In Jamaica, we have been rejoicing. Our Olympic games successes coincided deliciously with the Jamaica 50 celebrations of our fiftieth anniversary of Independence. We had a week or two of sheer enjoyment – not resting on our laurels, but waving them around. But the rest of the Caribbean had much to shout about too. Some extraordinary “firsts” were achieved.
Jamaica actually came second in the Caribbean table of medals overall. Our closest neighbors, Cuba came first. Here is the table of Caribbean medals:
Congratulating Jamaican athletes after the games, Grenada‘s Prime Minister Tillman Thomas said, “Our athletes have proven that hard work and dedication yields remarkable results.” I saw a tweet today comparing a recent beauty contest and the achievement of our (certainly lovely) representative to the achievement of Usain Bolt. I am myself not a fan of this parading of women in bikinis and snazzy ball gowns, and so I may be biased. But truly, how can one compare the incredible sacrifice and determination of any one of the Olympians from whichever country – over months and years – with a woman who goes to the gym every day and then gets dressed up and made up for a competition? They are at two completely different levels.
OK, enough of that. Since we started with Grenada, let us continue with the stunning gold medal won by that country. OK. Grenada is very small. Very small. I do not say it in a derogatory way, but it might take ten minutes to fly across. And in terms of number of medals per citizen, Grenada, with its one gold medal, came way out on top with one medal per 106,500. Yes, that is the total population of the Spice Island, as it is often called (it has lots of nutmeg trees). Jamaica came second in the per-capita ranking and Trinidad & Tobago third. So the density of Caribbean medals is really high. To get the same kind of density, for example, for the United States, which was top of the overall medal table, it would have had to win 2,880 medals. Impossible, of course…
Anyway, enough of statistics. Of the 45 medals won by Caribbean countries (I just did a count and the majority were won by the men), Grenada’s gold is particularly lustrous. Why? Not only because Grenada is very small. But the island’s Kirani James was the first Caribbean athlete ever to win gold in the 400 meters – a distance the Caribbean has not been very focused on. And it was Grenada’s first Olympic medal ever. A gold is a good place to start.
And not only that – the 400 meters was won by three Caribbean men. After Kirani, there was young Luguelin Santos (only eighteen years old, just a year younger than Kirani) of the Dominican Republic with the silver; and Lalonde Gordon of Trinidad winning the bronze. A Caribbean “sweep” of medals. Also a first! Astonishing. (By the way, Trinidad’s 400 meters relay team, including Gordon, also won a bronze medal).
Let’s move on to another remarkable achievement – not in track this time, but out there in the field, where everything hangs on one throw or one jump, flying through the air, up and over and through. And this was 19-year-old Keshorn Walcott of Trinidad & Tobago – yes, another of several Caribbean teenagers who competed and won medals.
Keshorn was the first man in the Western Hemisphere to win a gold medal in the men’s javelin. The event has been dominated by Europeans for decades. Not even the United States has ever won it. In fact, the two Europeans who won silver and bronze – from the Ukraine and Finland – looked slightly bemused on the medal podium, as if to say: how on earth did that happen? Keshorn himself, the World Junior Champion in javelin, seemed remarkably phlegmatic – almost inscrutable – during the contest. Then, after the striking red and black Trinidadian flag had been handed to him, he walked and stood, eyes half-closed, head thrown back, savoring the moment. It had started to sink in.
To me, who can barely throw a stick for the dog across our front lawn, to throw a javelin – which weighs on average over three pounds and is well over eight feet long… To throw something like this, so far – well, it is completely astounding.
And of course, there has been much publicity in Jamaica about the rich rewards showered on both Mr. James and Mr. Walcott in their respective countries. The Trinidadian government has even named a lighthouse after Keshorn. That’s quite something, for a nineteen-year-old. I guess he can go and visit it every now and then and maybe turn the light round or whatever they do. I think it’s rather lovely actually. I adore lighthouses.
Although Cuba still won more Caribbean medals than anyone else, its Olympic performance has been declining in recent competitions. In fact, this year’s medal haul was its lowest since 1976. Why this is, I am not sure. Four of the Cuban medals were in boxing, a field that it has always excelled in. Leonel Suarez, he of the charming smile, was also made of very stern stuff. The men’s decathlon is an incredibly demanding event; I just don’t know how the decathletes manage to compete in ten vastly differing fields and just keep their focus. Leonel did, and won a bronze for Cuba. Two Americans won gold and silver. What I loved was the genuine camaraderie among the three medal winners – fierce competitors, but friends. Having been through all those tests together, over a number of days, of course friendships are formed and respect grows.
At 112 pounds, Yanet Bermoy Acosta may not seem to be much of a handful. But she threw her weight about in Judo. The 25-year-old from Cienfuegos, Cuba was quite something. I have a special fondness for judo, having practiced it myself in my youth – and so I was pleased to see Caribbean medals in this event. Cuba actually won three. Yanet was eventually beaten by a North Korean opponent, Kum Ae An – a special win for that country as it was its first medal.
And then there was perhaps my favorite Caribbean athlete of all, Felix Sanchez of the Dominican Republic. After winning gold in the men’s 400 meters hurdles, Felix was pure emotion. He had been running with a photograph of himself and his beloved grandmother Lillian, tucked into his bib. During a television interview, he showed the photo to the camera – somewhat crumpled, but intact. Of course, in the Caribbean – and especially perhaps in the Hispanic parts of it – grandmothers are especially revered. Felix looked as if he could have talked all day about his relationship with the “abuela” who raised him, but the BBC reporter abruptly ran out of time. By the way, his spikes had the word “abuela” written on them, too. He was running with, and for her. He had heard that she had died on the day of his preliminary heat in London, so he really was running in her memory.
Felix Sanchez was a model of the kind of determination where you grit your teeth and bite your lip and clench your fists hard. At 34, he was the oldest man to win the 400 meters hurdles. He had won the same race eight years previously in Athens, with exactly the same time. He had failed to even make it to the final of the event in Beijing, but fought his way back in London to beat an American and a Puerto Rican. Yes, this was another Western Hemisphere final.
But the emotion. The BBC ironically called the London Olympics the “Crying Games,” and Sanchez probably came close to winning the gold medal for pure emotion. Sobbing, in fact. He had a complete meltdown on the podium – the other two medalists did not know whether they should just look the other way. In the end, after his face completely crumpled, he covered it with his hands.
I really wanted to cry with him. If I had been Dominican, I am sure I would have.
There was so much more to celebrate with the Caribbean athletes: the Bahamas won a stunning gold in the 400 meters relay, for example (I love that light blue kit). I congratulate them all and love their spirit.
P.S. As noted above, most of the Caribbean medals were won by men. Ladies, 2016 in Rio will be your turn to shine!
There are nine Caribbean nations that have never won an Olympic medal. I wish all the best for them for 2016, where I hope their dreams will come true. I am sure the performances of all the Caribbean Olympians must have been an inspiration to them. Who are those nine? Well, OK (and bear in mind there are a few more that don’t have official National Olympic Committees: Dominica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Aruba, British Virgin Islands, Antigua and Barbuda, Cayman Islands and Belize.
I can see more medals on the horizon, where the blue sky meets the glittering Caribbean Sea.
(Overview of the Caribbean’s medal performances in London)
http://www.spicegrenada.com/index.php/government-news/aug-2012/1482-prime- minister-congratulates-jamaica (Grenada prime minister congratulates Jamaica)
(The top Olympic winner? We vote for Grenada – Miami Herald)
(Caribbean players doing great in the Olympics – Repeating Islands)
(Dominican Republic’s Feliz Sanchez wins gold, Puerto Rico’s Javier Culson bronze)
(Stunning athletics photos by Tim Clayton including many of Kirani James – copyright)
(Lighthouse named after champion Keshorn Walcott – BBC Sport)
(Sanchez wins second Olympic 400 meter gold – Fox Latino Sports)
(And the gold medal for sobbing on the podium goes to…)
Former medalists see great future for Caribbean Olympic athletes (antiguaobserver.com)
A Single Caribbean Sports Academy to ensure future World Champions (caribbean360.com)
Caribbean has one of its best Olympic showings (caribbean360.com)
(Gold, Silver and Bronze – petchary.wordpress.com)
(The Gods Are Smiling – petchary.wordpress.com)
The London Games: Jamaica (petchary.wordpress.com)
Book Review: Black Meteors – the Caribbean in International Track and Field (newsandviewsbydjmillerja.wordpress.com)
Yes, we are striding into the next fifty years full of confidence and braggadocio (what a great word that is!) after our command performance at the London Olympics. (I am planning a couple more posts on that topic, so will not get side-tracked here). Many Jamaicans believe that this euphoric wave (which might last for another week or two) will somehow carry the island forward in a spirit of love and unity. Others believe that our twelve medals will somehow boost Jamaica’s economic recovery. Our Prime Minister is still on a high, and milking both the Jamaica 50 celebrations and the Olympic achievements for all they are worth.
Well, that’s what politicians do. Cynics like me have strong doubts about it all.
So let us look at other matters. Among those issues pushed on one side for discussion later, there is that little matter of education. The results of the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations were released by the Caribbean Examinations Council on Friday. Our eloquent Education Minister Ronald Thwaites declared himself “very disappointed.” I think “horrified,” or perhaps to use an awful English expression “gobsmacked” might have been a better word. But then Minister Thwaites, having reflected further, described the results later as “a very disastrous lurch downwards.” That’s more like it.
Of the so-called “cohort” of students who are actually allowed to sit the exams (which is only a fraction of the school population) only 31.7 per cent passed the Mathematics paper. Fewer passed than in 2011 (a mere 33.2 per cent), which was lower than 201o (a less than impressive 39.5 per cent). Passes in English Language showed a dramatic drop from 64.9 per cent (2010) and 63.9 per cent (2012) to 46.2 per cent. Again, this was only the results for those entered for the exam; many others – I will have to check the percentage – will have left secondary school with neither English nor Mathematics passes, one presumes. Plus, of course, well over half the students who did prepare for the exams – a two-year syllabus. What is to happen to these thousands of young people?
How can we talk about striding into the next fifty years, when our young people are so poorly educated/uneducated/hardly literate/innumerate/untrained? Is this our work force of the future? One hopes for proper analysis, discussion – and solutions – to this crisis in the next few weeks. Yes, I do believe this is a crisis. If this isn’t a crisis, then what is? Will we finally panic when we get down to 20 per cent passes?
Meanwhile, Minister Thwaites has suggested cutting teachers’ vacation leave in order to deal with the issue of teachers’ unemployment. Yes, hundreds of teachers qualify every year and many cannot find work. Even those who have been urged to go into early childhood education – supposedly the government’s priority – are finding no jobs after they have graduated from teachers’ college. And what is being taught at those colleges? Are our teachers really equipped to go into a class of forty or so students and teach properly?
OK. SMH as they say in social media. Meanwhile Minister Thwaites has other issues to deal with. For a start, around 200 Jamaican schools still use pit latrines – in other words, the children use a dark, evil-smelling hole in the ground as a toilet. One such rural school made the front page of the Gleaner this week. The Minister took pity on the school and has issued an edict for real toilets to be installed by the beginning of the school year. When will the other 199 or so schools get their toilets, I wonder? (Having personally seen the condition of some school toilets that are not pit latrines, I can say that sanitary conditions in many schools are pretty disgusting).
Another burning issue for Minister Thwaites: the bookmarks. Bookmarks, you may ask, what bookmarks? Well, a great deal of hot air is being blown about over the printing of 100,000 bookmarks as gifts to the students of secondary schools. Minister Thwaites had asked for as many schools as possible to recognize Independence Day (August 6). The bookmarks were to be distributed as souvenirs. Anyway, these bookmarks bore the smiling face of the Minister superimposed on the Jamaican flag. Opposition Leader (and former Education Minister) Andrew Holness was furious. (There seem to be so many “flag issues” don’t there?) He has called in the intrepid Contractor General, Greg Christie, to investigate procurement and other concerns. I understand that the offending bookmarks, which are now useless, cost J$1.7 million. This would be enough to fund a non-governmental organization serving Jamaican children for at least six months.
We will no doubt never get to the “truth” on this matter, but meanwhile – I wonder who authorized this? Did they really think this was OK, protocol-wise?
While we were all celebrating, Western Union shut down the operations of fourteen overseas branches in and around Montego Bay. We didn’t really see this one coming, and anyway we were in the clutches of full-fledged “Olympicitis” by then. The only conversations were about finals and semi-finals on the track.
The closure was, of course, connected to the heinous lottery scam. This remittance service has become a conduit for the activities of our Jamaican-based criminals, and I am, like the Gleaner, somewhat surprised that this did not happen sooner. The closure is expected to last for two weeks – possibly more – and it will not be business as usual when they reopen (or at any other branch in Jamaica either, one hopes).
Meanwhile those poor and needy people who depend on remittances from Jamaican family members living overseas were thrown into panic at the closure. I was amazed – and depressed – to see the crowds of Jamaicans, young and old, thronging the Western Union offices. Some did not even have the money to travel down the road to Hanover to collect their money. Women said they depended on the money to send their children to school. Little old ladies and frail old gentlemen were thrown into despair. Somehow, it frightened me to see such dependency. Although I should not have been surprised.
The Gleaner served up a number of punchy editorials this week, as if determined not to be distracted by the dancing in Half Way Tree, joyful as it may be. One suggested, “There is a sense that ministers are off on independent programs, seeking to outdo each other, rather than being part of a coherent whole.“ Is this fair, one wonders? And if so, what is Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke doing about the growing food crisis? Ah – that might be a topic for another blog post; because this issue is not going to go away any time soon. Even the Observer got tetchy on the subject this week, with an editorial that pointed out rising grain prices in the United States, our huge food import bill, and the lack of a clear strategy to deal with food security. With another quick left hook, the Gleaner - while congratulating Minister Clarke on his national honor, a Commander of the Order of Distinction – reprimanded him for his lack of vision on the matter.
Vision. There’s a big word. It’s something we seem to be searching for, sadly and with increasing weariness. Like Growth. And Leadership! And Investment. And, oh yes, Unity!
And here are a couple of things I was less than excited about last week:
Winston Hubert McIntosh (better known as Peter Tosh) received a posthumous Order of Merit (O.M.) in the Independence National Honors. The weed-smoking, profane, rebellious, unicycling Tosh, a former member of the Wailers, was murdered in 1987. He still has a website, liberally sprinkled with ganja leaves. I remember he was well-known for his obscene language on stage (but of course, that is quite accepted these days) – part of his rebelliousness, one supposes – and he played a guitar shaped like an M-16 on stage, too. Yes, a great role model.
Having said all that, I love Mr. McIntosh’s music and always have done. And yes, he spoke out against apartheid (so did almost every other singer at that time) and “Equal Rights and Justice” is a brilliant song. But I don’t think that is enough to get the third highest honor in Jamaica. Plus, I don’t really believe in the posthumous thing. If they didn’t deserve one when they were alive then why give people an award when they are six feet under, many years later? I’m sure Tosh wouldn’t care and might well refuse it, as John Lennon refused a National Honor. I also know that, although our current Transport Minister reveres the reggae musician, if the anti-establishment Tosh were alive today he would not be so popular with politicians. Didn’t he invent the word “politricks” ? He would be giving them hell.
An article, headlined “500 new houses for Coral Springs,” puzzled me this week. The article declared that the said homes would be built “in the dry limestone forests surrounding an already existing housing estate in Coral Springs.“ This is in Trelawny, western Jamaica. Presumably that existing housing estate was also built on previously existing dry limestone forest. Forgive me for enquiring, but isn’t dry limestone forest a special ecosystem, an environment that is becoming very scarce indeed in Jamaica and that is home to the endangered iguana and other creatures? Am I missing something here? Someone explain please?
Finally, is this the only way that Red Stripe beer can think of to advertise its product? How sad. And how unoriginal. Like those endless dancehall videos. Bottoms…protruding everywhere.
And much more inspiring…
Congrats to the Braco Village Hotel, which won a TripAdvisor Award after only being open for a couple of months. I swear by TripAdvisor and am one of its “senior reviewers.” I make hotel and other choices based on its reviews. So this means something to me.
As a passionate Arsenal Football Club fan, what’s not to love about the Observer Lifestyle Team’s great feature on the club’s haute cuisine a few days ago. Yes, chef Collin Brown can whip up a wicked jerk chicken roulade. Go Gunners! The new season awaits!
And kudos to the Observer reader, who gave Independence Day gifts to students from the difficult Mountain View Avenue area of Kingston. There was a touching article about this by the Observer’s Kimmo Matthews, which unfortunately I am unable to locate – but it really was quite moving. I will try to find the link. Such gestures of human kindness are what the “spirit of Independence” is about, no? P.S. For more reflections on Jamaica 5o and Independence, I would like to refer you to fellow blogger Annie Paul’s blog and 2009 article, “Do you remember the days of slav’ry?” The link is below.
As always, I extend my deepest sympathies to the families and friends, brothers and sisters, girlfriends, husbands and wives of the following persons who died violently this week:
Ms. Natasha Dixon, 29, Mandeville, Manchester
Oneil Livingston, 26, Mark Lane, Kingston
Unidentified man, Grier Park, St. Ann
Unidentified man, Lawrence Tavern, St. Andrew
Paul Cooper, 44, Savanna-la-Mar, Westmoreland
Unidentified man, King Street, Kingston
Unidentified man, Charles Street, Kingston 13
Cecil Elson, 45, Spanish Town, St. Catherine
Related websites and articles:
(Caribbean Examinations Council website)
(Shocking CSEC results)
(Cut vacation leave, employ more teachers)
(Mt. Rosser Primary pleads for proper sanitary facilities)
(Thwaites says he’s ready for probe on bookmarks)
(Spanish Town Hospital patients transferred to Linstead)
(Warning from Western Union – Gleaner editorial)
(Western Union operators pushing to implement new security measures)
(Food crisis and a disjointed Government – Sunday Gleaner editorial)
(Incoherent Government – Gleaner editorial)
(Beyond Roger Clarke’s C.D. – Gleaner editorial)
(Seizing the moment in a time of crisis – Observer editorial)
(Peter Tosh website)
(O.M. for Peter Tosh? No way!)
(500 new houses for Coral Springs)
(Braco Village Hotel & Spa website)
(Do you remember the days of slav’ry? Annie Paul blog and 2009 article)
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)
(Police name deputy mayor, councilor as major players in lotto scam)
(Still no word: PNP yet to respond to Michael Troupe gun charge)
(PNP waffles on arrested councilors)
(MoBay Deputy Mayor Taking Leave of Absence)
(PNP still refusing to speak on fate of jailed councilors)
(Politics attracts criminality AND 50 years old and decrepit/Mark Wignall)
(Three soldiers to be charged with Keith Clarke murder named)
(Soldiers detained for Keith Clarke murder)
(And justice for Tivoli Gardens? Memento Mori Annie Paul blog)
(Witter’s report on Tivoli deaths almost done)
(Want to help our athletes? Back off! DJM blog)
(Why Are Jamaicans so amazing at running?)
(They Are All Winners!)
(The Best! Time votes Jamaica’s Olympic gear tops)
(Festival Jamaica 2012 – London)
(Jamaica 50 – Canada)
(Jamaica 50 – New York)
(Jamaica 50 – Atlanta)
(Jamaica has not progressed much in 50 years, says Seaga)
(What Mr. Seaga did not say but should have said – Jamaica Observer editorial)
(England steals Reggae Film Festival – Barbara Blake Hannah’s blog)
(St. Elizabeth PC calls meeting for the preservation of Holland Bamboo)
(NEPA to take action against Windalco)
(NEPA takes NSWMA to court)
(If you can’t beat them, eat them)
(A Bigga deal)
(Dr. Lowe forges alliance with Chinese anti-cancer biotech firm)
(Good Shepherd Foundation seeks funds)
(Children First gets new computers)
(Liberty nurturing children of varying abilities)
(Another doctor murdered in Mandeville)
(Capleton lauded for charity work)
- Jamaica: Combat Homophobia (hrw.org)
On the occasion of Jamaican sprinter Merlene Ottey's 52nd birthday, it seems appropriate to look at the Jamaican obsession with "track and field" (it's really the track part we are interested in). How does this play out in the context of celebrity, youth, and money?
I was prompted to write this partly because there was a grave omission in my last Sunday review of the Jamaican news.
'Ol' pirates yes they rob I, sold I to the merchant ships....' BOB MARLEY
In a shocking development, while the organizers of the Jamaica Reggae Film Festival have been waiting since October 2011 on the promise of a contract from a British organization to bring the event to London for the Olympics and Jamaica 50 celebrations, the England-based organizers have instead pirated the Reggae Film Festival concept, booked reggae films directly and designed a new logo that advertises the Reggae Film Festival as part of a British event that competes with the official Jamaica 50 celebrations being held at the O2 Arena.
Good morning, all. This week’s news was a little lighter, apart from the usual killings (see my “In Memoriam” section). Some things even made me laugh (hollow laughter sometimes, admittedly…)
Firstly, the political representatives who made fools of themselves in the Lower House recently were told to apologize, like naughty boys. The word “sorry” got stuck in some throats and the apologies were a little half-hearted; but one of the new Members of Parliament prepared a speech, waxing quite lyrical on the subject of fish. Yes, fish. This word was thrown about during the fracas in Parliament and seems to have been interpreted (or misinterpreted) as a derogatory word for homosexual (which many of us were not aware of – but it seems that some of our politicians are quite knowledgeable on such matters). Anyway, the promising young politician decided to equate the fish reference with Christianity. His speech was remarkable for its piety. Some journalists were seemingly awestruck by this oratorical flourish. Others were skeptical, like columnist Mark Wignall, who commented, ”Because we have had so few real successes in public life in this country, our media has adopted the style of going gaga over speeches as if we have conveniently forgotten that a speech is just words written on paper and skilfully (sometimes) read or presented.”
The best part of this – and here is the first chuckle of the week – were the skillful Observer cartoonist Clovis’ depictions of a fishy Member of Parliament. Hilarious.
Talking of religion, our favorite home-grown radical priest and missionary Father Richard Ho Lung – founder of the awesome Missionaries of the Poor – seems to have ruffled some feathers with his recent Gleaner columns. Firstly, he took aim at atheists, describing them as selfish, materialistic and responsible for all the world’s ills. (Well, I don’t think atheists bombed those churches in Nigeria, did they? Nor did they commit reprisal killings, there?) An atheist protested in rather a good column – linked below. Let’s have more tolerance of all beliefs, including atheists and agnostics, perhaps? Secondly, the goodly Father reprimanded our two sprinting heroes, Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake. He remonstrated with Blake thus:“Why call yourself a ‘beast’? Read the Book of Revelation.” Columnist Mark Wignall feels he has “gone overboard” this time. I found it all rather funny.
There were a couple of highly confusing items last week, too. Firstly, Mining & Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell announced that the Russian firm UC Rusal planned to close the last of its operational bauxite plants in Jamaica in October with the loss of 600 jobs – in Ewarton, St. Catherine. A wire story report appeared a day or two later in which the firm said they had not yet made a decision on the matter. Things seem to be hanging in the balance; but one feels confident that Minister Paulwell will be able to sort things out with the Russians. He has made the point that two other plants owned by Rusal have been closed now for more than three years. This seems an unacceptable situation to me.
I am finding Minister Paulwell a calm, composed figure, who seems entirely focused on his goals as head of an important ministry that also includes technology. He seems to do his homework properly, updates the media regularly and what is more, he does not waste time trying to score political points. He is getting on with the job, and for that I once again give him kudos. He sets a good example.
Then there was a bit of a fiasco with the so-called amnesty for traffic offenders, which began on July 1 and is set to continue for the rest of the year. It turned out to be quite a muddle. Well, Jamaicans owe their Government an astounding, estimated J$2.5 billion in unpaid traffic tickets. So if they go to the tax office and pay what they owe during this period, they will not be taken to court. It seems, however, that Government records are not in order; motorists are protesting that they are wildly inaccurate and the website has been put on hold for a little while, I understand, while they sort it out. Unfortunately, neither of the links in the Gleaner article below works. Oh Lordy.
I have been venting quite a bit on the environment in a recent blog post – but hold on, here’s more. I mentioned the “mystery fumes” in a recent review. On June 28 (when we were, thankfully, out of town) a number of highway workers and others fell sick after the air was filled with an unbearable smell in the Portmore area. The National Environment & Planning Agency conducted a thorough and detailed investigation, and last week we were informed that the smell was from kerosene being offloaded at Kingston’s seaport. Now the police have been called in to investigate possible illegal activities there. Which is obviously bad, but what worries me is how would we have coped if the incident had been much more serious? Executive director of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management Ronald Jackson said on television recently that Jamaica really was not prepared for a major chemical leak. The Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica is investigating…
As a cab driver said on television this week, “It’s our right to have clean air.” The man, an asthma sufferer, was complaining about a huge dust nuisance in Cornwall Courts, Montego Bay. Let us be more careful about these things, and try to prevent them from happening in the first place, please. And what was going on at the port that day? I am not making light of the Cornwall Courts issue. Almost nightly on television residents are protesting the huge discomforts of their lives – dust from incomplete roadworks; roads that look more like obstacle courses filled with rocks and huge potholes; raw sewage trickling in the gutters; a bridge that has not been repaired since Hurricane Whoever; no water in the pipes, although they pay water bills. I often feel the residents could do more to help themselves; but I fear that there is simply no money to fix these things.
Now – unless you have been living in a hole in the ground for at least the past year – we all know the Olympics is nigh. In fact, they begin on July 27, just twelve days away. I just have two questions: Why can’t we watch the Olympics on the channel of our choice? And why do Jamaican athletes have to parade around in semi-military uniforms at the opening ceremony?
On the first issue, a regional sports broadcasting firm has “exclusive rights across all platforms” to coverage of the games, and has sold these rights to one television station in Jamaica. Which means that those of us who pay for various sports channels on our cable network will be confronted with a message informing us that the channel is “blacked out” (even if the local TV station is not showing Olympic action). Is this lawful, asks one letter-writer? And why are we deprived of choice (especially when that’s exactly what we pay the cable company for?) Does this mean the promised “Caribbean flavor” of the coverage will exclude events in which there are no Caribbean competitors (and there are many of those?) Some of us want to watch events like diving, decathlon, rowing, etc. Why can’t we watch what we want?
Secondly, Cedella Marley (one of Bob’s numerous children) who is now a fashion designer has produced a range of costumes (approved by sponsors Puma) for the Jamaican athletic team to wear at the Olympics. The reaction among Jamaicans has been mixed, to say the least. When I first saw the photos, I had another good laugh. Ms. Marley has clearly gone back to the seventies and decided to resurrect the styles worn by her father when he was about her age… A kind of “Buffalo Soldier” throwback, complete with military-style khaki and high collars. Are our athletes going to war? There is also a skirt with what looks rather like a ganja-leaf design. Our dear Usain Bolt “looks like a security guard,” a friend commented on Facebook. What do you think, dear readers? There is more on YouTube if you want to see all the designs, and see how you feel. (Meanwhile, Americans are upset at their Ralph Lauren-designed kit, complete with beret - “too European” - and worse still, made in China!)
Talking of Bob Marley, there was another wave of protest after an unsuspecting American scientist (and a huge fan of Bob) enthusiastically named a marine creature after the “reggae icon” (to coin a cliché). What’s wrong with that, you may ask? Well, the creature in question, now named Gnathia marly, is a blood-sucking parasite that infests Caribbean fish and makes them extremely ill. “It’s a diss!” cried fans, who also point out that Bob Marley strongly disliked parasites (of the human kind), as well as hypocrites, bald heads and others. The poor scientist however, thinks this marine version of a tick (ugh!) is a wonderful little creature that contributes much to the Caribbean eco-system. He thinks he is honoring Marley, but the local jury is still out on this one, too.
And talking of reggae music, Opposition Tourism Spokesman Ed Bartlett says he wants Jamaica to have more reggae festivals. Do we really, Mr. Bartlett? We are scraping the barrel trying to find decent reggae acts – the quality and quantity has fallen – unless we recruited some of the excellent African musicians that play reggae. As it is, Reggae Sumfest, which took place this weekend, featured among other acts an American singer called Trey Songzz (not a reggae act), whose latest song “Dive In” extols the joys of oral sex. Yes, I guess we need more of that, don’t we?
Putting aside the trivia for a moment, there were several much more serious stories – quite small and unobtrusive – that popped up in the media and that I found very disturbing, although they seemed not to warrant any widespread discussion in the media.
- In anticipation of a lifting of the ban on scrap metal imports, our rampant thievery continues at local cellular phone sites – J$300 million worth. One “businessman” was found to be powering his in-car stereo system with batteries stolen from one site. How can we move forward with creeps like this in our midst?
- One million Jamaicans live below the poverty line. Yes. One million. What is our population again? 2.7 million?
- A well-known doctor and the mother of a twelve-year-old have been charged with procuring an abortion. When is Jamaica going to review its absurd abortion laws? As noted last week, Jamaica has a very high maternal death rate, and illegal botched abortions have certainly contributed to this. Let us follow the example of Barbados, Cuba and other enlightened Caribbean nations. But I guess the discussion will be hijacked once again by fundamentalist Christians, who do shout very loud…
- The Statistical Institute of Jamaica notes this week that the Jamaican economy registered negative GDP growth (0.1% decline) in the first six months of this year.
- Can the Jamaica Observer and some of its columnists stop trying to stir up sensation and ill-informed debate on the homosexual issue? Let’s cool it. The flood of comments on its website has been removed, probably because many of them were unfit for airplay. Why this semi-hysteria from people who swear that they are “not homophobes” but Christians, with a capital “C”? Where is the Observer going with this?
- The police are still busy killing. See two stories below on the recent death of a 17-year-old high school graduate, and a woman who fears for her son whom the police allegedly pushed into a gully.
- The report of a teenage girl who had a complete meltdown in a small rural court when she was ordered to be kept in a “place of safety” was painful to hear. The close-up footage of the girl’s ankles as she shuffled, barefoot in shackles to a waiting police van was deeply disturbing – reminiscent of slavery. It worried radio talk show host Barbara Gloudon for an entire program on Friday. I shared her emotion. The girl, who reportedly slapped the magistrate (it was a small room) was clearly in trouble and in urgent need of psychiatric help. The fact was, nobody wanted her. She had run away from her father’s house, and her mother could not/would not keep her. One doesn’t know the details of the case, but is locking the fifteen-year-old up in the Fort Augusta Adult Correctional Centre going to help? What was her crime? I hear she is now to get counseling – while in prison (and how long for?)
Condolences and sympathies go out to the family and friends of the following Jamaicans, who were murdered in the past week. I am also concerned for the father of Davian Davis, a sweet child whose body was found in an abandoned car. His father suspects foul play. I could see the grief in his face on television this evening. What really happened?
- Shango Jackson, 39, in Beverley Hills, Kingston
- Dr. Phillip Chamberlain, in Mandeville, Manchester
- Dwayne Rodman, in Grants Pen, Kingston
- Sonia Martin, 47, in Potsdam, St. Elizabeth
Killed by the police:
- Unidentified man, Freetown, Clarendon
- Unidentified man, Freetown, Clarendon
- Unidentified man, Malvern, St. Elizabeth
- Barrington Christie,41, Ashkenish, Hanover
- Sunday Shenanigans: July 8, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)
- Sunday Sunshine: July 1, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)
(Apologies welcome, but… jamaica-gleaner.com)
(No order in Parliament)
(I don’t buy the parliamentary apology)
(Jackasses are aplenty and a pig in a tie is still a pig)
(Paulwell’s mining lease signal likely game changer in UC Rusal controversy)
- 600 to lose jobs with closure of RUSAL plant in Jamaica (bis.gy)
(Ticket amnesty bungling)
- Jamaica considers renewable energy – UPI.com (upi.com)
(Kerosene identified as mystery fumes)
(Police called in to probe fume emission)
(Restart Cornwall Court road work)
(Goodness, I am an atheist!)
(Why can’t cable channels air Olympics too?)
(IMC promises record Caribbean coverage of London 2012)
(Jamaica 50 Jubilee plans)
- 50-50 Reflections (petchary.wordpress.com)
- The Jamaican Olympic Team Outfits – “Ugly – Horrible” (newsandviewsbydjmillerja.wordpress.com)
(Jamaica Olympic Association website)
- Puma pins Olympic hopes on Bolt to speed sport sales (telegraph.co.uk)
- Jamaica and The London 2012 Olympics: Jamaican Athletes representing, Jamaica (theislandjournal.wordpress.com)
(Ocean parasite named after Bob Marley)
(Bob Marley dissed! jamaicaobserver.com)
(The big gay lie: Column by Betty-Ann Blaine)
(Father struggles to come to grips with son’s killing)
(Clarendon woman’s fear: cops after my son)
(Teen assaults RM in courtroom attack)
(Brilliant Krystal! St. Thomas teen goes to MIT on scholarship)
(Don’t politicize Festival! Says Fae Ellington)
(Rotary Club launches program to help juvenile offenders)
Yesterday I sat down to share my thoughts about the celebrations for Jamaica’s 50th year of independence. Despite saving throughout, Word crashed as I was about to print for a final edit. When I restarted Word and opened the file the ready-for-editing version wasn’t there and Auto Recovery couldn’t open its last saved version. So I was annoyed and decided to step away from the computer and restart today; I still had my notes and the framework in mind.
On the occasion of Jamaican sprinter Merlene Ottey‘s 52nd birthday, it seems appropriate to look at the Jamaican obsession with “track and field” (it’s really the track part we are interested in). How does this play out in the context of celebrity, youth, and money?
I was prompted to write this partly because there was a grave omission in my last Sunday review of the Jamaican news. I had planned to congratulate our current Golden Boy, Usain Bolt, on the work of his Usain Bolt Foundation (vision statement: Creation of opportunities through education and cultural development for a positive change). The focus of the Foundation’s work is on “happy children.” I cannot think of a better purpose. With educated, healthy and empowered children, Jamaica can really start to move forward. The Usain Bolt Foundation will team up with Chain of Hope Jamaica, which is developing a pediatric cardiac service for the hundreds of Jamaican children in desperate need of surgery at the Bustamante Hospital for Children in Kingston. Bolt will co-host a fund-raising walkathon later this year, and has asked his sponsors to contribute funds for two surgeries annually. Last week, the Foundation handed over twenty licenses for important Mathematics software that will help students prepare for Caribbean examinations. It is also supporting the younger children; it has donated playground and recreational equipment and uniforms to schools for children under twelve. It will also support this year’s Paralympics. And more.
Meanwhile, Mr. Bolt has signaled in no uncertain terms that he is ready for the London Olympic Games this summer, by winning the 100 meter dash at the recent Jamaica International Invitational Meet in Kingston in a mind-blowing 9.82 seconds. There are others (including one or two of his fellow-countrymen) who think they have some chance of beating him in the Olympics. We shall see.
Meanwhile, Mr. Bolt is up there on his pedestal, a sports superstar at the age of twenty-five, a young man from deep rural Trelawny who played a lot of cricket and football in his teens before he took up running. He is now the Honorable Usain St. Leo Bolt, O.J., C.D., who once remarked, “I’m a cool and exciting guy.” He has received numerous awards and honors. His image is of a fun-loving, laid-back person. Like many successful athletes it seems, he has opened a restaurant in Kingston called “Tracks and Records” (an uninspiring name). He was conferred with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree last November by the University of the West Indies. The enormous publicity machine surrounding the London Olympics is beginning to envelop him in its embrace. He is doing endorsements and ads and photo-ops (even with visiting Prince Harry) and autographs and interviews, and everybody wants him. And most Jamaicans are very proud of him and his success, and are looking forward to another stupendous performance by him – and other outstanding Jamaican athletes such as Yohan Blake and Veronica Campbell Brown – in the upcoming Olympics.
Yes, our chests swell with pride. He is our Golden Boy, our country boy made good. And yet. Our superhero is sometimes boisterous; he makes faces while the National Anthem is played, and he has a touch of arrogance. He loves to party.
And he has a white girlfriend. The discussions on the pulsating, non-stop Facebook network of Jamaicans have by turns irritated, amused and depressed me. Why do successful black men always run off with white women? What’s wrong with black women? She must be a gold-digger. And other comments that are too unpleasant – and downright racist – to be repeated here. In social media parlance, all I can say is… SMH.
Can I just say something? Mr. Bolt is doing the best he can. He is young, and from a humble background. He is trying. His heart is in the right place. I cannot conceive of the unbelievable pressure he must be under – the training alone demands tremendous, and continuous focus. His body has to be constantly fine-tuned and prepared, like an engine for a Formula One racing car. There is the fear of injury. He has agents and publicists and sports reporters of all nationalities and photographers and fans and would-be girlfriends and hangers-on to deal with, every minute of his day.
And can I point something else out? All the amazing Jamaican athletes, of whom so much is expected, are all trying to live up to those expectations as best they can. They don’t want to disappoint their fans – and especially, they don’t want to disappoint themselves. Just before Mr. Bolt, another record-breaking sprinter, Asafa Powell, was all the rage in Jamaica. Like Mr. Bolt, he is a powerful runner and has a big race (the Diamond League) tomorrow. Mr. Powell has, perhaps, not handled the golden pedestal thing so well. He is, after all, a different person, the sometimes shy son of two Spanish Town ministers. He has had injury problems. Some Jamaicans think they have found chinks in his golden armor, and have opened the chinks a little wider. There has also been a lot of discussion about his personal life, and his high-profile girlfriend. He has been found wanting by many Jamaicans. My blogging colleague and marvelous journalist Dionne Jackson-Miller has addressed the issue in her blog.
Perhaps it will be Mr. Bolt’s turn next – to “disappoint”.
But can I once again simply point out: These are human beings, existing in the rarefied air of the famous (and rich); they are recognized everywhere by everyone (can you imagine that?) Their life in active athletics will probably just last a few more years; and then they will have to think about the rest of their lives. It is temporary, it is fickle. We, the public, can gossip about their girlfriends and make snide comments when they win a Silver, and not a Gold (Ms. Ottey, by the way, was rather unkindly nicknamed the Bronze Queen, but her performance and longevity were quite remarkable).
Yes, they are young human beings, and they are doing their best to please everyone. But most of all, they are doing it for themselves.
Let us just support them in that.
And happy birthday, Ms. Ottey! (By the way, she is considering running in her eighth Olympic Games this year – she now runs for Slovenia, her adopted home).
Related articles and links:
http://www.european-athletics.org/index.php?option=com_content&catid=1&id=10118&view=article: Super-vet Ottey not finished yet
http://www.usainbolt.com/page/home: Usain Bolt home page
Usain Bolt Thrills at Jamaican Meet in Good Sign for London Olympics (bleacherreport.com)
Fellow Jamaicans calling Usain Bolt the next Tiger Woods because of his Caucasian girlfriend (offthebench.nbcsports.com)
Love strikes like lightning for Usain Bolt (telegraph.co.uk)
http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/athletics/18020004: Asafa Powell meets Justin Gatlin in Diamond League in Doha