It’s a hot afternoon. It’s Mother’s Day in Jamaica, and the air is sleepy. Our gardener did some serious work yesterday and the yard looks scrupulously tidy. For now. Recent rain has brought back the many shades of green; and to my surprise, winter visitor warblers can still be seen flitting in the bushes. Time to travel north, young warblers!
Thinking about Tivoli: In the past few days since I last wrote, we have all been thinking more deeply about the Simpson Miller administration’s (wise) decision to hold a Commission of Enquiry into the massacre in Tivoli Gardens in May, 2010. There is some insightful commentary in the Sunday papers, and an indication that, three years later, many Jamaicans are more aware of the grave injustice and the horror of that day, when at least 77 Jamaicans lost their lives (we still do not know the exact figure; several people remain missing). For that, we at least partly have to thank the American journalist Mattathias Schwartz of the New Yorker; and the Public Defender Earl Witter, who finally produced the report. Today, Sunday Observer columnist Tamara Scott-Williams quotes the Jamaican president of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, Judge Patrick Robinson: “The simple, plain truth is that in no country with a Constitution that entrenches the right to life can 70 people be killed in peacetime in a single incident, whether by the security forces or by private persons, and national life and affairs continue as though nothing unusual has taken place.”
How can a monopoly not be viable? But that’s the way it apparently is with the Jamaica Public Service Company, according to its straight-talking CEO Kelly Tomblin. The eternal problem of widespread theft of electricity has still not been fully addressed; but as Ms. Tomblin said on radio, it is not just a question of devising ingenious ways of combating theft, but about lifting the company out of debt. Oh, two state-owned sugar companies were reportedly complicit in allowing neighboring communities to steal up to J$100 million worth. What kind of madness is that? Meanwhile, Ms. Tomblin has her work cut out – I am sure she has been aware of this for some time.
Leadership failures: The week’s fiasco involving the People’s National Party Youth Organization suggests, at the very least, weak leadership in the organization. Did President Alrick Campbell consult with his chapter leaders before sending out a press release that surprisingly refused to support the announced Commission of Enquiry into the Tivoli Gardens massacre? Similarly, Mayor of Montego Bay Glendon Harris is under pressure after a series of dreadful faux pas, culminating in the hospital re-naming fiasco. Do these people have any idea of public relations, either? Clueless.
NHT again: The whole National Housing Trust (NHT) business is still bugging me. It all seems wrong. One of my “tweeps” observed today, “How can the NHT force employers to make mortgage deductions from workers? Shoudn’t that be an arrangement between the Trust and its clients?” Very good question…
Blood on the streets: As usual, the social media was ahead of the traditional media on Friday morning, as several photos were pasted on Facebook of two apparently lifeless bodies – young men allegedly shot by the police in a parking lot in downtown Kingston. Reports appeared at least two hours later on the newspaper websites, noting a police report that ”brazen gunmen” had made a robbery attempt, and that three ”were in hospital” (dead on arrival?) According to the eye witnesses who posted the photos, the bodies were collected and loaded into vans within minutes, before the Crime Scene investigation unit or INDECOM (the Independent Commission of Investigations) arrived. Onlookers say the men were unarmed. I have shared the photos below. Meanwhile, the print media coverage of what actually happened in the middle of the day on Friday in busy downtown was muddled and lacking in detail.
Harassing the handcarts: Some genius at the Kingston & St. Andrew Corporation has come up with the startlingly brilliant idea of taxing handcart operators. These are rough-hewn carts with a primitive steering-wheel attached, operated by men in Kingston and most towns to transport small quantities of goods (and sometimes people). When I see men pushing and navigating these carts, sweating and straining in the hot sun, I think “what a hard life.” These are, basically, poor people. How could the Mayor think of doing such a thing?
I’m off now, but you guys can stay: President of the Senate Stanley Redwood is migrating to Canada, and made farewell comments last week before his departure. Methinks he doth protest too much. “No other Jamaican should be forced or feel forced to make the choice I have to make this month,” said the Senator, who has been beating himself up over departing for greener pastures for some time. It’s OK for me to go – but you guys stay here, stick it out… Not impressed, I’m afraid.
Power walks: While blood still stained the streets of downtown Kingston, a couple of miles away uptowners were preparing for two charity walks on Saturday – both good causes. Due to ongoing back problems, I was unable to participate in either. But I hope lots of money was raised for Dress for Success and the Nuttall Memorial Hospital, respectively. Next time!
Sick of them: There are certain things that always upset me when I watch the evening news on television. Of course, the ongoing bloodshed is one of those things. What also depresses me is the greed and selfishness of thieves who, like vampires, feed on hard-working Jamaicans. It seems that every week a school is broken into, and we see the anxious principal, his/her face creased with anxiety and stress, detailing all the items the school lost – of course, all the most valuable things that they can least afford to replace, many of them donated by kind-hearted people. Then there are the poor farmers, who go to the fields in the morning to see their precious animals hacked to pieces or their crops pulled out of the ground. On Friday, we heard that the bus belonging to Alpha Boys School was stolen in Spanish Town. I don’t know if they have found it. Alpha nurtures abandoned and orphaned boys, and is famous for its school band that has produced many great Jamaican musicians. Shame on you all, you vampires.
Pit latrines in schools: As I noted in my post of August 12, 2012, around 200 schools across Jamaica still have pit latrines. I doubt that much has changed since then. Perhaps we should consider this as a priority over tablets, Minister Paulwell? (Much as I love your tablets). The “sanitary conveniences” at St. Mary’s Primary School in rural St. Elizabeth are as old as the school itself (44 years) and pose a serious health risk. For a start, if a young child slips he/she can fall into them. The Florida-based Andrew Dixon Foundation is seeking to raise funds to replace them.
I was wondering… about the over 4,000 online jobs that the World Bank says it has created for young Jamaicans. The World Bank provides more details on its Digital Jam 2.0 program at the link below. It includes internships and fellowships at Howard University, pilot projects, incubators and so on. Brilliant!
Sports vs academics: The Gleaner recently published a table ranking Jamaica’s high schools in terms of their CSEC examination results. I’m trying to find a link to it. It was noticeable, however, that almost all the traditional boys’ high schools did quite poorly; unsurprisingly, the co-educational Kingston high school Campion College came out on top. A columnist yesterday pointed out that the low-performing boys’ schools are those that compete furiously and loudly at “Champs” (the high school athletics championships) and tout their sporting prowess. Is there a conflict here?
Less abatement? As I have noted before, Jamaica/Kingston is Party Central, and the noise must go on. I see the Ministry of National Security and Ministry of Entertainment as it seems to call itself are holding a public consultation on “changes to the Noise Abatement Act” on Wednesday at the Jamaica Conference Centre. What changes? Where? Is the noise to go on longer? I am suspicious of the “entertainment zones” that have been mentioned a few times by our enthusiastic Junior Minister Damion Crawford, who is young and therefore fond of “shelling dung” as the saying goes. And hey, do you think there may be more important things to be worrying about? I can only assume that, like the building of housing for poor people, this is a populist, vote-getting exercise.
Yohan Blake/boys home: I am very pleased with our young Olympian Yohan Blake, whose YB Afraid Foundation continues to support the Mount Olivet Boys’ Home in Manchester, in all kinds of important ways. The home’s infrastructure is steadily improving as a result. Thanks to Mr. Blake; you have a good, good heart.
It is very sad to report that in the past three days the following Jamaicans have been killed. My heart goes out to their families. Too much trouble in the world.
Clifton Drummonds, 55, John’s Town, St. Thomas (mob killing)
Winston Robinson, Mannings Hill Road, Kingston
Tiffany Shirley, Mannings Hill Road, Kingston
Killed by police:
Unidentified man, Pechon Street/Beckford Street, Kingston
Unidentified man, Matthews Lane, Kingston
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/JPS-facing-death_14238670 Electricity theft, debt threaten company’s viability, says Tomblin: Jamaica Observer
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130511/cleisure/cleisure1.html Power thieves must be stopped: Gleaner editorial
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Samuda-labels-logistics-hub-a–pipe-dream-_14239407 Samuda labels logistics hub a “pipe dream”: Jamaica Observer
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130510/business/business5.html Jamaica Broilers invests $300 million in new plant: Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130510/cleisure/cleisure1.html What, really, are agro parks? Gleaner editorial
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130510/business/business1.html Palmyra parent firm deemed a squatter: Gleaner
http://www.worldbank.org/en/results/2013/04/24/creating-employment-solutions-young-jamaicans Creating employment solutions for young Jamaicans in the virtual economy: worldbank.org
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/business/Rating-Agency-reacts-to-IMF-Jamaica-agreement_14244183 Rating agency reacts to IMF-Jamaica agreement: Sunday Observer
http://www.caribjournal.com/2013/05/11/forbes-the-business-of-sport-in-jamaica/ The business of sport in Jamaica: Marcia Forbes op-ed/caribjournal.com
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/letters/No-unlicensed-cable-operator-in-Jamaica_14239648 No unlicensed cable operator in Jamaica/Broadcasting Commission
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/editorial/No-justification-for-NWC-rate-hike_14237953 No justification for NWC rate hike: Jamaica Observer editorial
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130510/letters/letters1.html Handcart permit regime off the deep end: Letter of the Day/Gleaner
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Stop-the-bickering-_14239553 Pryce chides PNPYO for washing dirty linen in public: Jamaica Observer
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130510/lead/lead10.html Montego Bay mayor faces no-confidence vote: Gleaner
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/arscott-defends-cost-of-local-government-delegation-to-uganda Arscott defends cost of local government delegation to Uganda: RJR News
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130512/focus/focus5.html Whose plan for Jamaica is it anyway? Jamaica Civil Society Coalition op-ed/Sunday Gleaner
http://www.caribjournal.com/2013/05/09/op-ed-does-jamaica-need-outside-help-to-deal-with-crime/ Does Jamaica need outside help to deal with crime? caribjournal.com
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/man-implicated-in-murder-chopped-to-death Man implicated in murder chopped to death: RJR News
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130511/lead/lead2.html Daylight gun battles cause mayhem downtown: Gleaner
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Deadly-end—-Robbery-foiled–cops-kill-one-gunman–injure-another_14239031 Deadly end! Robbery foiled, cops kill one gunman, injure another: Jamaica Observer
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130512/lead/lead5.html Deadlock blanks downtown CCTV plan: Sunday Gleaner
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Why-the-Tivoli-enquiry-is-important_14246024 Why the Tivoli enquiry is important: Claude Robinson column/Sunday Observer
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Forget-the-enquiry–make-a-movie-instead_14246048 Forget the enquiry; make a movie instead: Tamara Scott-Williams column/Sunday Observer
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Pain-still-lingers-for-Tivoli-man–family_14247384 Pain still lingers for Tivoli man, family: Sunday Observer
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130510/news/news2.html West Kingston rejoices after cops kill thug: Gleaner
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Mothers-mourn-loss-of-son–daughter Mothers mourn loss of son, daughter: Sunday Observer
http://www.caribjournal.com/2013/05/09/op-ed-from-haiti-to-cuba-a-vision-for-the-caribbean-in-2030/ From Haiti to Cuba: A vision for the Caribbean in 2030: caribjournal.com
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/complant-workers-protest COMPLANT workers protest: RJR News
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130511/lead/lead6.html Pit latrines pose public health risk at St. Mary’s Primary: Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130511/letters/letters8.html No water for farmers in Llandewey for decades: Letter to the Editor/Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130511/letters/letters2.html Emergency call to action for Child Month: Letter from Jamaica Youth Action Network to the Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130512/lead/lead61.html Condoms or abstinence: Guidance counselors ponder the best fit for schools: Sunday Gleaner
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/High-school-standard-bearers-of-excellence-_14239025 High school standard bearers of excellence? Lascelve Graham op-ed/Observer
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130511/lead/lead5.html Mount Olivet Boys’ Home a refuge from abuse: Gleaner
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Saturday-Social_14239033 Saturday Social: Jamaica Observer
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads-107/33829 More assistance for local exporters: Jamaica Information Service
And the situation is… That two elected political representatives in Montego Bay are being investigated in connection with the horrible “lotto scam,” which has spread like an infection from Jamaica’s second city. On Wednesday, the police conducted early morning raids on the homes of Deputy Mayor Mr. Michael Troupe, Councilor for the Granville Division, and the Councilor for the Salt Spring Division Mr. Sylvan Reid, both representing the ruling People’s National Party (PNP) on the St. James Parish Council. Mr. Troupe and his son Jevaughn are to appear in court on Wednesday on charges of illegal firearm and ammunition possession. Mr. Reid has been charged with illegal possession of property. Large amounts of U.S. Dollars and Jamaican Dollars were found hidden inside Mr. Troupe’s home – painted a lovely shade of orange…
Now the lottery scam, which emerged years ago now, has been the scourge of Jamaica for a long time; it has dragged our good name in the mud and has been a continuous source of shame and embarrassment. U.S. police forces have advised citizens not to accept calls from an 876 number (Jamaica’s area code). But it has been an economic godsend for the city of Montego Bay. Small hotels and entertainment venues, where the scammers reportedly hold lavish parties; local businesses, real estate and luxury car sales have all been booming. It has also been the ostensible of much violent crime and many murders, the police say. In case you didn’t know, these people have long lists of the names and numbers of American citizens (where do they obtain these?) whereby elderly ladies and others are robbed of their life savings by smooth-talking Jamaicans, who tell them they have won a lottery, but must first send money. That is basically it, so far as I know. One hears that even teenagers and school kids are involved. It’s “get rich quick” and everybody loves them because they bring money into the community. Lovely. No questions asked.
But the determined efforts of the Jamaica Constabulary Force – who have been steadily picking up not just the small fry, but increasingly what they call “major players” in the lotto scam – are starting to pay off. I must hereby heartily congratulate the head of the Lottery Scam Task Force Superintendent Leon Clunis and his team for their determined investigations. Whether Mr. Troupe and Mr. Reid are proved guilty or not in a court of law, a message has been sent that no one is above the law – not even duly elected officials.
The People’s National Party itself sent a different kind of message – one which did not sit well with many Jamaicans. Firstly, Prime Minister (and President of the PNP) Portia Simpson Miller‘s off the cuff response on the matter was lacking in coherence and conveyed an anxiety to avoid the issue altogether. A television journalist waylaid her as she was entering Parliament later that day, and our Prime Minister’s hurried, abrupt response was, in essence, that she knew nothing about it and could not comment and in any case she is “so busy” with matters of the State… She appeared flustered. Not a good start. On TVJ this evening, she repeated that she did not want to comment until she is sure that she knows what is happening. When will that be? Party Chairman Robert Pickersgill believes Mr. Troupe has “done the honorable thing.” Opposition Leader Andrew Holness says that “I don’t know” has “become the Prime Minister’s tagline.”
So, we waited. No word on Thursday or Friday from the PNP, although its Deputy General Secretary Julian Robinson (the only man who sounded fairly coherent in his remarks) had promised a statement. Something like a statement came out on the Saturday evening television news, almost four days later. It transpired that Mr. Troupe had “voluntarily” (and under no pressure from his party) taken leave of absence from his job – he had not resigned. At a press briefing immediately following the PNP’s regular meeting of the National Executive Council, two of the party leaders looked somewhat sheepish. However, the General Secretary (also ironically the Minister of National Security) took the microphone, asserting that because the two elected officials (sorry to keep stressing this point) are “innocent until proven guilty” they have not been asked to step down, despite the charges against them.
TVJ’s regular viewers’ feedback poll pretty much summed up how most Jamaicans feel about this matter, soon after the arrests. “Should they step down even though they haven’t been charged?” was the question. The viewers’ texted response was loud and clear: eighty per cent said “Yes.” But do the politicians know (or care) what the average Jamaican thinks? (OK, that’s one of my rhetorical questions…) Head of the admirable institution, the National Integrity Action Forum, Professor Trevor Munroe, also said that they must resign. But his voice sounds increasingly lonely, these days – echoing, as if in an empty room.
Did the Prime Minister talk about strengthening the Government’s hand against corruption in her inauguration speech just a few months ago? Just asking. I must revisit that speech.
On this topic, I will end with comments from two people who I think got it right. In a no-holds-barred column in today’s Sunday Observer, Mark Wignall noted caustically that the arrests demonstrate that “too many of our politicians, in this island of crooks, are themselves crooked…Politicians are always hungry for cash and more cash.” Civil rights activist Susan Goffe has noted the key points that I completely agree with: Basically, that it this is not merely a legal issue (of course we are all innocent until proven guilty, that’s a “given”) – so much as it is a moral issue. These are publicly elected officials! We are supposed to respect them, they are our leaders, for heaven’s sake, and we should hold them to a higher standard than your “average Joe.” As Susan Goffe suggests, “If you are charged with a serious criminal offense, declare your innocence, resign from your public office (to preserve the reputation of the office) and deal with the matter of your defence and clearing your name. Too high a standard to ask of those who hold high public office in Jamaica?” Well, it seems so.
As my husband said, supposing before the election a councilor had said to the Jamaican electorate, “Oh well – I might be involved in the lotto scam…and oh, I have an illegal gun.” Would we have voted for him/her? Well, would we? I fear the ruling party has made a grave mistake, and misjudged us all. Just a few months after the optimism (even euphoria) of the general election – and just two weeks before we celebrate our fiftieth year of Independence – it leaves a sour taste in the mouth, like biting into a mango that is not as ripe as you thought it was. Whatever the outcome…
Equally important news… Three Jamaica Defence Force soldiers were – finally – ordered arrested for the murder of accountant Keith Clarke in May 2010. During a botched military operation in search of the fugitive Christopher “Dudus” Coke in a rather wealthy area near Kingston, soldiers allegedly fired at Mr. Clarke’s home and then entered. Mr. Clarke died in a hail of bullets (he apparently received twenty shots). The investigation has been extremely long drawn-out and the bureaucratic procedures related to the military are seemingly rather complex – but it appears that the three will be brought to court as soon as possible. Meanwhile, the question is what has happened in the investigations into the murders of more than seventy residents of Tivoli Gardens during that same period (many of them young men)? The trauma of that period has cut deeply into the consciousness of Jamaicans and the pain of it still lingers – especially in the hearts and minds of the many relatives and friends of those who died under terrifying circumstances.
And in other news… Was there any other news? Well, personally I am feeling very antsy about two major events that are going to take place in the next couple of weeks, and that are dominating the news and social media: the London Olympics and the Jamaica 50 Independence celebrations. On the first, my colleague blogger and journalist par excellence Ms. Dionne Jackson Miller wrote an excellent piece on the excessive, almost hostile attitude of some Jamaicans towards our hard-working athletes – you are expected to win, and to win gold! I agree with Dionne, and have commented elsewhere, that they are all winners. Yet some Jamaicans – supported by some sections of the media – seem to believe that only a gold medal will do. If not, then…Cho! A Gleaner sports report just yesterday noted that an athlete in Monaco was “the only Jamaican winner” at the meet. It was noted that other Jamaican athletes “had to be satisfied with” second and third places in other races. Let us salute and support all our athletes; they work hard, they keep a positive attitude and they have overcome many challenges to reach where they are – the Olympic Games. Congratulations to them all.
P.S. “Time” magazine (yes, the very same Time that presented an award to the Prime Minister apparently for saying that she would tolerate gays in her Cabinet) conducted an online poll on the “best and worst” Olympic athletes kits and what do you know? You’ve guessed it, Jamaica’s came out on top. But the Jamaican jury is, of course, still out. Let’s see how they look at the opening ceremony – that will be the test for Ms. Cedella Marley’s creations, one would like to think.
And on Jamaica 50… What is happening in Jamaica? I’m sorry, I still don’t know, and I have been asking this question for weeks. I can just imagine Jamaicans from overseas arriving on the island, glowing with patriotic pride, checking into their hotels and eagerly enquiring of their hosts, “OK, what’s happening? Where are the celebrations?” Only to be met with confused silence, or perhaps a kind of mumbling – like a politician trying to avoid a difficult question. The Jamaica 50 Secretariat head and the Culture Minister have gone completely silent. It’s good to know, though, that other cities in the Jamaican diaspora worldwide seem to have taken the opportunity to highlight many positive aspects of Jamaican culture in different ways. In London, there will be a seventeen-day “Festival Jamaica 2012″ in Stratford, close to the Olympic venue, including all kinds of exhibits and performances. Jamaican history and culture, flower displays, kids’ events, you name it… And film. As I noted in a reblog earlier this week from the founder of the Reggae Film Festival (a regular fixture on our cultural calendar) the concept of the film festival appears to have been “pirated.” Please see the link below. In Toronto, Canada there is also an exciting schedule of events. They have a beautiful website (see link below) for their “Jump for Jamaica” program of events (the title is also the title of their theme song). Then there is New York, Atlanta, Miami… Perhaps we should go overseas to celebrate Jamaica 50? At least, the distinct impression one has is that we Jamaicans at home are basically left to our own devices. I suppose… Let’s have a party.
Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Edward Seaga told the Jamaica Observer last week that Jamaica had made little progress in the last fifty years. The newspaper then wrote a critical editorial – asking questions that perhaps they should have asked when they were actually interviewing him… And there are questions to be answered.
The Can’t be Bothered Department: Why so much fuss about the over-rated, has-been Jamaican deejay Shabba Ranks? He made what some might call a “triumphant return” to Jamaica for the much-hyped Reggae Sumfest, an annual show in Montego Bay which took place in the past few days. His on-stage cavorting graced (and I use that word sarcastically) almost the entire front page of today’s Sunday Gleaner. (Our Sunday newspapers have become somewhat schizophrenic, of late – a cross between serious commentary/news and entertainment trivia. Saturday’s Observer consists mainly of look-alike hairstyles, ridiculous makeup and nail treatments, and sports). Anyway, Mr. Ranks engaged in “sexually suggestive byplay” with another singer, before introducing his wife on stage. Give me a break… Meanwhile, R. Kelly – the guest star – reportedly owes millions in taxes back home… Jamaica must have been a nice break for him.
Another new rum on the market? And does the launch event have to include women in tiny shorts and too much makeup (where do they get these women from?) Yawn.
Meanwhile, Education Minister Ronald Thwaites continues his unending flow of high-minded speeches, for our edification.
The Not Impressed Department: The long-suffering, once beautiful “Bamboo Avenue,” the supposed tourist attraction in Holland, St. Elizabeth, was seriously damaged by fire caused apparently by a careless farmer. There was no fire truck available to assist. Once again, the St. Elizabeth Parish Council is going to meet and discuss how to preserve what is left of this beautiful area. The area has lost 750 meters of bamboo over the past few weeks. It is sad.
Thumbs down to Windalco – and again, this is a regular/periodic occurrence – for pouring 62,500 gallons of some kind of caustic chemical into the poor old Rio Cobre, resulting inevitably in the death of many fish. Thumbs up to the National Environment & Planning Agency (NEPA) for taking action against the bauxite mining company – and let me say also, for taking the National Solid Waste Management Agency (NSWMA) - another government agency – to court. The latter action is in connection with the appalling fires at the Riverton City dump, which the NSWMA was apparently operating without a license. Do I get the feeling that NEPA is acquiring some teeth, at last? I do hope so. Meanwhile, Windalco – clean up your act! How can these things just happen so?
The Three Cheers Department: CVM Television’s Kameal Gayle, who produced a good series of reports from Haiti. The accompanying footage conveyed a good “on the ground” feel for Haiti – not just the usual clichéd images. The reporting was unpretentious and straight forward. Good going.
To “veteran” deejay Capleton, who through his annual concert “A St. Mary Mi Come From” supports several institutions in what is always described as Jamaica’s poorest parish. The show is in its twelfth year and will take place on August 5 in Annotto Bay. I love it when people don’t forget their roots, but go back to water and nourish them…
I am glad that the University of the West Indies and the Montego Bay Marine Park have partnered on a program to reduce the huge numbers of the flamboyant but invasive species, the lion fish, which is gobbling up reef fish in the Caribbean. I hear that the fish actually does taste good…but cut the spines off, first…
And talking of food, a great move that Wisynco has expanded the distribution of its soda drink Bigga to the United States, partnering with the highly successful Jamaican bakery Golden Krust, which will distribute the drink along with its patties etc. to hungry Jamericans (or even others hooked on Jamaican food!)
Big ups too, to Dr. Henry Lowe, who has forged a partnership of a different kind – with a Chinese anti-cancer biotech firm. Dr. Lowe has been conducting some fascinating research, resulting in the launch of seven nutraceutical products that have great potential through his Bio-Tech R&D Institute. I hope the partnership progresses and bears fruit.
To the Good Shepherd Foundation in Montego Bay, which has had to pause in its building of its Hope Health Clinic due to a shortage of funds. If anyone can help or support in any way, please do so. The Foundation has done incredible work with people living with HIV/AIDS and many other residents since 1997. This is a very worthy project.
To South African High Commissioner to Jamaica Mathu Joyini, U.S. Ambassador to Jamaica Pamela Bridgewater (who served as Consul General in South Africa when Mandela was released from prison) and all those organizations who participated in Nelson Mandela International Day on Wednesday, July 18 – which was Mr. Mandela’s 94th birthday. In particular, the JNBS Foundation partnered with the Kingston YMCA and Children First in Spanish Town for a health outreach and cultural day for at-risk youth. More on this in a post to come…
And talking of Children First, I was thrilled and delighted at the news that the LIME Foundation, California-based Dilieu Technology and the Mosaic Group provided new computers to their Kingston center, which was robbed of all its equipment recently during a break-in. Dilieu will also help provide security, while LIME will provide free internet connection. You are wonderful!
Last but not least, a huge pat on the back for the Liberty Academy at Priory, a small independent school in Kingston, which is doing marvelous work in special education. It has an inclusive and nurturing philosophy. With more revenue and funds, it could do so much more. Educational institutions like this deserve our support, even if the government can provide very little (or so it seems).
Finally, it is my weekly sad task to send condolences to the families and friends of those murdered in Jamaica in the past week. This week, thankfully, I have no police killings to report. Dr. Phillip Chamberlain’s murder has sent shock-waves through the town of Mandeville. A Howard University alumnus, “Dr. Phil” as he was called lived much of his life in the United States and then returned to help his fellow Jamaicans. I hear he was incredibly kind, would work late at night and was always available at any time to help those in need. Many are grieving his sad loss.
Dr. Philip Chamberlain, 71, Mandeville, Manchester
Ava-Gaye Ward, 32, Sunrise Crescent, Kingston
Paul Jackson, 49, Grants Pen, Kingston
Karl Johnson, 57, Old Harbour, St. Catherine
Unidentifed man, Montego Bay, St. James
Holden Riggs, 49, Newmarket, St. Elizabeth
- Human rights group urges Jamaica to repeal anti-buggery law (antiguaobserver.com)
- PNP officials arrested in Jamaican lottery scam (caribbean360.com)
- Sunday Selection: July 15, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=38619 (Police name deputy mayor, councilor as major players in lotto scam)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120721/lead/lead1.html (Still no word: PNP yet to respond to Michael Troupe gun charge)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120722/lead/lead3.html (PNP waffles on arrested councilors)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/MoBay-deputy-mayor-taking-leave-of-absence_11998615 (MoBay Deputy Mayor Taking Leave of Absence)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=38726 (PNP still refusing to speak on fate of jailed councilors)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Politics-attracts-criminality (Politics attracts criminality AND 50 years old and decrepit/Mark Wignall)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=38592 (Three soldiers to be charged with Keith Clarke murder named)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=38615 (Soldiers detained for Keith Clarke murder)
- http://anniepaul.net/2012/07/18/and-justice-for-tivoli-gardens-memento-mori/ (And justice for Tivoli Gardens? Memento Mori Annie Paul blog)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120717/lead/lead8.html (Witter’s report on Tivoli deaths almost done)
- http://newsandviewsbydjmillerja.wordpress.com/2012/07/21/jamaica-and-the-london-2012-olympics-want-to-help-our-athletes-back-off/ (Want to help our athletes? Back off! DJM blog)
- http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/07/21/why-are-jamaicans-so-amazing-at-running/ (Why Are Jamaicans so amazing at running?)
- http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/07/22/3477/ (They Are All Winners!)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120718/sports/sports3.html (The Best! Time votes Jamaica’s Olympic gear tops)
- http://festivaljamaica2012.com/ (Festival Jamaica 2012 – London)
- http://jamaica50.ca/ (Jamaica 50 – Canada)
- http://www.jamaica50anniversary.com/ (Jamaica 50 – New York)
- http://www.ajaatlanta.org/ (Jamaica 50 – Atlanta)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Ja-has-not-progressed-much-in-50-years–says-Seaga_11966332 (Jamaica has not progressed much in 50 years, says Seaga)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/editorial/What-Mr-Seaga-did-not-say–but-should-have-said_11982081 (What Mr. Seaga did not say but should have said – Jamaica Observer editorial)
- http://jamediapro.wordpress.com/2012/07/18/england-steals-reggae-film-festival/ (England steals Reggae Film Festival – Barbara Blake Hannah’s blog)
- http://rjrnewsonline.com/news/local/st-elizabeth-pc-calls-meeting-preservation-holland-bamboo (St. Elizabeth PC calls meeting for the preservation of Holland Bamboo)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=38633 (NEPA to take action against Windalco)
- http://mobile.jamaica-gleaner.com/news/article.php?id=38679 (NEPA takes NSWMA to court)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120718/news/news8.html (If you can’t beat them, eat them)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/business/-A-Bigga-deal-_11998035 (A Bigga deal)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Dr-Lowe-forges-alliance-with-Chinese-anti-cancer-biotech-firm_11982245 (Dr. Lowe forges alliance with Chinese anti-cancer biotech firm)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/westernnews/Good-Shepherd-Foundation-seeks-funds-to-complete-US-3-million-health-facility_11977999 (Good Shepherd Foundation seeks funds)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Children-s-First-gets-new-computers_11989795 (Children First gets new computers)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120721/letters/letters6.html (Liberty nurturing children of varying abilities)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=38537 (Another doctor murdered in Mandeville)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/entertainment/Capleton-lauded-for-charity-work_11982686 (Capleton lauded for charity work)
- Jamaica: Combat Homophobia (hrw.org)
One of Bowie‘s glittering songs, “Heroes” is sung by Peter Gabriel, who ever the world citizen, dedicated it to the people of Haiti. From his album “Scratch My Back,” which I am very fond of. His distinctive voice still sounds so great.
2011 hasn’t got off to an impressive start, has it. There are floods (Australia, Brazil, Sri Lanka), famine (Kenya, parts of India), and indeed pestilence (Haiti, a few African countries). There have also been large quantities of birds falling out of the sky, and dead fishes floating side by side on the surface of lakes and rivers. All very Biblical, and very discouraging. And no, the Petchary does not believe in “the end of days.”
Let’s look at the famine (food) part of it, to start with. We can move on to the floods, pestilence and showers of dead birds in another post, perhaps. Today, a president, who has ruled his country (Tunisia) for as long as our adult son has been on this earth, fled from the power he so tenaciously clung to, leaving behind burnt barricades, bleeding and masked protesters and streets filled with the acrid scent of anger and pain.
How did the Tunisia crisis start? Well, there is a food connection. An unemployed young man was selling vegetables without a permit, and set fire to himself in protest. The first demonstrators shouted the slogan, “Bread, water, Ben Ali out.”
Of course, the protests took a political turn. And, as so often is the case, the high price of food was closely linked to dissatisfaction – essentially, anger – with the government in charge. Reuters reports the chant of Tunis protesters, ”We don’t want bread or anything else, we just want him to leave…After that we will eat whatever we have to.”
And, naturally, the gloomy specter of unemployment and lack of opportunity – social, educational and economic – shuffles around in the background, in shabby doorways. The dark shadow taps the young, eager-faced students on the shoulder, reminding them, “I’m here for you. Whenever you’re ready, here I am.”
Now food riots are contagious. The price of food (and perhaps, oil) can sometimes have the same effect as tossing a can of gasoline on an already smoldering bonfire. There have been riots in Tunisia’s close neighbor, Algeria, and now down into Jordan. Last September, there were food riots in Mozambique, where huge price increases were sparked by catastrophic fires in the great wheat fields of Russia during a tremendous heatwave.
Many developing countries, including little Jamaica, are highly dependent on imported wheat. We may have to change, and start producing more cassava flour, yam flour, breadfruit flour. Why not? The Petchary watched a TV report this week about how Indian cuisine is suffering because of the high price of onions. Well, guess what… find a substitute. We will all have to adapt, and we’d better start now. In Jamaica, we can stop moaning about the price of salt fish, too. It’s an anachronism, a colonial hangover that is just too expensive. Find something else.
Yes, we use words like “catastrophic,” “crisis” and “chaos” with increasing frequency, don’t we. Crisis is really sadly over-worked, and we try to find other words, like… well, there’s no word like crisis. It sums it all up.
Meanwhile, in Jamaica, there is the scare of food poisoning – which may seem trivial compared to the riots, but is also sometimes rooted in poverty and deprivation. After the death of an Argentine tourist at a Christmas wedding celebration, apparently from saltpeter liberally used instead of salt, a rash of ackee poisoning has broken out. Warnings are going out (as if we didn’t know) that ackees must be fully and naturally opened before they are consumed. But people are desperate, picking them when they are not open and therefore poisonous, and selling them. And again, desperate thieves are busy stealing sweet peppers and other crops from the fields of the long-suffering, industrious farmers, and selling the food with the residue of more poison – freshly sprayed chemicals – still on them.
Food and want, going hand in hand.
The Maputo riots last September were a direct result of climate change. Fire caused by high temperatures is a destroyer of crops. Floods caused by an over-enthusiastic La Nina in Australia and Brazil (yes, both the same cause) also destroy crops. So do the numerous hurricanes and storms that afflict the planet daily. Let’s bear this in mind, too.
Adaptation is the name of the game. Which means: get used to change; roll with the punches; make changes in our lifestyle; leave the cultural hangups behind; become self-reliant; think outside the box; prepare for the worst, even if we don’t know what that is.
A U.S. professor who visited Jamaica last year, an Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas Fellow named Gerry Galloway, made a simple statement: ”The only thing we know for certain about climate change is that it is uncertain. The future is uncertain.”
Let’s get used to it, people.
- Sri Lanka floods hamper food distribution; 27 dead (ctv.ca)
- Revolution in Tunisia: photo gallery (boingboing.net)
- First Goes Tunisia, Next Goes… (businessinsider.com)
- Mozambique food riots: The true face of global warming
The last weeks of 2010 have been remarkably beautiful in Jamaica. The simple, pale blue of the morning sky. Dove-grey clouds like cotton wool piled up on the top of the hills, with the faintest promise of rain. An American Redstart flitting in the shade of the bougainvillea bushes – acid orange and velvety black amongst the sugar-pink flowers. The dark sheen on the leaves of the lignum vitae trees. Big crimson apples on our tree, and we are competing with fruit bats and birds to claim a few. In the evening, a slender crescent moon rests on its back above our neighbors’ roof. The raucous call of the Jamaican Woodpecker, in the early morning and at dusk. Shadowy purple sunsets, tree frogs calling as darkness falls.
And yet, this morning the Petchary feels great sadness at the departure of a passionate, humane and kindly soul. How he would have loved the green glow of this morning’s dawning, and the sharp, ringing call of the Doctor Bird (the Red-Billed Streamertail) at his home in the hills surrounding Kingston. He had a deep love of the environment. But his eyes are closed now.
The Petchary thinks John Maxwell was a new soul. He will soon be back again, to fill this world with laughter (his delightful chuckle) and humanity (his concern and anger over the plight of the people of Haiti) and charm (his ability to connect with people, intuitively and with grace and humor).
I am talking about him as a human being, knowing that at different times in his life he has been a newspaper columnist, teacher, political supporter, public servant and for fifty years a journalist – and probably other public roles that I am unaware of. But the Petchary’s fondest memory is of John as our first choice for Santa in the children’s section of a Kingston bookstore where she worked, years ago. We dressed him in that stifling costume, and he was perfect, smiling and without complaint.
Until we meet again, John.
And a little brawta…
- In Kingston, the real heart of Jamaica beats (thestar.com)
- A Taste of Jamaica: A Recipe for Mango Smoothie (trifter.com)
- Tuesday: Green acres, here I come! Heading to the farm land of Jacob’s Ladder in Haddon, St. Ann (economy4abc.blogspot.com)
“Poor Haiti.” This is what we Jamaicans say with a little sigh. ”At least we are not as bad as Haiti,” is another common refrain (“bad” meaning impoverished, destitute, virtually leaderless). Our “Christian” friends say earnestly, “It’s God punishing them because they practice voodoo.” They only have a vague inkling of what voodoo is, but it must of course have a lot to do with the devil, the Christians (with an upper case C) believe…
Jamaica is one of Haiti’s closest neighbors. They are our “Haitian brothers and sisters,” as politicians and church ministers like to say, when they are trying to prove their solidarity.
But if truth be told, Haiti makes some of us quite uncomfortable. It really is a troublesome neighbor – one whose kids cry too loud, who fills up his back yard with junk, with an annoying dog that starts barking when you are trying to get your last little bit of sleep in the morning. A neighbor you may even suspect is involved in criminal activities, mysterious comings and goings late at night. So our sincerely felt sympathy is often tempered with just a little touch of exasperation.
Now this evening, Jamaica is sitting on the edge of a meandering tropical storm, Tomas. So far it has brushed us very lightly with its feathery, pale orange outer clouds, bringing gentle rain. Pale orange on the satellite map, that is. The dark orange is reserved for – oh, poor Haiti again.
“Oh, how much more can Haiti take?” we cry, wringing our hands. This year, first the earthquake (which shook us in Kingston, as a warning), then cholera, and now storms which will surely wash them all away. And even before this year, for many years there has been some kind of “Haiti crisis.” Fleeing dictators; a populist ex-priest in exile; and battered wooden boats arriving on Jamaicans shores, helped onto the beach by kind fishermen, the occupants hollow-eyed and hungry. The refugees sat forlornly on the porch of a run-down old people’s home in rural Jamaica, and some ended up in a kind of modified correctional center, before being sent home. The priest and his family were also housed in Jamaica for a while, rather more luxuriously, at a pretty country home with satin sofas and nice rugs on the floor, giving the occasional staged interview with his wife and their two daughters in their best Sunday dresses.
Poor Mr. Jean Bertrand Aristide. He loved the poor, and he wanted to help them. He might also have said, “Poor Haiti!” But the Petchary is always wary of politicians who say they “love the poor.” What makes them especially lovable? Now they say they want him back, but the chances of him returning are remote. He now lives in a government villa in Pretoria, South Africa, he can speak Zulu really well and is now Dr. Aristide (he has obtained a doctorate in African Languages). He has a new life, but the poor don’t.
But let’s get back to Haiti now. Why do Jamaicans find Haiti, and Haitians, so disturbing? Well, they are so… African, aren’t they. And there is the voodoo thing, and (one major stumbling block to comprehending their culture) they speak not just French, but a particularly opaque Creole, a language all their own. Very few Jamaicans seem to speak or understand French, but a few more are now managing to learn Spanish. The language barrier is not to be discounted.
What else about Haiti? Well, so much else. The culture is a powerful concoction of European (French with a dash of Spanish), African and Caribbean (Taino). Stir it up and you get something delicious, incredibly rich, and you can sip it in small sips and enjoy. Haitian art is so explosive and colorful it almost hurts your eyes, like staring at a huge fireworks display. There have been different schools, like the Jacmel School and the Saint-Soleil School. The Petchary has a painting by Prospere Pierre-Louis, a former member of the Saint-Soleil School, whose thickly painted expressions of the voodoo religion just jump out from the wall at you. Mr. Pierre-Louis was the son of a voodoo priest, and he died in 1996. Happy to have him on our wall.
Then there are the glittering sequin flags, the humorous, spiky metal sculptures. But sad to note, the Centre d’Art in Port-au-Prince was destroyed in January’s earthquake and its director, Francine Murat, died a few weeks later.
And the music! There is compas, a kind of lilting calypso, and hard-driving bands like Boukman Eksperyans, who danced up a storm at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington DC this past summer. Oh, and there are great writers like Lyonel Trouillot (in Haiti) and Edwige Danticat (in New York) and the poet Jean Metellus (in France). And Haitians go to the movies – yes, they do – and the Motion Picture Association of Haiti was founded in 2007.
“Poor Haiti.” It is so much more.
(The Petchary salutes inspirational and ground-breaking artistic entrepreneur Melinda Brown of Roktowa, who returned to Jamaica from Haiti just a few days before the earthquake. A couple of months after, Melinda organized a three-month residency for Haitian artists at her studio/gallery in downtown Kingston. This was a way to nurture the artists and give them the mental and physical creative space to continue their work. Jamaica, and Haiti, are lucky to have met Melinda).
- Confusion, fear as Haiti camps evacuate for storm (thegrio.com)
Today, Jamaica is hovering in a sort of twilight zone as it waits and wonders whether Hurricane Tomas (yes, we are nearly at the end of the alphabet) will strengthen again, continue weakening, shrink or swell, turn or continue on its path across the Caribbean. Tomorrow is November and we should be over this by now. It is like a love affair that has dragged on too long.
The other worry is our next door neighbor Haiti. Earthquake, cholera… It doesn’t need a storm. Its fragility is disturbing.
- Hurricane Tomas weakens to Category 1 storm in Caribbean (theglobeandmail.com)
- “Haiti: Anxiously Watching Tomas” and related posts (afludiary.blogspot.com)
Did you know there is a Global Peace Index? It tries to measure peace (always so much harder to measure than war) and this year, it surveyed 149 countries – in the Caribbean, only Cuba, Jamaica and Haiti (in order of peacefulness). Right at the top is New Zealand, where nothing ever happens; and at the bottom languishes Iraq, where everything happens, in a gloomy twilight zone just below Somalia and Afghanistan. I have added the link to this page; and my photo of the day is of the founder of visionofhumanity.org, Steve Killelea, chilling on an Australian beach.