Here’s a lovely message from the 51% Coalition. I have learnt so much from these women in the past year. Congratulations on your second birthday!
Did you know that today, November 22 marks the second Anniversary of the 51 % Coalition. Yup! We were launched on Nov 22, 2011 in Kingston. Seems like yesterday. We have certainly come a long way, its been challenging but also a remarkable learning experience. We are proud of what we have been able to achieve so far, the contacts made, the engagement with over 200 women who have and are serving on public/private sector boards etc. We will continue our advocacy for quotas through our strategic partnerships and public awareness drive. Thanks for supporting us over the years.
Earlier this week, the Coalition organized a Tertiary Debate on Quotas for Women’s Leadership, with funding from the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung and with the collaboration of the University of the West Indies’ (UWI) Institute of Gender and Development Studies and UWI’s Mary Seacole Hall. By all accounts it was a roaring success. I was unable to be there, but am sharing a few (unofficial) photographs from the Coalition of the event, below.
Many happy returns, my sisters!
Kingston has sprung to life. The traffic is back, school is in, and it’s been a lively week so far.
More drama: The pending/possible challenge to Andrew Holness‘ leadership from former Finance Minister Audley Shaw seems to have stirred things up in the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). Previously calm (even stagnant) JLP waters are looking rather rough at the moment. Bobbing up and down on the waves on Monday night was a busload of rowdy delegates, which descended on party headquarters apparently in support of “the leader.” Also at sea were two prominent women in the party (former Culture Minister Olivia “Babsy” Grange, and Joan Gordon Webley). There was a confrontation. Ms. Grange agonized over the matter on radio this morning, using words like “hypocrisy.” And these two ladies are veteran politicians, not young hotheads! I think they all need to take a deep breath.
“Spotlight” on the rabble: Now one learns that most of those delegates (who act as a kind of Greek chorus for the main actors, I suppose) are not even eligible to vote for a new leader! And talking of noisy crowds, I am commenting on the issue of these party parties in the latest issue of “Spotlight,” a beautiful monthly online magazine edited by Reggae Film Festival founder, cultural activist and author Barbara Blake Hannah. Ms. Blake Hannah also takes a pointed look at the recent Grand Gala, and the marketing of tourism in her home parish of Portland. She also invites you to be “royal”! Read more here: https://t.co/gLcDsSkAAo
Remember those Cuban lightbulbs? The media is quite distracted by the JLP shenanigans. But the corruption trial of former Member of Parliament Kern Spencer (a former young bright spark of the People’s National Party) and his associate, which was delayed for over a year thanks to the manipulations of various lawyers, started up again this week. It’s hard to think that far back; the whole affair – a major scandal at the time – seems lost in the mists of time. Let us please try and refocus and pay close attention to what transpires in court. More to follow.
Did I say corruption? Former Contractor General Greg Christie shared a number of very useful documents on corruption from the World Bank on Twitter this week. Here’s the link: http://www.scribd.com/mobile/users/WorldBankPublications/collections/3382219
And remember Mr. Richard Azan? We don’t need to cast our mind too far back, but this gentleman has got somehow lost in the mix. As one of his comrade councilors predicted, perhaps it was a “nine-day wonder.” We were told by the Prime Minister and others that the Member of Parliament and Junior Minister was deemed “innocent” of any wrongdoing in the construction of illegal shops until reports had emerged on the matter. That was back in April. The summer has passed, and it now emerges that a report from the Ministry of Local Government has absolved Mr. Azan. Well, I never! We still wait to hear the results of the Contractor General, who is also investigating. Not a peep out of his office so far.
OK, then? So the Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ) has withdrawn its call for the resignation of Television Jamaica Chairman Milton Samuda, after he apologized for confiscating tapes of an interview with two athletes whom Samuda represented as their attorney. As they used to say on one television show, “Really, PAJ? Really?” This debacle raised multiple issues of press freedom. It’s a disturbing business, and a former PAJ President has expressed his anger at the PAJ’s latest move online. Another former PAJ president is also describing the actions of the journalists throughout as “totally spineless.” Investigations into the incident are reportedly ongoing. Good grief!
Protest the logistics hub on Facebook: There is a Facebook page now (No! to port on Goat Island, Jamaica) to protest the proposed logistics hub in the Portland Bight Protected Area (Goat Islands and beyond). Do “like” if you are concerned about this issue here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/no.onportgoatisland/
And view a photo album there too: The Society for the Conservation and Study of Caribbean Birds (SCSCB) has posted a beautiful photo album on its Facebook page, entitled “Portland Bight Protected Area 2013-2013.” Do browse through the photographs, taken by naturalist Ted Lee Eubanks of the U.S. Audubon Society, which show the amazing biodiversity of the area.
HOW many “active gangs”? Police say there are 67 “active gangs” operating in the lovely tourism mecca of Montego Bay, and that they are expanding. And there is the lotto scam connection. Do you ever visit Montego Bay, Minister Bunting, to see what’s really going on? Is anyone coming up with any solutions?
Jet skis/Live at Seven: I was very glad to see that Live at Seven last night addressed the issue of jet skis, which I raised in my blog of August 28. The regulation and licensing of these machines, whose macho operators have caused mayhem at our tourist resorts – including serious injury and deaths – appears to be problematic. Why? The Tourism Product Development Company (TPDCo) – a government agency, which is responsible – has questions to answer. We must do better.
Another shootout downtown: This is almost a weekly occurrence – a shootout between gunmen and police. I ask again: Is downtown really safe for Jamaicans to live and work?
And I have decided not to comment on the distressing photo of Roger Clarke that has circulated widely on social media since Sunday evening. You can see it at the link below. Well, by saying “distressing” I suppose you know how I feel about it, anyway. Enough said!
Meanwhile, major kudos are due to:
The Jamaica Observer (again): For their continued coverage of the proposed destruction of the Portland Bight Protected Area. An article today focuses on the endangered Jamaican Iguana, which is again threatened by the possible Chinese development. The newspaper reports that the twenty-year-old iguana conservation program was funded and supported by overseas donors (including two U.S. zoos) It notes that the development of an area where it has been re-introduced would certainly deter donor agencies from supporting future conservation efforts. I made the point in an earlier blog that all the support from overseas will evaporate if all the efforts (and money) for environmental projects is literally bulldozed.
ECCO Magazine: The new online environmental magazine (ECCO stands for Environmentally Conscious Consumer Operations) held its virtual launch yesterday on Twitter, and an interesting Twitter Chat with the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) took place today. Take a look at their beautiful website: www.eccomagazine.com - and join the conversation on social media (@ECCOMagazine and on Facebook). You can also read JET’s newsletter here: http://content.yudu.com/Library/A2efti/THEJETTERVOL1NO6/resources/index.htm
UTech Mentoring Program: Congratulations to the staff and alumni of the University of Technology (UTech) as well as private sector supporters on the launch of their 5th Annual Mentoring Program today. It is an excellent program that will no doubt empower students and encourage them along their career path in these difficult economic times.
There were five murders between last night and today. Despite the regular attempts at massaging the “major crime” figures, it is clear that murders are not down compared to last year. And that, for me, is the most major crime. Moreover, the police allegedly shot dead a pregnant woman – just over a year after a policeman shot dead a pregnant woman in Yallahs, St. Thomas in early September, 2012. My condolences to all the family and friends who mourn these Jamaicans:
Unidentified man, Olympic Gardens, Kingston
Orrett Walford, Lyndhurst Crescent, Kingston
Mario Jackson, 24, Linstead, St. Catherine
David Todd, Linstead, St. Catherine
Pamela James, Flanker/Montego Bay, St. James
George Kelly, 42, Lilliput, St. James
Donovan Murray, 34, Burnt Savannah, Westmoreland
Evon Gayle, 31, Burnt Savannah, Westmoreland
Dean McIntosh, 33, Negril, Westmoreland
Killed by the police:
Felicia Henry, 21, Dempshire Pen/Central Village, St. Catherine
Articles and links of interest:
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130902/lead/lead4.html Cedar Grove Academy opens: Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130902/lead/lead8.html Ganja has potential to attract high-end tourists: Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130902/lead/lead6.html School of Marijuana: Research facility to be established: Gleaner
http://digjamaica.com/blog/2013/09/02/dollar-continues-to-weaken/ Dollar continues to weaken: diGJamaica.com
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130903/lead/lead1.html No jobs for grads: Experts predict almost 20,000
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=47687 Roger Clarke blazes social media with the “chicken back” dance: Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130903/lead/lead3.html Source: Azan emerges unscathed in Spaldings report: Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=47744 Cuban light bulb trial: No oversight unit established to monitor program: Gleaner
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/editorial/Environmental-preservation–economic-development-not-mutually-exclusive_14987651 Environmental preservation, economic development not mutually exclusive: Jamaica Observer editorial
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130902/business/business1.html Yes, go to hell! Get on with Goat Island, megaprojects: Gleaner
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads-114/34958 No agreement on Goat Island – Dr. Davies: Jamaica Information Service
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/environment/Jamaican-Iguana-fighting-for-survival_15000242 Jamaican Iguana fighting for survival: Jamaica Observer
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130902/lead/lead91.html Milton Samuda apologizes to PAJ: Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=47719 Gunman hospitalized after shootout in Kingston: Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130902/news/news5.html Police boast human rights efforts: Gleaner
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Dempshire-Pen-residents-protest-police-killing-of-pregnant-woman Dempshire Pen residents protest police killing of pregnant woman: Jamaica Observer
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130902/cleisure/cleisure3.html Brand Jamaica August 10-18, 2013: Garth Rattray column/Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130902/lead/lead1.html Homosexuals are not targeted for violent crime, say experts: Gleaner
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/30/jamaica-anti-gay-violence_n_3844356.html Jamaica anti-gay violence continues to escalate: Huffington Post
http://www.npr.org/2013/09/02/217296757/examining-jamaicas-homophobia Examining Jamaica’s homophobia: NPR
This week is Education Week in Jamaica. It means (obviously) that the Minister of Education is exceptionally busy, with a flurry of additional functions and school visits. We have also embarked on Child Month – when much wider issues affecting children are under the microscope. These “issues” are so wide-ranging that they cannot possibly be addressed during a few speeches/seminars during one month. We must keep them at the forefront of all our thoughts and discussions right through the year. In our hearts and minds.
Earlier today – Teachers’ Day – I spent some time at St. Michael’s Primary School, in the inner city area of Rae Town. The occasion was the donation of ten computers to the school by a U.S.-based company, GTECH Corporation (see press release below). The school is tucked away on a narrow lane, in one of the oldest parts of the city, close to the waterfront. There are remnants of old brick walls, broken kerbs and overgrown patches of land. This morning, rows of lilac-colored clouds furrowed the pale morning sky; the early light was soft and a faint humid breeze blew from the harbor. And just beyond the school loomed the red brick, Victorian walls of the “General Penitentiary” – or correctly named, the Tower Street Correctional Centre, spiked with barbed wire. The children must, one assumed, be used to these close quarters, this walled horizon.
The Chairman of the School Board, the Rev. Dr. Alton Tulloch, told me that the original St. Michael’s Anglican Church, where he ministers, was destroyed during the 1907 earthquake. It was close to or on the site of the current school, and was rebuilt further back from the shoreline, on Victoria Street. (The National Library of Jamaica has a wonderful photo album on Flickr, which includes a photo of the old church after the earthquake - little more than a pile of rubble).
The school was busy getting itself in order when we arrived; a few curious students wandered up to the room where we were to peer at the beautifully decorated walls, swathed in blue and yellow. They were shushed away. There was excitement in the air, and the narrow schoolyard was filling up with strange cars. The visitors were arriving…
Monday was Read Across Jamaica Day. Ms. Deika Morrison of Crayons Count visited the Sunrays Educational Centre and read to the young children there. Pelican Publishers’ Latoya West-Blackwood visited the Central Branch Infant School and tweeted, “Don’t know how the teachers do it! So much energy in the room!” The photographs below tell the story of enjoyment and fun. Crayons Count campaigns, and provides materials, in the area of early childhood education – those years when a child’s thoughts awaken. The brain absorbs; the eyes widen and imagination begins to flow.
Albert Einstein said, “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” I grew up on fairy tales, and I don’t think they did me any harm.
Books, learning and exploring are at the core of the children’s experience at the Trench Town Reading Centre, which will celebrate its twentieth anniversary later this year. Situated in the heart of Kingston 12, just opposite the “Government Yard” where Bob Marley spent his youth, the Centre is bursting with energy and life. It is also a book-centred place of learning. No tablets here, no fancy technology; but so much creativity – hands-on – craft, music, art, gardening, dance, performing arts, and books, books, books.
And learning comes in many packages: whether it’s a tablet, a picture book or a computer such as those GTECH is providing to institutions in Jamaica.
So, wherever you are, and especially to my Jamaican readers… This month and throughout the year please do whatever you can to bring that shining light of discovery into a child’s eyes. The learning experience gives as much pleasure to the teacher and guide as it does to the young recipient. Try it, nuh! And please support organizations such as Trench Town Reading Centre and other places where the love of learning flourishes!
GTECH DONATES COMPUTERS TO ST. MICHAEL’S PRIMARY SCHOOL
Kingston, Jamaica, May 8, 2013 - Global information technology company GTECH today, Teachers’ Day, continued its commitment to fostering educational growth through their After School Advantage Programme with the handover of ten computers to St. Michael’s Primary School in Rae Town, Kingston.
This was their fifth such installation for Jamaican institutions, with two more planned by year-end. The Programme donates computers to non-profit organisations and schools with the aim of bridging the “digital divide” and empowering disadvantaged youth.
At the handover ceremony, Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining Phillip Paulwell, who gave the main address, praised GTECH’s vision. He expressed his enthusiasm for and commitment to the use of information technology in schools, as a tool that will “create inquisitive minds” and encourage innovation and creativity. He recalled an early Jamaica Computer Society programme in rural schools that resulted in “almost immediate improvements” in reading.
“I thought: therein lies the answer,” Minister Paulwell observed. He expressed the belief that, once given access to information technology, Jamaicans could become technology leaders on the global stage.
GTECH Jamaica’s General Manager Debbie Green stressed that the Programme is much more than simply donating computers. “It is about establishing a relationship with the institution,” she noted, that includes continued support and maintenance. As an example of this, St. Michael’s Primary will be GTECH Jamaica’s Labour Day project onMay 23 this year; their staff members will be engaged in painting and refurbishing activities at the school, which houses 235 students.
GTECH’s Regional General Manager/Caribbean, Ann-Dawn Young Sang, quoted Jamaican National Hero Marcus Garvey’s words, “Knowledge is power.” She noted that in this “era of rapid advancement, there should be access to the digital world for every child.” In pursuit of this vision, she noted that GTECH works in over seventy countries worldwide, with over 200 After School Centres established. Emphasizing the importance of early childhood education, Mrs Young Sang sees information technology as a vital component for the region’s competitiveness.
St. Michael’s dedicated Principal, Dave Allen, expressed his gratitude for the computers, which he said would empower his students to “become good citizens of the world.” Noting the presence of veteran educator Verna Duncan, he celebrated the significance of the day – Teachers’ Day – for his school “in our little corner” of the city. Mr. Allen and a lively percussion section accompanied a group of charming students, who performed traditional folk songs for the guests.
Technology Specialist with the USAID/Jamaica Basic Education Project Dr. Melody Williams commended the GTECH family for its focus, pointing to several key benefits of information technology in schools. “If used effectively,” she suggested, “IT enhances the child’s creative skills.” Students must be “good digital citizens,” she added, pointing to the need for responsible use of the Internet.
Since 2006, GTECH Jamaica has provided assistance to a number of schools and institutions, including Lawrence Tavern and Easington Primary Schools, Sylvia Foote Basic School, the University of Technology, Caribbean Maritime Institute, Portmore Community College, Dunrobin Primary School, Holy Trinity High School, the Jamaica Christian Boys’ Home and the SOS Children’s Village. On average, the GTECH-funded programme invests US$15,000 to open and maintain each IT centre over a period of four years.
The GTECH After School Advantage Programme started in the Caribbean in 2005 in Trinidad and Tobago, where it has established twelve centres since 2011. In the U.S. Virgin Islands, GTECH has partnered with the Queen Louise Home for Children in St. Croix. It plans to open a second centre in St. Thomas this year, as well as one in the Dominican Republic.
http://www.usaidjamaicabasiced.com USAID/Jamaica Basic Education Project
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/pages/history/story0017.html Disaster: The Earthquake of 1907
http://www.flickr.com/photos/28320522@N08/ National Library of Jamaica Flickr Photostream
http://dogoodjamaica.org/crayonscount/2013/05/07/open-books-smiling-faces-read-across-jamaica-day-2013/ Open books and smiling faces: Read Across Jamaica Day 2013
http://www.trenchtownreadingcentre.com Trench Town Reading Centre
A friend of mine teased me the other day that my weekly commentary on Jamaican affairs is generally of the gloom-and-doom variety. But hey, I am a cynical optimist. I always hope for and expect the best, but when I don’t get it… Whatever!
So much for my personal outlook on life. Let’s look at a few things that have been going on in the past week… and I have to say that I have actually found a number of “positive” stories for you, my faithful readers.
Firstly – and I think this is rather important – I was pleased to learn today of an initiative by University of the West Indies (UWI) students, a response to the recent homophobic beating of a student at the nearby University of Technology in Kingston. It is borrowed from a U.S.-based campaign called “NoH8″ (“no hate,” you see). Although some of Jamaica’s more devout Christians may not believe in the idea of love and tolerance (curious isn’t it?) I believe this is a good effort that really deserves our support – and in particular, one hopes, from public figures, celebrities etc. And I am especially glad to see young Jamaicans taking a stand. Kudos to the UWI Guild of Students’ Maya Wilkinson.
The Sunday Observer article ran a report on the matter that included comments from a student who claimed he had been tricked and harassed into participating in the campaign but subsequently withdrew when he heard that it was in support of gay marriage (which it apparently is not). The Observer’s continued ambivalence on such matters has been quite evident (the newspaper rarely seems to use the term “human rights” for example) but I am glad that they printed the article, although I am not sure about the overall tone of it. Read it and see for yourself. And I suppose one should be thankful that the Observer cartoonist no longer depicts homosexuals as bizarrely distorted freaks in women’s clothing, but rather as “fish” (this being the latest derogatory term for gays in Jamaica). You see, they are still obsessed with the topic.
But isn’t it strange how quiet our politicians are, as well as our leaders in general? They have remained mostly silent on this topic – one that is fundamental to the health of Jamaican society. The media and the Jamaican people have had much to say, and the debate has been generally thoughtful, interesting and vibrant up to this point. But clearly our leaders consider the issue of violence and intolerance of anyone who is “different” (not just gays) to be of little relevance; in fact, one has the sense that politicians, sportsmen/women, entertainers etc are avoiding the subject; or am I being unfair? The Minister of Education put out a hasty statement immediately after the University of Technology student mob chased and attacked a young man accused of being a homosexual. But since then a deafening silence, so far as I know. Correct me if I am wrong – but I have been listening out for something.
I have posted below what was probably my favorite cartoon of the week from Clovis… our beleaguered Finance Minister scraping the barrel for U.S. Dollars in the Net International Reserves. Somehow I feel stressed every time I hear him speak – because he sounds so stressed himself. It doesn’t engender confidence in me. Unlike the ever-cheerful former Finance Minister Omar Davies, he always seems rather down. Cheer up! It can’t be that bad – can it?
Oops! I promised to be positive. OK…The aforementioned UWI now has a shiny new Medical School, which will accommodate far more students than the current 350, including some foreign ones, it is hoped. It’s a nice building, and designed by a Jamaican, Robert Woodstock.
Now, I mentioned distractions in a recent blog: distractions from the large elephants currently installed in Jamaica’s living room, which is bedecked with the traditional crocheted mats and flamboyant artificial flowers. One of these was the news that the state-owned Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC), which operates buses in Kingston and surrounding areas, is to ban preachers on its buses. Yes, preachers. These devout gentlemen (I think they are mostly men) climb aboard with Bible in hand and proceed to harangue the captive, and not necessarily willing, congregation who are going about their business. They bellow, they pray, they shake their fists, they sing. At the end of their sermons, they take a collection. The preachers condemn those passengers who rebel (objecting to the proselytizing or refusing to pay up) to eternal hellfire. At which point other passengers may verbally reprimand the heathens, who then shrink into their seats with embarrassment. But hellfire might be preferable to taking a JUTC bus with a preacher on board.
This issue rattled on all week in the local media. This huge story (was it a huge story, I ask?) broke on Monday morning, and was still making front page headlines on Friday. Enough already, I cried. The preacher-on-the-bus issue was examined and discussed from every possible angle on radio talk shows, and radio and television stations ran numerous vox pops, asking every man, woman and child on the street, “What do you think?”
But then, one asked, what about the distorted, maniacal ramblings of so-called deejays, with their misogynistic lyrics that are offensive to women (and men), which minibus drivers apparently still play at full volume for the delectation of their passengers? Perhaps, as radio talk show host and Sunday Gleaner columnist Orville Taylor sagely observed, there is a serious underlying issue here, that of “respect for the rights and freedoms of others.”
This actually points to the fact that Jamaicans have a remarkable, and not particularly admirable, capacity for putting up with crap. To put it bluntly (pardon my French). And it also highlights once again a quite recent tendency for evangelical Christian beliefs to be foisted on the public in general. No meeting or meal can take place without a fervent prayer preceding it. We are told to lower our heads obediently and listen to someone asking the Almighty to direct our thoughts and guide our pens as we write, or for the food we are about to eat to be properly digested (yes). Supposing I am an atheist, an agnostic, a Hindu, a Buddhist, a Muslim or any other religion? Freedom of religion works both ways. I am sure these Christians are well-meaning, but please don’t impose your beliefs on others and simply expect us all to fall in line… But then again, Jamaicans do acquiesce, meekly. They do fall in line. Anything for a quiet life (or in the case of the JUTC buses, a noisy one).
And now, lo and behold! The Public Defender, Mr. Earl Witter, bestirred himself yesterday and decided he was going to investigate the constitutionality of the whole affair. A fellow blogger has commented on this, and you will find the link to his sharply observed blog post below. I plan to write more, but would just like to enquire of Mr. Witter: Could you kindly give us an update on your report on the Tivoli Gardens “incursion“ of May 2010, during which over seventy Jamaican citizens died at the hands of the security forces? This report was promised to us within two weeks, some months ago now (or maybe I imagined that). The Gleaner enquired about it in its editorials of August 27 and October 3 of this year. The Public Defender, who has described himself as a “whipping boy” for the media, has promised that we will soon see the report. When can we exhale, dear Mr. Witter?
Meanwhile, it’s politics time again. This time, the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) held its annual conference – a rather subdued affair compared to last year’s, when a huge crowd, transported by many buses, converged on the National Arena just prior to the election – which, of course, the JLP comprehensively lost a few weeks later. This year they met at the Jamaica Conference Centre downtown – a really nice, more intimate venue compared to the cavernous and ugly arena – just for one day, not two. Many supporters, however, said they preferred the Arena (perhaps it was harder for them to smoke their ganja at the Conference Centre – this is a party conference tradition, by the way).
Today’s Sunday Observer ran the eager headline this morning, “JLP in turmoil.” The Sunday Gleaner chimed in, “Warmington faces JLP’s wrath” (the last two words in huge red letters). Yes, once again the local media have discovered unrest in the JLP ranks, and there is nothing that they enjoy more than alleged plots and sub-plots within either of the two political parties. Mr. Everald Warmington (always one for a bit of excitement) filed a court injunction to prevent the election of deputy leaders (there are four) which he said was in breach of the party constitution. He withdrew the injunction at the end of the week, so I don’t know where that leaves us. It’s a nice tasty morsel for the local media to get their teeth into, though. Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Andrew Holness (who served as our Prime Minister briefly last year before his thumping defeat) sounded more than usually animated this afternoon at the podium, expressing concern for the poor – he took a leaf out of Portia Simpson Miller‘s book there. He actually shouted. It was quite invigorating.
Now, party politics – especially suspected internal upheavals – is always a major distraction. So, too, was another eulogy in the Lower House: this time for former Prime Minister PJ Patterson, who made a speech himself. They did “Uncle Eddie,“ and now it was PJ’s turn to have his afternoon of speechifying. Our current Prime Minister put on her brightest party colors for the occasion. This is all under the umbrella of Jamaica 50, one understands. No comment.
Didn’t I promise to be “positive” this week? Well, here goes: on the government side, there has been some movement. Couched in “anti-colonialism” terms, rather than with reference to Jamaicans’ human rights, the bills to abolish flogging were tabled in the Upper House last week. Also sitting on the Senate’s table is the Evidence (Special Measures) Act, designed to enable video evidence to be considered in court. This is an absolutely vital piece of legislation as the government continues to struggle with the deeply-embedded thorn in our side, the ubiquitous lotto scam. Good job, Justice Minister Mark Golding.
It’s important to reward young scientists and innovators; we need far more of them. The Jamaica Public Service Company recently sponsored a series of awards under the aegis of Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining Phillip Paulwell. Many congratulations to the winners of the Innovation of the Year Award (worth a cool two million Jamaican Dollars) from UWI’s Natural Products Institute; and to Sunderland Primary School in St. James for their Youth Innovator Award – this for a remarkable pothole-patching compound. Much needed across the island, especially since Hurricane Sandy!
Speaking of technology, I attended the Caribbean Beta 2012 tech entrepreneurship conference in Kingston on Friday, and was deeply impressed by the caliber of the panelists; the excellent organization; and above all, the enthusiasm of the participants and the eighteen teams who competed in the afternoon in a “PitchFest” for their products – many of them mobile applications. Caribbean Beta is the brainchild of Ingrid Riley, supported by a young and energetic team at Connectimass. Read more at caribbeanbeta.com and take a look at Ingrid’s excellent website at www.siliconcaribe.com. More details in another blog post that I plan to write this week. Congratulations to all involved in this marvelous event – not just talk, but practical, learning stuff – a “boot camp” continued over the weekend for start-up companies.
And on the same theme, this year’s Jamaican Rhodes Scholar is UWI student Vincent Taylor, who is currently studying for an M.Phil in Computer Science. Runner-up is medical doctor and UWI graduate Katherine Innis, who will compete for the Commonwealth Caribbean Scholarship. Mr. Taylor, I hope you will enjoy and greatly benefit from study at my own alma mater!
I am personally so thrilled to hear that the St. Patrick’s Foundation, a faith-based NGO that does amazing work in inner-city areas of Kingston, has been receiving so much support from the friends of St. Luke’s Catholic Church in McLean, Virginia over the years – amounting to more than two million U.S. dollars! The contributions of overseas churches, universities, diaspora groups and volunteers of all ages to Jamaica are so great that it is almost impossible to quantify in monetary terms. And that does not even count all the goodwill engendered. What would we do without them all…
By the way, I am sorry I missed a very special art exhibition yesterday in downtown Kingston. 34-year-old Astro Saulter, who has cerebral palsy, uses the back of his head to paint digital pictures with a special device in his wheelchair. His first solo art exhibition was launched at Studio 174 downtown yesterday. Astro has two creative brothers, too – young Jamaican filmmakers Nile and Storm Saulter of New Caribbean Cinema. They have made a short film, “Astro, the Morning Star,” which will be screened at a special event tomorrow. Read more below… Congratulations Astro, and to your brothers for your loving support!
And finally, my deepest condolences to the family, colleagues and friends of police Corporal Robert Sortie, who was shot dead on a busy Kingston street last week. And to the loved ones of all those who have died violently in the past week. I should add that the families of those people (including many children) who are missing are also in my thoughts. I cannot imagine the fear and anxiety of having a loved one who has disappeared. I hope they all come home safely, and soon.
Sasia Johnson, 35, Little London, Westmoreland
Travis Welcome, 21, Jobs Lane, Spanish Town, St. Catherine
Unidentified man, Denham Town, Kingston
Corporal Robert Sortie, Constant Spring Road, Kingston
Shanique Pinnock, 27, Old Harbour, St. Catherine
http://dmarcuswilliams.blogspot.com/2012/11/public-defense-of-twisted-priorities.html?showComment=1353213315787#c5807704627188400409 (Public Defense of Twisted Priorities: Cogito Ergo Sum)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=41204 (Bunting decries Corporal’s killing: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=41201 (Public Defender held up and robbed: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121111/arts/arts2.html (Introducing Astro Saulter – digital painter mounts first exhibition: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121116/cleisure/cleisure2.html (Freedom and restraint: Jamaica Gleaner/Peter Espeut op-ed)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121116/business/business2.html (Bank of Jamaica predicts fourth quarter contraction of Jamaican economy: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121117/lead/lead1.html (Foul affair: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121117/letters/letters4.html (All hail PJ Patterson! Jamaica Gleaner/Letter to the Editor)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/13-arrested-in-Lottery-scam-raid (Thirteen arrested in lottery scam raid: Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Bills-to-abolish-flogging-tabled-in-Senate_13018187 (Bills to abolish flogging tabled in Senate: Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/No-more-H8_13009532 (No more H8: University students fight discrimination: Sunday Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/JLP-in-turmoil_13025168 (JLP in turmoil: Sunday Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=41221 (JLP leader outlines solutions to aid Jamaica’s poorest: Sunday Gleaner)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/new-pnpyo-president-elected (New PNPYO president elected: RJR)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121117/letters/letters4.html (All hail PJ Patterson! Letter to the Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121118/focus/focus4.html (Thou shalt not preach…on JUTC buses: Sunday Gleaner op-ed by Orville Taylor)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Public-Defender-tackles-ban-on-bus-preachers_13025007 (Public Defender tackles ban on bus preachers: Sunday Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121003/cleisure/cleisure2.html (Earl Witter and the missing report: Gleaner editorial, October 3, 2012)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Phillips–Shaw-s-claims-have-no-basis_13009361 (Phillips: Shaw’s claims have no basis: Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Cop-shot-and-killed (Cop shot and killed: Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/NEWS/Big-contribution-to-St-Patrick-s-Foundation-from-Virginia_13007574 (Big contribution to St. Patrick’s Foundation from Virginia: Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/News/BoJ-projects-1-7–contraction-in-economy (Bank of Jamaica projects 1.7% contraction in economy: Jamaica Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121111/arts/arts2.html (Introducing Astro Saulter – digital painter mounts first exhibition: Jamaica Gleaner)
Sunday Elephants: November 11, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)
Sunday After Sandy: October 28, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)
Jlp at War With Itself Again ? (commonsenseja.wordpress.com)
Radcliffe Lewis Tells Bus Preachers Their Practice Is … An Offence And A Crime (steppaz1961.wordpress.com)
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)
A fellow blogger, Diana McCaulay (also a well-known environmental activist and award-winning novelist), is a Jamaican living in Jamaica. She wrote this post yesterday evening on her blog. It is about love and family, hatred and bigotry. It is very personal, and painful – and sad. Do read, and share. The link is at http://www.dianamccaulay.com/apps/blog/show/19730499-i-promise-to-love-you-for-the-rest-of-my-life
Two male students from the University of Technology (U-Tech) were said to have been caught in a ‘compromising position’ in a bathroom on the evening of November 2nd, 2012 – it is not known what they were doing and all a mob needs is a rumour. A growing crowd of other students chased the young men across the campus. One of the students escaped. The other sought refuge in the security guard post on Hope Road and what happened next was filmed by a cell phone camera. It is dark and the figures are shadowy, but it is clear that a crowd of hundreds is gathered shouting anti gay curses, demanding blood. There is laughter and an air of salacious excitement, what happen, some voices ask? One voice asks to be let in on the fun. The video camera steadies and the inside of the security post can be seen through the glass. The three security guards seem unsure what to do, but soon two of them beat the clearly terrified young man. The crowd roars. There is the sound of breaking glass.
It seems to me a Pontius Pilate moment, if I remember my Bible correctly. An innocent man delivered up to a judge of sorts, a baying mob outside. The judge seeks to appease the crowd with a beating but it is not enough. And we know the end of that particular story.
Other facts emerge. There had been car thefts the night before, a recurring problem on the U-Tech campus, leading to a horrific mob killing in 2003. Some people seem to have thought the man being chased was a car thief, as did the security guards, at least initially. Students found the young man’s photo and plastered it all over the Internet, destroying any hope he can continue to live a normal life in Jamaica, at least for the foreseeable future, and jeopardizing the continuation of his education. The guard company, Marksman Ltd., fired two of the guards the same day, the fate of the others is still under investigation. U-Tech issued a statement condemning the attack. YouTube took down the video, only to have it reposted over and over again. Social media erupted with blogs and comments. Petitions were started.
The title of the YouTube video I reluctantly watched was “Beat the Fish 2!!!” (sic) “Fish” is one of many odious Jamaican slang terms for a homosexual. The day after the attack, Friday, I was utterly unproductive at work, constantly refreshing the Facebook pages and blogs I follow, to see what was being said. There were no public comments following the articles published in Jamaica’s two daily newspapers. This was highly unusual. I wondered if, at long last, the editors of our mainstream publications had decided not to give hate speech any oxygen. But the lack of comment was short lived.
It’s personal for me. My son is gay. Every hateful, bigoted, violent remark is flung directly at him. I miss my son every day of my life, but I am so glad he does not live here. The question is: Why do I?
I had my Jamaican passport with me on Friday, because I needed to make a photocopy. I noticed it on my desk and I held it. I felt, still feel, deeply ashamed to be Jamaican. I felt complicit in this attack because of my long ago decision to remain here, to claim my Jamaican nationality, my Jamaican identity. Now, too late, I want to rescind that decision. I don’t want to be identified as part of a nation that defends and supports an anti gay stance as being cultural, as being Christian, as being an aspect of our sovereignty, our right.
It occurs to me this is why the separation of Church and State is vital. It seems harmless, even positive, when people say: Jamaica is a Christian nation. Public prayer at virtually every function seems relatively innocuous – oh sure, there might be people of other faiths in the room, but Jamaica is a Christian nation, right, they’ll understand, they must adapt to the majority’s wishes. But it is not innocuous. As they always have been, religious beliefs are being used as justification for the abrogation of the human rights of some. Religious beliefs belong in places of worship among those who share such beliefs and nowhere else. They must not have the weight of the State behind them.
In an interview with Cliff Hughes on Nationwide News Network on Friday, I heard the Minister of Education, Hon. Ronnie Thwaites, strongly condemn the U-Tech attack. Well and good, Deacon Thwaites. But it was you who recently pandered to the mob in the withdrawing of educational materials trying, however clumsily, to deal with the issue of respect and tolerance for gay people.
See Annie Paul’s post Gay Bashing in Jamaica a National Policy? for more on this issue: http://anniepaul.net/2012/11/03/gay-bashing-in-jamaica-a-national-policy/
I am tired of pretending that all aspects of our culture are defensible. They are not. There is much about being Jamaican to be ashamed of – our violent and bigoted speech and action towards gays and lesbians tops the list.
A month ago, I went to England, where my son lives, to attend the celebration of his civil union with his long standing partner, another man. The registrar who conducted the ceremony began with a simple statement about relationships between gay people. She said these unions had existed for centuries but only now was it possible for them to have legal status. My son and his partner had written their own vows and the last one was a simple one: “I promise to love you for the rest of my life.” Two honest, productive, fine young men, one Jamaica’s loss, promising to love and honour each other, to walk with each other through life. I thought there should be a banner above where they stood, something huge, big enough to be visible all the way across the Atlantic in my homeland asking this simple question: WHAT EXACTLY ARE YOU AFRAID OF?
Also Sticks and Stones by Petchary: http/petchary.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/40922utechbeating20121101c.jpg and http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/11/03/sticks-and-stones/
- Two university guards in Jamaica accused of assaulting gay student (with video) (vancouversun.com)
- Sticks and Stones (petchary.wordpress.com)
- We Are Family: on Blog Action Day 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)
- Gay Bashing in Jamaica a national policy? (anniepaul.net)
Why are we sighing? Because it seems that, after all the jubilation and celebration, Jamaica is returning to reality. And reality doesn’t look too good right now.
For a start, the police recently announced a decrease in major crimes, and even a sixteen per cent drop in murders. Coming on the heels of our celebrations, this felt rather good. OK, Jamaica is regrouping. But. If you look at the list of names at the end of this post – it has been a very bad week. As the police doggedly pursue the scavengers and vampires otherwise known as the “lotto scammers” (eight more were arrested in the Montego Bay area) three people were murdered in one small area of the city yesterday; one does not know, of course, if the two activities were connected. And this morning came news that an attorney-at-law and lecturer at the Norman Manley Law School and University of Technology in Kingston, Clover Graham. The bare, cruel facts are that her body was found this morning in Caymanas, St. Catherine, near the Polo Club – a lush, green and relatively undeveloped area off the highway between Kingston and Spanish Town. Nearly four years ago, Ms. Graham’s son Taiwo McKenzie and his girlfriend Janelle Whyte were murdered in what came to be known as the “good samaritan” murders. The couple were involved in an motor vehicle accident in Kingston in which two men were injured. They took the men to hospital and the next day went to help them, taking with them medicine, crutches etc – and were never seen again. Two men were convicted of their murders in June.
So another intelligent, caring Jamaican who had already given – and still had so much to give – to Jamaican society has been cruelly killed. It is hard to make any sense out of all this. The old, familiar feeling of loss hits you. When a middle-class member of society is murdered, the shock lasts for a few days in uptown Kingston, and then we get back to our lives. There is a big funeral, eulogies, tears. And then on, until another “high profile” murder occurs.
For me, all such sad and violent deaths are high profile – whether uptown or downtown. All are stories of a life abruptly severed. That is why I include a list of all those Jamaican citizens, young or old, rich or poor or in-between, who have left us. I grieve for their families, their friends and colleagues. We see them nightly on the television news, unable to find words, a lost and distant look in their eyes; or wailing and throwing themselves to the ground while sympathizers try to hold them up on their feet. People who live outside Jamaica don’t know how it feels to experience this almost on a daily basis. Perhaps we should be numb. I need a heavy anesthetic, the kind where you can sense something happening, but you don’t feel the pain.
It was not my plan to talk about the crime issue today, but to point to a couple of other issues that flared up last week. The two “e”s – Education and the Economy.
Now, I have often teased our Minister of Education Ronald Thwaites in this blog about his many stirring motivational speeches over the past few months. But he brought me up sharp on Thursday morning, during an interview with radio talk show host Barbara Gloudon. The topic was, unsurprisingly, teachers. The disappointing Caribbean Secondary Examination Certificate (CSEC) examination results had already dropped into the lovely calm pool of post-Independence, post-Olympics “good vibes” – creating disturbing ripples. Minister Thwaites bluntly told Ms. Gloudon that during his tour of the island visiting numerous schools, he was “not sanguine” about the quality of English teachers – in fact, he suggested, many of them are not capable of teaching English properly. They must be proficient in English themselves. The thorny issue of patois-speaking teachers teaching standard English – and admonishing the students, as I have often heard, in raw patois – has been with us for a long time and is unresolved. Minister Thwaites declared, “We have to overcome our ambivalence about the English language…This is crazy.” Crazy, indeed. He then dropped a bombshell that reverberated like the fireworks I heard after the Independence Grand Gala, which shook our windows. Only sixteen per cent of teachers, Minister Thwaites pointed out, are actually qualified to teach Math.
I wondered if I had heard right. He must have said sixty per cent. That would have not been very impressive, either. But no – he did say sixteen! I foresee a bit of a battle with the Jamaica Teachers’ Association, which is probably overdue anyway. But I do applaud the Minister for telling it like it is. I also feel (as the government has been saying for some time) that much more emphasis must be put in at the primary school level. High school is too late. There is a push towards building early childhood education and literacy; but I know of one newly-qualified early childhood literacy specialist, young and eager to teach, who is still seeking work, with no success. There must be jobs for the teachers if they are encouraged to gain qualifications in these priority areas. Otherwise it doesn’t make sense.
I agree also with Minister Thwaites that education is not all about “swotting” for exams. Self-expression must be encouraged, imaginations sparked, critical thinking taught. During the same program, Ms. Gloudon spoke with the Ministry’s chief public servant about practical matters related to Back to School (often written with upper case these days I’ve noticed), as we are entering that annual period of nervous anticipation now. When asked about school security, she said that fixing school perimeters with fencing or even walls would cost at least J$50 million and there was simply no money for that. She added, with a somewhat wistful air, that “the community must be a watchdog” in keeping the school secure and preventing the frequent vandalism and robbery that takes place. But it seems to me that the community often preys on the institutions that are there to serve and uplift their children. (New computer lab? Ah, that’s a tempting thought…) I can barely suppress my anger when I see some overwrought school principal on television, bemoaning the loss of some recently-donated computers, while the camera pans to empty electrical sockets and a few dangling wires, and perhaps also a ransacked office where the vampires have been searching for cash. (Yes, vampire is my word of the day, I think!)
Rumblings on the economy, too – like today’s thunderstorms rattling around the hills. In case it has escaped anyone’s notice, our Net International Reserves are declining as, I believe, the Bank of Jamaica continues to support our gently sliding Jamaican Dollar. Because yes, it is sliding. Let’s call it J$90/US$1 now – we are just a few cents below that. CVM Television broadcast two well-edited and hard-hitting reports last week that included interviews with local financial analysts Dennis Chung and Ralston Hyman. Both were sharply pointed in their comments. I would recommend Mr. Chung’s article in Friday’s Jamaica Observer, in which he draws our attention to some uncomfortable facts of life. (By the way, Mr. Chung also believes that Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell is “on the right track,” and I agree). There is still no agreement with the International Monetary Fund (although we were led to believe that the whole thing would have been “renegotiated” in short order by the current administration, during last year’s election campaign). In fact, we appear to be nowhere near an agreement. There are warnings from ratings agencies, and we all know that markets – and investors – don’t like uncertainty. That’s one thing they hate. But these are very uncertain times.
The Sunday Observer editorial comments on this unnerving state of affairs today, referring to the Caribbean in general. We have taken a “self-inflicted” course – what seemed to be the easy road, one might say. The editorial comments, very cogently, “Common to all governments in the Caribbean is the ability to deny reality. If we do not take life seriously, do not expect anybody to take us seriously.” But we haven’t grown up. We are still fêting, as today’s Sunday Gleaner editorial cartoon suggests…
Meanwhile, the Finance Minister was busy talking to People’s National Party followers last weekend about Independence. An interesting report in Thursday’s Gleaner (which I cannot find online – what has happened to your search engine, Gleaner?) by Carl Gilchrist notes Minister Phillips’ comments on the great strides Jamaica has made since August 1, 1962. “Let no one tell you no fairy tale that colonialism was a good thing or better for us; foolishness, absolute nonsense!” he expostulated. I would have hoped that a man of his education and knowledge could have put it a little better – and perhaps indicated how, and why, Independence has been good for us in more detail. Perhaps he did. After all that blustering, he did concede that Jamaica still had to deal with one troublesome little matter: poverty. Humph.
Any word on the economy, Minister Phillips? No? Well, as usual in the eternal conflict, politics trumps the economy, every time. So it guh.
Meanwhile, we are currently hosting an illustrious visitor – Dr. Julius Garvey. Dr. Garvey is the son of Jamaica’s first National Hero Marcus Garvey, to whom much lip service is paid. And I am pleased to say that the Mayor of Kingston has declared August 17 (his birthday) Marcus Garvey Day. Friday was a special day — Marcus Garvey’s 125th birthday. Please note the background color of my blog – the flag of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) which the revered civil rights activist founded.
As Dr. Garvey marched along Duke Street – heading to or from Liberty Hall, I am not sure – with flag-waving Garveyites in tow, he walked straight into a chaotic scene. Close to sixty squatters had been evicted from a property that many of them had occupied for decades. The media focused on a forty-year-old woman, who has eight children and expecting another. The woman, looking many years older than forty, exclaimed, “We are treated like animals…On the street with a million kids!” The property is privately owned, and with the (albeit slow) development of downtown Kingston the owner probably wants to do something with it. The bailiff, and others officials, say that they had been negotiating with the squatters for some time to get them out, but all deadlines had expired. Meanwhile, their Member of Parliament and former mayor Desmond McKenzie has promised to help.
The reaction of many Jamaicans online has been unsympathetic, rather harsh, even sarcastic. Where are the fathers, they ask? These children are all going to grow up to be gunmen. Why don’t these women get their tubes tied? And so on.
Well, guess what, Dr. Garvey. This is the face of poverty - the issue that, by Dr. Phillips’ own admission, we have not got a handle on yet, after fifty years.
But this is terrible, said Dr. Garvey. Why weren’t arrangements made for the squatters to be relocated, how could they be sitting on the street? Speaking on Television Jamaica, Dr. Garvey pointed out, in a polite and low-key way, that Jamaica must stop blaming others for these problems. He said, in some many words, that we have too much “baggage.” A sensible and thoughtful man. When asked what the solution was for Jamaica, he simply said, “Education, education, education.”
Congratulations are in order..
To the business community of St. Elizabeth, a parish where much activity takes place, especially in the field of agriculture. It has re-established the long-dormant St. Elizabeth Chamber of Commerce, now headed by Mr. Howard Hendricks. We look forward to hearing more about their activities.
To the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) which held an open day in Mandeville on Friday to highlight and educate the public about its work. INDECOM investigates all types of abuses by the security forces. I am glad also that Minister of National Security Peter Bunting (who is Member of Parliament for the area) spoke at the event and expressed his support for INDECOM, which has replaced the former Police Public Complaints Authority. The police have not exactly welcomed the government agency with open arms. And Minister Bunting did appear to have a little dig at INDECOM when he said it was important to remain “unbiased” – its head Terrence Williams had participated in a press conference held by human rights lobby group Jamaicans for Justice some time ago (but aren’t both organizations upholders of human rights?). I am not sure if Minister Bunting’s comment was really necessary, even though it was a sort of aside.
To the Mayor of Kingston, Angela Brown Burke, for declaring August 17 Marcus Garvey Day. This is overdue. OK, I know a day is just a day. But special days are symbolic, and they are reminders. The importance of Mr. Garvey’s legacy cannot be overlooked or denied. I am happy that his teachings are to be incorporated into the school curriculum, but wonder whether the teachers themselves can understand or interpret it.
To the Attorney General’s Department for its outreach to the Best Care Children’s Home. They didn’t just hand out sweeties and pat the kids on the head. I was quite moved by the report on their visit; they had sourced gifts that had been personally requested by the residents.
USAID for its annual Camp Summer Plus. The “plus” is that this is not your average summer camp. According to USAID’s press release, the camp’s “two main aims are to provide focused, intensive, data-driven academic programmes through technology and the arts in the critical areas of reading and mathematics; and to provide nutritional, psychological, social and other support which are known to impact student performance.” Serious and well-conceived.
To Jamaica’s female cricketers! They defeated Trinidad & Tobago yesterday in the T-20 finals, and now dominate the English-speaking Caribbean. Kudos to the ladies!
Finally, a big “Get Well Soon” to former Prime Minister Bruce Golding, who is recuperating in Miami from a very serious infection in his back. The infection started after surgery in Jamaica and was not corrected by second surgery, so he went overseas. It seems that the Jackson Memorial Hospital came to his rescue. His recovery is likely to take months. I wish him a full recovery and send best wishes to his loving wife and family.
And last but by no means least, I send my deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of the following Jamaicans, who were murdered over the past week. Our land is stained with their blood.
Killed by the police:
Oteno Chambers, 22, St. John’s Road, St. Catherine
Damion Saunders, Fitzgerald Avenue, Kingston 13
Romaine Ferron, Fitzgerald Avenue, Kingston 13
Errol Cohen, 48, Spaldings, Clarendon
Unidentified man, Orange Street, Kingston
Kevorn Thompson, 17, Greater Portmore, St. Catherine
Christopher Walters, 44, Dyke Road, Portmore, St. Catherine
Unidentified man, Old Harbour Villa, St. Catherine
Demus Williams, Westchester, St. Catherine
Bentley Parker, Westchester, St. Catherine
Kevin Butler, 32, Annotto Bay, St. Mary
Linton Banton-Dean, 24, Annotto Bay, St. Mary
Unidentified man, Allman Hill, St. Andrew
Unidentified man, Steer Town, St. Ann
Unidentified man, Roaring River, Westmoreland
Shernette Parker, 32, Knoxwood, St. Elizabeth
Peter Cunningham, 34, Retirement, St. James
Keith Maxwell, 65, Granville, St. James
Ramesh Sutherland, 25, Granville, St. James
Simon Munroe, 26, Flanker, St. James
Chase Facey, 24, Westmeade, St. Catherine
Clover Graham, 56, Caymanas, St. Catherine
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Attorney-found-dead (Attorney found dead – Jamaica Observer)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/news/local/three-killed-shootings-rock-granville-st-james (Three killed as shootings rock Granville, St. James – Radio Jamaica)
http://newsandviewsbydjmillerja.wordpress.com/2012/08/19/losing-that-loving-feeling-jamaica-50/#comment-958 (Losing that loving feeling – Dionne Jackson Miller’s blog)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Unqualified-teachers—Minister-says-only-16–qualified-to-teach-Math_12308827 (Minister says only 16 per cent qualified to teach Math – Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/CXC-furious–Wants-Jamaican-critics-to-stop-the-blame-game_12307764 (CXC furious, wants Jamaican critics to stop the blame game – Jamaica Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120818/cleisure/cleisure1.html (Assessing CSEC exam results – Gleaner editorial)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/business/After-Jamaica-50–Olympics-comes-economic-reality_12306785 (After Jamaica 50, Olympics comes economic reality – Dennis Chung/Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/editorial/Our-region-is-feting-when-we-should-be-fretting_12312137 (Our region is fêting when we should be fretting – Sunday Observer editorial)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120819/cleisure/cleisure3.html (Why is Marcus Garvey a National Hero? – Carolyn Copper/Sunday Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/EVICTED–Pregnant-woman-with-eight-children-among-60-thrown-off-Duke-Street-property (Pregnant woman with eight children among 60 thrown off Duke Street property)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120819/news/news1.html (A cycle of poverty – Sunday Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120819/lead/lead92.html (UHWI operating with only one ambulance – Sunday Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Taking-best-care_12276664 (Taking best care – Attorney General’s Department – Jamaica Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=39238 (Bruce Golding’s recovery to take months)
Jamaica 50 Special: Monday, August 6, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)
Sunday Strides: August 12, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)
Marcus Garvey in Jamaican schools (caribbean360.com)