It has been a while since I went out for tea. Such a quaint English thing, isn’t it; although sadly I don’t think many English people have time for it, these days. And yet, even in the gritty old town of Kingston, Jamaica, there are a few spots where uptown ladies (and a scattering of gentlemen) can still sip tea in tranquility. The Terra Nova Hotel on Thursday afternoons is one such delight. The intimate Tea Tree Creperie in our neighborhood is another little oasis. A bit of free advertising there!
Last Saturday afternoon, I was invited to afternoon tea with a bit of a difference. It was a fund-raising event organized by the Hope United Church, just down the road from the lovely Hope Botanical Gardens. The bright, airy Church Hall was festooned with pastel-colored balloons. The backdrop through the windows showed the effects of the extended drought on our faded hills. Inside, music was playing and a swathe of tables spread out in front of us. Each was set with a pretty linen tablecloth, teacups and saucers and a teapot in the middle. The crockery did not match well – a charming mixture of the traditional, the modern, the chintzy. The Celestial Seasonings teas – a wide variety of flavors -were delicious. I highly recommend the Mandarin Orange Spice Herbal Tea.
But there was more, much more. There was poetry.
Jean Lowrie-Chin has an aura of calm and gentility, mixed with a wry, earthy humor which suited the occasion perfectly. The hall was full by the time she stepped up in front of the stage with a copy of her book of poems and writings, “Souldance,” in her hand. We settled down to listen. Jean told us (poetically) that she was a “Jonkunnu Baby,” born in the Christmas season in rural Hartford, Westmoreland. For those of my readers not familiar with Jonkunnu, this is the Jamaican tradition of dancing, wild music and lively antics performed by a group of odd characters – Pitchy Patchy, Horsehead, Belly Woman among them. As the irreverent, rowdy dancers arrived in the yard that evening, frightening the children, baby Jean was born,“a noisy little exclamation!”
Another dancing poem followed. In “My Chinaman Jumped to the Riddim of Jah,” Jean’s beloved husband Hubie (a Chinese Jamaican) embraces and “jumps” to the reggae rhythm. It is a defiant dance, too, as her husband had been held up by a gunman in a robbery attempt. But he danced. There is a story behind this one; I must find out more. This poem dates back to the seventies.
I especially loved the poem “I Thought That I Was Marking Time.” It is a wistful commentary on the physical signs of growing old; but looking beyond the face of the ticking clock, there is the universal consciousness into which we are still growing. Time is… just time.
Jean’s book is a personal and spiritual journey in words. Divided into three distinct parts, it begins with Jean’s inner journey of discovery – a journey that is mostly joyful and celebratory. On, then, to the yearning poetry and troubled young heart, in the section called “Growing Pains.” The final segment, the “Power of Words,” is a series of short prose essays on some special Jamaican passions, from football to Marcus Garvey. The delicate but vibrant cover features a painting by Jamaican painter Viv Logan from her series “Cherubs Gone Rasta.”
I should drink less coffee. And I should read more poetry. It’s good for a soul.
Thank you, Souldancer!
“Souldance: Poems and Writings” by Jean Lowrie-Chin was first published in 2009 by Ian Randle Publishers (www.ianrandlepublishers.com). It is available at Monarch Pharmacy in Kingston and local bookstores in Jamaica; and from Amazon.com.
Why are we sighing? Because it seems that, after all the jubilation and celebration, Jamaica is returning to reality. And reality doesn’t look too good right now.
For a start, the police recently announced a decrease in major crimes, and even a sixteen per cent drop in murders. Coming on the heels of our celebrations, this felt rather good. OK, Jamaica is regrouping. But. If you look at the list of names at the end of this post – it has been a very bad week. As the police doggedly pursue the scavengers and vampires otherwise known as the “lotto scammers” (eight more were arrested in the Montego Bay area) three people were murdered in one small area of the city yesterday; one does not know, of course, if the two activities were connected. And this morning came news that an attorney-at-law and lecturer at the Norman Manley Law School and University of Technology in Kingston, Clover Graham. The bare, cruel facts are that her body was found this morning in Caymanas, St. Catherine, near the Polo Club – a lush, green and relatively undeveloped area off the highway between Kingston and Spanish Town. Nearly four years ago, Ms. Graham’s son Taiwo McKenzie and his girlfriend Janelle Whyte were murdered in what came to be known as the “good samaritan” murders. The couple were involved in an motor vehicle accident in Kingston in which two men were injured. They took the men to hospital and the next day went to help them, taking with them medicine, crutches etc – and were never seen again. Two men were convicted of their murders in June.
So another intelligent, caring Jamaican who had already given – and still had so much to give – to Jamaican society has been cruelly killed. It is hard to make any sense out of all this. The old, familiar feeling of loss hits you. When a middle-class member of society is murdered, the shock lasts for a few days in uptown Kingston, and then we get back to our lives. There is a big funeral, eulogies, tears. And then on, until another “high profile” murder occurs.
For me, all such sad and violent deaths are high profile – whether uptown or downtown. All are stories of a life abruptly severed. That is why I include a list of all those Jamaican citizens, young or old, rich or poor or in-between, who have left us. I grieve for their families, their friends and colleagues. We see them nightly on the television news, unable to find words, a lost and distant look in their eyes; or wailing and throwing themselves to the ground while sympathizers try to hold them up on their feet. People who live outside Jamaica don’t know how it feels to experience this almost on a daily basis. Perhaps we should be numb. I need a heavy anesthetic, the kind where you can sense something happening, but you don’t feel the pain.
It was not my plan to talk about the crime issue today, but to point to a couple of other issues that flared up last week. The two “e”s – Education and the Economy.
Now, I have often teased our Minister of Education Ronald Thwaites in this blog about his many stirring motivational speeches over the past few months. But he brought me up sharp on Thursday morning, during an interview with radio talk show host Barbara Gloudon. The topic was, unsurprisingly, teachers. The disappointing Caribbean Secondary Examination Certificate (CSEC) examination results had already dropped into the lovely calm pool of post-Independence, post-Olympics “good vibes” – creating disturbing ripples. Minister Thwaites bluntly told Ms. Gloudon that during his tour of the island visiting numerous schools, he was “not sanguine” about the quality of English teachers – in fact, he suggested, many of them are not capable of teaching English properly. They must be proficient in English themselves. The thorny issue of patois-speaking teachers teaching standard English – and admonishing the students, as I have often heard, in raw patois – has been with us for a long time and is unresolved. Minister Thwaites declared, “We have to overcome our ambivalence about the English language…This is crazy.” Crazy, indeed. He then dropped a bombshell that reverberated like the fireworks I heard after the Independence Grand Gala, which shook our windows. Only sixteen per cent of teachers, Minister Thwaites pointed out, are actually qualified to teach Math.
I wondered if I had heard right. He must have said sixty per cent. That would have not been very impressive, either. But no – he did say sixteen! I foresee a bit of a battle with the Jamaica Teachers’ Association, which is probably overdue anyway. But I do applaud the Minister for telling it like it is. I also feel (as the government has been saying for some time) that much more emphasis must be put in at the primary school level. High school is too late. There is a push towards building early childhood education and literacy; but I know of one newly-qualified early childhood literacy specialist, young and eager to teach, who is still seeking work, with no success. There must be jobs for the teachers if they are encouraged to gain qualifications in these priority areas. Otherwise it doesn’t make sense.
I agree also with Minister Thwaites that education is not all about “swotting” for exams. Self-expression must be encouraged, imaginations sparked, critical thinking taught. During the same program, Ms. Gloudon spoke with the Ministry’s chief public servant about practical matters related to Back to School (often written with upper case these days I’ve noticed), as we are entering that annual period of nervous anticipation now. When asked about school security, she said that fixing school perimeters with fencing or even walls would cost at least J$50 million and there was simply no money for that. She added, with a somewhat wistful air, that “the community must be a watchdog” in keeping the school secure and preventing the frequent vandalism and robbery that takes place. But it seems to me that the community often preys on the institutions that are there to serve and uplift their children. (New computer lab? Ah, that’s a tempting thought…) I can barely suppress my anger when I see some overwrought school principal on television, bemoaning the loss of some recently-donated computers, while the camera pans to empty electrical sockets and a few dangling wires, and perhaps also a ransacked office where the vampires have been searching for cash. (Yes, vampire is my word of the day, I think!)
Rumblings on the economy, too – like today’s thunderstorms rattling around the hills. In case it has escaped anyone’s notice, our Net International Reserves are declining as, I believe, the Bank of Jamaica continues to support our gently sliding Jamaican Dollar. Because yes, it is sliding. Let’s call it J$90/US$1 now – we are just a few cents below that. CVM Television broadcast two well-edited and hard-hitting reports last week that included interviews with local financial analysts Dennis Chung and Ralston Hyman. Both were sharply pointed in their comments. I would recommend Mr. Chung’s article in Friday’s Jamaica Observer, in which he draws our attention to some uncomfortable facts of life. (By the way, Mr. Chung also believes that Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell is “on the right track,” and I agree). There is still no agreement with the International Monetary Fund (although we were led to believe that the whole thing would have been “renegotiated” in short order by the current administration, during last year’s election campaign). In fact, we appear to be nowhere near an agreement. There are warnings from ratings agencies, and we all know that markets – and investors – don’t like uncertainty. That’s one thing they hate. But these are very uncertain times.
The Sunday Observer editorial comments on this unnerving state of affairs today, referring to the Caribbean in general. We have taken a “self-inflicted” course – what seemed to be the easy road, one might say. The editorial comments, very cogently, “Common to all governments in the Caribbean is the ability to deny reality. If we do not take life seriously, do not expect anybody to take us seriously.” But we haven’t grown up. We are still fêting, as today’s Sunday Gleaner editorial cartoon suggests…
Meanwhile, the Finance Minister was busy talking to People’s National Party followers last weekend about Independence. An interesting report in Thursday’s Gleaner (which I cannot find online – what has happened to your search engine, Gleaner?) by Carl Gilchrist notes Minister Phillips’ comments on the great strides Jamaica has made since August 1, 1962. “Let no one tell you no fairy tale that colonialism was a good thing or better for us; foolishness, absolute nonsense!” he expostulated. I would have hoped that a man of his education and knowledge could have put it a little better – and perhaps indicated how, and why, Independence has been good for us in more detail. Perhaps he did. After all that blustering, he did concede that Jamaica still had to deal with one troublesome little matter: poverty. Humph.
Any word on the economy, Minister Phillips? No? Well, as usual in the eternal conflict, politics trumps the economy, every time. So it guh.
Meanwhile, we are currently hosting an illustrious visitor – Dr. Julius Garvey. Dr. Garvey is the son of Jamaica’s first National Hero Marcus Garvey, to whom much lip service is paid. And I am pleased to say that the Mayor of Kingston has declared August 17 (his birthday) Marcus Garvey Day. Friday was a special day — Marcus Garvey’s 125th birthday. Please note the background color of my blog – the flag of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) which the revered civil rights activist founded.
As Dr. Garvey marched along Duke Street – heading to or from Liberty Hall, I am not sure – with flag-waving Garveyites in tow, he walked straight into a chaotic scene. Close to sixty squatters had been evicted from a property that many of them had occupied for decades. The media focused on a forty-year-old woman, who has eight children and expecting another. The woman, looking many years older than forty, exclaimed, “We are treated like animals…On the street with a million kids!” The property is privately owned, and with the (albeit slow) development of downtown Kingston the owner probably wants to do something with it. The bailiff, and others officials, say that they had been negotiating with the squatters for some time to get them out, but all deadlines had expired. Meanwhile, their Member of Parliament and former mayor Desmond McKenzie has promised to help.
The reaction of many Jamaicans online has been unsympathetic, rather harsh, even sarcastic. Where are the fathers, they ask? These children are all going to grow up to be gunmen. Why don’t these women get their tubes tied? And so on.
Well, guess what, Dr. Garvey. This is the face of poverty - the issue that, by Dr. Phillips’ own admission, we have not got a handle on yet, after fifty years.
But this is terrible, said Dr. Garvey. Why weren’t arrangements made for the squatters to be relocated, how could they be sitting on the street? Speaking on Television Jamaica, Dr. Garvey pointed out, in a polite and low-key way, that Jamaica must stop blaming others for these problems. He said, in some many words, that we have too much “baggage.” A sensible and thoughtful man. When asked what the solution was for Jamaica, he simply said, “Education, education, education.”
Congratulations are in order..
To the business community of St. Elizabeth, a parish where much activity takes place, especially in the field of agriculture. It has re-established the long-dormant St. Elizabeth Chamber of Commerce, now headed by Mr. Howard Hendricks. We look forward to hearing more about their activities.
To the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) which held an open day in Mandeville on Friday to highlight and educate the public about its work. INDECOM investigates all types of abuses by the security forces. I am glad also that Minister of National Security Peter Bunting (who is Member of Parliament for the area) spoke at the event and expressed his support for INDECOM, which has replaced the former Police Public Complaints Authority. The police have not exactly welcomed the government agency with open arms. And Minister Bunting did appear to have a little dig at INDECOM when he said it was important to remain “unbiased” – its head Terrence Williams had participated in a press conference held by human rights lobby group Jamaicans for Justice some time ago (but aren’t both organizations upholders of human rights?). I am not sure if Minister Bunting’s comment was really necessary, even though it was a sort of aside.
To the Mayor of Kingston, Angela Brown Burke, for declaring August 17 Marcus Garvey Day. This is overdue. OK, I know a day is just a day. But special days are symbolic, and they are reminders. The importance of Mr. Garvey’s legacy cannot be overlooked or denied. I am happy that his teachings are to be incorporated into the school curriculum, but wonder whether the teachers themselves can understand or interpret it.
To the Attorney General’s Department for its outreach to the Best Care Children’s Home. They didn’t just hand out sweeties and pat the kids on the head. I was quite moved by the report on their visit; they had sourced gifts that had been personally requested by the residents.
USAID for its annual Camp Summer Plus. The “plus” is that this is not your average summer camp. According to USAID’s press release, the camp’s “two main aims are to provide focused, intensive, data-driven academic programmes through technology and the arts in the critical areas of reading and mathematics; and to provide nutritional, psychological, social and other support which are known to impact student performance.” Serious and well-conceived.
To Jamaica’s female cricketers! They defeated Trinidad & Tobago yesterday in the T-20 finals, and now dominate the English-speaking Caribbean. Kudos to the ladies!
Finally, a big “Get Well Soon” to former Prime Minister Bruce Golding, who is recuperating in Miami from a very serious infection in his back. The infection started after surgery in Jamaica and was not corrected by second surgery, so he went overseas. It seems that the Jackson Memorial Hospital came to his rescue. His recovery is likely to take months. I wish him a full recovery and send best wishes to his loving wife and family.
And last but by no means least, I send my deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of the following Jamaicans, who were murdered over the past week. Our land is stained with their blood.
Killed by the police:
Oteno Chambers, 22, St. John’s Road, St. Catherine
Damion Saunders, Fitzgerald Avenue, Kingston 13
Romaine Ferron, Fitzgerald Avenue, Kingston 13
Errol Cohen, 48, Spaldings, Clarendon
Unidentified man, Orange Street, Kingston
Kevorn Thompson, 17, Greater Portmore, St. Catherine
Christopher Walters, 44, Dyke Road, Portmore, St. Catherine
Unidentified man, Old Harbour Villa, St. Catherine
Demus Williams, Westchester, St. Catherine
Bentley Parker, Westchester, St. Catherine
Kevin Butler, 32, Annotto Bay, St. Mary
Linton Banton-Dean, 24, Annotto Bay, St. Mary
Unidentified man, Allman Hill, St. Andrew
Unidentified man, Steer Town, St. Ann
Unidentified man, Roaring River, Westmoreland
Shernette Parker, 32, Knoxwood, St. Elizabeth
Peter Cunningham, 34, Retirement, St. James
Keith Maxwell, 65, Granville, St. James
Ramesh Sutherland, 25, Granville, St. James
Simon Munroe, 26, Flanker, St. James
Chase Facey, 24, Westmeade, St. Catherine
Clover Graham, 56, Caymanas, St. Catherine
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Attorney-found-dead (Attorney found dead – Jamaica Observer)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/news/local/three-killed-shootings-rock-granville-st-james (Three killed as shootings rock Granville, St. James – Radio Jamaica)
http://newsandviewsbydjmillerja.wordpress.com/2012/08/19/losing-that-loving-feeling-jamaica-50/#comment-958 (Losing that loving feeling – Dionne Jackson Miller’s blog)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Unqualified-teachers—Minister-says-only-16–qualified-to-teach-Math_12308827 (Minister says only 16 per cent qualified to teach Math – Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/CXC-furious–Wants-Jamaican-critics-to-stop-the-blame-game_12307764 (CXC furious, wants Jamaican critics to stop the blame game – Jamaica Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120818/cleisure/cleisure1.html (Assessing CSEC exam results – Gleaner editorial)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/business/After-Jamaica-50–Olympics-comes-economic-reality_12306785 (After Jamaica 50, Olympics comes economic reality – Dennis Chung/Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/editorial/Our-region-is-feting-when-we-should-be-fretting_12312137 (Our region is fêting when we should be fretting – Sunday Observer editorial)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120819/cleisure/cleisure3.html (Why is Marcus Garvey a National Hero? – Carolyn Copper/Sunday Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/EVICTED–Pregnant-woman-with-eight-children-among-60-thrown-off-Duke-Street-property (Pregnant woman with eight children among 60 thrown off Duke Street property)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120819/news/news1.html (A cycle of poverty – Sunday Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120819/lead/lead92.html (UHWI operating with only one ambulance – Sunday Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Taking-best-care_12276664 (Taking best care – Attorney General’s Department – Jamaica Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=39238 (Bruce Golding’s recovery to take months)
Jamaica 50 Special: Monday, August 6, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)
Sunday Strides: August 12, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)
Marcus Garvey in Jamaican schools (caribbean360.com)
Today, Jamaica is half a century old. Music throbs from the National Stadium as the evening grey grows deeper. The remnants of Tropical Storm Ernesto rustle in the trees, and the White-Chinned Thrush in our yard starts his persistent, piercing whistle. On television, the military bands in scarlet, white and black march at the Grand Gala. Choirs will sing, dancers will dance, flags will be waved, drummers will drum. The announcer will speak in her best Queen’s English Jamaican voice. There has been Indian Bollywood dancing, Chinese dragons and of course African drums, illustrating the Jamaican motto “Out of Many One People” – and then, time to wheel out the church people. The obligatory prayers (yes, we are a Christian country. Out of many one people, but let’s not worry too much about the Jews, Hindus, Muslims, atheists and others tonight) – followed by gospel music. As one Twitter friend just commented, “Forgive my naïveté but I interpret ‘Out of many, one people’ to include many races, many cultures AND many religions.”
Sigh. Well as you can see my weekly review is well overdue. It has been overwhelmed with Olympic runners and swimmers and shooters and fencers and rowers and fighters, and now the celebrations of Jamaica’s fiftieth year of Independence. Putting all of that aside (which is a lot), what is left?
Talking about the preservation of our culture (last Monday, August 1, was our Emancipation Day and we are greatly focused on this topic at present), Professor Emeritus of English at the University of the West Indies Edward Baugh (who’s also a marvelous poet) spoke out recently on Jamaica’s lack of interest in actually preserving the physical aspects of our heritage. As we know, some of our finest examples of colonial architecture are now in ruins – except for a few that have been miraculously revived in the name of tourism. And there are many examples of our oral and written history that just can’t be found. How careless we are.
All the more reason to congratulate the venerable Gleaner Company - the oldest company in Jamaica by far – for its new website, diG Jamaica (www.digjamaica.com) – an ambitious project that seeks to pull together a great deal of information on Jamaica, including historical data and up-to-date vital statistics. This is a fiftieth birthday gift to Jamaica from the Gleaner, and it’s looking good. We need this kind of serious and detailed record. Kudos to Gleaner Managing Director Christopher Barnes and consultant Deika Morrison. This is the way to go!
Well, there were at least a couple of interesting developments last week. Firstly, the Supreme Court ruled that the license issued by the then minister of mining and energy in 2001 to the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPSCo) was invalid and not, in fact, an exclusive monopoly. The legal details are too complex to get into, but this is a remarkable development, following a rare class action suit filed by a group of Jamaican citizens calling themselves Citizens United to Reduce Electricity (CURE) and represented by a high-profile and somewhat controversial lawyer. Well, it’s not quite a “cure” yet, but this paves the way for more competition. What next? JPSCo will appeal the ruling. There’s a long way to go before we manage to reduce the insanely high cost of electricity. Jamaica’s rates are the highest in the Caribbean and among the highest globally – a huge deterrent to business and investment, large and small, domestic and overseas. My favorite government minister, Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell, seems quietly pleased with the ruling.
Secondly, the British policeman who has been heading the Jamaica Constabulary Force‘s anti-corruption unit – with considerable success – for the past few years, has been appointed head of the Financial Investigations Division, which operates from the Ministry of Finance. Mr. Justin Felice says he will tackle corruption, financial crimes and money laundering “very, very robustly” (note emphasis) and more power to him! We would like to see some of the “big boys” under manners (a Jamaican expression meaning “on their best behavior,” for my non-Jamaican readers!)
Talking of law enforcement, the head of the Lottery Scam Task Force has been transferred to the newly-formed Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Task Force (MOCA – another nice acronym), and the Deputy Mayor of Montego Bay was released from prison. You may recall the high drama at the orange house on the hill, the DM’s residence, with an early morning raid involving the seizure of large quantities of cash and “high-end vehicles,” etc. Well, gun and ammunition charges brought against the DM were dismissed in court last week. His son pleaded guilty. So the matter was swiftly dealt with; the DM was hauled on the shoulders of jubilant supporters – quite well-built ladies – on exiting the court; and he will no doubt return to taking up his duties in the St. James Parish Council. There are no charges remaining against him, including no charges connected with the hateful scam, either. That’s that.
Apart from these events, there was a huge wave of reflections and all kinds of analysis from columnists and anyone with an opinion on the state of Island Jamaica at fifty. We were regaled with the views of our former prime minister, P.J. Patterson, who believes that “we have achieved” much in the last fifty years. A strong advocate of the Caribbean Court of Justice, Mr. Patterson (sorry, the Most Honorable P.J. Patterson etc) thinks politicians should come together in the Jamaica 50 “spirit of unity” and “do what is necessary” - that is, pass legislation to make the Court Jamaica’s final court of appeal, without of course consulting the Jamaican people on the matter. A battle is to follow… I don’t need a crystal ball to foresee politicians on both sides showing a remarkable lack of Jamaica 50 unity on the matter – perhaps involving much braying, shouting and walking out of the chamber.
And talking of unity – it has become a real buzzword, lately – the Gleaner continued to air the views of the privileged and successful on the topic on its front page. Even business leaders – the head of our local cigarette company included – are pontificating on the matter. I would like them to go down and talk to the men, women and young people of this country and ask them what they think about unity; especially perhaps in the “garrison” communities of our inner-cities (funny there has been very little talk about them, lately) where one side of a street is feuding with the other side, and small communities have names like “Vietnam” and “Dunkirk.” Even the Prime Minister’s garrison constituency. I wonder what they would have to say.
There were, of course, endless speeches in Parliament, and numerous recorded messages from the Prime Minister, Governor General and Leader of the Opposition, on Emancipation Day and again for Jamaica 50. If you are really interested in reading them, the links are below. Our Prime Minister also gave an interview to Time magazine, talking about everything from homophobia (no, Jamaica, we are not really homophobic, and no, I am not going to do anything about changing the laws on buggery); to Usain Bolt, etc. The full interview is in the magazine and excerpts are in a link below.
There was an additional speech in Parliament late last week, by President of Nigeria Goodluck Jonathan. The hardly-ever-smiling President was warmly received, wore his usual felt hat both indoors and outdoors, and urged Jamaica to join his country in fighting poverty. Again, that old buzzword “Unity” or variations thereof continually punctuated his speech. In fact, he asked a very pertinent question: “Is the Black man really free today?” and continued, “Today the destiny of the Black person is in the hands of the Black people.” Well, Marcus Garvey told us that years ago.
President Jonathan had very little to smile about, on his own account. An Associated Press report printed in the Sunday Observer, a day or two after his visit, was headlined “Nigeria in turmoil.” Gloom and doom.
Others shared their views on Jamaica 50. A letter writer observed, “Isn’t it interesting that with all the festivities surrounding our Emancipation and Independence the only things that we can boast about are our music and our athletes? Are you telling me that almost 180 years after Emancipation and 50 years since Independence the only thing that we can brag about is entertainment?” Oh dear me. Financial analyst Dennis Chung, in his usual clear-headed manner, asked another question: “After the party, what?” Read his sensible and balanced article in the Observer’s Caribbean Business Report below.
And you may well have missed some interesting comments by economist Dr. Damien King of the University of the West Indies. “We are poor because we have not had the courage to expand opportunity. It is now time to choose inspired leadership that can create equality of opportunities instead of pandering to the poor,” Dr. King said recently. I could not agree more. But are our leaders listening? Well, for the past fifty years they have not been. And as we all know, our current Prime Minister loves the poor.
OK, now the good and bad (and we are all beautiful, not ugly):
Bad first: A letter to the Editor from a pastor last week declared, “Flexi-work is slavery.” Oh, come on. Can the church please get worked up about some actually relevant issues? The debate about flexi-time has actually been going on for eighteen years, now, with the church vehemently opposed. Eighteen years. That’s progress for you.
The University Hospital of the West Indies and the Kingston Public Hospital have malfunctioning or non-functioning CT scan machines. These are two crucial, large and busy Kingston hospitals. They, and their patients, often have to resort to seeking assistance from private institutions – and the patients have to pay.
As radio talk show host Barbara Gloudon has regularly remarked, with Jamaica at fifty years old, the historic Ward Theatre in downtown Kingston is literally crumbling. Chunks of it will soon start falling on people’s heads.
The good stuff, finally:
I don’t usually gush over beauty queens – and Jamaicans do love their beauty queens – but have to congratulate the Miss Jamaica Festival Queen 2012, Ms. Kemesha Kelly. She is not just a pretty face (although her smile is dazzling). She is a youth advocate – intelligent and articulate, with a strong vision for Jamaica. One of those many young people we should be proud of. Big ups to Kemesha! You will go far.
And now, congratulations to a Jamaican overseas, and a former work colleague of mine in Jamaica, Luke Williams. The lanky Luke has lived in London for ten years now and he is a tremendous teacher, a writer, a great actor. He is also a correspondent for Radio Jamaica, so I hear his warm voice reporting from London on a regular basis. And Luke recently carried the Olympic torch! From Ilford High Road to Redbridge Town Hall. His school nominated him for the honor. Marvelous stuff. And a lovely article by Jamaica Observer writer Janice Budd, by the way.
Our Jamaican Fulbright Scholars always do us proud, and six post-graduates were recently selected for courses in the United States ranging from public policy to tourism and the environment to finance and pest management. Congratulations to them all.
And once again, the American Friends of Jamaica came up trumps. They donated a forty-foot container full of very important equipment and supplies to the Cornwall Regional Hospital in Montego Bay, which serves a wide area with a population of almost a million people. I have no idea why this news was tucked away in the Gleaner’s social pages…
Last but not least, an organization called Halls of Learning has done a great job with a special summer camp for young people in the often-volatile Mountain View area of Kingston. Its young and enterprising founder, Marvin Hall, has a unique approach to learning which includes technology (robotics) and stimulating the child’s natural creativity. Great stuff.
To end, sadly blood was still shed on our island during its weeklong celebrations. My sincere condolences to the families, friends and all those affected by the sad deaths of the following Jamaicans.
And so we march on, into our next fifty years! Have a great remainder of the week.
Killed by police:
Joseph Williams, 29. Llandilo, Westmoreland
Randy Allwood, 21, Alma, Westmoreland
Kadena Jarrett, 24, Frome, Westmoreland
Robert Williams, 24, Dover, St. Mary
Dudley Gordon, Rose End, St. Mary
Sasheka McBean, 25, Spring Mount, St. James
Oneil Lee, Spring Mount, St. James
Jerome Allen, Spring Mount, St. James
Therese Marie Cole, 26, St. James
Davian Robinson, Port Antonio, Portland
Oneil Brown, 30, Cassava Piece, St. Andrew
Uleces Johns, 51, Slipe, St. Elizabeth
Stacy-Ann Smith, 17, Wynters Pen, St. Catherine
http://www.jis.gov.jm/special_sections/Independence/symbols.html (Independence symbols)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120731/lead/lead6.html (JPS licence invalid, rules Supreme Court)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/UWI-professor-bemoans-Ja-s-poor-record-keeping-practices_12086060 (UWI professor bemoans Jamaica’s poor record-keeping practices)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120730/lead/lead8.html (Can you diG it? Jamaica Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120803/lead/lead8.html (Felice to tighten noose on financial crimes)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/New-FID-boss-Justin-Felice-vows-to-tackle-corruption_12152121 (New FID boss Justin Felice vows to tackle corruption)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120608/news/news6.htmlRelated articles (Anti-corruption body to work with new task force)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120801/lead/lead1.html (Troupe set free)
Jamaica 50 – The Celebration Continues (prweb.com)
50-50 Reflections (petchary.wordpress.com)
Who Is Jamaica? (nytimes.com)
Jamaica celebrates 50th anniversary to mixed reviews (lfpress.com)
VIDEO: Memories of Jamaican independence (bbc.co.uk)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Raw-sewage-flowing-in-Majesty-Gardens-streets (Raw sewage flowing in Majesty Gardens streets)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/PJ-wants-politicians-to-show-maturity_12098630 (PJ wants politicians to show maturity)
http://repeatingislands.com/2012/08/05/jamaica-at-50-island-nations-p-m-talks-about-the-queen-the-caribbean-and-usain-bolt/ (Jamaica at 50: Island Nation’s PM talks – Time Magazine)
http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1834406,00.html (Can Jamaica’s sprinters fight crime? – Time Magazine)
http://www.nigeriavillagesquare.com/newsflash/president-jonathan-speech-at-jamaicas-50th-annivesary-celebrations.html (President Jonathan Speech at Jamaica’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/letters/What-are-we-celebrating-_12142507 (What are we celebrating?)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/business/Jamaica-2012–A-time-for-reflection (A Time for Reflection: Dennis Chung column)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Redistributive-policies-have-not-helped-the-poor–says-Damien-King_12098736 (Redistributive policies have not helped the poor, says Damien King)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120802/news/news3.html (Hospital emergency)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/magazines/career/Fulbright-scholars-feted_11990181 (Fulbright scholars feted)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Luke-Williams–moment-to-shine_12035947 (Luke Williams’ moment to shine)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120802/lead/lead5.html (Huge support for Mountain View special summer camp)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120803/social/social4.html (American Friends of Jamaica gives Cornwall Regional medical supplies)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20061127/flair/flair1.html (Marvin Hall’s Robotics Stimul-i)
The Petchary notes another birthday today: That of the man simply called “The Liberator.” Simon Bolivar was born in Caracas, Venezuela, on July 24, 1783. He died on December 17, 1830, after a long battle with tuberculosis, in Santa Marta, Colombia. Although his physical remains departed that place twelve years later, when he was returned to the land of his birth, there remains a beautiful, simple white monument to him in that place.
Sadly though, poor Bolivar is not allowed to rest quietly in his birthplace in 2010. Amidst the usual puffed-up pomposity and bristling of red berets, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez just had the poor General exhumed, in order to have his bones tested. There are rumors that he was assassinated and in fact died of slow arsenic poisoning.
Yes, the wicked Colombians killed him! As we know, Mr. Chavez’s socialist government just broke off diplomatic relations with Colombia. Coincidence! And what would the General think of this – a display of Latin American unity? He would be even more melancholy than he was in the beautiful, elegaic Marquez novel “The General in his Labyrinth.”
Of course, the important thing about Bolivar is that in fact, Chavez cannot claim him as his own. He is a truly transnational hero. He left his footprint in so many places in the Americas – including Jamaica. Sometimes he was tired and resting, sometimes defiant, sometimes victorious, sometimes defeated and fleeing.
In Jamaica, he was the latter; he rested here awhile in 1815 after heavy defeats, and gave himself some time to think. In his “Letter from Jamaica” Bolivar wrote: “A people that love freedom will in the end be free.” It was in Jamaica that his vision grew for a great, strong federation of Latin America, cutting the colonial shackles that tied it down. This is the kind of stuff that makes young women’s hearts swell, and the hairs at the back of young men’s necks stand up. (By the way, the Jamaica Information Service calls this famous document a “Letter to Jamaica.” Which wouldn’t make a lot of sense, would it). In fact, the letter was a reply to a Jamaican, and was subtitled rather elegantly, “Reply of a South American to a Gentleman of This Island.”
The statue below was given to Jamaica by the Bolivarian government of Venezuela. Thanks for that, Mr. Chavez.
“A people that love freedom.” It is the Petchary’s passionate hope that the people of Jamaica will themselves, one day, be free of the mental slavery that besets them. Yes, that same mental slavery that Marcus Garvey preached about and Bob Marley sang about.
Why did Bob Marley sing so much about freedom? Surely Jamaica was independent, emancipated, a sovereign state in the 1970s? But freedom – true Bolivarian-style liberation – is a thing of the mind as much as the body. As the General wrote in his Jamaican letter.
As Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha said, thousands of years ago, “Be a lamp unto yourself. Work out your liberation with diligence.”
Note: According to local historian Rebecca Tortello, Bolivar actually survived an assassination attempt here in Jamaica. His treacherous servant stabbed the wrong man, who happened to be sleeping in Bolivar’s hammock (no-one sleeps in hammocks any more do they? They are purely decorative).