) rhino horn is considered to have wonderful medicinal properties. And oh (of course), it’s an aphrodisiac! And therefore much sought after. So a magnificent animal is killed by poachers just so that a Chinese/Vietnamese man (or woman, perhaps) can have a more exciting time in the bedroom. It’s a sad world, isn’t it. The Chinese have, to their credit, since condemned the use of rhino horn and taken it out of the book of Chinese medicine. But generations of believers in the stuff, made of the same substance that makes hair and nails (keratin), will go on believing, and poachers will go on poaching. Hence the demise of the Western Black Rhinoceros.
And hey, in South Africa they are killing rhinos like there’s no tomorrow – 341 so far this year, to be precise – to spice up those Vietnamese love lives. This is the worst year ever for sawing off rhinos’ horns and leaving them to bleed to death. Which is what they do, by the way. Back in Jamaica, the illustrious and always-focused Environmental Foundation of Jamaica held its annual lecture recently, a great success. The topic? ”On the Brink of Extinction: Saving Jamaica’s Vanishing Species.” Dr. Byron Wilson, a Senior Lecturer at the University of the West Indies‘ Department of Life Sciences, covered such areas as “recent and current threats from the human species” – yes, that most dangerous of all. Other dangers include climate change, “too many people and too little land,” invasive species, environmental pollution, and the list goes on. It’s a wonder anything manages to survive. Lord knows Jamaicanhumans themselves are not doing too well at it.
Our one and only native land mammal, the Jamaican Hutia(Coney) is endangered, along with twelve bird species. But amphibians and reptiles are in an especially precarious position – indeed there is a “global amphibian crisis,” with one third of the world’s amphibians threatened with extinction. The lecture in booklet form is available online, and if you would like a copy I will gladly email it to you, or you can find it on their website. It is gloomy (we can’t possibly reclaim our turtle population, it seems – all we can do is protect the few nesting beaches remaining on the island) – but it’s a must-read. So where do we go from here, or is it downhill? Here I am, trying to end on an optimistic note… The South Africans seem to think that legalizing the rhino horn trade might help. This seems, at this stage of the game, a risky strategy. What can work, though, is captive breeding. This is actually happening with the Jamaican Iguana now and some have been reintroduced in the wild, recently.
On the other side of the earth, the Przewalski’s Horse – such a beautiful creature, which was once extinct in the wild like our departed rhino, has been bred in captivity, and reintroduced onto the windswept plains of Mongolia, its native habitat, recently.
A huge round of applause for the Chinese, there!
Meanwhile, my dear Jamaicans, let’s start caring about the small, sometimes slimy and not particularly beautiful amphibians and reptiles that we share this small island with. Instead of taking a stick to them, let’s live and let live.
I love my ground lizards, rummaging around in the leaves on a hot day. They are grouchy sometimes… but cool. And they are playing their part.
- Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: Medical myth is dooming the rhino to extinction (independent.co.uk)
- Chinese Medicine Driving Rhinos to Extinction (livescience.com)
- On Wikipedia, the Western Black Rhino Moves from ‘Is’ to ‘Was’ (dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com)
- http://www.efj.org.jm/ Environmental Foundation of Jamaica
- http://www.iucn.org/ International Union for the Conservation of Nature
This helped me to reflect on Jamaica’s sad history, and the sacrifices of our ancestors. It has been in my mind all day, above the platitudes of the politicians and the post-colonial pomp of the National Awards Ceremony at King’s House – this beautiful, bright morning.
The colonel’s face turns to mist, the tasselled-horn trembles in his hand
before he raises it to his lips and hears a goat’s faint wail -
thin like straw grass he blew as a child at the foot of the Blue Mountain.
They will come soon, the old people, to the village centre, with no memories,
mist in their eyes, their mouths parched at the once-a-month ceremonial meeting.
This is how culture dies, the colonel sighs, watching as smoke goes through the leaves,
joining the horn’s call, all one echo; nothing from Cudjoe, or Queen Nanny,
neither long-head Accompong; the smoke is just smoke,
but a flight of blackbirds burst from the treetops.
He lowers the ranking ram’s horn, and says, At least some still runaway.
With permission from the author.
- Blue Mountains’ Women Coffee Farmers Turn to Weaving (repeatingislands.com)
- Jamaica to Restore Marcus Garvey’s Childhood Home (repeatingislands.com)
- Peepal Tree Press Authors predominate in Guyana Literary Awards (caribbeanbookblog.wordpress.com)
September is here, and the days in Kingston, Jamaica are hot and breezy. Thunder mumbles in the distance, but seems to move off somewhere else after voicing a muffled complaint. And there is the usual frenzied, last-minute rush for school books, and uniforms, and all the other paraphernalia in the stores, and the agonizing over the cost of it all, and the underlying stress of the poor students – whose summer has just fallen around them in little pieces. The last small remnants of the summer are gone, and it is all downhill now until Christmas.
So, come tomorrow morning, the roads will be clogged with the SUVs of the upper classes and the small cars and down-at-heel taxi cabs of the lesser classes, all brimming with anxious, scowling, crying, shouting, nervous children. In Jamaica, “back to school” is a big production, presaged at least two weeks ahead with endless articles in the Sunday papers about the state of education in Jamaica; ads in all the media for the best deals in must-have school bags; messages from the Jamaica Teachers Association, the National Parent Teachers Association, and various other stakeholders. This culminates in the Message from the Education Minister, broadcast at least twice on television, in which he tells us all how well prepared his Ministry is, at the same time exhorting parents/teachers/students to be co-operative, well-behaved and hard-working at all times.
Then, within a few weeks, the whole thing turns into a weary, soulless routine, with reports of students attacking teachers, teachers attacking students, and students attacking each other gradually floating to the surface. The students ride their carriages to school with a look of resignation on their faces; and wander home as if they never want to get there, swinging bags, laughing raucously, constantly distracted. More of the same.
It’s the younger ones I feel sorry for, tottering down the road (often unaccompanied), leaning forward to ease the burden of their heavy backpack, eyes on the ground. The bags are often too heavy for the small ones, causing them major back problems when they get older. It’s a kind of obsession. Why do they have to carry so many books every day? Is it some kind of torture invented specially for primary school kids – to see how much they can bear? And bear it they do.
So, a bunch of my fellow-bloggers have been waxing lyrical and wallowing in nostalgia over summers past, that will never be recaptured. But I think summer is quite over-rated. These are my reasons why:
- For a start, in Jamaica at least, it’s just too hot. If I decide to do something energetic like sweeping the yard (something I actually enjoy doing), the sweat pours from my brow so copiously that I find I am sweeping up my own huge drops of perspiration. The rest of the time, I sit as close to the fan as possible without getting my hair caught in it.
- There are nothing but re-runs on television. I hate re-runs. Even Bill Maher is on vacation (how dare he!)
- The English Premier League is also on a summer break, resulting in dreary weekends without football. But thank God it’s back (see my previous blog post)!
- All my favorite birds in the yard pack their bags for the summer and go up north, leaving behind the regulars, who go very quiet, storing their energy. Can’t blame them.
- I never seem to achieve that summer getaway that I am hoping for. Everyone else does, but my vacation always seems to be postponed to some other time of year.
- It seems just as hot in the country as it is in town, so going off to the seaside just results in you getting equally frazzled/frizzled.
- We have a bunch of hurricanes/tropical storms to look forward to in September, as they potter across from the west coast of Africa, inexorably into the Caribbean. Oh, that’s this month, isn’t it? Just rounding off the summer nicely.
So, I am not shedding any tears for summer’s demise. In England, my favorite time of year was always the autumn – a time for slipping on rain-soaked leaves underfoot, for rediscovering that sweater you loved wearing last year, and will wear again, for the warm, earthy colors of dahlias and chrysanthemums.
- Technology and the Opportunity for Growth – Jamaica Observer (nearshorejamaica.wordpress.com)
- Goodbye Summer! Welcome Fall! (minerva5.wordpress.com)
- Exploring The Tropical Island of Jamaica: A Unit Study For Homeschool Use (brighthub.com)
- Why I Teach (joneekhoff.wordpress.com)
- Jamaica! (journey4mj.wordpress.com)