Last Sunday of the Year: Sunday, December 29, 2013

It’s that period between Christmas and New Year when some of us get very reflective and philosophical. We look back over the past year, and look forward to the next; so there are endless “reviews” and “previews” in the media and elsewhere. As for me, I prefer to look forward, so no reviews for me. And I am really trying hard to live in the present. Like Arsenal Football Club manager Arsène Wenger, who likes to say that he takes it one game at a time.

Finance Minister Peter Phillips.

Finance Minister Peter Phillips.

More taxes looming? I noted in my last post that the government has hinted at the possibility of imposing General Consumption  Tax on gasoline. The mere mention of it made us shudder. Now the government has told the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that tax revenues have fallen short, so they think they must tax us some more (see the Letter of Intent dated December 3, 2013 on the IMF website). Well, of course tax revenues have fallen; the economy has been contracting over an extended period; imports have decreased; people are not spending. And how is adding more taxes going to help?

Dennis Chung. (Gleaner file photo)

Dennis Chung. (Gleaner file photo)

Now, there’s a very good article by financial analyst Dennis Chung on caribjournal.com (a website worth subscribing to) headlined “Jamaica in 2014.” Dennis is quite right. We can’t under-estimate the importance of confidence in almost any economic scenario (something I learned while working in the eurobond sector in London). The government must grasp this concept. Dennis also warns: The government cannot take the path of previous administrations and seek to tax our way out of the problem, as this will only lead to short-term fiscal gain and long-term loss. This has been the path chosen in the past and it has not worked.” But based on the Appendix to the Jamaican Government’s Letter of Intent to the IMF, this is pretty much what it plans to do.

Dennis talks about the two major hindrances to our economic growth: bureaucracy and crime. On the latter issue, former Contractor General Greg Christie has pointed out that the World Economic Forum identified government inefficiency, crime and corruption as major impediments to Jamaica’s economic growth. So let’s keep that in the equation, too.

No to debt swap: Minister of Finance Peter Phillips has ruled out the idea of a third debt swap. Well, of course that is a no-no, Minister Phillips. The private sector, led by Scotiabank Jamaica, made it abundantly clear after the last one that they would not countenance such a thing.

Save Goat Islands!

Save Goat Islands!

Eastern Caribbean floods: Our Prime Minister has sent her sympathies to the islands of St. Lucia, Dominica and St. Vincent and the Grenadines that suffered terribly from a Christmas storm and subsequent flooding. That’s nice, but could we perhaps have sent some assistance? Some Jamaica Defence Force soldiers or other manpower at least?

Relief supplies arrive in St. Lucia from Trinidad & Tobago. (Photo: Press Secretary to the Prime Minister, St. Lucia/Facebook)

Relief supplies arrive in St. Lucia from Trinidad & Tobago. (Photo: Press Secretary to the Prime Minister, St. Lucia/Facebook)

In my last post, I omitted to include a very disturbing story highlighted by Annie Paul on her blog, Active Voice“NOT dead on arrival! No Sir! I will not rest in peace!” tells the tale of a man whom the police thought they had killed in a “shootout.” On arriving at the hospital he sat up and declared himself not dead, meanwhile pointing out the policeman who had tried to kill him. He was then put under police guard in hospital. What has happened to him? Has INDECOM investigated? Read the story at anniepaul.net.

Deaths on the road: Despite the best efforts of the National Road Safety Council, fatalities on the road will end up higher than in 2012, which was 267 dead. What a terrible waste of lives – mainly through stupidity: overtaking, distracted driving, driving much too fast. Are we still considering legislation on cell phones and driving? I’ve noticed this is so common in Kingston – drivers cut corners, hardly even notice you on the road when they have a phone glued to their ear.

Macka Diamond (right) and Lady Saw in a heated battle onstage at Sting 2013. (Photo: Lionel Rookwood)

Macka Diamond (right) and Lady Saw in a heated battle onstage at Sting 2013. (Photo: Lionel Rookwood/Jamaica Observer)

Sting women: I believe Culture Minister Lisa Hanna told local press that the Boxing Day dancehall event called Sting (now celebrating thirty years) would be family-friendly. How terribly wrong she was. If people want to go to these shows, then it is their choice. But I think it is wrong for government to support any of these shows - whether the so-called Jazz Festival, Sting or whatever. The Jamaica Tourist Board sponsored this one for the first (and hopefully last) time. It’s a private sector thing. Moreover, I don’t want my hard-earned taxes to be spent on two women hurling obscenities at each other in the name of entertainment. I would rather it was spent on school furniture, or perhaps hospital equipment. (Did Minister Hanna attend this event, and if so what did she think about it? At the press conference, putting on her best Jamaican patois, she said: mi haffi deh deh”meaning: I have to be there)!

This was Sting 2013 on Boxing Day, sponsored by the Jamaica Tourist Board.

This was Sting 2013 on Boxing Day, sponsored by the Jamaica Tourist Board and endorsed by Culture Minister Lisa Hanna, who said she would have to be there. Was she? Did she watch this “performance” I wonder?

This question was asked on Facebook recently: “After decades and decades of violent crime in Jamaica, what do you do to protect yourself? I’m not talking about the grills and the burglar alarms and the gated communities and the not walking on the road at night. What do you do to protect your spirit and soul from the news every day of murders and rapes and assaults of men, women and children? When you or those you know have been personally affected, or when it is news reports about people you do not know?” I believe that I wrestle with this question week in, week out. 

Protest signs in August Town after police killed Dennis Levy. (Photo: Ricardo Makyn/Gleaner)

Protest signs in August Town after police killed Dennis Levy. (Photo: Ricardo Makyn/Gleaner)

Revenge? Residents of August Town say that the police killed Dennis Levy on December 20 as an act of revenge for the murder of a District Constable and the injuring of a policewoman a short time earlier that day. August Town is  a small community tucked into the high green hills of St. Andrew near the University of the West Indies campus. It has suffered from gang warfare and political strife in the past; however the crime rate there has decreased this year. “They decided that someone had to die for the police,” said one resident, according to a report in today’s Sunday Gleaner.  

Tiefs continue to flourish: Here’s an interesting photo (from our Prime Minister’s constituency) showing a light post festooned with “throw-ups” – that is, illegal electricity connections. I will not comment except to say that the Jamaica Public Service Company has its work cut out…

Illegal electricity connections in Kingston.

Illegal electricity connections in Kingston.

Kudos to…

Bcc7RoVCAAAgOZl.jpg-large

Yohan Blakeour lovely sprinter, whose YB Afraid Foundation has partnered with the private sector and individuals to help young people. In particular, the Foundation supports the Mt. Olivet Children’s Home in Manchester. It held some special events and a motivating workshop over Christmas. Big ups to the young man and wishing you great success in 2014!

Principal of the Lethe Primary and Infant School in St James, Anthony Murray (right), accepts the Jamaica Teaching Council/Ministry of Education and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Leadership in Education Award, from Minister of Education, Ronald Thwaites, at a recent ceremony at the school. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Principal of the Lethe Primary and Infant School in St James, Anthony Murray (right), accepts the Jamaica Teaching Council/Ministry of Education and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Leadership in Education Award, from Minister of Education, Ronald Thwaites, at a recent ceremony at the school. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

A young principal, Anthony Murray, who has guided his school (Lethe Primary and Infant School in St. James) to some great results. He recently received an award for his efforts from the government and UNESCO. We do know that there are many dedicated teachers out there! And yes, Minister Thwaites, the Effective Principals’ Training Programme is a worthwhile effort. It is a pity that 49 principals have refused to participate. In fact, it is very unimpressive.

Journalist and producer of the excellent “Live at Seven” show on CVM Television Yolande Gyles Levy, who produced an excellent feature on the fight to save the Portland Bight Protected Area/Goat Islands earlier this year. She gave an update from her perspective on the program on Friday night, as follows: Nothing much has changed. The government, she said is still waiting on a written proposal from China Harbour Engineering Company. Based on that, the government will conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment, which will be paid for by the Chinese firm. Transport and Works Minister Omar Davies spoke on “Live at Seven” about a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the logistics hub. When host Simon Crosskill asked if he could see a copy he said he could – but “Live at Seven” has not seen it yet.

The St. Mary Chapter of G2K (the young professionals arm of the Jamaica Labour Party), who held a Christmas treat for over 100 children from the Annotto Bay community over the holidays. And “big ups” to all those many organizations, both domestic and overseas-based, that brought joy to under-privileged Jamaicans during the period. I hope we will remember all our vulnerable and marginalized groups throughout the year, not just at Christmas.

The murders of two cousins in Clarendon over Christmas has caused much concern and anger, and has been reported widely abroad, since one of the young women, Franciena Johnson was a Brooklyn resident. The police are now suggesting that a jealous boyfriend may have been the cause. Just this weekend in St. James, a young woman and her infant son were murdered; the father of the child is being questioned. There have been so many tragedies involving young women, their infant children and jealous, vengeful partners. I have also noticed that women OF ALL AGES are murder victims, week in, week out – including, this week, a woman farmer in her sixties, in Sherwood Content, Trelawny (Usain Bolt’s home). So much pain. My condolences to all the families…

Renaldo Walton, 25, Parade Gardens (Tel Aviv), Kingston

Marva Henry, 56, Ebony Vale/Spanish Town, St. Catherine

Unidentified man, Ebony Vale/Spanish Town, St. Catherine

Ramon Perkins, 20, Santa Cruz, St. Elizabeth

Eulalee McIntosh, 64, Shaw Park/Ocho Rios, St. Ann

Norman Comrie, 30, Runaway Bay, St. Ann

Melessha Evans, 20, Irwin, St. James

Jeliana Evans, four months, Irwin, St. James

Unidentified man, Springfield, Westmoreland

Fernando Woolery, 26, Red Ground/Negril, Westmoreland

Geraldine Powell, 65, Sherwood Content, Trelawny

Killed by the police:

Dennis “Evian” Levy, 35, August Town, St. Andrew (previously reported as “Heavy Hand”)

Arlene Robinson, mother of Nordia Fearon, holds a picture of her slain daughter, who went missing with Franciena Johnson on the way to May Pen in Clarendon. Her body was found in Salt River. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Arlene Robinson, mother of Nordia Fearon, holds a picture of her slain daughter, who went missing with Franciena Johnson on the way to May Pen in Clarendon. Her body was found in Salt River. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Franciena Johnson kisses her boyfriend, who has since been arrested in connection with her murder. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Franciena Johnson kisses her boyfriend, who has since been arrested in connection with her murder. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

 

Christmas Birds, Christmas Wedding

Christmas 2013 is over, but joyful thoughts remain. Firstly, there has been an extraordinary flurry of activity in our yard over the holidays. A constant fluttering in the bird bath, a flitting in the hedges, a darting among the branches of our mango trees. Our Christmas birds have been everywhere – picking neat cavities in the old grapefruit that have fallen from the tree; chasing each other with wings arched across the ground – mating season already?; splashing and preening in every available patch of water. The weather has been mild and dry.

The Black-Throated Blue Warbler is very well-turned out in his feathers of slate-blue, black and white. This is the male; the female is not as elegant.

The Black-Throated Blue Warbler is very well-turned out in his feathers of slate-blue, black and white. This is the male; the female is not as elegant.

The now almost inaccessible top of our moringa tree.

The now almost inaccessible top of our moringa tree.

We have our usual feathered friends – the Jamaican Oriole, the Saffron Finch, the Loggerhead Kingbird, the Northern Mockingbird, the Smooth-Billed Ani, and a variety of noisy doves. They stay with us all year round. Our winter visitors are welcomed with special warmth, however – perhaps because we know we will only be honored by their presence until around March or April, when temperatures start to rise. The “Butterfly Bird” (which is a female American Redstart) flicks her gold and black tail in the bougainvillea bushes, making little sorties to catch insects. We have not seen the male – the two tend to live separate lives when wintering in the tropics. But at some point he will appear; in jet black with patches of burnt orange, like an evening suit with bright pocket handkerchiefs. Then there is the equally smart Black Throated Blue Warbler, who loves sipping from our hummingbird feeder. As I was filling the bird bath yesterday, a Black and White Warbler appeared close to me, balanced upside down on a branch, his head on one side. The presence of water draws birds, large and small.

The female Butterfly Bird is the most delightful of visitors - first to arrive, usually. She flirts those tail feathers so sweetly...

The female Butterfly Bird is the most delightful of visitors – first to arrive, usually. She flirts those tail feathers so sweetly…

Did I mention our lovely Bananaquits?

Did I mention our lovely Bananaquits?

Zenaida Doves misbehaving. Whoever thought that doves are quiet, mild-mannered, loving birds have got it all quite wrong. None of our resident doves fit that description.

Zenaida Doves misbehaving. Whoever thought that doves are quiet, mild-mannered, loving birds have got it all quite wrong. None of our resident doves fit that description.

 

And we have seen much more of our Jamaican Woodpeckers (an endemic species); we hear their raucous cries. Sometimes they argue and fuss, diving from one tree to another. Looking up, I see their red head and neat, compact bodies on a branch, like small toys. The White-Chinned Thrush has reappeared too. The “Hopping Dick” makes giant leaps on his bright yellow legs. If you disturb him he flies away low, with a long, trilling cry of protest.

The Baltimore Oriole who bathed, and then kept his distance...

The Baltimore Oriole who bathed, and then kept his distance…

Most exciting of all, we have seen a Baltimore Oriole. No, not a baseball player – but a brilliant bird, deliriously so in his rich golden-orange and black. We see one or two every year at around this time, just passing through. This one stopped for a bath, then before I could grab a camera flew up rather high into the guango tree. So I have posted a distant and rather unsatisfying shot of the bird. I hope he will drop by again, and stay a little longer…

Not quite ready yet...

Not quite ready yet…

Another unexpected joy this Christmas was a wedding on the outskirts of Spanish Town. A wedding full of loud laughter, and applause – and that was before the happy couple and their entourage left for the reception. The pastor’s wry jokes, interspersed with serious injunctions to the bride and groom to be faithful and to love one another, were a delight. There were long pauses in between the bursts of humor and solemnity, while he arranged the couple in various poses for photo opportunities. The occasional balloon burst and made people jump. The keyboard player and singer who accompanied these proceedings gave us a touch of Whitney Houston, some good old standards, a hymn or two – and even a number from MIles Davis’ “Kind of Blue.” The lifting of the bride’s veil so that the groom could kiss her prompted much hilarity (when the first attempt went somewhat awry, the pastor insisted on doing it over, and properly this time). The bride was continuously reminded on the correct way to position her elegantly gloved hand. The couple complied with his wishes with an admirable degree of patience and fortitude. With barely concealed relief, they walked back down the aisle.

My husband's sartorial elegance...

My husband’s sartorial elegance…

I wished I had been wearing red…or pink. Fashion statement.

I wished I had been wearing red…or pink. Fashion statement.

Pretty girls.

Pretty girls.

And there was color – bursts of it. Candy pink satin, silky blue gloves, scarlet dresses and spiky shoes. One guest’s long tresses were colored to match her jungle-print dress in shades of bronze and blonde. The older ladies chose shades of nile green and silver and faded rose. I wish I had asked more of the guests to pose for their pictures…

A vision in tulle.

A vision in tulle.

Just across the road was a brightly-painted establishment consisting of a small shop below and a barber’s above. Neighbors gathered outside to watch the comings and goings at the church with some interest. When the ceremony started, some peeped through the louver windows, laughing. I enjoyed the shop owner’s emphatic warnings to customers that giving credit was not a practice he indulged in. Here is one of his signs…

An uncompromising message.

An uncompromising message.

I hope this post has also brightened your day, as we wander through the last, quiet days of the year and into a new one.

Remember, in 2014, to enjoy the moment. I am reminding myself, too.

Smile!

Smile!

Oops… Here comes the bride!

But, wait… Here comes the bride!

Happy Boxing Day: Thursday, December 26, 2013

It’s a bright sunny day, Arsenal Football Club is playing a delightful second half against West Ham, and it’s a day for relaxing and recovering from Christmas Day. I do hope you all had a wonderful time yesterday, my dear readers… Here in Jamaica, much sorrel was swilled…

The Red Cross working in Canaries, St. Lucia on Christmas Day. (Photo: St Lucia News/Facebook)

The Red Cross working in Canaries, St. Lucia on Christmas Day. (Photo: St Lucia News/Facebook)

Damage in Castle Comfort, Dominica. (Photo: Dominica News Online)

Damage in Castle Comfort, Dominica. (Photo: Dominica News Online)

But we must offer deepest sympathies to our friends in the eastern Caribbean (St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Dominica, in particular) who have suffered from terrible flooding during unseasonal storms just before Christmas. A total of twenty-two are confirmed dead and a number are still missing. Houses and bridges were washed away and many roads destroyed. My condolences to all who have suffered losses.

Governor General Sir Patrick Allen. (Photo: Gleaner)

Governor General Sir Patrick Allen. (Photo: Gleaner)

I like very much Governor General Sir Patrick Allen’s Christmas message, which reminded us to care for the sick, bereaved, abandoned and marginalized among us, – and that not everyone is filled with joy at Christmas. I also liked his support for all the agencies supporting these populations. And I like the GG’s voice. So there you have it. All the Christmas messages are on the Jamaica Information Service website. I like his best, and it’s not too long either.

Transport & Works Minister Omar Davies

Transport and Works Minister Omar Davies has been on sick leave for some time now. How is he, and when will he be back in the office? (I am repeating this question…Anyone know the answer?)

Timing is a little off: Right before Christmas, the government suggested that more tax (General Consumption Tax) on gasoline is under consideration. The immediate reaction from unions and other stakeholders was, of course, negative. Do Omar Davies (then Finance Minister) and then Prime Minister PJ Patterson recall the gas riots of 1999? The government needs to tread very carefully on this one. Perhaps it was just “flying a kite”? In any event, with the International Monetary Fund pressure still unrelenting, tax reform is very much on Minister Phillips’ mind. Now duty is to be removed on January 1 on certain equipment imported by tourism interests; this should help the struggling small hotels.

Westmoreland expatriate Bevo Johnson (third left), of Denver in Colorado, arrived at Sangster International Airport in St James with his family on Sunday, on the inaugural Frontier Airlines flight from Denver to Montego Bay. With him (from left) are his son, Joseph; wife, Merissa; and daughter, Jay. At right are members of the Montego Bay welcome team Granville Morgan of the Jamaica Tourist Board (stooping), and chief commercial officer for MBJ (Montego Bay Jamaica) Airports Limited, Elizabeth Brown Scotton. In background is guest relations manager of the Jamaica Tourist Board, Margaret Jones. (Photo: Claudia Gardner/Gleaner)

Westmoreland expatriate Bevo Johnson (third left), of Denver in Colorado, arrived at Sangster International Airport in St James with his family on Sunday, on the inaugural Frontier Airlines flight from Denver to Montego Bay. With him (from left) are his son, Joseph; wife, Merissa; and daughter, Jay. At right are members of the Montego Bay welcome team Granville Morgan of the Jamaica Tourist Board (stooping), and chief commercial officer for MBJ (Montego Bay Jamaica) Airports Limited, Elizabeth Brown Scotton. In background is guest relations manager of the Jamaica Tourist Board, Margaret Jones. (Photo: Claudia Gardner/Gleaner)

Sting is 30 years old: No, not Sting the English rock star who is considerably older. Hype is building about Sting the annual dancehall stage show, which will take place tonight/ tomorrow morning (I give two dates, because it always goes on well into the morning the next day. Dancehall fans have stamina). A deejay from a bygone age, whom I remember well, is making a comeback on this occasion. He lives overseas and has not performed here for twelve years. But he looks very different now. The Don Dada (Super Cat) was reportedly “quickly whisked away” when he arrived at the airport (were there hordes of screaming fans, one wonders?) He had several hits in the late 80s/early 90s. The young man was devilishly handsome and very dapper. Hard to believe he is now fifty years old!

Super Cat had a slick image.

Super Cat back in the day… He had a slick image.

Some weeks ago now, two bodies were found in New Haven, Kingston – an area I had just visited and wrote a post about. The community is a shambles. The roads are almost non-existent, and there are large areas of wasteland where trucks illegally dump builder’s waste. Amongst all this people try to live a decent life in their homes. But there has been no further report on the two bodies found, which I find very strange. Are all murders being reported? Are all being investigated properly? Why are so many unsolved – even the murder of fifteen-year-old Calisa Edwards, a student of Lennon High School in Clarendon, who was buried on Sunday?

What passes for a road in the community of New Haven (and this is by no means the worst). My photo

What passes for a road in the community of New Haven (and this is by no means the worst). My photo

And where are the two men who were abducted in October from an upper St. Andrew home? Three men have been charged with the abduction, and denied bail. But the whereabouts of twenty-seven-year-old businessman, Curtis Martin, and 25-year-old University of Technology graduate, Mario Daley are still unknown. How can that be?

The Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) features in almost every news item these days – the good, bad and indifferent. The JCF has been successful in getting a lot of weapons off the streets in the past few weeks – but at the cost of three Jamaican lives in Westmoreland this week, among others. And I don’t know if it’s good or bad, but seven police constables have been charged for extortion from an alleged drug dealer in Montego Bay; and two more appeared in court charged with armed robbery in Kingston. Good! And the police have received 89 new vehicles, which should help them in their work. 

Renewed tourism push: With new flights coming in from here, there and everywhere (a new route from Denver, Colorado, to Montego Bay, for example) Tourism Minister Wykeham McNeill is quite bullish about the current tourist season. But do these bits and pieces add up to a large number of stopovers, overall? Time will tell.

Horse racing on the beach? Having just managed to get the marauding (lethal) jet ski drivers under control, what is left of the Negril beach is now patrolled by men selling horseback rides. There are so many now, I hear they make a mess of the beach, defecate in the sea and even race each other. Dangerous and harmful to health. It’s only a matter of time before someone trying to relax on the beach is trampled underfoot. The police seem unable to handle the situation. They don’t know what to do with horses…

Part of Little Dunn's River in St. Ann.

Part of Little Dunn’s River in St. Ann.

And talking of beaches, journalist and activist Andrea Williams has been campaigning for some time for the “Little Dunn’s River” beach to be reopened to the public. The Urban Development Corporation, the government agency that takes care of it for us, had simply closed it. Now the gate is unlocked. Congratulations to Andrea, Barbara Blake Hannah and other good citizens who have fought for the re-opening of the beach. Now its users must respect the beach’s beauty and keep it clean. It is one of the few public beaches in the area – large stretches of the northern coastline have been fenced off by hotels.

Progress: Minister of Health Fenton Ferguson, PFM (that stands for Petchary’s Favorite Minister) has announced the introduction of an electronic records system for hospitals. This is long, long overdue. I recall catching a glimpse of an office at a certain public hospital, and was horrified to see folders bulging with papers stacked up to the ceiling!

Boxing Day kudos go out to:

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller and supporters of her Simpson Miller Foundation, which just disbursed J$250,000 each to five very deserving organizations: the Bustamante Hospital for Children, Missionaries of the Poor, the Salvation Army School for the Blind, Mustard Seed Children’s Home, and Maxfield Park Children’s Home. This is excellent!

Grace Virtue, an overseas-based Jamaican with interesting perspectives.

Grace Virtue, an overseas-based Jamaican with interesting perspectives.

I have stated before how much I enjoy the occasional, well-written and argued columns of Grace Virtue in the Jamaica Observer. This week’s, entitled “A Whole New Ethic,” is no exception – do look it up. It doesn’t hurt that in her Christmas Eve column, which some may have missed, Ms. Virtue gives thoughtful consideration to the environmentalists, who she believes show “our better selves” with their campaign to prevent the destruction of the Portland Bight Protected Area (and Goat Islands), noting: “Pardon the reductionism, but most of us probably agree that a spirited defense of just ‘two likkle lizzad’ comes from a nobler place than ‘your policies are getting in the way of me getting richer and I don’t give a rat’s tail if they favor the poor’.” http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/A-whole-new-ethic_15688666#ixzz2ocFuCzxL

A view across part of the Portland Bight Protected Area. (Photo: Ted Lee Eubanks)

A view across part of the Portland Bight Protected Area. (Photo: Ted Lee Eubanks)

In the Gleaner, I also encourage you to read young columnist Jaevion Nelson’s piece entitled “Age of consent not the problem.” Well, let’s say it won’t solve the problem of harmful sexual relationships, especially intergenerational sex (which Eve for Life is seeking to address in its “Nuh Guh Deh” campaign). Of course, there is much more to say on this topic, but this column is a good starting point for discussion.

GTECH team members, students and staff of St Michael's Primary applauding after they performed a Christmas carol last week. Dave Allen, principal of St Michael's Primary (third left) with his students and GTECH team (from left) Debbie Green, Diane Walker, Suzette Palmer, Owen Campbell, and Oneilia Miller. - Contributed

GTECH team members, students and staff of St Michael’s Primary applauding after they performed a Christmas carol last week. Dave Allen, principal of St Michael’s Primary (third left) with his students and GTECH team (from left) Debbie Green, Diane Walker, Suzette Palmer, Owen Campbell, and Oneilia Miller. – Contributed

Global gaming technology provider G-TECH, which is quietly doing so much good work in schools. I recall a wonderful visit to St. Michael’s Primary School in downtown Kingston earlier this year. G-TECH operates After-School Advantage Programs in six schools in Jamaica, and 200 worldwide.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recently gave a major grant to the Jamaica Library Service, which will help it to expand its IT offerings enormously across the island. This is just amazing and will undoubtedly make a huge difference. Great news!

Digital Jam 3.0

Digital Jam 3.0 – join in!

And Digital Jam 3.0 is coming our way! There is an App Contest (Deadline December 31!!) in three categories for Caribbean citizens. Finalists will be invited to pitch on March 1 and 2 in Kingston. The deadline is tight so look up all the details on their Facebook page (Digital Jam) and they are on Twitter @digitaljam3.  Fantastic prizes await the successful ones!

Jacqueline Charles, Miami Herald reporter. (Photo: Twitter)

Jacqueline Charles, Miami Herald reporter. (Photo: Twitter)

Miami Herald journalist Jacqueline Charles, who has her finger on the pulse of everything happening on this side of the Caribbean. I follow her detailed Twitter updates “on the ground” in Haiti. And she wrote a marvelous piece that is splashed on the top half of the newspaper’s front page. It’s about Jamaican support for Tessanne Chin, in whose victory on “The Voice” we are still rejoicing. Here is the link: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/12/25/3837525/jamaicans-social-media-rallied.html

A musical website for every taste: If you are bored with the same-old-same-old played on radio, check out NPR Music, which is filled with interesting music of every genre. The Tiny Desk Concerts are great, too. NPR also presents its eclectic 50 Albums of the Year, and there’s a 24/7 music feed. It’s at http://www.npr.org/music/

And in other news (as they say) there has been much sadness over the Christmas holidays. A young woman visiting from the United States, who was staying in rural Jacob’s Hut, Clarendon with family, was murdered the day after she arrived. She and her cousin went out last Friday night, and never returned. Her cousin’s body was found the following day. And the police have killed six Jamaicans – three of whom were called “gang members.” Well, they will never be able to have their day in court. Innocent until proved guilty, but if you are killed by the police, you are somehow assumed guilty. My condolences to all those who have suffered the loss of or injury to a family member over the last week. 

Francena Johnson, 19, Salt River, Clarendon (U.S. resident)

Nadia Fearon, 18, Salt River, Clarendon

Silbert Levy, 50, Little Rock District, St. Elizabeth

Andrew Bogle, 36, Portmore, St. Catherine

Killed by the police:

Jermaine Brown, 33, Little London, Westmoreland

Nicoy Clayton, 20, Little London, Westmoreland

Ryan Pringle, 24, Little London, Westmoreland

Randy Walters, Hopewell, Hanover

Oshane Green, Hopewell, Hanover

Gavin Patterson, 19, Bamboo Tree/Port Maria, St. Mary

 

Celebrating Christmas with the Juniors: Trench Town’s Stars, Glitter…and T Shirts

What does Christmas mean to the children of Trench Town? As much fun as it’s possible to cram into the school holidays. A little more freedom. And a little more fun.

Trench Town Reading Centre’s Christmas party was warming up when we arrived. Mariah Carey was giving those Christmas songs all she’d got on the music system. The bounce-about was in place. Now, this is a very important item on any respectable children’s party list in Jamaica. In case you don’t know, it is an over-sized inflated object, mostly enclosed. You get in, and start bouncing. It’s hard to keep your balance in it, so you fall all over the place. The smallest children usually have a rough time of it, poor things. It’s a dog-eat-dog world in there and those who bounce hardest last longest.

The children and the bounce-about.

The children and the bounce-about. No casualties…yet.

The scent of fried chicken was so delicious that a small group of neighborhood dogs quietly appeared at the gate. They knew they would be shooed away if they came in further, so they kept a respectful distance. For now. But their moment would come.

Inside the classroom, tables and chairs were set out, and the beautiful Christmas tree took pride of place in the middle of the room. The afternoon light slanted in, illuminating the room in patches of brightness. The children had decorated the tree with beautiful stars that they had painted themselves in glitter – luminous greens and pinks.

The children were getting hungry, and who could blame them? Having fun brings on your appetite. While the food was being served, I ventured into the library and learning area, where some amazing T shirts were laid out. They were hand-painted in shades of red, green, black and gold in all kinds of designs – Christmas trees, herring-bone patterns, Jamaican flags, zig zags.

After their meal the children presented these to each other as gifts. Sadly we could not stay for this. But we did help with serving the Christmas dinner – plates heaped up with fried chicken, rice and peas, curry, salad and vegetables.

As we departed, the Christmas carols were still playing. But the Trench Town Reading Centre was hushed. Children at work… Nyamming. (Oh, for non-Jamaican readers, this means, simply – eating!)

As we drove back up Collie Smith Drive towards the busy Half Way Tree area, bursts of music hit us from bars and street side hangouts.

Yes, Christmas is creeping up through Kingston town, after all.

Tucking in to the food...

Tucking in to the food…

And before dinner - prayers.

But before dinner – prayers.

A design from one of the younger children. So vibrant.

A design from one of the younger children. So vibrant.

I loved this design.

I loved this design.

Some of the T shirt designs.

Some of the T shirt designs.

A sugar pink star.

A sugar pink star.

Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree...

Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree…

The hopeful dogs wait to be invited in. Rather well-behaved, I thought.

The hopeful dogs wait to be invited in. Commendable restraint really, I thought.

Cooking up a storm…The spicy fried chicken smelled delicious...

Cooking up a storm…The spicy fried chicken smelled delicious…

Days Away from Christmas: Sunday, December 22, 2013

 

I am trying to slow down for Christmas. Forced to, actually, by the lingering flu. I am happiest lying on the couch watching movies (I watched all the “Alien” movies in succession on Sundance Channel this week and concluded – as I already knew in my heart – that the first one was by far the best…)

But I am also happy writing my blog, and am taking the opportunity now to wish all my faithful readers the happiest of holidays, wherever in the world you are. I’ve so appreciated your comments, too. Please keep them coming!

Tessanne gets a warm welcome at Kingston's Norman Manley International Airport. (Photo: Bryan Cummings/Jamaica Observer)

Tessanne gets a warm welcome on arrival at Kingston’s Norman Manley International Airport. (Photo: Bryan Cummings/Jamaica Observer)

So Tessanne Chinour beautiful songbird, returned to Jamaica Friday evening on a private jet sponsored by telecoms firm Digicel. Now everyone wants a piece of Ms. Chin. Government officials were there to bask in her reflected glory (although politicians had nothing whatsoever to do with her success in winning “The Voice” talent competition, of course. But anyway). Tessanne will perform at an annual concert, Shaggy and Friends,” in Kingston on January 4. Shaggy, who has all the right connections, was instrumental in getting Tessanne this amazing overseas exposure.

Thanks to Shaggy for helping Tessanne Chin along the way...

Thanks to Orville Richard Burrell (better known as Shaggy) for helping Tessanne Chin along the way…

Christmas shopping: It hasn’t been a great season for retailers this year apparently. But we always leave things to the last minute, so Christmas Eve will be the day of sales. Having worked in this field in Jamaica for several years, I recall the almost manic intensity of that last-minute rush! Some retailers are getting clever: MegaMart, for example – a warehouse-type store in Kingston and Montego Bay – is open “24/7″ and is offering vouchers for people shopping between 2 and 6 a.m.! Actually, it makes sense. No crowds, only drunken party-goers and security guards to contend with…

Not broke, just…broke: Meanwhile Jamaica Chamber of Commerce President Francis Kennedy says Jamaicans are “not broke” this Christmas – just “ultra-conservative” in their spending. I wonder if some people know that it is actually possible to be broke. Very broke.

This contract business: An awkward issue has emerged, and Information Minister Sandrea Falconer had to put on her sternest voice as she went into damage control mode at a post-Cabinet press briefing Wednesday. But the Minister was, apparently, out of the loop on the matter of the awarding of J$733 million worth of housing contracts to Cenitech Engineering Solutions Limited. It transpired that the National Contracts Commission had already deregistered Cenitech because of various breaches – a fact that the Office of the Prime Minister says Cabinet was unaware of when it approved the awards on December 2, ratifying its decision on December 16. See the Jamaica Information Service website for its explanation. (Question: Is Cabinet a rubber-stamp operation?) This was a severe lapse in communication among government departments, at the very least. Note on Cenitech – from website: CEO George Knight was appointed in April 2013. Prior to this, he worked on major projects (including the Palisadoes and JDIP) as a senior engineer at the National Works Agency for many years.

Information Minister Senator Sandrea Falconer.

Information Minister Senator Sandrea Falconer.

Out of business: A shrimp farm (Caribbean Aquaculture Limited) in Old Harbour, St Catherine, has closed its doors due to a combination of factors. These are praedial larceny (a fancy term for stealing, or “tiefing”) as well as high electricity costs; but primarily, a huge increase in duty on the importation of feed and shrimp larvae. What to do? Is there any way one could use local feed and larvae? I don’t know enough about the shrimp business to have all the answers. All I know is that 88 more Jamaicans are out of work for Christmas…

Richard Hart at his home in London. Professor Rupert Lewis called him "the most consistent Caribbean activist." He received a Gold Musgrave Medal in 2005.

Richard Hart at his home in London. Professor Rupert Lewis called him “the most consistent Caribbean activist.” He received a Gold Musgrave Medal in 2005.

PNP founder dead, age 96: Richard Hart was a founding member of the People’s National Party (PNP) in 1938. He has an interesting political biography. Mr. Hart was one of the “four H’s” who were expelled from the party in 1954 due to their alleged communist leanings (the other “H’s” were Ken Hill, Frank Hill and Arthur Henry). He was re-admitted in 2001. He lived in Guyana and Grenada for a while, and then in London for many years, practicing law. In fact, he left the Caribbean thirty years ago, departing after the U.S. invasion of Grenada in 1983. His name may not be familiar to many Jamaicans, especially younger generations.

Website recommendation of the week: Do you know theroot.com ? There’s an interesting article for us on the Jamaican side, by U.S. academic Henry Louis Gates. Look it up: “Did my Jamaican kin descend from British loyalists in America?”

And on the sports scene there has been another West Indies batting collapse, Asafa Powell‘s drug hearing comes up next month…and my team Arsenal Football Club has been nudged off the top spot in the English Premier League (after many weeks) by the rampaging Luis Suarez (and the rest of his team, Liverpool Football Club). Hopefully it’s only temporary. We face Chelsea tomorrow… Nervy times.

Me and Thierry Henry at the Emirates Stadium in north London last year… Diehard Gooner! (My photo)

Me and Thierry Henry at the Emirates Stadium in north London last year… Diehard Gooner! (My photo)

National Security Minister Peter Bunting. (Photo: Gleaner)

National Security Minister Peter Bunting. (Photo: Gleaner)

Arrested: The police have stepped up their operations against alleged lotto scammers, arresting sixteen of them in several raids in St. James, Westmoreland and Trelawny this week. Let’s hope they can charge some of them, and that the charges will “stick.” And talking of crime, Minister Bunting has noted that his Ministry of National Security will concentrate on crime prevention next year. I am all for that. Community policing – yes, the way to go. And the Citizens Security & Justice program – keep that going. More drama this week… The Financial Investigations Division (led by former Jamaica Constabulary Force anti-corruption head Justin Felice) arrested an attorney, Dawn Satterswaite and two other women this week; they appeared in court on money laundering charges in connection with a convicted Jamaican drug kingpin named Andrew Hamilton.  Gunfire erupted in Rockfort, East Kingston, and in Windsor Heights, St. Catherine this week.

Nice car…This Mercedes-Benz motor car was seized by the police at the Central Sorting Office in Kingston Friday. (Photo: Norman Grindley/Gleaner)

Nice car…This Mercedes-Benz motor car was seized by the police at the Central Sorting Office in Kingston Friday in connection with the money laundering investigation. (Photo: Norman Grindley/Gleaner)

This is what passes for Jonkunnu these days. (Photo: Paul Henry/Jamaica Observer)

This is what passes for Jonkunnu these days. (Photo: Paul Henry/Jamaica Observer)

Christmas note: This photograph supposedly depicting Jonkonnu characters Pitchy Patchy and Belly Woman” in Kingston this week has so much wrong with it. Jonkunnu is a band of masqueraders that perform in Jamaica around this time of year. It’s a fascinating tradition, which has sadly declined in recent years. The one on the right is not Pitchy Patchy (who is multi-colored with strips of cloth), but an attempt at Jack-in-the-Green. And Halloween masks for faces? N.O.!!

And in The Economist… An article by our Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller. It’s a pleasant little PR piece, telling the world that “Jamaica faces 2014 with confidence.” The article is called “Sunrise over the Caribbean.” All kinds of stuff is rolled into it, including climate change, HIV/AIDS, the IMF, and of course how we can translate our sports and culture into economic benefit. There is the usual complaint about Jamaica being classified as a middle-income country, so we can’t get so much money (we would rather be called poor). But among all the “hurdles” and “challenges” there is no mention of the Elephant. You know, the one in the Room. Crime/insecurity.

Christmas bouquets to the following:

Children's Advocate Diahann Gordon Harrison (left) presents gifts and other well needed supplies to Director of New Hope Children's Home Amanda Williams at the home in New Green, Manchester on Tuesday. The Office of The Children's Advocate also hosted a treat for the 30 wards of the State.

Children’s Advocate Diahann Gordon Harrison (left) presents gifts and other well needed supplies to Director of New Hope Children’s Home Amanda Williams at the home in New Green, Manchester on Tuesday. The Office of The Children’s Advocate also hosted a treat for the 30 wards of the State.

Children’s Advocate Diahann Gordon Harrison, who donated supplies and hosted a Christmas treat for the children in state care at New Hope Children’s Home in New Green, Manchester, recently. Let’s do all we can for our children!

MegaMart (yes, the 24-hour supermarket mentioned above) for employing graduates from the Stella Maris Foundation’s skills training program – situated in inner-city Grants Pen. Thanks for giving them the opportunity.

Shauna Fuller for her efforts to raise awareness of the terribly debilitating women’s disease, endometriosis. I knew very little about it (I have to confess) before I attended a tea party at King’s House recently for Shauna’s BASE Foundation. Much more to follow on this…

All those who took the DELF and DALF examinations in French this year, whether they passed or not. I passed the DELF B-2 level (pause to pat myself on the back) but I was puzzled by the fact that so few successful candidates actually turned up to collect their certificates and have their photo taken with the French Ambassador at the Alliance Française de la Jamaïque, this week. This is a valuable qualification from the French Government. It was mostly the young ones who did not show up. I guess they had something better to do?

Recipients of the DELF and DALF Certificates at various levels in the French language at the Alliance Francaise de la Jamaique this week.

Recipients of the DELF and DALF Certificates at various levels in the French language at the Alliance Francaise de la Jamaique this week. (My photo)

The marvelous KC Chapel Choir.

The marvelous KC Chapel Choir.

Do go see and hear… The Kingston College Chapel Choir, who will be giving concerts with mezzo-soprano Raehann Bryce-Davis at the University Chapel, Mona, at 5 p.m on Sunday; at the Church of St Mary the Virgin, Molynes Road, on Sunday, December 29, at 5 p.m.; and at St John’s Anglican Church Hall, Milford Road, Ocho Rios, on Sunday, January 12, 2014, at 4 p.m. They are really a beautiful choir.

Fourteen of the nineteen police divisions have reported increases in homicide rates this year. The total stands at 1,130 to date, compared to 1,063 in the corresponding period last year (RJR reports). There have been especially large increases in St. James (from 145 to 163) and Westmoreland (from 66 to 87). These are painful numbers. And we must not forget all those who are mentally and physically affected by violent crime – the victims, and their families and loved ones – who are left behind and are suffering. My condolences to all… 

District Constable Paul Whyte, August Town, St. Andrew

Christiana Golding, Bond Street/Denham Town, Kingston

Unidentified man, Dumfries, St. James

Killed by the police:

“Paul,” August Town, St. Andrew

“Heavy Hand,” August Town, St. Andrew

Celebrating Christmas with the Seniors: Much Dancing at Cluster H

It was a very warm, calm morning in Vineyard Town, Kingston, and I arrived early for the JN Foundation’s annual Christmas treat for the residents of Cluster H at the Golden Age Home. Music was playing, and the seniors were getting themselves organized. There was an atmosphere of quiet expectancy. Next door to the Cluster, there was another event being prepared. “Big tings a gwaan,” I thought. It was a separate treat, that included children, and the Minister of Social Security as it turned out later.

Underneath that big old almond tree...

Underneath that big old almond tree…lovingly painted white and draped in Christmas lights. All photos mine unless noted.

A patriotic tree outside Cluster H. (My photo)

A patriotic tree outside Cluster H. 

And indeed, it turned out to be an exceptionally lively morning. The residents emerged in twos and threes, looking very smart, and settled down under the spreading almond tree. That tree gives beautiful shade in the centre of the cluster – a roughly square arrangement of buildings which includes a small office as well as the residents’ living quarters. Jamaican almond trees are untidy, with knobby branches and big papery leaves that cover the ground – but that is part of their charm.

When the good people from JN Foundation arrived, bearing gifts, the residents were seated on benches, in wheelchairs and wherever there was space, waiting for the action to start. And once the formalities were over (prayers and short speeches), it didn’t take long for the “vibes” to start flowing.

There was the singing. The young volunteers did a good job. (Singing bravely along with the Christmas carols, I realized that my voice has gone “off” considerably; the days of singing alto in the school choir back in west London are long gone, sadly).

And then – oh my – the dancing swiftly followed, and the music swelled in volume. We were competing somewhat with the event next door, so there were overlapping waves of music (I told you it was lively, didn’t I!) A lady named Dorothy (my grandmother’s name, I always love it), who had earlier recited an entire psalm for us in a strong, firm voice, got up to dance – and stayed on her feet. It was a quiet shuffle. Another lady who had been clapping along enthusiastically was easily persuaded to get on her feet. One gentleman recalled a dancehall song from a few years back; and demonstrated all the moves. It was Elephant Man‘s “‘Pon Di River, ‘Pon Di Bank.” In case you’re wondering!

Volunteers distributed the beautifully-wrapped gifts in shiny red paper, and then…time for lunch.

But wait – this year there was “brawta” (that means an extra something, in Jamaican patois). A choir from the Alpha Primary School arrived (some of them looked a little surprised at all the noise we were making by that time!) and calmed us down with some spiritual performances. The excitement was raised a few notches, however, by the young soloists – two girls and a boy – who threw heart and soul into their performances. We might be seeing them competing in “The Voice” (or its equivalent) in, say, twenty years’ time! Of course, the residents enjoyed the performance thoroughly.

As I was leaving, the music (two layers of it, including a very good roots reggae band next door) shook the air. The residents were still in the swing of it.

Congratulations, as always, to the JN Foundation and its volunteers, who do a marvelous job. You can find out more about them and their work on their Facebook page and contact them on Twitter @JNFoundation.

And if you know an elderly person who is lonely, depressed or in need – or maybe simply a little bored – do reach out over Christmas. Pay them a visit, give them a call, drop by and cheer him/her up! 

Me and a new friend, a lady from St. Elizabeth. (I think her name is Theresa). This photo is from JN Foundation's great Facebook album.

Me and a new friend, a lady from St. Elizabeth. (I think her name is Theresa). This photo is from JN Foundation’s great Facebook album.

And then there was just the simple pleasure of hanging out together… The volunteer in blue T shirt is my friend Neville Charlton, and the lady in the red hat next to him is the lovely Dorothy.

And then there was just the simple pleasure of hanging out together… The volunteer in blue T shirt is my friend Neville Charlton, and the lady in the red hat next to him is the lovely Dorothy.

 

This young man sang with feeling. He had all the moves too, by the way. Knew how to work that mic!

This young man sang with feeling. He had all the moves too, by the way. Knew how to work that mic!

One of the young soloists - so full of confidence.

One of the young soloists – so full of confidence.

Gently swaying to the beat...

Gently swaying to the beat…

JN Foundation volunteers have gorgeous smiles!

JN Foundation volunteers have gorgeous smiles!

Some volunteers were experimenting with the best way to wear a Santa hat…

Some volunteers were experimenting with the best way to wear a Santa hat…

The volunteers raised their voices...

The volunteers raised their voices…

Color coordinated: These lovely ladies in shades of pink were waiting for the action to start.

Color coordinated: These lovely ladies in shades of pink were waiting for the action to start.

Happy Mechanical Christmas

I commented in an earlier blog post that it has been a fairly dull season on our street. Our neighbors have not decorated their yard at all. It’s dark. I am not “feeling” Christmas – especially since the flu has been on the rebound. I spent yesterday in bed, buried under a blanket with the radio and my android phone for company.

In other ways, it is far from dull. On both sides of our house, the happy pre-Christmas season has been all “action.” Of the hardware store variety.

On one side is the home of a “big man” – who clearly is not at home these days, or he would be going crackers. He is on an overseas trip, one presumes, or at another residence. His humble neighbors (us), however, only have one home to stay in, so we suffer. Seven days a week (yes, Sunday mornings not exempt) we have endured a range of power tools. From hammer drills to saws to simple plain hammering, the side of their house right next to ours is undergoing a kind of demolition-and-rebuilding-from-scratch effort, it seems. In the initial stages this was accompanied by a lot of shouting, laughter and foul language, as the workers relaxed during breaks in the drilling and banging and thumping. Now, it seems, the pressure is on to finish the job by Christmas, and the shouting has thankfully stopped. All you hear now is the relentless power tools (last night, until around 1o p.m.)

Not to be outdone, on the other side of our house (west or east? I don’t know) we were rudely awoken at the crack of dawn this morning by the sound of a man beating the living daylights out of one of those horrible “strimmers,” on the street. You know, those things that sound like a thousand angry bees, that spit out stones in your face if you are not careful. Give me the sleepy drone of an old-fashioned lawn mower, any day. Like most Jamaican gardeners (yes, most) the gentleman deployed this machine with great enthusiasm, revving it up continuously like a sports car engine. This went on for at least half an hour, during which I prayed that the wretched thing would give up under the strain. But it didn’t. It kept on going. And going.

Strimmer Man stopped every now and then to confer with a colleague, also presumably on the government’s “Christmas work” program that takes place every year, which is supposed to put a little extra cash in the pockets of the jobless. Then he returned to his labor, crawling at a snail’s pace down the road. I suspect he was actually attempting to mow the concrete sidewalk. That’s certainly what it sounded like.

As I write, one of the other side’s wide selection of top-of-the-range power tools has started up again. Time to beat a retreat to the bedroom and turn up the radio, I think.

Roll on, Christmas Day! All is forgiven.

P.S. Another example of “Christmas work” in our neighborhood: men have been diligently painting the so-called kerbs on the main road a hideous yellow. At times the kerbs are almost non-existent, consisting of a little knob of concrete, like a broken tooth. But each little knob gets its own small dab of yellow. 

“Homeland” finale day: Sunday, December 15, 2013

Events (and Christmas cards) keep crowding in on me, so it is harder and harder to complete my twice-weekly bulletins on time during the Christmas season! But, one tries…

I have given up trying to add links in to my news bulletins. They only work about half the time, which is frustrating for readers and for me too. So, if you do want to read more on any of the stories below, I suggest you look them up at jamaica-gleaner.com; jamaicaobserver.com; and rjrnewsonline.com. I do get stories from other sources too but you will find the top stories on these pages. My apologies for any inconvenience caused…

Schools found wanting (again): The Inspector of Schools’ latest report does not make for happy reading. Progress in about half of the 304 schools inspected was “unsatisfactory,” – with achievement in English Language rated unsatisfactory in 75 per cent of the primary level schools, and 50 per cent of the secondary schools. Good grief!

I am a little tired… of the regular hype we get from the Tourism Ministry – projections for the upcoming season. We are getting lots of stopover tourists from Czechoslovakia, apparently. Really now. “Jamaica on target to make stopover history” declares the Sunday Observer. Over two million stopover visitors expected for 2013? But hold on! According to the latest figures on onecaribbean.org (the Caribbean Tourist Organisation website), Cuba has already had over 2 million stopover visitors this year (without Americans)! And the Dominican Republic has had almost four million. Hmm. Am I missing something?

I actually got to read Mark Wignall’s column this week, as I bought a hard copy of the paper; how annoying it is that one cannot read the full column online. However, my mind has been going off in the same direction as Mr. Wignall in relation to the Goat Islands logistics hub and the lack of information thereon. Is it because the Chinese are concerned about our crime rate and are hesitating? Remember the Police Commissioner has had to reassure the Chinese Ambassador on more than one occasion that his nationals are safe, and toured downtown Kingston with him very recently. Mr. Wignall quotes Jamaican engineer Howard Chin, who believes that “the PNP government will be granting the Chinese extraterritorial rights to the Goat Island port facilities,” where they will be protected presumably. Good Lord. And as Mr. Wignall comments, “Something about this Goat Islands investment is not adding up.”

Head of the National Education Inspectorate Maureen Dwyer. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Head of the National Education Inspectorate Maureen Dwyer. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

It’s snowing cocaine for Christmas: A lot of jokes about a “white Christmas” in Jamaica are circulating, after a series of enormous drug busts at Kingston’s ports. A total of over J$2.5 billion worth has been found in containers in the past week – 1,696 pounds in weight. And all being transshipped somewhere else – from Venezuela, Colombia and Curacao. Is this going to impress future investors in the promised logistics hub, one wonders? Is this sudden jump in seizures due to increased vigilance, or to an increase in drug trafficking (which Minister Peter Bunting recently described as one factor in the increased crime rate)? I would like to see more investigative reporting on this development.

Dusting off the begging bowls: But do they need dusting off – they have only just been used? This time Finance Minister Peter Phillips (plus delegation) is off to China to seek investment, funding etc. Which government ministers have not traveled to China first-class, at taxpayers’ expense? And why is Minister Phillips going to seek investment? I thought that was Minister Hylton’s portfolio.

Frightening stuff: The Montego Bay, St. James blood-letting continues. After five were killed on Wednesday, we had another four murders at the end of the week. For Minister Bunting, the week after the launch of his “Unite for Change” program, this must be very alarming. Montego Bay’s murder rate is some way above Kingston’s this year. It was first blamed on the “lotto scam,” but I understood this to be under control (or is it?) The police arrested a couple this week, but how many successful lotto scam cases have there been in court so far? Now it is all said to be “gang-related.” Can the police tell us what is happening, apart from the fact that there have been 152 murders, nine more than compared to the same time in 2012, in this parish alone?

The Chinese are worried about crime: And I fully understand that. We all are! So the Police Commissioner took a walk downtown yesterday with the Chinese Ambassador. There are over 200 Chinese-operated businesses in downtown Kingston alone. I had no idea it was so many, although I am told it has always been so.

CCTV is a must: I really think businesses and whoever can afford it need to invest in CCTV though. In the UK and U.S. it is in every public space, and it has solved many crimes. But the cost is high – and who would monitor the footage? I would love someone to delve more deeply into the pros and cons.

A very odd-looking person: The police descriptions of wanted men (they rarely have photographs) sometimes verge on the bizarre. The police are looking for a person with “a straight face and a pointed mouth” right now. He has a “high forehead and protruding ears,” too. If I met this gentleman I am not sure if I would recognize him. Another man was of “dark complexion” but also “appeared to be bleaching” (his skin, that is) – so what color does that make him, roughly? Dark with light patches, I suppose.

And odd comments: I may have misinterpreted remarks made at a Rotary Club function by the head of the Court of Appeal Justice Seymour Panton, as reported on television. He seemed to be blaming journalists for the increased crime rate, saying that the media glorifies criminals. Sorry, I am not seeing that at all – although there may have been a tendency to do that at one time, but not now. Justice Panton did not give any examples of this glorification, but didn’t like the media describing a person as a “don.” But dons do exist, actually!

Justice Seymour Panton. (Photo: Gleaner)

Justice Seymour Panton. (Photo: Gleaner)

Another Christmas in jail: Talking of bleaching, the deejay Vybz Kartel will spend his third consecutive Christmas behind bars, as the second murder case in which he is a co-accused will drag on into the New Year. So Mr. Adijah Palmer’s highly-paid, arrogant defense lawyers will have ample opportunity to continue making witty remarks and parading in front of the court and media, flaunting their gowns like peacocks. I know, they are just doing their job. But this isn’t a network television series, is it.

Hurry along, now: Senator A.J. Nicholson had to apologize for the extreme haste with which many bills are being pushed through Parliament, ahead of the Christmas break. This is all to do with the International Monetary Fund‘s demands, he says. Yes, I am sure it is, but surely they should be properly debated? I foresee problems down the road…

Are we taking any notice? The European Union/UN’s very important Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction Project (what a mouthful) has ended. I hope that lessons have been learned and that the measures taken will have some effect for the future. EU representative Paola Amadei commented, “A careful environmental assessment of all projects is not a new fad but a necessity”  (Hint, hint). I really hope that the Jamaican government has taken on board the warnings and concerns over the impact that development has on our fragile environment (or what’s left of it). As Ambassador Amadei said, it’s not a question of either/or. What’s the next step, Climate Change Minister Pickersgill?

Minister of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change Robert Pickersgill (centre); head of delegation of the European Union (EU) to Jamaica, Ambassador Paola Amadei (left); and deputy director general, sustainable development and regional planning, Planning Institute of Jamaica, Claire Bernard, view a portfolio with photos of projects under the Government of Jamaica/EU/United Nations Environment Programme Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction Project, which has just ended. - JIS Photo

Minister of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change Robert Pickersgill (centre); head of delegation of the European Union (EU) to Jamaica, Ambassador Paola Amadei (left); and deputy director general, sustainable development and regional planning, Planning Institute of Jamaica, Claire Bernard, view a portfolio with photos of projects under the Government of Jamaica/EU/United Nations Environment Programme Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction Project, which has just ended. – JIS Photo

NWC story: The Sunday Observer has a story about dubious contracts and cost overruns at the National Water Commission as its lead story, based on documents it obtained. However, I am never too comfortable with reports that rely on unnamed sources (whether “highly placed” or not) for comment and that are “unable to contact” key actors who could shed more light. I am, however, concerned at the staggering losses the NWC continues to incur (J$3.5 billion in just five months this year) and the Office of Utilities Regulation’s decision to grant this highly inefficient organization a rate increase of eighteen per cent in October. Humph!

Harmony Hall in St. Mary houses a lovely art gallery. For many years it has hosted exhibitions of Jamaican intuitive art - its 32nd will be on December 29, 2013. (Photo: Harmony Hall website)

Harmony Hall in St. Mary houses a lovely art gallery. For many years it has hosted exhibitions of Jamaican intuitive art – its 32nd will be on December 29, 2013. (Photo: Harmony Hall website)

Harmony Hall for sale: We have been going to exhibition openings at Harmony Hall in St. Mary for decades now (and occasionally buying art, when our budget permitted). Now, after 32 years of managing this attractive Georgian property (then Prime Minister Edward Seaga opened it in 1981), the owners Annabella and Peter Proudlock are putting it up for sale. I feel sad, and hope that whoever takes it over will give the building as much love and care as they have done. And keep the art gallery open.

600 handcarts registered!! Yay! Mayor Angela Brown-Burke is thrilled at the success of her drive to register handcart operators. She thinks this will empower them to get loans, save money, even buy a house. Umm, err…

Will this handcart operator ever be able to buy a house? Well, the Mayor of Kingston thinks he will, if he is registered.

Will this handcart operator ever be able to buy a house? Well, the Mayor of Kingston thinks he will, if he is registered.

P.S. Our newspapers are getting increasingly sloppy. A Sunday Observer column by “Sean Major-Williams” (at the top of the page) is accredited to “Sean Major-Campbell” in the introduction. It’s not even corrected online. By the way, this is well worth a read – it’s the Father’s message for Human Rights Day last week, headlined “The link between the Kingdom of God and justice.” He offers a marvelous quote from Archbishop Desmond Tutu: “Christians shouldn’t be just pulling people out of the river, we should be going upstream to find out who’s pushing them in.” 

And I am so emotionally drained after the finale of “Homeland” that…I just cannot go on… (Is Brody really dead?)

This is Father Sean Major-CAMPBELL. Please note, Jamaica Observer!

This is Father Sean Major-CAMPBELL. Please note, Jamaica Observer!

Seasonal kudos to:

The Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) for its sheer determination in pursuing the stealers of electricity. JPS says it has arrested and brought to court over 700 people this year!

The Jamaica Institute of Environmental Professionals (JIEP) for its detailed and thorough presentation on the processes, procedures and considerations for the logistics hub last Thursday evening. Inevitably, the oft-repeated refrain was, “But of course, we have very little information to go on, so…” 

Jean Lowrie-Chin for her column (now available on her blog at lowrie-chin.blogspot.com) on our desire – and need – to see something Mandela-esque in our own political leaders. Oh, I wish! An excellent column and worth reading.

Gloria Simms is from the Trelawny Town Maroons in the hills of St. James. (Photo: Paul Williams/Gleaner)

Gloria Simms is from the Trelawny Town Maroons in the hills of St. James. (Photo: Paul Williams/Gleaner)

Ms. Gloria Simms (a woman you will never forget, once you have met her) heads the Maroon Women’s Indigenous Circle. She will travel to Suriname soon, with the aim of forging stronger ties with Maroons there. Her aim is poverty reduction and the development of eco-tourism and community tourism in Maroon communities. Ms. Simms is brilliant and I hope she has a very successful visit.

It is very sad to list the names below. My heartfelt condolences to all the families of those murdered in the past four days:

Desmond Samuels, Spring Mount, St. James

Unidentified man, Content/Maroon Town, St. James

Unidentified man, Content/Maroon Town, St. James

Barrington Dennis, 23, Orange District, St. James

Monique Watson, 36, Montego Bay, St. James

Rosemarie Reid, 46, North Gully, St. James

Andrew Duhaney, 30, Rough Road, St. James

Gussette Clarke, 41, Edgewater/Portmore, St. Catherine

Kevin Kirkland, 37, Newlands Road/Portmore, St. Catherine

Demar Campbell, 24, Caymanas Gardens/Portmore, St. Catherine

This Christmas Thing

OK, I don’t feel ready for Christmas, this year. But then, I never do.

I always buy charity Christmas cards (by the way, Youth Opportunities Unlimited has a great range of bright and beautiful cards this year) and send them out to dozens of friends and family (mostly overseas, so it costs a fortune in postage). I always feel “virtual” Christmas cards are a bit of a cop-out, since I only communicate with many of these people once or twice a year. They deserve something in their hand – something they can display on their mantelpiece or hang from the beams in the ceiling, as my sister does in her old English farmhouse. It’s a touch of Jamaica, bright and cheerful on a cold winter’s morning in New York or London.

It’s a ritual I enjoy. I write my cards in strict alphabetical order, so people whose surnames begin with “A” have a much better chance of getting their card on time than the “W”s. And I have to fill one half of the card with stuff like, “It’s been another busy year for us…” or “What, Christmas already?” and the obligatory updates on son’s and husband’s welfare. Variations on a theme, really. I usually just about get them finished by around December 20, which means of course that some are going to be, well, late. And this despite my husband’s gentle reminders: “I notice you haven’t started on your Christmas cards yet, dear…”

One of the gorgeous bright Christmas cards available this year from Youth Opportunities Unlimited. Look up their Facebook page for more information!

One of the gorgeous bright Christmas cards available this year from Youth Opportunities Unlimited. Look up their Facebook page for more information!

And no, I haven’t. That’s one of many reasons why I don’t feel ready for Christmas. No, never.

Oh, happy Thanksgiving by the way to all my friends and readers in the United States! And happy Hannukah, which coincides this year, to all our Jewish friends too. The Festival of Lights – how beautiful. Actually I am drawn to the Thanksgiving celebration for a number of reasons: I like it because God doesn’t intrude too much into the proceedings. I like to think we are giving thanks to Mother Earth, to the Universe, to whatever Spirit we may or may not subscribe to. We are just thankful, and it simply appeals to me on that level, philosophically. And it’s about family, more than anything else – which I happen to believe is very important, in my old-fashioned way. Plus, I am rather fond of roast turkey (which in England we always ate on Christmas Day, at home).

Hanukkah

happy-thanksgiving

But back to Christmas. There is the food. Firstly, I am not crazy about sorrel, the traditional Christmas drink in Jamaica. I will only drink it if there is nothing else. It has a medicinal quality, and to reduce that taste, it is often made too sweet. But I dutifully sip it when I have to. And I dislike Christmas cake. I have an incredibly sweet tooth so I should love sorrel and cake, shouldn’t I? But I just don’t like the taste. If it had brandy butter with it, maybe. But Jamaicans don’t do brandy butter.

Jamaican sorrel drink is made from the flowers of a native hibiscus species.

Jamaican sorrel drink is made from the flowers of a native species, hibiscus sabdariffa. 

On the plus side there is the ham. Local Jamaican ham is incredibly delicious and juicy and makes me give up the idea of becoming a vegetarian, just yet. I am so tired of chicken, which we eat all year round until it’s coming out of our ears. And I miss the aforementioned turkey, cooked the way my mother used to do it. But the ham makes up for all this.

Glazed, baked, whatever you do with it, real Jamaican ham is (to quote the Colonel) finger-lickin' good...

Glazed, baked, whatever you do with it, real Jamaican ham is (to quote the Colonel) finger-lickin’ good…

I don’t drink for health reasons so that is also quite boring of me, isn’t it? I will have a sip of wine (or preferably champagne) and just now, looking at a link in Carib Journal with all kinds of rum punch recipes, I licked my lips. Jamaicans are fond of egg nog at Christmas – an old-fashioned English thing – but I have always found it too rich and sickly. So, on Christmas Day we will be going to a nearby hotel, which boasts an enormous buffet: a huge range of delights. Something to look forward to.

Here's an interesting recipe from Carib Journal: 1.5 oz Appleton Estate Reserve 2-3 oz Unfiltered apple cider 1 barspoon of spiced butter* Garnish: Grated Nutmeg Glass: Footed Tempered Glass/Mug Preparation: Steam until butter dissolves, and serve. Spiced butter: 4oz butter, 3oz orgeat, 3oz maple syrup, 1 tsp pumpkin spices, pinch nutmeg, pinch cloves, pinch cinnamon. Heat in a pot to combine then chill in refrigerator

Here’s an interesting recipe from Carib Journal: 1.5 oz Appleton Estate Reserve 2-3 oz Unfiltered apple cider 1 barspoon of spiced butter Garnish: Grated Nutmeg Glass: Footed Tempered Glass/Mug Preparation: Steam until butter dissolves, and serve. Spiced butter: 4oz butter, 3oz orgeat, 3oz maple syrup, 1 tsp pumpkin spices, pinch nutmeg, pinch cloves, pinch cinnamon. Heat in a pot to combine then chill in refrigerator.

And now it comes down to it, what else has Christmas got going for it, for me personally? We are not church-goers, and sitting with eyelids propped open for Midnight Mass (complete with a long, droning sermon) always seems like self-inflicted torture to me. So all that stuff is out. There are one or two parties; but fewer and fewer in Kingston these days, due to what we like to call the “economic downturn” (which seems to be a permanent fixture these days). To make matters worse, the local television Christmas ads started early this year, to drum up business. They are more annoying than ever. The jingles are nerve-wracking. Young women bounce around Christmas trees, dressed as elves in red tights – red tinsel, red glitter, everything swathed in red. I reach for the mute button instantly.

NO MORE RED, please!! There are Jamaican equivalents of this tackiness, everywhere.

NO MORE RED, please!! There are Jamaican equivalents of this tackiness, everywhere.

When our son was young, Christmas was fun. We would buy him all kinds of odd little presents. We would spend all day decorating the Christmas tree, smashing a few glass balls along the way. My husband would spend hours checking the Christmas lights (there were always those dead bulbs that spoiled the whole thing) – that was always his job. We would buy pots of poinsettias (a local plant, of course) and over-priced imported decorations. We would watch videos and kitschy children’s Christmas shows on television, and cook up a storm. My husband would go downtown to “Grand Market” (there is still a watered-down version of this, I believe) and revel in his childhood memories of Christmas in Kingston. My parents spent at least one or two Christmases with us here in Jamaica – which, all by itself, was awesome.

A Grand Market stall in downtown Kingston.

A Grand Market stall in downtown Kingston.

But let me return to the “giving thanks” part of this season, for a minute. There is so much to appreciate, after all. The sunlight lies gently on the tiny leaves of our lignum vitae tree with its heart-shaped orange fruits hanging like clusters of earrings. When I was hanging the washing out a short while ago, a Jamaican Oriole came down to sit on a branch of the mango tree and sang me a soft, conversational song. (Yes, people probably think I’m crazy talking to the birds – but they talk to me). Our dog lies down in her favorite spot on the front lawn every afternoon, sniffing the air, gazing round quietly (with the occasional bark if someone passes by). The “Christmas breeze” stirs, unobtrusive. The sky is a faded blue, decorated with harmless, fluffy clouds. The light ripens softly as the day declines into a pink sunset. The air is calm. The doves coo softly.

Zenaida Doves pottering around in our yard. They are always in twos...

Zenaida Doves pottering around in our yard. They are always in twos…

And there are people – especially my family (present, absent and passed on) – and the Jamaican people, in all their confusion and craziness. What more could I really want?

Evening time at home.

Evening time at home.

But why do I feel as if Christmas is some huge hurdle to climb over? I think it’s just about getting old. The memories begin to crowd the room, breathing in all the oxygen. It’s almost claustrophobic. I just need to accept that it is what it is.

Any tips for surviving Christmas would be welcome. And roll on, 2014!

Nuh Guh Deh! End sex with our girl child #Jamaica

petchary:

Yesterday’s launch of Eve for Life’s “Nuh Guh Deh” campaign was really successful. Partners and supporters joined us and while the mood was upbeat, our hearts were touched. We have much food for thought, and much work to do! Here is journalist/writer and Cuso volunteer Kate Chappell’s account (Kate also live-tweeted from the event).

Originally posted on Jamaican Journal:

The concept of the “dirty old man” preying on underage girls for sex is a phenomenon that has so faded and become so normalized that a Jamaican civil society organization has launched a campaign against this horrible practice. This was the message from Eve for Life’s Joy Crawford at an event yesterday

“Nuh Guh Deh” (patois roughly translated to ‘leave it alone’) was launched yesterday by Eve for Life, a Jamaican NGO that aims to create a safe space for girl children and women affected by HIV/AIDS.

(Statistics show that women account for 42 per cent of cases in Jamaica. In the age group 15 to 24 years old, infected women more than double the number of men.)

The technical term is ‘transactional sex’ or ‘cross-generational sex’ and occurs in situations in which older men such as a neighbour, taxi driver or bus driver solicit sex from underage girls…

View original 600 more words