A Book-Filled Week Begins! The Kingston Book Festival, March 1 – 7, 2015

Today is March 1, the beginning of a full week of books, writers, readings and discussions. Yes, Kingston Book Festival begins today.

Jamaican novelist Roland Watson-Grant at a book session during the Independence Holiday. (My photo)

Jamaican writer Roland Watson-Grant at a book session last summer. (My photo)

In fact, it started today – but due to domestic issues I was unable to attend what I understand was a wonderfully lively Sunday morning session at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona. Poet Tanya Shirley (her published works are She Who Sleeps With Bones, Merchant of Feathers) is one of the main organizers of the event. She was  joined by Roland Watson-Grant (author of Skid and Sketcher), Commonwealth Short Story Prize winner Sharon Millar (The Whale House) and Mervyn Morris, Jamaica’s Poet Laureate. 

Da da da da da da… You know how the music goes! This is the Jamaica Writers' Society, better known as JAWS!

Da da da da da da… You know how the music goes! This is the Jamaica Writers’ Society, better known as JAWS!

But there is more, so much more to come… In fact, you could say without exaggeration that the Kingston Book Festival has “grown like Topsy” (an expression I don’t quite understand, but I like it). Can you believe there will be more than two dozen events on offer, over seven days? Here goes, with what I hope will be a comprehensive overview:

Monday, March 2: A high school tour by writers and publishers, talking about writing and careers in books.  Coordinated by the Book Industry Association of Jamaica. ** Carlong readings at select primary schools across Jamaica ** Jackmandora Rhyme Time Challenge in honor of Dr. Seuss’ birthday ** Industry Mondays at Ribbiz: Book industry networking session – win books, gift certificates and free entry to Digital Day 2015 (BIAJ coordinators) @ Ribbiz, Loshusan Centre.

Tuesday, March 3: 10:00 am to 12 noon: Meet the Poet Laureate – young poets have an interactive session with Poet Laureate Mervyn Morris, hosted by the National Library of Jamaica (NLJ) ** Carlong readings at select primary schools across Jamaica  ** 12 noon to 2 pm: Tuesday Talk at Bookophilia with Denise Laidley, Roland Watson-Grant, Melanie Schwapp and the Jamaica Writers Society (JAWS) ** 12 noon to 2 pm: Readings at the Women’s Correctional Facility and the General Penitentiary (Coordinated by Pelican Publishers) ** 12 noon to 6 pm: UK Higher Education and Skills Fair, Jamaica Pegasus Hotel ** 7 – 9 pm: Launch of Owen “Blakka” Ellis’ new book “Riddim and Riddles” (featuring performances by Tony Hendricks, Fae Ellington, Leonie Forbes, Oku Onuora, Donald “Iceman” Anderson, Dr. Sonijah Stanley Niaah (hosted by Blouse and Skirt Books), Red Bones Blues Café.

Actor, writer and all-round cool person Owen "Blakka" Ellis (right) has a good laugh with Roslyn Ellison (centre), Director and my husband (left) at the 20th anniversary party of the Trench Town Reading Centre in 2013. (My photo)

Actor, writer and all-round cool person Owen “Blakka” Ellis (right) has a good laugh with Roslyn Ellison (centre), Director and my husband (left) at the 20th anniversary party of the Trench Town Reading Centre in 2013. (My photo)

Wednesday, March 4: 10 am to 2 pm: Primary School Children’s Tour – Look Behind the Book, an exciting intro to the world of books incl. breakfast with a publisher/illustrator and visits to a publishing house, printery, bookstore, library (coordinated by BIAJ, Jamaica Cultural Enterprises, National Parent Teachers’ Association of Jamaica) ** Carlong Publishing Tour: students tour of Carlong ** 1- 2 pm: Susumba’s Book Bag Presents: A Literary Lunch – brown bag lunch with authors Mel Cooke, Mbala, Ad-ziko Simba Gegele, Mezan Ayoka, Tricia Allen, Owen “Blakka” Ellis, Peta-Gaye Williams (supported by the Ministry of Tourism and Sagicor, at 64 Knutsford Boulevard) ** 4 – 6 pm: Google Hangout on Caribbean Book Festivals (hosted by the BIAJ/Caribbean Literature Action Group) ** 6 – 8 pm: Open Mic/Open Bottle: Readings at various Kingston bars coordinated by the BIAJ.

Susumba's Book Bag is a quarterly digital literary magazine.

Susumba’s Book Bag is a quarterly digital literary magazine.

Thursday, March 5 (WORLD BOOK DAY): 10 am to 12 noon: International Standards for the Publishing Industry (hosted by the NLJ) ** 10 am to 12 noon: Opening Doors to New Ideas – panel discussion on literature, gender and identity (coordinated by JAWS, Next GENDERation Initiative) ** 12 noon: BIAJ Books on Wheels donation to the UWI Pediatric Ward AND Carlong donation to Bustamante Hospital for Children ** 12:30 to 1:30: Special Reading of “No Boy Like Amanda” with Hope Barnett and children from selected primary schools at Sangster’s, Mall Plaza ** 12 noon to 2 pm: Media and Building a Literary Culture – panel discussion with journalists, producers, media personalities with guest speaker Dr. Michael Bucknor, Head, Department of Literature, UWI ** 6 to 8 pm: Magazine Bookjam – networking party and panel discussion for freelance writers, magazine publishers (coordinated by BIAJ) at The Deck, Trafalgar Road ** 9 to 11 pm: Late Night Lit – a raunchy night of literature with Sharon Leach, Kelly Magnus, Tanya Shirley, Owen “Blakka” Ellis (hosted by JAWS) at Peppers Lounge, Waterloo Road.

Friday, March 6: 10 am to 4 pm: Digital Day – a digital publishing boot camp for authors and publishers, including the launch of iPublish Jamaica and its literary web series (hosted by iPublish Jamaica) at New Faculty of Medical Science, UWI

Kingston Book Festival 2015

Kingston Book Festival 2015

Saturday, March 7: 10 am to 6 pm: Kingston Book Fair – 50 plus exhibitors, readings, fun for children, book signings, young adult hangout…at Devon House ** 4 pm: Sell Me a Story – pitch to a publisher (registration required); email bookindustryja@gmail.com ** Seminar: Primary Sources for SBA and IA for CSEC and CAPE (hosted by the National Library of Jamaica).

Phew! Well, there must be something there to interest everyone – whether you are a writer, aspiring writer, publisher, or simply a book lover! Do come out – and bring your children to the child-friendly events, too! Encourage the love of books.

See you some time during Kingston Book Week!

You can find Kingston Book Festival on FaceBook https://www.facebook.com/KingstonBookFestival and on Twitter and Instagram @kgnbookfest  Festival hashtag #KBF2015 #OpeningDoors

Blouse and Skirt Books.

Blouse and Skirt Books 

Singing Redemption: Jamaica Day Part 2

On the evening of Friday, February 27, I was sitting in Kingston’s Emancipation Park in the front row of a sea of white chairs. In front of us was the domed stage, with bright colors sliding across its ceiling. It was time for the U.S. Embassy’s Black History Month concert – a tradition of over twenty years – which always takes place on the last Friday of February. Jamaican and U.S. flags fluttered in the gently retreating breeze on each side of the stage (evening always brings calm, no matter how rough and windy the day has been).

Aisha Kahlil, getting warmed up on "Redemption Song."

Aisha Kahlil, getting warmed up on “Redemption Song.”

And so, we heard the African American vocal group Sweet Honey In The Rock – singing, among a delicious variety of stirring and thought-provoking songs, Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song.”  As they sang, Bob’s smiling face lit up the screen behind them. An audible sigh rose from the audience, and we smiled back. Bob, Jamaica misses you; believe me, it does.

Aisha Kahlil (who has been with the group for 32 years) stood up as the song picked up momentum. It started off uptempo, then seemed to settle down to a steady reggae rhythm. Ms. Kahlil’s vocals became more insistent, more exploratory. Her hair trembled around her face as her energy became more concentrated. Her voice began to leap here and there; in short, high bursts she expressed a kind of intense joy. Prior to this song, she had sung mostly in a lower key. Now, she improvised in a series of wordless, high-pitched cries, reminiscent of Marley’s triumphant call-and-response sessions with his audiences. Throughout, sign language interpreter Shirley Childress, a sweet and loving presence on the stage, translated the song for the hearing impaired. (She also stayed after the show to chat with hearing-impaired Jamaicans from the audience).

Sweet Honey: Sisters singing for Bob.

Sweet Honey: Sisters singing for Bob. At left is sign language interpreter Shirley Childress, who learned from her deaf parents and is a founding member of the Black Deaf Advocates Association. She has interpreted for African American authors Maya Angelou, Alice Walker and Audre Lorde.

Perhaps some Jamaicans in the audience did not quite know what to make of this. But there have been oh, so many versions of this quiet song (from Stevie Wonder to Jackson Browne to Rihanna). Please help me sing “these songs of freedom,” Marley ends up, a gentle request.

Yes, that word “freedom” again. If you read Part 1, you will recall that the young woman at the Abilities Foundation equated “freedom” with human rights. And how right she was. Sweet Honey In The Rock sang those songs all evening – including some from their early years in the 1970s, when that word was on everyone’s lips. Those were the civil rights years of “We Shall Not Be Moved.”

Now, Reggae Month, Black History Month and the month of Bob Marley’s seventieth birthday is over. It is already March 1. So you can call this my small tribute to Mr. Marley.

Shirley Childress spreading joy...

Shirley Childress spreading joy…

Thank you, Bob. Just thank you. And yes, we are still singing songs of freedom, despite everything. Don’t worry.

It would be remiss of me not to mention Mr. Mendez, Sweet Honey's bass player, who is of Jamaican descent. His proud grandfather was in the audience, and he did some rocking solos.

It would be remiss of me not to mention Mr. Romeir Mendez, Sweet Honey’s very powerful bass player, who is of Jamaican descent and who has his own quartet back in Washington, DC. His proud grandfather was in the audience, and he did some rocking solos.

 

Singing Redemption: Jamaica Day Part 1

Yesterday, by a strange but happy coincidence, I heard two versions of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song.”

The first version was at a special Jamaica Day celebration on Friday, February 27 at the Abilities Foundation in Kingston. I was invited to be guest speaker; I read some Jamaican poetry. They especially enjoyed “Eve” by Mervyn Morris, which made them chuckle; “Prayer for Morning” by Millicent Graham, a childhood memory; and “Islands” by Christine Craig, about a girl growing up.  I also talked to the group – consisting of about 40 young adults with disabilities, mostly those with learning disabilities and hearing impaired – about speaking up for themselves, and about knowing that they have rights, just like any other Jamaican.

The four fabulous contestants in the reggae song contest.

The four fabulous contestants in the reggae song contest.

Interestingly, I asked them what they thought “human rights” meant. They tried hard to think about it. Then one girl’s face lit up: “It’s about freedom,” she said.

Freedom. This word that came up later in the day on another, quite different occasion, on which the same song was sung.

A small group of young women performed a dance, with great verve. I wondered how the hearing impaired girls could hear the music. But they can feel it...

A small group of young women performed a dance, with great verve. I wondered how the hearing impaired girls could hear the music. But they can feel the vibrations…

The session ended with a reggae song competition. Strictly reggae, because…Jamaica Day. There were four entrants, two boys and two girls. All sang vigorously, except for one very nervous young man. And the competition ended in a tie – partly because the support for two of the contestants was so frantic and loud it was impossible to tell which one had the most audience support. A tall young man sang a song by Tarrus Riley; and a young woman sang a heartfelt version of “Redemption Song.” In fact, she ended up singing it twice. The response was fervent. A young man operating the sound system waved a Rasta flag. The young people were feeling it.

The crowd response (a small section). Try imagining the noise!

The crowd response (a small section). Try imagining the noise!

"Redemption Song," Abilities Foundation style.

“Redemption Song,” Abilities Foundation style.

What do you know about the Abilities Foundation? It trains young adults with disabilities, preparing them to find employment and become productive citizens. It works in collaboration with the Ministries of Education and of Labor and Social Security and the H.E.A.R.T. Trust/National Training Agency. The foundation teaches the students marketable skills such as information technology, cabinet making, garment making and horticulture/landscaping. It received a Ministry/Japan Development Grant last year to enhance its programs, including Workforce Inclusion, which gives the Foundation’s trainees the opportunity to gain work experience through paid internships.

There is also a plant nursery and greenhouse next door. You can contact them at 969-5720 and at 191 Constant Spring Road, Kingston 8. The Foundation’s head is Ms. Susan Hamilton.

I got to know the Abilities Foundation at the JN Foundation Social Enterprise Summit recently. They sell lovely terrariums and other crafts to support their valuable work.

I got to know the Abilities Foundation at the JN Foundation Social Enterprise Summit recently. They sell lovely terrariums and other crafts at reasonable prices to support their valuable work.

Shooting Yourself in Both Feet, The Power of Wind – And Yes, We Still Have Chik V Pains: Thursday, February 26, 2015

We are into the Lenten season now (for those who are of religious persuasion) and the pre-Carnival season (for the hedonists among us), with weekly soca sessions in . It’s an odd combination, isn’t it? The timing of Jamaica’s Carnival, a foreign import that started in the late 1980s, is from a religious point of view illogical. But no worries! Fun is fun, any time of the year!

Looking a tad gloomy: James Stewart (left) director, Economic Planning, Research and Policy Logistics Division at the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ); Collin Bullock, director general; and Richard Lumsden, deputy director General, Economic, Planning and Policy Ligistics Division at the PIOJ, at the quarterly press briefing.

Looking a tad gloomy: James Stewart (left) director, Economic Planning, Research and Policy Logistics Division at the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ); Collin Bullock, director general; and Richard Lumsden, deputy director General, Economic, Planning and Policy Ligistics Division at the PIOJ, at the press briefing.

Hi recession, we’re back! As some Jamaicans prepare for another round of jollification, the economy is faltering. We are back in recession after two consecutive quarters of negative growth (a contraction of 0.3 per cent in the final quarter of 2014). There were high remittance flows (yes, it was Christmas) and good tourism inflows (yes, peak tourism season). There still seems to be a lack of growth strategy. I am not seeing or hearing about it. Are you?

…AND we passed our seventh IMF test: Meanwhile the International Monetary Fund (IMF) gave us another pat on the back, noting: “The Government of Jamaica’s resolute implementation of its economic program, centered on strengthening the foundation for growth and employment, is starting to yield tangible dividends. There is significant improvement in business and consumer confidence, which reached a two-year peak in September-December 2014.” The IMF added that Jamaica’s fiscal discipline is “impressive by international standards.” You can read their press release here, which gives an overview: http://www.imf.org/external/np/sec/pr/2015/pr1574.htm Tax revenue targets were missed, and tax reform is firmly on the agenda. No mention of public sector wages, etc. That remains to be seen.

What’s happening with agriculture? Since the sad passing of Roger Clarke, we only have half an agriculture minister. The sector declined by eleven per cent compared to the last quarter of 2013. Is anybody worried? Is this because of the drought, or what other factors?

Students on the farm at the College of Agriculture, Science and Education, Portland. (Photo: Gleaner)

Students on the farm at the College of Agriculture, Science and Education, Portland. (Photo: Gleaner)

Political suicide? And I repeat: I believe Opposition Leader Andrew Holness’ credibility is now so low, he might as well resign. I am even more convinced of this, now. I am sorry. I had great hopes for him (he was the youngest Member of Parliament in 1997 and youngest Prime Minister in 2012, and is still only 42 years old). Holness’ secretive plan to have Senators sign undated resignation letters was his first huge unforced error. What terribly poor judgment on his part (and Senator Arthur Williams’ – he helped craft the letters). Now Holness has taken another step down the road of what some think could be political suicide. Immediately fter humbly apologizing in church over the weekend, he astounded us all by announcing he was going to appeal the recent ruling of the Constitutional Court that his actions were  “inconsistent with the Constitution, contrary to public policy, unlawful, and accordingly null and void.”  The Opposition Leader appeared on television, telling us all: “I am assembling my legal team..” Well done, Mr. Holness. You have now shot yourself in both feet. You have reduced your ambitions of becoming prime minister again down to almost zero; but worse, you have let us all down. Badly.

Opposition Leader Andrew Holness: Is he lacking maturity, ill-advised, or totally lacking in judgement?

Opposition Leader Andrew Holness: Is he lacking maturity, poorly advised, or totally lacking in judgement?

So, while the legal team prepare to earn more money… Are he and his Opposition Spokespersons focusing on the many pressing concerns affecting our island? In his efforts to prove that he is “right” (which remains to be seen) the affairs of the State are being neglected. Now I hear his Jamaica Labour Party colleagues have been instructed not to talk to the press on the matter. This is one of those “I don’t know whether to laugh or cry” situations.

National Security Minister Peter Bunting.  (Photo: Gleaner)

National Security Minister Peter Bunting. (Photo: Gleaner)

Much applause: Parliament finally passed the Bill to amend The Dangerous Drugs Act, which was amended in The Senate earlier this month. The Bill decriminalizes small quantities (up to two ounces) of marijuana for personal use and will permit the use of hemp for manufacturing purposes. It also allows for the use of marijuana for religious, therapeutic and medical purposes. National Security Minister Peter Bunting warned those dreaming of waving fields of ganja plants and valuable exports of large quantities of the weed that they must think again. Opposition Justice Spokesman Delroy Chuck (who seems to have lost the plot) wants kiosks selling marijuana in our tourist resorts, and the renegotiation of international treaties. Sigh.

The aedes aegypti mosquitoes that spread dengue and "Chik V" fevers were once restricted to tropical and sub-tropical climes but can now be found almost everywhere. There have been cases of "Chik V" in Texas and Florida.

The aedes aegypti mosquitoes that spread dengue and “Chik V” fevers were once restricted to tropical and sub-tropical climes but can now be found almost everywhere. There have been cases of “Chik V” in Texas and Florida. Touch wood, we haven’t seen any in our home recently.

The pain that won’t go away: I recently had the flu. For the last couple of days I started to feel joint pains. My toes, my knee, my knuckles. What was this? Why, it was chik v (the chikungunya virus) just reminding me that it is still there, in my system, nearly five months after I first contracted it. This week the Caribbean Public Health Agency is meeting to discuss chik v and its implications. Discussing a “communications strategy” (albeit after the fact) seems like a good idea. We were bewildered – infuriated – by the nonsensical under-reporting and lack of accurate information from the Ministry of Health, while suffering real pain; many Jamaicans were fearful, especially our seniors and those with small children. We all know of severe reactions to the virus among friends, acquaintances – and family. It now transpires that some twenty Jamaicans with pre-existing conditions like diabetes and other chronic ailments may have died as a direct result of contracting chik v, which worsened their condition. And the number of cases in Jamaica is greatly under-reported by the Pan American Health Organization – which has reported zero deaths on the island. Will you ever come clean, Minister Ferguson? I guess this is our “transparent” government at work, again.

An item in the Sunday Observer, which I found instructive this week (and less sensational than their usual fare): The National Housing Trust (NHT) is apparently stalling on providing the minutes of its board meetings for the past three years. The newspaper requested this on November 24, 2014 under the Access to Information Act – but nothing, yet. Isn’t this a straight-forward request? On the subject of the NHT, what is the latest on the status of the Outameni transaction?

MP Raymond Pryce

MP Raymond Pryce (standing) wants civil society groups to be accountable and transparent. I hope that his party, and the Jamaica Labour Party, will do likewise. (Gleaner photo)

Government transparency remains a huge issue. Needless to say we are still in the dark over the planned megaport that will destroy a protected area. Now, ironically, a parliamentary committee is to consider regulating non-governmental organizations and civil society groups; submissions from the public have already closed (did anyone know about that?) but it’s not clear when the committee will start reviewing the matter raised in a Private Members Motion filed in 2013 by government member Raymond Pryce. The motion called on Parliament to consider legislation “to protect democracy” from any damage by these sinister groups, “as could be caused by unknown or tainted sources of funds or hidden agendas.”  Hmm. How about political parties disclosing their sources of funds – let alone hidden agendas? Can we have access to the parties’ certified and audited financial statements, please?

This administration seems worried about the growing influence of civil society, especially in light of the weak Opposition. Let me remind you, Mr. and Ms. Politician: Civil society consists of Jamaican people – the Jamaican people who elected you to serve them.

The success and expansion of the Wigton Windfarm is positive news.

The success and expansion of the Wigton Windfarm is positive news.

The awesomeness of wind: Years ago, when the state-owned Wigton Windfarm was just getting off the ground, I visited that hilltop and was awestruck by the huge, powerful turbines turning in the strong breeze. Now the installation has grown and is actually making money! The ground-breaking for Wigton III took place last week. It is eighty per cent funded by PetroCaribe and due for completion in the next year. Then the total output of the Windfarm will be 62.7 megawatts, increasing Jamaica’s renewable energy input to the national grid by more than two per cent. And the Windfarm has made J$500 million profit in the first nine months of the financial year. This is good news, indeed.

Do you know this building? It is the Simon Bolivar Cultural Centre, built in honor of the late Hugo Chavez' favorite Venezuelan, Simon Bolivar, who stayed for a while in Kingston in 1815. The Government has reportedly set aside J$34 million for its operation this year. It is not yet open to the public.

Do you know this building? It is the Simon Bolivar Cultural Centre, built in honor of the late Hugo Chavez’ favorite Venezuelan, Simon Bolivar, who stayed for a while in Kingston in 1815. The Government has reportedly set aside J$34 million for its operation this year. It is not yet open to the public.

A milestone for me! I have just written my 1,000th blog post! I can hardly believe it. I guess I just kept going; it has become a habit, and a joy for me (and hopefully for my readers). Working towards the 2,000th now…

Are you on Twitter? (If not, you should be). The National Road Safety Council has started tweeting very useful and helpful messages to raise awareness on the issue. For example, they posted these road safety tips. Last week was horrendous in terms of road fatalities; please, please be aware. And slow down!

National Road Safety Council - tips.

National Road Safety Council – tips.

Maximum kudos to… 

The winners of the U.S. Embassy’s Martin Luther King Essay Competition, Deneve Sweeney (first prize) and Sujae Boswell, the Popular Vote winner.

The United Nations Environment Programme, Ministry of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change and all involved in the Caribbean Green Economy Conference 2015, which took place this week, attended by specialists from across the Caribbean. Two days packed with information!

Environmental researchers from the Department of Life Sciences at the University of the West Indies, Mona, who presented the results of their survey of coral reefs in the Portland Bight Protected Area (including around Goat Islands) this week. The research was funded by the Waitt Foundation with support from the Jamaica Environment Trust. Important work.

MLK Jr. Essay grand prize winner, Deneve Sweeney of Wolmer's Girls' School in Kingston, receives her gifts from Ambassaor Luis G. Moreno

MLK Jr. Essay grand prize winner, Deneve Sweeney of Wolmer’s Girls’ School in Kingston, receives her gifts from Ambassaor Luis G. Moreno. She won an iPad and books for the school library.

I am very sad to hear of the deaths of these Jamaican citizens, who have been murdered in the past few days. My heart goes out to the families:

Oneil Thorpe, 35, Riverton City, Kingston (killed by police)

Richard Hutchinson, 37, Delacree Park, Kingston (killed by police)

“Manny,” Maverley, Kingston (the alleged “don”)

Two unidentified men, Diamond Avenue, Kingston 11

Lincoln Crossdale, 21, Old Harbour, St. Catherine

Ombretta Jackson, 18, Negril, Westmoreland

Dwight Graham, 44, Brumalia Road, Mandeville, Manchester

Mario Kenyan, 30, Montego Bay, St. James

Unidentified man, Ocho Rios, St. Ann

Jamar Robinson, Ocho Rios, St. Ann

Phillip Green, 34, Trelawny

Sweet Honey In The Rock Celebrate Black History Month in Jamaica: Friday February 27, Emancipation Park

The U.S. Embassy in Jamaica has, for close to twenty years, presented a free concert in celebration of Black History Month on the last Friday in February at various locations in Kingston. The annual – FREE – concert has been, without exception, an expression of joy, relaxation and delicious self-indulgence in the wealth of African-American music. There has been some great Chicago blues, R&B divas with class, jazz vocalists and musicians, even a dash of gospel. And of course, since we are Jamaican, it’s a great opportunity to relax in the Park, socialize and meet up with people you have not seen for a while. Jamaicans travel from across the island for this occasion; I always remember fondly the group of teachers and staff from Holmwood Technical High School, who never missed the show!

Here is the U.S. Embassy’s press release, below. This year the iconic vocal group Sweet Honey In the Rock, founded in 1973, will perform. If you are not familiar with this group, you will be thrilled. Theirs is not just a wealth of music; it also includes important messages.They are currently occupied with immigration injustices, political greed and lack of compassion for citizens, the environmental imbalance, racial issues and women’s issues. The name of the group was derived from a song, based on Psalm 81:16, which tells of a land so rich that when rocks were cracked open, honey flowed from them. Johnson has said that this first song in which four women blended their voices was so powerful, that there was no question what the name of the group should be. This is the concert of the year not to miss! Oh, and it is family-friendly…

PLEASE ALSO REMEMBER TO BRING AN ITEM OF EDUCATIONAL USE FOR THE NATHAN EBANKS FOUNDATION, an organization serving Jamaican children with special needs. Do pass on this information, and enjoy!

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World renowned, Sweet Honey In The Rock, will be the headline performers at Blues on The Green, Friday February 27, 2015 at 6:00 pm at Emancipation Park. The Grammy-Award winning group promises to entertain the crowd and stimulate thought through their rich musical tones, artistic style and delivery which includes the use of sign language.

Sweet Honey in the Rock is an all-woman, African-American ensemble that has been producing music for more than three decades. Though the membership of the group has evolved over time, their music continues to weave together contemporary rhythms and narratives. The globe-trotting group has performed in Australia, various parts of Africa, numerous cities across the United States and will come to Jamaica immediately following a multi-city tour of Peru.

Sweet Honey In The RockBlues on The Green is the U.S. Embassy’s signature cultural event, held as part of celebration commemorating African-American History Month. During this month, Americans reflect on their ongoing advances towards social inclusion and the elimination of racial inequality. As part of our commitment to equal citizenship, the Embassy invites patrons to donate educational tools to the Nathan Ebanks Foundation which promotes inclusion, participation, empowerment and equal opportunities for children with disabilities and special educational needs aged zero to 18. On the evening of the event, the Foundation’s representatives will be on hand to collect teaching aids such as crayons, playdough, building blocks and coloring books.

Regarding Blues On The Green, Joshua Polacheck, the Embassy’s Counselor for Public Affairs, said: “It is a cultural dialogue to spark a discussion on inclusiveness in Jamaica and in the United States. I hope this gets everyone thinking about what it means to respect all people.”

The show will commence with performances by popular Jamaican band Othniel Lewis and Friends and singing sensation Brina. We welcome back the effervescent Fae Ellington as the MC. Be there promptly at 6:00 pm to hear a special surprise.

The event is free and open to all. We invite everyone to come out, have a good time, and do a good deed.

The amazing Sweet Honey In The Rock.

The amazing Sweet Honey In The Rock.

Taking the Samoa Pathway: Second Caribbean Green Economy Conference in Kingston, February 23 – 25, 2015

I will be writing, tweeting and reporting from this very special and important conference hosted by the Jamaican Government in Kingston this week. Below is the official press release. For more information, do contact Alison Christie Binger: Tel: 876-330-1155(cell); email: achristie@illuminartecommunications.com

I DO hope that the local/Caribbean media will report on more than the Minister’s keynote speech, and that there will be substantive, in-depth reporting on this meeting. By the way, you can follow me @petchary on Twitter. 

Jamaica will host the second Caribbean Green Economy Conference (CGEC) on February 23-25, 2015 at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in Kingston. Robert Pickersgill, Jamaica’s Minister of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change, will be the keynote speaker at the official opening.

The Conference is a collaborative initiative of The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) and the University of the West Indies (UWI) with support from the European Union. It will be held under the theme “Implementing SAMOA Pathway in the Caribbean through Green Economy.”

Several Ministers of Environment from across the Caribbean will be represented including Barbados, Dominica, Montserrat, St. Vincent, and Grenada. The Conference will also be attended by other policymakers, civil society, academia and the private sector and will provide an opportunity for cross-fertilization of ideas, experiences and institutional innovations. Countries that will also be represented include Trinidad and Tobago, St. Lucia and Guyana as well as the United Kingdom and the USA.

The conference will enable the establishment of the regional green economy network, as a living platform for sharing national experiences and further strengthening intra-Caribbean and intra-SIDS cooperation in the area of green economy. This network is expected to connect a vibrant community of policy makers, practitioners and thinkers who are focused on achieving poverty reduction and sustainable development through green economy.

It will also present and validate signature project activities and achievements as well as identify other programs that can further contribute to the establishment of resilient societies and economies. These include the review of draft reports for Haiti, Jamaica and St. Lucia; strengthening of the Regional Green Economy Network and the endorsement of Green Economy activities in the region.

A special highlight will be the presentation of the Green Economy Training Manual to inform a course in the field soon to be launched at the UWI. Winners of the Jamaica Green Economy’s School’s poster competition organized by the Scientific Research Council will also be announced.

Conference Agenda Highlights,

February 23. Presentations will be made on the impact of policies and initiatives that Caribbean countries have taken for achieving their development goals through the green economy. Several perspectives of the green economy concept will also be shared to gain consensus on the regional outlook. The impact of transitioning towards a green economy will be further examined by sharing the outcome of the country assessments undertaken by UNEP.

February 24. The focus will be on demonstrating how enabling conditions may be created that can foster the transition to green economy across the region with reference to specific topics of relevant interest. It will also highlight measures to implement the SAMOA pathway in four focal areas : tourism, water, food and SMEs.

February 25. Private sessions will be held between the countries in which the project has undertaken activities (Jamaica, St. Lucia, Haiti and Barbados). These international conversations will focus on next steps and follow-up of the project. How to support other neighbor countries in their transition to green economy will also be analyzed.

Mangrove trees in a lagoon at sunset in the Portland Bight Protected Area of Jamaica. (Photo: Robin Moore)

Mangrove trees in a lagoon at sunset in the Portland Bight Protected Area of Jamaica. (Photo: Robin Moore)

 

Hats or Not, Masks or Not, and Santoya’s Tragedy: Saturday, February 21, 2015

It’s been an interesting week. Rain has fallen. There was a holiday in the middle of it (Ash Wednesday) when we took a little pause. The weather remains “cool” by Jamaican standards, and we can’t complain.

Where are the hats? Come on, now! The Prime Minister leads her parliamentarians down the road. Good exercise for some of them, anyway. (Photo: Norman Grindley/Gleaner)

Where are the hats? Come on, now! The Prime Minister leads her parliamentarians down the road. Good exercise for some of them, anyway. (Photo: Norman Grindley/Gleaner)

Parliament officially reopened yesterday. The annual colonial-era parade of the two parties striding down Duke Street, while their little groups of die-hard supporters cheer and shout slogans and “dissed” each other. The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) supporters were especially vociferous this year, mobbing their somewhat beleaguered leader Andrew Holness. The People’s National Party (PNP) followers were contemptuous: “Dem nuh have nuh leader,” said one. Women parliamentarians usually dress to the nines in snazzy outfits, but there were very few fancy hats this year. The Governor General read out a speech (the so-called Throne Speech) handed to him by the politicians. He has a nice voice. Opposition Leader Andrew Holness gave a short critique of the speech to a TV reporter; quite respectful and balanced. When asked for a response, Prime Minister Simpson Miller once again disappointed with her angry  and disrespectful tone. Don’t take any notice of what Holness says, she retorted; he never has anything positive to say (in fact he did say one or two positive things). The PM said something about the Opposition’s “head gone somewhere else.” I didn’t get that. But the overall impression was coarse and aggressive.

President of the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS), Senator Norman Grant, addresses the 2015 staging of the Hague Agriculture and Livestock show in Falmouth, Trelawny on Wednesday, February 18. (Photo: Jamaica Information Service)

This hat doesn’t appeal to me. President of the Jamaica Agricultural Society, Senator Norman Grant, addresses the 2015 staging of the Hague Agriculture and Livestock show in Falmouth, Trelawny on February 18. (Photo: Jamaica Information Service)

But here’s a hat: It is traditional at agricultural shows that officials wear a ridiculous hat. The late Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke had a full range of them. It is supposed to show that you are at one with those who till the soil. I have never seen a farmer wearing one like this Senator, however…

Hooray! An elevator that works! Minister Ferguson is gratified. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Hooray! An elevator that works! Minister Ferguson is gratified. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

An elevator is actually working! With much joy and ceremony, Health Minister Fenton Ferguson unveiled (?) or rather re-energized an elevator at Kingston Public Hospital. The complete lack of functioning elevators had resulted in many surgical operations being postponed over the past seven months, because patients could actually not physically reach the operating theater. But guess what? There are still at least two other elevators not working…as yet.

Board Chairman for the South East Regional Health Authority (SERHA), Dr. Andrei Cooke (2nd right); applauds the official opening of a telemedicine centre on February 19 at the Bustamante Hospital for Children in Kingston. Also participating in the opening are: Canadian High Commissioner to Jamaica, His Excellency Robert Ready (right); Wayne and Nigela Purboo (centre) of Quick Play Media; Chief Executive Officer, Scotiabank Group, Jacqueline Sharp (left); and Senior Medical Officer, Dr. Michelle-Ann Richards-Dawson. (Photo: Jamaica Information Service)

Board Chairman for the South East Regional Health Authority (SERHA), Dr. Andrei Cooke (2nd right); applauds the official opening of a telemedicine centre on February 19 at the Bustamante Hospital for Children in Kingston. Also participating are: Canadian High Commissioner to Jamaica, His Excellency Robert Ready (right); Wayne and Nigela Purboo (centre) of Quick Play Media; Chief Executive Officer, Scotiabank Group, Jacqueline Sharp (left); and Senior Medical Officer, Dr. Michelle-Ann Richards-Dawson. (Photo: Jamaica Information Service)

No doubt, our public health facilities are stretched to the limit, with persistent stories of supplies running out and equipment not working. I wrote about this (and possible solutions) recently in my Gleaner Online blog here: http://blogs.jamaica-gleaner.com/socialimpact/?p=2511 One solution is, of course, more private sector support and Scotiabank along with Sick Kids International and Quick Play Media opened a telemedicine center at the Bustamante Hospital for Children this week. Great!

Kelly Tomblin, President and CEO of the Jamaica Public Service Company. (Photo: Gleaner)

Kelly Tomblin, President and CEO of the Jamaica Public Service Company. (Photo: Gleaner)

Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) did not have a good week. Again. Ms. Tomblin’s stoicism in the face of apparent adversity is quite admirable. Last Monday the Office of Utilities Regulation directed JPS to repay over J$973 million to customers, noting that it was unilaterally imposed as foreign exchange adjustments on fuel supplied by Petrojam Limited from March to December 2013. Customers should receive their full refunds by mid-August. It’s not clear whether JPS will appeal.

There is a campaign to make sure Jamaican children are up to date with their measles vaccinations, in light of reports and controversy in the United States. I had measles as a young child, and was very ill for weeks. It is “no joke ting” and causes thousands of death worldwide every year. I happen to know that some Jamaicans, too, refuse to have their children vaccinated. In my view, this is selfish and grossly unfair.

The 6th Biennial Diaspora Conference (June 13 – 18 in Montego Bay) was launched with a flourish on Friday. The theme is “Jamaica and the Diaspora: Linking for Growth and Prosperity.” Did any growth and prosperity come out of the 5th Conference? I would love to know the concrete results coming out of it. A list of them?

Industrial relations looking shaky: As I had mentioned in earlier blogs, the specter of public sector cuts looms large just behind Finance Minister Peter Phillips’ shoulder. I shouldn’t think he is very comfortable. The agreement with unions representing public sector workers (essentially a wage freeze) expires on March 31, and after that one is not clear what will happen. There are rumblings from various quarters.

Former Commissioner of Police Owen Ellington gives evidence at the Commission of Enquiry. (photo: Gleaner)

Former Commissioner of Police Owen Ellington gives evidence at the Commission of Enquiry. (photo: Gleaner)

The Tivoli Commission of Enquiry has taken a break until April 8. Today, former Commissioner of Police Owen Ellington trotted out those stories we have heard several times before: the “don” of Tivoli Gardens, Christopher “Dudus” Coke, “escaped” from the area via “tunnels” (what/where were these tunnels, exactly? Were they drains or gullies?) It is with a wearying sense of déjà vu that I listened to the former Commissioner repeating that 300 “criminals” had gathered in the community, etc, etc. (Where did they all go?) He also said 75 per cent of police weapons tested showed they had not been used to kill anyone (what about the remaining 25 per cent?); the guns were returned to service.  Ellington said that subsequent to the event, 115 guns were found; I understand they were not found in Tivoli itself (and nor was Dudus, of course; was he ever there, at all?)  No police wore masks, said Ellington, who also denied a suggestion that any of the guns recovered came from an alleged stockpile of police guns.

Tivoli Gardens, May 2010

Women and soldiers in Tivoli Gardens, May 2010

Earlier in the week, Former Attorney General/Minister of Justice Dorothy Lightbourne responded to a number of questions in an exasperated tone, her voice raised higher. The déjà vu feeling was even stronger; Ms. Lightbourne had testified at the Enquiry into the Manatt débacle just four years ago that she did not know how to send an email. Her secretary sent them for her. This time, she told us all that she does not watch the news or read the newspapers. Because it’s too depressing, she added, going on to tell us, quite cheerfully, that she does keep up with the international news. So the horrors of ISIS, Syria, Ukraine and so on are not as depressing as Jamaica? I feel a headache coming on…

Ms. Lightbourne is not the only one: Last week former Prime Minister Bruce Golding said he did not follow local news. And some time last year our current PM Portia Simpson Miller retorted during an interview that she did not watch the news, either. Rather worrying, I think.

Documents are important: Human rights activist Susan Goffe pointed in a Gleaner column to the importance of documents being available to support the questioning of witnesses. The Public Defender’s office has requested quite a few, and most are…unavailable. How did this happen? There is an issue regarding the original document containing the security forces’ operational plans. And surely a crucial issue in the entire enquiry is how was this all planned?

Mayor George Lee of Portmore

Mayor George Lee of Portmore died in September, 2013. No election has taken place for his replacement.

Puzzling Portmore: Months ago I asked what is happening in Portmore (a dormitory town with a population of around 300,000) the only municipality with a directly elected Mayor. Now, the People’s National Party (PNP) Mayor of Portmore George Lee died in office on September 29, 2013.  Since then, there has been no election, and an “acting” PNP Mayor took over. He should have stepped down and an election held by the end of April, 2014, I understand. However, the local PNP Member of Parliament said we might as well wait until local government elections, which are due to be announced soon. The Portmore Citizens’ Advisory Council has not existed since February 10, 2014 and is still to be reconstituted, according to Howard Hamilton, a local resident. Meanwhile the Electoral Office of Jamaica is conducting an exercise to expand the boundaries. Wow. Democracy in action!

Corruption convictions: Two police constables were convicted for soliciting and accepting a bribe from a motorist and are now awaiting sentencing. It has been all of six years since the case first came up… Too long.

Minister of Tourism and Entertainment, Dr Wykeham McNeill (centre), discusses plans to upgrade the Old Harbour Bay Beach with Member of Parliament for South Western St Catherine, Everald Warmington (right), and Mayor of Spanish Town, Councillor Norman Scott.  (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Minister of Tourism and Entertainment, Dr Wykeham McNeill (centre), discusses plans to upgrade the Old Harbour Bay Beach with Member of Parliament for South Western St Catherine, Everald Warmington (right), and Mayor of Spanish Town, Councillor Norman Scott. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Just curious: While controversy surrounds the possible creation of an offshore breakwater of boulders in Negril, and opposition is growing to the destruction of Old Harbour Bay and its environs, including Goat Islands, our Minister of Tourism is busy visiting both locations. Negril is getting a pedestrian and bicycle lane, which might help. As for Old Harbour, Minister McNeill was seen on Old Harbour Bay Beach discussing its “multi million dollar” rehabilitation. He stressed recently at the “Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica” launch that he was keen to see more beaches fixed up and accessible to the Jamaican public (that will be the day). Is there something I am missing here, though? I thought Old Harbour Bay was slated for destruction at the hands of the Chinese?

Wonderful stuff! … from two Jamaicans in the United States:

Tanya Chutkan.

Tanya Chutkan.

Jamaican Tanya Chutkan was sworn in as a judge in the District Court for the District of Columbia on February 6. Born in Kingston, she received an Economics degree at George Washington University and a degree from the University of Pennsylvania Law School. She worked for a number of years in the DC Public Defender’s Office.

Jamaican-born Dr. Chad Ritch.

Jamaican-born Dr. Chad Ritch.

Kingston-born Dr Chad R. Ritch has joined the faculty at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center in the UHealth – University of Miami Health System. Dr. Ritch, a graduate of Duke University and University of Chicago, specializes in urologic oncology.

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A few years ago in Mandeville I met a bright and energetic young woman, Lanisia Rhoden, who had just founded a mentorship group called Young Women O Purpose. It is now Young Women and Men of Purpose. The group obtained funding from the Nairobi-based UN Habitat Urban Youth Fund and with support from Mandeville Mayor Brenda Ramsay, the Jamaica Business Development Corporation and the Youth Information Centre organized a successful entrepreneurship training and mentoring program. Congratulations, Lanisia and Project Manager Shamoy Hajare!

A tragedy: A 37-year-old businessman who turned himself in for the murder of teenager Santoya Campbell in Westmoreland last month was convicted and sentenced to life in prison this week. The student of Frome Technical High School was pregnant when she was killed, a post mortem revealed. Her mother had arranged for the man, who had known the family for years, to pay for her lunch, following which he began a sexual relationship with her. This situation is not uncommon and this terrible tragedy points to a number of major social issues. At the heart of it is poverty and the vulnerability of our young girls to trafficking, of all kinds, even by their own families. My sympathies to all those who are mourning the loss of their loved ones at this time. They are not statistics; they are people.

Mark Smellie, 37, Deanery Road, Kingston

Everton Wilson, 62, Savannah-la-Mar, Westmoreland

Junior Bailey, 48, Wagonwheel District, St. James

Unidentified man, Greenvale, Trelawny

Jermaine Bartley, 29, Wakefield, Trelawny

Javar George, 21, Pondside/Yallahs, St. Thomas

Santoya Campbell's body was found wrapped in garbage bags under a bridge in Shrewsbury, Westmoreland on January 27. A 37-year-old businessman confessed to her murder and was sentenced to life imprisonment this week.

Fourteen year-old Santoya Campbell’s body was found wrapped in garbage bags under a bridge in Shrewsbury, Westmoreland on January 27. A 37-year-old businessman confessed to her murder and was sentenced to life imprisonment this week.