Journey to the Land of Look Behind: Tonight (May 20, 2015) in Kingston

If you are in Kingston, I am recommending that you go along this evening to III (3 Stanton Terrace, Kingston 6) – a regular “plein air” venue for local, foreign and indie films in the city. The film will start at 7:00 p.m. (come early!) Admission is J$500 and drinks and snacks (including chick pea doubles!) will be available. Directions: Turn off Old Hope Road at TOTAL on to Stanton Terrace, III is second to last gate on the right. 

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This one is special for a couple of reasons. The film itself is a remarkable and unusual documentary, which I first saw on television in the UK and recorded on a video cassette tape (remember VCRs?). Not long after, I moved to Jamaica. The film has a dreamlike quality, with many scenes filmed in the Cockpit Country. Yes, there is a part of Cockpit Country – which is not only rich in natural resources, but also steeped deeply in history – called the Land of Look Behind. Its steep, round hills and deep valleys breathe the stories of conflicts and subterfuge, the Maroons and the British soldiers, who always had to look behind them when riding through the treacherous terrain for fear of attack. For a local, in depth view of the value of this unique environment, you can also watch “Cockpit Country is Our Home,” by Jamaican independent filmmaker Esther Figueroa on YouTube. It is excellent, and moving.

Jamaican Rastafarian filmmaker Barbara Blake Hannah says of the film, “This is a classic of the Reggae Films genre, one of the first made about real RASTA culture, and containing footage of Bob Marley’s funeral.”

The mysterious Land of Look Behind - its ecological, historical and cultural value to the people of Jamaica is immeasurable. (Photo: Labrish Jamaica)

The mysterious Land of Look Behind – its ecological, historical and cultural value to the people of Jamaica is immeasurable. (Photo: Labrish Jamaica)

So, it is interesting and ironic that, with the threat of bauxite mining in this fragile and unique part of Jamaica’s heritage, this film should be aired this evening. It is also a fundraiser for an excellent cultural and educational venture, SO((U))L HQ and Di Institute for Social Leadership, founded by activists Aziza Afifa and Georgia Love. I interviewed DJ Afifa in this blog last year. This is ground-breaking (and barrier-breaking) work they are doing and well worth supporting. So do go along. It will be quite a treat, and in a good cause… For more information, visit: www.thesoulhq.wordpress.com  www.leadtochangeja.wordpress.com  and http://www.amedjafifa.wordpress.com

Land of Look Behind is a 1982 documentary film about Jamaica directed by Alan Greenberg (90 minutes). The film begins with footage of Jamaica’s wild interior in the Cockpit Country. The film also features fascinating footage of the funeral of Bob Marley; and interviews with a number of Rastafarians, including dub poet Mutabaruka and the wonderful bluesy reggae singer Gregory Isaacs, who sadly passed away several years ago.  

Land of Look Behind won the Chicago International Film Festival’s Gold Hugo Award. Famous German director Werner Herzog has said “This film achieves things never seen before in the history of cinema.” The American director Jim Jarmusch writes that Land of Look Behind is “striking…beautiful…near-perfect.”

The beautiful, endangered Cockpit Country. The Noranda bauxite company is nibbling away at the edges, while the Government does nothing about "defining the boundaries" of this unique area.  (Photo: Ted Lee Eubanks)

The beautiful, endangered Cockpit Country. The Noranda bauxite company is nibbling away at the edges, while the Government has not made a decision since last year about “defining the boundaries” of this unique area. (Photo: Ted Lee Eubanks)

 

 

 

For The Children: A March Last Sunday

A great crowd, making an impact.
A great crowd, making an impact.

Social activist Michael Abrahams organized a march on Sunday, May 17 in Kingston. I was not there – but I was there in spirit. I wanted to share with you some photographs of the event, shamelessly filched from others’ Facebook pages (well, I did warn them!) The aim is sincere. It is important to galvanize and raise awareness still higher as we seek to Protect Our Children. We have been doing a poor job, so far. Dr. Abrahams pledges that real action will follow.

Crazy activists! Who says you can't have fun while protesting? (Photo: Michael Abrahams/Facebook)

Crazy activists! Who says you can’t have fun while protesting? (Photo: Quality of Citizenship Jamaica/Facebook)

Here’s a Facebook comment from Mikey that I thought I would share here, as it sums up his (and actually, my) philosophy: “Yesterday I looked at the crowd that had gathered for the ‘Protect Our Children’ march. I saw adults and children. I saw Christians and non-believers. I saw Labourites and Comrades. I saw straight people and LGBT people. I saw uptowners, inner city people and country folk. I saw dark-skinned people and light-skinned people. I saw well educated people and not so well educated people. I saw people of means and people of little means. But everybody stood together, laughed together and walked together in the same direction for a common cause. Why can’t we do that more often? Forget about our differences and come together for the things that really matter, like justice and equality?”

We love our children. Let’s protect them from harm, and let’s love them a whole lot more. That’s all they need.

Michael Abrahams amidst several lady friends! (Far left is Senator Kamina Johnson Smith)

Michael Abrahams amidst several lady friends! (Far left is Senator Kamina Johnson Smith)

Respect Jamaica! (From their Facebook page)

Respect Jamaica! (From their Facebook page)

The Respect Jamaica crew.

The Respect Jamaica crew.

Feeling the energy… (Photo: Respect Jamaica/Facebook)

Feeling the energy… (Photo: Respect Jamaica/Facebook)

Eve for Life representing at the March. #NuhGuhDeh  Leave our young girls alone!

Eve for Life representing at the March. #NuhGuhDeh Leave our young girls alone! (Photo: Quality of Citizenship Jamaica/Twitter)

Photo: Respect Jamaica/Facebook

Photo: Respect Jamaica/Facebook

 

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A message for the fathers.

A message for the fathers. (Photo: Quality of Citizenship Jamaica/Facebook)            

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Photo: Quality of Citizenship Jamaica/Facebook

 

Bauxite Mining Begins in Cockpit Country: This Is A Betrayal, Says JET; An Invasion, Says Windsor Research Centre

This is very disturbing news. Back in August 2014, a large group of concerned citizens met in Elderslie, St. Elizabeth and unanimously opposed bauxite mining in the Cockpit Country. There have been public consultations (I attended one about two years ago in Kingston), but still no decision on the issue of the boundaries of Cockpit Country. Please see today’s (May 18) press releases from the Jamaica Environment Trust and from the Windsor Research Centre, which is situated in Cockpit Country.

Noranda's invasion of Cockpit Country.

Noranda’s invasion of Cockpit Country: The location of the mining activity.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, May 18th, 2015
Kingston, Jamaica

The Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) is alarmed to receive reports that extension of haul roads and deployment of mining equipment has begun within Cockpit Country borders south of Stewart Town. Despite numerous assurances from the Government of Jamaica (GOJ) that bauxite mining would not be permitted in Cockpit Country, reports from community members and site visits by a member of the Cockpit Country Stakeholders Group (CCSG) have confirmed that Noranda Jamaica Bauxite Partnership (NJBP) has begun these mining operations. 

The Government of Jamaica (GOJ) commissioned a Cockpit Country boundary study to be done by the University of the West Indies (UWI) and this was completed in 2008. The public consultation process on mining in Cockpit Country as well as the proposed boundaries was done in 2013. The report released in September 2013 concluded: “The Government of Jamaica (GOJ) should not authorize any form of exploration of mineral deposits, mining and quarrying activity within the Cockpit Country as the level of emotion is too high and level of opposition and resistance by community members and leaders, CBOs, NGOs and civil society organizations, some Government of Jamaica agencies and members of the academic community may not provide enough guarantee and confidence for potential investors.”

“To now learn that the GOJ has gone ahead and allowed Noranda to begin mining operations in Cockpit Country without any dialogue with stakeholders and without the declaration of the long promised boundary and protection regime is a betrayal of good faith,” said JET CEO, Diana McCaulay. “According to Noranda’s website, the mining operations in Jamaica are carried out by Noranda Jamaica Bauxite Partnership, which is owned by the GOJ (51%) and Noranda Bauxite Limited (49%). Our own Government is the majority shareholder in this operation.”

Looking westward.

Looking westward.

JET understands that the current operations by Noranda have not obtained an environmental permit under the Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA) Act, which is required under Jamaican law, nor has there been any requirement for an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).

JET calls on the Minister of Land Water Environment and Climate Change, the Hon. Robert Pickersgill, to immediately stop the work and to finally do what he has long promised – identify and declare boundaries for Cockpit Country. In addition, we again call on the Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining, the Hon. Phillip Paulwell, to close Cockpit Country to mining.

Diana McCaulay
Jamaica Environment Trust
469-1315

Two D-9 Bulldozers at work on the Haul Road with Cockpit Country in the background.

Two D-9 Bulldozers at work on the Haul Road with Cockpit Country in the background.

Below is a press release from the Windsor Research Centre, which is located in Sherwood Content, Trelawny, inside Cockpit Country:

NORANDA INVADES COCKPIT COUNTRY:

Windsor Research Centre (WRC), which is located five kilometers inside Cockpit Country, is appalled to discover that Noranda Bauxite Ltd has invaded Cockpit Country.

“No Mining in Cockpit Country”! That is what the public has been saying since 2006 and it is what Government of Jamaica (GoJ) has been promising us. But… within the last two weeks, Noranda has crossed the Cockpit Country boundary with a Haul Road in preparation for mining. How can this be?

Here is what we know so far:

•This breach is taking place right now, near Bryan Castle in St Ann at the Madras / Caledonia crossroad. We observed it yesterday (17th May 2015) and took photographs (see attached).

•Noranda has a Special Mining Lease (SML) # 165 inherited from St Ann Bauxite Ltd and dated October 2004. This allows them to mine up to the eastern boundary of Cockpit Country (see attached map) and it is valid until 2030.

•The new Haul Road is outside the SML 165 and is penetrating so-called “Special Reserves”, which are inside Cockpit Country. According to SML 165, these reserves are to be used only if it turns out that there is less bauxite than predicted within the said SML. In this case the Minister must grant the Lessee a new SML.

We therefore ask GoJ to clarify the basis upon which they are allowing Noranda to mine the Special Reserves.

• Is the bauxite in SML 165 finished?

• If so, how could it be that the bauxite in SML 165 is already finished after only 10 years out of a 26-year Lease?

• Was a new Special Mining Lease issued?

• If so, what account was taken of the importance of the Cockpit Country’s natural and cultural heritage and the still unresolved issue of the boundary?

• Was an Environmental Permit requested or obtained?

• Was an Environmental Impact Assessment carried out?

WRC calls upon GoJ to refer to its own study, “Public Consultations on Defining The Boundaries of Cockpit Country” which was commissioned from University of the West Indies (UWI) and published in 2013; we call upon the Minister of Land Water Environment and Climate Change, the Hon. Robert Pickersgill, to declare the boundaries of Cockpit Country, as recommended by the Public Consultations and we ask that Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining, the Hon. Phillip Paulwell, close Cockpit Country to mining in line with GoJ’s assurances.

Prepared by Michael Schwartz (Director)

Windsor Research Centre,
Sherwood Content,
Trelawny.

Email <windsor@cwjamaica.com>

Tel 997-3832

Looking Westward into Cockpit Country.

Looking Westward into Cockpit Country.

 

The Jamaican LGBT Community: A Resilient People, A “Beautiful People”

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“Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”

Social activist, medical doctor, poet, musician and newspaper columnist Dr. Michael Abrahams returned to this quote by Benjamin Franklin more than once at the Third Annual Larry Chang Human Rights Symposium on Friday afternoon; the theme of the forum was “The Jamaican LGBT Community: A Resilient People.” Dr. Abrahams was guest speaker at the event, organized by J-FLAG in celebration of International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT), with funding from USAID’s excellent COMET II community empowerment program.

The lovely Ashley welcomed us.

The lovely Ashley welcomed us.

Dr. Abrahams’ cool demeanor and laconic turn of phrase, all wrapped up in sardonic humor, belie his passion for social justice. Mikey, as he is affectionately known, also has a sharp tongue. Two things that really get him going are the hypocrisy and “religiosity” of society. He described sitting down with two lesbian patients, who told him of their struggle. Then, he says – with Mr. Franklin’s sense of outrage – religious Jamaicans “cherry pick” parts of the Bible to use against certain groups of their fellow Jamaicans. While eighty per cent of Jamaicans are born out of wedlock, these church-goers point fingers at others, such as the LGBT community, who are “sinful.” He noted that “two known adulterers” (now deceased), Bob Marley and former Prime Minister Michael Manley, were greatly admired as such. Isn’t this hypocrisy? Yes, Mikey – it is. It has to be!

Dr. Michael Abrahams has a very low tolerance level for hypocrisy. (My photo)

Dr. Michael Abrahams has a very low tolerance level for hypocrisy. (My photo)

As a straight LGBT ally myself, I was interested by Dr. Abrahams’ response to a question regarding how it has affected him. He said he could not keep silent on the issue. “People will take shots at you,” he added, “But you have to be true to yourself.” I might add that once you have started down the road of advocacy, it is well nigh impossible to turn back.

Program Manager at Respect Jamaica Anna-Kim Robinson introduced Dr. Abrahams very nicely.

Program Manager at Respect Jamaica Anna-Kim Robinson introduced Dr. Abrahams very nicely.

There was a panel discussion. Now, that term can translate into overlong, self-indulgent pontification. This panel was far from that – in fact, the three presentations transfixed me. I don’t even recall whether they were long and short, but they were heartfelt, occasionally emotional, sharp, true.

Jomain McKenzie: We are not asking for special treatment, but asking for the rights other human beings enjoy. (My photo)

Jomain McKenzie: We are not asking for special treatment, but asking for the rights other human beings enjoy. (My photo)

Jomain McKenzie’s talk, “Break the Rules,” was delivered with a disarming optimism and clear conviction. Jomain, who is Communication Focal Point and the Developing Country NGO Delegation to the Global Fund Board, reminded us that stories of injustice, wrongs, discrimination cannot be the “sole narrative” of the LGBT community. He identified three positive ways to “protest”: Protest in defense of your future  (“We must have a dream and a vision”); Protest with our humanity (“First and foremost we are human beings…We are not asking for anything special”); and Protest with excellence (“Show your best selves…Find strength in the people around you”).

Rochelle McFee described how she was uncomfortably “outed” by the inordinate amount of front-page attention given to the moment when Reverend Father Sean Major-Campbell washed her feet and that of other lesbians at his church in Kingston. “Afterwards I felt naked and afraid,” she confessed; but she began to realize that vulnerability is good, once you recognize it. Ms. McFee is thankful for J-FLAG’s support and for the “strong social networks” that have helped her to move to a place of self-confidence – and joy. Rochelle smiled a lot.

Jermaine Burton (right) talks to an audience member, while Rochelle McFee listens. (My photo)

Jermaine Burton (right) talks to an audience member, while Rochelle McFee listens. (My photo)

“If Me Never Talk Mi Wudda Dumb.” Jermaine Burton, founder and director of the amazing Colour Pink Group, now identifies as transgender. His presentation was especially emotional. Thrown out by his mother at the age of sixteen, he says he “went to the waterfront,” realizing he was homeless. Just like that. He ended up doing sex work to survive; “I was sometimes trafficked without even knowing it,” he murmured. “I felt I was at the bottom of the barrel…I became the monster society said I was.” This was a sad story with a happy ending, however; and Jermaine has a kind and forgiving approach – starting with “forgiving yourself.” I wanted to ask him (and will do so another time) what gave him the strength to pull himself out of this situation and empower others. It is nothing short of heroic, but he doesn’t see himself that way.

 

This is us! WE-Change members gather round their brand new banner. (My photo)

This is us! WE-Change members gather round their brand new banner. (My photo)

Then there was the launch of WE-Change. I wrote a bit about the genesis of this new and inspiring group of lesbian and bisexual women earlier this year (“LB Graduates Poised for Advocacy” and an earlier post about J-FLAG’s ground-breaking training). These young women are bright, proud and focused on social justice; their first task will be a social audit of the Domestic Violence Act, noted spokeswoman Paige Andrew. You can find WE-Change on Facebook now. Like the page!

“People don’t understand that gay rights are human rights,” said Mikey Abrahams. He likened the LGBT rights struggle to the civil rights struggle in the United States of the 1960s and 1970s – something that is often dismissed as an inaccurate comparison by Jamaicans. Like Dr. Abrahams, though, I see many parallels. His comment had been reinforced earlier by Ian McKnight, Civil Society Specialist in USAID’s COMET II program, who remarked that for him and his organization, “A commitment to human rights is not an option.”

Perhaps, reading between the lines I have written above, you can get a sense of the warmth, the emotional temperature in the packed room; and the realization that the majority of participants were young Jamaicans, full of life, energy and love. So much to offer.

Yes, the LGBT community is resilient, and more. As Dr. Abrahams said, looking at the gathering: “I see beautiful people.”

Beautiful in purple: I took this photo of J-FLAG Executive Director Dane Lewis with Digicel Foundation's Kerry-Jo Lyn before the event began.

Beautiful in purple: I took this photo of J-FLAG Executive Director Dane Lewis with Digicel Foundation’s Kerry-Jo Lyn before the event began.

 

Birds Caribbean International Meeting in Jamaica: Exciting Updates!

Loggerhead Kingbirds mating dance
I photographed these Loggerhead Kingbirds performing an extraordinary mating dance on a gate opposite our house.

Students! Conservationists! Ornithologists! Teachers! Community Workers! Environmental NGOs! Scientists! And members of the Jamaican public! Are you ready?

White-Crowned Pigeon at the top of our guango tree

The beautiful White-Crowned Pigeon, or Baldpate, sitting on the topmost branch of our guango tree in Kingston. (My photo)

A few weeks ago, I told you about the upcoming 20th International Meeting of the non-profit organization BirdsCaribbean at the Knutsford Court Hotel in Kingston, Jamaica (July 25 – 29, 2015). The theme is: “Birds: Connecting Communities and Conservation.” There is now so much more to tell you! It is shaping up to be a very exciting event, with great keynote speakers, adventurous field trips, absorbing sessions on a range of topics, Jamaica Day, book launches, and more… You can find the details on all the activities listed below on the BirdsCaribbean meeting website: sites.google.com/site/birdscaribbeanmeeting2015/home which is being continuously updated; and keep up to date with all the news on Birds Caribbean’s Facebook page and on Twitter @BirdsCaribbean.

jamaica_flyer_2015_final-May

So, where shall we start? Up front, I should remind you that the deadline for the Call for Papers and early bird (smile) discounted registration is Thursday, May 21 – just a few days away! So, please get yourself organized to come! There is a list of proposed sessions (and those already confirmed) on the meeting website and those interested must submit their abstracts online no later than midnight on this date. Students who wish to apply for the Founders Award for Best Student Paper should indicate this in their application. Regarding registration, rates include the full five days of sessions and workshops, lunch and coffee breaks. Field trips and the final banquet and dance will cost extra (very reasonable rates), and there will be a special rate at the conference hotel, so book your room before June 20!

But the meeting won’t be all about sitting in an air-conditioned hotel. There will be regular early morning bird-watching trips to nearby locations, perhaps with a little refreshing yoga thrown in! A great way for bird enthusiasts to start the day.

A Brown Noddy in flight. (Photo: Ted Eubanks)

A Brown Noddy in flight. (Photo: Ted Eubanks)

Then there will be some truly amazing field trips: pre-conference offerings will be two days/two nights to Northern Jamaica (including Rocklands, St. Ann and Cockpit Country); or the “Jamaican Endemics Express” starting in Montego Bay and zooming across to Portland and the Blue Mountains. There will be a one-day mid-conference field trip, which could be to find the endemic birds of the John Crow & Blue Mountains National Park; or the birds of the Port Royal wetlands and cays – a Ramsar site; or to the Portland Bight Protected Area, including Portland Ridge, Salt River and the beautiful area around Goat Islands, the proposed site of a controversial Chinese port. A cultural tour of Kingston is also planned.

After the conference, there will be one- and two-day explorations of the Blue Mountains, St. Ann and western Jamaica. Interested? More details are on the website and the registration form will be up there by tomorrow (Monday 18th). Do register early!

Mark Yokoyama (left) with youngsters at a wildlife festival in St. Martin. (Photo: Les Fruits de Mer)

Mark Yokoyama (left) with youngsters at a wildlife festival in St. Martin. (Photo: Les Fruits de Mer)

Now, what else? Much more… Sessions will include an Event Photography Workshop, facilitated by Mark Yokoyama, Co-founder of Les Fruits de Mer in St. Martin; a Nature Photography Workshop; a symposium on Invasive Alien Species; and a bird study skin preparation workshop (taxidermy) facilitated by Brad Walker and Jeff Gerbracht from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology; and a number of scientific sessions, workshops and meetings on topics such as seabirds, the Caribbean Birding Trail, the White-Crowned Pigeon and other game birds, etc.

Want to know more about Jamaica and its remarkable birds? There will be a special Jamaica Day on the first day of the conference, which will include presentations and displays on Jamaican birds and their habitats, photography and more. This will be open to the public – more details to follow!

My two personal favorite bird books: (left) A Photographic Guide to the Birds of Jamaica by Ann Haynes-Sutton, Audrey Downer and Robert Sutton (recently acquired, and therefore nice and clean); and A Guide to the Birds of the West Indies by Herbert Raffaele, James Wiley, Orlando Garrido, Allan Keith and Janis Raffaele (much older and somewhat battered, but signed by Mr. Raffaele, my "bird guru").

My two personal favorite bird books: (left) A Photographic Guide to the Birds of Jamaica by Ann Haynes-Sutton, Audrey Downer and Robert Sutton (recently acquired, and therefore nice and clean); and A Guide to the Birds of the West Indies by Herbert Raffaele, James Wiley, Orlando Garrido, Allan Keith and Janis Raffaele (much older and somewhat battered, but autographed by Mr. Raffaele, my “bird guru”).

Who loves books? We all do! We will be having at least three book launches during the conference, including: Endemic Birds of Cuba” by Nils Navarro; and “Birds of Vieques Island, Puerto Rico” by Daphne Gemmill. Copies of the books will be available for sale.

Caribbean conservation photographer Eladio Fernandez will be one of the keynote speakers at the BirdsCaribbean 20th International Meeting in Kingston.

Caribbean conservation photographer Eladio Fernandez will be one of the keynote speakers at the BirdsCaribbean 20th International Meeting in Kingston.

Keynote speakers: Three great speakers are confirmed and more are coming on board! You can find their bios on the website, but the three already confirmed are Çağan H. Şekercioğlu, Ph.D. ,conservation ecologist, ornithologist, tropical biologist, and nature photographer (www.naturalphotos.com); Matt Johnson, Ph.D., wildlife biologist at Humboldt State University in California, USA; and Eladio Fernandezconservation photographer, a naturalist and an editorial producer of photography and illustrated children’s books (www.eladiofernandez.com).

So, whether you are an amateur bird lover, an academic or an ornithologist, I hope this has whetted your appetite! Don’t hesitate to explore the website. More information will be posted there, and on this blog too. We look forward to welcoming you to our beautiful island, Jamaica!

The beautiful Cockpit Country. (Photo: Ted Lee Eubanks)

The beautiful Cockpit Country. (Photo: Ted Lee Eubanks)

Clinging to the Ledge, Much Desk Thumping, Two Marches for Children: Thursday, May 14, 2015

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There are days when I feel that Jamaica is hanging on by its fingernails. This is one of them. I don’t have a good head for heights and those movie scenes where someone is desperately clinging to a ledge, legs dangling, kicking, trying to find a foothold on a high building with traffic moving far below…Those scenes terrify me; especially if the leering villain of the piece is getting ready to step on those fingers and let the desperate man drop. By this point, the man is almost resigned to his fate; wouldn’t it be kinder to put him out of his misery and kick those bloodied fingers away? When the crowd below is shouting at you, “Jump! Jump!” isn’t it easier to just let go? And yet we cannot. Jamaica cannot drop into oblivion.

Hang on! Hang on!

Hang on! Hang on!

Some fires are burning, but it seems no longer among the coffee farms of Mavis Bank. I hear Stony Hill (a more populated area) has had an outbreak of fires, as well as St. Thomas, further east. A friend who lives in Gordon Town, just above Kingston, says the fires jump from one hillside to the next, sparks blowing in the strong winds. Firefighters have been heroic, struggling with inadequate resources and inhospitable terrain. The mountain sides are steep. They are creating fire breaks but in some areas they had to let the fires burn themselves out. Water is inevitably a major challenge, and the drought has not broken.

A bush fire threatens this house in Llandewey, western St. Thomas. (Photo: Ian Allen/Gleaner)

A bush fire threatens this house in Llandewey, western St. Thomas. (Photo: Ian Allen/Gleaner)

Meanwhile: Stop lighting fires, for whatever reason – whether to clear land or burn garbage. It is wrong and so dangerous in these conditions!

It’s still the economy, stupid: There were robust discussions in the media and elsewhere this week on the economy, as Jamaica scraped through its 8th International Monetary Fund (IMF) test. I use that term because Jamaica missed out slightly on the primary surplus target and will request a waiver. However, the IMF notes, in its usual cheery “we want Jamaica to succeed” tone: “Over the past two years, Jamaica has adopted ambitious policy changes that have laid the foundation for a gradual recovery of economic growth and employment. Although painful in the short run, these policies are now starting to bear fruit.” Painful is an understatement. Many are on that ledge and about to let go.

The new IMF Mission Chief for Jamaica Uma Ramakrishnan. (Photo: JIS)

The new IMF Mission Chief for Jamaica Uma Ramakrishnan. (Photo: JIS)

Meanwhile, the pale, bespectacled Dutchman who headed the IMF mission to Jamaica, Dr Jan Kees Martijn, has made way for a new chief, Uma Ramakrishnan, who considers the missed target a “minor deviation.” Okey dokey then…

The mystery of growth: Meanwhile (yes, we know) we must have growth! But how? No one seems to know. It seems to me (and I know, I am not an economist!) that it is hard for an economy that is under the yoke of one of the toughest IMF programs in the world to grow. Now, the word “tax” keeps cropping up, and lo and behold – a new three per cent withholding tax appears. So let me ask another stupid question: If an economy is under the yoke of austerity and not growing, how will piling on more taxes help? It seems the IMF is leaving the “growth agenda” up to the Government but is expecting it to happen – eventually.

People's National Party Members of Parliament all followed the PM's lead, stood up and thumped their desks after the CCJ bills were passed, while Opposition members sat staring into space. (Photo: Jermaine Barnaby/Gleaner)

The CCJ Victory Dance: People’s National Party Members of Parliament, like sheep, all followed the PM’s lead, stood up and theatrically thumped their desks after the CCJ bills were passed, while Opposition members sat staring into space. (Photo: Jermaine Barnaby/Gleaner)

Moving towards the CCJ: Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller stood up and emphatically thumped her desk after the House of Representatives passed three bills enabling Jamaica to join the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as its final court of appeal. One of the bills required a two-thirds vote, which was obtained; the Lower House voted strictly along party lines. But there is still the Senate, and head of Government Business Phillip Paulwell has been rather cagey about next steps. It appears, however, that some wheeling and dealing is going on behind the scenes. The Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) has apparently rejected the PNP’s overtures to date. In my view, the Opposition has not been at all convincing in their opposition to the CCJ over the years. On his Facebook page, JLP leader Andrew Holness calls himself a “nationalist” and considers the CCJ is not a priority right now. The JLP failed to enlighten us all, on this one. Let’s go with the CCJ.

Minister of Justice Mark Golding

Minister of Justice Mark Golding

Jamaican human rights under the microscope: On Wednesday the United Nations Human Rights Council reviewed Jamaica’s human rights record through its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Geneva. As you would expect, Justice Minister Mark Golding stated that the Government has made progress. I am hoping to find a transcript of the whole hearing, which would be interesting. The last one was in 2010 with then Justice Minister Marlene Malahoo Forte.

Two marches for children will take place, very close to each other – apparently organized by two (new?) lobby groups. “We must protect our children! That is the other refrain, alongside “We must have growth!” Do people think if we say it often enough, it will actually happen?

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The first march, organized by Voice For Jamaica, is tomorrow, Friday May 15, starting at 1:00 p.m. at Emancipation Park and ending with a rally at Mandela Park. The second one, organized by Protect Our Children Jamaica,  is on Sunday, May 17, from 4:00 pm from Ranny Williams Entertainment Centre to Half Way Tree and back. Please try to support these efforts…

Is 119 still the police emergency number? I have heard several people say that when they call 119 they get no answer. How can this be? If it is out of order we need to know, don’t we?

Senator Marlene Malahoo Forte.

Senator Marlene Malahoo Forte.

Senator Marlene Malahoo Forte is taking her portfolio as Opposition Spokeswoman on Health seriously. Following recent revelations about the poor state of our health service, she is urging an audit of the supply chain for goods and equipment in the public health sector. I am wondering whether the problems are rooted in inefficiency, corruption and poor governance as much as they are in finances and resources.

The woman named “Nadine” (I don’t know why they did not give her full name) was a taxi driver in St. James. I do hope they find the perpetrators of all these terrible crimes. My sympathies are with the families 

Shane, Orange Street, Kingston

Davian Atkinson (JDF Coast Guard) shot dead allegedly by off duty policeman, Spanish Town, St. Catherine

Lambert Colpas, 55, Darling Street, Westmoreland

Ershel Dawkins, 27,Darling Street, Westmoreland

Michael Manning, 24, Bethel Town, St. James

Kashmar Chisholm, 23, Granville, St. James

Nadine, Tucker, St. James

Monsoon

petchary:

Today, Jamaica is dry, dust-brown, smoke-grey. Still no rain. So Steve McCurry – a photographer whose blog I follow just to get some inspiration and sheer pleasure – delighted me this morning with these extraordinary, joyful photographs of rain, mud, slippery coolness. I hope you enjoy these images as much as I have. And wherever you are, please do a small rain dance for Jamaica!

Originally posted on Steve McCurry's Blog:

INDIA-10219

Rajasthan, India

For months there is no rain, and then there is too much.
Half the world’s people survive at the whim of the monsoon.


INDIA-10926Bihar, India

I was eleven years old when I saw a photo essay on the monsoon in India in Life Magazine by
Brian Brake, the New Zealand-born Magnum photographer.
His work established his reputation as a master color photo essayist.
Twenty years later, I proposed a story to National Geographic to photograph the monsoon.

INDIA-11984Worli, India

INDIA-10214Bombay/Mumbai, India

01873_17, Bombay, India, 09/1993, INDIA-12471NF. Two children walk through the flooded streets of Bombay after school.  retouched_Ekaterina Savtsova 10/30/2014India


INDIA-10004NFPorbandar, India


AUSTRALIA-10009Australia

Monsoons, Australia, River, Arnumlan River, swollen by the Monsoon rains, snaking through Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Australia, 1984. Pg 55 Untold: The Stories Behind the Photographs Untold_bookAustralia

01614_05, northern territory, Australia, 1984, Aboriginal with umbrella Retouched by Ekaterina Savtsova 04/11 2014Australia

Monsoon History

The air is wet, soaks
into mattresses, and curls
In apparitions of smoke,
Like fat white slugs furled
Among the timber
Or silver fish tunnelling
The damp linen covers
Of schoolbooks, or walking
Quietly like centipedes,
The air walking everywhere
On its hundred feet
Is filled with the glare
Of tropical water.
Again we are taken over
By clouds and…

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