This month has started with a kind of numbing heat. Kingston nights are hot and dark; the days are hot and bright. Those annoying birds, the grackles have brought some screeching offspring into our yard. I chase them away, and it seems to make me feel better.
First things first…The PM is anxious about our athletes’ health: Remember now, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller is Minister of Sport. She must also be Minister of Defence, but national security is of lesser importance, I guess. Before taking a few days’ vacation, the PM met with a large group of people (you can see some of them sitting round the table in the photo below, which doesn’t even show all of them) to discuss the burning issue of a wellness center for our athletes. Top priority – not child abuse, children in lock-ups, crime and violence, the crisis in education, our failing health system, our failing justice system, the economy…
But the Reggae Boyz… Our national football team is now sadly on life support after its third consecutive defeat in Honduras last night. Moreover, our coach, former player Theodore Whitmore, has resigned. The “Road to Rio” - our World Cup campaign – seems to have faded beneath our feet. Several rather unkind memes have circulated online. I will not rub salt in the wounds by reproducing them here. Fact is, we cannot just throw together a team made up of mostly second- or third-tier overseas-based players. We need a serious national football training program.
Those trips again: I am glad that Opposition Senator Robert Montague stood up and asked a number of questions about yet another trip that I may not even have mentioned: the journey of Mayor of Kingston Angela Brown Burke and her entourage, including Local Government Minister Noel Arscott and various assistants, down to the good old continent of Africa. This is quite separate from the Prime Minister’s excursion (no report card yet, Madam Prime Minister? And yes, we know about the “teachers to Tanzania” concept. Apart from that). Since the good Senator has formally tabled questions, I hope he will get proper answers. The Mayor et al went first to Uganda and then down to South Africa, I understand.
Dollars nah run: My favorite minister Phillip Paulwell wants more people to apply for the (barely) “single-digit” interest rate energy loans. Amazing that 9.5% is considered a really low interest rate in Jamaica, isn’t it? I think that everyone’s running away from getting themselves into more debt at the moment. What does my economic guru Ralston Hyman have to say about this? I will have to listen in to his morning radio program to find out. Confidence in markets is everything. I learnt that during my years in the financial sector. Once it is gone…dawg nyam yuh supper.
And time a-wasting: A great report in today’s Gleaner notes the irritation of employers with the huge chunks taken out of their employees’ working days while they wait in line at banks and government agencies (the two prime culprits, but there are others). Yes indeed folks, in Jamaica you can wait up to two hours for service in a bank, in the middle of the day when you should be back at your workplace. It is utterly ridiculous. I know of one financial institution that my husband and I jokingly call the “sleepy place.” There is a large waiting area – rows of chairs, where customers regularly doze off while waiting. And no matter how many customers they have, there is almost always only one person to serve them. It’s an insult and it is a serious deterrent to productivity.
Oh, and no money for disasters? About two months or more ago (I will have to look it up) I mentioned in a blog post that there was absolutely no mention of budgeting for disaster preparedness. When I raised the issue, someone muttered something about help from overseas. So if we do get hit by a hurricane this year then we can always turn to these kind donors and say “help”? Now the Local Government Minister tells us that “it is apparent that the (National Disaster Fund) is not adequate…” God help us if a disaster hits. I don’t know who else will.
So now gays are “uncontrollable”: You’ve heard about the “uncontrollable” girls, such as those at the Armadale Juvenile Correctional Centre (and elsewhere) who are locked up because their parents (mothers) can’t cope with them. Well, the Jamaica Observer is now describing a small group of homeless young men who have occupied an abandoned house in an upscale area of Kingston as “uncontrollable.” Is it that any group of Jamaicans (young ones) who don’t behave “normally” is uncontrollable? These two groups have something in common: seriously marginalized. At least the newspaper tried to get a more balanced picture this time – actually speaking to J-FLAG and to the police – plus a so-called caretaker at the house.
I’m not very impressed… by radio journalist George Davis’ column in today’s Gleaner. He is trying to be too clever. But I do not think it particularly clever to refer to “a man who presents the major evening newscasts for one of our two major television stations” as homosexual. Why do that to a fellow journalist? Of course, no names mentioned but please!! It’s just tacky.
The meaning of service: The image many of us have of U.S. college fraternities is one of heavy-drinking, partying, crazy students. However, there is another side to fraternities: a tradition of service to others. The photograph below and the blog it comes from epitomizes the “giving back” that these fraternity brothers (Delta Upsilon) from several different colleges and universities are engaged in during a recent trip to Jamaica. The students are refurbishing a school in Westmoreland; I must find out which one. The contribution of these “farriners” - like the ongoing medical missions from overseas – is often greatly under-estimated. OK, I am sure these boys had fun in Negril too – but they also gave their time and energy, freely, to the children of Jamaica. They could have been sitting on their couches at home watching TV. I wish more young Jamaicans would catch on to the power of volunteerism. It is better to give than receive…
Word of the week: “Committed.” I think we (especially any government agency) should give this word a rest. It means “we’re going to do something but we haven’t done it yet. But yes, we think it’s a really good thing and a great idea. But…Not just yet.” Just read a Jamaica Information Service report: “Government committed to the elimination of child labor.” How? When?
And big ups to:
The U.S. Peace Corps volunteers: Since we are talking about service… Below you will find a link to the blog of one volunteer in Jamaica, who is living and working in rural St. Thomas, up in the mountains. The U.S. Peace Corps has been doing great work in Jamaica since Independence.
Ms. Virtue…: I met Ms. Erica Virtue quite a few years ago. I remember bumping into her in the Gleaner newsroom when visiting that worthy media house; and many rambling telephone chats. I have always had a healthy respect for her feisty, often provocative style. Now Erica is doing a weekly video commentary piece on the newspaper’s website, called “Erica’s Edge.“ I love it, and Erica’s biting and sometimes brutal humor. She may rub people up the wrong way sometimes – but she’s a journalist, not a shrinking violet…
…and Mr. Henry: When I first spoke to Darien Henry many years ago, he was an enthusiastic community-based reporter for Irie FM in Ocho Rios. I told him what a splendid radio voice he has. Now, it seems, he is putting pen to paper – or rather, fingers to keyboard. He has written a sensible column on education reform in the Gleaner. I look forward to more from the affable Mr. Henry.
Isle Chixx: Jamaicans eat chicken like there’s no tomorrow, and a relatively new local firm is doing well. They do Cornish hens. Managing Director Alex Antaeus will be opening a Greek restaurant in Kingston soon – so we can start eating healthier!
The Ministry of Justice: For posting the draft terms of reference for the upcoming Commission of Enquiry into the Tivoli Gardens massacre online for all to see. This kind of transparency and public consultation is laudable and I don’t believe this has been done with previous enquiries. You can find the discussion draft at
And you should submit your comments in writing to the Ministry not later than Friday, June 21.
And talking of consultations, I just returned from a complex, lengthy public consultation on the boundaries to the precious Cockpit Country in western Jamaica. More on that in a later blog.
The following Jamaicans have lost their lives violently in the past three days. I extend my condolences, as always, to the grieving families and friends who are left behind:
Errol Irwin, 57, Bog Walk, St. Catherine
Millar Bowen, 43, Bodles Research Station, St. Catherine
Rohan Clarke, 28, Cambridge, St. James
O’Neil Clarke, 34, Stettin, Trelawny
Unnamed infant, Stettin, Trelawny
Killed by police:
Davion Gordon, downtown Kingston
Okeen Edwards, 19, Greendale/Spanish Town, St. Catherine
Related links and articles:
PM wants swift action on wellness center for athletes: Jamaica Information Service
Montague questions local government trip to Africa in May: Jamaica Observer
Security costing taxpayers millions for ruined Goodyear factory: Jamaica Observer
Ruined Sligoville Stadium to be rescued, says Neita-Headley: Jamaica Observer
Bosses seeing red! Long wait in lines keeping their workers off the job: Gleaner
Tick, tick, tick: Jamaicans lose valuable production hours standing in line: Gleaner
Not enough money in the country’s hurricane coffers: Gleaner
”I love UTech, but no”: Gleaner
Dr. Phillips must hold his nerve: Gleaner editorial
100 to 1, makes sense? Jamaica Observer
More takers needed for energy loans: Jamaica Observer
AJ, know your role: private sector fires back at Nicholson after “trade bickering” comments: Gleaner
Jamaica, China dreaming together: op-ed by Chinese Ambassador to Jamaica Zheng Qingdian: Gleaner
CARICOM an old boys’ club: Letter to the Editor from Joan Williams/Gleaner
Why we are glad – and mad! Jean Lowrie-Chin column/Jamaica Observer
Mass exodus! Senator warns teachers may leave in droves: Gleaner
Pay teachers better, then hold bar higher: Darien Henry column/Gleaner
More teachers than vacancies: Gleaner
Look at New York, Mr. Thwaites: Gleaner editorial
Free health fallout: Gleaner
Don’t touch it! say Negril residents: Jamaica Observer
Commissioner of Police knew of plans to settle bribery case, says witness: RJR News
Use human rights to save us: Garth Rattray column/Gleaner
J-FLAG denies abandoning homeless gay men: Jamaica Observer
Those slow to accept gays are not evil: George Davis column/Gleaner
Government invites comments on draft terms of reference for Tivoli enquiry: Gleaner
Judges can’t bail out cops: Peter Champagnie op-ed/Gleaner
High hopes for diaspora conference: Jamaica Observer
The sheltered ones are not yet born: wellreadrobin.wordpress.com
Life in the Valley: April’s Peace Corps blog.com
GSI Jamaica: Why I am a DU: deltaupsilon.wordpress.com
We are refreshed by the rain, which has been coming down in oodles for the past few days, every afternoon on cue. It has turned the streets of Kingston into chaos and our lawn into a kind of marshland (previously it was desert). We are nevertheless thankful.
All that wet stuff has not washed away all the silliness that has been going on this week though, sadly. For a start…
The terrors of tweeting: The curse of the tweet has descended on Jamaica. You would think that our public officials would have learned from the sticky situations their overseas counterparts have got themselves into in the not too distant past. But Kingston’s Mayor dipped her toes into these dangerous waters, and got bitten. She used some of her 140 characters to exclaim “What the f!” and went on to complain that two Opposition representatives (including the leader) were appearing on the mid-week television current affairs shows. Now we all know what the “f” in the social media term WTF means (no, it does not stand for “frog”) and the Mayor pretty much acknowledged this in a sort of half-apology during a radio interview with Barbara Gloudon. So let’s move on from that, and the self-righteous indignation. Yes, certainly inappropriate for someone in her position, but let’s not overreact.
The show must go on: Several journalists responded sharply on social media and radio to the Mayor’s accusation of political bias. They pointed out (in fact, one even listed) the number of times they have requested the participation of the Prime Minister and other government officials, who have declined the requests. And the media knows that the show must go on, with or without them. Note: Mayor Angela Brown Burke is a stalwart of the People’s National Party and leader of the Kingston & St. Andrew Corporation, representing the majority party. Mayors are not directly elected in Jamaica – except for the Mayor of the Municipality of Portmore.
More importantly…This is all another manifestation of the uncomfortable relationship between the current administration and the media. Isn’t it? So badly out of sync. If I was the Prime Minister, I would gently relieve the current communications consultants (or whatever they call themselves) of their duties, and start afresh with a new “team.” At the moment, the whole thing is lurching from one faux pas to another. It’s painful to watch. And so unnecessary.
Is the press really free, or just comfortable? And talking of the press, there were some interesting remarks at the Press Association of Jamaica’s breakfast in recognition of World Press Freedom Day on Friday, May 3. The church person I have a great deal of time for, the head of Jamaica’s Anglican Church Bishop Howard Gregory, said he did not think either the current administration or the Opposition would want a Commission of Enquiry into the Tivoli Gardens slaughter, as suggested by the Public Defender and others. Why? Because “the complicity factor operates,” says Bishop Gregory. Both political parties will seek to preserve the status quo (see below) and not rock the boat. Who knows what might come out? It might not look good on either party. Best to just let sleeping dogs lie… or in this case, well over seventy dead Jamaicans. Professor Trevor Munroe of National Integrity Action warned against the “nine-day wonder” phenomenon, which a certain local government councilor predicted for the Azan affair recently. Soon blow over. Don’t let this happen! And broadcast journalist Emily Crooks suggested that her colleagues were “not pushing the envelope” – and were, therefore, quite comfortable compared to colleagues around the world who are harassed, attacked, even killed. We need a more “activist” and investigative press, one feels. Complacency is never desirable. The press must, and should, be prepared to rock that boat until the water slops over the sides.
Thievery reaches new heights: With the theft of over 200,000 liters of airplane fuel from the Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay. Pardon the pun. The mind boggles. How? We wait with bated breath for more news on this… Or else we might just forget to ask?
Houses for the poor: Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller seems mighty pleased with her latest plan to revive the Inner City Housing Project, using funds from the poor old National Housing Trust (NHT) – the gift that keeps on giving. There, you see! She is doing something for the poor, after all. Who said she didn’t love them? Others are not so impressed. Responding to a question on TVJ News earlier this week, 91 per cent of viewers said that NHT funds should not be used to assist non-contributors. In a Sunday Gleaner column today, the irreverent Gordon Robinson asks: ”Why are otherwise intelligent persons twisting themselves into knots to defend this indefensible rape of poor people’s assets?” I think he (and we) know a few reasons why. One must not upset the applecart, as that sage People’s National Party councilor told CVM Television in relation to the Richard Azan/Spaldings Market fiasco. All hail the status quo! Long may it live!
Incidentally, the Prime Minister said she had no knowledge of the councilor’s remarks, when questioned by CVM. Rather surprising. Or not?
What Negril does/does NOT have: We noted recently that the tourist town of Negril is extremely short of water. We also now hear that it has had no fire engine for the past two months, and is dependent on trucks from the town of Savannah-la-Mar, a good twenty minutes’ drive away. A large house burnt down yesterday. As the Jamaica Environment Trust notes, the beach is rapidly disappearing, with the sea lapping at beachside attractions; there are dubious plans to revive it by injecting chemicals into it. Oh, and there is basically no coral reef and no fish – all connected with said dwindling beach, of course. I’m informed, also, that the Negril Recycling Centre, supported by the Sandals Foundation about three years ago, is also non-functioning. The nearest one now is in Montego Bay.
Help JA Children, a local lobby group formed just one year ago and founded by the still-ridiculously-young Brandon Allwood, has started a collection of items for children in state care. The collection drive will go on for the entire month of May (Child Month) at Kia Motors, 2 Chelsea Avenue, in New Kingston. Please go through your cupboards or pop down to the store and donate anything that you can spare – clothes, toys, books, stationery and school items, toiletries… Help JA Children has a Facebook page and is on Twitter (@HelpJAChildren).
Reparations, again: In 2001, our very own Barbara Blake Hannah – a passionate Rastafarian defender of Jamaica’s culture – attended the United Nations World Conference on Racism in Durban, South Africa. The conference made 19 excellent recommendations for ways in which the evils of slavery could be atoned for by, in Jamaica’s case, the British Government. A British Lord, Anthony Gifford – a Queen’s Counsel who practices law in Jamaica and the UK – has campaigned tirelessly on the subject; and so has the Jamaica Labour Party’s Mike Henry. And yet, sadly, little or no progress has been made. Essentially, the British have said sorry, but no. The discussions continue. Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines Ralph Gonsalves spoke for a remarkable 87 minutes (according to tweets from friends who attended) at the launch of a new book on the topic by Professor Hilary Beckles at the University of the West Indies this week. Mr. Gonsalves has offered to host a Caribbean conference on the topic in his country, at which he will no doubt drone on for another 87 minutes. To my mind, this does not advance us any further. What next? Not more words, please? Let’s have action! It is a burning question, it needs to be resolved, and long speeches are not going to cut it.
But then, this is part of the Pontification Syndrome for which Jamaica is well known. We talk too much!
I hate Page 2: In the current socio-economic climate, my dislike for the social pages in the daily newspapers has been steadily growing. I am developing a real hatred for Page Two and Something Extra and all the other nonsense. I think I am going to start a Campaign for the Abolition of Social Pages (CASP for short). Seriously. They are irrelevant, elitist, classist, and actually rather offensive – in light of the fact that when the IMF funds were disbursed, the government had to ask for a special sum up front for “budgetary support.” So they could pay public sector wage bills for April, perhaps? So can we wave goodbye to those people with drinks in their hands, posing for their photo? Goodbye!
Once again, it is very sad to note the names of those who have been murdered in Jamaica since Wednesday, May 1, when I wrote my last review. My condolences to all those who mourn them (and to the family, friends and neighbors of the twelve-year-old girl who committed suicide in rural St. Catherine last week):
Violet Marsh, 63, Temple Hall, St. Andrew
Phillip Bell, 39, Seaforth, St. Thomas
Leroy Reid, 42, Naggo Head, St. Catherine
Constable Michael Townsend, Effortville District, Clarendon
Killed by the police:
Orane Bowman, Clarendon
Related links and articles (local blogs in purple):
PNP members apologize for controversial tweets: RJR News
Controversy in 140 characters: Gleaner editorial
Can you hear me now? Communication problems at Jamaica’s local government level: Perceptual Post
”Our journalists are not killed, but many stories die”: Jamaica Observer
Jamaican journalists challenged to improve standards: Sunday Gleaner
The people vs Portia: Lloyd B Smith op-ed/Jamaica Observer
Jamaica will find it difficult to implement IMF targets, Fitch says: Jamaica Observer
Lack of accountability in the budget debate: Robert Wynter column/Sunday Gleaner
NDX Saves Gov’t $17 Billion in Payments Per Year on Domestic Bonds: Jamaica Information Service
OUR to hold public meetings on request for increased water rates: RJR News
Energy bill reduction falls short of target: Solar Buzz Jamaica
Paulwell’s statement on CAP not true, says Golding: Jamaica Observer
Clarendon Alumina Partners no cost on budget – Finance Minister: Jamaica Information Service
NHT’s Inner City Housing Project causes headache: Gleaner – April, 2010
PM revives housing plan: Gleaner
The great NHT robbery: Gordon Robinson column/Sunday Gleaner
Upgraded facility to benefit St. Mary farmers: Jamaica Observer
Public beaches raise a stink: Gleaner
”Be more selective”: Food for the Poor Jamaica Chair Andrew Mahfood: lowrie-chin.blogspot.com
Britain’s black debt: The logic of reparation: anniepaul.net
Cut the talk and cut the red tape: Sunday Observer editorial
Richard Azan: The story not yet told: Desmond Allen article/Jamaica Observer
Spalding shops: Parish Council knew: Sunday Observer
Beyond Mr. Witter’s windy diatribe: Gleaner editorial
Witter wrong on ICC enquiry: Letter to the Editor from Lloyd D’Aguilar/Gleaner
We want $1 millon each: Tivoli residents put price on their loss: Gleaner
Anglican bishop says government will do nothing about Tivoli report: Jamaica Observer
Jamaica’s image in jeopardy if no Tivoli enquiry says human rights activist: RJR News
”Dudus” should testify – Witter: Sunday Observer
No disciplinary action yet – Albert Corcho: Jamaica Star
Children’s Advocate calls for partnerships: Jamaica Information Service
Give us clarity, Minister Thwaites: Letter from Senator Kamina Johnson Smith/Jamaica Observer
Child’s suicide leaves void in St. Catherine village: Sunday Observer
Revealing Jamaica’s soul: Jamaicans for Justice op-ed/Sunday Observer
Should contraceptives be introduced in schools? Sunday Observer
Contraceptives in schools: Don’t just dismiss it: Sunday Observer
Chart of the Week: Putting All our Eggs in One Basket? Cargo continues to decline: diGJamaica
”Tablets” for a wounded Jamaica: perceptualpost.com
”Time for Penwood to settle down”: Jamaica Observer
Was Penwood stabbing staged for YouTube? Sunday Gleaner
Prisoners party at Tower Street: Sunday Gleaner
Chronic shortage of special education teachers: RJR News
Sports: The opium of our high schools: Lasceive Graham op-ed/Jamaica Observer
Round and around and around and around we go: Tamara Scott Williams column/Sunday Observer
ODPEM gearing up for active hurricane season: Jamaica Information Service
Portrait of an elderly man: lovely artwork from a young man from St. Mary: jablogz.com
Influential Jamaican saxophonist Cedric Brooks dies at 70: Washington Post”
What happened to the Negril Recycling Centre? Undated photo from Sandals Foundation showsHeidi Clarke (third left), director of programmes at the Sandals Foundation, hands over a cheque valued at $320,000 to Carey Wallace, president of the Negril Chamber of Commerce, operators of the Negril Recycling Centre. Looking on are Mark Swainbank of Environmental Resources Management (from left); Junior Gordon, director of the Negril Chamber of Commerce and general manager for Grand Pineapple Negril; Jermaine Robinson, manager of the Negril Chamber of Commerce; and Peter Reid, manager of the Negril Recycling Centre.
Xaymaca is the Arawak (Taino) name for Jamaica. It means ”Land of Wood and Water.”
The Women’s Resource and Outreach Centre (WROC) has a small and unpretentious office in Kingston. And it has an outstretched arm, too – eastwards, over the struggling community of Bull Bay and its dusty environs to the rich pastures, rivers and hillsides of St. Thomas. WROC’s outreach program, which seeks to empower women (and men) in rural communities, grew from the organization’s Sustainable Livelihoods program eastablished after the devastation of Hurricane Ivan – a particularly vicious storm – in 2004. But WROC has actually been working in several communities in St. Thomas since 2001.
Sustainability is a key word here – and another one which came to mind when I visited the area last week is resilience. Resilience in the deepest sense of the word: drawing on reserves of strength, stretching and getting pulled out of shape, and “bouncing back.” But the bouncing back might not be a complete recovery; after a hurricane, things are never quite the same again, and never will be. One might perhaps be unable to return to how things were before. But one has armed oneself with skills, with resources – and with the strength – to be able to create and carve out an altered, adjusted life. It is about no longer depending on those elements that were – but that may never be (quite the same) again.
These are the complexities of climate change. As we headed out of the city, there were signs everywhere. As we crossed the Harbour View Bridge, I remembered the destruction of Tropical Storms: Nicole (2010) and Gustav, two years earlier. Last week, a trickle of water had worn a narrow path along one side of the wide, dry riverbed of the Hope River, which opens up into a rough and restless stretch of the sea coast on the other side of the long Palisadoes spit that takes you to Kingston’s airport. The Donald Quarrie High School, named after the Olympic champion athlete who came from Harbour View, sits precariously, on a flat area, now much too close to the sea. Huge waves flooded the school compound and several classrooms just last year during Hurricane Sandy; the school wants the Chinese engineering company that built up the Palisadoes spit to build them a sea wall. In 2007, Hurricane Dean stirred the waves to such fury that the sea knocked a huge hole in the schools’s Industrial Arts Department; while not far away, a once desirable housing development (Caribbean Terrace) has been steadily torn apart by successive storms since Hurricane Ivan. You can still see some of the solid concrete homes, overturned by the strength of the waves, knocked sideways like abandoned small toys.
Did you notice how many storm names I mentioned in that last paragraph?
The main coastal road took us across the dry Yallahs River, where as you cross the now-raised fording you look inland to the spread of hills, dark with forests. But the palette is different now; the landscape of St. Thomas is colored auburn, blond. As the road passed close to the shore at Roselle, we noticed that bulldozers were busy, piling up huge stones where once there was a rocky but attractive fishing beach. The ocean was always strong and lively here, with “white horses” piled up to the horizon. But we used to stop sometimes at the beach, where fishermen sold their catch. On the other side of the narrow road, a delicious waterfall slides over rocks, creating a natural (but not at all private) shower for local residents. That waterfall was small and modest last week, barely enough for a good wash.
At last, we reached the quiet village of Trinityville, having turned off the road and driven through pastures that showed the effects of prolonged drought. An arc of irrigation water hung over brown fields. As we drew closer, the exquisite rounded, green hills that I admired on my last visit came into view, now sunburned and dry. The several rivers we crossed en route were low, their waters trickling among dry boulders.
But when we arrived in Trinityville, they had enjoyed a shower of rain that morning. The air seemed to want to turn into water; humidity dripped from the trees. We met Ernest Grant, a goat farmer who had benefited from WROC’s sustainability project, with two of his animals. Guided by WROC’s energetic outreach officer Nkrumah, we then visited a greenhouse, tucked away among tangled foliage behind some houses, and flanked by large black water tanks (a regular feature of our landscape these days). There we met Lenford Brown and Clinton Bailey. They were growing 426 tomato plants in the greenhouse, which cost around J$1 million. They were also starting a seedling nursery, where young sweet pepper seedlings were already flourishing, with the assistance of the Digicel Foundation; delicious romaine lettuce was also growing nearby.
Mr. Brown and Mr. Bailey were hoping for more rain. They would like to have more greenhouses, expand their operations. They are also hoping to expand the market for their produce, although they already sell to local “higglers” (traders) and to those outside the community who sell in Kingston’s markets. The logistics of selling to hotels are not workable; roads in the area are poor, and it would simply take too long for the produce to reach its destination. There are no large (or even small) hotels nearby. The local market fluctuates somewhat, but it is there.
Mr. Brown, an astute and highly-focused graduate of the nearby Robert Lightbourne High School, has a business plan. He believes in value-added products. He has helped develop a tomato jam or ketchup. WROC also launched a delicious guava ketchup (sauce) at the Denbigh Agricultural Show in 2010; the project was funded by the European Union and Christian Aid to provide income to the rural residents. Now, guava is a resilient and abundant crop in the area, growing virtually wild; and it is nutrition-rich, with many possibilities for value-added products.
We moved on, climbing a little further to the village of Somerset, set a little deeper in the hills above the gently chiming Somerset River. There we met Joslyn (not sure if I got the spelling of his name right), who oversees another WROC project sponsored by the European Union, to build check dams.
What are check dams, you may ask? Well, they are small dams, built across gullies or water channels or ditches, to “check” the water flow. During storms or heavy rains, the water gushes madly down the hillsides, sweeping everything in its path. Crops, forested areas, even homes are damaged and destroyed, and entire hillsides with precious soils can be eroded, washing away into nothing and swamping the valleys below. The check dam slows the waters down; it creates pools, and the overflow slips over – often to another check dam below, which again slows the water and prevents that furious, destructive torrent.
From Somerset, we walked up the hill to one of the check dams under construction. On the way up, we saw the kind of damage that the dams are designed to counteract: the hillside torn away by landslides, exposing tree roots; and a house that had been abandoned years before when the hillside pushed down on it.
And here was the dam. The men joked loudly as they worked, shoveling cement under a bright blue tarpaulin. Another man walked up the steep gully from the site of another dam to be built lower down. At the end of the path, we met a group of women, sturdy and strong, who gave us a demonstration of how they carry river stones from the huge pile at their feet down to the dam, hand to hand, to be cemented into the structure. This turned out to be an interactive project; the whole group of us joined in, passing the large stones along. The visitors found this amusing; the women were serious in their work.
The higher slopes were a dull brown, with bright green fans of bamboo still flourishing where other trees had been cut down. Farmers are moving higher up in the hills to grow their cash crops, Joslyn told us – ackee, coffee, pear. It is cooler up there and the rainfall is better. Nevertheless, we saw many fruit trees in the village - “fruit trees are always cared for.” Mules and donkeys are still valuable in these parts, we were told; there are no roads – at least none suitable for cars – and to reach their farming plots on the higher slopes, farmers must hike for two hours or more on the animals’ backs. They have to do it. It’s a change for them, but they are adapting.
And what of the native trees, the hardwoods that used to flourish in this beautiful watershed of the island? There are very few remaining. During the 1980s, the Forestry Industry Development Company (FIDCO) operated in the area. According to locals and environmentalists alike, FIDCO’s logging operations, while replanting with fast-growing pine trees, did untold damage to Jamaica’s forests. The state agency, established in 1978, was finally wound up in 2000. A reforestation project is now under way; but again, to make the young trees take root and grow properly, proper irrigation is needed. Without water, the wood cannot flourish. And it is hard, very hard, to repair the damage.
We walked back down the hill for lunch, passing a small office made from a container, where a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer, Sarah Marshall works on a number of community environmental awareness projects. She’s doing great work, especially with the schoolchildren, we were told. As we ate our flavorful chicken and rice and peas and drank delicious fresh carrot and orange juice, delicately flavored with ginger, I reflected on the mysterious, quiet beauty of Jamaican country life.
Times change, the climate is changing; but I strongly feel that the women and men of Trinityville and Somerset are ready for whatever the future brings. With the ongoing support of organizations such as WROC and with adequate funding, these communities can face the future. They understand what is needed, and they are ready. I am filled with admiration for them all.
Thank you to WROC, and to the visitors from the Seven Hills Outreach Center in Boston, Massachusetts for allowing me to hitch a ride on their bus. And especially, my grateful thanks to the people of Trinityville and Somerset, in the living, breathing hills and valleys of St. Thomas.
You should go and visit them soon.
: WROC Sustainable Livelihoods
Forestry Department, Jamaica
Caribbean Terrace a shell: Gleaner, 2010
Check out Beechwood’s Gourmet Guava Sauce: Gleaner, 2011
The dawning of truth: article by environmentalist Peter Espeut/Gleaner
Perhaps it is exhalation, rather than sighs. The island is (mostly) recuperating from Hurricane Sandy, and the general consensus is that things could have been worse. For some, however, life post-Sandy is still fairly grim. Those at the eastern end of the island, where the infrastructure was already in pretty bad shape, are really suffering. It is always the rural poor who suffer the most from storms. Now, over the weekend, heavy rains and flooding (especially in the parish of Portland) have rendered roads impassable and have slowed the recovery effort. Many remain homeless, waterless, powerless in Portland, St. Mary, St. Ann and St. Thomas. The Jamaica Public Service Company – which I have praised in my last blog and continue to commend for their diligent work – has encountered huge technical challenges in restoring electricity to these areas. We city-dwellers are relatively well-off and comfortable, now. It is about the haves and the have-nots, and sadly there are still many of the latter group.
Meanwhile, we read a string of reports noting the billions of dollars’ worth of damage inflicted on different sectors of the economy. All week, the numbers floated around over our heads like butterflies – the kind you can never catch. Because, ultimately, do we have the money to make all the necessary amends after Sandy? That was a rhetorical question; you know the answer.
A few ministers, and quite a few Members of Parliament and local councillors, toured selected areas and made solemn pronouncements about what needs to be done. Promises were made. And the Opposition Member of Parliament for Western Portland, Mr. Daryl Vaz (who has been rather quiet lately) launched a storm relief fund for the parish with the inestimable Food for the Poor, headed by Andrew Mahfood – which will match donations with $100,000. This appears to be a bipartisan fund, and it extends to neighboring parishes; one hopes that the private sector will chip in. Portland often calls itself the “neglected parish”; along with St. Thomas next door, it suffers from low self-esteem – and the serious under-development of its people.
Well now. Just yesterday, the delightful, bubbly Ms. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, a double gold medalist in the London Olympics, graduated from the University of Technology (UTech) in Kingston and became that learned institution’s first Ambassador. I am not quite clear what her duties will be. Although of course this would have been planned months ahead, it seems a little unfortunate that UTech’s celebration of its latest batch of graduates should take place less than two days after a screaming mob of students descended on the college’s guard house, calling for the security guards to “kill the battyman” (yes, I heard those words on the video). Please see my previous blog, Sticks and Stones, for more information on this. I wonder if any of the students involved were actually on the podium, proudly receiving their degrees.
Although this blood-chilling event last Thursday night was extensively reported in the broadcast media and discussed at length on radio shows, the island’s newspapers seem to have been steering away from it. That is, apart from a solid editorial in today’s Sunday Gleaner. Please see that link below, as well as links to other locally written blogs that have addressed the issue with, I believe, considerable thought and insight. I will be re-blogging one of them shortly, and I do hope you will read them all. These are people who, like myself, have observed what is happening in civil society in Jamaica. And by the way, much of what is happening ain’t pretty.
Anyway, I congratulate Ms. Fraser-Pryce on her achievement – none of this is her fault – and I am sure she will be a lovely Ambassador, whatever that entails. A new assessment center for children with disabilities is to be opened and named in her honor, and that is good.
Just a quick footnote on this matter: Has anyone – the UTech leadership, the politicians, Jamaicans in general – thought about the possible global repercussions of the UTech matter? YouTube videos are powerful weapons. The moron who uploaded the video of this human rights abuse thought it was great fun to show the world this illustration of Jamaica’s homophobia and “wild West” mob-rule mentality. But it may have back-fired – not only on those who participated in this scene of persecution, but on Jamaica itself, including its law-abiding citizens. Could the world fall out of love with the Jamaica of Usain Bolt, gold medals, beaches and reggae music? Isn’t its image tarnished with violence, lawlessness and bigotry already? Doesn’t this video make matters worse? Or do Jamaicans and Jamaican leaders not realize that people around the world do sit up and take notice of such matters, which here in Jamaica might be brushed aside with a quick statement or public relations piece? What impact will all of this have on our tourism industry, for example? It’s not only Hurricane Sandy that may put a dampener on things in that respect. Take a read of the online article below - “Un-coupling Usain Bolt and Jamaica.” It will make you wonder…where are we heading?
I really hope the leaders of Jamaica – in politics, academia and in the church/churches specifically – are sitting up and taking notice, too. And talking of leadership… Once again the commentators are asking for a sign from our Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller that she is truly engaged in the people’s business. Jamaicans often call her “Mama P” or “Sista P” - suggesting her warm, fuzzy family image. She hugs people a lot. And kisses. It’s quite endearing. I think she even hugged Prince Harry during his visit. But as one columnist noted today, why was she not doing just that with the people of Portland after Hurricane Sandy? Today’s Observer cartoon compares her unfavorably with President Barack Obama, who has been doing quite a lot of hugging and comforting. By contrast, our political leader reportedly flew over the storm-ravaged areas in a military helicopter, and did not set foot on the ground. A missed PR opportunity of major proportions. She doesn’t have ministers to do that. She has to show leadership herself, in person.
Bearing in mind her comments on gay rights during a televised election debate about a year ago, I would also love “Mama P” to reach out to the victim of the attack at UTech, to express regret and wish for his wellbeing. Perhaps even to condemn the incident? But I won’t hold my breath on that one.
On the economic front, there are still concerns that we are not being told much about the prospects for the completion of an agreement with the International Monetary Fund. The head of the Private Sector Organization of Jamaica, Christopher Zacca, hinted in a speech last week that more information would be most helpful to him and his colleagues, at this point. And I know I am a skeptic, but what if no agreement takes place at all (is it a given)? I am not sure how we would then proceed. Anyone?
Meanwhile, I went through the usual torture of watching the television prime time news this evening. Why do I watch it? my husband asks. A man grieves over his mother; another woman tells the story of her daughter, who was abducted and has never been seen again, breaking down in the end. Should the television reporters air these stories? Or should they “balance them out” with nice, “positive” stories of sweetness and light, as many Jamaicans contend? They do have a point. Of course, life is not all bad. But news is news, and “soft news” doesn’t quite have the same impact, I am afraid.
Talking about “soft”… Let me seek to balance things out with a few tributes this week. Let me open the first envelope…
I was pleased to see a piece in today’s Outlook (in the Sunday Gleaner) about Ms. Becky Stockhausen, the intrepid Executive Director of the American Chamber of Commerce. In my previous life at the U.S. Embassy I often had the opportunity to work with her and I always enjoyed it. Becky is a woman of action, and she has a lot of heart, and I like that. This determined native of Akron, Ohio could have given up on Jamaica years ago, but she has been here for thirty years. She has made a difference; and I always feel that she is on the right track. By the way, I like the series “10 Things You Didn’t Know About…” It works.
Congratulations to the lovely ladies of the new CVM Television series “The Naked Truth,” which started up a few weeks ago. It appears to be modeled on the highly successful U.S. program The View, in which a group of women with various personalities discuss the news and current issues, both serious and trivial, in what seems to be an intuitive and spontaneous exchange. The hosts, Shelly Ann Weeks and Paula Kerr-Jarrett, are making a good job of it so far. It is a work in progress and there are awkward moments – but such is the nature of this type of program. It will evolve…. PS: I do not like the title of the series at all. It is supposed to sound suggestive, mildly salacious, I guess. Well, if it was a group of men, I am sure that the name of the program would be something different, less…silly.
- Not long ago, I wrote a blog post about the slender little soursop tree in our back yard, and the mysterious case of our disappearing soursops. I was pleased to see a really well-written story by Paul H. Williams in the Gleaner, about this fruit’s healing properties. I adore drinking the juice, but understand that it is the leaves and bark that are really powerful. Drinking such a potion has kept Yvonne Kirlew cancer-free for years, now. The story has a South Florida connection. You can read it below.
Congratulations, too, to the four selected artists for the Super Plus Under 40 Artist of the Year competition. As usual, there is such impressive talent on display. This year, three of the artists have links to photography; and last year’s winner, O’Neil Lawrence, was also a photographer. Do go down to the Mutual Gallery in Kingston and vote for your favorite before November 19; there is a Jury Prize and a Public Prize. You can visit the Gallery’s website for more details. The private sector support for this competition is great, and especially the enthusiasm of Mr. Wayne Chen of Super Plus.
Below is a list of Jamaicans murdered over the past week. It has lengthened again, I am afraid. The storm has passed, and it is back to business as usual.
I am sorry.
Until next week…
Donovan Johnson, 39, Spanish Town Road, Kingston
Two unidentified men, Old Harbour, St. Catherine
Unidentified man, Gutters, St. Catherine
Donald Chin, 19, Montego Bay, St. James
Conrad Oliver Dunkley, 57, Burnt Savannah, St. Elizabeth
Tanisha Hamilton, 28, Thompson Town, Clarendon
Derek Henry, Vere, Clarendon
Sylvester Thomas, Top Hill, Portland
Maureen Cox, 50, Retirement, St. James
Owen Walters, 23, Mocho, Clarendon
Alex Elliot, 20, Mandeville, Manchester
Stephen Collier, 40, Mandeville, Manchester
Ian Malcolm, 24, Anchovy, St. James
Samuel Young, 62, Sandy Bay, Hanover
Yvonne Smith-Waldron, 51, Windsor Heights, St. Catherine
Sheryl Desouza-Wright, 53, Windsor Heights, St. Catherine
(Trial starts for three cops on murder charge: Jamaica Observer)
(Cop witnessed colleagues abduct men: Jamaica Observer)
(Flooding in north-eastern parishes: Jamaica Observer)
(Where will they live, Prime Minister? Letter to the Jamaica Gleaner)
(Vaz launches storm relief fund: Jamaica Observer)
(Burnt body found in Port Royal identified as Tandy Lewis: On The Ground News Reports)
(“I weep over my city”: Jamaica Gleaner)
(In these times, we need decisive leadership: Claude Robinson op-ed, Sunday Observer)
(Soursop stories still creating stir: Jamaica Gleaner)
(A tale of two soursops: petchary.wordpress.com)
(A week after Sandy: The good, the bad and the ugly: James Moss-Solomon op-ed, Sunday Observer)
(Unsung heroes: Sunday Gleaner)
Sunday After Sandy: October 28, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)
(Un-coupling Usain Bolt and Jamaica: Bloom Magazine)
(Opposition Spokesperson on Education condemns UTech beating: Jamaica Observer)
(Let’s see what our leaders do: Sunday Gleaner editorial)
(I promise to love you for the rest of my life: Diana McCaulay blog)
(“Gay” violence at local university symptomatic of Jamaica’s increasing descent into anarchy and mayhem: Raw Politics Jamaica Style blog)
html (UTech’s class of 2012 challenged to be game changers: Sunday Gleaner)
Gay Bashing in Jamaica a national policy? (anniepaul.net)
(Not enough, Minister Thwaites: Jamaica Observer editorial)
Owen Ellington battles on for his job, but …… Checkmate ? (commonsenseja.wordpress.com)
(Sandy’s double trouble for the economy: Jamaica Observer editorial)
Jamaica’s deadly homophobia also kills heterosexuals (76crimes.com)
(Student beating raises issues of homophobia in Jamaica)
I know that we city-dwellers (or most of us) have been spoilt. After Hurricane Sandy whisked across the island, tearing up trees and tearing down light poles, we have been the lucky ones (despite our loud complaints that we didn’t get power back the following day…) Now it is a week away, and after our determined attempts to sweep up the yard it now looks reasonably tidy. Garbage and forlorn piles of foliage now fringe Kingston’s roadsides. We are not expecting a garbage truck any time soon. There are only twenty for the entire city, says the government agency. I suppose they weren’t expecting a hurricane? No warnings?
So, my husband whipped up a little something over the weekend, which went down very well. My dear brother and his Australian wife recently gave us a marvelous cookbook, “Bill’s Sydney Food: The Original and Classic Recipe Collection.” I refer you to page 25: Sweet Corn Fritters with Roast Tomato and Bacon. Well, we skipped the bacon, but… for a first attempt, it was pretty darn good. The cookbook also does lunch and dinner recipes too, so we plan to delve further into its yummy depths..
Why Bill’s, you may ask? When we were staying in the great city of Sydney three years ago, in the cozy neighborhood of Darlinghurst, the bohemian-chic little hotel we were staying at referred us there for breakfast. We had just arrived, at six in the morning, after a twelve-hour flight from San Francisco. We were feeling light-headed and slightly crazed after the longest flight we had ever taken, on the largest plane we had ever seen. Bill’s breakfast brought us back down to earth, deliciously. We stuck with Bill’s the day after, and the day after that. The freshness and simplicity of the food, and the cool but light-filled restaurant and pleasant service easily seduced us. We were good for our days of sight-seeing.
More on post-Sandy pleasures in my next post!
(Bill’s marvelous website)
(Bill’s Sydney Food)
This is a back-dated blog post. Yes, Hurricane Sandy was overwhelming. While the United States is just beginning to feel the effects, we in the Caribbean gritted our teeth and got through it all last week. But of course, the storm itself is not the thing. It’s the aftermath that really gets you. Like a bite from a rabid dog. It hurts at the time; but afterwards you have to get the shots, which is worse…
And let’s not forget this: dengue fever is still a concern, with another death reported today and a sharp increase in suspected cases (now officially at 2,198). The Ministry of Health says it has stepped up its vector control efforts, which is good news. We have yet to see or hear that droning fogging truck emitting its fumes in our neighborhood, however. We have resorted to plastic “mosquito zappers” with rechargeable batteries, made in China. Highly recommended. They look like harmless little badminton rackets in bright colors…but they bring with them a deadly charge. The air smells of the sizzling flesh of mosquitoes and any other flying insect that is stupid enough to get “in harm’s way”…
But seriously…Due to the huge rains we had last week, mosquito breeding sites have multiplied. I have been touring our yard, sweeping and cleaning up; even a leaf holding a small amount of water can breed a few mosquitoes in a day or two. And it will be up to us to keep things clean. As usual after a storm (or in fact at any time) there is a “severe shortage” of trucks to clean up, according to the Ministry of Local Government. So don’t expect the garbage truck any time soon. And let’s be careful.
We are all quite comfortable in the Kingston area, I believe; and the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) reports 90 per cent of power is restored in Kingston/St. Andrew. But tales of woe have been pouring in from elsewhere since last week, with hundreds still cut off in several communities in St. Thomas – the eastern side of the island, which was most badly hit. It’s clear that JPS is facing some pretty major challenges in two or three parishes. The television screens last night showed huge damage, roads still blocked by trees, debris… and fallen light poles. And the light poles (and, by extension, the lack of maintenance) have been a major topic of discussion in relation to our monopoly power company. Meanwhile, the humorous Mr. Robert Lalah observed wryly, regarding the complaining uptowners who had no power for a day or two: “It’s tough having to charge our smartphones at the office and missing the latest episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians , but all will be back to normal soon enough.”
Meanwhile, the National Water Commission has not yet grasped the value of social media, Twitter etc, it seems. It has informed us that over 100,000 of its customers are still without water, five days after the storm. Sorry, not impressed – but I do know this is partly dependent on the restoration of power. Still, I think Jamaicans might have appreciated a rather higher level of communication on the part of the government agency.
Be that as it may, I have posted several photos from local media below; as well as the most recent reports on the situation on our beleaguered island, post-Sandy. There are the usual reports of widespread damage to agriculture (the banana crops are always the first to go, virtually flattened – but they are the first to grow back); people who have lost their homes and belongings – clothing, books and furniture, all sadly spread out in the sun to dry, zinc sheets and plywood scattered; roads and bridges torn away by swollen rivers, with curious residents on the river banks seemingly hypnotized by the churning brown waters. Oh, and five people escaped from a police lock-up in Portmore. One, who has been charged with shooting with intent, is curiously nicknamed “Pastor.”
Fortunately, however, we had only one death related to the storm: an old gentleman in Bedward Gardens, August Town was hit by a boulder. By comparison, the death toll in Haiti keeps rising, although unlike Jamaica they did not get a “direct hit.”
Now, with a mixture of jaded cynicism (we’ve been there, done that, many times), curiosity and somewhat muted sympathy we watch those living on the east coast of the United States evacuating and preparing and trying not to panic. Hurricane Sandy does seem to have grown horribly since she gave Jamaica a direct hit last Wednesday. And of course, there are many thousands of Jamaicans over that side, especially in New York City. So they are in our thoughts. No doubt, once Sandy has done her worst over there, there will be comparisons of how the mighty United States held up, compared to our very small island.
And what of the impact of natural disasters on politicians? Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller cut short her official trip to Canada last week to return to Jamaica when the warnings of Sandy’s approach began. This was generally praised as a good move. She also made an announcement about being prepared, etc. And then came a somewhat strange and curious interview with one of our leading broadcast journalists, Cliff Hughes, on Nationwide News Network (more about them, later). The Prime Minister does not often do live radio interviews – in fact, any kind of unscripted interaction between her and the media is quite unusual. Mr. Hughes handled the Prime Minister with kid gloves, enquiring several times about her health and general well-being, and throwing some soft questions her way. Then, almost imperceptibly, the conversation turned to the sensitive matter of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the worrying signs of Jamaica’s economic vulnerability. One could sense the discomfort at the other end of the phone line. The responses became a little confused – at least, I was confused. By my recollection, the Prime Minister said that she could not tell the Jamaican people exactly what was happening regarding the status of the IMF agreement; how could she, if she herself did not know what was happening? (Did I hear this right? Can’t she tell us anything at all?) She then fell back on her defensive mantra: She has ministers to do the work in their respective portfolios, and she expects them to do it well. She does not interfere with their work (but hold on, don’t they report to her, as prime minister?)
Sorry, but I don’t really understand this. Really, I don’t. Especially when the PM added that she realizes Jamaicans are “used to” Prime Ministers who talk about every issue affecting the country; but she has a different approach. She has her ministers.
So now, the Cabinet met today to consider the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy – the cost, of course, being a major factor. How will this affect the IMF negotiations (and is it entirely correct to call them negotiations, at this stage)? I believe the government has sent a letter to the IMF and is waiting to see what happens next. Anyway, the day before Sandy the Opposition Finance Spokesman Audley Shaw took on the issue in Parliament, suggesting that the possible deadline for the possible signing of an agreement with the men in Washington is a bit of a moving target. Meanwhile, the Gleaner is getting fidgety again, worried about a “lack of urgency” on the part of the Government.
More on this in the weeks to follow, one predicts. The IMF all tangled up with Sandy. What a muddle we are in, once again.
I will end with a major drumroll: for all the emergency services, both governmental and non-governmental, for their sterling work before, during and after Hurricane Sandy passed, with surprising efficiency and speed, across our island (although I was never quite sure whether it was east to west or north to south?) The police imposed curfews, resulting in no reports of looting (so far as I am aware) – and also resulting in the number of murdered Jamaicans being reduced, as you can see from the list below. The Office of Disaster Preparedness & Emergency Management (ODPEM) did a good job of keeping us informed, and prepared. Non-governmental organizations like the Jamaica Red Cross, Salvation Army and others responded effectively, despite their always limited resources. Food for the Poor and the YB Afraid Foundation of Olympic medalist Yohan Blake also brought much-needed help (food and other supplies) to residents of Portland. Some Members of Parliament (notably Damion Crawford in the much-afflicted East Rural St. Andrew) and local councillors appeared to be working hard on the ground.
Perhaps… perhaps, the stars of the show were the often much-maligned Jamaica Public Service Company. Yes, I know many of you Jamaicans may not agree (especially those who are still without power). But their engineers worked hard for hours on the broken light post down the road from us, in the pouring rain last Thursday night; and did not stop until they had restored light to our little area at around 1:30 a.m. Their hard work was much appreciated. And their public relations effort – their continuous flow of information throughout the period – was/is laudable. Ms. Kelly Tomblin, the President, appeared on Television Jamaica’s popular morning magazine program, neatly attired in jeans and leather boots, to provide an update. She has been incredibly accessible and is speaking on the radio as I write this. As for Ms. Winsome Callum, the firm’s head of communications…She is a master (mistress?) of public relations practice. Her combination of sincerity, clarity, empathy, professionalism and sheer cool is unrivaled in Jamaica. Congratulations, Ms. Callum, on receiving my Order of the Petchary Award this week. It’s my second highest award, I would say, and it comes with a hearty pat on the back. I was, actually, informed and reassured after her excellent interview with Dionne Jackson Miller on RJR a few days ago.
Now, back to Nationwide News Network, whom I also really appreciated last week – Mr. Cliff Hughes, Mr. Vernon Darby and the whole supporting crew of reporters and producers, who did a fine job throughout the storm. They kept us continuously informed, fielding phone calls from anxious and stressed Jamaicans, when other radio stations were playing “soothing” music. Thanks Nationwide!
Meanwhile, over in the U.S., Mr. Wolf Blitzer of CNN has put on his World War II voice, while intrepid reporters stand ankle-deep on flooded roads, and hang on to their hats in the windiest spot they can find. Somehow, coverage of a natural disaster (or potential disaster) becomes dull and repetitive after a while… Nevertheless, fingers crossed and take care to all our friends on the east coast.
Here’s to calmer waters.
Jamaicans killed by the police:
Dwayne Anthony Reid, 31, Mandeville, Manchester
Unidentified man, Guy’s Hill, St. Catherine
…and by others:
Sarvan Morrison, 24, Old Braeton, St. Catherine
Donna Collen, 53, Tawes Pen, St. Catherine
Rayon Anthony Champagnie, Airy Castle, St. Thomas
Unidentified man, Ivy Green Crescent, Kingston
Unidentified man, Montpelier, St. James
Courtney Edwards, 35, Coronation Market, Kingston
Christopher Lawrence, 37, Kitson Town, St. Catherine
(Restoration slowest in eastern parishes – JPS)
(Road to recovery: Jamaica Gleaner)
(11,000 farmers affected by Sandy)
(Sandy Between Our Toes: petchary.wordpress.com)
Sunday Scribble: October 21, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)
A Pause for Refreshment…and Art to Soothe the Soul (petchary.wordpress.com)
(IMF in limbo: Jamaica Gleaner)
Soggy Jamaica cleaning up after Hurricane Sandy (miamiherald.com)
(Now for the post-Sandy recovery: Jamaica Observer editorial)
(Blackout from Sandy most vexing/Robert Lalah: Jamaica Gleaner)
(Where is the Government? Missing the point of the critics: Jamaica Gleaner editorial)
(Sister P’s Canadian love-in/Keeble McFarlane: Jamaica Observer)
(Has Sandy complicated Government’s path to a new IMF deal?/Claude Robinson)
Jamaicans love their beaches. Like many human beings the world over, they love to do silly things like burying long-suffering friends up to their necks in sand; or running down into the sea carrying a kicking and screaming girl, and throwing her in. Jamaicans aren’t really big on sandcastles, though; I think the sand is too soft and fine. And then, of course, there was the sand that was stolen, by persons unknown, that was even featured in “Ripley’s Believe It or Not“ a few years ago. That is one of those mysteries wrapped in an enigma, as they say; although some people know the truth of it.
But at the moment, Jamaica is feeling Sandy all over. Yes, Tropical Storm-soon-to-be-Hurricane Sandy is churning its way to the south of the island. Ir’a making a bee-line for Jamaica. It’s getting late, and the rain that has pounded us steadily since morning has eased up, giving us a bit of a break before Sandy herself arrives. She is due to check in around midnight tonight, and will be fully ensconced on the island by midday tomorrow, we are told. There she is, with her sphere of influence clearly marked, in the National Hurricane Center‘s diagram below…
Now, this is the first storm that has threatened Jamaica seriously this year. It has been a quietish year for us, storm-wise. Many storms have wandered off northwards, where they generally fizzle out and “lose their tropical characteristics.” This basically means that they get a bit chilly as they wander off towards Newfoundland, and have to put on woolly jumpers over their bikinis (or “bath suits” as many Jamaicans call them). They just haven’t been able to get into the tropical, Caribbean thing. No pina coladas for the likes of Florence, Nadine, Michael, Chris… They were all up there drinking hot toddies, instead.
It’s a funny thing with tropical storms. They bring about a wide range of emotions among Jamaicans; but there is no doubt they give many of us a little adrenalin boost. Yes, these male and female climatic disturbances add a little frisson of excitement to our humdrum lives. For a start, the schoolchildren like them; it means schools are closed (as they are tomorrow). Those who are lucky enough to be working are sent home early (as happened around lunchtime today). Those who can afford it rush off to the supermarkets to stock up with candles, kerosene oil, batteries, and tins of bully beef (corned beef, if you prefer).
Ah yes, the latter has become a traditional must-have when storm clouds gather. It doesn’t go off, so you can eat it when your fridge has warmed up during long power cuts. I must admit that, ever since the serious horror that was Hurricane Gilbert (1988) – a direct hit on Jamaica – I have been unable to stomach that slippery, salty chunk of meat that you prise out of the tin. We ate tons of it in 1988, with rice. It gives me a heavy feeling in my stomach just to think of it. Hurricane Gilbert was, among other things, a serious case of chronic indigestion for me.
At about two o’clock this afternoon the mood of uptown Kingston (and, I am sure, elsewhere) dramatically changed. It was as if everyone had got a shot in the arm. The traffic flying up and down our street steadily increased, developing into a kind of frantic cacophony. The tension was almost palpable. Even a police car wailed along in the pouring rain, amongst all the desperate uptowners who, freed from their workplaces, were racing up and down with checklists of things-to-do-before-the-hurricane-comes. Fill up the car with gas; buy supplies at the supermarket; buy supplies at the hardware store – there’s a little leak in the roof/window/door that needs fixing; check in with aged relatives who are fretting about howling winds tearing down their awnings; pick up happy little child from school (don’t forget); and most of all, make sure you don’t starve during the one or two days of the storm. Whatever that takes. So, of course, the supermarkets and the gas stations love tropical storms too. This year, they probably feel that Christmas has come early; a couple of chains tweeted that they are open to midnight tonight – presumably until they have nothing left to sell but expensive wines and obscure foreign foods.
There was actually a traffic jam outside our front gate for half an hour this afternoon – something that rarely, if ever happens. SUVs foaming at the mouth.
But not everyone gets into a spin about hurricanes. Other Jamaicans affect a nonchalant air. “Oh, it’s just a bit of rain,” they say. They make a big show out of not going to the supermarket, and don’t even bother listening to the radio bulletins that many of us listen to avidly, trying to read between the lines… (Is it going to turn away just a little, and miss us? If it does come, how strong are the winds going to be? How much more rain will we get? And so on). The nonchalant ones smile knowingly and adopt a know-it-all, slightly patronizing tone when commenting on the looming storm. Quite irritating, especially when they are proved right - it actually was just a bit of rain - and adopt an air of “I told you so.”
Others, of course, know everything there is to know about hurricanes. They will talk glibly with anyone who has half an hour to spare about “maximum sustained winds” and “wind shear” and the like. Yes, over the past ten years or so, many of us have become experts. Satellite imagery and projected paths are second nature to us now.
And of course, the media fraternity loves hurricanes. So much to say about them, over and over. We can never get enough hurricane preparedness tips, hurricane updates, and endless footage of inundated roads and houses perched on the edge of gullies. Worst of all, there are the tedious interviews with individuals among the herd of supermarket shoppers. When accosted by a journalist, they say riveting things like: “Well, I haven’t bought much” - camera zooms in on shopper’s trolley - “just a few necessary items…” Oof.
As for me, I happened to be in the beautiful Blue Mountains of Jamaica as Sandy started brewing. Mavis Bank in rural St. Andrew (about a 45-minute drive straight upwards from Kingston) is a magical place. Population about 2,000; elevation about 3,000 feet. Bamboos bow their heads on the hillsides; streams trickle under small bridges and sometimes across the road; pine trees march along the brow of the hills. White scarves of mist appear and disappear among the folds of the mountains. It is green; it is cool; the water tastes sweet; it is a different world altogether from the dusty city below. There is the Jablum coffee factory, which smells fragrant as you drive past. People call to each other across a valley, or from a steep slope, or from a river bed up to the roadside. Parrots and pigeons scurry over the treetops. It is beautiful.
Sadly, I did not stay longer than a day in this cool green world. As the weather appeared to deteriorate, I reluctantly left the mountains and returned to Kingston, just before the crazy uptowners were unleashed on the roads. I had planned to spend the week there, at a very interesting workshop organized by Our Tomorrows and attended by a small but enthusiastic group that included members from the Turks & Caicos Islands and Surinam.
You see, storms just don’t give me an enjoyable buzz, like the jolt of a good strong cup of coffee. For me, it’s like one cup of coffee too many. I get a little jittery. I become obsessed with every move that the storm makes. I peer out of the window at the sky. I listen to every weather bulletin until I am sick of hearing the same thing over and over. And then, there is a kind of weariness, similar to the feeling after a caffeine overdose has worn off. I become listless and watch boring television programs that I would not normally find interesting. And I don’t find them interesting. Tropical storms are a real downer.
And frankly, I don’t care for the name Sandy. No offense intended to all the very nice Sandys out there, but it conjures up a rather seedy image to me – go-go dancers or something. I do recall there was an English singer – tall and skinny – called Sandy Shaw. She sang covers of Burt Bacharach songs and didn’t wear shoes, for some reason (this was considered daring in conservative England in the sixties).
Much more amusingly, I also recall a different kind of Sandy, again from my teenage years in England. Two comedians (Hugh Paddick and Kenneth Williams) used to do a very camp radio sketch which included the catch phrase: “Hello, I’m Julian, and this is my friend Sandy.” They were gay interior decorators – at a time (the mid-sixties) when homosexuality was still illegal in England. Sandy would say things like, “Ooh, isn’t he bold?“ Marvelous stuff. You can even find it on YouTube.
Meanwhile… I am sitting down here in Kingston, somehow wishing that I was still back on that wet, dripping mountainside where the frogs cry at night and the minibuses blow their horns at every corner.
P.S. While writing this, another character has appeared on the scene - Tropical Storm Tony. But let’s not worry about him – he is, as they say, “no threat to land.”
- Tropical storm warning in Jamaica ahead of Sandy (scnow.com)
- Tropical Storm Sandy approaches hurricane status (cbsnews.com)
(Jamaica puzzled by theft of beach)
(Julian and Sandy)
(A religious experience in Mavis Bank: Jamaica Gleaner)
(Mavis Bank Coffee Factory)
September is here, and the days in Kingston, Jamaica are hot and breezy. Thunder mumbles in the distance, but seems to move off somewhere else after voicing a muffled complaint. And there is the usual frenzied, last-minute rush for school books, and uniforms, and all the other paraphernalia in the stores, and the agonizing over the cost of it all, and the underlying stress of the poor students – whose summer has just fallen around them in little pieces. The last small remnants of the summer are gone, and it is all downhill now until Christmas.
So, come tomorrow morning, the roads will be clogged with the SUVs of the upper classes and the small cars and down-at-heel taxi cabs of the lesser classes, all brimming with anxious, scowling, crying, shouting, nervous children. In Jamaica, “back to school” is a big production, presaged at least two weeks ahead with endless articles in the Sunday papers about the state of education in Jamaica; ads in all the media for the best deals in must-have school bags; messages from the Jamaica Teachers Association, the National Parent Teachers Association, and various other stakeholders. This culminates in the Message from the Education Minister, broadcast at least twice on television, in which he tells us all how well prepared his Ministry is, at the same time exhorting parents/teachers/students to be co-operative, well-behaved and hard-working at all times.
Then, within a few weeks, the whole thing turns into a weary, soulless routine, with reports of students attacking teachers, teachers attacking students, and students attacking each other gradually floating to the surface. The students ride their carriages to school with a look of resignation on their faces; and wander home as if they never want to get there, swinging bags, laughing raucously, constantly distracted. More of the same.
It’s the younger ones I feel sorry for, tottering down the road (often unaccompanied), leaning forward to ease the burden of their heavy backpack, eyes on the ground. The bags are often too heavy for the small ones, causing them major back problems when they get older. It’s a kind of obsession. Why do they have to carry so many books every day? Is it some kind of torture invented specially for primary school kids – to see how much they can bear? And bear it they do.
So, a bunch of my fellow-bloggers have been waxing lyrical and wallowing in nostalgia over summers past, that will never be recaptured. But I think summer is quite over-rated. These are my reasons why:
- For a start, in Jamaica at least, it’s just too hot. If I decide to do something energetic like sweeping the yard (something I actually enjoy doing), the sweat pours from my brow so copiously that I find I am sweeping up my own huge drops of perspiration. The rest of the time, I sit as close to the fan as possible without getting my hair caught in it.
- There are nothing but re-runs on television. I hate re-runs. Even Bill Maher is on vacation (how dare he!)
- The English Premier League is also on a summer break, resulting in dreary weekends without football. But thank God it’s back (see my previous blog post)!
- All my favorite birds in the yard pack their bags for the summer and go up north, leaving behind the regulars, who go very quiet, storing their energy. Can’t blame them.
- I never seem to achieve that summer getaway that I am hoping for. Everyone else does, but my vacation always seems to be postponed to some other time of year.
- It seems just as hot in the country as it is in town, so going off to the seaside just results in you getting equally frazzled/frizzled.
- We have a bunch of hurricanes/tropical storms to look forward to in September, as they potter across from the west coast of Africa, inexorably into the Caribbean. Oh, that’s this month, isn’t it? Just rounding off the summer nicely.
So, I am not shedding any tears for summer’s demise. In England, my favorite time of year was always the autumn – a time for slipping on rain-soaked leaves underfoot, for rediscovering that sweater you loved wearing last year, and will wear again, for the warm, earthy colors of dahlias and chrysanthemums.
- Technology and the Opportunity for Growth – Jamaica Observer (nearshorejamaica.wordpress.com)
- Goodbye Summer! Welcome Fall! (minerva5.wordpress.com)
- Exploring The Tropical Island of Jamaica: A Unit Study For Homeschool Use (brighthub.com)
- Why I Teach (joneekhoff.wordpress.com)
- Jamaica! (journey4mj.wordpress.com)
The summer of 2011 wears on, with all its attendant troubles. Hurricane Irene steered well clear of Jamaica, but has been pounding the small and scattered islands of the Bahamas and is now turning its vengeful eye slowly northwards to the east coast of the United States. She’s a mean one. Meanwhile, elsewhere in the hemisphere, three hand grenades were thrown into a casino (Mexico); demonstrators have acquired a taste for rioting and looting (Chile); two European tourists died of heat exhaustion in Joshua Tree Desert (California); there were a couple of major earthquakes this week (Virginia, Peru); and an online journalist was murdered (Mexico again, and this is sadly not an unusual occurrence).
Everything is over-heated and miserable. But hey! The League is back!
Not the League of Gentlemen. In fact, there aren’t many gentlemen in it these days, but who cares? It’s not about good manners. Sports never really was, although it has such pretenses. (Is cricket a gentlemanly game? Perhaps it still has some vestige of decorum…)
But the Petchary digresses. It’s the English Premier League, of course. The season just began, with all its promise and hopes (and fears, for some) and its reinvigorated players throwing tons of testosterone all around the pitch. The fans (including myself) have been waiting for weeks through the tedious football-less summer weekends. The Copa America was enjoyable enough, and my personal admiration for Uruguay’s flaxen-haired star Diego Forlan increased a thousandfold.
But listen, there’s nothing like the Premier League. Week after week it ebbs and flows. The newly promoted teams flounder and try to keep their balance, now they are hanging with the big boys. The big boys themselves flex their muscles and act as if they have already won the League (but they know the race is not for the swift). The middling teams vow that they will do far better this season, because they’ve just signed Joe Bloggs, the latest hot striker (Mr. Bloggs then goes on to score three goals for the season). The managers chew gum rapidly (the ageing Sir Alex Ferguson is the worst gum-chewer of them all); the players curse (lip-reading is easy – their vocabulary isn’t very extensive); the referees make infuriating mistakes and you wonder if they are completely blind; the linesmen hold themselves erect and look very satisfied, even when they have made yet another terrible offside call; and the fans boo, whistle, and sing their team songs (have you heard the Manchester City fans’ rendition of “Blue Moon”? Richard Rodgers would turn in his grave. It was such a lovely melody…) And my son agonizes over his fantasy football team every weekend.
I will comment on the prospects for my beloved team Arsenal Football Club in another blog, when I have composed my thoughts. Suffice it to say that Arsenal qualified emphatically for the Champions League this week, defeating the diving players of Udinese on their home turf. This was due in large part to the stunning save of a penalty (and other great saves) by our wonderful young goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny (try saying that when you’ve had a few drinks).
Yes, it’s been a stinking summer so far. But thank God for the League! Welcome back, all you saints and sinners! We’ve missed you.
- “Spring tide” could boost Irene’s storm surge (cbsnews.com)
- VIDEO: Hurricane Irene batters Bahamas (bbc.co.uk)
- 8 dead in grenade attack on northern Mexico casino (sfgate.com)
- Hurricane Irene in pictures (telegraph.co.uk)
- My Copa runneth over (petchary.wordpress.com)
- English Premier League Power Rankings: Week 1 (bleacherreport.com)
- English Premier League: Predicting the Results in Week 3 (bleacherreport.com)
- Fantasy Premier League Tips: Gameweek 3 (epltalk.com)
- Udinese 1-2 Arsenal: Champions League Football Awaits Arsenal. (oleole.com)
- Wojciech Szczesny savours Arsenal’s mental toughness against Udinese (guardian.co.uk)
- Arsenal win £25m Champions League shootout against Udinese to earn Arsene Wenger a reprieve (telegraph.co.uk)
A perfect feeling when time just slips away… There are even longer and more intense versions of this iconic song by Mr. Young. This is the sweet, sexy version. Long live Neil!
- Lots of Talk, Little Action in ‘Neil Young’s Music Box: Here We Are In the Years’ (Review) (popmatters.com)
- no Buffalo Springfield tour till 2012, but 3 Crosby, Stills & Nash shows in August (brooklynvegan.com)
- Bonnaroo: Day 3 (artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com)
- Farm Aid 2011 (stillisstillmoving.com)