What is Tambrin (Tamarind) Season? It is the time of year when Jamaica changes down to a low gear. After Christmas, businesses don’t do so well. People have no money in their pockets, and bills to pay. Jobs are fewer. Now, the tamarind is a delicious fruit that is not greatly used in Jamaican cuisine, unfortunately – except to make the delicious sweet/sour tamarind balls. There was quite a large tamarind tree near our house, which was cut down years ago to facilitate the building of yet another gated community. It bears from January to March, when other fruits are scarce. So, this is the season.
But in some areas, Jamaica has started its tambrin season in a far from low-key fashion. As I noted last week, the Jamaica Constabulary Force and Ministry of National Security kicked off 2013 with a veritable barrage of press releases, speeches and announcements. Unfortunately, it has been accompanied by a literal barrage of gunshots. The Jamaica Constabulary Force has killed eighteen civilians since the start of the year. This may actually exceed the number of murders in 2013 so far.
The latest was the killing of three men in upper St. Andrew, a mile or so from my house, yesterday morning. The word soon got around to avoid the area as gunshots had been heard. Two of the dead men were from the adjoining “inner city” area of Grants Pen – which has seen many troubles – and one was from an “upscale” area called Smokey Vale; one of the men was apparently his golf caddy. Now, of course all of these men may have been hardened “bad men” and they may have been carrying guns; but whether they were or not, why kill them? Oh yes, it was probably a “shootout” - the usual description of such an encounter between police and civilians (although, interestingly, it is extremely rare for a policeman to be injured, let alone killed in these alleged “shootouts.”) And the men were probably “wanted men.” We are always told that after their blood has already stained the sidewalk and their bodies have already been thrown into the back of a police jeep. They never got their day in court.
I shall leave it at that. Judge for yourself, dear reader. But please, let’s think about where we are going with all of this. If the police continues at the same rate, they will have dispatched 547 civilians by the end of 2013.
It was a sad week all round, actually. An eight-year-old girl was caught in gunfire while standing near a little shop near Duncans, Trelawny on Friday evening; she was killed, and three others injured. When it transpired that the girl was a British citizen, National Security Minister Peter Bunting immediately issued a press release expressing shock and regret. The little girl, a sickle cell sufferer, had been brought to Jamaica by relatives to get some warm weather (the cold affects sicklers very badly). How tragic. And how very sad, too, that Minister Bunting could not express the same kind of heartfelt regret at the murders of a humble, hard-working, middle-aged Jamaican couple who ran a shop in rural St. Mary, a few days earlier.
To me, the loss of each one of these lives is a tragedy: whether man or woman, child or adult, British or Jamaican, good citizen or “bad man.”
Meanwhile, with a remarkable lack of sensitivity in its headline, the Sunday Observer cries out today, “Who would kill this child?” with a photo of the adorable infant killed by her mother a few days ago. The media really needs to explore the issue of mental health in Jamaica. This is another one that has been pushed under the carpet over the years. The mother was likely suffering from postpartum depression and already had some problems. Her supportive partner had always ensured that she took her medication and recognized that her mental health had deteriorated, but it was still not enough. Sadly, many Jamaicans with mental health issues do not seek help, go untreated and are often ignored and/or stigmatized. I think the well-meaning Health Minister Fenton Ferguson is fully aware of the problem, and the current head of the Medical Association of Jamaica (MAJ) is a well-known psychiatrist. They need to work together on this one – a public awareness program on mental health would be a good way to start.
Which leads me straight into the next painful issue that I regret I must at least touch on today: the issue of children in adult prisons and lock-ups. I addressed this two days ago in a separate blog post. But last week, another girl at the Fort Augusta women’s prison attempted suicide. A couple of weeks before that, three girls were transferred from the maximum-security Horizon Remand Centre after they were suspected of planning to commit suicide by hoarding pills. In the face of the continued and unrelenting criticism of her performance as Youth and Culture Minister, the glamorous Ms. Hanna is today visiting the two prisons where children are kept behind bars, with the afore-mentioned MAJ head and other psychiatrists in tow. I hope – I truly do hope – that this is not a PR exercise or a photo-op (I am sure Ms. Hanna will be beautifully dressed. She always is). We await the results of this high-powered visit. And I hope this is not her first visit to the incarcerated children.
Another tactic that the lovely Minister Hanna has adopted within her Ministry was the topic of a Gleaner editorial yesterday. In order to counteract declining morale in the Ministry, Ms. Hanna brought in a religious person and many containers of salt. Yes, salt. I understand that salt has cleansing properties, and guards against bad luck. So, with a combination of organized religion and superstition, Ms. Hanna has sought to address the problems affecting her office. Perhaps, instead, she could have brought in a motivational speaker – you know, one of those upbeat people who have you all down on your knees or hopping around on one leg or something to get you inspired and motivated to work harder and love all your colleagues. Or bring in a counselor or two to have an open chat with the employees about the problems they are having. This story may well have been exaggerated – possibly circulated by someone who has a personal animus against Ms. Hanna. But if it is even remotely true, it raises the perennial question of the line between church and state. Why does religion – one particular religion, as we are told Jamaica is “predominantly” Christian – have to enter the workplace, meetings etc; and why, in particular, in a government office? (Oh, and is it true that each employee had to keep a container of salt on their desk?)
By the way, Ms. Hanna has reportedly never got back to Mustard Seed Communities, who immediately offered to assist with providing care and shelter for the imprisoned girls following the death of Vanessa Wint last November, and presented her with a proposal. Not a word.
Goodness me, I nearly forgot to give you a follow-up on the Prime Minister’s televised address, which took place one week ago. As I noted last week, anticipation began to soar ahead of the evening broadcast. I have posted the link again, below. The broadcast was partly a “report card” (that expression irritates me, not sure why) on the government’s first year in office. It was a list of notable (and some not so notable) achievements. But it appears that Jamaicans did not want to be told about how many tourist arrivals we are expecting from Russia; or even how many teachers were trained last year (are there jobs for them?) They wanted to hear about 1) how the talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are progressing; 2) what serious prospects there are for more jobs and 3) what is happening in the economy in general. There was some information (mostly already announced) about major infrastructural projects in the pipeline; an exhortation to “unite and build”; the inevitable Bible reference – Old Testament is always preferable; quotes from the lyrics of a Jimmy Cliff song; and even the oft-repeated platitude that “children are our future.” That was it. And in passing, the Prime Minister mentioned that the Jamaican Dollar slipped, and the Net International Reserves “dipped.” Did this happen all by itself, Madam Prime Minister? They just decided to slip and dip?
Despite party loyalist Delano Franklyn’s valiant efforts to defend the Prime Minister’s address, the fact is that it went down like a lead balloon. Not only among the general public, but in the private sector sphere. Head of the powerful Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) Christopher Zacca made a hard-hitting speech following the address, during which he referred to what he called a “seemingly unexplainable lack of widespread public discourse by the Government, Prime Minister and other members of the Cabinet” on the details of the IMF situation. And Mr. Zacca believes that going ahead without such an agreement “risks plunging us into the abyss…” You can see the link to the full text of his speech, below.
Poor Portia. Everything about her address was up for criticism – even her yellow attire (daffodil yellow was the “Portia color“ adopted by her supporters during election campaigns). But instead of taking it on the chin, as every politician and public figure around the world has to do, our Prime Minister decided to “fight back” (to use a favorite media expression) at what she called her “naysayers” and “detractors” in her address. And she should not have gone down that road. Next time, perhaps, she will be calling her critics “haters.” Anyway, in a speech a few days later, Ms. Simpson Miller told us that she does not watch the television news; she has others (including her husband) to do that. Why? Because she wants to “remain positive.”
This, of course, made matters worse.
Meanwhile, the Cabinet went into a three-day retreat this week. In a huge effort to communicate, it has been issuing regular bulletins about the excellent progress made. The Prime Minister and other ministers are to inform us all tomorrow on what was decided, and what is the way forward. We eagerly await this press briefing, and the subsequent actions.
By the way, if you have ventured downtown, you may observe that things are pretty chaotic. Not only is the long-running lack of garbage collection a major issue there and around the country; but something has gone wrong with the street vendors. Since Christmas, the seemingly desperate vendors have been throwing down their goods on the sidewalk. They have been playing a cat and mouse game with the police, who have been called in to deal with them. A somewhat heavy-handed approach, one might think, to a situation which has already got out of hand. I can see the thinly veiled desperation in the faces of the vendors when they speak on television. They have pickney going to school, they say. They didn’t do well over the festive season. Nevertheless… there must be some order. A plan. Something, Madam Mayor?
A couple more things: Nationwide News Network reporter George Davis wrote in his regular Gleaner column about the way in which hours are wasted by lazy employees in the public sector. He was, he said, speaking from his own experience and observations as a former employee. The column made me laugh, but had a depressing ring of truth to it. It is all about productivity, a topic not regularly referred to in discussions on the economy. As one caller to a radio talk show questioned, how come we have 37,000 farmers in Jamaica, and agriculture only contributes six per cent to our Gross Domestic Product?
When a country has more weighty political, economic and social matters to address, environmental issues tend to get left behind. But I was most disturbed to hear that an exporter had forty containers full of charcoal ready to ship? The Jamaica Environment Trust has raised the alarm on this, and the National Environment & Planning Agency (NEPA) has, to its credit, stepped in to prevent this ever happening again. I have been quite impressed by comments made by NEPA head Peter Knight, backed by the Forestry Department, on this issue. NEPA has written to the Customs Department asking them to prevent this shipment. Hopefully this is one thing that will be nipped in the bud.
And on a more “positive” note, to quote the Prime Minister:
I am so happy to hear that the dreaded Lionfish, which has been plaguing our waters and gobbling up all our native fish, is now on the decline along our north and north-west coasts. Congratulations to the University of the West Indies Discovery Bay Marine Laboratory and Field Station and Sandals Resorts, who are at the forefront of the battle against this invasive species, supported by non-governmental organizations such as the Caribbean Coastal Area Conservation Foundation (C-CAM).
I like the political commentary of the Gleaner’s Gary Spaulding. Please see the link below. He gets to the heart of things. (And is the Prime Minister’s problem that she is getting bad advice from a multitude of advisers? Astute commentator and former Opposition minister Christopher Tufton seems to think so).
Mr. Usain Bolt says he is not tired of receiving all kinds of awards. On Friday night, he and Ms. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce received RJR’s prestigious Sportsman and Sportswoman of the Year Awards – predictably, and most deservedly. We are very proud of them both not only for their achievements, but for being such decent, warm-hearted individuals. I totally love them (teenage expression!)
Well, so ends the second week of 2013. I am really, really hoping for better in the second half of this month.
P.S. A deejay called Dillinger did a great song called “Tambrin’ Season,” if you enjoy a bit of dub as I do.
P.P.S. My friend, author, social media expert and businesswoman extraordinaire Marcia Forbes just suggested that I do my weekly blog in two parts. It’s a bit long, isn’t it? I will start doing that next week, I think.
Finally, as always, my deepest condolences to the family and friends of all those who lost their lives violently this week. Words cannot express the grief and suffering.
Larry Chin, 47, May Pen, Clarendon
Anthony Rambalam, 53, Rosemount/Linstead, St. Catherine
Ivey Rambalam, 52, Rosemount/Linstead, St. Catherine
Imani Green, 8, British citizen, Red Dirt/Duncans, Trelawny
Peter Maxwell, teenager, Savannah-la-Mar, Westmoreland
Unidentified man, Belvedere, Hanover
Killed by security forces (I am sorry, this list is not 100% accurate; any corrections welcome. I simply lost track):
Jermaine Campbell, Whithorn District, Westmoreland
3 unidentified men, May Pen, Clarendon
Agronomy District, Clarendon
Rivoli, St. Catherine
Duncan’s Pen, St. Catherine
Unidentified man, Bartons, St. Catherine
Unidentified man, Port Henderson Road, Portmore, St. Catherine
Unidentified man, Port Henderson Road, Portmore, St. Catherine
Kenrick Morris, 28, Lilliput, St. James
Eucliffe Dyer, Arcadia Drive, Kingston 8
“Ratty,” Arcadia Drive, Kingston 8
Matthew Lee, Arcadia Drive, Kingston 8
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/letters/The-reality-of-Jamaica-s-debt-crisis_13350521 (The reality of Jamaica’s debt crisis: Jamaica Observer editorial)
http://www.caribjournal.com/2013/01/11/dennis-chung-avoiding-economic-and-social-decline-in-jamaica/ (Avoiding economic and social decline in Jamaica: Dennis Chung/Carib Journal)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130110/cleisure/cleisure4.html (Human rights just as important as IMF: Jaevion Nelson op-ed/Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=42191 (Police kill ten civilians in ten days: Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130113/lead/lead2.html (Cops kill eighteen in twelve days: Sunday Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120307/lead/lead3.html (Police killings spark outrage: Gleaner, March 7, 2012)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/INDECOM-jump-starts-cold-case-files_13362585 (INDECOM jump starts cold case files: Sunday Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Grief-in-Rosemount-as-residents-mourn-murder-of-couple_13351587 (Grief in Rosemount as residents mourn murder of couple: Observer)
http://go-jamaica.com/news/read_article.php?id=42182 (Long-awaited Tivoli report ready: Gleaner/Power 106 FM)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/yale-students-file-suit-against-dea-to-release-tivoli-tapes (Yale students file suit against DEA to release Tivoli tapes: RJR News)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Gang-feud-puts-Tivoli-Gardens-on-edge_13346079 (Gang feud puts Tivoli Gardens on edge: Jamaica Observer)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/grieving-mother-still-hopes-for-justice (Grieving mother still hopes for justice: RJR)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/letters/Melvin-Chung-s-death-goes-deep_13339337 (Melvin Chung’s death goes deep: Letter to Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/How-could-anyone-kill-this-baby- (How could anyone kill this baby? Sunday Observer)
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-21002359 (Imani Green Jamaica killing: “Happy girl,” eight, shot dead: BBC News)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/-We-are-still-waiting-_13346061 (“We are still waiting: Government yet to take up Mustard Seed’s offer: Jamaica Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130112/cleisure/cleisure1.html (How much religion is too much? Gleaner editorial)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/list/32668 (National Broadcast by Prime Minister Simpson Miller: Jamaica Information Service)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130113/letters/letters4.html (Disillusioned by Prime Minister’s address: Letter to the Sunday Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Vision-and-strategy-are-still-misunderstood_13358995 (Vision and strategy are still misunderstood: James Moss-Solomon column/Sunday Observer)
http://www.televisionjamaica.com/Programmes/PrimeTimeNews.aspx/Videos/23431 (Television Jamaica’s Bite of the Week: Portia Simpson Miller)
http://www.cvmtv.com/videos_1.php?id=591§ion=watch (CVM Television News Watch: January 9, 2013)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/list/32720 (Good progress made at Special Meeting of the Cabinet, says PM Simpson Miller: Jamaica Information Service)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130113/cleisure/cleisure1.html (Cabinet must be ready to “re-retreat”: Sunday Gleaner editorial)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130113/cleisure/cleisure3.html (Political turning points: column by Gary Spaulding/Sunday Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130113/focus/focus5.html (Fumbling Portia should loosen grip of political advisers: op-ed by Christopher Tufton/Sunday Gleaner)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/list/32704 (Leaders to pray for more love on January 17: Jamaica Information Service)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=42216 (Prison officials confirm ward’s suicide attempt: Gleaner)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/youth-minister-to-lead-visit-to-prisons (Youth Minister to lead visit to prisons: RJR News)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130113/lead/lead4.html (Grading the Cabinet – responses: Sunday Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130109/cleisure/cleisure2.html (In the office but not on the job: George Davis op-ed/Gleaner)
http://www.psoj.org/files/s_to_the_Lions_Club_of_Kingston__2013_01_09_.pdf (Address by PSOJ President Christopher Zacca to Lion’s Club, January 9, 2013)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/ocgs-utterances-could-damage-countrys-image-atkinson (OCG’s utterances could damage country’s image – Atkinson: RJR News)
http://www.og.nr/rbt/11035-dean-of-discipline-at-rusea-s-high-chopped-during-attack.html (Dean of Discipline at Rusea’s High chopped during attack: On the Ground News Reports)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130109/letters/letters1.html (Chavez no paragon of virtue: Letter to the Editor/Gleaner)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/list/32694 (U.S. solar technology company to employ Jamaicans: Jamaica Information Service)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/-We-are-going-to-lose-our-forests-_13355374 (“We are going to lose our forests”: Jamaica Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=42202 (Environmental group concerned about charcoal exports: Gleaner)
I skipped last week’s post, and to be honest don’t feel we have missed very much. No dramatic developments, but a lot of “hot air” - which is not unusual in Jamaica, of course. And Christmas approacheth. Hence the stupor, perhaps.
The most loquacious Minister in the current Cabinet, Education Minister Ronald Thwaites, barely paused for breath – or rather, took a deep breath and plunged into a new round of announcements, clarifications and explanations. Very much a mixed bag, these turned out to be. The results of an inspection of 135 primary and secondary schools by the National Education Inspectorate were, to put it bluntly, dismal. Many school boards were also found to be “unsatisfactory.” And while it was disturbing to hear that in one third of the schools “the quality of educational inputs was rated as unsatisfactory,” the report that “safety, security, health and well-being were rated as unsatisfactory in 34 per cent of the schools inspected” is also very concerning. This means that there are, indeed, management issues at these schools; and the boards, often including “politically connected” people, seem to be a major problem. I am not sure how Minister Thwaites is going to deal with this, without serious, and perhaps unwanted intervention by himself personally. But something is deeply wrong, and this is impacting the education of our children.
And then there is the issue of Dr. Doeford Shirley, Director of the National College of Educational Leadership, which is supposed to train school principals (clearly an important task). Dr. Shirley, who gave up a job in the United States to take up the position, has been very vocal in the media for the past several weeks, claiming that Minister Thwaites has overlooked him. Dr. Shirley refuses to shut up or resign.
Now, after a little over a year, Minister Thwaites has declared the ASTEP program, which targets students who have failed the Grade Four Literacy Test, a failure. The program began in September 2011 under the previous Jamaica Labour Party administration, and changes will need to be made, says the former talk show host.
Then, startlingly, Minister Thwaites commented at one of his frequent press conferences that the government will not have any more teaching jobs to offer, apart from those made vacant by retirees, because we “simply do not have the space.” Brows were wrinkled, and then a ministry official murmured, “fiscal space.” In other words, the Government cannot afford to employ any more teachers. What about all the teachers graduating from teachers’ colleges in Jamaica, then? What are they to do? And meanwhile, Minister Thwaites’ senior adviser does not appear to be at all popular with members of the Jamaica Teachers’ Association.
Dear, oh dear. There have also been internal rumblings in the Ministry of Agriculture, but I won’t bore you with the details. Politics, personalities… so what is new. A tremendous, perhaps excessive amount of media attention was paid to this, and to other matters of little apparent worth, over the past two weeks. Somehow I feel we are missing the bigger picture.
And I confess to not feeling reassured by comments the Finance Minister Peter Phillips made during the past week; in fact, I am finding his words hard to interpret. In September, as one radio station noted, Minister Phillips told us that there was “no sticking point” during the ongoing, highly sensitive discussions with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Now, from what we can tell, there seem to be a couple of such sticky areas: namely, the issue of tax waivers, and how the government proposes to handle its enormous debt. I suspect I am not the only one who is just…not clear on what is really happening. The print media appears, for the most part, to be pretending that one of those dear sweet elephants in the room does not exist. This week, the elephant has a big sign dangling round his neck, bearing the immortal Clintonian words: “It’s the Economy, Stupid.” We are left wondering a) whether the IMF agreement will be signed before the end of December, as the Minister says it will; and b) whether it will be signed at all. And then, if not signed, then what? one or two journalists are cautiously asking.
Are we enlightened? No, and the media is not helping much. The Sunday Observer, to give but one of many examples, chose to print an article about competitive bird-watching in Peru on its business pages. I mean, that has got to be more relevant, right? And it’s so much easier to tuck the bad economic news away in the business pages, because no one reads those.
One financial analyst on radio (thank God for radio!) observed that the tone of Minister Phillips’ comments, his oblique references to “sovereignty” etc., were “more bluster than reality,” and that the cold reality of the IMF will win in the end. Is this true? I don’t know what to say. The reporting on this entire IMF issue has been, to my mind, so inadequate and the Minister’s pronouncements so infrequent and so vague that I cannot do anything but sit down and wait and see, like everyone else. While the Jamaican Dollar slides to 92 or 93 to the U.S. Dollar. And while public sector workers are restless over the likelihood that their wages will not be unfrozen for the next two years or so. There will be more, much more on this in due course. Hopefully, all will be revealed, clarified and sorted out – but meanwhile, it is all hanging like a very uncomfortable cloud over the new year; and the Minister’s vague, and at the same time emphatic, pronouncements do not help. By the way, what is the Prime Minister‘s role supposed to be in all this – if any? Can we expect her to explain the IMF situation? The answer to these questions sums up the prevailing feeling about the economy: I don’t know. We don’t know.
The horror of the Newtown massacre of women and small children in the United States sparked much discussion on the radio talk shows. One woman called in to say that this event shows that “Jamaica is a God-blessed country, because things like that don’t happen here.” No, my dear, but Jamaica still has the third highest number of homicides in the world. Blessed, indeed. The Prime Minister issued a statement expressing her condolences and regret at the deaths of the innocent young American children. This sparked a flurry of irritation from Jamaican tweeters, who asked why the Prime Minister had not sought it necessary to express regret about the many children murdered throughout the year, almost on a weekly basis, here in Jamaica. Or condolences to the family of Vanessa Wint (who allegedly committed suicide) – an “uncontrollable” child in an adult prison.
One more thing… We all love development, don’t we? And doesn’t our Government just love big projects? Well, the highway linking the north and south coasts – and bypassing the often-treacherous Mount Rosser road – was inaugurated recently with grand speeches, balloons and the Chinese. Now there are voices of concern – namely Professor Simon Mitchell, a geologist at the University of the West Indies, and environmental activist Diana McCaulay. It is all a case of “sloppy planning,” they suggest. The highway, in three legs, crosses a clear and well-known earthquake fault and crosses “weak and fractured limestone” that you can thrust a machete into. The proper assessments of the geology of the area have not been done, says Professor Mitchell. And, in future, he suggests, “for every major infrastructure project, there MUST be an independent geological survey to identify the problems associated with the project and mitigate the impacts.” By the way, the Jamaican Government is making a large piece of land available – that is giving this land to China Harbour for development. This was apparently not included in the Environmental Impact Assessment. And why are we giving large tracts of land to the Chinese to do whatever they want with it?
There are murmurings, now, that the Prime Minister needs to take a good look at her Cabinet with a view to making some changes. The marvelously sharp broadcaster Dionne Jackson-Miller addressed the issue of a “score card” for Jamaican ministers of government in her weekly television show “All Angles” (Dionne can be heard on the evening prime time current affairs program “Beyond the Headlines.” She also writes a provocative blog on topical issues (http://newsandviewsbydjmillerja.wordpress.com) and one on legal issues (http://djmillerja.wordpress.com). You can watch the program at the link below. Very interesting. And wonderful to see young Maurice Smith giving his opinion. I first met Maurice when he was a student at Manchester High School and standout winner of one of the U.S. Embassy’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Essay competitions. He is going from strength to strength and I’m proud of him!)
Do we have to? Self-styled ladies’ man and champion athlete Asafa Powell is determined to stay in the limelight. He is now going to be an advice columnist on “style, fitness and relationships” in the Observer’s weekly All Woman supplement. Is he actually qualified in any way to dish out advice in the first and third of these areas? And can he please lose that beard? Please, Asafa, I beg yuh!
Not to be outdone, the Gleaner’s Flair magazine last week focused on what it called “Media Mummies,” who we are told have all “whipped their bodies back into shape.” I cringed and quickly turned the pages. Yes, you can see I am not a great fan of the women’s supplements.
Congratulations to Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ), who last week received a “special mention” as runners-up to the Prix des droits de l’homme de la République Française (Human Rights Prize of the French Republic) for 2012. Perhaps, one day, JFJ might receive a prize from its own Jamaican government for its untiring work on behalf of the citizens of Jamaica. But that would be too much to expect, eh? JFJ held a public forum – broadcast live on the always-supportive Nationwide News Network – on Human Rights Day, and their excellent column on the topic can be read here: http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Another-way-is-possible_13216866?fb_ref=storypage. Yes, another way to treat our children in state care is, indeed possible. Do read it.
And someone else got an award! The National Housing Trust (NHT) presented their inaugural award for reporting on sustainable development and affordable housing to Nationwide News Network’s George Davis. TVJ’s Dara Smith and Irie FM’s Natalie Campbell were second and third, respectively. Congrats to all, and to the NHT for this great concept!
The Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG) celebrated its fourteenth anniversary on December 10, World Human Rights Day. I will be writing more about the events of that day in a “soon-come” blog post, but want to raise a toast to J-FLAG. Like other organizations in Jamaica that stand up for the rights of the people, they suffer enormous hostility, threats and utter disdain. I admire them enormously. I hope that one day the “penny will drop” and that Jamaicans will actually understand what human rights – and in particular, the rights of minorities – actually mean. Before it’s too late, and theirs are taken away completely.
Meanwhile, I am not sure if anyone noticed, but Professor Hopeton Dunn launched his book “Ringtones of Opportunity” (clever title) on the enormous potential of Information & Communication Technology (ICT) in the Caribbean, at the University of the West Indies. I must get my hands on a copy. The head of the recently-established Business Processing Industry Association of Jamaica, Yoni Epstein, had some strong words to say about the need for Jamaica to provide much more physical space for call centers and other IT-related businesses (one reason why the U.S. firm Convergys has delayed its investment in Jamaica) and for much more robust training in this area. Over to you, Minister Paulwell…
I am handing out some awards – you could call them Dubious Distinctions – as follows:
Special Prize for the Most Appearances on Television Prime Time News: Hon. Ronald Thwaites, Minister of Education
Special Prize for Keeping Its Mouth Shut: The Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (with the recent exception of Finance Spokesman Audley Shaw)
Honorable Mention for Reading Out Speeches Very Nicely: Most Hon. Portia Simpson Miller, Prime Minister
P.S. The op-ed in today’s Sunday Gleaner, by Javed Jaghai, an openly gay Jamaican, is a must-read. Discrimination, bigotry and the endless tirades against and persecution of homosexuals in Jamaica is, again, part of a bigger picture that many Jamaicans choose not to see – especially the fundamentalist Christians who shout in our ears all the time. As Mr. Jaghai puts it, “No Jamaican should have to wait for justice, because every human life is equally valuable.” He condemns not only the stone-throwers, but also those who by their “silence and apathy” allow the situation whereby marginalized groups are treated as less than human to continue. As the African American activist James Baldwin wrote to Angela Davis during the days of the civil rights movement, “If they take you in the morning, they will be coming for us that night.”
None of us are immune. Treat your Jamaican brothers and sisters as you would have them treat you, this Christmas time. Isn’t that the Christian philosophy, or did I get that wrong?
Until next week…
My deepest sympathies go out to the families and friends of the following Jamaican citizens, who were murdered between December 3 and December 16, 2012. I know that there are quite a few “unidentified” but have been unable to find their names – but these were definitely reported. My apologies for this…
Odale Planter, 13, Osbourne Store, Clarendon (student of Vere Technical High School)
Roy Beckford, JP, 67, Molynes Road, Kingston
Ricardo Williams, 26, Osbourne Store, Clarendon
Steve Huggan, 35, Clarendon
Kevin Mattis, 40, Constant Spring, Kingston
Tony Jackson, 29, Drews Hill, Hanover
Pauline Israel, 62, St. John’s Road/Spanish Town, St. Catherine
Anthony Robinson, 17, Portmore, St. Catherine
Eric Francis, 50, Portmore, St. Catherine
Dwayne Messam, 30, Spanish Town, St. Catherine
Unidentified man, Ewarton, St. Catherine
Unidentified woman, Ewarton, St. Catherine
Unidentified man, Ewarton, St. Catherine
André Walters, 17, Johnson Pen, St. Catherine (Student of HEART Trust/NTA)
Unidentified man, Lakes Pen, St. Catherine
Unidentified man, Lakes Pen, St. Catherine
Jaseth Rose, 24, Montpelier, St. James
Unidentified man, Montego Bay, St. James
Killed by the police:
Chanderpaul Crawford, 16, Yallahs, St. Thomas
Oshane Brown, 28, May Pen, Clarendon
Mark Warren, 40, Nain, St. Elizabeth
Unidentified man, Port Antonio, Portland
Unidentified man, Osbourne Store, Clarendon
Unidentified man, Osbourne Store, Clarendon
Unidentified man, Spanish Town, St. Catherine
http://rjrnewsonline.com/business/jamaica-seeks-partnership-to-increase-ict-space (Jamaica seeks partnership to increase ICT space: RJR News)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/business/-BPO-sector-crying-for-help-_13152564 (“BPO sector crying for help”: Jamaica Observer)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/public-sector-not-backing-down-from-wage-claims (Public sector not backing down from wage claims: RJR News)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/naj-calls-emergency-meeting-to-discuss-wages (NAJ calls emergency meeting to discuss wages: RJR News)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/businesses-jittery-as-dollar-sinks-to-record-low (Businesses jittery as dollar sinks to record low: RJR News)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/business/Private-sector-must-play-godfather-role–says-Phillips_13211246 (Private sector must play godfather role, says Phillips: Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/list/32474 (Work on Mount Rosser bypass resumes January: Jamaica Information Service)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121212/cleisure/cleisure4.html (North-South highway link: should we brace for disaster? Op-ed by Professor Simon Mitchell/Jamaica Gleaner)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/list/32561 (Prime Minister saddened by Connecticut massacre: Jamaica Information Service)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads/32559 (Citizens and police benefit from youth leadership program: Jamaica Information Service)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/ja-civil-society-coalition-steps-up-pressure-on-public-defender (Ja. Civil Society Coalition steps up pressure on Public Defender: RJR News)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121206/lead/lead4.html#.UMCh_8ASwps.facebook (Tivoli report in two weeks: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/jfj-criticizes-hannas-response-to-children-in-lock-ups (JFJ criticizes Hanna’s response to children in lock-ups: RJR News)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/JFJ-awarded-French-medal_13203295 (JFJ awarded French medal: Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/list/32455 (Justice system must safeguard children’s rights: Jamaica Information Service)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads/32543 (Issues affecting children in state care to be discussed: Jamaica Information Service)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/thwaites-announces-overhaul-in-school-board-appointments (Thwaites announces overhaul in school board appointments: RJR News)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/I-wont-resign- (Sidelined educator defiant, goes to war with government: Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/list/32536 (Education Minister says changes coming: Jamaica Information Service)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Thwaites–Results-of-NEI-primary-schools-survey-mediocre_13195168 (Results of NEI primary schools survey mediocre: Jamaica Observer)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/shootout-in-port-antonio (Shootout in Port Antonio: RJR News)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/policeman-injured-during-new-kingston-shootout (Policeman injured during New Kingston shootout: RJR News)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/-Murder-most-foul-_13144663 (Murder most foul: Mark Wignall column/Jamaica Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121215/letters/letters4.html (Government must protect citizens: Letter/Gleaner)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/cop-accused-of-corruption-on-million-dollar-bail (Cop accused of corruption on million-dollar bail: RJR News)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121215/cleisure/cleisure1.html (Those with clean hands, show them: Gleaner editorial)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/police-making-progress-in-corruption-fight (Police making progress in corruption fight: RJR News)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121216/cleisure/cleisure3.html (Gay agenda part of wider fight for justice: Javed Jaghai op-ed/Jamaica Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121216/ent/ent1.html (Gay rights group bats for reformed dancehall artistes: Sunday Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121215/letters/letters1.html (A land where pleasure abounds: Letter/Jamaica Gleaner)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/list/32524 (Governor General endorses project in Westmoreland to help persons with HIV/AIDS: Jamaica Information Service)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Refurbished-Redemption-Arcade-handed-over-to-KSAC_13217393 (Refurbished Redemption Arcade handed over to KSAC: Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Hanover-Infirmary-gets-Christmas-help (Hanover Infirmary gets Christmas help: Jamaica Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121216/focus/focus1.html (Don’t mess with the press? Media mollycoddle Big Business and dodge the bullet of regulation: Ian Boyne column/Sunday Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Journalism-in-the-public-interest_13212093 (Journalism in the public interest: Claude Robinson column/Sunday Observer)
http://www.televisionjamaica.com/Programmes/AllAngles.aspx/Videos/22825 (All Angles on “Assessing the Performance of Cabinet”/TVJ)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121209/cleisure/cleisure1.html (Do some house cleaning, Prime Minister: Gleaner editorial)
Sunday Notes: December 2, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)
For Human Rights Day 2012; A Challenge, an Invitation, and an Anniversary (petchary.wordpress.com)
It’s Getting Beta: Young Tech Entrepreneurs in Jamaica (petchary.wordpress.com)
A Great “Dig” for Jamaican Bloggers (petchary.wordpress.com)
Sunday Elephants: November 11, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)
Tivoli Gardens: On May 24, 2010, The People were “Deading” (petchary.wordpress.com)
Two elephants are standing in Jamaica’s living room right now. They are growing so large that we have had to move out most of the furniture. The last item we will remove will be the cosy armchair with the nice soft cushions. It will be hard for Jamaica to let that one go – it’s just so comfortable.
The two elephants are called Economy and Crime.
But dears – forgive us, there have been so many distractions over the past few months…In roughly chronological order: Jamaica 50; the London Olympics and its aftermath, which occupied us for a couple of months; Hurricane Sandy; and in the past week, the U.S. elections! Our Jamaican political analysts waxed lyrical on election night. I must confess that we were also glued to our television set, heart in mouth, on the edge of our seat; and then basking in the euphoria of President Obama’s win. We had to stay up for his stirring victory speech. Well, the elections blanketed the Jamaican media, with every radio and television station worth its salt running a “U.S. election special.” I get the feeling that Jamaicans find the U.S. vote more exciting, absorbing and inspiring than their own elections – its entertainment value is higher as it is at a distance, I suppose. And although most commentators agreed that the result would have very little impact on Jamaica per se, they still devoted many hours on TV and radio and many column inches to discussing it. For several days.
I repeat: the two elephants are called Economy and Crime. The politicians (and the print media) are trying their best to avoid discussing these two highly intelligent – and very large – animals. Only our diligent broadcast media and our talk show hosts, antennae waving in the cool winter breeze, seem to have picked up on the first elephant. No one pointed to the second one, although there was much focus on the white-collar variety. On the white-collar front we seem to have had mixed results, and success in some quarters. And yet the list of names at the end of my weekly post shows no sign of growing shorter (the numbers only fell during the week of Hurricane Sandy). Of course, those aren’t white-collar. Those are the “working class.”
Have I missed something, or have the media released the murder statistics for, say, September or October? If not, why not? By my count, fifteen Jamaicans have been murdered in the past week, as of 6:00 p.m. on Saturday – plus two brothers killed by the police. By tomorrow morning, there will likely be two or three more homicides (and I can now confirm that, as of Sunday lunchtime). You might think I am obsessed, but perhaps that’s because our local media is hardly talking about it. It seems to be a “given” – like our deteriorating economic outlook – just the norm. The print media studiously avoid reporting daily murders, unless it is something particularly egregious.
Meanwhile the police are seeking men with curious names like “Weed Seed,” “Duppy Film,” “Eggy” and “Wasp” (wasps bite harder than bees in Jamaica). Maybe they have “handed themselves in” to the police, by now. If not, they know what they might expect.
Before I go any further, a quick word – well, just a short rant – on the print media. I would like to suggest, seriously, that one of our daily national newspapers should simply become a lifestyle magazine – advertising a specific lifestyle: that of standing around at uptown cocktail parties with glasses in hand, or sitting in a restaurant, wearing the latest fashions, with one’s “BFF” (dresses exposing one shoulder seem to be de rigueur at the moment). There is an obsession with food and drink, and women in short skirts and high heels. All these people are grinning away happily, while the rest of the island struggles with floods and homeless people, sending their children to school without breakfast, and those little everyday injustices that don’t affect the grinning ones at all. They just want to get their pictures in the ever-expanding social pages. Oh, and the Saturday edition should just call itself “Hair and Nails,” or something similar.
Listen, I don’t want to sound churlish. Nothing wrong with having fun. And Jamaicans certainly know how to party! It’s the Fun Island!
Thank God for radio, which does try to tackle real issues seriously (to be fair though, the Gleaner has been putting some adrenalin-packed punches in their editorials lately…) A man who is fast becoming my favorite radio talk show host, Mr. Ronald Mason of Nationwide News Network, commented last week, “Why is there no sense of urgency?” Mr. Mason is gruff and blunt, with a touch of humor; he does not countenance the unofficial spokesmen/women for either party, who are always seeking a foothold in the talk shows. No propaganda for him. He reminds me of the late and much-revered Wilmot Perkins, whom we all miss dearly (but who could have been accused of bias at times). Mr. Mason used the word “autopilot” to describe the current state of our governance; and I have used this word myself in the past. “This country is in a financial crisis,” he insists, adding that “the people need to know” what is going on in the economy. Where is our growth plan? What is our job creation plan (no, not “JEEP”)? Where is our vision, our future?
And yet the newspapers’ Friday financial pages barely referred to the following facts that were revealed this week:
- Jamaica’s Net International Reserves have lost US$833 million this year and are now at their lowest level for ten years (US$1.1 billion), with thirteen weeks’ worth of U.S. Dollars remaining;
- Financial Secretary Wesley Hughes (the chief civil servant in that Ministry) is resigning – so far as I know, we do not know when, or why;
- The head of the Planning Institute of Jamaica, a key government agency, is resigning – Dr. Gladstone Hutchinson was on secondment from a teaching post in the U.S., but still not great news;
- Jamaican dollar bonds performed the worst out of fifteen Central American and Caribbean nations in October, with interest rates rising to over eight per cent.
There has been precious little comment from our political leaders, too – apart from the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), whose voice does not resonate strongly in the media at the moment. Broadcaster Cliff Hughes interviewed former Finance Minister Audley Shaw on the whole situation, and did not let him off the hook; the thing is, there has been foot-dragging and failure to step up to the plate in both administrations. The head of the JLP’s G2K young professionals, Floyd Green, suggested that “we are at a standstill” in our discussions with the International Monetary Fund. Is this really true? What is the true status of the IMF discussions, as of now? Or are we just waiting to hear something?
Only one Sunday newspaper column focused on Jamaica’s economic muddle; it is written by a Jamaican who does not live here, interestingly – a member of the so-called diaspora. Mr. David Mullings writes, “If we believe that Jamaica will be better off in a generation based on the current path, then we too are in denial.” The other Sunday opinion makers write about everything from (mostly) Obama to CARICOM to a trade agreement on rum – all of academic interest, if truth be told.
According to Bloomberg this week, a senior economist at JP Morgan asked the question: “How much longer can Jamaica muddle through this with virtually no growth?” Answers, please, Minister of Finance (they didn’t answer Bloomberg’s phone calls or emails, it is reported). With Belize and Grenada already there, will Jamaica be the next Caribbean country to default on its debt?
I am sorry. Too many questions. One major issue that the print media did a good job of reporting this week has been the terrifying, and seemingly intractable, issue of the lottery scam. Where will it end, one wonders. Alarming reports have emerged of the use of Jamaica’s humble postal service as a method of smuggling in the proceeds of the scam. The scale of all of this (which may be only the tip of the iceberg, who knows?) is frightening. Even more disturbing is the Jamaican government’s seeming inability to tackle this disgraceful state of affairs decisively. It has been said over and over that new legislation is urgently required to deal with the problem. It has not been forthcoming, although the government would like us to believe that they are taking it seriously. And how long has it been? Two years? Three years? The “lotto scam” has grown into a kind of monster – like the one in the sci-fi movie “Alien,” which feeds off humans and grows increasingly vicious and bloodthirsty. If you can bring yourself to read it, the Sunday Gleaner report below gives some idea of the scope of this nightmare that won’t go away.
The lotto scam was the focus of a recently published report by the very credible local think tank, the Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CaPRI). Unfortunately, CaPRI has not yet posted any information on their website (http://capricaribbean.org) that I can refer you to.
And then there is credit card fraud.
With the usual huffing and puffing of hot air, the Upper House unanimously passed regulations governing casino gambling on Friday. One Senator made an enormous issue out of the word “gaming” as opposed to “gambling.” I suppressed a groan. There are all types of gambling/gaming going on all over Jamaica already. Pontificating won’t make any difference.
And let’s not forget… Thousands of Jamaicans – yes the poor ones out in the “bush” – are still suffering from the after-effects of Hurricane Sandy. The media has not forgotten this, to give them their due. There are a few thousand still without power, as the Jamaica Public Service Company struggles to reach them on damaged roads. Some are still in shelters. Others are still suffering from really bad weather, which has persisted in the past few days in some parts of the island. Yesterday, almost the entire town of Port Maria was flooded after heavy showers; the north-east corner of the island is being battered by rain and wind as I write. It’s not over yet. Perhaps the Prime Minister could venture out at some point in the next few days to show a little sympathy and to promise succor and relief. Something could be arranged. And I am sure that a few of those famous hugs would do the trick.
Talking of St. Mary, I must hand out some major kudos to the Jamaica National Building Society for their outreach to this particular community in St. Mary, through a residents’ forum, over this weekend. St. Mary is reportedly the poorest parish in Jamaica – beautiful, and under-developed. Congratulations to Mr. Earl Jarrett and his dedicated team on their Disaster Recovery Program, with the theme “Leading with Action.” Just what we need.
“Big ups,” too, to the medical team of the California-based Integrative Clinics International, which visited the birthplace of Bob Marley (Nine Miles, St. Ann) to provide free health care to the residents of the small rural community. The volunteer doctors and nurses paid their own way to Jamaica. I am glad they had the support of Ziggy Marley’s Unlimited Resources Giving Enlightenment (URGE) Foundation and the Bob Marley Foundation (Ziggy is my favorite Marley, after Bob of course).
I have felt a surge of sympathy for the hard-working Mr. Errol Greene, Town Clerk at the Kingston & St. Andrew Corporation. His job is not an easy one. His somewhat battered-looking visage and his air of patience and determination, are quite endearing. On a regular basis, he dons his hard hat and marches out into the downtown area, ready to do battle with strident illegal vendors, who don’t go lightly. I am sure he has security back-up; but his job must be one of the most stressful in the city. Nevertheless, he aways has a twinkle in his eye. Cheers, Mr. Greene, and keep up the good work!
There is a Japanese expression “ganbatte!” which means “Keep going/don’t give up!” I would like to say this to Mr. Justin Felice, the former anti-corruption man in the police force who now heads our Financial Investigation Division; Ms. Leesa Kow, president of the Jamaica Money Remitters Association; Superintendent Leon Clunis, head of the Anti-Lottery Scam Task Force in the Jamaica Constabulary Force; Postmaster General Michael Gentles, and all those engaged in the fight against the scammers, who have caused untold suffering in Jamaica and the United States. Mr. Felice and the others are working so hard to combat this scourge; they need the support of political leaders. Once again, the Jamaica National Building Society has supported their efforts and held its second forum “to discuss strategies in support of Government and private sector initiatives to eradicate the lottery scam and address its impact on security, trade and foreign relations” this week. Well done, Mr. Jarrett et al.
And that brings us full circle to the issues of the economy and crime: how can we expect foreigners and others to invest in a country where a segment of the population has been working to swindle and rob overseas citizens of their savings (there have been some suicides, by the way)? And where so many Jamaicans are being slaughtered, week in, week out? Let’s get a grip. “Action” is a word JNBS use frequently in their slogans. We all want to see more action from our lawmakers. Get on with it, please, before it is too late.
P.S. Mystery of the week: I am completely puzzled by the Jamaica Public Service court case, and the perceived change in priorities of the Simpson Miller administration and Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell with regard to the issue of JPS’ license, granted by an earlier People’s National Party administration. I think I must be rather stupid. Can anyone explain what is happening? I must pay more attention and try to work it out for myself, I think…
As usual, I recall the grieving faces of Jamaican men, women and children who have lost their loved ones under violent circumstances. Below is this week’s sad tally of Jamaican citizens who have been murdered this week. I have noticed that many of them are young men in their twenties; and that something is going very wrong in the parish of St. Catherine. And are curfews the answer?
Killed by the police
Mytona Stewart, 25, Central Village, St. Catherine
Lincoln Stewart, 23, Central Village, St. Catherine
Daniel Hayes, 18, Old Harbour, St. Catherine
Unidentified man, Rose Hall, St. James
Pansy Morgan, 62, Watermount, St. Catherine
Unidentified woman, 25, May Pen, Clarendon
Shemell Gillespie, Waltham Crescent, Kingston
Unidentified man, Kingston Gardens, Kingston
Keneil Graham, 28, Bushy Park, St. Catherine
Unidentified man, Portmore, St. Catherine
Leroy McLeish, 27, Sheffield, Westmoreland
“Hot Head,” Sheffield, Westmoreland
Floyd Brown, Sheffield, Westmoreland
Navado Whitmore, 27, Dias District, Hanover
Unidentified man, Keesing Avenue, Kingston
Trevor Wright, Washington Boulevard, Kingston
Randy Bogle, 23, Old Harbour, St. Catherine
Richard Swaby, 24, Mandeville, Manchester
Sebastian Earl, 25, Watson Grove, St. Catherine
Marlon Blake, 21, Old Harbour, St. Catherine
Oneil Brown, Old Harbour, St. Catherine
Related articles and websites:
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=41022 (Police kill brothers in alleged shootout: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/murders-keep-st-catherine-police-busy (Murders keep St. Catherine police busy: RJR)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121111/lead/lead1.html (Mail, money and murder: Postal service under pressure as scammers move in: Sunday Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121111/lead/lead3.html (Security auditors called in: large sums detected in unlikely mail: Sunday Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/New-law-will-hit-scammers-_12968573 (New law will hit scammers: Jamaica Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=40872 (Burnt Port Royal body was Tandy Lewis: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121108/lead/lead12.html (Slippery slope: Lotto scam undermines financial sector: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121109/lead/lead1.html (Scammer fears: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/DPP-wants-more-power-to-fight-lottery-scam (DPP wants more power to fight lottery scam: Jamaica Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=41028 (Security worries for remittance companies: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-11-08/jamaica-bond-yields-jump-to-nine-month-high-after-belize-default.html (Jamaica bond yields jump to nine-month high after Belize default: Bloomberg News)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Denial-is-disastrous_12959710 (Denial is disastrous (David Mullings op-ed: Sunday Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=41026 (UTech security guards pointed out in ID parade: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=41029 (Police crack credit, debit card scam in Caribbean Estate: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/DNA-draft-Bill-expected-today_12955648 (DNA draft Bill expected today: Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Port-Doubt_12959068 (Delay in removal of prison said in conflict with Panama Canal timeline: Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/-They-took-my-leg- (“They took my leg”: Sunday Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/US-medical-team-helps-Nine-Miles_12966348 (U.S. medical team helps Nine Miles: Sunday Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Nannyville-youth-donate-books-to-community-school (Nannyville youth donate books to community school: Jamaica Observer)
http://www.og.nr/rbt/9921-choir-members-take-cover-during-shootout-in-mandeville.html (Choir members take cover during shootout in Mandeville: On The Ground News Reports)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/southern-regional-health-authority-faces-possible-lawsuit (Southern Regional Health Authority faces possible lawsuit: RJR)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Senate-approves-casino-gaming-regulations (Senate approves casino gaming regulations: Jamaica Observer)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/pioj-director-general-financial-secretary-to-demit-office-soon (PIOJ director general, financial secretary to demit office soon: RJR)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads-105/32238 (Jamaica decisive on lotto scam: Jamaica Information Service)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/security-guards-in-utech-beating-pointed-out (Security guards in UTech beating pointed out: RJR)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121111/business/business7.html (Consumers paying for 17% of JPS losses, says Paulwell: Sunday Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=41070 (More rains for St. Mary as parish recovers from flood; Jamaica Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/No-timeline-for–Sandy–relief-houses_12949270 (No timeline for Sandy relief houses: Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Gov-t–Joining-JPS-in-court-case-intended-to-protect-consumers_12941404 (Government joining JPS in court case intended to protect consumers: Jamaica Observer)
Now that Hallowe’en is over, the Petchary would like to speak up on behalf of an ancient tradition that is often much maligned on this island of Jamaica. Primarily by Christians - and I say this with emphasis, as they do themselves, possibly to emphasize their sense of superiority to the rest of us heathens. There we are, I’ve already started on a controversial note.
Hallowe’en – October 31 – was the last day of the Celtic year. As someone with more than a drop of Celtic blood in her veins, I don’t really appreciate people condemning the traditions that are a part of my cultural and indeed family heritage. I don’t disrespect other people’s traditions – and I think a little more understanding (and research/information/knowledge) would be nice. (It puzzles me that in this “age of information” one can still be so ill-informed. I guess it’s lazy thinking).
But I digress. The original Hallowe’en was the Celtic feast of Samhain. It goes back to the eighth century and even further back – some say to Roman times. A time of year when the nights draw in, the sunsets are richer and the shadows deeper. The end of the harvest and the beginning of winter. A time when thoughts turn inward, away from the material, towards the spiritual. OK so far? I think so. Evil and Satanic? I think not.
The odd thing about these Christian anti-Halloweeners is that they completely miss the point that, although this Celtic festival pre-dated Christianity, it was almost immediately absorbed into the Christian (Catholic) calendar and has always been recognized int (although the Puritans weren’t too happy with it in England for a time, but then they weren’t happy with a lot of things). Today, November 1, is All Saints’ Day and tomorrow is All Souls’ Day. Again, these days are a time to reflect on the spirit and its passing from this earthly life – and a time to pray for the dead.
What is wrong with honoring the dead? The Mexicans (and others) do it every year at the same time – the Dia de Los Muertos – they are doing it right now, putting flowers and sweet things on the graves of their ancestors. Sure, there are lots of skulls and macabre costumes, as there are in Hallowe’en, but it is a celebration and an honoring too. Now, I do wish Jamaicans would honor their dead more. If you look at “then and now” photos of Kingston’s May Pen Cemetery (the “now” being a wasteland) you would see what I mean. Respect for those who have gone before us is a part of All Hallows’ Day and All Saints’ Day – it is a time of mysterious connection, when the spirit world draws closer to us. A recognition of that world of spirits – that land of shadows. And that’s the “scary” part.
Where does the dressing-up part come from, and the trick or treating? Well, they are both connected and both originate from the belief that if you disguise yourself, those spirits won’t recognize you. Again, it goes back hundreds of years – it is not some silly new-fangled American thing. Trick or treating was called “guising” (as in disguise) and it is even mentioned in Shakespeare. And it has been a tradition in Scotland, Ireland and Cornwall (going back to the Celts again of course) for hundreds of years.
Now, my Christian friends always talk about the “Satanic” nature of Hallowe’en. But where does that come from? I grew up with Hallowe’en, and never was there any mention of “Old Nick” in that context (that was my grandmother’s name for him – an English expression that dates from the seventeenth century). He never came into the picture, nor does he in any of the Hallowe’en traditions that I know of (someone, please correct me if I’m wrong).
In fact, I have never heard so much talk of “Satan” as in Jamaica. When something won’t work out, it is blamed on Satan. I was rather startled when I first encountered his name in an everyday conversation, and I still do wonder why his name is recalled so often. Even gangsters call themselves Satan from time to time – the baddest of the bad, I guess. I think part of the confusion of Hallowe’en is the confusion of the “dark side” – the spirit world of ghosts, spirits, fairies and the like – with Satanism. But why? Jamaicans have their own incredible duppy stories too – the Rolling Calf sends shivers down my spine – but Satan doesn’t get mixed up in those legends. But then, there is no Christian origin to those stories either. All very complex.
And now for other Hallowe’en traditions, which you may or may not know. One of our favorites at home was “apple bobbing,” the kind of thing they would do on TV game shows these days to get people to make a fool of themselves. You had to kneel and grab an apple out of a bucket of water with your mouth, not using your hands. Of course apples were in season at that time of year, and there were the toffee apples (or candy apples as they are called in the U.S.). I remember as a child, in great fascination and excitement, watching my grandmother dipping the apples into the sticky, tawny-colored toffee, which she boiled up in a deep pan with dire warnings not to go anywhere near it.
Then there were the fancy-dress parties. The whole point that the Jamaican Christians are missing – sadly – is that in fact, Hallowe’en is tremendous (and quite harmless) fun. Their cries of “Satanism” and “evil” sound like killjoys.
We had fun. I would spend weeks planning my costume (always home-made, by my long-suffering mother) and we would have noisy, boisterous parties, pretending to be someone else. What kid doesn’t love dressing up? It is empowering. My parent would pretend to be scared by me and my raucous friends. And we felt safe and secure in our masks and crazy headgear. My best-ever costume was a scarecrow.
So please, give Hallowe’en a break. Try to understand and respect a tradition that is hundreds – if not thousands – of years old.
A little more tolerance. A little more understanding.
And remember there is the light, and there is the dark. All a part of life.
The Petchary just sat through another session of local television news, an evening ritual. There was the usual selection of politicians posturing. There were what my father used to call “hard luck stories.” Roads that have been torn away, or resembling those weird obstacle games devised by the Japanese where you are likely to fall into a deep pit of mud or plastic; a building that has partially collapsed, leaving a family exposed to the elements; market vendors complaining (as they do with regularity) about their fees going up, or lack of toilets, or the hated “farmers markets” – on the latter the Petchary would say, “If you can’t beat them, join them.”
And of course, there is the usual sprinkling of sordid crime stories: a distant camera shot of a huddled body, in the dark and the rain, beyond the yellow police tape; bundles of marijuana, packaged with tender loving care, in the back of a police pick-up; a housing estate where thieves rampage after dark.
Two of the stories of everyday troubles struck the Petchary as interesting this evening, because they both involve what the journalists love to call the “precious commodity” - water.
Firstly, a cemetery that has run out of space. But that is only part of the problem. Now that a new area has been cleared to make way for more dead Jamaicans, it has turned into a positive quagmire, littered with (for some reason) bits of old plank and the ubiquitous plastic bottles. The cemetery’s caretaker, a gentleman who unfortunately had not seen a dentist in quite a while, tried to wax philosophical about heaven and hell (I lost the drift) and in the end threw up his hands, saying he is just a worker there. The water, apparently, flows from another area whenever it rains (close ups of mini-waterfalls flowing into the mire). One imagines the corpses would at some point take off and float gently down the slope. Needless to say, the place is neglected, with rampant vines and bushes embracing the elaborate graves. But the water… The caretaker shrugs his bony shoulders.
Another watery tale of woe followed. This time, it was market vendors (yes, complaining again) in a craft market – all brightly painted and pretty, but leaking like a sieve. Every time it rains (a lot of hard luck stories begin with this phrase) the roofs drip with determination on the vendors’ over-packed stalls. Shopping baskets with donkey motifs, clothing with lurid sunset-and-palm-tree designs, garish paintings of sultry Jamaican girls, grinning Rastafarian wood carvings – all get dripped on. The vendors (all women) hold up their hands, palms upward in that traditional Jamaican gesture of despair, as rain pours off and through the roofs. The roof want fix.
Of course, the journalists dutifully went off and consulted with what Jamaicans love to call “the relevant authorities” (in this case, the Mayors of May Pen and Montego Bay, respectively). Steps would indeed be taken to fix these irritating, small problems that fill the newscasts, literally, to overflowing every night. All these small problems are like tiny streams and rivulets that join the larger flow of a small river, which eventually flows into the huge, unmanageable ocean. And there all the little problems swirl around, joining the swelling tide – one big problem that overwhelms us all.
It strikes me that almost every night there is a water story. Polluted water (fish kills, garbage clogging gullies, and the like); too little water (angry rural Jamaicans with placards demonstrating in a beautiful, green, waterless valley); too much water (overloaded systems causing brown water to burst from household pipes).
And of course, the rain. And the rain. And the hurricane season is here, so we can expect more and more watery tales, until we are all bobbing about with the water lapping at our ears, and talking about building an ark like Noah. It’s all about global warming (NO, one must call it climate change nowadays) – but it’s also about the unequal distribution of the stuff, and the poor management of it. While the good citizens of Mandeville have been struggling with water shortages for years, little boys play happily (and often dangerously) in overflowing drainage ditches and deep pools. The industrious farmers of St. Elizabeth watch their delicious water melons wilt in the fields, while residents of a housing scheme built in the wrong place paddle their way to and from their homes. The rich wallow in their jacuzzis, and the poor go down to the river to bathe and wash their clothes. It’s all out of balance.
“Water water, everywhere/And all the boards did shrink/Water, water, everywhere/Nor any drop to drink.”
Perhaps that’s how we will all end up, sailing on and on in our rickety, leaking craft.
As idle as a painted ship/Upon a painted ocean.