Four years ago today, fire broke out at the Armadale Juvenile Correctional Centre in St. Ann. Seven girls – wards of the state – died as a result of the fire, and eleven were injured. It was a real pleasure today to meet some of the girls who survived this horror, and who are doing their best to move out beyond that horror. I think their day was an emotional one but also filled with hope. I will write more about this.
Devaluation of dollar welcomed by IMF: Well, some of us might have figured this out already. The steady drop in the Jamaican Dollar seemed inexorable and there was really very little comment on it from the Simpson Miller administration at the time. It was just…happening. The rest of us were saying, “What is going on? Help!” as it steadily dropped, day after day. Then suddenly the battered J$ (often depicted in cartoons wrapped in bandages and sticking plaster and hobbling on crutches) pulled itself to a screeching halt at 99 or so to the U.S. Dollar. Well, well. Our friends at the Implacable Masters Fund (IMF) approve of this; and, in fact, say they would like to see our dollar plummet a little bit more, stopping at, let’s say… What do you think? Where should it stop? This, by the way, is the “flexible exchange-rate regime” mentioned by the Jamaican Government in its April 17 Letter of Intent to the IMF (the link is below). Flexible is such a nice…flexible word, isn’t it?
I wonder if the Jamaican public can be as flexible as the Jamaican Dollar has turned out to be?
Trinidad start up weekend: Good luck to Ms. Ingrid Riley, our tech entrepreneur and inspirer extraordinaire, who is in Trinidad now at her Silicon Caribe Startup Weekend. 57 pitches! I attended a Jamaica session; it was lively and abuzz with ideas. I love Ingrid’s regional (Caribbean) approach, and wish more of us were doing that…
Duppy story: According to CVM Television news, a certain house in rural St. James is giving some trouble. In case you haven’t been following it, all kinds of drama has been going on in this very ordinary-looking little house. It has created lots of excitement among the local residents, who can be seen hurrying down the path to the house to witness the latest phenomenon. My husband is almost convinced that there’s a real duppy (to my non-Jamaican readers, that is a ghost) – and so am I. A poltergeist, perhaps? A mysterious fire on top of a wardrobe (could be an electrical short circuit, but…) And objects thrown out of the house when it is empty? A local was hit in the head by one such “missile” and bled profusely. Once bandaged up, he felt pretty good, escorted down the road from the clinic like a real celebrity. What’s going to happen next? I hope it’s not all special effects…
Is the JEEP warming up its engine? Remember JEEP – the Jamaica Emergency Employment Programme? We haven’t heard much of it lately, but the Government has now found a way to create jobs by employing people to build concrete walls instead of zinc fences in selected Kingston communities. I suppose the concrete will screen off the poverty better – it will be harder to glimpse the earth-bare yards. But, Mr. Housing Minister, you know it won’t make any real difference. It’s just cosmetic. The same poverty is just a stone’s throw away…
African : It was announced today that our Prime Minister had flown off to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, along with the Foreign Affairs Minister, four other government officials, plus her support team (I am not sure how many people that consists of – it is always reported in government press releases as a collective noun). They will be back next Tuesday. One of the radio stations this evening stated that the cost of the trip, in recognition of the African Union’s fiftieth anniversary, will be J$8.6 million. I wonder what the Ineffable Masters Fraternity (IMF) thinks of such expenditure. I can think of a thousand different ways in which that money could have been spent for the benefit of the Jamaican people (the Armadale survivors, for example).
Yay! That money could, perhaps, have been spent on a few more real toilets that flush in Jamaican schools. But sixteen schools in western Jamaica must be groveling with thanks that they do, in fact, have real toilets and not stinking, dangerous holes in the ground, any more. Thank God for Petro-Caribe, anyway. Last time I heard – about a year or two ago – around 200 schools still had pit latrines. Hopefully the number has dropped considerably. It is baffling to me that this can still be an issue in 21st century Jamaica. Perhaps this should come before tablets?
Some things bring out the Great Cynic in me: Recent comments by our Finance Minister Peter Phillips filled me with great weariness. Waxing philosophical and presumably not sticking to his notes, the goodly Minister started to wonder out loud why Jamaica is in its current economic state: “How did it get to this? At least part of the answer, I believe, has to do with the nature of our political processes and the absence, up until recently, of effective paradigm oversight and absence of transparency.” What does this mean? Can someone translate? OK, let me try. The politicians have done nothing to create an “effective nation” (the Minister’s words) since Independence (until the current administration came into power). That’s how it “got to this”. By actually not leading (that’s the oversight part) and by keeping the people ignorant (absence of transparency). Something like that, perhaps?
The young and the generous: In a Twitter exchange just last night, my friend Jean Lowrie-Chin reminded me (the Great Cynic that I am) that the younger generations of those “big” families that have chosen to stay in Jamaica have not only prospered, but are “giving back” to their country. She cited young Adam Stewart, who heads the Sandals Foundation. National Bakery has started its “Bold Ones” Project to encourage youth entrepreneurship. And the young Mahfoods have taken up the mantle of the amazing charity that does so much good work, Food for the Poor. Jean is right – I must try to curb my innate suspicion of the privileged and powerful. I wish all of them had such good intentions as these gentlemen, and that they could all give back…more.
Get well soon: I have no doubt that heading the Police Federation, a union that represents the rank-and-file police force, is a highly stressful occupation. The current chair, Raymond Wilson, has actually been a number of years in the post, off and on. Mr. Wilson has been in hospital for the past few days, after suffering a heart attack at a relatively young age. I wish him a speedy recovery.
By the way, I hope the Reggae Boyz thrash that English football team from north London, Tottenham Hotspur, when they play them tomorrow. Oh, how I would love to see that happen! As a dedicated Arsenal fan (in case you didn’t know) I was delighted that the Gunners denied Spurs a Champions League place again when the English Premier League season ended. And I’m quite satisfied with our team’s strong performance this year, after a lousy start to the season…
It is encouraging to learn that “major crimes,” including murders, have fallen. I hope that this trend will continue. But I am keeping in my thoughts the families of the following Jamaicans whose lives have been taken in the past three days.
Dwayne Brown, Ocho Rios, St. Ann
Selvin Hincklewood, Kingston
Killed by the police:
Noel Williams, 42, Rose Town, Kingston
Jerome Spence, George’s Plain, Westmoreland
Related links and articles:
http://www.imf.org/external/np/sec/pr/2013/pr13186.htm IMF concludes staff visit to Jamaica: imf.org
http://www.imf.org/External/NP/LOI/2013/JAM/041713.pdf Letter of Intent to IMF from Jamaican Government, April 17, 2013: imf.org
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/IMF-gives-us-reality-check_14298943 IMF gives us reality check: Jean Lowrie-Chin column/Jamaica Observer
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130522/lead/lead7.html J$ depreciation an important correction, says Fund: Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130522/business/business2.html Phillips, IMF defend “strenuous” fiscal target for Jamaica: Gleaner
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/CHASE-Fund–sports-continue-to-reap-big-benefits-from-SVL_14302742 CHASE Fund, sports continue to reap big benefits from SVL: Jamaica Observer
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130521/lead/lead1.html Child extortionists: Judge, JPs step in as students make thousands of dollars a day: Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130521/cleisure/cleisure3.html Tablets in schools, yes, but please…! Oniel Mantack/Op-ed: Gleaner
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/An-assault-against-human-dignity_14308320 An assault on human dignity: Jamaica Observer
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130521/letters/letters4.html Normal school not for teen babymothers: Letter to the Editor/Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130522/cleisure/cleisure2.html Erase the stupid idea of giving students condoms: George Davis column/Gleaner
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/fourth-anniversary-of-armadale-fire Fourth anniversary of Armadale fire: RJR News
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130520/cleisure/cleisure1.html Sounder logic from the other Mr. Thwaites: Gleaner editorial
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130520/cleisure/cleisure4.html Deal with bullies before… Robert Lalah column/Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130521/news/news8.html INDECOM concerned about police records: Gleaner
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Crime-now-at-uptown-doorsteps_14298922 Crime now at uptown doorsteps: Jamaica Observer
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130522/lead/lead2.html More cops to be hauled before courts: Gleaner
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/top-level-probe-into-reports-of-contract-on-lives-of-prosecutor-investigator Top-level probe into reports of contract on lives of prosecutor, investigator: RJR News
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/editorial/What-violence-torn-St-James–nay-all-Jamaica–can-learn-from-Flanker_14299652 What violence-torn St. James – nay all Jamaica – can learn from Flanker: Jamaica Observer editorial
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130522/news/news2.html U.S. to give special training to MoBay firefighters: Gleaner
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Political-parties-alone-can-t-do-it—Phillips_14299845 Political parties alone can’t do it – Phillips: Jamaica Observer
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Is-migrating-Senate-President-a-coward_14296192 Is migrating Senate President a coward? Jamaica Observer
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130520/news/news1.html G2K wants answers from Contractor General: Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130522/lead/lead1.html Shady dealings: Public sector workers under scrutiny… Gleaner
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads/33972 Prime Minister to attend African Union 50th Anniversary: Jamaica Information Service
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130522/letters/letters3.html Stop magnifying wasteful high-rollers: Letter to the Editor/Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130521/cleisure/cleisure2.html#.UZuRJBboiag.facebook Freudian slip or Gordian knot? Gordon Robinson column/Gleaner
As the month of June closed up shop for another year, and before we forgot to truly celebrate, we decided to recognize our wedding anniversary by getting out of town – just for a couple of days – to a small guest house in White River, which is close to Ocho Rios in St. Ann, on Jamaica’s north coast. The house is snug, encircled with flowers, a soft powder blue like the sky. A forest stands behind, filled with birds. The hosts are kind and the staff gracious, and the food – well, I could devote several blog posts to the meals we ate, but you, my dear readers, would be salivating too much, and that’s not healthy! Or is it?
An account of a very lazy two or three days may not be exactly riveting for the reader, but this is really a hymn of praise to the innkeeper, Ms. Elise Yap, and her brother – known as the Barefoot Chef. I would prefer to call him the Incredible Amazing Gourmet Chef, or something like that – although, in truth, I did not see him wearing footwear of any kind. It is hard work keeping such high standards as these, and the Yaps succeed admirably. The rooms are all tastefully furnished with sturdy, local hand-made furniture that we much admired. The colors are bright and cool – tropical pastel blues, greens and earth colors. The garden is a carefully cultivated riot of green, dotted with pinks, reds and golden yellows.
And, most importantly for a guest house, it feels like home.
We settled comfortably in within minutes, with a warm welcome and a complimentary Ting (Jamaica’s best soft drink made with real grapefruit juice). We stayed in the Cozy Cottage, at the back of the house, which has a private and secluded feel. You can laze in a hammock under the arbor in the daytime. You can sit outside in the evenings with candles burning and listen to the astounding orchestra of tree frogs, backed up by the occasional chorus of cicadas. We also indulged in some football – the Euro 2012 semi-finals – as the house has cable television. Later, we stirred ourselves, still a little stiff from the two-hour drive from Kingston, and walked down to the White River, which is just a couple of minutes away from the house, walking past a lovely spreading guango tree down to the water’s edge.
White River is well named. It has a light, almost silvery quality as it froths over the stones. Even the deeper pools shimmer like polished metal. The rock is bone-white limestone and the tree roots curl at the edges of the water like knuckles. The water is cold – there is nothing more delicious than river water on a humid summer day in Jamaica. We did not bathe there this time, but you can. It was tempting.
Instead, we walked back and moved to the swimming pool for a leisurely afternoon swim. The water was deliciously lukewarm. My nose, of course, instantly burned red – as it always does – with my forehead also emitting a pinkish glow later that evening (not quite bright enough to read by). I retreated (too late, damage already done) to share the shade of an arbor draped with sugar-pink bougainvillea with my husband. This is one of those pools where you don’t need to bake on an expanse of achingly hot concrete, unless you are seriously into tanning; there are shady spots, which we appreciated.
As I said earlier, to write about the tantalizing breakfasts and delectable dinners, cooked by the afore-mentioned Barefoot Chef, would take me a very long time. But just close your eyes and try to imagine cassava pancakes with caramelized banana and walnut topping; lychee cake and the most mouth-melting chocolate cake you can imagine; sweet and sour fish, piles of stir-fried Chinese vegetables, flavors of lemongrass and other fresh herbs and spices; grilled mahi-mahi (which Jamaicans unfortunately call “dolphin,” but it’s not) with feta cheese and watermelon salad; French toast and juicy jerk sausage. And of course (always very important for me) really good coffee. A sustained period of rousing applause for Mr. Yap!
So yes – we were lazy, self-indulgent, deliberately indolent, in fact. I was barely energetic enough to lift up my very interesting and amusing book – a novel called “The Sly Company of People Who Care” by Rahul Bhattacharya (I must write some more book reviews, and soon!) It was an effort to find my camera and try to focus it on the antics of the hummingbirds on the upstairs verandah where we ate. A feeder with syrup hung at each end of the verandah. Two Mangos – no, not a fruit, the Jamaican Mango is actually a hummingbird – had taken it upon themselves to patrol the verandah from dawn to dusk, doing their best to prevent the slender and glossy Red-Billed Streamertail (Jamaica’s national bird, the “Doctor Bird”) from taking even the tiniest sip from the feeder. The Doctor Birds always give themselves away with the whirr of their wings, so find it hard to sneak up incognito. The Mangos position themselves one at each end of the verandah – one on the telephone wire, the other on the top of a tree of suitable height – and stand guard, it appears all day long. The only thing that cramps their style somewhat is when human beings like us appear on the verandah to chat or feed ourselves. Jamaica’s national bird hardly gets a look in. Having said that, the Mango is an appealing bird – stockier, darker, but equally graceful. When the light catches its feathers, it shimmers with dull gold and magenta and purple, like an old piece of jewelry that needs to be taken out of its velvet box to be appreciated.
Of course, there are more birds, and a place full of birds is bound to score high marks with me. Tall trees with vines hanging like strings from their branches, with untidy bunches of wild orchids festooning their trunks, stand like a regiment behind the house. It is marvelous to see a group of parrots, their crooked silhouettes swinging on the topmost branches against the pale early morning sky , and to hear them argue with each other in crochety old man’s voices. Or to watch the wayward flight of a Jamaican Crow, cawing loudly as he flies, as he tries to avoid the persistent attacks of a small mockingbird, swerving like a mini bus that is being steered badly, but never managing to shake off the much smaller bird.
There are also flowers, in abundance, pouring over arches, dipping over walls, standing like glorious colored sentinels in the front garden of not only The Blue House, but those of its neighbors. The neighbors are, indeed, engaged in the orchid wars. One house is almost hidden behind a stand of dark purple, white, burnt orange, butter yellow, and startling pink orchids. Orchids stand like soldiers along both sides of the path leading up to the front door of another neighbors. It is a war of flowers.
The Blue House is a home, and it is also a place of intense magic. A clap of thunder cracks the sky; the sun sails behind paper thin clouds; the river flashes across the stones; the tree tops soar. It is not Frida Kahlo’s Blue House, but it could also inspire art. If I had a week to spend there, I would be able to write, and write. No distractions, just to focus on the real things.
Thank you. And do visit there soon. Soon, you hear!
- Earth Day Plus One: Postscript from the Garden (petchary.wordpress.com)
- Jamaica, She is Royal (theislandjournal.wordpress.com)
- Jamaica’s Rich Biodiversity Faces Multiple Threats: International Day for Biological Diversity (petchary.wordpress.com)
- A Taste of Jamaica: A Recipe for Mango Smoothie (trifter.com)
The stark video of a policeman shooting an unarmed man lying on the ground in Ocho Rios, Jamaica has cast a long shadow over the Emancipation Day holiday weekend. It is as dark as the purple thundercloud that hung over the Petchary’s home in Kingston this afternoon. Perhaps the tumult of rain that followed has cleansed our hearts, just a little. But the aftermath still lingers.
There is so much bitterness. Where did it come from? There was the heartless act itself, committed with such care and calculation, as if looking for the best opportunity, the best angle from which to shoot the beaten victim as he lay struggling in the yellow dust, his thin arms and legs flailing. The policeman circled round his prey, gun in hand, and aimed at the upper part of the man’s body. One shot, followed by screams and shouts from the crowd of onlookers.
That was the second thing…The chorus of anger, hatred, fear, and DELIGHT, from the residents of Buckfield, St. Ann who gathered to watch the execution of a man they had already accused of stabbing a young woman to death. “One more! One more!” shrieked one woman, wanting to be sure he was finished off properly. The Petchary tried not to listen or interpret any more of the sounds she heard – and it was hard to separate the sounds from the sight of the man, who after being shot flew precipitously underneath a nearby truck, arms and legs twitching and jerking. Then the video, taken by an unknown Jamaican’s cell phone, abruptly ended with another policeman apparently pushing the crowd back. We saw his bulky form and his fat hand pushing at the camera…a flash, a glimpse of a fearful oppression that does not want to be revealed in the heat of the day.
And finally, there were the many comments on Facebook and the like from fellow Jamaican citizens. “I don’t see why the policemen are in jail,” complained one, “He killed a woman. The people were happy when he got shot.” Another commentator said it “sweet him” (made him feel good) when the man “get it.” Another observed succintly: “Boy fi dead!” And so on. The Petchary’s heart sank so low that it settled somewhere in her stomach and made her nauseous.
One more thing. The police “information arm” had better consider the kind of information it puts out. Information, as all those who have studied totalitarian states know, can be a dangerous thing. Like freedom, it must be treated carefully. Information, as printed in our local newspapers, is truth. In this case, the “information arm” produced lies, which were dutifully reported in the media, word for word. Many, many lessons to be learned.
The great African American James Baldwin once observed, “Freedom is not something anyone can be given; freedom is something that people take, and people are as free as they want to be.”
As Emancipation Day approaches, the Petchary asks the question, the screaming of the mob still sounding in her ears…Do Jamaicans really want to be free?
Franz Kafka once wrote that sometimes it’s safer to be in chains than to be free. Judging from this and many other similar incidents, not all recorded on cell phones, it seems many Jamaicans would prefer to be safe, in their mental slavery.
A few hours ago, on prime time news, the Petchary watched a video, recorded on a cell phone, in Ocho Rios, St. Ann. A man is writhing in the dust. Residents and police standing around. One policeman hits the man – who appears to be unarmed – with a heavy stick. Another walks around the man deliberately, gun in hand, watching him, then shoots him as he lies on the ground. The man rolls under a stationary truck. Residents scream and shout – some it seems exulting, others in shock. The man is now dead. The Petchary feels a kind of sickness pass through her body, spinning in her head and then settling like something cold and hard in her stomach. This is simply an execution. These are the ones we trust to protect us. Who is safe? This is indeed “man’s inhumanity to man.” More tomorrow, when the Petchary will, one hopes, feel a little calmer.