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)
At some point I know I am going to have to write about the massacre of Tivoli Gardens, one year ago. It is like a huge balloon full of water, so heavy it is about to burst. But for now, let me turn to the Petchary’s one big distraction (and great passion) – that is, football. And to be specific, the Arsenal Football Club, North London‘s finest.
Apart from the name of the club (which, if shortened, is rather a rude word in “English English“) there are some lovely players beginning with “A.” I hope they will be with us for another season, which again this year remained “trophyless” (an awkward non-word, but you know what I mean). No bloody silverware, again, and the Carling Cup slipping from our grasp – and won by a team which has now been relegated!
But there now, I have started picking at that wound again, and it is going to reopen. We Arsenal fans can’t help but feel bitter though, especially as we held doggedly on to second place through three quarters of the season – even snapping at ManU’s heels once or twice – only to slip determinedly down in the last three or four weeks, allowing both Chelsea and Manchester City to step over us, to end up fourth. How did that happen, Mr. Wenger? I’m tired of seeing you pursing your lips and thrashing angrily at the air as we miss yet another opportunity to score that elusive GOAL. I felt like thrashing angrily at you, on many occasions.
Well, we Arsenal fans have been accused of being whiners, and that’s exactly what I am doing, so I had better shut up. Let’s go then, A is for…
Andrei Arshavin. A small dynamo of an attacking midfielder, and hugely popular with the fans. He had a really bad patch half way through the season, but was looking very lively towards the end and played with determination and flair even in games we only drew (or lost, ugh). He has been a Gunner since 2009 and I really hope he sticks around. He has speed and great footwork at his best, darting and dribbling right up to the goal.
Young Andrei was born in St. Petersburg in pretty poor circumstances. Injured in a car accident as a child, his early years were tough. He was a naughty boy at school too, and got himself expelled. And hey, his thirtieth birthday is this weekend! He doesn’t look that “old.” But he started playing football really young, and in 2007 had a wonderful season scoring and assisting for his home town team, Zenit St. Petersburg. After Mr. Wenger had finally got hold of him, the diminutive Russian scored his first Arsenal goal against Blackburn Rovers in March 2009. In a terrific game against Liverpool last season, he scored all four goals for Arsenal in a game that ended 4-4. I remember it well, definitely a great highlight. Loud and raucous shouts in the Petchary household.
And do you remember that heavenly shot from thirty yards out against ManU last summer? There’s much more to come from Andrei, I feel sure. And he’s a great little team player. There are serious rumors that he may be lured away by fellow-Russian, the Chelski owner. Or back to St. Petersburg. I hope not!
Trivia question: What does Andrei Arshavin have a degree in?
Next: A is for Aaron Ramsey. A pale young Welshman who didn’t start playing until March this year; he suffered a broken leg, inflicted by Ryan Shawcross in a game against the ever-physical Stoke City. Poor Ramsey; it was quite a blow to him so early in his career. But he has come back gamely and is showing promise. He is a really versatile midfielder and can do all kinds of stuff when given the chance. And he is only twenty years old. He started his career with Cardiff City as their youngest ever player, sixteen years old. He became a Gunner in June 2008 and Mr. Wenger describes him as “a fantastic engine.” Well, not sure what his locomotive qualities are but I think I get it…
And he also scored against the much-loved (much-hated by me) Manchester United – his first goal this season! Well done. And let’s crown him Football King (or Prince, too young to be a King) of Wales. He was named Captain of the Welsh team earlier this year, although they played England and lost. He is now the permanent Wales captain, and their youngest ever. And he’s bilingual, a true Welsh speaker. Gwych, Aaron! (That means “great” in Welsh, but don’t ask me how to pronounce it).
Trivia question: What sport did Aaron play really well as a “young youth”? Hint: not football/soccer, of course. We know he was good at that.
OK, here’s another. Alexandre Song. Or to give him his full name, Alexandre Dmitri Song Billong, one of Mr. Wenger’s collection of Francophone players and a particular favorite of the Petchary’s. Very much a defensive midfielder, he is usually pretty solid – although he does have his “off” games, when he seems to hang his head, as he often does when things don’t go his way. He had a few fairly dreadful games this season, when my son and I have called out exasperatedly from the sofa, “Oh, Song!” And we weren’t asking for anyone to start warbling, either.
Song is really strong. Yes, I know that rhymes. He pushes furiously up and down midfield, head down, patiently scooping up the ball. He gets yellow cards a lot, like most defensive players, and then a dogged, resigned look crosses his face. He walks away, shoulders slumped, but soon cheers up again.
Song is 24 and he is from the Cameroon. He played for his country in the last World Cup. He was born in Douala, and had a pretty deprived childhood. There wasn’t much opportunity for a good footballer in Cameroon, and “Petit Song” (his nickname) moved to France and started playing for SC Bastia at the age of sixteen. Two years later he got married; he has two children. Then Arsenal bought him for a mere one million pounds.
But this season, something terrible happened to dear Alex. He dyed his hair yellow (not blond, yellow), then grew a beard and of course, that is yellow too. He had a very strange rush of blood to the head. He claims his wife likes it, and he was bored with his spiky locks, all the black footballers have them. Now his hair looks like a washing up pad that has scrubbed too many pots.
Apart from acquiring some great new players, I am hoping that Mr. Wenger might be able to use the time between seasons to persuade Alex to wash out that yellow stuff.
Trivia question: How many brothers and sisters does Song have? (Take a really wild guess).
And now to Abou Diaby. Tall, lanky, and just celebrated his 25th birthday. Diaby reminds me of a former Arsenal player I used to love, Patrick Veira; but he claims to be much less aggressive than Patrick, who used to have furious temper tantrums quite regularly (the dreaded “red mist”). Still, the same long-legged but surprisingly delicate touch on the ball. Monsieur Diaby (yes, another Francophone) has had a kind of on-and-off season, I would say. Moments of great clarity, and other days when he seemed bent on passing off the ball to the opposing team. Sigh. He has had some fitness problems but… well, when he scores the occasional goal, it is a beautiful thing to behold. So all is forgiven.
His first name is actually Vassiriki. Eh? And he is a Frenchman of Ivorian descent, and a central midfielder. He trained at the famous Clairefontaine Academy and played for a few French teams before he was honored with the Gunnership in 2006. He was a member of the tremendously pig-headed and pathetic French team that melted down in last year’s World Cup. Another sigh. The French national team seem to court drama (remember the Zidane head-butt?)
Trivia question: What religion is Abou Diaby? (Easy)
There is another “A” in Arsenal, finally. And that is the esteemed manager, Arsene Wenger. He has been described as “professorial,” whatever that means. And I am so thankful he doesn’t chew gum, like Sir Alex. So undignified. But I will write more about AW another time, when I have composed my thoughts. At the moment, I don’t feel kindly disposed towards him. My feelings may soften.
Now, the Petchary also loves Argentina. They are so rough and tough and full-blooded, not so much of that pretty stuff the pretty Brazilians do. So I read with interest an article in the newspaper, in which Diego Maradona and some other players were reminiscing about the good old days. I was struck by the headline, “Maradona teammates deny consciously taking drugs.” In the article, Diego’s former teammates are a little vague in their recollection, but Maradona himself puts it in his own inimitable way: ”What happened is that to play against Australia [in 1994] we were given a speedy coffee. They put something in the coffee and that’s why we ran more.” They were apparently given a choice – speedy water or speedy coffee.
I know what he means by a speedy coffee. I take one every morning to get my brain working in the office. And sometimes I do wish it had performance-enhancing ingredients.
Gunners forever!! Viva Argentina!!
The ball is round.
The Petchary has caught that incurable disease that is gripping so many Jamaicans. It’s spreading like wildfire. Symptoms include a strange, incessant buzzing (or trumpeting) in the ears, and a strong desire to throw oneself down on the couch and watch…the World Cup.
Today’s hero was Diego Forlan of Uruguay, he of the piercing grey eyes and chiseled jaw. This must surely have delighted the Urugayan writer Eduardo Galeano, the journalist, novelist and left-wing activist, and author of the wonderful little book “El Futbol a Sol y Sombra” (Soccer in Sun and Shadow). I have posted my short review of the book in the Book Reviews pages of this blog.
Incidentally, it was Galeano’s book “Las Veinas Abiertas de America Latina” (The Open Veins of Latin America) that Venezuela’s flamboyant leader Hugo Chavez presented to President Barack Obama at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad last year. The President dutifully promised to read it, although he might have found it heavy going. Even in his football book, Galeano cannot resist making some heavy political points from time to time – but the elegant descriptions of the early days of the World Cup, and the great players of Uruguay and Hungary (yes, Hungary) are a delight.
The family Galeano was born into was essentially middle-class – and the writer himself can claim Welsh, German, Spanish and Italian ancestry. He was a Latin American hybrid with various European strains. I wonder how the Welsh and Italian sides of the family got on together.
And it is interesting (and indeed, enjoyable) to note the delicious diversity of the World Cup – a contest which includes more countries than the United Nations. And not only amongst the sternly competing teams – but also within them. For example, one of today’s other heroes was Switzerland’s boyish midfielder Gelson Fernandes, whose simple, yet impudent goal stunned the favorites Spain. Fernandes is not Swiss by birth (not Brazilian either), but was born in the Cape Verde Islands – those rugged, windswept outposts off the coast of West Africa that feel the first breath of oncoming Atlantic hurricanes.
And what of Chile’s single goal against the rather woeful Honduran team? It was scored by Jean Beausejour, who hit a ricochet off a hapless Honduran into the net. Nothing Hispanic about that name. Indeed, he is the son of a Mapuche Chilean mother (the Mapuche are an indigenous people of Chile, making up a tiny proportion of the total population); and a Haitian father, who survived the January earthquake. And what a handsome mix he is, too.
The Olympics are often touted as the great coming-together of nations, and there is much wrapping around of flags. But in many ways, the World Cup offers even more dazzling combinations and contrasts: the gritty defensive play of the stubble-headed North Koreans against the silky skills of the bright Brazilians made excellent viewing, too.
Vive la difference! Let’s celebrate our differences, forever.