Happy Earth Day!
And yes, I know. I’m late again. Blame it on the determined nature of the weather – fierce showers all day that left us with that exhausted feeling that rain seems to bring in tropical climes. Now the lawn is soaking, the eaves are dripping, cars are splashing down the road, and it has just started raining again.
Meanwhile, it has been a messy weekend in the media, too.
Let’s ponder a bit more… The “flag foul-up fiasco” (as it is now called in the Sunday Gleaner) continues to rumble on, like a thunderstorm that moves away reluctantly and threatens to return at any moment. The Prime Minister declared earlier this week that she is not going to going to speak publicly on “every issue” and that she relies on her ministers as front men (and women). She has her own “leadership style,” she asserts. (What is that, exactly? Photo-ops at the Summit of the Americas, ribbon-cuttings and launches and nice suits are the easy part. So was stomping around on the campaign trail). But the letters to the Editor, columns and shrill complaints on radio call-in shows drip, drip, dripped all week, like today’s rain. In case you feel you need to catch up on this issue, there is a link below to today’s Sunday Gleaner piece by Adrian Frater, which gives you a blow-by-blow account. The decorator who was labeled the “fall guy” in the affair is not willing to play that role; there are questions about how an alleged protocol officer attached to the Prime Minister’s office was allowed to take over the event – and who allowed him; and investigations are under way. The media have not got to the bottom of the matter, by any means.
And another flag fiasco? Saturday’s Observer headlines blared, “Rastas livid!” And a livid Rasta is not a pretty sight, I can tell you. ”Now what?” you may well ask, dear reader. Footage emerged on CVM Television’s prime time news of an indignant gentleman being cajoled, beseeched, and when that failed, eventually escorted away with some difficulty last Thursday night in Kingston’s Emancipation Park. What was going on there? Well, it was the much heralded (and indeed much praised) documentary film “Marley” - which was premiered free to the Jamaican public in the park. It was, of course, a great social occasion, with politicians of different stripes rubbing shoulders with aging reggae musicians, rastas from all corners of the island, curious members of the public and – of course – the young, influential and beautiful social butterflies who appear regularly on the pages of our daily newspapers anyway, all showing their “rootsy” side. A number of people, Jamaicans and others, who are only famous because of their association with the “reggae icon” (to coin a cliche) were also there; and of course members of Bob Marley’s family, who approved the film.
But back to the livid rastas. At the film premiere, the decorators had perhaps gone a little overboard with swathes of fabric. There was rather a nice arch and pathway for “VIPs” in red, gold and green cloth – except that the pathway (a kind of red carpet, if you will) was the colors of the Rastafarian flag – or the Ethiopian flag, which has the same colors. So the dignitaries would be walking on the Ethiopian/Rastafarian flag, an insult to both the country and Rastafarian beliefs.
Unlike the Montego Bay flag, however, there was no (alleged) shortage of fabric here. A large quantity of not-very-practical white material was found by artiste manager Bridgette Anderson (who appeared unfazed by the protestations of her Rastafarian brethren) which was applied to the floor. But of course, politicians avoided the area like the plague. When CVM’s reporter asked Culture Minister Lisa Hanna whether she would walk on the offending area, she murmured, “Um, no…” with a deprecating smile.
Nevertheless, the film was declared to be a sensitive, absorbing personal portrait of Bob Marley – not the usual run-of-the-mill biopic. Congratulations to director Kevin Macdonald, and all those involved in its making.
This week’s trivia question: How many countries besides Ethiopia have red, gold and green in their national flags?
Why bother… Personally, I have had enough of media stories involving “scandals,” hate-mail and political gossip-mongering. Don’t care. Just simply don’t care. These are serious times.
A couple more stories of note… There was rather an important story in the Sunday Observer on Jamaica’s birth rate. Producing fewer children will help the Jamaican economy, but we already have a “bulge” of young people to get over before we can settle settle down a bit, it seems. That’s according to Dr. Carl Haub of the Population Reference Bureau, based in Washington, DC. There’s something called the Child Dependency Ratio (our birth rate has declined to 2.3 births per woman). The only answer, says Dr. Haub, is to train and educate the three-quarter-of-a-million Jamaicans between zero and fifteen years, 27 per cent of the population – and hope the economy will improve. Hmm. I would like to see a more in-depth report or analysis of this subject.
Principal of the boys’ high school Jamaica College, Mr. Ruel Reid, also gave a clear-eyed assessment of the factors behind “failing schools.” Management, and leadership, are crucial in schools, he says. Couldn’t one go further and say these are issues in many of our key institutions, too – including governmental institutions? Reid, who was an advisor to the former Education Minister/Prime Minister Andrew Holness, adds that a lack of well-qualified teachers is also a major problem – only twenty per cent of Jamaican teachers have first degrees. “Accountability” was a word he used, repeated by the Principal of Shortwood Teachers’ College Elaine Foster-Allen, who added that ongoing training was inadequate and the physical conditions in schools (especially primary schools) were detrimental to learning (students can’t always hear the teacher in class because of noise and over-crowding – a pretty fundamental concern). Mr. Reid commented, “What you see…is the profile of average teachers, average teaching and an average system.” Perhaps he is being kind – perhaps “average” is an euphemism for “mediocre.”
Concerns: A technical team is girding up its loins for a trip to Washington, DC for the annual International Monetary Fund/World Bank meeting. There has been talk of “sacrifice” and “austerity” in editorials and columns; but do the politicians really believe it’s necessary now – like, right now? Or do they think they can just get by with talking about “tough times ahead” (or “bitter medicine” as the former Prime Minister called it) without having to implement any unpopular measures? And will they be able to set an example of said “sacrifice”?
Mr. Rickey Singh turned the focus on the Chairman of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and President of Suriname Desi Bouterse. Now, Jamaicans tend not to pay too much attention to Suriname, which although a CARICOM member speaks Dutch and is not an island. President Bouterse made a come-back when he was democratically elected in August 2010. He led the country under military rule from 1982 – 1992, a period with a very poor record of human rights. But the “democratic” President/Chairman has just passed new legislation, granting amnesty for himself and a number of his cronies from prosecution for the massacre of fifteen Surinamese, among other crimes. Meanwhile, ironically, Suriname submitted a request for assistance for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to the Organization of American States at the recent Summit of the Americas. So much for the weird construction that is called democracy in the Caribbean. I wonder if fellow CARICOM states are going to have anything to say about this? I won’t hold my breath.
To the Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation (C-CAM) headed by the industrious Ms. Ingrid Parchment. C-CAM celebrated its thirteenth anniversary of the Portland Bight Protected Area that they manage along with various partners, on April 19. On the same day, they opened their new field office in Salt River to manage the three fish sanctuaries in the protected area. Kudos also to WINDALCO for their sponsorship of an artificial reef project and to Seacology, the California-based organization that has provided much support on the project. I wrote a post on this after attending last week – see link below…
…To our esteemed and beloved poet Kwame Dawes, who was recently awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship. The genial Mr. Dawes is a prolific Jamaican/Ghanaian by birth poet and novelist and co-founder of Jamaica’s own native literary jamboree, the Calabash International Literary Festival (renamed for this year Jubilation! 50) which will take place from May 25-27 in Treasure Beach. On his website he calls himself”the busiest man in literature today.” He is an absolute gem. Congratulations, Kwame!
…Another cultural gem, Ms. Barbara Blake Hannah, whose Reggae Film Festival is now in its fifth year. It takes a lot of belief to get a project like this off the ground. Ms. Blake Hannah is a lady of depth and substance. In the Sunday Observer lifestyle pages she noted that her favorite film is Akira Kurosawa’s “Kagemusha.” Kurosawa’s extraordinary, epic works are close to my heart and remain masterpieces of film-making. Great choice.
Who else do I love this week? The Nathan Ebanks Foundation should receive a big pat on the back for their Sixth Annual Special Needs Conference Expo – a four-day event aimed at helping caregivers, educators and medical professionals improve the lives of physically and mentally challenged people. The focus was on a remarkable program started by Californian Ms. Linda Bidabe called MOVE (Mobility Opportunities Via Education/Experience, great acronym). Congratulations to Ms. Christine Staple-Ebanks and her partners and sponsors for their dedication to special education, a meaningful cause.
Well, dear readers – blue skies perhaps tomorrow? As always, I welcome your comments and feedback on any of these stories. And please – I hope I have been accurate in my comments. If not, please correct me!
- 8 Gorgeous Nature Blogs for Earth Day (breedheenorilleykeefer.com)
- Sunday Steam (petchary.wordpress.com)
- http://www.worldflags101.com/e/ethiopia-flag.aspx History of the Ethiopian flag
- http://www.bobmarley.com/marley_the_movie.php Movie website
- Jamaicans pack a city park to watch documentary about the life of reggae icon Bob Marley (repeatingislands.com)
- Bob Marley: So much things to say… (repeatingislands.com)
- HW Pick: Marley (video) (harlemworldmag.com)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Rastas-livid-_11299691: Rastas livid!
- http://repeatingislands.com/2012/03/29/love-jamaica-at-jubilation-50/: Jubilation! 50/Calabash
- http://www.prb.org/ Population Reference Bureau
- http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/04/21/protecting-our-fish-earth-day-part-1/ My blog post on C-CAM fish sanctuaries
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120422/arts/arts5.html Kwame Dawes awarded Guggenheim Fellowship
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120422/news/news6.html Nathan Ebanks Foundation
Earth Day approaches (Sunday, April 22), and yesterday we attended an event that was more a Song of the Sea than of the Earth. We attended the opening of a field office, to be administered by the Caribbean Coastal Area Conservation Foundation (C-CAM), in Salt River, Clarendon.
The sparkling new green and white building is to be C-CAM’s base for patrols of three Fish Sanctuaries in the surrounding wetlands (Three Bays, Salt Harbour and Galleon Harbour). There are six other sanctuaries across the island. C-CAM’s Executive Director Ingrid Parchment hopes the field office will become a complete “green building” in the near future, one of a kind in the parish.
And Jamaica’s fish stock is declining drastically. The island is one of the most over-fished areas in the world. When we used to eat at Gloria’s, a well-known fish restaurant in Port Royal, some ten years ago or more, we used to eat one big snapper fish each. When we ate there a few weeks ago, it struck me that we each had three or four much smaller fish on our plate. Just a little indicator.
The building was dedicated, with prayers and a plaque, to the memory of Professor Aggrey Brown, a former chairman of C-CAM. The professor was a dedicated fisherman in the area on holidays and weekends. The building itself is situated next to a small, well-kept marina at the Monymusk Gun, Rod and Tiller Club – a charming backwater of the Salt River, where several well-kept boats awaited their next adventure, and another boat, upended on the shore, was being thoroughly scrubbed by a group of sturdy young men. The sun shone brightly on the dark water, polished to bronze; and on the green hillside above, topped with billowing white clouds against the blue. A perfect morning.
The project is the result of a valuable partnership with the California-based NGO Seacology, which has been working in Jamaica for the past two or three years and which Ingrid Parchment noted was very “understanding” of the issues involved. Ms. Parchment recognizes the importance of partnerships – in Jamaica, NGOs can barely survive without them. This is especially important when you are managing the protected area of the Portland Bight, which is a bump of land sticking out at the bottom of the island of Jamaica, on its south coast.
The Portland Bight Protected Area, established by the Jamaican government on Earth Day 1999, makes up 4.7 per cent of the entire island of Jamaica; it is larger than Barbados or Grenada or Antigua & Barbuda in the eastern Caribbean. It includes 81 square miles of the endangered habitat called dry limestone forest and 32 square miles of coastal wetland and mangroves and coral reefs. Most of the remainder of the land is sugar estates (we met several trucks with teetering loads of cane on the road) and small hamlets with a total of 50,000 inhabitants. C-CAM works closely with community representatives and the local private sector – and on this project with WINDALCO, the nearby bauxite firm whose Russian managing director attended the event and spoke through an interpreter. WINDALCO has a port at nearby Port Esquivel from where it ships its products. The firm is funding a fisheries enhancement project in a coral reef area in one of the three fish sanctuaries, Three Bays – the “jewel in the crown” as Ms. Parchment put it. The project involves a metal frame, which is electrified and somehow calcifies and creates excellent conditions for coral to grow, according to C-CAM’s Scientific Officer Brandon Hay. The research for this was reportedly done at the University of the West Indies‘ Discovery Bay Marine Laboratory on Jamaica’s north coast some time ago. But, it’s never too late to put it into practice…
A government minister arrived impossibly late; the proceedings had already started without him. He arrived just in time to let us know that the government will be banning spear-fishing at night (or in the day too?) and that it would also provide funding for rangers to patrol the sanctuaries – very important. So, he was clapped, and cut the ribbon obligingly alongside Thera Edwards, C-CAM’s Chairperson. Reverend Elliston stood on the stairs and, Bible in hand, gave the building and all those who sailed in it his blessing.
And – last but by no means least – young Shemara and several of her small friends from the Salt River Basic School gave an irresistible “tribute item” – a rendition of the Jamaican folk song “Sammy plant piece a corn dung a gully.” For those who don’t know it, this song is akin to one of those rather grim little nursery rhymes where the principal characters end up dead. The children sang with much emphasis on certain words, accompanied by dramatic hand gestures. Perfect.
There is a website which calls overfishing a “global disaster.” According to the most recent Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report, at least one quarter of all the world’s fish stocks are either overexploited or depleted. Over half is fully exploited, which means just a step away from being overexploited. And these are fairly conservative numbers. For an area like Portland Bight, which is heavily dependent on fishing, it is crucial to maintain and expand fish stocks, and to preserve the environment in which the fish breed. The mangroves and coastal wetlands are nurseries for the fish that populate our reefs. And of course, this protected area is also home to many endangered and protected species, including the crocodile (common in Salt River), the Jamaican Iguana, the Coney (Jamaica’s only endemic terrestrial mammal) and countless waterfowl and bird life.
And – it is beautiful. Clear aqua-blue waters with waving seagrass; moorhen (or “water hens” as Jamaicans call them) scuttling in the bulrushes; open lagoons, still and quiet; spiky mangroves and limpid pools; thorny bushes cluttering the hillsides.
Learn more about this precious, unique part of Jamaica. Learn more about the work of C-CAM, and support them. Learn something new about the island of Jamaica that you can cherish, and help to preserve.
And please, do something for the Earth on Sunday, April 22.
http://www.earthday.org/2012: Earth Day 2012
http://www.televisionjamaica.com/Programmes/SmileJamaica.aspx/Videos/17294: TVJ interview with Ingrid Parchment and Alicia Burnett of WINDALCO, April 17, 2012
http://www.ccam.org.jm/: C-CAM website
http://www.portlandbight.org/: Portland Bight Protected Area website
http://www.uwimona.edu.jm/cms/dbml.htm: Discovery Bay Marine Laboratory, University of the West Indies
http://www.seacology.org/: Seacology website
http://overfishing.org/: Overfishing: A global environmental disaster
The Petchary was fascinated today by a news report that Bolivia‘s (first) indigenous President, Evo Morales, is working on the second part of a new law called the Law of the Rights of Mother Earth (Ley de Derechos de la Madre Tierra). This is the first law in Spanish that gives legal personhood to our planet. Mr. Morales presented the concept at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in October 2010 and the law was passed by his Plurinational Legislative Assembly (interesting word, plurinational) last December.
We have human rights, animal rights – hell, even plant rights I understand. So, it makes perfect sense that our Madre Tierra should have rights. It’s fundamental. The Bolivians have determined that these rights are…
The right to life - yes, the most basic one of all. Let Earth live and breathe…
The right to biodiversity - this is a tough one. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) website is worth checking out, if you want a real wakeup call. Jamaicans’ very own Baldpate (a plain name for the gorgeous White-Crowned Pigeon) is on the IUCN’s Red List – a huge document that catalogs the status of almost every species on the planet – and is described there as “Near Threatened.” But we are still shooting them, as of now.
The right to water – quantity and quality. World Water Day seems to gain greater significance every year. We all know this is crucial. Of course, the fate of us humans is inextricably tied to that of our Mother. If she has no water, then we protest, we thirst, we die.
The right to clean air – Bolivia declared its first “National Day of the Pedestrian” recently, and Mr. Morales went jogging on the empty streets of La Paz – with a bunch of bodyguards. A blatant piece of PR, but it would be nice to have one of those days in Kingston, Jamaica.
The right to equilibrium – balance is always a hard thing to achieve for me, personally. Poor Mother Earth needs it desperately, before she tips over… beyond the tipping-point.
The right to restoration - a noble aim, but how much can be restored? Can virgin forest that has been torn down by bulldozers and chainsaws be regenerated?
The right to live free of pollution – If there was the political will, this could be done. If Jamaican firms just decided that they weren’t going to belch all their waste into the nearest river; if Kingston residents (uptown and downtown) decided that they weren’t going to ignore the garbage scattered on their doorstep by street dogs – then who knows, we might have a cleaner environment.
There are a couple of flies in Mr. Morales’ ointment, though. One is the recent protests – by indigenous people – against the building of a highway through the untouched rainforest preserve of Isiboro-Secure National Park. Mr. Morales insists that balance will be preserved, and that no exploitation of the surrounding lands will be allowed. The protesters are walking in protest – over 300 miles to La Paz. I don’t think they have reached there yet, but when they do, Mr. Morales will have an uncomfortable time of it. And biodiversity… that right might just go out of the window.
And what of Bolivia’s mining, and gas? Metal prices are high, and Mr. Morales has increased taxes to make the most of it. The much-maligned Standard & Poor’s is painting a somewhat rosy picture for Bolivia in light of all this. Does this mean more exploitation?
Well, Mr. Morales had the right idea, even though like most politicians he is saying one thing and doing the opposite. Perhaps the answer is to have a global Mother Earth human rights law.
Because for sure, global action is needed. Action, not words.
- Indigenous activists gain momentum in Bolivia (edmortimer.wordpress.com)
- Community Driven Bolivia Gives Legal Rights to the Earth (ecomantra.wordpress.com)
- Amazon Road Plan Has Native People on the March Again (edmortimer.wordpress.com)
- Natural Rights: Part 1 (llpathways.wordpress.com)
- Bolivia bans vehicles for a day (bbc.co.uk)
- Indigenous Bolivians March Against Highway (indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com)
A few evenings ago, the Petchary watched a TV documentary, “Journey to the Edge of the Universe“. But this was no run-of-the-mill science doc, with technicolor images and a cliche-ridden commentary. This was a real journey of the mind, as well as the senses.
The film literally takes off from the homely, familiar and beautiful surface of the Earth into space. We find Neil Armstrong‘s footprints unchanged on the Moon. We sail past the planets, one by one – the seething, acidic Venus, the hostile Mars with its secrets not yet fully revealed, and so on. Still familiar territory. Then we take a giant leap into hyperspace. Asteroids loom ominously, then pass, empty rocks in the darkness; comets with their searing power cut sharp tracks in the stars; we plunge into exquisite nebulae, frozen dust hanging in space; and there are those distant, lonely stars that we can see at night, fitfully blinking their past lives at us.
We go on, and on. Here is a star that is burning itself out, consuming itself. Here is one that is already dead, dark. There, a black hole sucks on the surface of a glittering star. A galaxy is destroyed, another is being put together. A moon heaves with geysers and endless eruptions. The shining core of a star strengthens. The revolving life and death, birth and destruction (and sometimes rebirth) that is at the core of it all… And the further away we travel, the closer to the beginning of it all we get.
The Petchary and family became frozen in our seats. I even sat through the (thankfully brief) commercial breaks – I usually have no tolerance for those at all – as I was still under the film’s spell. At times I felt I was holding my breath; at other times, I felt tears in my eyes. Somehow, the universe became a living thing again, breathing and sighing and bursting with energy – no longer just pretty pictures, a spectacular backdrop, or those odd little models on pieces of wire I remember from school.
We became a part of it. We felt it. We were in it.
The universe is fear; it is dread; it is mystery; it is chaos. It is also dazzling beauty and symmetry. This film was emotional. And it got us wondering. What, why… will we ever know? Are we all alone? Will we ever meet? We are so tiny.
The narrator is, surprisingly, Mr. Alec Baldwin – he of the wry humor, the twinkle in the eye, the Saturday Night Live sketches, the tough-guy jaw. His narration – his husky voice is easily recognizable – is intimate, almost quiet, as if he was a knowledgeable friend with a lot to tell you, who doesn’t want to show off. No dramatic flourishes – his subject matter is dramatic enough by itself. And no false reverence for the subject matter either, although sometimes notes of awe and wonder are unavoidable. He is effective, and he invites us to stretch our consciousness as the universe draws us in.
I will have to watch it again, and probably purchase a copy. It’s a National Geographic film. There is so much to take away from it. Probably absorbing it in small sips would help – the entire film at one gulp is overwhelming. Trains of thought start, and there’s no stopping them. You get carried away. (You can also find it in twelve chunks on YouTube, and watch it on the Discovery Channel website. Try to find it).
One thought strayed in the Petchary’s mind though, and still haunts me.
We human beings – tiny creatures that we are – are made of the same stuff as the universe. Water, and chemicals, and atoms, and dust.
We are the universe. It is within us.
In this world of burning cars, catwalking models, babies with flies on their faces, marble-floored mansions, zinc fences, gilded churches and graffiti… somehow that thought is reassuring.
We should know where our place is, and be reminded of it.
- Journey To The Edge Of The Universe 1 of 12 (petchary.wordpress.com)
- Strange Hole on Asteroid Vesta Poses Puzzle (scientificamerican.com)
- Exoplanet Reflects Practically No Light – and Scientists Have No Idea Why | 80beats (blogs.discovermagazine.com)
- How the Sun works, from the inside out (scienceblogs.com)
- Nemesis No More? Comet-Hurling ‘Death Star’ Most Likely a Myth (livescience.com)
- Alec Baldwin Breaks ‘SNL’ Record by Hosting Season 37 Premiere (aoltv.com)
A mind-expanding journey it is, narrated with growing intensity by Alec Baldwin. The images are so powerful, but more than that… It made me think, and wonder, and left me completely in awe. Watch ALL of it in 12 parts on YouTube. I guarantee, your mind will be blown…
- Alec Baldwin considering run for mayor of NYC (thestar.com)