BACKGROUND NOTE: Ja Blog Day 2013 commemorates the third anniversary of the Tivoli Gardens Massacre, when Jamaican security forces invaded the community in west Kingston in search of an alleged drug trafficker and “don” Christopher “Dudus” Coke. A huge gun battle with gangsters defending the area allegedly took place. The police found just a few illegal guns – six in total, I believe – after it was over. On May 1, 2013, the Public Defender tabled his long-awaited interim (yes, interim) report on the Tivoli Gardens “incursion” in the House of Representatives. He is not sure exactly how many Jamaicans died on May 23, 2010 but records at least 76 civilian deaths (four are still missing, presumed dead) and one member of the Jamaica Defence Force killed. The Public Defender is investigating 44 complaints of extra-judicial killings (unjustifiable homicide) in Tivoli on that day. There are literally thousands of complaints of injury, malicious damage to property, theft and other abuses; and there are many ballistics reports outstanding from the security forces that have not yet been supplied to the Public Defender – who has faced many challenges in conducting his investigation. Mr. Earl Witter in his report describes the event as a “siege” (residents barricaded the entrances to the neighborhood). You may find a link to the complete report at http://www.jis.gov.jm/docs/Tivoli-Report.pdf. The government has now announced that it will hold an official Commission of Enquiry into Tivoli; we wait to hear the terms of reference, in the next two weeks.
My thoughts on the issue of police and security force abuses – the topic that Jamaican bloggers are focused on today – are below.
Johnny Was. The first Bob Marley album I bought was “Rastaman Vibration.” The songs are not as often played as some of his more commercial albums. But “Johnny Was” always touched me, more deeply than the sentimental “No Woman No Cry.” The repetition of the line “Johnny was a good man,” over and over, echoes in my mind every time I see a woman on television, grieving publicly and painfully over the death of her young son. Her shoulders collapse; her body sags like a punch-drunk boxer; she gasps for breath, tumbles backwards onto the greasy pavement where her child lay bleeding, before being thrown into the back of a police pick-up truck to be transported to hospital. Neighbors and family members hurry to lift the woman up, support her weight and control her flailing arms. They wipe her face, distorted, wet with tears and dirt and the sweat of her grieving.
To the woman who cries in the song, Johnny “never did a thing wrong.” He was, simply, her child. That is how mothers are. I want to say this: Every man, woman and child cut down in an alleged shootout with the police has a mother, a father, a family, a friend. They are, and should not be, defined as “wanted men” with street names. But this is how the dispassionate police press releases describe them – in a specific format repeated generally, word for word, by the media – name/street name, age, and if possible, one or two crimes or murders that they may or may not have committed. I suspect they have a template in their computer with blank spaces for the names and ages and the type of gun found. (And almost always, a gun is found on the dead person; but one thing I have noticed is that when the police kill two or three at a time, they don’t find two or three guns. That means that, according to their own accounts, they have killed at least one unarmed citizen.)
But we, the Jamaican public, should see them differently. Those killed by the police are not alien creatures, living in their own world somewhere. They are a young man hanging out at a small cookshop, by the side of the road, holding a Dragon Stout between two fingers; they are a woman trying to make a life in a poor country town, with several children and no job; they are three family members, one a fireman, the other a “pillar of the church,” about to start a small business; they are a boisterous schoolgirl, who loves boys too much and loves to dance but wants to do well in high school; they are 13-year-old Janice Allen, shot dead at her gate in Trench Town, Kingston, on April 18, 2000. A policeman was charged with her murder, but was freed in 2004 after the Supreme Court directed the jury to bring a verdict of not guilty. Her mother, Millicent Forbes (“Miss Jenny”), died ten years later after fighting determinedly to get justice for her child. With the death of Miss Jenny – who, in Bob Marley’s words again, “never gave up the fight,” - the case was closed forever. Janice would be 26 now, perhaps with a husband and children of her own.
They are fathers, sons, mothers, daughters, sisters, brothers, uncles, aunts, friends, co-workers, neighbors, husbands, wives, lovers, baby mothers, baby fathers. Their brutal deaths leave behind a trail of grief and bitterness that is growing so long and so wide that you can see it covering the island, twisting and turning in all directions; like the termite trails on our old tree in the back yard.
By the way, if you want a completely different take on “Johnny Was,” an Irish punk band called Stiff Little Fingers produced a very loud, passionate rock version of the song. The mood is completely different; it is defiant and angry. The band’s version of the song appeared in 1979, not long after a highly troubled period in Northern Ireland’s history had begun.
But then, maybe that is the mood Jamaicans need to be in. Dry your tears. Stop your wailing. Get angry. And most of all, cry for justice.
Woman hold her head and cry,
As her son had been shot down in the street and died
Just because of the system.
The Petchary is dipping back into Trench Town - just to tell you a bit more about the Trench Town Reading Centre. Ah, you can now find them on Twitter at TrenchTownRC. (I am not sure why Jamaicans are wary of Twitter...the Petchary loves pottering through tweets, retweeting and finding little nuggets of information and fascinating articles. One can skip through the trivial, occasionally profane comments between individuals...
It’s hard to know where to start, on this humid weekend in Kingston town. Heavy rains are forecast this week. I will be up in the Blue Mountains and was hoping for fine weather, with the hurricane season now, and thankfully, in decline… But the light is low, and the air heavy – reflecting, perhaps, the sense of gloom and discouragement in this week’s media.
So let’s deal with that. “Jamaica on the Brink!” is the headline for an opinion piece by Jamaican sociologist Don Robotham, who departed these shores for New York University some ten years ago or more. It is often a little wearying to read and hear Jamaicans living overseas prescribe the solutions for Jamaica’s socio-economic problems from afar. But there is at least one important point in this piece: “We are truly on our own, economically and politically.” The rest of the world has problems of its own. It is not concerned with our predicament, much of it of our own making. I also get a little tired of the much-declared “We little, but we tallawah” (we are small, but strong/tough). Have we really proved how “tallawah” we are – economically, socially? (Putting aside sportsmen/women, etc). Are we tough enough to face up to reality? Or are we more interested in getting our picture on page two of the Jamaica Observer - the social page? I wrote a blog post on social cohesion and unity - “The Power of ‘we’” - last week. Have we released that power – and if so, is it real or is it just fluff and rhetoric?
It’s probably related to this, but there has also been ongoing commentary in the print media on the perceived lack of direction of the current political administration. Is this a fair criticism, I wonder? Admittedly, since I returned from my travels ten days ago I have not seen or heard our Minister of Finance in the media at all. Perhaps he is away. Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller seems to be as much the target of criticism now as in early September, when I went away for several weeks. Not much seems to have changed in that respect. To be fair, the Prime Minister did hold the first of her parish forums (fora?) a few days ago, in the troubled city of Spanish Town (always troubled, it seems, and riven by gang warfare and sheer poverty). It’s a pity that the audience (which looked fairly large on television) had to wait two hours before the Prime Minister actually spoke to them. I watched some of it on the Jamaica Information Service’s live stream. It was basically a written speech, making announcements and promises of jobs and development for the town. I am not sure how much dialogue there was with the audience afterwards. A forum must include Q&A, one supposes. It might have helped if the Prime Minister had herself arrived on time; she was late. And one has not heard much feedback from the citizens of Spanish Town. Perhaps they just came to hear promises.
Meanwhile, the Sunday Gleaner today (among other commentators) is still claiming that the Prime Minister has “gone AWOL” and that her ministers are off on their own projects, left to their own devices. Jamaica needs a firm hand at the wheel, the critics suggest. Jamaica cannot drift along on the tides of global fortune (and misfortune). It seems to me that the Opposition pipes up about crime and the economy every now and then; but there is no real indication that they would have any stronger leadership to offer to the poor, confused people of Jamaica. Opposition Justice Spokesman Delroy Chuck is by far the most vocal.
This week, the Prime Minister will pay an official visit to Canada this week to discuss matters of interest to both Jamaica and Canada. Of course, there is quite a large Jamaican diaspora in Canada, whom I assume she will also meet during the five days she will be there. That’s basically the whole week, right?
The Ministry of Finance has, this evening, broken its silence on the International Monetary Fund issue. It will not be able to finalize an agreement by the end of this year, it noted in a press release Sunday evening; but it remains confident that the negotiation will go forward. We had already guessed that. The IMF team visited Jamaica in September. When I hear Minister Phillips’ voice, though (and yes, we did hear from him this evening), he sounds tired. I feel tired, too (and somewhat anxious). One of the IMF’s conditions is that the Government should cut the public sector wage bill. The Government says it intends to do so, but was pretty vague about it recently. Oh… I do recall that the Prime Minister promised, on the campaign trail at the end of last year, that her administration would “renegotiate” the IMF agreement within a couple of weeks of taking up office. No comment needed. The local financial analysts remain “cautiously optimistic,” to coin a phrase – with emphasis on the “cautious.”
But before we all sink into the slough of despair…Some people have been celebrating this week. It was National Honors time again (and how quickly these occasions seem to come round!) and 124 smiling Jamaicans proudly received their honors in a long ceremony which was not apparently open to the public. Like the Gleaner editorial, I wonder if there are just too many of these awards. It is not that the awardees aren’t deserving – although it does seem that if you are a reggae musician of a certain age, you do have a very good chance of getting one. But we are a small country. The Gleaner also pointed out that only a handful of those 124 were members of the business community – many of whom do get involved in supporting their communities and make a contribution to society, while also making a profit (and nothing wrong with making a profit of course). I don’t know. I do think, though, that a man who carried a guitar shaped like an M-16; spewed “bad words” continuously at the public and at his long-suffering audiences; and smoked so much weed that he set off smoke alarms in hotels; meanwhile fathering many children with several women, may not qualify for a posthumous Order of Merit (his former fellow band member, Bob Marley, has one, but his “image” was more savory than that of Mr. Peter Tosh). But it appears that some members of the current administration have a huge admiration for Tosh, and so it happened. Not that I don’t love his music, and enjoyed his rebelliousness. But an O.M.? No.
Not to sound churlish, however… Many congratulations to all those who received awards this week.
There will be more pomp and speechifying soon, as the House of Representatives will pay tribute to former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson. The House already spent hours lauding another former Prime Minister, Edward Seaga. Now P.J.’s turn. Forgive me for asking, but isn’t the purpose of the Lower House to conduct the people’s business? What is the purpose of these tributes, these endless speeches, thumping on desks, etc.? Regardless of one’s political persuasion, what is the actual purpose of this? Is it something to do with Jamaica 50?
And isn’t the debate and motion calling for the lifting of the U.S. embargo on Cuba a huge waste of time, too? For heaven’s sake, aren’t there more urgent and pressing Jamaican issues to attend to? I know I sound somewhat insular, but I believe this comes up every year, and the same platitudes are trotted out. It is a feel-good issue on which politicians on both sides can agree and present a united front, I suppose. They can summon up a good bit of righteous indignation, and hot air. And the Cuban Ambassador must be happy for the support.
Moving on… to the Jamaica Public Service Company, everyone’s favorite whipping boy. Having endured a six-and-a-half hour power cut last weekend (to be told after two hours of darkness that the company had not yet dispatched anyone to deal with it) I found it ironic that the recent census concluded that a mere 200,000 Jamaicans are actually consuming electricity without being JPS customers. How does that work? Could we try it, I wonder? The article below on JPS’ customer service (or lack of it) exactly reflects our situation. On the telephone, JPS refers you to bill payment as the first option… emergency comes second on the list. My, oh my.
As for the census, there were numerous media reports this week, which led me to the conclusion that a) taking the census had been a tremendous struggle and a challenge for the poor people visiting door to door, many of whom got a hostile reception; b) the results of the census were therefore incomplete and inaccurate; and c) most Jamaicans who are Christian are Seventh Day Adventist. I needed to know that last fact, although I don’t see the relevance to Jamaica’s development. The Sunday Gleaner really went overboard dissecting the figures on religious beliefs. It failed to explain why Rastafarianism had become quite popular among men, for example, but is embraced by far fewer women. And is this such an important aspect of the census that it merited several pages and yards of column space? But hey, maybe it is all of enormous importance; one letter-writer this week was very concerned about Buddha statues in Hope Gardens. So much for religious tolerance.
Well, I think I will hand out some Petchary Awards, now. They are not worth much, I’m afraid; I don’t have any ribbons or medals to hand out. But top of my list this week must be Digicel, who pulled off a fantastic event last night – a 5K Walk and 5K Run in support of several charities supporting Jamaican children and adults with special needs. The Gleaner, JPS, the Jamaica Constabulary Force and all the other partners and private sector sponsors are to be congratulated. The theme, “Take Back the Night,” sounds familiar as I feel it has been used before in a different context. But the purpose was to put downtown Kingston back on the map – to show that it is a real place, with real people. And that it is safe – not scary. Digicel, Jamaica’s largest cellular phone provider, has invested hugely in downtown; its global headquarters is under construction there. So, this is something significant and meaningful. Thousands of people turned out (not the couple of hundred I was expecting), the atmosphere was upbeat and the event extremely well organized – and fun, as well as making a serious point.
Also… let’s hear it for the female entrepreneurs. There is a group of small businesses, all female-owned, in a charming and discreet complex in my Kingston neighborhood. They all support each other, and they are worth supporting in return. Pay them a visit at 8 Hillcrest Avenue, Kingston 6. You will find it most enjoyable, I promise.
One of our National Heroes is Sam Sharpe, who was also called “Daddy.” Sharpe, who was actually a deacon in the Baptist Church although a slave all his life, was born on an estate called Croydon, in Catadupa, near Montego Bay. Congratulations to all those with the vision to create a heritage park – including a monument to “Daddy” Sharpe, who led Jamaica’s largest slave rebellion. The heritage tour will open on December 15; make a note to visit next time you are in western Jamaica.
P.S. I know I have been very upset with the company she heads, but I must say that the relatively new President/CEO of the Jamaica Public Service Company, Ms. Kelly Tomblin, does seem like an awfully nice woman. She is the daughter of a West Virginia coal miner, and her children are called George and Harrison. My favorite Beatle!
You have noticed that I have not mentioned crime once. But now to the saddest part of my weekly blog, which is the unending stream of murders. I wasn’t able to get the names of several unidentified murder victims, although their names may have been released by now. My sincere condolences to all those who have lost loved ones violently this week; and also I am keeping the family and friends of Tandy Lewis, a Post Office employee who has been missing for some time, in my thoughts. As you may recall, another Post Office employee who went missing recently was found murdered with his girlfriend, last month. Here is the list of names, and it concerns me that the parish of St. Catherine (of which Spanish Town is the capital, of course) seems to have recorded quite a few homicides, this week.
And where did 300 rounds of ammunition, found in Westmoreland this week, come from? All for high-powered rifles. It frightens me terribly.
Two unidentified bodies, Clark’s Town, Trelawny
Ryan Richards, 28, Decoy, St. Mary
Shawn Anthony Thompson, 19, Thompson Pen, St. Catherine
Richard Whyte, 25, Gregory Park, St. Catherine
Steve Dobson, Thompson Pen, St. Catherine
Unidentified man, Port Esquivel, St. Catherine
Unidentified man, Red Hills, St. Andrew
Daniel Stone, 18, Montego Bay, St. James
Trevor Wright, Spanish Town Road, Kingston
Morris Williams, Spanish Town, St. Catherine
Jermain Lawrence, 34, Angels, St. Catherine
Barrington Robinson, 25, Angels, St. Catherine
Andrew Blair, 27, Silver Spring, Westmoreland
Dwight Lester, 29, Greater Portmore, St. Catherine (mob killing)
Richard Grant, 29, St. Ann’s Bay, St. Ann
Unidentified man, Salem/Runaway Bay, St. Ann
Nicole Byles, 26, Barbary Hall, St. Elizabeth
George Channer, 63, Claremont, St. Catherine
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121021/focus/focus1.html Jamaica on the brink: Don Robotham column, Sunday Gleaner
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/09/05/anybody-out-there/ Anybody out there? Petchary’s Blog
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/10/16/we-are-family-on-blog-action-day-2012/ We are family: Blog Action Day 2012
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Holness-slams-Govt-on-crime-plan_12749425 Holness slams Government on crime plan: Jamaica Observer
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=40644 Still no leads on Tandy Lewis’ disappearance: Sunday Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=40594 Census: Majority of homes still without computer, Internet access: Jamaica Gleaner
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/PJ-Patterson-to-be-honoured-by-Parliament P.J. Patterson to be honored by Parliament: Jamaica Observer
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121021/news/news4.html Murdered woman was pregnant: Sunday Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121018/lead/lead7.html Trio sentenced in Montego Bay kidnapping case: Jamaica Gleaner
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads-117/32040 Statement by Prime Minister Simpson Miller following the Cabinet retreat: Jamaica Information Service
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Some–missing–girls-really-hiding-from-dons–says-cop_12736983 Some “missing” girls really hiding from dons, says cop: Jamaica Observer
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121018/news/news4.html Develop downtown, create more jobs – economic expert: Jamaica Gleaner
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/News/International-conference-to-examine-life-and-culture-of-Maroons International conference to examine life and culture of Maroons: Jamaica Observer
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121017/letters/letters1.html Un-Konshen-able! Select more tasteful performers for national events: Jamaica Gleaner
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/-Poor-governance-hampering-environmental-progress-in-region-_12773814 Poor governance hampering environmental progress in region: Jamaica Observer
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121017/letters/letters3.html Why so many Buddha statues at Hope Zoo? Jamaica Gleaner
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Police-net-ammo-in-Westmoreland-raid_12804686 Police net ammo in Westmoreland raid: Jamaica Observer
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Mob-killings-are-murder–Commish-warns Mob killings are murder, Commish warns: Jamaica Observer
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121018/cleisure/cleisure1.html Where is the Government? Jamaica Gleaner editorial
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Awardees-express-gratitude-for-national-honours–awards_12773876 Awardees express gratitude for national honors, awards: Jamaica Observer
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121017/cleisure/cleisure1.html Time to review National Honors? Jamaica Gleaner editorial
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads-117/32028 Government approaching IMF discussions seriously, says Prime Minister: Jamaica Information Service
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121020/letters/letters2.html ”Amusing” speech from PM: Jamaica Gleaner letter to the editor
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/business/Chavez-gives-Petrojam-priority Chavez gives Petrojam priority: Jamaica Observer
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads-107/32021 House supports motion for lifting of Cuban embargo: Jamaica Information Service
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121021/business/business1.html Census highlights power gap: Consumers outnumber JPS customers base by more than 200,000: Sunday Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121021/out/out2.html Ten things you didn’t know about Kelly Tomblin: Sunday Gleaner
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Professor-says-Jamaica-needs-strong-planning-agency_12772458 Professor says Jamaica needs strong planning agency: Jamaica Observer
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121021/cleisure/cleisure1.html Where is the Government? Simpson Miller administration AWOL: Sunday Gleaner editorial
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/business/JPS-s-response-to-power-outages_12743896 JPS’s response to power outages: Jamaica Observer
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121017/cleisure/cleisure3.html Sex-offender registry an overreach: Jamaica Gleaner op-ed
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/INDECOM-to-establish-own-crime-lab INDECOM to establish own crime lab: Jamaica Observer
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/westernnews/MORE-FM-strengthening-community-energy_12787164 MORE FM strengthening community energy: Jamaica Observer
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121014/focus/focus3.html Were all our heroes really heroes? Busta, Manley don’t qualify: Jamaica Gleaner op-ed
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/MoH-says-over-1500-premises-inspected–122-communities-fogged-in-Corporate-Area MoH says over 1,500 premises inspected, 122 communities fogged in Corporate Area
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/-A-new-dawn-in-heritage-tourism-_12778886 ”A new dawn in heritage tourism”: Jamaica Observer
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/PM-promises-facelift-for-Spanish-Town_12795720 PM promises facelift for Spanish Town: Jamaica Observer
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Out-of-many–one-people_12732617 Out of many one people: Jamaica Observer op-ed
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/A-card-pack-of-jokers-on-Seaga A card pack of jokers on Seaga: Jamaica Observer column
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Three-charged-with-murder-of-attorney-Clover-Graham_12807126 Three charged with murder of attorney Clover Graham: Sunday Observer
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Jamaica-in-deep-foreign-exchange-problem_12771188 Jamaica in deep foreign exchange problem: Jamaica Observer column
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/business/Kingston-s-best-kept-retail-secret_12805015 Kingston’s best-kept retail secret: Jamaica Observer
Well, here I was at the “home from home” that is Trench Town Reading Centre – just over the road from the Trench Town Cultural Yard, where Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and others spent their formative years.
And the drums reverberated from walls to ceiling and back again in the Centre’s community classroom. A sharp crack, a deep roar, a rumbling. The tight midday air tingled. Thunder rumbled further uptown.
We could hear the children’s voices faintly underneath. They were sitting on the floor.
Later they stood. Later they drummed. Later they sang. Later they danced…
The power of the African drum.
For more about the Trench Town Reading Centre, visit the website at http://www.trenchtownreadingcentre.com/ or join their Facebook page at Friends of the Trench Town Reading Centre. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Or contact me for further information and to discuss ways you can help! And for more photos of this session, please check my Flickr photo stream on the right or at http://www.flickr.com/photos/bananakatie/.
Good morning, all. This week’s news was a little lighter, apart from the usual killings (see my “In Memoriam” section). Some things even made me laugh (hollow laughter sometimes, admittedly…)
Firstly, the political representatives who made fools of themselves in the Lower House recently were told to apologize, like naughty boys. The word “sorry” got stuck in some throats and the apologies were a little half-hearted; but one of the new Members of Parliament prepared a speech, waxing quite lyrical on the subject of fish. Yes, fish. This word was thrown about during the fracas in Parliament and seems to have been interpreted (or misinterpreted) as a derogatory word for homosexual (which many of us were not aware of – but it seems that some of our politicians are quite knowledgeable on such matters). Anyway, the promising young politician decided to equate the fish reference with Christianity. His speech was remarkable for its piety. Some journalists were seemingly awestruck by this oratorical flourish. Others were skeptical, like columnist Mark Wignall, who commented, ”Because we have had so few real successes in public life in this country, our media has adopted the style of going gaga over speeches as if we have conveniently forgotten that a speech is just words written on paper and skilfully (sometimes) read or presented.”
The best part of this – and here is the first chuckle of the week – were the skillful Observer cartoonist Clovis’ depictions of a fishy Member of Parliament. Hilarious.
Talking of religion, our favorite home-grown radical priest and missionary Father Richard Ho Lung – founder of the awesome Missionaries of the Poor – seems to have ruffled some feathers with his recent Gleaner columns. Firstly, he took aim at atheists, describing them as selfish, materialistic and responsible for all the world’s ills. (Well, I don’t think atheists bombed those churches in Nigeria, did they? Nor did they commit reprisal killings, there?) An atheist protested in rather a good column – linked below. Let’s have more tolerance of all beliefs, including atheists and agnostics, perhaps? Secondly, the goodly Father reprimanded our two sprinting heroes, Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake. He remonstrated with Blake thus:“Why call yourself a ‘beast’? Read the Book of Revelation.” Columnist Mark Wignall feels he has “gone overboard” this time. I found it all rather funny.
There were a couple of highly confusing items last week, too. Firstly, Mining & Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell announced that the Russian firm UC Rusal planned to close the last of its operational bauxite plants in Jamaica in October with the loss of 600 jobs – in Ewarton, St. Catherine. A wire story report appeared a day or two later in which the firm said they had not yet made a decision on the matter. Things seem to be hanging in the balance; but one feels confident that Minister Paulwell will be able to sort things out with the Russians. He has made the point that two other plants owned by Rusal have been closed now for more than three years. This seems an unacceptable situation to me.
I am finding Minister Paulwell a calm, composed figure, who seems entirely focused on his goals as head of an important ministry that also includes technology. He seems to do his homework properly, updates the media regularly and what is more, he does not waste time trying to score political points. He is getting on with the job, and for that I once again give him kudos. He sets a good example.
Then there was a bit of a fiasco with the so-called amnesty for traffic offenders, which began on July 1 and is set to continue for the rest of the year. It turned out to be quite a muddle. Well, Jamaicans owe their Government an astounding, estimated J$2.5 billion in unpaid traffic tickets. So if they go to the tax office and pay what they owe during this period, they will not be taken to court. It seems, however, that Government records are not in order; motorists are protesting that they are wildly inaccurate and the website has been put on hold for a little while, I understand, while they sort it out. Unfortunately, neither of the links in the Gleaner article below works. Oh Lordy.
I have been venting quite a bit on the environment in a recent blog post – but hold on, here’s more. I mentioned the “mystery fumes” in a recent review. On June 28 (when we were, thankfully, out of town) a number of highway workers and others fell sick after the air was filled with an unbearable smell in the Portmore area. The National Environment & Planning Agency conducted a thorough and detailed investigation, and last week we were informed that the smell was from kerosene being offloaded at Kingston’s seaport. Now the police have been called in to investigate possible illegal activities there. Which is obviously bad, but what worries me is how would we have coped if the incident had been much more serious? Executive director of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management Ronald Jackson said on television recently that Jamaica really was not prepared for a major chemical leak. The Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica is investigating…
As a cab driver said on television this week, “It’s our right to have clean air.” The man, an asthma sufferer, was complaining about a huge dust nuisance in Cornwall Courts, Montego Bay. Let us be more careful about these things, and try to prevent them from happening in the first place, please. And what was going on at the port that day? I am not making light of the Cornwall Courts issue. Almost nightly on television residents are protesting the huge discomforts of their lives – dust from incomplete roadworks; roads that look more like obstacle courses filled with rocks and huge potholes; raw sewage trickling in the gutters; a bridge that has not been repaired since Hurricane Whoever; no water in the pipes, although they pay water bills. I often feel the residents could do more to help themselves; but I fear that there is simply no money to fix these things.
Now – unless you have been living in a hole in the ground for at least the past year – we all know the Olympics is nigh. In fact, they begin on July 27, just twelve days away. I just have two questions: Why can’t we watch the Olympics on the channel of our choice? And why do Jamaican athletes have to parade around in semi-military uniforms at the opening ceremony?
On the first issue, a regional sports broadcasting firm has “exclusive rights across all platforms” to coverage of the games, and has sold these rights to one television station in Jamaica. Which means that those of us who pay for various sports channels on our cable network will be confronted with a message informing us that the channel is “blacked out” (even if the local TV station is not showing Olympic action). Is this lawful, asks one letter-writer? And why are we deprived of choice (especially when that’s exactly what we pay the cable company for?) Does this mean the promised “Caribbean flavor” of the coverage will exclude events in which there are no Caribbean competitors (and there are many of those?) Some of us want to watch events like diving, decathlon, rowing, etc. Why can’t we watch what we want?
Secondly, Cedella Marley (one of Bob’s numerous children) who is now a fashion designer has produced a range of costumes (approved by sponsors Puma) for the Jamaican athletic team to wear at the Olympics. The reaction among Jamaicans has been mixed, to say the least. When I first saw the photos, I had another good laugh. Ms. Marley has clearly gone back to the seventies and decided to resurrect the styles worn by her father when he was about her age… A kind of “Buffalo Soldier” throwback, complete with military-style khaki and high collars. Are our athletes going to war? There is also a skirt with what looks rather like a ganja-leaf design. Our dear Usain Bolt “looks like a security guard,” a friend commented on Facebook. What do you think, dear readers? There is more on YouTube if you want to see all the designs, and see how you feel. (Meanwhile, Americans are upset at their Ralph Lauren-designed kit, complete with beret - “too European” - and worse still, made in China!)
Talking of Bob Marley, there was another wave of protest after an unsuspecting American scientist (and a huge fan of Bob) enthusiastically named a marine creature after the “reggae icon” (to coin a cliché). What’s wrong with that, you may ask? Well, the creature in question, now named Gnathia marly, is a blood-sucking parasite that infests Caribbean fish and makes them extremely ill. “It’s a diss!” cried fans, who also point out that Bob Marley strongly disliked parasites (of the human kind), as well as hypocrites, bald heads and others. The poor scientist however, thinks this marine version of a tick (ugh!) is a wonderful little creature that contributes much to the Caribbean eco-system. He thinks he is honoring Marley, but the local jury is still out on this one, too.
And talking of reggae music, Opposition Tourism Spokesman Ed Bartlett says he wants Jamaica to have more reggae festivals. Do we really, Mr. Bartlett? We are scraping the barrel trying to find decent reggae acts – the quality and quantity has fallen – unless we recruited some of the excellent African musicians that play reggae. As it is, Reggae Sumfest, which took place this weekend, featured among other acts an American singer called Trey Songzz (not a reggae act), whose latest song “Dive In” extols the joys of oral sex. Yes, I guess we need more of that, don’t we?
Putting aside the trivia for a moment, there were several much more serious stories – quite small and unobtrusive – that popped up in the media and that I found very disturbing, although they seemed not to warrant any widespread discussion in the media.
- In anticipation of a lifting of the ban on scrap metal imports, our rampant thievery continues at local cellular phone sites – J$300 million worth. One “businessman” was found to be powering his in-car stereo system with batteries stolen from one site. How can we move forward with creeps like this in our midst?
- One million Jamaicans live below the poverty line. Yes. One million. What is our population again? 2.7 million?
- A well-known doctor and the mother of a twelve-year-old have been charged with procuring an abortion. When is Jamaica going to review its absurd abortion laws? As noted last week, Jamaica has a very high maternal death rate, and illegal botched abortions have certainly contributed to this. Let us follow the example of Barbados, Cuba and other enlightened Caribbean nations. But I guess the discussion will be hijacked once again by fundamentalist Christians, who do shout very loud…
- The Statistical Institute of Jamaica notes this week that the Jamaican economy registered negative GDP growth (0.1% decline) in the first six months of this year.
- Can the Jamaica Observer and some of its columnists stop trying to stir up sensation and ill-informed debate on the homosexual issue? Let’s cool it. The flood of comments on its website has been removed, probably because many of them were unfit for airplay. Why this semi-hysteria from people who swear that they are “not homophobes” but Christians, with a capital “C”? Where is the Observer going with this?
- The police are still busy killing. See two stories below on the recent death of a 17-year-old high school graduate, and a woman who fears for her son whom the police allegedly pushed into a gully.
- The report of a teenage girl who had a complete meltdown in a small rural court when she was ordered to be kept in a “place of safety” was painful to hear. The close-up footage of the girl’s ankles as she shuffled, barefoot in shackles to a waiting police van was deeply disturbing – reminiscent of slavery. It worried radio talk show host Barbara Gloudon for an entire program on Friday. I shared her emotion. The girl, who reportedly slapped the magistrate (it was a small room) was clearly in trouble and in urgent need of psychiatric help. The fact was, nobody wanted her. She had run away from her father’s house, and her mother could not/would not keep her. One doesn’t know the details of the case, but is locking the fifteen-year-old up in the Fort Augusta Adult Correctional Centre going to help? What was her crime? I hear she is now to get counseling – while in prison (and how long for?)
Condolences and sympathies go out to the family and friends of the following Jamaicans, who were murdered in the past week. I am also concerned for the father of Davian Davis, a sweet child whose body was found in an abandoned car. His father suspects foul play. I could see the grief in his face on television this evening. What really happened?
- Shango Jackson, 39, in Beverley Hills, Kingston
- Dr. Phillip Chamberlain, in Mandeville, Manchester
- Dwayne Rodman, in Grants Pen, Kingston
- Sonia Martin, 47, in Potsdam, St. Elizabeth
Killed by the police:
- Unidentified man, Freetown, Clarendon
- Unidentified man, Freetown, Clarendon
- Unidentified man, Malvern, St. Elizabeth
- Barrington Christie,41, Ashkenish, Hanover
- Sunday Shenanigans: July 8, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)
- Sunday Sunshine: July 1, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120713/cleisure/cleisure2.html (Apologies welcome, but… jamaica-gleaner.com)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120715/cleisure/cleisure1.html (No order in Parliament)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/I-don-t-buy-the-parliamentary-apology_11936727 (I don’t buy the parliamentary apology)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Jackasses-are-aplenty-and-a-pig-in-a-tie-is-still-a-pig_11902491 (Jackasses are aplenty and a pig in a tie is still a pig)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Paulwell-s-mining-lease-signal-likely-game-changer-in-UC-Rusal-controversy_11952611 (Paulwell’s mining lease signal likely game changer in UC Rusal controversy)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Bauxite-surprise—Paulwell-says-he-ll-summon-UC-Rusal-rep-after-plant-closure-denial_11945442 (Bauxite surprise)
- 600 to lose jobs with closure of RUSAL plant in Jamaica (bis.gy)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=38457 (Ticket amnesty bungling)
- Jamaica considers renewable energy – UPI.com (upi.com)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Kerosene-identified-as-mystery-fume_11945588 (Kerosene identified as mystery fumes)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=38504 (Police called in to probe fume emission)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120714/cleisure/cleisure5.html (Restart Cornwall Court road work)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120710/cleisure/cleisure3.html (Goodness, I am an atheist!)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120712/letters/letters4.html (Why can’t cable channels air Olympics too?)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120126/sports/sports7.html (IMC promises record Caribbean coverage of London 2012)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/entertainment/Jamaica-50-Jubilee-plans_11952612?fb_ref=storypage (Jamaica 50 Jubilee plans)
- 50-50 Reflections (petchary.wordpress.com)
- The Jamaican Olympic Team Outfits – “Ugly – Horrible” (newsandviewsbydjmillerja.wordpress.com)
- http://www.jamolympic.org/Home.aspx (Jamaica Olympic Association website)
- Puma pins Olympic hopes on Bolt to speed sport sales (telegraph.co.uk)
- Jamaica and The London 2012 Olympics: Jamaican Athletes representing, Jamaica (theislandjournal.wordpress.com)
- http://www.latimes.com/news/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-marley-parasite-20120711,0,5467109.story (Ocean parasite named after Bob Marley)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/BOB-MARLEY-DISSED-_11938598 (Bob Marley dissed! jamaicaobserver.com)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/The-big-gay-lie_11923183 (The big gay lie: Column by Betty-Ann Blaine)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120710/lead/lead2.html (Father struggles to come to grips with son’s killing)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120710/lead/lead4.html (Clarendon woman’s fear: cops after my son)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120713/lead/lead6.html (Teen assaults RM in courtroom attack)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Brilliant-Krystal–St-Thomas-teen-goes-to-MIT-on-scholarship_11881838 (Brilliant Krystal! St. Thomas teen goes to MIT on scholarship)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/entertainment/Don-t-politicise-Festival_11925601 (Don’t politicize Festival! Says Fae Ellington)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Rotary-Club-launches-programme-to-help-juvenile-offenders_11924826 (Rotary Club launches program to help juvenile offenders)
A week ago, I left hot, windy Kingston early with a bus full of book fans, heading for the Calabash International Literary Festival (themed “Jubilation 50″ in recognition of Jamaica’s fiftieth anniversary) in Treasure Beach, St. Elizabeth. Jamaica’s south coast is warm and red-earthed; scented with watermelon and scallion grown under windows; yellow sand beaches and driftwood; and buildings painted dark red and brick and cream and blue. Founded in 2001 by Artistic Director and novelist Colin Channer, with support from poet Kwame Dawes and producer Justine Henzell, Calabash did not take place last year due to funding issues. The festival still needs financial support. It is determinedly free (no entrance fee), although the local community benefit greatly from the influx of Kingston’s privileged classes, assorted foreign visitors and genuine book-lovers.
Whether or not the Calabash tradition continues, this year was remarkable for the conspicuously absent, always ebullient Channer. I missed my former tutor from the Calabash Writers’ Workshops, which I participated in several years ago. Otherwise, the Memorial Day weekend festival followed the regular, much-loved pattern of lively local music with a rootsy feel, “book-ending” a decent spread of book talk and readings by writers – this year mostly of Jamaican descent. There was tasty but over-priced food, some nice crafty stalls and a good selection of books for sale, all thrown into the mix. There was paddling in the sea, some fairly intense networking, huge waves of socializing and photo-opping, and a great deal of consumption of cold beer (it actually seemed hotter than Kingston).
It was a three-hour journey from Kingston, in a bus crowded with middle-class women wearing long dresses, floppy hats and strappy sandals. This attire is one of the major Calabash “uniforms” (the other being what I like to call the “modern roots” look – thousands of bangles, dreadlocks, a sprinkling of piercings and tattoos – among the younger set). Then there were some people like me – I felt like a pale Kingston person, wearing mostly black, and I did not take my shoes off.
Women always outnumber men by three or four to one at Calabash. And speaking of women: two names I did not hear that day were those of two Jamaican writers – Diana McCaulay and Alecia McKenzie. So, I am now trumpeting them – the two regional winners of the Commonwealth Writers Prize for the Caribbean, no less. Kingston-born Ms. McKenzie won the regional prize for her first novel, “Sweetheart,” published by Peepal Tree Press. Put it on your Amazon wish list, or purchase from your local Jamaican bookstore, now! Ms. McCaulay had her first work published at age six, and has never looked back. Diana is a committed environmental activist. Her second novel, “Huracan” (also Peepal Tree) will be published at the end of June; her winning short story is “The Dolphin Catcher.” The overall winner of the Commonwealth Book Prize will be announced at the Hay Festival on June 8.
On our bus trip, I kept company with young poet Ann-Margaret Lim, whose first book of poetry, “The Festival of Wild Orchid,” was launched recently. One of Ms. Lim’s major influences was a leading light at the festival: Ms. Olive Senior, who has lived in Canada for some years and who writes fiction, non-fiction and poetry. She has just published her first children’s book. Ms. Senior read a short story in her melodious voice, and we chatted with her later; she has a kind and sweet personality, like everyone’s favorite aunt.
A number of other vibrant Jamaican women trooped up on the Calabash stage, standing at a windy podium made of bamboo, against a backdrop of glittering sea and twisted acacia trees and sea grapes. The Jones sisters – Sadie and Melissa – are the novelist daughters of Jamaican writer Evan Jones, author of a fascinating historical novel called “Stone Haven.” They read from their work in almost identical, husky English voices. Gifted poets Loretta Collins, Christine Craig and Shara McCallum (who now live in Puerto Rico, Fort Lauderdale and Pennsylvania, respectively) read on Friday night. Along with the Joneses and Ms. Senior, we thoroughly enjoyed a reading by Kingston-born, UK-based Kerry Young, who read a very witty and perceptive piece from her first novel “Pao.” Ms. Young is UK-based and her energetic reading was a delight. “Pao” is published by Bloomsbury. Other wonderful locally-based Jamaican women – Carolyn Cooper, Laura Henzell, Sonjah Stanley Niaah, among others – kept things going, with Dr. Cooper keeping a strict eye on the Open Mic – three minutes each, and not a second more!
Of course, there are other terrific creative women in Jamaica – including the Rastafarian film-maker Barbara Blake Hannah, who has written four books: “Rastafari: The New Creation,” the first book on the Rastafari religion written by a member of the faith. Her biographical memoir “Growing Out: Black Hair and Black Pride” recounts her early years and life in England. As Jamaica’s homeschooling pioneer, her book “Home: The First School” is a guide based on her experiences raising her son Makonnen. She is also author of the novel “Joseph: A Rasta Reggae Fable,” inspired by the life of her friend Bob Marley.
And I cannot – and must not – omit the group of Jamaican women who write for younger audiences. My former colleague at Heinemann Publishers, Diane Browne, won a Special Prize in the 2011 Commonwealth Short Story Competition for her story “The Happiness Dress.” She recently launched a novel for young adults, “Island Princess in Brooklyn,” the story of a migrating Jamaican teenager who must adjust to life in the “Big Apple.” Diane is among a group of dedicated writers for children in Jamaica that includes Heather Campbell, Tanya Savage, Kellie Magnus and others. There is a great need for more Jamaican/Caribbean children’s literature, and local bookstore Bookophilia confirmed this recently.
Let us raise a glass of Red Stripe, Appleton rum or whatever your tipple is to these creative Jamaican women. Their extraordinarily diverse voices are ringing out across the literary landscape with more conviction and greater fervor than ever before, it seems to me. Let’s sit up and listen, and buy their books!
P.S. As an aspiring-to-be-published writer following in these great ladies’ footsteps, I took the plunge and read from one of my short stories at Calabash’s Open Mic. The audience were very nice, and clapped. I overcame my nerves, and felt encouraged.
Love Jamaica at Jubilation! 50 (repeatingislands.com)
Kwame Dawes Awarded Guggenheim Fellowship (nadineunscripted.wordpress.com)
The Joy (and the Business of) Writing (petchary.wordpress.com)
Granta goes global and shows a way forward (guardian.co.uk)
Happy Earth Day!
And yes, I know. I’m late again. Blame it on the determined nature of the weather – fierce showers all day that left us with that exhausted feeling that rain seems to bring in tropical climes. Now the lawn is soaking, the eaves are dripping, cars are splashing down the road, and it has just started raining again.
Meanwhile, it has been a messy weekend in the media, too.
Let’s ponder a bit more… The “flag foul-up fiasco” (as it is now called in the Sunday Gleaner) continues to rumble on, like a thunderstorm that moves away reluctantly and threatens to return at any moment. The Prime Minister declared earlier this week that she is not going to going to speak publicly on “every issue” and that she relies on her ministers as front men (and women). She has her own “leadership style,” she asserts. (What is that, exactly? Photo-ops at the Summit of the Americas, ribbon-cuttings and launches and nice suits are the easy part. So was stomping around on the campaign trail). But the letters to the Editor, columns and shrill complaints on radio call-in shows drip, drip, dripped all week, like today’s rain. In case you feel you need to catch up on this issue, there is a link below to today’s Sunday Gleaner piece by Adrian Frater, which gives you a blow-by-blow account. The decorator who was labeled the “fall guy” in the affair is not willing to play that role; there are questions about how an alleged protocol officer attached to the Prime Minister’s office was allowed to take over the event – and who allowed him; and investigations are under way. The media have not got to the bottom of the matter, by any means.
And another flag fiasco? Saturday’s Observer headlines blared, “Rastas livid!” And a livid Rasta is not a pretty sight, I can tell you. ”Now what?” you may well ask, dear reader. Footage emerged on CVM Television’s prime time news of an indignant gentleman being cajoled, beseeched, and when that failed, eventually escorted away with some difficulty last Thursday night in Kingston’s Emancipation Park. What was going on there? Well, it was the much heralded (and indeed much praised) documentary film “Marley” - which was premiered free to the Jamaican public in the park. It was, of course, a great social occasion, with politicians of different stripes rubbing shoulders with aging reggae musicians, rastas from all corners of the island, curious members of the public and – of course – the young, influential and beautiful social butterflies who appear regularly on the pages of our daily newspapers anyway, all showing their “rootsy” side. A number of people, Jamaicans and others, who are only famous because of their association with the “reggae icon” (to coin a cliche) were also there; and of course members of Bob Marley’s family, who approved the film.
But back to the livid rastas. At the film premiere, the decorators had perhaps gone a little overboard with swathes of fabric. There was rather a nice arch and pathway for “VIPs” in red, gold and green cloth – except that the pathway (a kind of red carpet, if you will) was the colors of the Rastafarian flag – or the Ethiopian flag, which has the same colors. So the dignitaries would be walking on the Ethiopian/Rastafarian flag, an insult to both the country and Rastafarian beliefs.
Unlike the Montego Bay flag, however, there was no (alleged) shortage of fabric here. A large quantity of not-very-practical white material was found by artiste manager Bridgette Anderson (who appeared unfazed by the protestations of her Rastafarian brethren) which was applied to the floor. But of course, politicians avoided the area like the plague. When CVM’s reporter asked Culture Minister Lisa Hanna whether she would walk on the offending area, she murmured, “Um, no…” with a deprecating smile.
Nevertheless, the film was declared to be a sensitive, absorbing personal portrait of Bob Marley – not the usual run-of-the-mill biopic. Congratulations to director Kevin Macdonald, and all those involved in its making.
This week’s trivia question: How many countries besides Ethiopia have red, gold and green in their national flags?
Why bother… Personally, I have had enough of media stories involving “scandals,” hate-mail and political gossip-mongering. Don’t care. Just simply don’t care. These are serious times.
A couple more stories of note… There was rather an important story in the Sunday Observer on Jamaica’s birth rate. Producing fewer children will help the Jamaican economy, but we already have a “bulge” of young people to get over before we can settle settle down a bit, it seems. That’s according to Dr. Carl Haub of the Population Reference Bureau, based in Washington, DC. There’s something called the Child Dependency Ratio (our birth rate has declined to 2.3 births per woman). The only answer, says Dr. Haub, is to train and educate the three-quarter-of-a-million Jamaicans between zero and fifteen years, 27 per cent of the population – and hope the economy will improve. Hmm. I would like to see a more in-depth report or analysis of this subject.
Principal of the boys’ high school Jamaica College, Mr. Ruel Reid, also gave a clear-eyed assessment of the factors behind “failing schools.” Management, and leadership, are crucial in schools, he says. Couldn’t one go further and say these are issues in many of our key institutions, too – including governmental institutions? Reid, who was an advisor to the former Education Minister/Prime Minister Andrew Holness, adds that a lack of well-qualified teachers is also a major problem – only twenty per cent of Jamaican teachers have first degrees. “Accountability” was a word he used, repeated by the Principal of Shortwood Teachers’ College Elaine Foster-Allen, who added that ongoing training was inadequate and the physical conditions in schools (especially primary schools) were detrimental to learning (students can’t always hear the teacher in class because of noise and over-crowding – a pretty fundamental concern). Mr. Reid commented, “What you see…is the profile of average teachers, average teaching and an average system.” Perhaps he is being kind – perhaps “average” is an euphemism for “mediocre.”
Concerns: A technical team is girding up its loins for a trip to Washington, DC for the annual International Monetary Fund/World Bank meeting. There has been talk of “sacrifice” and “austerity” in editorials and columns; but do the politicians really believe it’s necessary now – like, right now? Or do they think they can just get by with talking about “tough times ahead” (or “bitter medicine” as the former Prime Minister called it) without having to implement any unpopular measures? And will they be able to set an example of said “sacrifice”?
Mr. Rickey Singh turned the focus on the Chairman of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and President of Suriname Desi Bouterse. Now, Jamaicans tend not to pay too much attention to Suriname, which although a CARICOM member speaks Dutch and is not an island. President Bouterse made a come-back when he was democratically elected in August 2010. He led the country under military rule from 1982 – 1992, a period with a very poor record of human rights. But the “democratic” President/Chairman has just passed new legislation, granting amnesty for himself and a number of his cronies from prosecution for the massacre of fifteen Surinamese, among other crimes. Meanwhile, ironically, Suriname submitted a request for assistance for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to the Organization of American States at the recent Summit of the Americas. So much for the weird construction that is called democracy in the Caribbean. I wonder if fellow CARICOM states are going to have anything to say about this? I won’t hold my breath.
To the Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation (C-CAM) headed by the industrious Ms. Ingrid Parchment. C-CAM celebrated its thirteenth anniversary of the Portland Bight Protected Area that they manage along with various partners, on April 19. On the same day, they opened their new field office in Salt River to manage the three fish sanctuaries in the protected area. Kudos also to WINDALCO for their sponsorship of an artificial reef project and to Seacology, the California-based organization that has provided much support on the project. I wrote a post on this after attending last week – see link below…
…To our esteemed and beloved poet Kwame Dawes, who was recently awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship. The genial Mr. Dawes is a prolific Jamaican/Ghanaian by birth poet and novelist and co-founder of Jamaica’s own native literary jamboree, the Calabash International Literary Festival (renamed for this year Jubilation! 50) which will take place from May 25-27 in Treasure Beach. On his website he calls himself”the busiest man in literature today.” He is an absolute gem. Congratulations, Kwame!
…Another cultural gem, Ms. Barbara Blake Hannah, whose Reggae Film Festival is now in its fifth year. It takes a lot of belief to get a project like this off the ground. Ms. Blake Hannah is a lady of depth and substance. In the Sunday Observer lifestyle pages she noted that her favorite film is Akira Kurosawa’s “Kagemusha.” Kurosawa’s extraordinary, epic works are close to my heart and remain masterpieces of film-making. Great choice.
Who else do I love this week? The Nathan Ebanks Foundation should receive a big pat on the back for their Sixth Annual Special Needs Conference Expo – a four-day event aimed at helping caregivers, educators and medical professionals improve the lives of physically and mentally challenged people. The focus was on a remarkable program started by Californian Ms. Linda Bidabe called MOVE (Mobility Opportunities Via Education/Experience, great acronym). Congratulations to Ms. Christine Staple-Ebanks and her partners and sponsors for their dedication to special education, a meaningful cause.
Well, dear readers – blue skies perhaps tomorrow? As always, I welcome your comments and feedback on any of these stories. And please – I hope I have been accurate in my comments. If not, please correct me!
- 8 Gorgeous Nature Blogs for Earth Day (breedheenorilleykeefer.com)
- Sunday Steam (petchary.wordpress.com)
- http://www.worldflags101.com/e/ethiopia-flag.aspx History of the Ethiopian flag
- http://www.bobmarley.com/marley_the_movie.php Movie website
- Jamaicans pack a city park to watch documentary about the life of reggae icon Bob Marley (repeatingislands.com)
- Bob Marley: So much things to say… (repeatingislands.com)
- HW Pick: Marley (video) (harlemworldmag.com)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Rastas-livid-_11299691: Rastas livid!
- http://repeatingislands.com/2012/03/29/love-jamaica-at-jubilation-50/: Jubilation! 50/Calabash
- http://www.prb.org/ Population Reference Bureau
- http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/04/21/protecting-our-fish-earth-day-part-1/ My blog post on C-CAM fish sanctuaries
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120422/arts/arts5.html Kwame Dawes awarded Guggenheim Fellowship
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120422/news/news6.html Nathan Ebanks Foundation
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
Trench Town Reading Centre is a very special place. The children are nurtured, stimulated, and loved. Give them your support in any way you can… Volunteer, donate money/books/equipment. They are worth it! One Love from Trench Town, Jamaica…
Now, it’s not often that you will find the Petchary “promoting” a product. But this is not a “product” – it’s so much more. Trench Town is, of course, a place, and a spirit, and a song… And also, sadly, an impoverished area of Kingston, Jamaica, where people’s houses can just simply rot and fall down, and where recently raw sewage ran down a main street. It is just another one of the numerous neighborhoods of inner-city Jamaica (and not just Kingston) that have been neglected, abused and ruined by political violence, over the decades.
And yet this is regarded as the birthplace of reggae, isn’t it? This is where Charlie made a fire light (in the words of the song); where the “government yard” (now called the Trench Town Culture Yard) still stands on First Street and is occasionally visited by Marley-lovers from overseas. A former squatter settlement on land originally owned by an Irishman called Trench, it adjoins the equally impoverished Rose Town, which is also hoping for a revival.
But I digress. The most important thing about Trench Town (apart from being the place where Bob Marley and the Wailers grew up and developed their sharp, sweet reggae) is the Trench Town Reading Centre. Yes, it deserves to be in bold. The original concept was bold… and simple. It was founded in 1993 and is still going from strength to strength. The dedicated group of people who founded the centre talked about the need to “exchange violence for the power of reasoning. To think. To reason. To learn. To grow.”
Now, the young people of Trench Town can’t keep away from the place. ”Knowledge is the Key to Success” is the message on the beautiful painted wall at the entrance to the Vin Lawrence Park on First Street – just over the road from the Culture Yard, and just across Collie Smith Drive from Boys Town. Inside, you can just see the children’s faces brighten. There are bright colors, enticing displays, arts and crafts, and a terrific summer school that includes all kinds of magic. Learning and fun.
And there are books, and books. An impressive Black History section for adults and children. Books that help kids to explore, learn, travel far away from the hot, dusty corner of Kingston where they live. There are partnerships, friendships, support, love. But there is also a kind of indifference, from people who could really make a difference.
Now the Petchary comes to the “hard sell” part. The Trench Town Reading Centre is a gem. The cliche of “an oasis in the inner city” has been used, but it is true – it’s a place where the residents come to be refreshed. It encourages literacy in the greatest way; it thrives on creativity; it brings people together in the adjoining community classroom; it brings light and laughter into the lives of children.
But it doesn’t run on air. There are bills to pay, books to buy, staff to be paid too. The Reading Center doesn’t need a huge amount, but it needs the funds to just keep going, month in month out, and a bit extra to keep growing. Dear reader, if you can find it in your heart to contribute through money, donations, even volunteering, it will be well worth your while. Friends of the Trench Town Reading Centre is the official page on Facebook to learn more and to contribute if you can. The centre is also on Twitter. And, don’t forget to look at their vibrant website at http://www.trenchtownreadingcentre.com. It presents the long history from the very beginning, the struggles and disappoints, with an exciting update page which shows all the great things that have happened in the past few years.
The Petchary has visited the Reading Centre a number of times. It’s inspiring. Get in touch, and go visit them soon. You will be welcome. And for those who are nervous about the reputation of the area – it’s not as scary as you think, nor is it as far away from our uptown enclaves as you might think either. You will be amazed, delighted, and you will fall in love.
Yes, it’s quite true… Trench Town Rocks!