OK, so I am sucker for anything dolphinesque. Yes, another new word I just invented. But this simple story of stranded dolphins, hauled back out to sea by young men in shorts, while the ladies watch, just makes me feel good, like the applause at the end. Enjoy this happy ending!
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.
A Jamaican boat operator was devastated by the loss of his property in a fire in Harbour View, near Kingston this week. It was all uninsured, and the loss was no small amount in Jamaican terms – 15 million Jamaican dollars. It was also his livelihood.
When asked what on earth he would do, the boat owner said philosophically, “The incident has really left me in a state, but I just have to give thanks that I have life, and where there’s life, there’s hope.”
Jamaicans are very good at giving thanks. It is something that seems to come naturally, and I wish I was better at it myself. The Rastafarians are particularly fond of the expression. Whether the news is good or bad, “give thanks” – it could always be worse. We must simply give thanks for our life, and our health. We are walking, talking, living, breathing, eating and drinking and generally behaving (well or badly). We are thankful for that. Life.
The wonderful Mustard Seed Communities in Jamaica (who deserve all the love, support and thanks that they can get) is a faith-based organization that cares for abandoned children and adolescents with disabilities and children living with HIV/AIDS. They are selfless in an extraordinary way that the Petchary can only regard with some awe. She recently volunteered with a group from work, painting buildings at their home called Jerusalem near Spanish Town. Every week an email arrives from Mustard Seed with the subject line, “Thank You Thursday.” It gives me something to be thankful for, every week. Although not in the least “religious” in the “organized religion” sense, it always makes me pause and reflect for a few minutes.
Today was no exception. The Thanksgiving Day email gently pointed out to me that there is a “giving” in Thanksgiving. Simply put, “The more you give, the more you will find to be thankful for.” The thanks and the giving go hand in hand, the Mustard Seed people suggest.
As the light dims over Thanksgiving Day (being fortunate to have the day off work, despite not living in the United States) I can think of a thousand things to be thankful for. Not least is a postcard from our son, which arrived today from a trip to Toulouse, France, where he was visiting a friend. The Quai de Tounis, lined with rose-colored houses along the river Garonne. It’s something small, but so gratefully received.
And, as a prelude to the first of a series of blogs about the fascinating country of Brazil… I am thankful for the warm, intimate beauty of Caetano Veloso‘s music, which I have been playing at intervals today. Please refer to my Vodpod in the sidebar (which I promise to refresh more often) and my next post.
- A military Thanksgiving Day. (militaryzerowaste.wordpress.com)
- Thanksgiving Day ! (liveloveandpray.wordpress.com)
- Give Thanks! (dawncarnahan.wordpress.com)
The Petchary is going to miss the drama. The Copa America 2011 football tournament is over, in a blaze of pale blue, as Uruguay emphatically beat Paraguay in the final at El Monumental, the majestic stadium in Buenos Aires.
The contest certainly had its high and low points, and was by turns dull, irritating, baffling and downright exhilarating. For a start, the hosts Argentina, whose hordes of fans filled the earlier games, did not stay the course and were beaten in penalty shootouts in the quarter finals by their fierce rivals and ultimate Copa winners, Uruguay. How humiliating for them to hear the Uruguayan cheers resounding in Buenos Aires over the weekend! But hey…there were many sublime moments from Argentina to enjoy, before they sadly bowed out. And there were far too many penalty shootouts in the entire competition, with their engineered drama and inevitable “sudden death” atmosphere. One always feels so sorry for the goalkeepers.
And then there were the other giants of Latin American football, Brazil, who have won four out of the past five Copas. They were beaten by the finalists and at that point low-ranked team, little Paraguay, also in the quarter finals. And woe of woes! No less than four of Brazil’s penalty takers – star boys Elano and Fred, Thiago Silva and Andre Santos – failed to score. The kind of event that makes football fans clutch their heads in despair.
And so Paraguay somehow, astonishingly, sailed on to the finals without having actually won a match (unless you count shootouts). Their defensive displays, however – especially the trusty goalkeeper, Justo Villar, who was named best goalie of the competition - were admirable. ”We got in the final because we had guts and luck,” Villar said bluntly.
There were other spills and surprises. The Venezuelan team – complete underdogs, who have never reached the Copa finals – was remarkably skillful, and as unlucky as Paraguay were lucky – balls bouncing off the framework of the goal with regularity. Their slick play was often a pleasure to watch, but the result was often unrewarding. They worked hard, and ended up fourth, beaten in the third-place match by a combative Peruvian team. Their ailing President Hugo Chavez constantly urged them on via Twitter.
But when it came down to it, the rugged Uruguayans were worthy champions (for the fifteenth time – one more than Argentina). Luis Suarez played with an increasingly fiery energy as the competition progressed. With his crooked teeth and his short crest of hair, he was a dynamo and deserved the Best Player award. He waxed poetic after their victory, speaking of the “unlimited sacrifice that every member of the team has within.” And indeed, their teamwork was remarkable. They were not, like Argentina and Brazil perhaps, just a collection of stars. They were a formidable attacking force.
But one individual has to be mentioned – the dashing Diego Forlan. The Petchary has always hugely admired the talisman of the Uruguay team (and, if you recall, the top player in last year’s World Cup). He of the flying yellow curls and laser-sharp long balls scored two beautiful goals in the finals, after a slow start to the tournament. But then, it’s in his blood. His father and his grandfather were both footballers, playing for Sao Paulo and Independiente respectively in their time.
And then there were the coaches. Paraguay’s coach Gerardo Martino was sternly sent into the stands and suspended for two matches after an unpleasant scuffle following a semi-final win over Venezuela. His assistant Jorge Pautasso – who bore an odd resemblance to the comedian Peter Sellers in a fake nose and wig – carried on with the harassment after Martino’s sending off, and was similarly banished a few minutes later. They sat calmly together in the stands, unrepentant.
As you would expect from Latin American football, there were tears, remonstrations, protests and much discussion. Latin players do much more talking than the rather dour players of the English Premier League (go Arsenal!) After every incident – a foul or perceived foul – there is often a discussion of sorts. The fouled one discusses the affront with the fouler, his team mates, members of the opposing team and, of course, the referee, who finds it very hard to remain aloof. Arms are waved, shoulders are shrugged, but there is often some humor and pats on the back when all is resolved.
Top scorer Paolo Guerrero of Peru was particularly adept at this. He is what the British would call “lippy.” In many European games in such a situation, there is just the short four-letter expletive (read their lips) and a contemptuous spit as the offended one walks away. I prefer the discussions and debates.
Viva Copa America, and all who sailed in her! If you missed it, you missed a treat.
Well, it’s going to be a long hot summer. Here in Jamaica, the first tropical storm of the season, with the sweet, down-home name of Arlene, is circling around Mexico. Jamaicans in social media (and there are 600,000 of us on Facebook alone) cry plaintively, “This heat!!!” (One exclamation mark is never enough in social media-dom).
And meanwhile, some of our western hemispheric neighbors are into…rioting. And specifically, sports riots (sporting riots?). It started with the Vancouverians (no, that can’t be right, hold on a minute…I don’t know what the natives of that fair city are called but will try to find out…Vanconians, perhaps?) Yes, our “neighbors to the north” became incensed at the defeat of their ice hockey team, the Vancouver Canucks.
OK, stop right there. What in the blazes is a Canuck? It sounds like an odd little creature – somewhat chipmunkish, perhaps – that lives up there in the Rockies and eats pine cones. But no – in fact a Canuck is simply…a Canadian. Its etymology is unclear – a bit of German here, a bit of Dutch there, who knows. Anyway, it has now been established that the Canucks are Canadians. Duh, as they say. And they play ice hockey like demons.
Now, I don’t understand the rules of ice hockey, but it was clear that the Canucks were getting the proverbial whupping in that last game, at the hands of (gasp) Americans. Battling Bostonians, no less, who can exhibit just as much testosterone-laden aggression as any Vancouveronian/Canuck. As usual, the incredibly high tempo game gradually degenerated into regular pushing and shoving sessions on the plastic margins of the ice rink, during which at least one player got a bloody nose. It all ended in defeat and despair for the hapless Canucks. And defeated, not by fellow-Canucks (remember, Canuck = Canadian), but by Americans (or whatever their probably highly derogatory word for Americans is).
Yes, among sports fans things get visceral. Name-calling is but a small part of it. In any case, the humiliated fans decided the only thing to do was to “get on bad,” to use a charming Trinidadian phrase. And so they did, bringing shame and disgrace on the city of Vancouver. ”We should not be smug,” reflected one writer in the “Vancouver Observer,” adding rather pompously, “civilization is a precious and fragile thing.” Indeed. And sports fans, let’s face it, quite often border on the uncivilized. One sees plenty of evidence of that scary dark side of human nature, whether it’s racism, ultra-nationalism or just sheer mindless violence (when I was growing up in London, Chelsea fans were to be feared and respected. They were a mob of mindless hooligans, who specialized in smashing up trains).
But hey, sports is supposed to be fun! And for some Vancouverites (ah, that sounds better) it was, apparently. They posed in their Canucks paraphernalia in front of burning cars. Cheerful peace signs were flashed in front of smashed plate glass windows. The rioters did not have the grim look of hardcore anarchists. They were enjoying themselves.
I thought I understood the Canadians. I always think of them as a milder version of Americans, but now I realize they can be pretty edgy too. Once, while traveling alone on a bumpy plane journey, the turbulence made me feel so sick that a kind Canadian sitting next to me gave me some rather disgusting herbal chewing gum that was supposed to settle my stomach. That’s the kind of thing I expect Canadians to do. Not this… In the middle of a serious riot.
I wonder what the hockey players thought – the Canucks and the victorious Bruins (what is a Bruin, by the way? Further investigation needed).
Now, let’s move much further south, to some other battling denizens of the western hemisphere. Ah, here we are… Argentina.
The River Plate (Rio de la Plata) is a large and harmless river that happens to flow along the border between Ecuador and Argentina, lapping at the edges of their respective capital cities, Montevideo and Buenos Aires. It’s actually a huge estuary, brown with sediment; the fresh river water on top, heavy salt water underneath. And there was a battle there, in World War II, in which a German ship ended up out of sorts in the port of Montevideo.
It’s also, of course, the name of the famed Argentine football club. For the first time in its 110-year history, Club Atletic River Plate has been relegated to the Nacional B division. Fans of its huge rivals, the Boca Juniors, must be laughing cruelly (the BJ’s are where the ebullient Diego Maradona was virtually born and raised). Such are sports fans.
Now let’s get this straight. The mighty River Plate football club has towered over most of its competitors for over a century. Its huge stadium, nicknamed “El Monumental,” was built in 1938 and is the largest in Argentina, holding over 76,000 including the standing-only areas. When megastars are in town, they play there; Michael Jackson, Madonna, AC/DC and earlier this year, the inane Miley Cyrus played sold-out concerts. Yikes.
River Plate has won the national league, the Apertura, countless times, and was named Best Argentine Team of the 20th Century in a FIFA-sponsored poll. In the 1940s, during a particularly splendid patch, the team was called “La Maquina” (The Machine). But crisis was looming lurid on the horizon, like an approaching thunderstorm. The club’s president, Jose Maria Aguilar, left the club with debts bursting out all over. The writing was on the wall.
I am using this dramatic language advisedly, because there is nothing quite like the drama of Argentine football. The huge swelling masses of fans, walled off against each other, sway against the tall chain link fences topped with razor wire that pen them in. The Petchary thinks she would not like to be in the middle of that mass of humanity. Within minutes of a game, the pitch is littered with what look like scraps of toilet tissue and other debris, almost as if a bomb has landed in an office building and papers are scattered everywhere. And the game itself is no-holds-barred. Unlike their rather effete footballing neighbors Brazil, they don’t worry too much about fancy footwork or cute hairstyles. The main thing is to get the ball in the back of the net, so they can go racing about tugging at each other’s shirts, kissing and hugging and so that their fans can do likewise.
Now, the Petchary has more sympathy with the mortified, devastated River Plate fans than with the young, exhibitionist Vancouveronians. After all, their team was relegated for the first time ever. And the “Gallinas” – chickens, as fans of rival clubs call them – took the streets. Hell hath no fury like a chicken scorned.
Dennis Brown had a song called “Love and Hate.” It’s something like that, no half-hearted emotions here. In the case of the River Plate riots, mostly grief and hate, starting with pitch invasions when things took a turn for the worse, and death threats against the referee, who had a pretty nervy half-time break. The threats were allegedly made by one of River Plate’s gangs (yes, gangs) called Los Borrachos del Tablon (the Drunks in the Stands). Then thousands of fans who hadn’t got tickets charged the stadium, throwing lumps of rubble at the police who responded with tear gas. 89 people were injured but miraculously, no dead chickens.
- Now the Copa America, the final of which is to be played in El Monumental, is on the horizon. But peace will be restored by then. That phoney football love and harmony will flow across South America as Argentina host the Copa. After all, it is club football that inspires the deepest love/hate/passion/fury/delirium – not national teams.
- Just a footnote: the Petchary is no way condoning violence and criminality in this blog post. It’s just that she understands the agony and the ecstasy of club football (there she goes again with that melodramatic language). It is sad to see grown men cry and tear at their chests in wild grief.
- No doubt about it, River Plate and its fans will just have to suck salt from a wooden spoon (or the Argentine equivalent) throughout the upcoming season, and make sure they win the second division. And there will be no El Classico – the hyped-up annual game between them and super monster rivals Boca Juniors, either.
- What further dramas will unfold, one asks? Well, the summer is young, but getting hotter. Where will the fun and games break out next? When and where is the next G-20 or IMF meeting? That’s always good for a bit of action. Somehow I prefer sports fans, though.
- They’ve got more “oomph.” And sports is more interesting than politics.
- Related articles
My search for Jobim singing “Fascinating Rhythm” was fruitless, and the sparkling dance video could not be embedded, so you will have to search for it on YouTube (it’s there). So, I am settling for a pleasant little clip from Jobim’s first and last concert in Japan, which has a nice little rhythm all its own.
No, dear football fans. No.
I am not talking about the Portuguese Cristiano Ronaldo – the one whose use of hair gel reaches ridiculous extremes, whose vanity knows no bounds, and who is fond of rolling his eyes to heaven. But of course, a remarkable striker.
Brazilian Ronaldo retired on Valentine’s Day this year. He has suffered from health problems and was struggling. In the later years of his career, he also battled weight gain, due to a thyroid condition, and many cruel jokes were made. He always had a chubby face, and gap teeth too.
“O Fenomeno” (wouldn’t it be great to have a name like that) was born in a suburb of Rio de Janeiro. Unlike Argentina’s Carlos Tevez, who grew up in a determinedly tough neighborhood of Buenos Aires, Ronaldo’s neck of the woods is relatively comfortable, with trees. And he has that reliable look of everyone’s favorite son – approachable, lovable, expecting the best out of life. And yet, he described his suburban upbringing as a life of poverty. I am not sure about that. Fans, can you enlighten me please – middle-class suburb, or poor favela?
Doesn’t a footballer deserve a middle-class upbringing, once in a while?
I read a quote from Ronaldo recently. He said that scoring goals was not his specialty, it was his “habit.” It sounds a little self-satisfied – complacent even – but it certainly was his habit for quite some time. Especially in the Spanish La Liga, where in the 2003/4 season he scored 34 goals, besides nine goals in the Champions League. For Barcelona, he scored 34 goals in 37 games. And all that was after a stunning record at PSV Eindhoven, where he scored 55 goals in 57 appearances.
His wildly prolific career was at its peak from 1996 right up to 2005; in the early years of this century, Ronaldo could do no wrong. The 2002 season, in which Brazil won the World Cup, was a remarkable comeback for Ronaldo, who badly injured his knee in 1999 and again the following year. He won the Golden Boot for top scorer in the tournament. Just when other strikers thought it was safe to aspire to his greatness, there came the 2002 second incarnation of Ronaldo, a “Galactico” (superstar from another galaxy perhaps) signed up by Real Madrid that same year. He scored twice in his debut game for this ever-ambitious, PR-obsessed team that now boasts the above-mentioned glamor boy, Cristiano Ronaldo.
When the Petchary visited Rio de Janeiro some years ago, she was sitting in the open window of the restaurant where Antonio Carlos Jobim wrote “The Girl from Ipanema.” A somewhat Bohemian man in a baggy sweater ambled along the sidewalk, hands in pockets (a writer? a dreamer? a painter? a bossanova aficionado?). Right behind him, an energetic man half-riding a bicycle, with wide cheekbones and tufts of curly hair (I can see his face now, several years later) broke into a seraphic smile on spotting us (a think-bubble came up – “tourists”!) and held up a complicated array of clothes hangers. On the gold and green jerseys, the number nine (Ronaldo’s number) shone.
And yes, the Petchary was such a sucker. She almost immediately forked out forty U.S. Dollars (which maybe was a bit too much) for a Ronaldo jersey for her son. At the time, Ronaldinho – a few years younger, with a bobbing pony-tail and laser-like free kick – was already starting to shine and possibly rival his fellow countryman with almost the same name. And there were some of his jerseys too. But…
But Ronaldo was a true football great. Now retired from his injuries, his accolades and glory, and even to some extent his extraordinarily complex love life, at the age of 34 our genial hero is looking benevolently towards the future of Brazilian football.
In particular, he is deeply impressed by a skinny nineteen year-old from Santos with a pointed/Mohican hairstyle by the name of Neymar da Silva Santos Junior, who just scored two very nice goals against Scotland in a friendly. Several European clubs are polishing off their millions-0f-pounds checkbooks in anticipation.
Then there is Paulo Henrique Chagas de Lima, simply known as Ganso, an attacking midfielder also at Santos. At age 21, he has already had a few injury problems, and Ronaldo describes him as “more withdrawn,” but then there is also Lucas, who plays for Sao Paulo.
But hold on a minute, isn’t Lucas a Liverpool midfielder? He’s pretty good. No, this is another, younger Lucas. But Liverpool Lucas isn’t old? No, this is an eighteen-year-old wunderkind who scored a hat trick against Uruguay’s Under-20 team recently.
Three strong picks from Ronaldo. And there will be more to come, impossibly young and self-assured, with the big clubs already hedging their bets and working on possible deals. The Petchary hopes their careers will be long and glorious, although some will inevitably fall by the wayside and burn out too soon.
Meanwhile, Ronaldo has made another important change in his life recently. At the end of 2010, after the birth of his fourth child, he announced he had got himself a vasectomy. It’s called simplifying your life.
- Ronaldo: The Legend of The O Fenomeno (sportingo.com)
- Brazilian legend Ronaldo: Always Real Madrid over Barcelona for me (tribalfootball.com)
- Retired Ronaldo weighs himself on television (sports.yahoo.com)
- Ronaldo: Neymar, Ganso And Lucas Are The Future Of Brazilian Football (goal.com)
- Is Brazil Star Neymar the Next Pele, Ronaldinhio and Ronaldo Rolled into One? (bleacherreport.com)
In Jamaica, I am told, “Sunday music” at home used to be a bit of light classical music – some Mozart, a touch of Tchaikovsky. But in our house, Sunday music is not so restricted. No Led Zeppelin, perhaps – but something rhythmic, light, gentle.
Take Bebel Gilberto, for example. Frangipani flowers and bare feet, sugar green water lapping at your toes, tangled hair, brown skin. Her album “Momento” is just right for Sundays – sweet melodies, breathy vocals, not demanding in any way.
This particular song, though, “Os Novos Yorkinos,” although so unmistakably Brazilian, is in praise of New York and New Yorkers – and quite simply, it’s about going out and having fun. The phone rings… Let’s go out somewhere.
This may be the first in a “Sunday music” series.
Listen to it on the Vodpod sidebar on this blog. And lean back and enjoy. It’s Sunday.
2011 hasn’t got off to an impressive start, has it. There are floods (Australia, Brazil, Sri Lanka), famine (Kenya, parts of India), and indeed pestilence (Haiti, a few African countries). There have also been large quantities of birds falling out of the sky, and dead fishes floating side by side on the surface of lakes and rivers. All very Biblical, and very discouraging. And no, the Petchary does not believe in “the end of days.”
Let’s look at the famine (food) part of it, to start with. We can move on to the floods, pestilence and showers of dead birds in another post, perhaps. Today, a president, who has ruled his country (Tunisia) for as long as our adult son has been on this earth, fled from the power he so tenaciously clung to, leaving behind burnt barricades, bleeding and masked protesters and streets filled with the acrid scent of anger and pain.
How did the Tunisia crisis start? Well, there is a food connection. An unemployed young man was selling vegetables without a permit, and set fire to himself in protest. The first demonstrators shouted the slogan, “Bread, water, Ben Ali out.”
Of course, the protests took a political turn. And, as so often is the case, the high price of food was closely linked to dissatisfaction – essentially, anger – with the government in charge. Reuters reports the chant of Tunis protesters, ”We don’t want bread or anything else, we just want him to leave…After that we will eat whatever we have to.”
And, naturally, the gloomy specter of unemployment and lack of opportunity – social, educational and economic – shuffles around in the background, in shabby doorways. The dark shadow taps the young, eager-faced students on the shoulder, reminding them, “I’m here for you. Whenever you’re ready, here I am.”
Now food riots are contagious. The price of food (and perhaps, oil) can sometimes have the same effect as tossing a can of gasoline on an already smoldering bonfire. There have been riots in Tunisia’s close neighbor, Algeria, and now down into Jordan. Last September, there were food riots in Mozambique, where huge price increases were sparked by catastrophic fires in the great wheat fields of Russia during a tremendous heatwave.
Many developing countries, including little Jamaica, are highly dependent on imported wheat. We may have to change, and start producing more cassava flour, yam flour, breadfruit flour. Why not? The Petchary watched a TV report this week about how Indian cuisine is suffering because of the high price of onions. Well, guess what… find a substitute. We will all have to adapt, and we’d better start now. In Jamaica, we can stop moaning about the price of salt fish, too. It’s an anachronism, a colonial hangover that is just too expensive. Find something else.
Yes, we use words like “catastrophic,” “crisis” and “chaos” with increasing frequency, don’t we. Crisis is really sadly over-worked, and we try to find other words, like… well, there’s no word like crisis. It sums it all up.
Meanwhile, in Jamaica, there is the scare of food poisoning – which may seem trivial compared to the riots, but is also sometimes rooted in poverty and deprivation. After the death of an Argentine tourist at a Christmas wedding celebration, apparently from saltpeter liberally used instead of salt, a rash of ackee poisoning has broken out. Warnings are going out (as if we didn’t know) that ackees must be fully and naturally opened before they are consumed. But people are desperate, picking them when they are not open and therefore poisonous, and selling them. And again, desperate thieves are busy stealing sweet peppers and other crops from the fields of the long-suffering, industrious farmers, and selling the food with the residue of more poison – freshly sprayed chemicals – still on them.
Food and want, going hand in hand.
The Maputo riots last September were a direct result of climate change. Fire caused by high temperatures is a destroyer of crops. Floods caused by an over-enthusiastic La Nina in Australia and Brazil (yes, both the same cause) also destroy crops. So do the numerous hurricanes and storms that afflict the planet daily. Let’s bear this in mind, too.
Adaptation is the name of the game. Which means: get used to change; roll with the punches; make changes in our lifestyle; leave the cultural hangups behind; become self-reliant; think outside the box; prepare for the worst, even if we don’t know what that is.
A U.S. professor who visited Jamaica last year, an Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas Fellow named Gerry Galloway, made a simple statement: ”The only thing we know for certain about climate change is that it is uncertain. The future is uncertain.”
Let’s get used to it, people.
- Sri Lanka floods hamper food distribution; 27 dead (ctv.ca)
- Revolution in Tunisia: photo gallery (boingboing.net)
- First Goes Tunisia, Next Goes… (businessinsider.com)
- Mozambique food riots: The true face of global warming