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)
The squalls of last night are over. I lay in bed with continuous thunder, lightning and sheets of rain falling, assaulting my senses and rendering me sleepless. A cup of strong Blue Mountain coffee is helping to revive me. Thanks for just brushing by us, Tropical Storm Isaac. It could have been a lot worse. Nine silly people traveling through the notorious Bog Walk Gorge (basically, a main road running between a river and a sheer rock face) had to be rescued from the roofs of their cars last night. Now, Sunday morning in Kingston has been bright and breezy; and the lawn has grown by several inches overnight.
So, on to the week that was. It was the usual odd mix of melodrama and “nutten nah gwaan” (for non-Jamaicans, this means “nothing happening”).
First, the drama. The big “C” reared its ugly head (corruption, not cancer – although you could say that one is the other). The case (brought by a police sergeant who should be highly commended and supported) involves a Businessman (or “big man” as we call these powerful men in SUVs), a high-profile Police Senior Superintendent, and an Opposition Politician. I think it is fair to say that these three categories of Jamaicans – businessmen, politicians and the police force – are regarded with the greatest suspicion by the average man/woman on the street. There is always that little corruption? question mark. Trust, or the lack of it, is a terrible thing.
In this case, the Businessman was stopped by the Sergeant for speeding in said SUV, and allegedly offered him a bribe. According to media reports, in a complicated web of negotiations described as “mediation,” the Sergeant was told to discuss the matter with a Senior Policeman, who, it is alleged, “took care of things.” The Politician also intervened, as the Businessman is a great friend of his; he is charged with breaching Section 14(2) of the Corruption Prevention Act while Senior Policeman and Businessman are charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice. The case came to court last week; there were many cynical comments, some shock and some puzzlement that a Businessman should go to such lengths to avoid a mere traffic ticket. Is this how “big men” arrange their lives? There was much excitement outside the courthouse last week when the three accused, accompanied by various family members and supporters, arrived. The Senior Policeman had a very pained and sad look, head bowed, clutching his wife’s hand; the Businessman and his Wife looked cool and well-dressed, in matching designer shades; the Politician appeared happy for the attention and, as usual, talked too much. “I always say, ‘Who God bless, no man curse,’” he cheerfully told an eager television reporter. OK, then.
Now, I felt that the eviction of around sixty people in downtown Kingston a week ago – mostly women and children – was treated rather carelessly by aspects of the media. The focus seemed to be wrong. Since then, commentators have got to grips with the issue to some extent. But listen, folks, this is serious. It’s fine for us to say, “Well, they shouldn’t have so many children…They expect us to support them…I don’t feel sorry for them…They want everything for free,” etc. But why aren’t we addressing the core issue? Does no one want to talk about it? And that issue is poverty. Yes, the p-word. Jamaica Observer columnist Mark Wignall wrote an insightful piece on the matter today – the link is below. He describes the situation of squatting as a “tragedy.” Of course it is. If one-third of your population live in “informal settlements,” - at the mercy of the environment, in unhealthy conditions, preyed on by criminals, and used by politicians as a vote-getting group at election time – what else can you call it?
It is a tragedy. But these are poor people. Somehow it’s all their fault, they shouldn’t be poor. But all is not lost; the politicians “love” them (i.e. love their votes). As Wignall’s colleague columnist James Moss-Solomon notes, “The so-called ‘love of the poor’ is not expressed as a hatred of poverty and a need to eliminate that scourge, but is reminiscent of sharing the suffering of Jesus without wanting to remove the nails if we are able.” Mr. Moss-Solomon was writing in general about that elusive concept of unity - which a number of leading Jamaicans were waxing lyrical about on the Gleaner front page in the weeks before Independence. Unity – and division. See more division below.
In the Nutten Nah Gwaan section: Well, after not much more than a year, the commuter railway revived by the previous Jamaica Labour Party administration ran its last trip through the parish of St. Catherine. Yes, we know the economic reasons for its closure. But this was most disheartening. It was not as if Jamaicans were not using it – they loved it. A CVM Television series focused on reactions to the closure, and the commuters suggested it could have made much more money if it had run to Kingston, or even Montego Bay. In our fiftieth year of Independence, this was somehow not morale-boosting.
Are we in recession? asked an article in the Business Observer last week. Well, the head of the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ) and the Governor of the Bank of Jamaica seem confused, but it’s fair to say, I think, that “nutten nah gwaan” in the Jamaican economy. The PIOJ tried desperately to put some kind of positive spin on what appeared at first report (via the Statistical Institute of Jamaica) to have been negative growth in the first quarter of 2012. Isn’t that a recession, then? It ended up predicting between minus 0.5 per cent and plus 0.5 per cent growth for the September quarter. The looks on their faces said it all. They were not
Mayor of Kingston Angela Brown Burke says she is “working behind the scenes” after coming under fire from the Gleaner in an editorial last week. Like all the others, Ms. Brown Burke made a wonderful speech at her swearing-in in April. We have not heard much from her since… But let’s give her the benefit of the doubt. It’s only been a few months. But it seems we are all impatient…
Meanwhile, our Prime Minister allows her ministers to get on with their portfolios, and does not interfere – so she told a television reporter this week when asked to comment on an issue. Is this the hands-off, autopilot approach to leadership?
“I see a nation that is drifting,” intoned radio talk show host on Nationwide News Network Ronald Mason last week. “There has been eight months of inertia.” I can just hear another famed talk show host, the late Wilmot Perkins, agreeing with him. Mr Perkins would have added, “Things fall apart…The center cannot hold.” Back to Mr. Mason: “I see no motivation, no reassurance from our political leaders.” These comments got the listeners and callers all revved up for a few hours of gloom and doom, last week, I can tell you.
Something is going on at Caymanas Park, where our horse racing takes place. Here are some pieces of information, and you can make out of it what you will. Minister without Portfolio in the Ministry of Finance Derrick Kellier announced recently that the Government plans to sell Caymanas, but wants good money for it. Last week, among the many murders (see list of names below) a racehorse trainer was shot in the head by two gunmen who seemed to be waiting for him as he drove into the Park. There is poor security there, it appears – Caymanas is “bruck.” Then, just last night, gunmen broke into the office at Caymanas, held up some staff and stole more than seven million Jamaican Dollars cash. Well, I don’t know. Some things we can never get to the bottom of…
Why am I not impressed?
…By the lovely 2012 Mercedes Benz driven by the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries Donovan Stanberry. Mr. Stanberry went into a convoluted argument in the Sunday Gleaner, explaining why this was a good deal for the Jamaican taxpayer, rather than the usual SUVs that our public servants swish around in. Only J$6.3 million, less duty concessions and other allowances which would lower the cost. Very economical, yes. Perhaps some of that could have gone towards the rebuilding of the Glenhope Place of Safety, a state home for unwanted small children and girls, which was partly destroyed by fire nine months ago. Work there has not even started. The Government is “bruck.” But what am I saying? These are only poor people’s abandoned kids. Like the squatters. They are not priority are they? (Please forgive me – I get too carried away with the sarcasm sometimes!)
…By Member of Parliament for South St. James Derrick Kellier, who did not see what the fuss was all about (his words) when he reportedly recommended that a firm owned by his brother be granted road-works contracts in his constituency, through the often-contentious Constituency Development Fund. The indefatigable Office of the Contractor General is, thankfully, investigating.
…By the dithering over the lifting of a ban on the scrap metal trade. So many hints have been dropped in the media that the ban is to be lifted that the scavengers have pricked up their ears, and got to work. They are being proactive. So far, the scrap metal thieves have targeted the Jamaica Public Service Company, Highway 2000 and telecoms firm LIME; the latter, in particular has recently suffered millions of dollars in losses. What is really happening? I thought that the Minister in charge, Hon. Anthony Hylton, was to make a statement on Friday? Meanwhile, legitimate (one hopes) scrap dealers have been protesting. In May a local think tank, the Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CaPRI), issued a ten-step solution to the scrap metal conundrum. I hope the Minister has had a look at it. A link to the full brief is below…
…By Minister of Tourism Wykeham McNeill‘s announcement this week that its publicity campaign for Jamaica at the London Olympics was a roaring success. Most of us lesser mortal were not privileged to be in London; so we would have to take his word for it. But I hear that “Jamaica House” in London was a fun place to hang out for a drink in the evenings… And also, the one million pounds spent during the campaign was “well spent,” the good Minister told us. What actually came out of it in terms of dollars and cents, business opportunities, partnerships etc? Not sure of the details. Are you? But Information Minister Sandrea Falconer, who chaired the Minister’s press conference, gently chided Jamaicans/the media for “quibbling” over small matters, as questions were asked. Take their word for it. It was money well spent. Perhaps the “small matter” was the unfortunate tweet by Minister McNeill’s junior minister Damion Crawford, who informed us all that he and some Jamaican musicians were having a great time at a London club. Or perhaps it was the people who were part of the delegation to London. I am still not clear why Minister of Agriculture Roger Clarke went, but I am sure he had a nice time, too… Meanwhile, visitor arrivals over the Independence period reportedly grew by six per cent, we are told. Frankly, I would have thought we could have attracted more visitors for Jamaica 50.
…And I have to agree with Observer columnist Jean Lowrie-Chin, who staunchly defends Jamaica’s “Out of Many, One People” motto. This multi-racial concept has come under attack recently from noted academic at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Dr. Carolyn Cooper – who loves to ruffle feathers, and appears to have seized the opportunity to do so as we try to celebrate “unity” on our fiftieth anniversary. Please, Carolyn, can we smooth those feathers down a bit?
Now, Ms. Lowrie-Chin is eternally positive, optimistic and far less cynical than I am – and I love her for it. But she spoke in an unusually strong tone in her column last week: “Will the UWI Mona folks who refuse to accept non-blacks as Jamaicans forgo their salaries and professorial chairs, since they are so heavily subsidised by non-black business owners who contribute significantly to our national coffers?” Now, it seems, UWI’s enfant terrible has taken set on the very small Jewish community in Jamaica, claiming that the history of the Jews’ role in Jamaica’s plantation society and slavery has not been properly aired. (Well, surely everyone in those days was involved in slavery in some way or other, weren’t they?) She is taking the head of the Jamaican Jewish community to task for seeking to defend his people in a letter to the Gleaner editor, accusing him of a personal attack on her. I don’t know where all this is going, and it seems both unnecessary and insensitive; but Dr. Cooper wants us all to face facts about the “out of many” scenario – or at least, her version of the facts. Perhaps she just wants to be controversial… How, I wonder, does this mesh with Dr. Cooper’s recent spirited defense of a certain deejay – now in jail on murder charges – whose claim to fame was the “bleaching” of his dark skin to an unhealthy off-white color? And perhaps she might recall that most, if not all of the Jews who arrived in Jamaica were themselves fleeing persecution in Europe.
Dear, dear. And they say race isn’t an issue in Jamaica!
…Then there are the teachers. Folks, let us just remember that the Jamaica Teachers’ Association is a trade union. Therefore, its mandate is to call for improved wages and conditions for its members – every year, at this time. The fact that – as I keep pointing out – government is “bruck” is neither here nor there to the JTA, it seems. They have rejected a wage offer, and they want their pension arrangements to remain in place. The fact is that pension reform is one of the three issues which the International Monetary Fund wants the Jamaican Government to address as a precursor (or condition?) of negotiations – those negotiations which are scheduled to start in September. Any word from the Finance Minister? Not much. Any word from the Education Minister? Plenty of words, all of which I agree with.
But still, there are some bouquets to hand out this week, I think:
Firstly, to the University of the West Indies‘ Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social & Economic Studies (SALISES) for their week-long reflections on where on earth Jamaica is heading after fifty years, “Fifty-Fifty: Critical Reflections in a time of Uncertainty.” This was the result of a huge amount of research by numerous clusters of academics on a wide range of topics. I plan to write more about this during the week in a separate blog post, but I do applaud SALISES for this ambitious conference – and particularly, for inviting the public to participate free of charge. When I went down there one afternoon this week, the Jamaica Pegasus was throbbing with life, and filled with Jamaicans who wanted to contribute to one debate or the other. I was very pleased to see this. Now I look forward to seeing some action plans coming out of the discussions. As Lee Kwan-Yew once caustically observed, Jamaicans are very eloquent and very good at talking. Now let’s translate this all into meaningful action that will propel us forward…
Secondly, I am proud of the two youth-led groups Help Ja Children and the Jamaica Youth Advocacy Network, who have taken on the issue of Jamaica’s homeless and marginalized (see “squatting” above) with a new online campaign. I would urge you to go to http://www.change.org/petitions/end-the-eviction-and-displacement-of-homeless-jamaicans, read it carefully and if you agree, please do sign their petition and shared it widely.
I heard about the Harris Family Vision Foundation for the first time this week, and have to give them warm hugs on behalf of our children. The amazing part of the Foundation is that it is co-founded by a seventeen-year-old (who has a growth disability) Nekhidia and her fourteen-year-old sister Kimberly. Their parents, Michael and Dasline, have been volunteering in Jamaica for the past twenty years. Among many other activities and donations, the Foundation donated a clinic in Madras, St. Ann on Marcus Garvey’s birthday this year. When asked about her amazing confidence, Nekhidia quoted Garvey himself: “If you do not have confidence in yourself you are twice defeated in the race of life.” What an inspiring family – and, by the way, they live in New York. Thank you.
And last but not least: the wonderful Yohan Blake is now officially the second fastest man in the world ever, after a fantastic 9.69 second run in Lausanne, Switzerland. Do join our Facebook group, The Unofficial Yohan Blake Appreciation Society. It seems there are more female members than males, but we are seeking to address the gender imbalance!
Kudos on the media front: Television Jamaica has greatly improved its website. I never used to visit it, but realize it is now slick, attractive and has easily accessible clips from their highly popular morning magazine program “Smile Jamaica” as well as news, etc. Good going. (A nice interview with Jamaica’s first Tae Kwon Do Olympian Kenneth Edwards is linked below). They have uploaded nearly 600 video clips – something there for everyone.
No one seems to put in a good word for On the Ground News Reports, so I will. They started off as a Facebook page and now have an excellent website at http://www.og.nr/keywords/local-news. If you want news from the street – every detail, including roads closed, car crashes, house fires, sports, security issues (murders) – you name it – this will keep you up to date. It is interactive, so anyone can contribute if they can confirm a story or add further information. You can send them photos from your phone. It’s a unique idea and it deserves to be better supported by us, the Jamaican public out there. If you see or hear of something going on, let them know! They are also on Twitter (@onthegroundjm). Their slogan: “You are the news.”
I like the Observer’s TeenAge weekly, edited and written by teens. It is nicely put together and a good mix of the usual teen stuff – pop music, fashion etc – and more uplifting information relevant to teens. I liked this week’s article on the young journalists’ visit to the Youth Science Forum in Trinidad recently.
Finally, “big ups” to the Jamaican diaspora media, out there. In Florida, there are a few radio stations focusing on Jamaican issues. For example, my Facebook friend Desmond Brown will be discussing whether Jamaicans overseas should be allowed to vote in Jamaican elections (always a tricky topic!) this afternoon on Island Riddim Radio in Central Florida. They do live streaming at www.islandriddimradio.com. Then there is the young Kingstonian Lawman Lynch, now operating out of New York with a newsletter, who is also active in the broadcast media. Greetings to all!
Once again, and on my usual sad note, I offer my deepest condolences to the grieving families and friends of the following Jamaicans, who were killed in the past week. It concerns me that this list appears to be growing a little longer each week – and no one seems to be commenting on this very much.
Killed by police:
Three unidentified men, Norwood, Montego Bay, St. James
Karl Nation, 18, Maxfield Park, Kingston
Nigel Thompson, 18, Maxfield Park, Kingston
Rohan Lewis, 28, St. Ann’s Bay, St. Ann
Joseph Wedderburn, Sine Irwin, St. James
Ralbert Wilmot, 48, Retreat, St. James
Karl Atkinson, 56, Balaclava, St. Elizabeth
Anthony Kirlew, 50, Caymanas Park, St. Catherine
Michael Raymond, 51, Palmers Cross, Clarendon
Bucassa McIntosh, 35, Portsmouth, St. Catherine
Don Riggs, 35, Green Pond, St. James
Donovan Anderson, 37, Green Pond, St. James
Jermaine Gordon, 23, Green Pond, St. James
Melbourne Lowe, 57, Eleven Miles, St. Thomas
Matthew McAnuff, 25, Kingston
Unidentified man, Lincoln Avenue, Kingston 13
Peter Nembhard, Central Village, St. Catherine
Clayton Smith, 39, Bluefields, Westmoreland
Devon Thompson, 41, Islington, St. Mary
Veronica Wizard, 75, Torrington Park, Kingston
Kemar Beckford, 21, Retreat, St. James (mob killing)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Vaz-steps-aside_12331030 (Vaz steps aside – Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Poor–pregnant-and-homeless_12346438 (Poor, pregnant and homeless – Mark Wignall op-ed)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120826/lead/lead2.html (Birthing poverty: Is two still better than too many? – Sunday Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Help-coming-for-evicted-squatters_12322447 (Help coming for evicted squatters – Jamaica Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120823/lead/lead7.html (Squatter squabble – Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/A-nation-divided-against-itself-must-fall_12340147 (A nation divided against itself must fall – James Moss-Solomon op-ed)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Gov-t-will-sell-Caymanas-Park-but-not-cheaply–says-Dalley (Government will sell Caymanas Park but not cheaply, says Dalley – Jamaica Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120826/lead/lead9.html (Kirlew marked for death? – Sunday Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Stopover-arrivals-up-6—-Minister-McNeil (Stopover arrivals up six per cent – Minister McNeill – Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/list/31580 (One Million Pounds on promotional activities in London well spent – Jamaica Information Service)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120826/lead/lead4.html (Eyebrows raised over Stanberry’s Benz – Sunday Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120820/cleisure/cleisure1.html (Derrick Kellier defends the trough – Gleaner editorial)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120826/focus/focus3.html (Fifty years in dependence – Ian Boyne op-ed – Sunday Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120826/focus/focus1.html (Government squandering mandate – Chris Tufton op-ed – Sunday Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120826/lead/lead91.html (Glenhope yet to rise from ashes – Sunday Gleaner)
http://www.capricaribbean.org/research/10-steps-scrap-metal-solution-full-brief (Ten Steps to a Scrap Metal Solution- CaPRI)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/business/Are-we-in-recession_12326791 (Are we in recession? – Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/list/31582 (Jamaica House in London a succes – McNeill – Jamaica Information Service)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/list/31569 (36,000 additional airlift seats secured from UK – Jamaica Information Service)
http://www.televisionjamaica.com/Programmes/SmileJamaica.aspx/Videos/20346 (Jamaica’s first taekwondo champion – TVJ interview)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Tribalism-in-Jamaican-politics_12340116 (Tribalism in Jamaican politics – Diane Abbott op-ed)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Fifty-Fifty–Critical-Reflections-in-a-Time-of-Uncertainty–1-_12343567 (50-50: Critical Reflections in a Time of Uncertainty – Claude Robinson op-ed)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120826/cleisure/cleisure3.html (Persistent Perversity on Jews and Slavery – Carolyn Cooper op-ed)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Jamaica—still-ahead-of-the-race-curve (Jamaica – Still Ahead of the Race Curve – Jean Lowrie-Chin op-ed)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120823/lead/lead5.html (Phillips firm on IMF wrap-up – Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/teenage/TEENage-visits-Youth-Science-Forum_12312347 (TeenAge visits Youth Science Forum)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/-Charity-begins-at-home-_12268953 (Charity begins at home – Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/sport/-Beast–unleashed_12338646 (Beast unleashed! – Jamaica Observer Sports)
50-50 Reflections (petchary.wordpress.com)
Sunday Sighs: August 19, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)
Jamaica 50 Special: Monday, August 6, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)
UN agency calls for full probe into Jamaica murder (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
It is less than a week since the Olympic Games ended in London, and I promised myself that I would pay tribute to some of the incredible human beings – from Jamaica, the Caribbean and elsewhere – who gave us so much joy (and sometimes, sadness) during those exhilarating competitions. Before the sunset afterglow starts to fade – the fireworks have already gone. Before the Jamaican flags wave less freely from taxi cabs. Before the repeat showings of Jamaican athletes’ performances, the newspaper columns, tweets and Facebook posts dwindle to nothing. I want to celebrate them one more time.
For the record, Jamaica won four each of gold, silver and bronze, and came 18th on the table of 79 nations that won medals. In terms of medals per capita, Jamaica was second after Grenada. Jamaica was also the second most successful country in the Caribbean at the London Olympics, after Cuba. In track and field specifically – there were 47 events – Jamaica came third after the United States and Russia; in men’s track and field Jamaica was second, in women’s fourth.
I am celebrating here all our athletes, and have just picked out a few because somehow they touched me personally in some way. As I have said several times before, they all gave of their best. Some did better than others, but they all made us proud. I salute them all. They are, in no particular order: Yohan Blake, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Hansle Parchment, Veronica Campbell Brown, Alia Atkinson, Jason Morgan and Kenneth Edwards.
Enough has been said and written about the obvious one: the self-proclaimed legend and superstar, Usain Bolt. But here’s one of my personal favorites – a young athlete who might be considered to have played “second fiddle” to Bolt (although I don’t see it that way) – Yohan Blake. In fact, a friend and I have set up a Facebook page (not only for Jamaicans or those living there – anyone can join) called “The Unofficial Yohan Blake Appreciation Society.” A small but fervent delegation from the UYBAS is planning to welcome Mr. Blake home at Kingston’s Norman Manley International Airport, when he returns in September. Personally, I would like to give him a warm hug.
What’s not to love about Yohan:
- He set up his YBAfraid Foundation last year. With the support of the awesome Jamaican athletics coach Glen Mills and Joseph’s Department Store, Yohan has donated supplies and pledged ongoing support for the Mount Olivet Boys’ Home in rural Walderston, Manchester. You can read much more about the Foundation on his website, ybafraid.com.
- He is, as we know, the winner of two silver and one gold medal in the recent Olympics: silvers in the 100 meters (a personal best time of 9.75) and 200 meters (19.44), and gold in the 4 x 100 meters final. This was his first Olympics. He is only 22, after all.
- He is only the fourth man to win silver in the 100 and 200 meters at the Olympics, and the first since the awesome Frankie Fredericks of Namibia (remember him?)
- As a member of the winning relay team in the 100 meters, Blake ran a scorching third leg. This was the same team that ran in Daegu last year at the World Championships. With Usain Bolt, Michael Frater and Nesta Carter, he helped to break the World Record in 36.84 seconds.
He is a modest young man, not afraid to give credit to both Mills and Bolt for their support. I like that.
My next favorite athlete: Ms. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce. She was born on in the very difficult inner-city neighborhood of Waterhouse in Kingston.
Why is she so great:
- She was the third woman, and the first non-American, to win the 100 meters in two consecutive Olympics. In 2008 in Beijing, she was the first Caribbean woman to win the event, at 21 years old.
- She is also the second female sprinter to hold both World and Olympic 100 meters titles simultaneously. The dynamic Gail Devers was the first. I should also add that the 2012 American girls were very powerful this year – so this is quite a feat. Shelly-Ann held her own in the 2oo meters too, winning a silver after the amazing Allyson Felix; they congratulated each other with a quick, breathless embrace.
- Shelly-Ann was named as Jamaica’s first National UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in 2010.
- Shelly-Ann’s face was painted in a mural in her neighborhood of Waterhouse (where she grew up in a tenement yard). She commented in amazement, “The only time they draw your face in a wall where I live is when you are dead.”
- She is just five feet tall and weighs 100 pounds. Oh my goodness – the energy packed into that small frame!
And then there was Hansle Parchment. Who? Said many Jamaicans. Well, young Hansle broke the national record twice in one afternoon last week, winning the bronze medal for Jamaica in the 110 meters hurdles. Two very strong Americans, Aries Merritt and Jason Richardson, came first and second respectively. The 100 meters hurdles is very intense, and not for the faint-hearted. Born June 17, 1990 (barely twenty-two years old!) he tackled it with equanimity. The young man from Cashew Bush in rural St. Thomas, eastern Jamaica, attended Morant Bay High School and Kingston College, and is an undergraduate student at the University of the West Indies‘ class of 2013.
Why Hansle is so cool:
- He ran a terrific 13.12 seconds, but soberly responded after his run that he would have preferred to get below 13. There is more work to do, he says. He has much greater ambitions.
- He is studying for a BSc. in Psychology; that will stand him in good stead, one hopes, since psychology is a key factor in sports. But balancing his studies with training and competition must be challenging.
- He is tall, dark and handsome (six feet five inches tall).
Veronica Campbell-Brown is somebody special. There is so much about her that I admire. A pioneer in the sprint field, she won a bronze medal in London – her fourth Olympic Games. As she prepared for the Games, she watched her favorite tennis player, Serena Williams, win the Wimbledon title. An experienced athlete, Ms. Campbell-Brown (or “VCB” as Jamaicans call her for short) was born in the same western parish of Trelawny as Usain Bolt. She’s a product of Vere Technical High School, a school with a tremendous sporting tradition, which was also attended by a certain Merlene Ottey.
Why is Veronica such a gem?
- She is a serious achiever, with so many “firsts” to be proud of. She paved the way for the young ones – although she is only just thirty years old herself, so hardly ancient! Here are a few of her many milestones:
- First Jamaican to win a global 100 meters title (at the World Youth Games in 1999);
- Youngest ever Jamaican female to win an Olympic medal (at the Sydney Olympics in 2000);
- Most successful Caribbean athlete ever at an Olympic Games (in Athens in 2004);
- First female track athlete to become a UNESCO Champion for Sport (in 2009). A role model for female athletes and for Jamaican women.
- Veronica appears to me to be so grounded. She is not only motivated, but inspired. Indeed, she has written a book, “A Better You: Inspirations for Life’s Journey.”
- She celebrated Global Dignity Day in 2011. See a link to my blog post on this topic, below. It may not be a fashionable concept these days, but the idea of dignity includes respect, honor, decency. The next Global Dignity Day is October 17, 2012. Think about it.
Jamaicans also did extraordinarily well away from the track, of course. Swimmer Alia Atkinson just missed a medal, coming fourth in the 100 meters breaststroke final.
Why does Alia get a pat on the back from me?
- The 23-year-old from St. Andrew is nothing if not ambitious. She really, really wants that Olympic medal. Or medals.
- And to obtain medals, she needs financial help. Her plea was heard by Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, who has promised to provide this. Let’s hope it comes soon, so that Alia can start getting ready for Rio 2016. Good for her, though, for speaking out on this crucial issue.
- Like Hansle Parchment, Alia is a student of psychology – at Texas A&M University.
- She has a sunny smile but a look of stony determination in her eye. Focus!
And last – but not least – two young Jamaican men competed in the Olympics for the first time. Although they did not win medals, they broke new ground and they competed fiercely.
Jason “Dadz” Morgan is a determined man, and the road has not been smooth. He throws discus – not a popular field event for Jamaicans. As a student at Louisiana Tech, he decided to compete for his country.
What makes Jason special?
- Simply put, Jason is highly focused. And as Jamaica’s National Discus Record holder, he knows he is good.
- And, as fellow blogger and Jamaican journalist Dionne Jackson Miller notes (see her post below) he needs financial support, too, to continue.
- The 29-year-old from St. Catherine, who attended Kingston’s Calabar High School – a sports powerhouse – coaches himself. That’s right. Sheer willpower.
- He faces great challenges. He needs that support. He commented to Dionne, “I’m a big man, 6’3”, 288 pounds, and I’m not afraid to say I cry through frustration.” Let’s give Jason and others like him the support they need, so that they can train, perform and compete, without worrying whether they can afford to attend a meet or not. Sponsors, where are you? Jason had none for the Olympics. But he competed for his country.
And lastly, a Jamaican warrior who fought well… 26-year-old Tae Kwon Do competitor Kenneth Edwards.
Why do I love Kenneth?
- Like Mr. Morgan, he was the first Jamaican to compete in his particular field at the Olympics.
- Kenneth fought valiantly against a Chinese giant (six feet seven inches tall) and got the crowd on his side, despite eventually losing the bout. He only just missed an opportunity for a bronze medal.
- He is positive and he says, so confidently, “I think the big stage is next for me.” I believe him.
- There is so much potential in the martial arts field for Jamaica. I don’t just say this because I used to practice judo – in my youth. It’s a great sporting field, encouraging competition and incredible discipline. It also requires enormous skill, strength and precision.
- More power to Jamaica’s Combined Martial Arts Team. Big ups all round!
And finally, I am sorry I could not include all the incredible Jamaican Olympic athletes. These are just a few from the great team that made Jamaica shine. Let’s continue supporting them, even when the gloss has worn off and we return to our humdrum lives…
My next Olympic blog post will be the Caribbean edition! Coming soon to this page.
- Like a Bolt from the blue…Jamaica Jamaica… (anniepaul.net)
- http://ybafraid.com (Yohan Blake’s website)
- Jamaica and The London 2012 Olympics: Reigning Kings and Queens of 100m Jamaica, Gold and Silver for Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake (theislandjournal.wordpress.com)
- This ugly Olympic ‘joke’ (antiguaobserver.com)
- A Single Caribbean Sports Academy – Part 2 (caribbean360.com)
- London 2012 Track and Field Men’s 200m: Jamaica Dominates with Podium Sweep (bleacherreport.com)
- Yohan Blake: Jamaican Sprinter Will Be Second-Best Until Usain Bolt Retires (bleacherreport.com)
- http://moti-athletics-roadtoolympics.blogspot.com/2012/02/one-thousand-reasons-to-love-shelly-ann.html (One Thousand Reasons to Love Shelly-Ann Fraser)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/videos/video.php?id=551 (Family celebrates Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce’s silver medal – Jamaica Gleaner)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120810/lead/lead4.html (Cashew Bush is jubilant! – Jamaica Gleaner)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120809/sports/sports3.html (“It’s a first and I’m happy, but…” – Jamaica Gleaner)
- Weir takes giant leap from couch to podium (dailystar.com.lb)
- http://www.veronicacampbellbrown.com (Veronica Campbell Brown website)
- http://www.globaldignity.org (Global Dignity Day 2012)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120731/sports/sports1.html (“I need financial support” – Jamaica Gleaner)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/olympics/news/PHOTO-GALLERY–Alia-Atkinson-s-100m-breaststroke-finals (Alia Atkinson breaststroke finals photo gallery – Jamaica Observer)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/olympics/news/Ottey-hails-Ja-s-exploits-in-London_12296072 (Ottey hails Jamaica’s exploits in London – Ja. Observer)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/olympics/athletes/ (Team Jamaica – Jamaica Observer)
- http://jasonmorganonline.com (Jason Morgan website)
- http://newsandviewsbydjmillerja.wordpress.com/?s=Jason+Morgan (Come on, Government! It’s not just Alia Atkinson who needs help! – Dionne Jackson Miller blog)
- http://newsandviewsbydjmillerja.wordpress.com/2012/05/31/jamaicas-national-record-holder-discus-jason-morgan-its-lonely-frustrating-and-also-motivating/ (“It’s lonely, frustrating and also motivating” – Jason Morgan speaks to Dionne Jackson-Miller)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120812/sports/sports2.html (Brave Edwards falls short – Jamaica Gleaner)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/latestnews/Photo-Highlights–Jamaica-s-Kenneth-Edwards—Taekwondo (Photo highlights – Jamaica’s Kenneth Edwards, Taekwondo)
- http://www.jamaicaolympics.com/kenneth-edwards (JamaicaOlympics.com – Kenneth Edwards)
- http://www.nbcolympics.com/track-and-field/medals/index.html (Olympic Track & Field Medal Standings – NBC Olympics)
Yes, that was a play on words. I have been so absorbed by the Olympics today that I will be starting (and finishing) my weekly post late. Do forgive me. Our hearts and minds were in London, while our eyes across Kingston and Jamaica were glued to television sets and big screens for the 100 meters final, won by our two “golden boys,” Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake.
Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Ernesto‘s rains drip harmlessly outside, as it passes to the south of us.
- Jamaicans revel in Bolt victory (bbc.co.uk)
- TS Ernesto heads for pass along Honduras’ coast (sacbee.com)
- Jamaica and The London 2012 Olympics: Reigning Kings and Queens of 100m Jamaica, Gold and Silver for Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake (theislandjournal.wordpress.com)
- Usain Bolt’s Olympic 100m triumph triggers jubilation in Jamaica (guardian.co.uk)
- Arrest at the 100m (smh.com.au)
If you are Jamaican with blood running through your veins, chances are that you will have become infected with “Olympic Fever,” a highly contagious disease for which there is no known cure. After the month of August, the symptoms are expected to abate considerably. Until then, like those stricken with dengue fever, you will just have to wait for it to pass…
Please see this fun infographic by scrolling down to the bottom right of this blog – just click on it and it will all come up. I had really wanted it to embed itself in this post but that didn’t seem to work…
- Olympic trials 2012: Usain Bolt beaten by Yohan Blake in Jamaican 100m (telegraph.co.uk)
- Jamaica and The London 2012 Olympics: The Official List of Athletes and Delegates representing Jamaica (theislandjournal.wordpress.com)
- London 2012 Olympics: Usain Bolt arrives in Birmingham (telegraph.co.uk)
- The Jamaican Olympic Team Outfits – “Ugly – Horrible” (newsandviewsbydjmillerja.wordpress.com)
- Gold, Silver and Bronze (petchary.wordpress.com)
- U.S., Jamaica battle for track supremacy (nypost.com)
Presenting my article on Usain Bolt which appears in Newsweek International this week...
Jamaica’s Usain Bolt: Is He Still the World’s Fastest Runner?
Jul 16, 2012 1:00 AM EDT
Will lightning strike again in London? Or have the years of fast living finally caught up with the speediest man alive? A close look at the Jamaican record breaker.
The Twitter messages seemed calculated to drive Jamaica frantic.
Good morning, all. This week’s news was a little lighter, apart from the usual killings (see my “In Memoriam” section). Some things even made me laugh (hollow laughter sometimes, admittedly…)
Firstly, the political representatives who made fools of themselves in the Lower House recently were told to apologize, like naughty boys. The word “sorry” got stuck in some throats and the apologies were a little half-hearted; but one of the new Members of Parliament prepared a speech, waxing quite lyrical on the subject of fish. Yes, fish. This word was thrown about during the fracas in Parliament and seems to have been interpreted (or misinterpreted) as a derogatory word for homosexual (which many of us were not aware of – but it seems that some of our politicians are quite knowledgeable on such matters). Anyway, the promising young politician decided to equate the fish reference with Christianity. His speech was remarkable for its piety. Some journalists were seemingly awestruck by this oratorical flourish. Others were skeptical, like columnist Mark Wignall, who commented, ”Because we have had so few real successes in public life in this country, our media has adopted the style of going gaga over speeches as if we have conveniently forgotten that a speech is just words written on paper and skilfully (sometimes) read or presented.”
The best part of this – and here is the first chuckle of the week – were the skillful Observer cartoonist Clovis’ depictions of a fishy Member of Parliament. Hilarious.
Talking of religion, our favorite home-grown radical priest and missionary Father Richard Ho Lung – founder of the awesome Missionaries of the Poor – seems to have ruffled some feathers with his recent Gleaner columns. Firstly, he took aim at atheists, describing them as selfish, materialistic and responsible for all the world’s ills. (Well, I don’t think atheists bombed those churches in Nigeria, did they? Nor did they commit reprisal killings, there?) An atheist protested in rather a good column – linked below. Let’s have more tolerance of all beliefs, including atheists and agnostics, perhaps? Secondly, the goodly Father reprimanded our two sprinting heroes, Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake. He remonstrated with Blake thus:“Why call yourself a ‘beast’? Read the Book of Revelation.” Columnist Mark Wignall feels he has “gone overboard” this time. I found it all rather funny.
There were a couple of highly confusing items last week, too. Firstly, Mining & Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell announced that the Russian firm UC Rusal planned to close the last of its operational bauxite plants in Jamaica in October with the loss of 600 jobs – in Ewarton, St. Catherine. A wire story report appeared a day or two later in which the firm said they had not yet made a decision on the matter. Things seem to be hanging in the balance; but one feels confident that Minister Paulwell will be able to sort things out with the Russians. He has made the point that two other plants owned by Rusal have been closed now for more than three years. This seems an unacceptable situation to me.
I am finding Minister Paulwell a calm, composed figure, who seems entirely focused on his goals as head of an important ministry that also includes technology. He seems to do his homework properly, updates the media regularly and what is more, he does not waste time trying to score political points. He is getting on with the job, and for that I once again give him kudos. He sets a good example.
Then there was a bit of a fiasco with the so-called amnesty for traffic offenders, which began on July 1 and is set to continue for the rest of the year. It turned out to be quite a muddle. Well, Jamaicans owe their Government an astounding, estimated J$2.5 billion in unpaid traffic tickets. So if they go to the tax office and pay what they owe during this period, they will not be taken to court. It seems, however, that Government records are not in order; motorists are protesting that they are wildly inaccurate and the website has been put on hold for a little while, I understand, while they sort it out. Unfortunately, neither of the links in the Gleaner article below works. Oh Lordy.
I have been venting quite a bit on the environment in a recent blog post – but hold on, here’s more. I mentioned the “mystery fumes” in a recent review. On June 28 (when we were, thankfully, out of town) a number of highway workers and others fell sick after the air was filled with an unbearable smell in the Portmore area. The National Environment & Planning Agency conducted a thorough and detailed investigation, and last week we were informed that the smell was from kerosene being offloaded at Kingston’s seaport. Now the police have been called in to investigate possible illegal activities there. Which is obviously bad, but what worries me is how would we have coped if the incident had been much more serious? Executive director of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management Ronald Jackson said on television recently that Jamaica really was not prepared for a major chemical leak. The Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica is investigating…
As a cab driver said on television this week, “It’s our right to have clean air.” The man, an asthma sufferer, was complaining about a huge dust nuisance in Cornwall Courts, Montego Bay. Let us be more careful about these things, and try to prevent them from happening in the first place, please. And what was going on at the port that day? I am not making light of the Cornwall Courts issue. Almost nightly on television residents are protesting the huge discomforts of their lives – dust from incomplete roadworks; roads that look more like obstacle courses filled with rocks and huge potholes; raw sewage trickling in the gutters; a bridge that has not been repaired since Hurricane Whoever; no water in the pipes, although they pay water bills. I often feel the residents could do more to help themselves; but I fear that there is simply no money to fix these things.
Now – unless you have been living in a hole in the ground for at least the past year – we all know the Olympics is nigh. In fact, they begin on July 27, just twelve days away. I just have two questions: Why can’t we watch the Olympics on the channel of our choice? And why do Jamaican athletes have to parade around in semi-military uniforms at the opening ceremony?
On the first issue, a regional sports broadcasting firm has “exclusive rights across all platforms” to coverage of the games, and has sold these rights to one television station in Jamaica. Which means that those of us who pay for various sports channels on our cable network will be confronted with a message informing us that the channel is “blacked out” (even if the local TV station is not showing Olympic action). Is this lawful, asks one letter-writer? And why are we deprived of choice (especially when that’s exactly what we pay the cable company for?) Does this mean the promised “Caribbean flavor” of the coverage will exclude events in which there are no Caribbean competitors (and there are many of those?) Some of us want to watch events like diving, decathlon, rowing, etc. Why can’t we watch what we want?
Secondly, Cedella Marley (one of Bob’s numerous children) who is now a fashion designer has produced a range of costumes (approved by sponsors Puma) for the Jamaican athletic team to wear at the Olympics. The reaction among Jamaicans has been mixed, to say the least. When I first saw the photos, I had another good laugh. Ms. Marley has clearly gone back to the seventies and decided to resurrect the styles worn by her father when he was about her age… A kind of “Buffalo Soldier” throwback, complete with military-style khaki and high collars. Are our athletes going to war? There is also a skirt with what looks rather like a ganja-leaf design. Our dear Usain Bolt “looks like a security guard,” a friend commented on Facebook. What do you think, dear readers? There is more on YouTube if you want to see all the designs, and see how you feel. (Meanwhile, Americans are upset at their Ralph Lauren-designed kit, complete with beret - “too European” - and worse still, made in China!)
Talking of Bob Marley, there was another wave of protest after an unsuspecting American scientist (and a huge fan of Bob) enthusiastically named a marine creature after the “reggae icon” (to coin a cliché). What’s wrong with that, you may ask? Well, the creature in question, now named Gnathia marly, is a blood-sucking parasite that infests Caribbean fish and makes them extremely ill. “It’s a diss!” cried fans, who also point out that Bob Marley strongly disliked parasites (of the human kind), as well as hypocrites, bald heads and others. The poor scientist however, thinks this marine version of a tick (ugh!) is a wonderful little creature that contributes much to the Caribbean eco-system. He thinks he is honoring Marley, but the local jury is still out on this one, too.
And talking of reggae music, Opposition Tourism Spokesman Ed Bartlett says he wants Jamaica to have more reggae festivals. Do we really, Mr. Bartlett? We are scraping the barrel trying to find decent reggae acts – the quality and quantity has fallen – unless we recruited some of the excellent African musicians that play reggae. As it is, Reggae Sumfest, which took place this weekend, featured among other acts an American singer called Trey Songzz (not a reggae act), whose latest song “Dive In” extols the joys of oral sex. Yes, I guess we need more of that, don’t we?
Putting aside the trivia for a moment, there were several much more serious stories – quite small and unobtrusive – that popped up in the media and that I found very disturbing, although they seemed not to warrant any widespread discussion in the media.
- In anticipation of a lifting of the ban on scrap metal imports, our rampant thievery continues at local cellular phone sites – J$300 million worth. One “businessman” was found to be powering his in-car stereo system with batteries stolen from one site. How can we move forward with creeps like this in our midst?
- One million Jamaicans live below the poverty line. Yes. One million. What is our population again? 2.7 million?
- A well-known doctor and the mother of a twelve-year-old have been charged with procuring an abortion. When is Jamaica going to review its absurd abortion laws? As noted last week, Jamaica has a very high maternal death rate, and illegal botched abortions have certainly contributed to this. Let us follow the example of Barbados, Cuba and other enlightened Caribbean nations. But I guess the discussion will be hijacked once again by fundamentalist Christians, who do shout very loud…
- The Statistical Institute of Jamaica notes this week that the Jamaican economy registered negative GDP growth (0.1% decline) in the first six months of this year.
- Can the Jamaica Observer and some of its columnists stop trying to stir up sensation and ill-informed debate on the homosexual issue? Let’s cool it. The flood of comments on its website has been removed, probably because many of them were unfit for airplay. Why this semi-hysteria from people who swear that they are “not homophobes” but Christians, with a capital “C”? Where is the Observer going with this?
- The police are still busy killing. See two stories below on the recent death of a 17-year-old high school graduate, and a woman who fears for her son whom the police allegedly pushed into a gully.
- The report of a teenage girl who had a complete meltdown in a small rural court when she was ordered to be kept in a “place of safety” was painful to hear. The close-up footage of the girl’s ankles as she shuffled, barefoot in shackles to a waiting police van was deeply disturbing – reminiscent of slavery. It worried radio talk show host Barbara Gloudon for an entire program on Friday. I shared her emotion. The girl, who reportedly slapped the magistrate (it was a small room) was clearly in trouble and in urgent need of psychiatric help. The fact was, nobody wanted her. She had run away from her father’s house, and her mother could not/would not keep her. One doesn’t know the details of the case, but is locking the fifteen-year-old up in the Fort Augusta Adult Correctional Centre going to help? What was her crime? I hear she is now to get counseling – while in prison (and how long for?)
Condolences and sympathies go out to the family and friends of the following Jamaicans, who were murdered in the past week. I am also concerned for the father of Davian Davis, a sweet child whose body was found in an abandoned car. His father suspects foul play. I could see the grief in his face on television this evening. What really happened?
- Shango Jackson, 39, in Beverley Hills, Kingston
- Dr. Phillip Chamberlain, in Mandeville, Manchester
- Dwayne Rodman, in Grants Pen, Kingston
- Sonia Martin, 47, in Potsdam, St. Elizabeth
Killed by the police:
- Unidentified man, Freetown, Clarendon
- Unidentified man, Freetown, Clarendon
- Unidentified man, Malvern, St. Elizabeth
- Barrington Christie,41, Ashkenish, Hanover
- Sunday Shenanigans: July 8, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)
- Sunday Sunshine: July 1, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120713/cleisure/cleisure2.html (Apologies welcome, but… jamaica-gleaner.com)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120715/cleisure/cleisure1.html (No order in Parliament)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/I-don-t-buy-the-parliamentary-apology_11936727 (I don’t buy the parliamentary apology)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Jackasses-are-aplenty-and-a-pig-in-a-tie-is-still-a-pig_11902491 (Jackasses are aplenty and a pig in a tie is still a pig)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Paulwell-s-mining-lease-signal-likely-game-changer-in-UC-Rusal-controversy_11952611 (Paulwell’s mining lease signal likely game changer in UC Rusal controversy)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Bauxite-surprise—Paulwell-says-he-ll-summon-UC-Rusal-rep-after-plant-closure-denial_11945442 (Bauxite surprise)
- 600 to lose jobs with closure of RUSAL plant in Jamaica (bis.gy)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=38457 (Ticket amnesty bungling)
- Jamaica considers renewable energy – UPI.com (upi.com)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Kerosene-identified-as-mystery-fume_11945588 (Kerosene identified as mystery fumes)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=38504 (Police called in to probe fume emission)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120714/cleisure/cleisure5.html (Restart Cornwall Court road work)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120710/cleisure/cleisure3.html (Goodness, I am an atheist!)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120712/letters/letters4.html (Why can’t cable channels air Olympics too?)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120126/sports/sports7.html (IMC promises record Caribbean coverage of London 2012)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/entertainment/Jamaica-50-Jubilee-plans_11952612?fb_ref=storypage (Jamaica 50 Jubilee plans)
- 50-50 Reflections (petchary.wordpress.com)
- The Jamaican Olympic Team Outfits – “Ugly – Horrible” (newsandviewsbydjmillerja.wordpress.com)
- http://www.jamolympic.org/Home.aspx (Jamaica Olympic Association website)
- Puma pins Olympic hopes on Bolt to speed sport sales (telegraph.co.uk)
- Jamaica and The London 2012 Olympics: Jamaican Athletes representing, Jamaica (theislandjournal.wordpress.com)
- http://www.latimes.com/news/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-marley-parasite-20120711,0,5467109.story (Ocean parasite named after Bob Marley)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/BOB-MARLEY-DISSED-_11938598 (Bob Marley dissed! jamaicaobserver.com)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/The-big-gay-lie_11923183 (The big gay lie: Column by Betty-Ann Blaine)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120710/lead/lead2.html (Father struggles to come to grips with son’s killing)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120710/lead/lead4.html (Clarendon woman’s fear: cops after my son)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120713/lead/lead6.html (Teen assaults RM in courtroom attack)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Brilliant-Krystal–St-Thomas-teen-goes-to-MIT-on-scholarship_11881838 (Brilliant Krystal! St. Thomas teen goes to MIT on scholarship)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/entertainment/Don-t-politicise-Festival_11925601 (Don’t politicize Festival! Says Fae Ellington)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Rotary-Club-launches-programme-to-help-juvenile-offenders_11924826 (Rotary Club launches program to help juvenile offenders)
Yes, we may be short of a lot of things in Jamaica, but we’re certainly not short on sunshine. As the sun thankfully dips behind the rooftops (the sun isn’t thankful, I am) I am just about to start this blog post with very little idea of what has or has not been going on this week. We took three days off away from all media, computers etc (unless you count switching to ESPN for the Euro 2012 semi-finals). Thanks ESPN! (I was quite upset by Italy’s sad defeat at the hands of Spain today, but the Italian team delighted me during the tournament with their creative, attacking play. Spain played like a passing machine, but seemed to wake up for the final). Ah well. The drama is over. We now await the start of the new English Premier League season.
Meanwhile, back on the Rock, shock waves from last week’s “bloody weekend” – including the resurgence of gang warfare in the August Town area of St. Andrew – continued to ruffle the media; and the annual hand-wringing exercise over the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) examinations kicked into top gear. On the former, I feel deeply sorry for the many peaceful and law-abiding residents. August Town is not, to my mind, a typical “inner city” area with all that the term suggests. The first time I visited there about twenty years ago – and I have done so a number of times since – I have felt that it was more like a village. The area is close to the University of the West Indies campus, on the outskirts of Kingston. There are narrow streets, small houses surrounded by low walls, a number of churches, and a bus service into Kingston. It is essentially a cul de sac, so the bus has to turn round and go back. There is the usually-dry Hope River (an escape route for criminals, I understand), and some houses on the other side. There is a primary school with a large yard, and the police station close by. What is most striking is the steep green hills on all sides – so close, so green, with one huge white scar where limestone was quarried. And yet, in true inner-city tradition, August Town has “corners” where young men gather, and is divided into areas called “Vietnam” or “Jungle 12.” And the small community (it really is small) which was ironically named after Emancipation Day on August 1, 1838, has a plague of gangs, mostly (or originally) politically-motivated. Since 2008, residents have been lulled into a sense of false security after the signing of a so-called “Peace Treaty” between gangs; this was negotiated through the efforts of an organization called the Peace Management Initiative (PMI) and the local community organization headed by the well-meaning Kenneth Wilson. I have my severe doubts about these peace treaties; how can they last? Gangs are gangs. Deputy Commissioner of Police Glenmore Hinds, who is in charge of crime, does not believe in them. But Mr. Wilson has, on this occasion, complained that concerns expressed by residents in the area prior to the latest outburst were ignored by the police, who were not “proactive” enough and could have prevented the murders if they had listened.
Enough hot air has been expelled on the topic of the GSAT results to inflate a balloon and carry it half way round the world. Educators and officials, retired and otherwise, have all weighed in with interviews and columns in the media. Should the test be abolished? How can we breach the “social chasm” described by Minister Thwaites that afflicts our educational system (but hold on…doesn’t this afflict every aspect of our society, Minister Thwaites?) Meanwhile, one high school said it simply could not accommodate all the students who had been placed there by the test; and one of the conceptualizers of GSAT is quoted as saying – perhaps rather brutally – “I hear the minister apologizing to schools for being called failing, when in fact they are worse than failures. Some of them should not even exist.” Oh dear. Expect more of the same this time next year.
Speaking of education, one commentator on the Jamaica Observer website commented wryly, “I wish Jamaicans were as passionate about education as they are about two men in pink dresses.” Yes indeed, the “homosexual debate” drags on endlessly, with the usual obfuscation, manipulation, misinformation and religious propaganda. The latter gets plenty of airtime in the media, with religious leaders coming out of the woodwork all over the place with their arguments, and of course their Bible quotations. Thank God for sensible and clear-thinking people like broadcast journalist Dionne Jackson-Miller, who tried to make some sense out of it in her latest blog post (see link below).
The rumblings over whether Jamaica should remain in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) – called by some a “talk shop” – continue intermittently. Speaking to the Sunday Observer today, CARICOM Secretary-General Ambassador Irwin LaRocque intones, “I think the single most important reason for keeping CARICOM alive is to serve the development of our region. It can’t be anything but that.” Well, as young people say… Duh. My italics, by the way – it appears CARICOM is on life support? Well, it is worthy of note that a recent ECLAC survey on Caribbean GDP growth last year (and predictions for this year) pointed out that it was the non-English speaking countries of our small region that have registered – and will register – strong growth. For example, Haiti, Dominican Republic and Suriname – six, 4.5 and 4.3 per cent GDP growth predicted this year; Jamaica, Barbados and St. Kitts & Nevis – just one per cent each. Go figure. By the way, CARICOM’s annual summit for heads of government will meet this coming week; among the “big issues” to be considered this week is – yes, you’ve guessed it. West Indies cricket.
But hey! Summer is here, and the seasonal distractions from the serious issues of the day are multiplying daily. Why worry about regional development, education and so on? It is hot. We all need to chill out. The rich ones will be disappearing overseas in a few weeks’ time – and of course, that includes our politicians. And there is sports. With the Olympics mere weeks away, the National Trials have been taking place over the last few days at the National Stadium – which, strangely, has been three-quarters empty, even for races with superstar Usain Bolt (who was beaten not once, but twice by his reportedly more focused rival and training partner Yohan Blake). Jamaicans adore their athletes; but there seems to have been confusion over entrance tickets. Besides, people probably just don’t have the money to buy them. Much cheaper to watch them on television.
And then, there is Jamaica 50. Of course, I still have questions (don’t we all?) For example, why was an International Reggae Day concert in Emancipation Park suddenly canceled at short notice? Why is the Portland Jerk Festival, which happens every year, a Jamaica 50 event – and such a costly one (J$1,400 at the gate)? Is there a schedule of Jamaica 50 events, and if so where? I tried to download the enlarged schedule pdf document on the Jamaica 50 website (“proudly presented” by the Jamaica Information Service), and got this message: “This is somewhat embarrassing, isn’t it?”
Yes, it is. However, the website did remind me that we are just five weeks, 1o hours, 40 minutes and 18 seconds away from our nation’s fiftieth anniversary. And there is a basic schedule here: http://www.jis.gov.jm/ja50/v2/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/JCDC-CALENDAR-OF-JAMAICA-50-NATIONAL-EVENTS1.pdf. For the month of July, there is Reggae Sumfest; the Festival Song Contest; and other regular annual events. OK, OK… I know, we don’t have any money, but are these really Jamaica 50 events, or just wearing the cloak of Jamaica 50?
Meanwhile, the politicians talk. And talk. Minister of Agriculture Roger Clarke and Minister of Education Ronald Thwaites are the two current Champions of Talk at the moment. Speeches galore. Minister Clarke, an amiable and obese man, raised scattered laughter when he asked his audience whether they agreed that he had thrived (thriven?) on a good healthy diet of Jamaican food. The Opposition Jamaica Labour Party has been largely quiet, apart from Justice and National Security Spokesman Delroy Chuck, who is clear and sharp in his commentary. There is an occasional obscure piece of waffle from the Opposition Leader, who seems to have gone back into his shell. Among other serious issues, Mr. Chuck has asked why the monthly meeting of the National Security Council has only taken place once since the new administration took office six months ago; if this is true, what is the story behind this?
Our Prime Minister is also very quiet, and only speaks when spoken to at the moment, like a well-behaved child in Victorian days. At least, I have seen very little reported.
But let’s give a huge round of applause to our very own Jamaica Defence Force and to all the other participants – including those from overseas – in the Jamaica Military Tattoo 2012. This was only the fifth in Jamaica’s history, and by all accounts our military outdid itself. Congratulations to all involved.
On the arts front, congratulations are also due to the urban arts festival Kingston on the Edge (KOTE) 2012, which took place over the past week. It was an extraordinarily lavish schedule of art in all its forms – grassroots, uptown, downtown, in-between – showing how vibrant and creative our much-maligned capital city truly is. Special congratulations to Veerle Poupeye, director of the National Gallery of Jamaica and her hard-working staff for their ongoing work (and for their monthly Sunday openings); and of course, to Karin Wilson Edmonds and the many others who worked so hard to make KOTE 2012 a huge success. I have to add that this is largely a private sector effort – thanks to all the sponsors and supporters, and may it be even bigger and better next year!
And of course, the sports. Mr. Yohan Blake and Ms. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce are worthy of special mention for beating the favorites in the National Trials in both the 1oo and 200 meters. But congratulations to all the young men and women who put out all their efforts and the best they have to offer. I am sure those who qualified for the London Olympics will continue to strive and do well for Jamaica.
Let’s round things off with another old and hoary “chestnut”: It’s “health tourism” time again! For the umpteenth time, this wonderful idea (it is a great idea actually) has been taken from the shelf and dusted off, this time by Industry, Investment & Commerce Minister Anthony Hylton. The Jamaica Information Service describes health tourism as “a new growth area with significant potential.” We first heard these words – or something very similar – approximately fifteen years ago. Well, let’s give it another whirl. I am sure the long-suffering “diaspora” will be thrilled to hear about it – or did I hear a stifled yawn from across the waters? Surely not. It’s a new area, folks! Let’s talk about it some more!
Well, dark has descended and I have rambled on too long. We are due for at least a few more days of hot, dry weather, with clouds that drift high above and have no intention on raining on us here in Kingston.
It’s summer, we haven’t solved the mystery of the noxious fumes yet (more on that another time) and…let’s try to have a great week!
My deep condolences to the family and friends of all those who were murdered in Jamaica in the past week. This may not be a complete list, but my thoughts are with all those who are mourning the loss of their loved ones.
- Kemado “Joe” Edwards, killed by the police in St. James
- Unidentified man found in a cane field in Llandilo, Westmoreland
- André, in Barnett Lane, Montego Bay, St. James
- Bryan Morris, 33, in Sheffield, Westmoreland
- Sylvia Beckford, 40, in Sheffield, Westmoreland
- Judith McCauley, 31, in Sheffield, Westmoreland
- Unidentified man killed by the police in Camrose, St. James
- Courtney Willis, in Nuts River, St. Thomas
- Unidentified woman chopped to death in Manchester
- Fabian Buckley, 26, in Duhaney Park, Kingston
- Newton Steer, 40, in Red Ground, St. Catherine
- Hugh Modest, 47, in West Meade, St. Catherine
- Cyril Kelsey, 59, in Leeds, St. Elizabeth
- Norman Noble, 48, in St. James
- Mario Balotelli, One of Soccer’s Most Gifted and Eccentric Players (nytimes.com)
- Gianluigi Buffon: Italy must improve to beat Spain in Euro 2012 final (thesun.co.uk)
- Sunday Songs (petchary.wordpress.com)
- Jamaica National Trials 2012: Seeking emancipation for Veronica Campbell-Brown and Usain Bolt in 200m (theislandjournal.wordpress.com)
- http://newsandviewsbydjmillerja.wordpress.com/2012/06/28/jamaica-and-gays-are-we-homophobic-or-not/#comment-482 (djmillerja.wordpress.com)
- In Memoriam (petchary.wordpress.com)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Peace-dream-shattered (jamaicaobserver.com)
- Minister reassures Jamaicans after 10 killed in bloody weekend (caribbean360.com)
- Blake shocks Bolt in 100m dash at Jamaican Olympics trials (edition.cnn.com)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Mystery-fumes-dissipate_11848158 (jamaicaobserver.com)
- http://www.jis.gov.jm/ja50/v2/ (Jamaica 50/JIS website)
- http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads-112/31081 (Spectacular Military Tattoo: Jamaica Information Service)
- http://www.caribjournal.com/2012/06/18/haiti-led-caribbean-gdp-growth-last-year-will-again-in-2012-eclac/ (Caribbean Journal)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Jamaica-won-t-leave-Caricom–says-LaRocque_11851491 (jamaicaobserver.com)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/The-simple-truth-about-homosexuality-and-same-sex-marriage_11837769#ixzz1zQHZKyR2 (jamaicaobserver.com)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Homosexuality-and-religion-in-our-politics_11817993 (Mark Wignall column)
- http://newsandviewsbydjmillerja.wordpress.com/2012/06/28/jamaica-and-gays-are-we-homophobic-or-not/ (Dionne Jackson Miller blog post)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/The-big-issues-for-this-week-s-Caricom-summit_11837771 (Rickey Singh on CARICOM summit)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/GSAT-defence–Retired-educators-who-conceptualised-exam-say-test-not-the-problem_11804900 (GSAT defense)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120630/news/news1.html (Jamaica Military Tattoo)
- http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads-107/31098 (Health Tourism remarks, JIS)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120629/lead/lead2.html (Sickening fumes…Jamaica Gleaner)
- Bouterse installs CARICOM youth leaders (kaieteurnewsonline.com)
On the occasion of Jamaican sprinter Merlene Ottey‘s 52nd birthday, it seems appropriate to look at the Jamaican obsession with “track and field” (it’s really the track part we are interested in). How does this play out in the context of celebrity, youth, and money?
I was prompted to write this partly because there was a grave omission in my last Sunday review of the Jamaican news. I had planned to congratulate our current Golden Boy, Usain Bolt, on the work of his Usain Bolt Foundation (vision statement: Creation of opportunities through education and cultural development for a positive change). The focus of the Foundation’s work is on “happy children.” I cannot think of a better purpose. With educated, healthy and empowered children, Jamaica can really start to move forward. The Usain Bolt Foundation will team up with Chain of Hope Jamaica, which is developing a pediatric cardiac service for the hundreds of Jamaican children in desperate need of surgery at the Bustamante Hospital for Children in Kingston. Bolt will co-host a fund-raising walkathon later this year, and has asked his sponsors to contribute funds for two surgeries annually. Last week, the Foundation handed over twenty licenses for important Mathematics software that will help students prepare for Caribbean examinations. It is also supporting the younger children; it has donated playground and recreational equipment and uniforms to schools for children under twelve. It will also support this year’s Paralympics. And more.
Meanwhile, Mr. Bolt has signaled in no uncertain terms that he is ready for the London Olympic Games this summer, by winning the 100 meter dash at the recent Jamaica International Invitational Meet in Kingston in a mind-blowing 9.82 seconds. There are others (including one or two of his fellow-countrymen) who think they have some chance of beating him in the Olympics. We shall see.
Meanwhile, Mr. Bolt is up there on his pedestal, a sports superstar at the age of twenty-five, a young man from deep rural Trelawny who played a lot of cricket and football in his teens before he took up running. He is now the Honorable Usain St. Leo Bolt, O.J., C.D., who once remarked, “I’m a cool and exciting guy.” He has received numerous awards and honors. His image is of a fun-loving, laid-back person. Like many successful athletes it seems, he has opened a restaurant in Kingston called “Tracks and Records” (an uninspiring name). He was conferred with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree last November by the University of the West Indies. The enormous publicity machine surrounding the London Olympics is beginning to envelop him in its embrace. He is doing endorsements and ads and photo-ops (even with visiting Prince Harry) and autographs and interviews, and everybody wants him. And most Jamaicans are very proud of him and his success, and are looking forward to another stupendous performance by him – and other outstanding Jamaican athletes such as Yohan Blake and Veronica Campbell Brown – in the upcoming Olympics.
Yes, our chests swell with pride. He is our Golden Boy, our country boy made good. And yet. Our superhero is sometimes boisterous; he makes faces while the National Anthem is played, and he has a touch of arrogance. He loves to party.
And he has a white girlfriend. The discussions on the pulsating, non-stop Facebook network of Jamaicans have by turns irritated, amused and depressed me. Why do successful black men always run off with white women? What’s wrong with black women? She must be a gold-digger. And other comments that are too unpleasant – and downright racist – to be repeated here. In social media parlance, all I can say is… SMH.
Can I just say something? Mr. Bolt is doing the best he can. He is young, and from a humble background. He is trying. His heart is in the right place. I cannot conceive of the unbelievable pressure he must be under – the training alone demands tremendous, and continuous focus. His body has to be constantly fine-tuned and prepared, like an engine for a Formula One racing car. There is the fear of injury. He has agents and publicists and sports reporters of all nationalities and photographers and fans and would-be girlfriends and hangers-on to deal with, every minute of his day.
And can I point something else out? All the amazing Jamaican athletes, of whom so much is expected, are all trying to live up to those expectations as best they can. They don’t want to disappoint their fans – and especially, they don’t want to disappoint themselves. Just before Mr. Bolt, another record-breaking sprinter, Asafa Powell, was all the rage in Jamaica. Like Mr. Bolt, he is a powerful runner and has a big race (the Diamond League) tomorrow. Mr. Powell has, perhaps, not handled the golden pedestal thing so well. He is, after all, a different person, the sometimes shy son of two Spanish Town ministers. He has had injury problems. Some Jamaicans think they have found chinks in his golden armor, and have opened the chinks a little wider. There has also been a lot of discussion about his personal life, and his high-profile girlfriend. He has been found wanting by many Jamaicans. My blogging colleague and marvelous journalist Dionne Jackson-Miller has addressed the issue in her blog.
Perhaps it will be Mr. Bolt’s turn next – to “disappoint”.
But can I once again simply point out: These are human beings, existing in the rarefied air of the famous (and rich); they are recognized everywhere by everyone (can you imagine that?) Their life in active athletics will probably just last a few more years; and then they will have to think about the rest of their lives. It is temporary, it is fickle. We, the public, can gossip about their girlfriends and make snide comments when they win a Silver, and not a Gold (Ms. Ottey, by the way, was rather unkindly nicknamed the Bronze Queen, but her performance and longevity were quite remarkable).
Yes, they are young human beings, and they are doing their best to please everyone. But most of all, they are doing it for themselves.
Let us just support them in that.
And happy birthday, Ms. Ottey! (By the way, she is considering running in her eighth Olympic Games this year – she now runs for Slovenia, her adopted home).
Related articles and links:
http://www.european-athletics.org/index.php?option=com_content&catid=1&id=10118&view=article: Super-vet Ottey not finished yet
http://www.usainbolt.com/page/home: Usain Bolt home page
Usain Bolt Thrills at Jamaican Meet in Good Sign for London Olympics (bleacherreport.com)
Fellow Jamaicans calling Usain Bolt the next Tiger Woods because of his Caucasian girlfriend (offthebench.nbcsports.com)
Love strikes like lightning for Usain Bolt (telegraph.co.uk)
Prince Harry ‘bolts’ from Usain Bolt and wins ‘race’ (elspethlodge.com)
http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/athletics/18020004: Asafa Powell meets Justin Gatlin in Diamond League in Doha