Perhaps it is exhalation, rather than sighs. The island is (mostly) recuperating from Hurricane Sandy, and the general consensus is that things could have been worse. For some, however, life post-Sandy is still fairly grim. Those at the eastern end of the island, where the infrastructure was already in pretty bad shape, are really suffering. It is always the rural poor who suffer the most from storms. Now, over the weekend, heavy rains and flooding (especially in the parish of Portland) have rendered roads impassable and have slowed the recovery effort. Many remain homeless, waterless, powerless in Portland, St. Mary, St. Ann and St. Thomas. The Jamaica Public Service Company – which I have praised in my last blog and continue to commend for their diligent work – has encountered huge technical challenges in restoring electricity to these areas. We city-dwellers are relatively well-off and comfortable, now. It is about the haves and the have-nots, and sadly there are still many of the latter group.
Meanwhile, we read a string of reports noting the billions of dollars’ worth of damage inflicted on different sectors of the economy. All week, the numbers floated around over our heads like butterflies – the kind you can never catch. Because, ultimately, do we have the money to make all the necessary amends after Sandy? That was a rhetorical question; you know the answer.
A few ministers, and quite a few Members of Parliament and local councillors, toured selected areas and made solemn pronouncements about what needs to be done. Promises were made. And the Opposition Member of Parliament for Western Portland, Mr. Daryl Vaz (who has been rather quiet lately) launched a storm relief fund for the parish with the inestimable Food for the Poor, headed by Andrew Mahfood – which will match donations with $100,000. This appears to be a bipartisan fund, and it extends to neighboring parishes; one hopes that the private sector will chip in. Portland often calls itself the “neglected parish”; along with St. Thomas next door, it suffers from low self-esteem – and the serious under-development of its people.
Well now. Just yesterday, the delightful, bubbly Ms. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, a double gold medalist in the London Olympics, graduated from the University of Technology (UTech) in Kingston and became that learned institution’s first Ambassador. I am not quite clear what her duties will be. Although of course this would have been planned months ahead, it seems a little unfortunate that UTech’s celebration of its latest batch of graduates should take place less than two days after a screaming mob of students descended on the college’s guard house, calling for the security guards to “kill the battyman” (yes, I heard those words on the video). Please see my previous blog, Sticks and Stones, for more information on this. I wonder if any of the students involved were actually on the podium, proudly receiving their degrees.
Although this blood-chilling event last Thursday night was extensively reported in the broadcast media and discussed at length on radio shows, the island’s newspapers seem to have been steering away from it. That is, apart from a solid editorial in today’s Sunday Gleaner. Please see that link below, as well as links to other locally written blogs that have addressed the issue with, I believe, considerable thought and insight. I will be re-blogging one of them shortly, and I do hope you will read them all. These are people who, like myself, have observed what is happening in civil society in Jamaica. And by the way, much of what is happening ain’t pretty.
Anyway, I congratulate Ms. Fraser-Pryce on her achievement – none of this is her fault – and I am sure she will be a lovely Ambassador, whatever that entails. A new assessment center for children with disabilities is to be opened and named in her honor, and that is good.
Just a quick footnote on this matter: Has anyone – the UTech leadership, the politicians, Jamaicans in general – thought about the possible global repercussions of the UTech matter? YouTube videos are powerful weapons. The moron who uploaded the video of this human rights abuse thought it was great fun to show the world this illustration of Jamaica’s homophobia and “wild West” mob-rule mentality. But it may have back-fired – not only on those who participated in this scene of persecution, but on Jamaica itself, including its law-abiding citizens. Could the world fall out of love with the Jamaica of Usain Bolt, gold medals, beaches and reggae music? Isn’t its image tarnished with violence, lawlessness and bigotry already? Doesn’t this video make matters worse? Or do Jamaicans and Jamaican leaders not realize that people around the world do sit up and take notice of such matters, which here in Jamaica might be brushed aside with a quick statement or public relations piece? What impact will all of this have on our tourism industry, for example? It’s not only Hurricane Sandy that may put a dampener on things in that respect. Take a read of the online article below - “Un-coupling Usain Bolt and Jamaica.” It will make you wonder…where are we heading?
I really hope the leaders of Jamaica – in politics, academia and in the church/churches specifically – are sitting up and taking notice, too. And talking of leadership… Once again the commentators are asking for a sign from our Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller that she is truly engaged in the people’s business. Jamaicans often call her “Mama P” or “Sista P” - suggesting her warm, fuzzy family image. She hugs people a lot. And kisses. It’s quite endearing. I think she even hugged Prince Harry during his visit. But as one columnist noted today, why was she not doing just that with the people of Portland after Hurricane Sandy? Today’s Observer cartoon compares her unfavorably with President Barack Obama, who has been doing quite a lot of hugging and comforting. By contrast, our political leader reportedly flew over the storm-ravaged areas in a military helicopter, and did not set foot on the ground. A missed PR opportunity of major proportions. She doesn’t have ministers to do that. She has to show leadership herself, in person.
Bearing in mind her comments on gay rights during a televised election debate about a year ago, I would also love “Mama P” to reach out to the victim of the attack at UTech, to express regret and wish for his wellbeing. Perhaps even to condemn the incident? But I won’t hold my breath on that one.
On the economic front, there are still concerns that we are not being told much about the prospects for the completion of an agreement with the International Monetary Fund. The head of the Private Sector Organization of Jamaica, Christopher Zacca, hinted in a speech last week that more information would be most helpful to him and his colleagues, at this point. And I know I am a skeptic, but what if no agreement takes place at all (is it a given)? I am not sure how we would then proceed. Anyone?
Meanwhile, I went through the usual torture of watching the television prime time news this evening. Why do I watch it? my husband asks. A man grieves over his mother; another woman tells the story of her daughter, who was abducted and has never been seen again, breaking down in the end. Should the television reporters air these stories? Or should they “balance them out” with nice, “positive” stories of sweetness and light, as many Jamaicans contend? They do have a point. Of course, life is not all bad. But news is news, and “soft news” doesn’t quite have the same impact, I am afraid.
Talking about “soft”… Let me seek to balance things out with a few tributes this week. Let me open the first envelope…
I was pleased to see a piece in today’s Outlook (in the Sunday Gleaner) about Ms. Becky Stockhausen, the intrepid Executive Director of the American Chamber of Commerce. In my previous life at the U.S. Embassy I often had the opportunity to work with her and I always enjoyed it. Becky is a woman of action, and she has a lot of heart, and I like that. This determined native of Akron, Ohio could have given up on Jamaica years ago, but she has been here for thirty years. She has made a difference; and I always feel that she is on the right track. By the way, I like the series “10 Things You Didn’t Know About…” It works.
Congratulations to the lovely ladies of the new CVM Television series “The Naked Truth,” which started up a few weeks ago. It appears to be modeled on the highly successful U.S. program The View, in which a group of women with various personalities discuss the news and current issues, both serious and trivial, in what seems to be an intuitive and spontaneous exchange. The hosts, Shelly Ann Weeks and Paula Kerr-Jarrett, are making a good job of it so far. It is a work in progress and there are awkward moments – but such is the nature of this type of program. It will evolve…. PS: I do not like the title of the series at all. It is supposed to sound suggestive, mildly salacious, I guess. Well, if it was a group of men, I am sure that the name of the program would be something different, less…silly.
- Not long ago, I wrote a blog post about the slender little soursop tree in our back yard, and the mysterious case of our disappearing soursops. I was pleased to see a really well-written story by Paul H. Williams in the Gleaner, about this fruit’s healing properties. I adore drinking the juice, but understand that it is the leaves and bark that are really powerful. Drinking such a potion has kept Yvonne Kirlew cancer-free for years, now. The story has a South Florida connection. You can read it below.
Congratulations, too, to the four selected artists for the Super Plus Under 40 Artist of the Year competition. As usual, there is such impressive talent on display. This year, three of the artists have links to photography; and last year’s winner, O’Neil Lawrence, was also a photographer. Do go down to the Mutual Gallery in Kingston and vote for your favorite before November 19; there is a Jury Prize and a Public Prize. You can visit the Gallery’s website for more details. The private sector support for this competition is great, and especially the enthusiasm of Mr. Wayne Chen of Super Plus.
Below is a list of Jamaicans murdered over the past week. It has lengthened again, I am afraid. The storm has passed, and it is back to business as usual.
I am sorry.
Until next week…
Donovan Johnson, 39, Spanish Town Road, Kingston
Two unidentified men, Old Harbour, St. Catherine
Unidentified man, Gutters, St. Catherine
Donald Chin, 19, Montego Bay, St. James
Conrad Oliver Dunkley, 57, Burnt Savannah, St. Elizabeth
Tanisha Hamilton, 28, Thompson Town, Clarendon
Derek Henry, Vere, Clarendon
Sylvester Thomas, Top Hill, Portland
Maureen Cox, 50, Retirement, St. James
Owen Walters, 23, Mocho, Clarendon
Alex Elliot, 20, Mandeville, Manchester
Stephen Collier, 40, Mandeville, Manchester
Ian Malcolm, 24, Anchovy, St. James
Samuel Young, 62, Sandy Bay, Hanover
Yvonne Smith-Waldron, 51, Windsor Heights, St. Catherine
Sheryl Desouza-Wright, 53, Windsor Heights, St. Catherine
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Trial-starts-for-three-cops-on-murder-charge (Trial starts for three cops on murder charge: Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Cop-witnessed-colleagues-abduct-men (Cop witnessed colleagues abduct men: Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Flooding-in-north-eastern-parishes (Flooding in north-eastern parishes: Jamaica Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121102/letters/letters1.html (Where will they live, Prime Minister? Letter to the Jamaica Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Vaz-launches-storm-relief-fund_12890369 (Vaz launches storm relief fund: Jamaica Observer)
http://www.og.nr/rbt/9719-burnt-body-found-in-port-royal-identified-as-tandy-lewis.html (Burnt body found in Port Royal identified as Tandy Lewis: On The Ground News Reports)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121029/lead/lead2.html (“I weep over my city”: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/In-these-times–we-need-decisive-leadership_12902600 (In these times, we need decisive leadership: Claude Robinson op-ed, Sunday Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121103/news/news4.html (Soursop stories still creating stir: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/08/29/a-tale-of-two-soursops/ (A tale of two soursops: petchary.wordpress.com)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/A-week-after-Sandy—-the-good–bad–and-ugly_12895097 (A week after Sandy: The good, the bad and the ugly: James Moss-Solomon op-ed, Sunday Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121104/lead/lead8.html (Unsung heroes: Sunday Gleaner)
Sunday After Sandy: October 28, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)
http://bloommagazineonline.com/2012/11/03/1508/?fb_comment_id=fbc_299908706777015_1353453_300089816758904#f15ff8214c (Un-coupling Usain Bolt and Jamaica: Bloom Magazine)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Opposition-spokesperson-on-education-condemns-Utech-beating (Opposition Spokesperson on Education condemns UTech beating: Jamaica Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121104/cleisure/cleisure1.html (Let’s see what our leaders do: Sunday Gleaner editorial)
http://www.dianamccaulay.com/apps/blog/show/19730499-i-promise-to-love-you-for-the-rest-of-my-life (I promise to love you for the rest of my life: Diana McCaulay blog)
http://rawpoliticsjamaicastyle.wordpress.com/2012/11/03/gay-violence-at-local-university-symptomatic-of-jamaicas-increasing-descent-into-anarchy-and-mayhem/ (“Gay” violence at local university symptomatic of Jamaica’s increasing descent into anarchy and mayhem: Raw Politics Jamaica Style blog)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121104/lead/lead93.html (UTech’s class of 2012 challenged to be game changers: Sunday Gleaner)
Gay Bashing in Jamaica a national policy? (anniepaul.net)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/editorial/Not-enough–Minister-Thwaites_12864823 (Not enough, Minister Thwaites: Jamaica Observer editorial)
Owen Ellington battles on for his job, but …… Checkmate ? (commonsenseja.wordpress.com)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/editorial/Sandy-s-double-trouble-for-the-economy_12885451 (Sandy’s double trouble for the economy: Jamaica Observer editorial)
Jamaica’s deadly homophobia also kills heterosexuals (76crimes.com)
http://elitestv.com/pub/2012/11/student-beating-raises-issue-of-homophobia-in-jamaica (Student beating raises issues of homophobia in Jamaica)
So noted a fellow-blogger from Jamaica, Annie Paul (check out her lively blog on Jamaican matters large and small at http://anniepaul.net). Yes, just as I was about to write another short, chirpy post-Sandy blog post, the “episode” or “incident” occurred. It popped up on Twitter around eight o’clock last night, in fact.
Let me backtrack a little first: Cliff Hughes is a local broadcast journalist, whom I have praised before for his strong focus on democracy and human rights – and for his probing, tough interview techniques. And UTech is the University of Technology in Kingston, Jamaica, where this all took place. All what, you may ask? Well, a video appeared on YouTube and almost immediately went “viral,” as the saying goes. The video was entitled “Beat di Fish 2!” - using the latest hate-word for gays in Jamaica. The video appears to show security guards beating up a young man in an enclosed area (the guard house of the aforementioned University) while a mob of mostly young men outside jeered, laughed and encouraged the guards to give the young man a good beating. Some of these young men begged the guards to turn him over to them so they could deal with him.
Why was he being beaten? The student was accused of having sex with another young man (who escaped – I hope he is very safe, somewhere).
The video was withdrawn from YouTube today as it violated their code. It was very hard to watch, and to listen to the baying of the crowd, like hounds when they have cornered a fox in a hunt. That eager yelping sound, that cry for blood. And many of the supporters of the video added their virulent, sickening comments (although thankfully there were more “dislikes” than “likes”). But another shorter, different version was posted on CNN‘s iReport today.
There were many expressions of genuine shock and despair, locally. “I am ashamed to be Jamaican” was a common refrain among those with compassion for their fellow Jamaicans. Civil society groups, notably Jamaicans for Justice and the Civil Society Coalition, have issued statements condemning the incident. Some comments in the social media were more ambivalent, saying the two young men should have been more careful, and “this is how gays are dealt with in Jamaica, right or wrong.” Other comments were more vicious. I will not repeat them.
Another Jamaican broadcaster noted the following on her Facebook timeline: “I am sad and sickened tonight. Security guards at one of our universities beating up a young man because he was allegedly found engaging in homosexual acts. I also continue to wonder at my friends with their heads deep in the sand insisting that we are not a homophobic society. Really? This young man is hit and kicked by a “security “guard” while excited crowds gather outside. And for those who will wilfully twist my words – you are adept at that – this has nothing to do with approval of or belief in a lifestyle. This is about a society that winks at barbarism and turns its head away insisting it is not happening, apparently all the reports of abuse are made up!!! And you wonder why we are seen as homophobic?”
Let us not deny this any more. Jamaica IS a homophobic society. It has been said by many outside and some inside Jamaica. And it is true. It is staring us in the face.
So, what are we to do about it? Allow the mob to take over? After all, there have been several instances of mob attacks recently, under various circumstances. This is not only yet another example of human rights abuses against gays in Jamaica. It fits into a pattern of intolerance, violence and blind ignorance that keeps repeating itself over and over. It is like a tide washing over us, threatening to sweep us all away.
Have you ever stared into the eyes of a hate-filled mob? We once knew someone who did – a young Jamaican. It was the last thing he saw, as he did not survive the attack. None of us could save him. We read his name in the papers the next day.
Where is this leading us? Are we prepared to slip and slide down this slope? Or are we prepared to dig our heels in, right now? Are our leaders going to speak up, or remain silent? I remember not long ago, our elected representatives were sniggering and making jokes about “fish” in Parliament (the derogatory word for gays currently in fashion). Can we expect real, responsible leadership from them? What about our Prime Minister, who during an election debate last year signaled a softer approach to the issue? She has certainly avoided the topic ever since she was elected. And what about the churches? After all, the homophobic bigots frequently use a certain passage in the Bible to justify their hatred. What a lovely thing religion is! How it unites us!
I will end with a quote from someone who did know a great deal about bigotry and discrimination. He faced it fair and square. (Somehow, the deniers of our homophobia hate comparisons between gay rights and the American civil rights struggle; but I see quite a few parallels, myself). Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.
Jamaica’s burden grows heavier each day.
- Jamaica Anti-Gay Attack On Student Allegedly Caught On Tape (huffingtonpost.com)
- Gay Man Beaten By Guards, Mob At Jamaica University: VIDEO (towleroad.com)
- Sunday After Sandy: October 28, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)
- Gay Jamaicans launch legal action over island’s homophobic laws (guardian.co.uk)
- Landmark Case Seeks To Abolish Jamaica’s Colonial-Era Anti-Gay Laws (queerty.com)
- A small step forward for LGBT rights in Jamaica (pri.org)
- Help Jamaica please?!? (ireport.cnn.com)
- http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/08/09/end-patronizing-piecemeal-engagement-of-youth/ (End patronizing, piecemeal engagement of youth: petchary)
- http://petchary.wordpress.com/2011/04/09/rights-and-wrongs/ (Rights and Wrongs: petchary)
- Gay Jamaican Man Caught Having Sex Brutally Attacked By Guard, Mob (queerty.com)
- Gay student beaten at Jamaican University (ireport.cnn.com)
- http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/04/12/op-ed-fighting-injustice-in-jamaica/ (Op-ed: Fighting injustice in Jamaica: petchary)
- http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/06/15/dark/ (Dark: petchary)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Marksman-fires-security-guards-involved-in-Utech-beating (Marksman fires security guards involved in UTech beating)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Mob-beats-man-accused-of-killing-pregnant-girlfriend (Mob beats man accused of killing pregnant girlfriend)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/UTech-plans-counselling-session-for-beaten-student (UTech plans counseling session for beaten student)
- http://www.jamaicansforjustice.org/nmcms.php?snippets=news&p=news_details&id=3819 (JFJ condemns act of violence against allegedly homosexual young man on UTech campus)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=40922 (UTech, Marksman condemn beating of alleged gay student)
- http://jamaica-star.com/thestar/20121102/news/news1.html (UTech student beaten)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20110504/letters/letters1.html (“Mob rule is no rule” – another UTech incident)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121003/cleisure/cleisure3.html (“Put an end to jungle justice” – a recent op-ed)
- http://petchary.wordpress.com/2011/01/30/ode-to-freddy-and-david/ (Ode to Freddy (and David): petchary)
- http://petchary.wordpress.com/2011/12/16/jamaican-maurice-tomlinson-is-the-first-winner-of-the-david-kato-vision-voice-award/ (Jamaican Maurice Tomlinson is the first winner of the David Kato Vision Voice Award: petchary)
I know that we city-dwellers (or most of us) have been spoilt. After Hurricane Sandy whisked across the island, tearing up trees and tearing down light poles, we have been the lucky ones (despite our loud complaints that we didn’t get power back the following day…) Now it is a week away, and after our determined attempts to sweep up the yard it now looks reasonably tidy. Garbage and forlorn piles of foliage now fringe Kingston’s roadsides. We are not expecting a garbage truck any time soon. There are only twenty for the entire city, says the government agency. I suppose they weren’t expecting a hurricane? No warnings?
So, my husband whipped up a little something over the weekend, which went down very well. My dear brother and his Australian wife recently gave us a marvelous cookbook, “Bill’s Sydney Food: The Original and Classic Recipe Collection.” I refer you to page 25: Sweet Corn Fritters with Roast Tomato and Bacon. Well, we skipped the bacon, but… for a first attempt, it was pretty darn good. The cookbook also does lunch and dinner recipes too, so we plan to delve further into its yummy depths..
Why Bill’s, you may ask? When we were staying in the great city of Sydney three years ago, in the cozy neighborhood of Darlinghurst, the bohemian-chic little hotel we were staying at referred us there for breakfast. We had just arrived, at six in the morning, after a twelve-hour flight from San Francisco. We were feeling light-headed and slightly crazed after the longest flight we had ever taken, on the largest plane we had ever seen. Bill’s breakfast brought us back down to earth, deliciously. We stuck with Bill’s the day after, and the day after that. The freshness and simplicity of the food, and the cool but light-filled restaurant and pleasant service easily seduced us. We were good for our days of sight-seeing.
More on post-Sandy pleasures in my next post!
http://www.bills.com.au (Bill’s marvelous website)
http://www.amazon.com/Sydney-Food-Commemorative-Bill-Granger/dp/1741965543 (Bill’s Sydney Food)
Jamaicans love their beaches. Like many human beings the world over, they love to do silly things like burying long-suffering friends up to their necks in sand; or running down into the sea carrying a kicking and screaming girl, and throwing her in. Jamaicans aren’t really big on sandcastles, though; I think the sand is too soft and fine. And then, of course, there was the sand that was stolen, by persons unknown, that was even featured in “Ripley’s Believe It or Not“ a few years ago. That is one of those mysteries wrapped in an enigma, as they say; although some people know the truth of it.
But at the moment, Jamaica is feeling Sandy all over. Yes, Tropical Storm-soon-to-be-Hurricane Sandy is churning its way to the south of the island. Ir’a making a bee-line for Jamaica. It’s getting late, and the rain that has pounded us steadily since morning has eased up, giving us a bit of a break before Sandy herself arrives. She is due to check in around midnight tonight, and will be fully ensconced on the island by midday tomorrow, we are told. There she is, with her sphere of influence clearly marked, in the National Hurricane Center‘s diagram below…
Now, this is the first storm that has threatened Jamaica seriously this year. It has been a quietish year for us, storm-wise. Many storms have wandered off northwards, where they generally fizzle out and “lose their tropical characteristics.” This basically means that they get a bit chilly as they wander off towards Newfoundland, and have to put on woolly jumpers over their bikinis (or “bath suits” as many Jamaicans call them). They just haven’t been able to get into the tropical, Caribbean thing. No pina coladas for the likes of Florence, Nadine, Michael, Chris… They were all up there drinking hot toddies, instead.
It’s a funny thing with tropical storms. They bring about a wide range of emotions among Jamaicans; but there is no doubt they give many of us a little adrenalin boost. Yes, these male and female climatic disturbances add a little frisson of excitement to our humdrum lives. For a start, the schoolchildren like them; it means schools are closed (as they are tomorrow). Those who are lucky enough to be working are sent home early (as happened around lunchtime today). Those who can afford it rush off to the supermarkets to stock up with candles, kerosene oil, batteries, and tins of bully beef (corned beef, if you prefer).
Ah yes, the latter has become a traditional must-have when storm clouds gather. It doesn’t go off, so you can eat it when your fridge has warmed up during long power cuts. I must admit that, ever since the serious horror that was Hurricane Gilbert (1988) – a direct hit on Jamaica – I have been unable to stomach that slippery, salty chunk of meat that you prise out of the tin. We ate tons of it in 1988, with rice. It gives me a heavy feeling in my stomach just to think of it. Hurricane Gilbert was, among other things, a serious case of chronic indigestion for me.
At about two o’clock this afternoon the mood of uptown Kingston (and, I am sure, elsewhere) dramatically changed. It was as if everyone had got a shot in the arm. The traffic flying up and down our street steadily increased, developing into a kind of frantic cacophony. The tension was almost palpable. Even a police car wailed along in the pouring rain, amongst all the desperate uptowners who, freed from their workplaces, were racing up and down with checklists of things-to-do-before-the-hurricane-comes. Fill up the car with gas; buy supplies at the supermarket; buy supplies at the hardware store – there’s a little leak in the roof/window/door that needs fixing; check in with aged relatives who are fretting about howling winds tearing down their awnings; pick up happy little child from school (don’t forget); and most of all, make sure you don’t starve during the one or two days of the storm. Whatever that takes. So, of course, the supermarkets and the gas stations love tropical storms too. This year, they probably feel that Christmas has come early; a couple of chains tweeted that they are open to midnight tonight – presumably until they have nothing left to sell but expensive wines and obscure foreign foods.
There was actually a traffic jam outside our front gate for half an hour this afternoon – something that rarely, if ever happens. SUVs foaming at the mouth.
But not everyone gets into a spin about hurricanes. Other Jamaicans affect a nonchalant air. “Oh, it’s just a bit of rain,” they say. They make a big show out of not going to the supermarket, and don’t even bother listening to the radio bulletins that many of us listen to avidly, trying to read between the lines… (Is it going to turn away just a little, and miss us? If it does come, how strong are the winds going to be? How much more rain will we get? And so on). The nonchalant ones smile knowingly and adopt a know-it-all, slightly patronizing tone when commenting on the looming storm. Quite irritating, especially when they are proved right - it actually was just a bit of rain - and adopt an air of “I told you so.”
Others, of course, know everything there is to know about hurricanes. They will talk glibly with anyone who has half an hour to spare about “maximum sustained winds” and “wind shear” and the like. Yes, over the past ten years or so, many of us have become experts. Satellite imagery and projected paths are second nature to us now.
And of course, the media fraternity loves hurricanes. So much to say about them, over and over. We can never get enough hurricane preparedness tips, hurricane updates, and endless footage of inundated roads and houses perched on the edge of gullies. Worst of all, there are the tedious interviews with individuals among the herd of supermarket shoppers. When accosted by a journalist, they say riveting things like: “Well, I haven’t bought much” - camera zooms in on shopper’s trolley - “just a few necessary items…” Oof.
As for me, I happened to be in the beautiful Blue Mountains of Jamaica as Sandy started brewing. Mavis Bank in rural St. Andrew (about a 45-minute drive straight upwards from Kingston) is a magical place. Population about 2,000; elevation about 3,000 feet. Bamboos bow their heads on the hillsides; streams trickle under small bridges and sometimes across the road; pine trees march along the brow of the hills. White scarves of mist appear and disappear among the folds of the mountains. It is green; it is cool; the water tastes sweet; it is a different world altogether from the dusty city below. There is the Jablum coffee factory, which smells fragrant as you drive past. People call to each other across a valley, or from a steep slope, or from a river bed up to the roadside. Parrots and pigeons scurry over the treetops. It is beautiful.
Sadly, I did not stay longer than a day in this cool green world. As the weather appeared to deteriorate, I reluctantly left the mountains and returned to Kingston, just before the crazy uptowners were unleashed on the roads. I had planned to spend the week there, at a very interesting workshop organized by Our Tomorrows and attended by a small but enthusiastic group that included members from the Turks & Caicos Islands and Surinam.
You see, storms just don’t give me an enjoyable buzz, like the jolt of a good strong cup of coffee. For me, it’s like one cup of coffee too many. I get a little jittery. I become obsessed with every move that the storm makes. I peer out of the window at the sky. I listen to every weather bulletin until I am sick of hearing the same thing over and over. And then, there is a kind of weariness, similar to the feeling after a caffeine overdose has worn off. I become listless and watch boring television programs that I would not normally find interesting. And I don’t find them interesting. Tropical storms are a real downer.
And frankly, I don’t care for the name Sandy. No offense intended to all the very nice Sandys out there, but it conjures up a rather seedy image to me – go-go dancers or something. I do recall there was an English singer – tall and skinny – called Sandy Shaw. She sang covers of Burt Bacharach songs and didn’t wear shoes, for some reason (this was considered daring in conservative England in the sixties).
Much more amusingly, I also recall a different kind of Sandy, again from my teenage years in England. Two comedians (Hugh Paddick and Kenneth Williams) used to do a very camp radio sketch which included the catch phrase: “Hello, I’m Julian, and this is my friend Sandy.” They were gay interior decorators – at a time (the mid-sixties) when homosexuality was still illegal in England. Sandy would say things like, “Ooh, isn’t he bold?“ Marvelous stuff. You can even find it on YouTube.
Meanwhile… I am sitting down here in Kingston, somehow wishing that I was still back on that wet, dripping mountainside where the frogs cry at night and the minibuses blow their horns at every corner.
P.S. While writing this, another character has appeared on the scene - Tropical Storm Tony. But let’s not worry about him – he is, as they say, “no threat to land.”
- Tropical storm warning in Jamaica ahead of Sandy (scnow.com)
- Tropical Storm Sandy approaches hurricane status (cbsnews.com)
- http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/7678379.stm (Jamaica puzzled by theft of beach)
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julian_and_Sandy (Julian and Sandy)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120320/life/life1.html (A religious experience in Mavis Bank: Jamaica Gleaner)
- http://www.bluemountaincoffee.com/index.cfm?method=AboutUs.CoffeeFactory (Mavis Bank Coffee Factory)