Sunday Steam

It’s a steamy spring morning in uptown Kingston, and the revelers are warming up down the road.  The careless, jumbled confusion of the annual Jamaica Carnival (and its offshoots) fills the air.  The air is humid after several downpours that soaked the gardens of uptown yesterday.  And the sky juice vendors, hustlers and hangers-on are looking forward to a few hours on the road, amidst all those mostly-naked bodies – toned and flabby, sprinkled with sequins and glitter, painted and bejeweled and sunblocked – jumping and leaping along the road.

The Mayor of Montego Bay Glendon Harris is sworn in
The Mayor of Montego Bay Glendon Harris is sworn in against the gloomy backdrop on March 29, 2012

The steamy story to ponder:  Well, the media has been getting all steamed up over what the highly alliterative Sundays are now calling the “Flag Fiasco Fallout” (or, if you prefer, the “Flag Folly Fallout”).  And an expendable government official has been Fired in the Flag Folly Fiasco Fallout. Yes, it’s all about the Jamaican flag – a striking combination of black, gold and green – except that on one occasion the green was omitted.  The civic ceremony – the investiture of the new Mayor of Montego Bay (and some are now calling for his resignation) – took place with a huge, incongruous backdrop consisting mostly of funereal black with gold diagonal stripes.

The outraged Opposition protested.  For those non-Jamaican readers, I should explain that green is the color of the recently-trounced Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), which is feeling aggrieved about most things these days.  The JLP lost the general election in December and the local government election last month and are presently licking wounds that show no signs of healing, yet.  In fact, as this is the tropics, infection may soon set in…

If you want to know more about the daily twists and turns of this “saga” (in which there are no heroes) there are a few relevant links below.  Suffice it to say there are several threads to this story – one being the obsession with colors, symbols and all the other paraphernalia of the highly partisan political life in Jamaica; another the emotionalism and intense patriotism that invariably accompanies the national flag; and additionally, the sheer incompetence of some public officials.  If nothing else, this is a complete public relations disaster of the highest order.  Are you sick and tired of this story now, Jamaican readers?  But how would non-Jamaicans feel if their national flag appeared at an official ceremony minus certain features – Stars without Stripes, for example?

Why bother?  One or two journalists have been endeavoring to come up with something meaningful to say about the new Portia Simpson Miller administration’s “First 100 Days.”  CVM Television’s Andrew Cannon – a serious reporter if ever there was one – has been gallantly attempting in the last few days to point to successes and failures – the Riverton City pollution disaster, and the confusion of our Prime Minister’s comments as reported by Bloomberg, among others.  The Sunday Gleaner reporters took a stab at it. Mention has been made of “JEEP” – the much-hyped Jamaica Emergency Employment Program – but no one is sure if this is an “achievement,” yet.  Meanwhile, Ms. Simpson Miller herself, who is attending the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, issued a press release noting “satisfaction” with her government’s performance.  Let’s just move on, and hope the next 100 days will be more inspiring.  Maybe 100 days is just too soon?

Answer to last week’s Quiz Question: National Hero Sir Alexander Bustamante served as Mayor of Kingston from 1947-48.

This week’s question: What do the colors of the Jamaican flag represent?  (Yes, I know there is more than one interpretation!)  Views and comments welcome…

The Jamaican flag
The Jamaican flag we all know and love.

Meanwhile, the issue of child sexual abuse – an almost constant topic of radio talk shows, newspaper columns and letters to the editor for the past two weeks or so – is about to fade into the background.  As more than one Jamaican has mentioned, it will become a “nine-day wonder,” after all the outrage and debate has subsided.  There has been much wringing of hands in the press, and some attempts to finds solutions and a way forward; more on the latter in another blog post I am writing.  Meanwhile, commentary from Ms. Taitu Heron of the University of the West Indies‘ Centre for Gender and Development Studies in last week’s “Observer” is noted.  Ms. Heron urges: “So, what about the child’s present now? Are we saying, even in this 50th year of Independence that we still believe that children are non-citizens that must be seen and not heard until they become adults? I urge all Jamaicans, abused or protected, loved or violated, cared or neglected, to speak what they know, report what they see, wherever and whenever child abuse occurs.”   Montego Bay-based psychologist Beverley Scott believes Jamaicans are more aware of the issue than twenty years ago (are they?) but reminds us, “If you know of any instance of children being molested and you don’t report it, you can be charged up to $500,000…People can call the Children’s Registry, and you don’t have to identify yourself.”  

Mr. James Moss-Solomon waxed philosophical again this week, telling Rotarians that “old thinking” in Jamaica – and repeating the same things over and over (a sure sign of madness) – have resulted in Jamaica making no progress at all over the past ninety years!  Phew.  He calls those decades a “devastating period,” blaming the private sector (he is a businessman himself) as much as successive governments.  Not very encouraging words on our Fiftieth Anniversary.  I would like to get a copy of that speech, though.

The Sarangi
The Sarangi, a bowed musical instrument from India, used to play folk music in Jamaica. From the Institute of Jamaica collection.

Commendations:  I like the Sunday Gleaner’s Jamaica 50 feature “Objects from our Past” with photographs of what Jamaicans love to call “artifacts” – fifty objects from the Institute of Jamaica’s collection of all kinds of historical items.  I am learning from it.

Human rights activist and lawyer Hilaire Sobers’ article in the Sunday Gleaner is a must-read – a response to two recent columns by the self-contradicting Mr. Ian Boyne – who is fascinated by the topic of religion, as are so many of his fellow countrymen.  The title is “Secularism, not religion, protects human dignity.”  With this, the Petchary heartily agrees – but what say you, dear reader?  

…To the American Friends of Jamaica, led by the always-focused former U.S. Ambassador to Jamaica Sue Cobb, for their annual grants to non-governmental and community-based organizations in Jamaica – presented this year on April 4 in Montego Bay.  J$19 million worth was disbursed – including a grant to the Portland Rehab Centre, which cares for the most marginalized citizens of Port Antonio, and to many other worthy causes.

…And to another American, Ms. Becky Stockhausen, Executive Director of the American Chamber of Commerce of Jamaica.  Ms. Stockhausen attended the first Global Business Conference in Washington, DC  on the invitation of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, through the auspices of U.S. Ambassador to Jamaica Pamela Bridgewater.  As always, Ms. Stockhausen (who has lived in Jamaica for many years) is looking for partnerships in business and trade that will lead to the development of her adopted home.

Sistren Theatre Collective
Sistren Theatre Collective in their early days.

To the Sistren Theatre Collective (35 years old next month!), who are winners of the Otto Rene Castillo Award for Political Theatre (to be presented in New York on May 20).  According to their own summary, “The Otto Award is named for the Guatemalan poet and revolutionary Otto Rene Castillo, who was murdered by that country’s military junta in 1968. Established in 1998, the Otto Awards have since honored such accomplished, dedicated and diverse artists and theatre companies as: El Teatro Campesino, The Living Theatre, Laurie Anderson, the Steppenwolf Theatre, Bread and Puppet Theatre, and the San Francisco Mime Troupe.”  I believe Sistren will be the first Caribbean group to be so honored.

And last but not least, to the marvelous chef Ms. Jacqui Tyson (From Thought to Finish), for joining the effort to bring downtown Kingston back to life.  A Food Festival sounds like a great idea…What’s not to love?

Kenton Williams stands on the beach near the spot where his sister drowned
Kenton Williams stands on the beach near the spot where his sister drowned

Condolences:  To the family of Evelyn Williams, the teenager who drowned at Hellshire Beach in St. Catherine on the Easter weekend.  She and her mother were swimming in a quiet section of the beach, to get away from the noise and crowds.  But the Petchary understands that this end of the beach has strong currents – and no swimmer can fight those tides.  Her mother was rescued, but Evelyn was pulled away.  “Right now mi feel like mi deh inna a dream and mi nuh wake up,” said her brother Kenton.  I know how that feels.  Are there any warning signs at that end of the beach?  Are there life guards on the main part of the beach?  Many Jamaicans who splash happily in the water can’t swim at all…

(And talking of swimming, more congratulations are in order to the Jamaican medal-winners at the Carifta Swimming Championships in Nassau, Bahamas.  Wonderful stuff!  I won’t mention all the names but you were all awesome.)

Remember when deejays at music shows used to command the unruly audience, “Seckle!  Seckle!”  (“Settle” in Jamaican parlance)?  Well, next week I am hoping to call this weekly piece the “Sunday Settle” – because I do hope and trust that everyone will have calmed down – and that the politicians will have sat back down in their seats and reminded themselves that they have the people’s business to attend to.

Or, as the latest phrase goes, it’s time to press the “reset” button.
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18 thoughts on “Sunday Steam

    1. You are more than welcome, Nurse Anderson! I applaud you for your commitment and caring. Keep up the good work, I know it is deeply appreciated. Thank you.


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  5. I think it depends on what you are assessing. As I said on air, I don’t expect any government to solve crime, fix the economy and cure the health care system in 100 days, but I certainly think you can assess the tone and direction of the administration, indications of leadership (or lack thereof) and whether they are laying the foundation in terms of fulfilling promises for eg accountability, transparency and inclusiveness. I also think given that the Parliament has had so little to do, the promise to debate the buggery law could have been fulfilled. ..On another note – is Sunday Steam the final name or are you still trying out names? lol I actually liked Sunday Shuffle


    1. Yes, that is true… after 100 days you can get a general sense – almost intuitive – a feel. It would have been nice if the administration had a couple of promised actions at least under way or under its belt, though. The promise to renegotiate the IMF agreement within this period though was always unrealistic. I suppose JEEP has made a start (although I am tired of all the driving references, stuttering, jump start, etc…) It’s about time Parliament got down to business though.
      As for the name of my Sunday posts, after consulting with friends I decided to give it a new name each week (or revisit old names if necessary) depending on the mood of the week – there is an almost infinite range of words beginning with “S” I realize that might reflect the many moods of Jamaica!


  6. Hey Miss Emms. I truly enjoyed the ‘what made the news’ highlights/round up. A truly enjoyable read as always. Pity about the young girl that drowned. For some inexplicable reason, holiday beach trips as well as school beach outings always have a drowning. almost invariably. Really sad.


    1. I am glad you enjoyed it! Well, the reasons can be explained – most Jamaicans can’t swim! And when there is a crowd at the beach, people don’t always notice when someone is in difficulties… Also, in this case, they were swimming in a rather unsafe part of the beach. Very sad, though.


    1. Ha ha! It’s amazing how emotional people get about flags. We have people beating their chests on radio talk shows, asserting their deep love of the flag…


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