There is a sense of unease. I can feel it in the wind. Unable to rest, it throws itself at windows and doors. It tosses down the small green mangoes that have not had a chance to ripen on our trees. The frantic carnival parties continue in the night. At a discussion earlier this week, anxious words and especially the word “But…” followed words of encouragement and promise. A pudgy-faced young man over in the East is telling his robotic marching toy people that war is imminent.
And the rain refuses to fall.
One of my most-loved writers is the German-Swiss novelist and poet Hermann Hesse, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1946. I suppose this is a legacy of my “hippy” years; Hesse was enormously influential during the 1960s and early 1970s among young Europeans. Born into a rigid Christian missionary family, Hesse became a spiritual explorer, partly arising from his parents’ work in India. Skeptical of organized religion, he came to develop a view of a universal spirituality that still resonates today. (In fact, I often find strong echoes of my 1960s explorations in today’s world. Coming full circle, as my brother pointed out recently, I am now meditating again, as I did in my early twenties). Hesse was also a pacifist, and his work was reviled by German nationalists during and after the First World War. He became a Swiss citizen in 1923.
Well, I recently retired my forty-year-old hardcover copy of “Siddhartha“ - it had become very battered over the years and was literally collapsing. I bought a new copy, but am not as comfortable with it, yet. It needs a few more re-reads, I think.
Meanwhile, a fellow-blogger posted a quote by Hesse that simply reflected my mood, and the discomfort of this little island I live on, Jamaica. Here it is:
“There is no escape…You say yes to the sunlight and pure fantasies, so you have to say yes to the filth and the nausea. Everything is within you, gold and mud, happiness and pain, the laughter of childhood and the apprehension of death. Say yes to everything, shrink from nothing. Don’t try to lie to yourself. You are not a solid citizen. You are a bird in the storm. Let it storm! Let it drive you!”
http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1946/hesse-autobio.html Hermann Hesse autobiographical sketch: nobelprize.org
http://www.hermann-hesse.de/en Hermann Hesse Portal – this is very revealing and well put together
Bird in the Storm… (jruthkelly.com)
Hermann Hesse (pensaleas.wordpress.com)
Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse – review (guardian.co.uk)
SopranoAscends SINGS! (sopranoascending.wordpress.com)
50 Spiritual Classics: Timeless Wisdom from 50 Great Books of Inner Discovery, Enlightenment & Purpose ~ Tom Butler-Bowdon (evolutionarymystic.wordpress.com)
Xaymaca is the Arawak (Taino) name for Jamaica. It means ”Land of Wood and Water.”
The Women’s Resource and Outreach Centre (WROC) has a small and unpretentious office in Kingston. And it has an outstretched arm, too – eastwards, over the struggling community of Bull Bay and its dusty environs to the rich pastures, rivers and hillsides of St. Thomas. WROC’s outreach program, which seeks to empower women (and men) in rural communities, grew from the organization’s Sustainable Livelihoods program eastablished after the devastation of Hurricane Ivan – a particularly vicious storm – in 2004. But WROC has actually been working in several communities in St. Thomas since 2001.
Sustainability is a key word here – and another one which came to mind when I visited the area last week is resilience. Resilience in the deepest sense of the word: drawing on reserves of strength, stretching and getting pulled out of shape, and “bouncing back.” But the bouncing back might not be a complete recovery; after a hurricane, things are never quite the same again, and never will be. One might perhaps be unable to return to how things were before. But one has armed oneself with skills, with resources – and with the strength – to be able to create and carve out an altered, adjusted life. It is about no longer depending on those elements that were – but that may never be (quite the same) again.
These are the complexities of climate change. As we headed out of the city, there were signs everywhere. As we crossed the Harbour View Bridge, I remembered the destruction of Tropical Storms: Nicole (2010) and Gustav, two years earlier. Last week, a trickle of water had worn a narrow path along one side of the wide, dry riverbed of the Hope River, which opens up into a rough and restless stretch of the sea coast on the other side of the long Palisadoes spit that takes you to Kingston’s airport. The Donald Quarrie High School, named after the Olympic champion athlete who came from Harbour View, sits precariously, on a flat area, now much too close to the sea. Huge waves flooded the school compound and several classrooms just last year during Hurricane Sandy; the school wants the Chinese engineering company that built up the Palisadoes spit to build them a sea wall. In 2007, Hurricane Dean stirred the waves to such fury that the sea knocked a huge hole in the schools’s Industrial Arts Department; while not far away, a once desirable housing development (Caribbean Terrace) has been steadily torn apart by successive storms since Hurricane Ivan. You can still see some of the solid concrete homes, overturned by the strength of the waves, knocked sideways like abandoned small toys.
Did you notice how many storm names I mentioned in that last paragraph?
The main coastal road took us across the dry Yallahs River, where as you cross the now-raised fording you look inland to the spread of hills, dark with forests. But the palette is different now; the landscape of St. Thomas is colored auburn, blond. As the road passed close to the shore at Roselle, we noticed that bulldozers were busy, piling up huge stones where once there was a rocky but attractive fishing beach. The ocean was always strong and lively here, with “white horses” piled up to the horizon. But we used to stop sometimes at the beach, where fishermen sold their catch. On the other side of the narrow road, a delicious waterfall slides over rocks, creating a natural (but not at all private) shower for local residents. That waterfall was small and modest last week, barely enough for a good wash.
At last, we reached the quiet village of Trinityville, having turned off the road and driven through pastures that showed the effects of prolonged drought. An arc of irrigation water hung over brown fields. As we drew closer, the exquisite rounded, green hills that I admired on my last visit came into view, now sunburned and dry. The several rivers we crossed en route were low, their waters trickling among dry boulders.
But when we arrived in Trinityville, they had enjoyed a shower of rain that morning. The air seemed to want to turn into water; humidity dripped from the trees. We met Ernest Grant, a goat farmer who had benefited from WROC’s sustainability project, with two of his animals. Guided by WROC’s energetic outreach officer Nkrumah, we then visited a greenhouse, tucked away among tangled foliage behind some houses, and flanked by large black water tanks (a regular feature of our landscape these days). There we met Lenford Brown and Clinton Bailey. They were growing 426 tomato plants in the greenhouse, which cost around J$1 million. They were also starting a seedling nursery, where young sweet pepper seedlings were already flourishing, with the assistance of the Digicel Foundation; delicious romaine lettuce was also growing nearby.
Mr. Brown and Mr. Bailey were hoping for more rain. They would like to have more greenhouses, expand their operations. They are also hoping to expand the market for their produce, although they already sell to local “higglers” (traders) and to those outside the community who sell in Kingston’s markets. The logistics of selling to hotels are not workable; roads in the area are poor, and it would simply take too long for the produce to reach its destination. There are no large (or even small) hotels nearby. The local market fluctuates somewhat, but it is there.
Mr. Brown, an astute and highly-focused graduate of the nearby Robert Lightbourne High School, has a business plan. He believes in value-added products. He has helped develop a tomato jam or ketchup. WROC also launched a delicious guava ketchup (sauce) at the Denbigh Agricultural Show in 2010; the project was funded by the European Union and Christian Aid to provide income to the rural residents. Now, guava is a resilient and abundant crop in the area, growing virtually wild; and it is nutrition-rich, with many possibilities for value-added products.
We moved on, climbing a little further to the village of Somerset, set a little deeper in the hills above the gently chiming Somerset River. There we met Joslyn (not sure if I got the spelling of his name right), who oversees another WROC project sponsored by the European Union, to build check dams.
What are check dams, you may ask? Well, they are small dams, built across gullies or water channels or ditches, to “check” the water flow. During storms or heavy rains, the water gushes madly down the hillsides, sweeping everything in its path. Crops, forested areas, even homes are damaged and destroyed, and entire hillsides with precious soils can be eroded, washing away into nothing and swamping the valleys below. The check dam slows the waters down; it creates pools, and the overflow slips over – often to another check dam below, which again slows the water and prevents that furious, destructive torrent.
From Somerset, we walked up the hill to one of the check dams under construction. On the way up, we saw the kind of damage that the dams are designed to counteract: the hillside torn away by landslides, exposing tree roots; and a house that had been abandoned years before when the hillside pushed down on it.
And here was the dam. The men joked loudly as they worked, shoveling cement under a bright blue tarpaulin. Another man walked up the steep gully from the site of another dam to be built lower down. At the end of the path, we met a group of women, sturdy and strong, who gave us a demonstration of how they carry river stones from the huge pile at their feet down to the dam, hand to hand, to be cemented into the structure. This turned out to be an interactive project; the whole group of us joined in, passing the large stones along. The visitors found this amusing; the women were serious in their work.
The higher slopes were a dull brown, with bright green fans of bamboo still flourishing where other trees had been cut down. Farmers are moving higher up in the hills to grow their cash crops, Joslyn told us – ackee, coffee, pear. It is cooler up there and the rainfall is better. Nevertheless, we saw many fruit trees in the village - “fruit trees are always cared for.” Mules and donkeys are still valuable in these parts, we were told; there are no roads – at least none suitable for cars – and to reach their farming plots on the higher slopes, farmers must hike for two hours or more on the animals’ backs. They have to do it. It’s a change for them, but they are adapting.
And what of the native trees, the hardwoods that used to flourish in this beautiful watershed of the island? There are very few remaining. During the 1980s, the Forestry Industry Development Company (FIDCO) operated in the area. According to locals and environmentalists alike, FIDCO’s logging operations, while replanting with fast-growing pine trees, did untold damage to Jamaica’s forests. The state agency, established in 1978, was finally wound up in 2000. A reforestation project is now under way; but again, to make the young trees take root and grow properly, proper irrigation is needed. Without water, the wood cannot flourish. And it is hard, very hard, to repair the damage.
We walked back down the hill for lunch, passing a small office made from a container, where a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer, Sarah Marshall works on a number of community environmental awareness projects. She’s doing great work, especially with the schoolchildren, we were told. As we ate our flavorful chicken and rice and peas and drank delicious fresh carrot and orange juice, delicately flavored with ginger, I reflected on the mysterious, quiet beauty of Jamaican country life.
Times change, the climate is changing; but I strongly feel that the women and men of Trinityville and Somerset are ready for whatever the future brings. With the ongoing support of organizations such as WROC and with adequate funding, these communities can face the future. They understand what is needed, and they are ready. I am filled with admiration for them all.
Thank you to WROC, and to the visitors from the Seven Hills Outreach Center in Boston, Massachusetts for allowing me to hitch a ride on their bus. And especially, my grateful thanks to the people of Trinityville and Somerset, in the living, breathing hills and valleys of St. Thomas.
You should go and visit them soon.
http://wrocjamaica.org/focus-areas/sustainable-livelihoods: WROC Sustainable Livelihoods
http://www.forestry.gov.jm Forestry Department, Jamaica
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E7APrx74afw Hurricane Sandy damages Donald Quarrie High: Jamaica Observer/video
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20100704/news/news5.html Caribbean Terrace a shell: Gleaner, 2010
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20110901/cook/cook1.html Check out Beechwood’s Gourmet Guava Sauce: Gleaner, 2011
http://www.jamaicaelections.com/general/2002/articles/20021016-5.html The dawning of truth: article by environmentalist Peter Espeut/Gleaner
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)
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)
This is a back-dated blog post. Yes, Hurricane Sandy was overwhelming. While the United States is just beginning to feel the effects, we in the Caribbean gritted our teeth and got through it all last week. But of course, the storm itself is not the thing. It’s the aftermath that really gets you. Like a bite from a rabid dog. It hurts at the time; but afterwards you have to get the shots, which is worse…
And let’s not forget this: dengue fever is still a concern, with another death reported today and a sharp increase in suspected cases (now officially at 2,198). The Ministry of Health says it has stepped up its vector control efforts, which is good news. We have yet to see or hear that droning fogging truck emitting its fumes in our neighborhood, however. We have resorted to plastic “mosquito zappers” with rechargeable batteries, made in China. Highly recommended. They look like harmless little badminton rackets in bright colors…but they bring with them a deadly charge. The air smells of the sizzling flesh of mosquitoes and any other flying insect that is stupid enough to get “in harm’s way”…
But seriously…Due to the huge rains we had last week, mosquito breeding sites have multiplied. I have been touring our yard, sweeping and cleaning up; even a leaf holding a small amount of water can breed a few mosquitoes in a day or two. And it will be up to us to keep things clean. As usual after a storm (or in fact at any time) there is a “severe shortage” of trucks to clean up, according to the Ministry of Local Government. So don’t expect the garbage truck any time soon. And let’s be careful.
We are all quite comfortable in the Kingston area, I believe; and the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) reports 90 per cent of power is restored in Kingston/St. Andrew. But tales of woe have been pouring in from elsewhere since last week, with hundreds still cut off in several communities in St. Thomas – the eastern side of the island, which was most badly hit. It’s clear that JPS is facing some pretty major challenges in two or three parishes. The television screens last night showed huge damage, roads still blocked by trees, debris… and fallen light poles. And the light poles (and, by extension, the lack of maintenance) have been a major topic of discussion in relation to our monopoly power company. Meanwhile, the humorous Mr. Robert Lalah observed wryly, regarding the complaining uptowners who had no power for a day or two: “It’s tough having to charge our smartphones at the office and missing the latest episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians , but all will be back to normal soon enough.”
Meanwhile, the National Water Commission has not yet grasped the value of social media, Twitter etc, it seems. It has informed us that over 100,000 of its customers are still without water, five days after the storm. Sorry, not impressed – but I do know this is partly dependent on the restoration of power. Still, I think Jamaicans might have appreciated a rather higher level of communication on the part of the government agency.
Be that as it may, I have posted several photos from local media below; as well as the most recent reports on the situation on our beleaguered island, post-Sandy. There are the usual reports of widespread damage to agriculture (the banana crops are always the first to go, virtually flattened – but they are the first to grow back); people who have lost their homes and belongings – clothing, books and furniture, all sadly spread out in the sun to dry, zinc sheets and plywood scattered; roads and bridges torn away by swollen rivers, with curious residents on the river banks seemingly hypnotized by the churning brown waters. Oh, and five people escaped from a police lock-up in Portmore. One, who has been charged with shooting with intent, is curiously nicknamed “Pastor.”
Fortunately, however, we had only one death related to the storm: an old gentleman in Bedward Gardens, August Town was hit by a boulder. By comparison, the death toll in Haiti keeps rising, although unlike Jamaica they did not get a “direct hit.”
Now, with a mixture of jaded cynicism (we’ve been there, done that, many times), curiosity and somewhat muted sympathy we watch those living on the east coast of the United States evacuating and preparing and trying not to panic. Hurricane Sandy does seem to have grown horribly since she gave Jamaica a direct hit last Wednesday. And of course, there are many thousands of Jamaicans over that side, especially in New York City. So they are in our thoughts. No doubt, once Sandy has done her worst over there, there will be comparisons of how the mighty United States held up, compared to our very small island.
And what of the impact of natural disasters on politicians? Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller cut short her official trip to Canada last week to return to Jamaica when the warnings of Sandy’s approach began. This was generally praised as a good move. She also made an announcement about being prepared, etc. And then came a somewhat strange and curious interview with one of our leading broadcast journalists, Cliff Hughes, on Nationwide News Network (more about them, later). The Prime Minister does not often do live radio interviews – in fact, any kind of unscripted interaction between her and the media is quite unusual. Mr. Hughes handled the Prime Minister with kid gloves, enquiring several times about her health and general well-being, and throwing some soft questions her way. Then, almost imperceptibly, the conversation turned to the sensitive matter of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the worrying signs of Jamaica’s economic vulnerability. One could sense the discomfort at the other end of the phone line. The responses became a little confused – at least, I was confused. By my recollection, the Prime Minister said that she could not tell the Jamaican people exactly what was happening regarding the status of the IMF agreement; how could she, if she herself did not know what was happening? (Did I hear this right? Can’t she tell us anything at all?) She then fell back on her defensive mantra: She has ministers to do the work in their respective portfolios, and she expects them to do it well. She does not interfere with their work (but hold on, don’t they report to her, as prime minister?)
Sorry, but I don’t really understand this. Really, I don’t. Especially when the PM added that she realizes Jamaicans are “used to” Prime Ministers who talk about every issue affecting the country; but she has a different approach. She has her ministers.
So now, the Cabinet met today to consider the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy – the cost, of course, being a major factor. How will this affect the IMF negotiations (and is it entirely correct to call them negotiations, at this stage)? I believe the government has sent a letter to the IMF and is waiting to see what happens next. Anyway, the day before Sandy the Opposition Finance Spokesman Audley Shaw took on the issue in Parliament, suggesting that the possible deadline for the possible signing of an agreement with the men in Washington is a bit of a moving target. Meanwhile, the Gleaner is getting fidgety again, worried about a “lack of urgency” on the part of the Government.
More on this in the weeks to follow, one predicts. The IMF all tangled up with Sandy. What a muddle we are in, once again.
I will end with a major drumroll: for all the emergency services, both governmental and non-governmental, for their sterling work before, during and after Hurricane Sandy passed, with surprising efficiency and speed, across our island (although I was never quite sure whether it was east to west or north to south?) The police imposed curfews, resulting in no reports of looting (so far as I am aware) – and also resulting in the number of murdered Jamaicans being reduced, as you can see from the list below. The Office of Disaster Preparedness & Emergency Management (ODPEM) did a good job of keeping us informed, and prepared. Non-governmental organizations like the Jamaica Red Cross, Salvation Army and others responded effectively, despite their always limited resources. Food for the Poor and the YB Afraid Foundation of Olympic medalist Yohan Blake also brought much-needed help (food and other supplies) to residents of Portland. Some Members of Parliament (notably Damion Crawford in the much-afflicted East Rural St. Andrew) and local councillors appeared to be working hard on the ground.
Perhaps… perhaps, the stars of the show were the often much-maligned Jamaica Public Service Company. Yes, I know many of you Jamaicans may not agree (especially those who are still without power). But their engineers worked hard for hours on the broken light post down the road from us, in the pouring rain last Thursday night; and did not stop until they had restored light to our little area at around 1:30 a.m. Their hard work was much appreciated. And their public relations effort – their continuous flow of information throughout the period – was/is laudable. Ms. Kelly Tomblin, the President, appeared on Television Jamaica’s popular morning magazine program, neatly attired in jeans and leather boots, to provide an update. She has been incredibly accessible and is speaking on the radio as I write this. As for Ms. Winsome Callum, the firm’s head of communications…She is a master (mistress?) of public relations practice. Her combination of sincerity, clarity, empathy, professionalism and sheer cool is unrivaled in Jamaica. Congratulations, Ms. Callum, on receiving my Order of the Petchary Award this week. It’s my second highest award, I would say, and it comes with a hearty pat on the back. I was, actually, informed and reassured after her excellent interview with Dionne Jackson Miller on RJR a few days ago.
Now, back to Nationwide News Network, whom I also really appreciated last week – Mr. Cliff Hughes, Mr. Vernon Darby and the whole supporting crew of reporters and producers, who did a fine job throughout the storm. They kept us continuously informed, fielding phone calls from anxious and stressed Jamaicans, when other radio stations were playing “soothing” music. Thanks Nationwide!
Meanwhile, over in the U.S., Mr. Wolf Blitzer of CNN has put on his World War II voice, while intrepid reporters stand ankle-deep on flooded roads, and hang on to their hats in the windiest spot they can find. Somehow, coverage of a natural disaster (or potential disaster) becomes dull and repetitive after a while… Nevertheless, fingers crossed and take care to all our friends on the east coast.
Here’s to calmer waters.
Jamaicans killed by the police:
Dwayne Anthony Reid, 31, Mandeville, Manchester
Unidentified man, Guy’s Hill, St. Catherine
…and by others:
Sarvan Morrison, 24, Old Braeton, St. Catherine
Donna Collen, 53, Tawes Pen, St. Catherine
Rayon Anthony Champagnie, Airy Castle, St. Thomas
Unidentified man, Ivy Green Crescent, Kingston
Unidentified man, Montpelier, St. James
Courtney Edwards, 35, Coronation Market, Kingston
Christopher Lawrence, 37, Kitson Town, St. Catherine
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Restoration-slowest-in-Eastern-parishes–JPS_12862589 (Restoration slowest in eastern parishes – JPS)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121029/lead/lead1.html (Road to recovery: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121029/news/news1.html (11,000 farmers affected by Sandy)
https://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/10/24/sandy-between-our-toes/ (Sandy Between Our Toes: petchary.wordpress.com)
Sunday Scribble: October 21, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)
A Pause for Refreshment…and Art to Soothe the Soul (petchary.wordpress.com)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121025/news/news2.html (IMF in limbo: Jamaica Gleaner)
Soggy Jamaica cleaning up after Hurricane Sandy (miamiherald.com)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/editorial/Now-for-the-post-Sandy-recovery_12836191 (Now for the post-Sandy recovery: Jamaica Observer editorial)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121029/cleisure/cleisure4.html (Blackout from Sandy most vexing/Robert Lalah: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121028/cleisure/cleisure1.html (Where is the Government? Missing the point of the critics: Jamaica Gleaner editorial)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Sister-P-s-Canadian-love-in_12845822 (Sister P’s Canadian love-in/Keeble McFarlane: Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Has-Sandy-complicated-Government-s-path-to-new-IMF-deal-_12854867 (Has Sandy complicated Government’s path to a new IMF deal?/Claude Robinson)
I am waiting for the daily thunderstorm, that has generally announced its arrival with much rumbling every lunchtime.
The week’s news has been a little stormy indeed in Jamaica – although some of the storms were certainly of the kind that you serve tea in. Like the weather, there has been a lot of ominous rumbling, and very little to refresh the soul at the end of it all.
The rumblings continue – especially in the Sunday newspapers and one or two letters and opinion columns – on issues related to sexual abuse and sexual health. Today’s front pages reflect this – the Sunday Observer trumpets “Perverts Stalk Schools,” while the Sunday Gleaner, not to be undone, shrieks “Abortion for Sale!” What concerns me somewhat is that both newspapers give such stories the sensational tabloid treatment. One should skip over the lurid graphics and headlines and try to get to the meat of the issues; but both reports are a little short on facts. One learns from the Sunday front pages that 1) reports of teachers – and maybe other school staff – sexually abusing high school students are on the increase; and that 2) some health workers are illegally selling an ulcer treatment drug as an abortion pill (abortion is still illegal in Jamaica, for some reason). A television station reported the second story earlier in the week, even visiting an establishment where this practice was allegedly taking place. What is to be done about these matters – or rather, what will be done? That remains to be seen.
And then, last Monday, a nasty little squall skipped over the waters of the warm Caribbean Sea. It was up at the illustrious University of the West Indies (where, I hear, there have been several violent incidents among students over the past year, which have not been reported by the local media). A group of students protested violently at being banned from sitting examinations because they had not paid their fees to the university where they had been attending classes. Note that it is now the end of the academic year, and they still owe money. So, the students descended on the hall where hundreds of students had just begun writing their examinations, pencils sharpened, trying to settle their nerves. The aggressors banged on desks, kicked over the desks of some of the students sitting examinations and shouted about how “unfair” it all was, forcing the invigilators to cancel the examinations. What’s more, the university has to re-set the examination papers and reschedule the tests. As is so often said in our island – “the good (those who actually paid their fees, or whose parents struggled and saved to pay them) had to suffer for the bad (those wanting something for nothing).” As Professor Carolyn Cooper notes in her weekly Sunday Gleaner column, the offending students (some of whom masked their faces) were suffering from a delusional and selfish sense of “entitlement.” They don’t pay their fees, and yet somehow feel that the world owes them an education.
According to another video posted on a local blog, this is all evidence of the class/race war on campus. One of the examinees regrettably referred to the protesters as “uneducated ghetto people,” prompting the video’s rant about – yes, race and class, which has no relevance to this particular issue, in my view. There were no doubt “ghetto people” who had struggled to pay the fees sitting those examinations on Monday – and the disrupters included several “brown” middle-class students, for sure. To me, the issue is education, and the funding of it: As Martin Henry comments in his excellent op-ed on the topic today (Sunday Gleaner) it is successive political administrations that are to blame, not the mean old university that is just trying to make ends meet. Oh yes, poor people must have access to education, all Jamaicans must, the politicians say; but hey, we, the government, are not going to fund it. The new Education Minister, as I pointed out in an earlier post, makes wonderful and fine-sounding speeches; but in recent weeks he has been telling struggling independent schools on the verge of closure and other despairing educators that there will be no additional funds for education in the much-delayed Budget, so they will have to make do with what they have got. So there. (In his Education Week message, Minister Thwaites says Jamaica has “achieved the Millennium Goals set for education.” Could he elaborate on what these are? Somehow I wasn’t aware of this).
A few bolts of lightning this week too, amid the storm clouds glowering over our educational landscape: A Dean of Discipline at a rural high school was stabbed twice and had his leg broken by a group of students who had been told to stay home for a few days because of their disruptive behavior. Five students have been charged with the attack on Mr. Gavin Myers, who, lying in his hospital bed, said he hoped for “redemption” for the students. One suspects that karma may be more likely to kick in. By the way, there were two other stabbings at high schools reported late in the week. It goes on. May I ask whether the JCF School Resource Officers program is still functioning, and has it made an impact? It seemed like a good idea when it was launched some ten years ago. And can each student/visitor be searched on entering school compounds? It sounds drastic, but what do you think, dear readers? “Bring back flogging,” commented one member of the public. But violence begets violence.
Concerns: Things are not looking so good on the crime front. Although major crimes have declined, murder has slightly increased in the first quarter of this year, compared to last year. The Minister of National Security, accompanied by a gaggle of police officers, is on television almost every night in his baseball cap, bravely tramping through the byways of various depressed communities, occasionally comforting a grieving woman, trying to understand the complexities of each little neighborhood where gunfire rings out. This week, gunmen fired on a group of domino players outside a little shop in a place called Rejoin, Hanover, killing a father, son and two others. The smallest parish in Jamaica has experienced a startling increase in homicides this year. There were other depressing little stories: a fruit vendor’s body was found in downtown Kingston, by the Jamaica Stock Exchange. A woman was found in the sewage pit at the elaborate home of her “baby-father.” And the residents of a rural community knew exactly where to find the body of a taxi driver and policeman’s son, trooping down to the deep, swirling river ironically called Sweet River – where bodies are often dumped, they said. And there was the usual television footage of women – mothers, babymothers, sisters, aunts – collapsing at the roadside, or sitting on their cramped verandahs, numb with grief. I don’t know what I am going to do, they say.
I was not impressed, either, by circular conversations in the print and broadcast media about the “impasse” between the Transport Minister and Contractor General over the former’s plan to apparently override the CG’s surveillance of three big investment projects. Comments made by the Opposition, including Senator Christopher Tufton on “All Angles” this week, suggest that the Jamaica Labour Party is also being “mealy-mouthed” on this issue. And can we hear a bit more from civil society on this? It reminds me of a former People’s National Party slogan: “Don’t Stop the Progress!” This one is going to rumble around in the background for some time yet, one feels. And once again, as Mr. Henry noted on the issue of education funding, the Government is attempting to ride two horses running in opposite directions: Yes, we must “strengthen” the office of the Contractor General and it is very important; but No, we are not going to let him stand in our way when it suits us. Meanwhile, the Jamaican people have made it pretty clear in all the vox pops - they trust Mr. Greg Christie more than the Honorable Minister and his comrades. Sorry.
When are we going to hear any details at all about the Finance Minister’s visit to Washington? Or is he still there with his “technical team”?
And why bother? Crime, corruption and the economy are all burning issues for the Jamaica public. Don’t we know that? Then why, oh why, are we still regaled with bickerings and pettiness from both the Lower and Upper Houses? This past week, the Senate erupted in one of those storms in a teacup I mentioned earlier. An Opposition Senator and spokesman for foreign affairs raised the issue of the appointment of diplomats when there is a change of administration. Hardly a burning issue. It is quite normal for both political parties to recall key diplomats when they come to power, so that their envoy will be more in tune with the government of the day’s priorities and policies. Jamaica has had some excellent representation, and some fairly mediocre, overseas. But Senator Tufton, the fact that the previous administration you were a part of kept on one Ambassador appointed by the previous regime is neither here nor there. One swallow does not a summer make. I would like to know, however, who will be Jamaica’s next Ambassador to the United States? Has the media enquired into this?
Why did the Jamaica 50 logo need to be re-designed (and at what cost)? And by the way, do we have any details of what the Jamaica 50 celebrations will consist of? There have been many media announcements, but I for one am still not clear…
Congratulations and warm fuzzy feelings are also accorded this week, to the following:
Mr. Brandon Allwood and his young team of volunteers and supporters, who successfully staged a hot and noisy march and rally last Tuesday on behalf of “Help JA Children,” a movement to try and shake things up on the issue of child abuse. May is Child Month in Jamaica. I have posted several comments and blogged on this before, but yes – I was one of the few people over the age of thirty who participated. UNICEF was there; Susan Goffe and Carolyn Gomes of Jamaicans for Justice were there; and a group of non-governmental organizations that work with women and children – the indomitable ladies of Eve for Life, the Women’s Resource and Outreach Centre among them. More projects are planned for the month – I will keep you up to date. Meanwhile, please visit the Help JA Children Facebook page, and you can find them on Twitter, too. An excellent turnout and good media coverage, too. Keep up the pressure!
For the second consecutive week, I wish to congratulate Technology Minister Phillip Paulwell, who on Tuesday was responsible for some amendments of the eleven-year-old Telecoms Act that will not only make a monopoly in the market much less possible, but will also mean a reduction in local and international telephone rates. Once again, a big clap on the back for Minister Paulwell – one of the few who is properly focused on his portfolio, not distracted by photo-ops or sideshows. The gentleman is working – and the Jamaican consumer will benefit!
I am also heartened to hear that by this September the topic of climate change should be on the primary school curriculum, as announced by our Minister for Climate Change (and other things) Robert Pickersgill. Meanwhile, I hope the Honorable Minister will address the “Disaster in Waiting” described by the Gleaner’s Erica Virtue on Tuesday, the possible re-ignition of a fire at the Riverton City dump – or is that the Local Government Minister’s purview? (And by the way, Minister Arscott, a smile would be nice occasionally…It goes a long way).
And a word of commendation for Corporal Karen Austin (I hope I spelt her name right) of the Santa Cruz Police. A series of TVJ reports this week focused on the plight of a woman with two children, who were found to be living in the most awful conditions. The police were inclined to take the children and put them into care, but the mother begged for them to stay with her. Kind-hearted citizens – thanks to them also – have since contributed food and clothing and it is hoped that a home will be provided (by Food for the Poor, perhaps?) It was Corporal Austin’s calm face and comforting demeanor that impressed me though. The footage of her carefully cleaning between one of the children’s toes was somehow so touching. Corporal Austin embodied real compassion – something that is so lacking in our society. Thank you, you made my week.
“Big ups” also to Yaneek Page, CEO of Future Services International, Ethnie Miller-Simpson of Brandz Avenue and Ingrid Riley, CEO of Connectimass, who helped launch – and will lead – the Women’s Entrepreneurship Network Caribbean. 22 Caribbean dynamos participated in a forum supported by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Global Women’s Issues Initiative. These three Jamaican women are working on building the network, along with fellow entrepreneurs from St. Lucia, Barbados and Trinidad. I wish you all much luck!
I am really sorry I missed it, but the three-day “Kingston Pon Di River” arts festival was a delight and a big success, I hear. Congratulations to the organizers – Janet Silvera, Dollis Campbell and Millicent Lynch. Wish I had made it for the drumming session, especially – and of course, Tomlin Ellis’ passionate poetry.
And to the Alpha Primary School, celebrating its 120th anniversary this year. It began when Miss Jessie Ripoll (later Sister Mary Claver) opened the Alpha Cottage to accommodate a little orphan girl on May 1, 1880. Let’s remember our history, and support education in whatever way we can.
Condolences to the afore-mentioned Mr. Greg Christie, Contractor General, who buried his father Rupert last week; and especially, to the widow and family of Mr. Lloyd Brevett, who died on Thursday morning. Mr. Brevett was the upright bass player with the Skatalites, the revered and wonderful ska band – of whom there is now only one surviving member. Although he had been ill for some time, the painful part is that Mr. Brevett took a turn for the worse after his son Okeene was murdered in February, just after collecting an award on behalf of his father from the band’s former manager and former Prime Minister PJ Patterson. So sad that a man who helped bring that driving, jumping beat that brought so much happiness and sheer enjoyment to the Jamaican and world music scene passed under such sad circumstances.
P.S. A definition of “mealy-mouthed” (one of my father’s favorite expressions): “Hesitant to state facts or opinions simply and directly because of timidity or hypocrisy.”
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120506/lead/lead2.html: Abortion For Sale
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120506/focus/focus1.html: Samfie Government – Broke Pockets and Broken Education (Martin Henry op-ed)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120506/cleisure/cleisure3.html#disqus_thread: Student Rights and Wrongs (Carolyn Cooper op-ed)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads-1/30471: Education Week Message from Minister Ronald Thwaites
Op-Ed: Fighting Injustice in Jamaica (petchary.wordpress.com)
The Ghetto strikes back…and Satan Deconstructed… (anniepaul.net)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120502/lead/lead1.html: Call rates to drop
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120502/lead/lead2.html: Jamaica’s Children March for Help
http://22.214.171.124/news/list/30468: Jamaica 50 to Provide Opportunity for Small Producers
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120504/ent/ent3.html: Skatalites lose another member
Sunday Showers (petchary.wordpress.com)
Sunday Sparkle (petchary.wordpress.com)
Sunday Steam (petchary.wordpress.com)
New Book: Something to write home about (repeatingislands.com)
September is here, and the days in Kingston, Jamaica are hot and breezy. Thunder mumbles in the distance, but seems to move off somewhere else after voicing a muffled complaint. And there is the usual frenzied, last-minute rush for school books, and uniforms, and all the other paraphernalia in the stores, and the agonizing over the cost of it all, and the underlying stress of the poor students – whose summer has just fallen around them in little pieces. The last small remnants of the summer are gone, and it is all downhill now until Christmas.
So, come tomorrow morning, the roads will be clogged with the SUVs of the upper classes and the small cars and down-at-heel taxi cabs of the lesser classes, all brimming with anxious, scowling, crying, shouting, nervous children. In Jamaica, “back to school” is a big production, presaged at least two weeks ahead with endless articles in the Sunday papers about the state of education in Jamaica; ads in all the media for the best deals in must-have school bags; messages from the Jamaica Teachers Association, the National Parent Teachers Association, and various other stakeholders. This culminates in the Message from the Education Minister, broadcast at least twice on television, in which he tells us all how well prepared his Ministry is, at the same time exhorting parents/teachers/students to be co-operative, well-behaved and hard-working at all times.
Then, within a few weeks, the whole thing turns into a weary, soulless routine, with reports of students attacking teachers, teachers attacking students, and students attacking each other gradually floating to the surface. The students ride their carriages to school with a look of resignation on their faces; and wander home as if they never want to get there, swinging bags, laughing raucously, constantly distracted. More of the same.
It’s the younger ones I feel sorry for, tottering down the road (often unaccompanied), leaning forward to ease the burden of their heavy backpack, eyes on the ground. The bags are often too heavy for the small ones, causing them major back problems when they get older. It’s a kind of obsession. Why do they have to carry so many books every day? Is it some kind of torture invented specially for primary school kids – to see how much they can bear? And bear it they do.
So, a bunch of my fellow-bloggers have been waxing lyrical and wallowing in nostalgia over summers past, that will never be recaptured. But I think summer is quite over-rated. These are my reasons why:
- For a start, in Jamaica at least, it’s just too hot. If I decide to do something energetic like sweeping the yard (something I actually enjoy doing), the sweat pours from my brow so copiously that I find I am sweeping up my own huge drops of perspiration. The rest of the time, I sit as close to the fan as possible without getting my hair caught in it.
- There are nothing but re-runs on television. I hate re-runs. Even Bill Maher is on vacation (how dare he!)
- The English Premier League is also on a summer break, resulting in dreary weekends without football. But thank God it’s back (see my previous blog post)!
- All my favorite birds in the yard pack their bags for the summer and go up north, leaving behind the regulars, who go very quiet, storing their energy. Can’t blame them.
- I never seem to achieve that summer getaway that I am hoping for. Everyone else does, but my vacation always seems to be postponed to some other time of year.
- It seems just as hot in the country as it is in town, so going off to the seaside just results in you getting equally frazzled/frizzled.
- We have a bunch of hurricanes/tropical storms to look forward to in September, as they potter across from the west coast of Africa, inexorably into the Caribbean. Oh, that’s this month, isn’t it? Just rounding off the summer nicely.
So, I am not shedding any tears for summer’s demise. In England, my favorite time of year was always the autumn – a time for slipping on rain-soaked leaves underfoot, for rediscovering that sweater you loved wearing last year, and will wear again, for the warm, earthy colors of dahlias and chrysanthemums.
- Technology and the Opportunity for Growth – Jamaica Observer (nearshorejamaica.wordpress.com)
- Goodbye Summer! Welcome Fall! (minerva5.wordpress.com)
- Exploring The Tropical Island of Jamaica: A Unit Study For Homeschool Use (brighthub.com)
- Why I Teach (joneekhoff.wordpress.com)
- Jamaica! (journey4mj.wordpress.com)
The summer of 2011 wears on, with all its attendant troubles. Hurricane Irene steered well clear of Jamaica, but has been pounding the small and scattered islands of the Bahamas and is now turning its vengeful eye slowly northwards to the east coast of the United States. She’s a mean one. Meanwhile, elsewhere in the hemisphere, three hand grenades were thrown into a casino (Mexico); demonstrators have acquired a taste for rioting and looting (Chile); two European tourists died of heat exhaustion in Joshua Tree Desert (California); there were a couple of major earthquakes this week (Virginia, Peru); and an online journalist was murdered (Mexico again, and this is sadly not an unusual occurrence).
Everything is over-heated and miserable. But hey! The League is back!
Not the League of Gentlemen. In fact, there aren’t many gentlemen in it these days, but who cares? It’s not about good manners. Sports never really was, although it has such pretenses. (Is cricket a gentlemanly game? Perhaps it still has some vestige of decorum…)
But the Petchary digresses. It’s the English Premier League, of course. The season just began, with all its promise and hopes (and fears, for some) and its reinvigorated players throwing tons of testosterone all around the pitch. The fans (including myself) have been waiting for weeks through the tedious football-less summer weekends. The Copa America was enjoyable enough, and my personal admiration for Uruguay’s flaxen-haired star Diego Forlan increased a thousandfold.
But listen, there’s nothing like the Premier League. Week after week it ebbs and flows. The newly promoted teams flounder and try to keep their balance, now they are hanging with the big boys. The big boys themselves flex their muscles and act as if they have already won the League (but they know the race is not for the swift). The middling teams vow that they will do far better this season, because they’ve just signed Joe Bloggs, the latest hot striker (Mr. Bloggs then goes on to score three goals for the season). The managers chew gum rapidly (the ageing Sir Alex Ferguson is the worst gum-chewer of them all); the players curse (lip-reading is easy – their vocabulary isn’t very extensive); the referees make infuriating mistakes and you wonder if they are completely blind; the linesmen hold themselves erect and look very satisfied, even when they have made yet another terrible offside call; and the fans boo, whistle, and sing their team songs (have you heard the Manchester City fans’ rendition of “Blue Moon”? Richard Rodgers would turn in his grave. It was such a lovely melody…) And my son agonizes over his fantasy football team every weekend.
I will comment on the prospects for my beloved team Arsenal Football Club in another blog, when I have composed my thoughts. Suffice it to say that Arsenal qualified emphatically for the Champions League this week, defeating the diving players of Udinese on their home turf. This was due in large part to the stunning save of a penalty (and other great saves) by our wonderful young goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny (try saying that when you’ve had a few drinks).
Yes, it’s been a stinking summer so far. But thank God for the League! Welcome back, all you saints and sinners! We’ve missed you.
- “Spring tide” could boost Irene’s storm surge (cbsnews.com)
- VIDEO: Hurricane Irene batters Bahamas (bbc.co.uk)
- 8 dead in grenade attack on northern Mexico casino (sfgate.com)
- Hurricane Irene in pictures (telegraph.co.uk)
- My Copa runneth over (petchary.wordpress.com)
- English Premier League Power Rankings: Week 1 (bleacherreport.com)
- English Premier League: Predicting the Results in Week 3 (bleacherreport.com)
- Fantasy Premier League Tips: Gameweek 3 (epltalk.com)
- Udinese 1-2 Arsenal: Champions League Football Awaits Arsenal. (oleole.com)
- Wojciech Szczesny savours Arsenal’s mental toughness against Udinese (guardian.co.uk)
- Arsenal win £25m Champions League shootout against Udinese to earn Arsene Wenger a reprieve (telegraph.co.uk)
Well, it’s going to be a long hot summer. Here in Jamaica, the first tropical storm of the season, with the sweet, down-home name of Arlene, is circling around Mexico. Jamaicans in social media (and there are 600,000 of us on Facebook alone) cry plaintively, “This heat!!!” (One exclamation mark is never enough in social media-dom).
And meanwhile, some of our western hemispheric neighbors are into…rioting. And specifically, sports riots (sporting riots?). It started with the Vancouverians (no, that can’t be right, hold on a minute…I don’t know what the natives of that fair city are called but will try to find out…Vanconians, perhaps?) Yes, our “neighbors to the north” became incensed at the defeat of their ice hockey team, the Vancouver Canucks.
OK, stop right there. What in the blazes is a Canuck? It sounds like an odd little creature – somewhat chipmunkish, perhaps – that lives up there in the Rockies and eats pine cones. But no – in fact a Canuck is simply…a Canadian. Its etymology is unclear – a bit of German here, a bit of Dutch there, who knows. Anyway, it has now been established that the Canucks are Canadians. Duh, as they say. And they play ice hockey like demons.
Now, I don’t understand the rules of ice hockey, but it was clear that the Canucks were getting the proverbial whupping in that last game, at the hands of (gasp) Americans. Battling Bostonians, no less, who can exhibit just as much testosterone-laden aggression as any Vancouveronian/Canuck. As usual, the incredibly high tempo game gradually degenerated into regular pushing and shoving sessions on the plastic margins of the ice rink, during which at least one player got a bloody nose. It all ended in defeat and despair for the hapless Canucks. And defeated, not by fellow-Canucks (remember, Canuck = Canadian), but by Americans (or whatever their probably highly derogatory word for Americans is).
Yes, among sports fans things get visceral. Name-calling is but a small part of it. In any case, the humiliated fans decided the only thing to do was to “get on bad,” to use a charming Trinidadian phrase. And so they did, bringing shame and disgrace on the city of Vancouver. ”We should not be smug,” reflected one writer in the “Vancouver Observer,” adding rather pompously, “civilization is a precious and fragile thing.” Indeed. And sports fans, let’s face it, quite often border on the uncivilized. One sees plenty of evidence of that scary dark side of human nature, whether it’s racism, ultra-nationalism or just sheer mindless violence (when I was growing up in London, Chelsea fans were to be feared and respected. They were a mob of mindless hooligans, who specialized in smashing up trains).
But hey, sports is supposed to be fun! And for some Vancouverites (ah, that sounds better) it was, apparently. They posed in their Canucks paraphernalia in front of burning cars. Cheerful peace signs were flashed in front of smashed plate glass windows. The rioters did not have the grim look of hardcore anarchists. They were enjoying themselves.
I thought I understood the Canadians. I always think of them as a milder version of Americans, but now I realize they can be pretty edgy too. Once, while traveling alone on a bumpy plane journey, the turbulence made me feel so sick that a kind Canadian sitting next to me gave me some rather disgusting herbal chewing gum that was supposed to settle my stomach. That’s the kind of thing I expect Canadians to do. Not this… In the middle of a serious riot.
I wonder what the hockey players thought – the Canucks and the victorious Bruins (what is a Bruin, by the way? Further investigation needed).
Now, let’s move much further south, to some other battling denizens of the western hemisphere. Ah, here we are… Argentina.
The River Plate (Rio de la Plata) is a large and harmless river that happens to flow along the border between Ecuador and Argentina, lapping at the edges of their respective capital cities, Montevideo and Buenos Aires. It’s actually a huge estuary, brown with sediment; the fresh river water on top, heavy salt water underneath. And there was a battle there, in World War II, in which a German ship ended up out of sorts in the port of Montevideo.
It’s also, of course, the name of the famed Argentine football club. For the first time in its 110-year history, Club Atletic River Plate has been relegated to the Nacional B division. Fans of its huge rivals, the Boca Juniors, must be laughing cruelly (the BJ’s are where the ebullient Diego Maradona was virtually born and raised). Such are sports fans.
Now let’s get this straight. The mighty River Plate football club has towered over most of its competitors for over a century. Its huge stadium, nicknamed “El Monumental,” was built in 1938 and is the largest in Argentina, holding over 76,000 including the standing-only areas. When megastars are in town, they play there; Michael Jackson, Madonna, AC/DC and earlier this year, the inane Miley Cyrus played sold-out concerts. Yikes.
River Plate has won the national league, the Apertura, countless times, and was named Best Argentine Team of the 20th Century in a FIFA-sponsored poll. In the 1940s, during a particularly splendid patch, the team was called “La Maquina” (The Machine). But crisis was looming lurid on the horizon, like an approaching thunderstorm. The club’s president, Jose Maria Aguilar, left the club with debts bursting out all over. The writing was on the wall.
I am using this dramatic language advisedly, because there is nothing quite like the drama of Argentine football. The huge swelling masses of fans, walled off against each other, sway against the tall chain link fences topped with razor wire that pen them in. The Petchary thinks she would not like to be in the middle of that mass of humanity. Within minutes of a game, the pitch is littered with what look like scraps of toilet tissue and other debris, almost as if a bomb has landed in an office building and papers are scattered everywhere. And the game itself is no-holds-barred. Unlike their rather effete footballing neighbors Brazil, they don’t worry too much about fancy footwork or cute hairstyles. The main thing is to get the ball in the back of the net, so they can go racing about tugging at each other’s shirts, kissing and hugging and so that their fans can do likewise.
Now, the Petchary has more sympathy with the mortified, devastated River Plate fans than with the young, exhibitionist Vancouveronians. After all, their team was relegated for the first time ever. And the “Gallinas” – chickens, as fans of rival clubs call them – took the streets. Hell hath no fury like a chicken scorned.
Dennis Brown had a song called “Love and Hate.” It’s something like that, no half-hearted emotions here. In the case of the River Plate riots, mostly grief and hate, starting with pitch invasions when things took a turn for the worse, and death threats against the referee, who had a pretty nervy half-time break. The threats were allegedly made by one of River Plate’s gangs (yes, gangs) called Los Borrachos del Tablon (the Drunks in the Stands). Then thousands of fans who hadn’t got tickets charged the stadium, throwing lumps of rubble at the police who responded with tear gas. 89 people were injured but miraculously, no dead chickens.
- Now the Copa America, the final of which is to be played in El Monumental, is on the horizon. But peace will be restored by then. That phoney football love and harmony will flow across South America as Argentina host the Copa. After all, it is club football that inspires the deepest love/hate/passion/fury/delirium – not national teams.
- Just a footnote: the Petchary is no way condoning violence and criminality in this blog post. It’s just that she understands the agony and the ecstasy of club football (there she goes again with that melodramatic language). It is sad to see grown men cry and tear at their chests in wild grief.
- No doubt about it, River Plate and its fans will just have to suck salt from a wooden spoon (or the Argentine equivalent) throughout the upcoming season, and make sure they win the second division. And there will be no El Classico – the hyped-up annual game between them and super monster rivals Boca Juniors, either.
- What further dramas will unfold, one asks? Well, the summer is young, but getting hotter. Where will the fun and games break out next? When and where is the next G-20 or IMF meeting? That’s always good for a bit of action. Somehow I prefer sports fans, though.
- They’ve got more “oomph.” And sports is more interesting than politics.
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“Poor Haiti.” This is what we Jamaicans say with a little sigh. ”At least we are not as bad as Haiti,” is another common refrain (“bad” meaning impoverished, destitute, virtually leaderless). Our “Christian” friends say earnestly, “It’s God punishing them because they practice voodoo.” They only have a vague inkling of what voodoo is, but it must of course have a lot to do with the devil, the Christians (with an upper case C) believe…
Jamaica is one of Haiti’s closest neighbors. They are our “Haitian brothers and sisters,” as politicians and church ministers like to say, when they are trying to prove their solidarity.
But if truth be told, Haiti makes some of us quite uncomfortable. It really is a troublesome neighbor – one whose kids cry too loud, who fills up his back yard with junk, with an annoying dog that starts barking when you are trying to get your last little bit of sleep in the morning. A neighbor you may even suspect is involved in criminal activities, mysterious comings and goings late at night. So our sincerely felt sympathy is often tempered with just a little touch of exasperation.
Now this evening, Jamaica is sitting on the edge of a meandering tropical storm, Tomas. So far it has brushed us very lightly with its feathery, pale orange outer clouds, bringing gentle rain. Pale orange on the satellite map, that is. The dark orange is reserved for – oh, poor Haiti again.
“Oh, how much more can Haiti take?” we cry, wringing our hands. This year, first the earthquake (which shook us in Kingston, as a warning), then cholera, and now storms which will surely wash them all away. And even before this year, for many years there has been some kind of “Haiti crisis.” Fleeing dictators; a populist ex-priest in exile; and battered wooden boats arriving on Jamaicans shores, helped onto the beach by kind fishermen, the occupants hollow-eyed and hungry. The refugees sat forlornly on the porch of a run-down old people’s home in rural Jamaica, and some ended up in a kind of modified correctional center, before being sent home. The priest and his family were also housed in Jamaica for a while, rather more luxuriously, at a pretty country home with satin sofas and nice rugs on the floor, giving the occasional staged interview with his wife and their two daughters in their best Sunday dresses.
Poor Mr. Jean Bertrand Aristide. He loved the poor, and he wanted to help them. He might also have said, “Poor Haiti!” But the Petchary is always wary of politicians who say they “love the poor.” What makes them especially lovable? Now they say they want him back, but the chances of him returning are remote. He now lives in a government villa in Pretoria, South Africa, he can speak Zulu really well and is now Dr. Aristide (he has obtained a doctorate in African Languages). He has a new life, but the poor don’t.
But let’s get back to Haiti now. Why do Jamaicans find Haiti, and Haitians, so disturbing? Well, they are so… African, aren’t they. And there is the voodoo thing, and (one major stumbling block to comprehending their culture) they speak not just French, but a particularly opaque Creole, a language all their own. Very few Jamaicans seem to speak or understand French, but a few more are now managing to learn Spanish. The language barrier is not to be discounted.
What else about Haiti? Well, so much else. The culture is a powerful concoction of European (French with a dash of Spanish), African and Caribbean (Taino). Stir it up and you get something delicious, incredibly rich, and you can sip it in small sips and enjoy. Haitian art is so explosive and colorful it almost hurts your eyes, like staring at a huge fireworks display. There have been different schools, like the Jacmel School and the Saint-Soleil School. The Petchary has a painting by Prospere Pierre-Louis, a former member of the Saint-Soleil School, whose thickly painted expressions of the voodoo religion just jump out from the wall at you. Mr. Pierre-Louis was the son of a voodoo priest, and he died in 1996. Happy to have him on our wall.
Then there are the glittering sequin flags, the humorous, spiky metal sculptures. But sad to note, the Centre d’Art in Port-au-Prince was destroyed in January’s earthquake and its director, Francine Murat, died a few weeks later.
And the music! There is compas, a kind of lilting calypso, and hard-driving bands like Boukman Eksperyans, who danced up a storm at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington DC this past summer. Oh, and there are great writers like Lyonel Trouillot (in Haiti) and Edwige Danticat (in New York) and the poet Jean Metellus (in France). And Haitians go to the movies – yes, they do – and the Motion Picture Association of Haiti was founded in 2007.
“Poor Haiti.” It is so much more.
(The Petchary salutes inspirational and ground-breaking artistic entrepreneur Melinda Brown of Roktowa, who returned to Jamaica from Haiti just a few days before the earthquake. A couple of months after, Melinda organized a three-month residency for Haitian artists at her studio/gallery in downtown Kingston. This was a way to nurture the artists and give them the mental and physical creative space to continue their work. Jamaica, and Haiti, are lucky to have met Melinda).
- Confusion, fear as Haiti camps evacuate for storm (thegrio.com)