Yes, we may be short of a lot of things in Jamaica, but we’re certainly not short on sunshine. As the sun thankfully dips behind the rooftops (the sun isn’t thankful, I am) I am just about to start this blog post with very little idea of what has or has not been going on this week. We took three days off away from all media, computers etc (unless you count switching to ESPN for the Euro 2012 semi-finals). Thanks ESPN! (I was quite upset by Italy’s sad defeat at the hands of Spain today, but the Italian team delighted me during the tournament with their creative, attacking play. Spain played like a passing machine, but seemed to wake up for the final). Ah well. The drama is over. We now await the start of the new English Premier League season.
Meanwhile, back on the Rock, shock waves from last week’s “bloody weekend” – including the resurgence of gang warfare in the August Town area of St. Andrew – continued to ruffle the media; and the annual hand-wringing exercise over the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) examinations kicked into top gear. On the former, I feel deeply sorry for the many peaceful and law-abiding residents. August Town is not, to my mind, a typical “inner city” area with all that the term suggests. The first time I visited there about twenty years ago – and I have done so a number of times since – I have felt that it was more like a village. The area is close to the University of the West Indies campus, on the outskirts of Kingston. There are narrow streets, small houses surrounded by low walls, a number of churches, and a bus service into Kingston. It is essentially a cul de sac, so the bus has to turn round and go back. There is the usually-dry Hope River (an escape route for criminals, I understand), and some houses on the other side. There is a primary school with a large yard, and the police station close by. What is most striking is the steep green hills on all sides – so close, so green, with one huge white scar where limestone was quarried. And yet, in true inner-city tradition, August Town has “corners” where young men gather, and is divided into areas called “Vietnam” or “Jungle 12.” And the small community (it really is small) which was ironically named after Emancipation Day on August 1, 1838, has a plague of gangs, mostly (or originally) politically-motivated. Since 2008, residents have been lulled into a sense of false security after the signing of a so-called “Peace Treaty” between gangs; this was negotiated through the efforts of an organization called the Peace Management Initiative (PMI) and the local community organization headed by the well-meaning Kenneth Wilson. I have my severe doubts about these peace treaties; how can they last? Gangs are gangs. Deputy Commissioner of Police Glenmore Hinds, who is in charge of crime, does not believe in them. But Mr. Wilson has, on this occasion, complained that concerns expressed by residents in the area prior to the latest outburst were ignored by the police, who were not “proactive” enough and could have prevented the murders if they had listened.
Enough hot air has been expelled on the topic of the GSAT results to inflate a balloon and carry it half way round the world. Educators and officials, retired and otherwise, have all weighed in with interviews and columns in the media. Should the test be abolished? How can we breach the “social chasm” described by Minister Thwaites that afflicts our educational system (but hold on…doesn’t this afflict every aspect of our society, Minister Thwaites?) Meanwhile, one high school said it simply could not accommodate all the students who had been placed there by the test; and one of the conceptualizers of GSAT is quoted as saying – perhaps rather brutally – “I hear the minister apologizing to schools for being called failing, when in fact they are worse than failures. Some of them should not even exist.” Oh dear. Expect more of the same this time next year.
Speaking of education, one commentator on the Jamaica Observer website commented wryly, “I wish Jamaicans were as passionate about education as they are about two men in pink dresses.” Yes indeed, the “homosexual debate” drags on endlessly, with the usual obfuscation, manipulation, misinformation and religious propaganda. The latter gets plenty of airtime in the media, with religious leaders coming out of the woodwork all over the place with their arguments, and of course their Bible quotations. Thank God for sensible and clear-thinking people like broadcast journalist Dionne Jackson-Miller, who tried to make some sense out of it in her latest blog post (see link below).
The rumblings over whether Jamaica should remain in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) – called by some a “talk shop” – continue intermittently. Speaking to the Sunday Observer today, CARICOM Secretary-General Ambassador Irwin LaRocque intones, “I think the single most important reason for keeping CARICOM alive is to serve the development of our region. It can’t be anything but that.” Well, as young people say… Duh. My italics, by the way – it appears CARICOM is on life support? Well, it is worthy of note that a recent ECLAC survey on Caribbean GDP growth last year (and predictions for this year) pointed out that it was the non-English speaking countries of our small region that have registered – and will register – strong growth. For example, Haiti, Dominican Republic and Suriname – six, 4.5 and 4.3 per cent GDP growth predicted this year; Jamaica, Barbados and St. Kitts & Nevis – just one per cent each. Go figure. By the way, CARICOM’s annual summit for heads of government will meet this coming week; among the “big issues” to be considered this week is – yes, you’ve guessed it. West Indies cricket.
But hey! Summer is here, and the seasonal distractions from the serious issues of the day are multiplying daily. Why worry about regional development, education and so on? It is hot. We all need to chill out. The rich ones will be disappearing overseas in a few weeks’ time – and of course, that includes our politicians. And there is sports. With the Olympics mere weeks away, the National Trials have been taking place over the last few days at the National Stadium – which, strangely, has been three-quarters empty, even for races with superstar Usain Bolt (who was beaten not once, but twice by his reportedly more focused rival and training partner Yohan Blake). Jamaicans adore their athletes; but there seems to have been confusion over entrance tickets. Besides, people probably just don’t have the money to buy them. Much cheaper to watch them on television.
And then, there is Jamaica 50. Of course, I still have questions (don’t we all?) For example, why was an International Reggae Day concert in Emancipation Park suddenly canceled at short notice? Why is the Portland Jerk Festival, which happens every year, a Jamaica 50 event – and such a costly one (J$1,400 at the gate)? Is there a schedule of Jamaica 50 events, and if so where? I tried to download the enlarged schedule pdf document on the Jamaica 50 website (“proudly presented” by the Jamaica Information Service), and got this message: “This is somewhat embarrassing, isn’t it?”
Yes, it is. However, the website did remind me that we are just five weeks, 1o hours, 40 minutes and 18 seconds away from our nation’s fiftieth anniversary. And there is a basic schedule here: http://www.jis.gov.jm/ja50/v2/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/JCDC-CALENDAR-OF-JAMAICA-50-NATIONAL-EVENTS1.pdf. For the month of July, there is Reggae Sumfest; the Festival Song Contest; and other regular annual events. OK, OK… I know, we don’t have any money, but are these really Jamaica 50 events, or just wearing the cloak of Jamaica 50?
Meanwhile, the politicians talk. And talk. Minister of Agriculture Roger Clarke and Minister of Education Ronald Thwaites are the two current Champions of Talk at the moment. Speeches galore. Minister Clarke, an amiable and obese man, raised scattered laughter when he asked his audience whether they agreed that he had thrived (thriven?) on a good healthy diet of Jamaican food. The Opposition Jamaica Labour Party has been largely quiet, apart from Justice and National Security Spokesman Delroy Chuck, who is clear and sharp in his commentary. There is an occasional obscure piece of waffle from the Opposition Leader, who seems to have gone back into his shell. Among other serious issues, Mr. Chuck has asked why the monthly meeting of the National Security Council has only taken place once since the new administration took office six months ago; if this is true, what is the story behind this?
Our Prime Minister is also very quiet, and only speaks when spoken to at the moment, like a well-behaved child in Victorian days. At least, I have seen very little reported.
But let’s give a huge round of applause to our very own Jamaica Defence Force and to all the other participants – including those from overseas – in the Jamaica Military Tattoo 2012. This was only the fifth in Jamaica’s history, and by all accounts our military outdid itself. Congratulations to all involved.
On the arts front, congratulations are also due to the urban arts festival Kingston on the Edge (KOTE) 2012, which took place over the past week. It was an extraordinarily lavish schedule of art in all its forms – grassroots, uptown, downtown, in-between – showing how vibrant and creative our much-maligned capital city truly is. Special congratulations to Veerle Poupeye, director of the National Gallery of Jamaica and her hard-working staff for their ongoing work (and for their monthly Sunday openings); and of course, to Karin Wilson Edmonds and the many others who worked so hard to make KOTE 2012 a huge success. I have to add that this is largely a private sector effort – thanks to all the sponsors and supporters, and may it be even bigger and better next year!
And of course, the sports. Mr. Yohan Blake and Ms. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce are worthy of special mention for beating the favorites in the National Trials in both the 1oo and 200 meters. But congratulations to all the young men and women who put out all their efforts and the best they have to offer. I am sure those who qualified for the London Olympics will continue to strive and do well for Jamaica.
Let’s round things off with another old and hoary “chestnut”: It’s “health tourism” time again! For the umpteenth time, this wonderful idea (it is a great idea actually) has been taken from the shelf and dusted off, this time by Industry, Investment & Commerce Minister Anthony Hylton. The Jamaica Information Service describes health tourism as “a new growth area with significant potential.” We first heard these words – or something very similar – approximately fifteen years ago. Well, let’s give it another whirl. I am sure the long-suffering “diaspora” will be thrilled to hear about it – or did I hear a stifled yawn from across the waters? Surely not. It’s a new area, folks! Let’s talk about it some more!
Well, dark has descended and I have rambled on too long. We are due for at least a few more days of hot, dry weather, with clouds that drift high above and have no intention on raining on us here in Kingston.
It’s summer, we haven’t solved the mystery of the noxious fumes yet (more on that another time) and…let’s try to have a great week!
My deep condolences to the family and friends of all those who were murdered in Jamaica in the past week. This may not be a complete list, but my thoughts are with all those who are mourning the loss of their loved ones.
- Kemado “Joe” Edwards, killed by the police in St. James
- Unidentified man found in a cane field in Llandilo, Westmoreland
- André, in Barnett Lane, Montego Bay, St. James
- Bryan Morris, 33, in Sheffield, Westmoreland
- Sylvia Beckford, 40, in Sheffield, Westmoreland
- Judith McCauley, 31, in Sheffield, Westmoreland
- Unidentified man killed by the police in Camrose, St. James
- Courtney Willis, in Nuts River, St. Thomas
- Unidentified woman chopped to death in Manchester
- Fabian Buckley, 26, in Duhaney Park, Kingston
- Newton Steer, 40, in Red Ground, St. Catherine
- Hugh Modest, 47, in West Meade, St. Catherine
- Cyril Kelsey, 59, in Leeds, St. Elizabeth
- Norman Noble, 48, in St. James
- Mario Balotelli, One of Soccer’s Most Gifted and Eccentric Players (nytimes.com)
- Gianluigi Buffon: Italy must improve to beat Spain in Euro 2012 final (thesun.co.uk)
- Sunday Songs (petchary.wordpress.com)
- Jamaica National Trials 2012: Seeking emancipation for Veronica Campbell-Brown and Usain Bolt in 200m (theislandjournal.wordpress.com)
- http://newsandviewsbydjmillerja.wordpress.com/2012/06/28/jamaica-and-gays-are-we-homophobic-or-not/#comment-482 (djmillerja.wordpress.com)
- In Memoriam (petchary.wordpress.com)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Peace-dream-shattered (jamaicaobserver.com)
- Minister reassures Jamaicans after 10 killed in bloody weekend (caribbean360.com)
- Blake shocks Bolt in 100m dash at Jamaican Olympics trials (edition.cnn.com)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Mystery-fumes-dissipate_11848158 (jamaicaobserver.com)
- http://www.jis.gov.jm/ja50/v2/ (Jamaica 50/JIS website)
- http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads-112/31081 (Spectacular Military Tattoo: Jamaica Information Service)
- http://www.caribjournal.com/2012/06/18/haiti-led-caribbean-gdp-growth-last-year-will-again-in-2012-eclac/ (Caribbean Journal)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Jamaica-won-t-leave-Caricom–says-LaRocque_11851491 (jamaicaobserver.com)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/The-simple-truth-about-homosexuality-and-same-sex-marriage_11837769#ixzz1zQHZKyR2 (jamaicaobserver.com)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Homosexuality-and-religion-in-our-politics_11817993 (Mark Wignall column)
- http://newsandviewsbydjmillerja.wordpress.com/2012/06/28/jamaica-and-gays-are-we-homophobic-or-not/ (Dionne Jackson Miller blog post)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/The-big-issues-for-this-week-s-Caricom-summit_11837771 (Rickey Singh on CARICOM summit)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/GSAT-defence–Retired-educators-who-conceptualised-exam-say-test-not-the-problem_11804900 (GSAT defense)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120630/news/news1.html (Jamaica Military Tattoo)
- http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads-107/31098 (Health Tourism remarks, JIS)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120629/lead/lead2.html (Sickening fumes…Jamaica Gleaner)
- Bouterse installs CARICOM youth leaders (kaieteurnewsonline.com)
It’s summer in the city. And as the old song goes, the Petchary tends to feel it most in the back of her neck – gritty, scratchy.
There is something about August. It’s the month when, in the tropics at least, people give up the pretense, and give in to the heat. It’s August, and one knows what to expect, so one just accepts it – the perpetually sweaty brow, the seven o’clock mornings that are far too bright and starting that slow burn towards lunchtime, the mid-afternoon torpor when even the birds are silent. Then the evening, when the heat slowly drains away into the thick darkness, and a sleepy couch is the preferred place of rest, with the fan blowing gently.
That is how it feels if you are not lucky or rich enough to have air-conditioning – if you are, these things do not touch you at all. You are sealed off in your own little cocoon.
In August, these differences between “man and man” become more stark. The businessman in his perfectly cooled SUV sails calmly past the handcart man, sweat dripping and staining his shirt, his bare feet discolored with dust and tar, straining to push his loaded cart. He smoothly passes the elderly newspaper vendor, his head nodding on his chest as the heat devours him, in his little patch of shade which is no shade. Only the young people seem indifferent, girls laughing and fanning themselves with their hands as they walk jauntily up the street in their shoestring tops and short-as-possible skirts and shorts. The young men have a slow swagger in their step, undaunted.
Young or old, rich or poor…the beach is the only place where you might possibly feel human. Then again, August beaches are usually crowded, sweaty places (not like the one in the picture above). There is sunblock, and sunburn, and people who yell and shout and toddlers getting into trouble on the edge of the sea, eating sand or going to the toilet. But at least, one hopes to feel a little alive again at the beach. You are fighting back against the heat, immersing yourself up to the chin in reasonably clean, not particularly cool water. In fact, a nice cold river is best.
August in Jamaica is a big deal, in some ways. It’s Emancipation (August 1) and Independence (August 6), and there are marching bands and speeches and the obligatory, tedious television broadcasts by our political leaders, staring glassily at the camera as they read from the teleprompter. But then the rest of the month flickers like a mirage, down towards September, when Jamaicans start to wake up and think about school, and off to college, and getting organized in general.
August is a state of suspended animation. Can one hibernate in the summer, like squirrels and bears sleep through the winter? The Petchary tries to reach that summer hibernation state. Forget the beach. Turn off the TV. The sound of the electric fan is the only one that matters.
The Petchary was watching a football match on TV a few nights ago. It was in Texas, and although it was night the humidity was so high that the faces of the players shone with sweat in the floodlights, and their movements sometimes seemed to slow. The crowd was relaxed. A blonde girl with long legs and a lot of mascara tipped cold beer slowly into her mouth. Men with their shirts hanging out leaned idly against the balustrade, pushing their hair back off their faces. A group of young, noisy boys had stripped to the waist and were waving their T shirts over their heads like flags. Yes, that’s August for you.
August for the people and their favourite islands. Daily the steamers sidle up to meet The effusive welcome of the pier.
A nice quote from WH Auden.
Meanwhile, just today, the residents of Moscow are gasping for breath in the smog caused by raging forest fires in the peat bogs surrounding the city. The smog is seeping into the underground system and into people’s homes. There is no escaping it. Climate change is biting.
Meanwhile, even the adored Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt seems to have let the heat get to him today. He was beaten by the puffing and always upbeat American Tyson Gay, in Sweden. The suggestion has been made that our beloved Usain had been partying rather too hard over the last holiday weekend, down in Negril.
That’s what August can do to you. In the Petchary’s view, curling up on the couch with an excellent book (and do take a look at the book reviews) is the answer.
The stark video of a policeman shooting an unarmed man lying on the ground in Ocho Rios, Jamaica has cast a long shadow over the Emancipation Day holiday weekend. It is as dark as the purple thundercloud that hung over the Petchary’s home in Kingston this afternoon. Perhaps the tumult of rain that followed has cleansed our hearts, just a little. But the aftermath still lingers.
There is so much bitterness. Where did it come from? There was the heartless act itself, committed with such care and calculation, as if looking for the best opportunity, the best angle from which to shoot the beaten victim as he lay struggling in the yellow dust, his thin arms and legs flailing. The policeman circled round his prey, gun in hand, and aimed at the upper part of the man’s body. One shot, followed by screams and shouts from the crowd of onlookers.
That was the second thing…The chorus of anger, hatred, fear, and DELIGHT, from the residents of Buckfield, St. Ann who gathered to watch the execution of a man they had already accused of stabbing a young woman to death. “One more! One more!” shrieked one woman, wanting to be sure he was finished off properly. The Petchary tried not to listen or interpret any more of the sounds she heard – and it was hard to separate the sounds from the sight of the man, who after being shot flew precipitously underneath a nearby truck, arms and legs twitching and jerking. Then the video, taken by an unknown Jamaican’s cell phone, abruptly ended with another policeman apparently pushing the crowd back. We saw his bulky form and his fat hand pushing at the camera…a flash, a glimpse of a fearful oppression that does not want to be revealed in the heat of the day.
And finally, there were the many comments on Facebook and the like from fellow Jamaican citizens. “I don’t see why the policemen are in jail,” complained one, “He killed a woman. The people were happy when he got shot.” Another commentator said it “sweet him” (made him feel good) when the man “get it.” Another observed succintly: “Boy fi dead!” And so on. The Petchary’s heart sank so low that it settled somewhere in her stomach and made her nauseous.
One more thing. The police “information arm” had better consider the kind of information it puts out. Information, as all those who have studied totalitarian states know, can be a dangerous thing. Like freedom, it must be treated carefully. Information, as printed in our local newspapers, is truth. In this case, the “information arm” produced lies, which were dutifully reported in the media, word for word. Many, many lessons to be learned.
The great African American James Baldwin once observed, “Freedom is not something anyone can be given; freedom is something that people take, and people are as free as they want to be.”
As Emancipation Day approaches, the Petchary asks the question, the screaming of the mob still sounding in her ears…Do Jamaicans really want to be free?
Franz Kafka once wrote that sometimes it’s safer to be in chains than to be free. Judging from this and many other similar incidents, not all recorded on cell phones, it seems many Jamaicans would prefer to be safe, in their mental slavery.