#ObamaStress: Some Purely Parochial Thoughts on The Visit

This article was written yesterday. Due to an extended Internet outage, I am just posting it today…

Darkness falls, and an air of nervous anticipation hovers over Kingston town. Why? Because the President will actually be on our island tomorrow evening!

Yes, the President. The one with the now graying hair and the big smile despite everything. The one who said “Yes We Can” and whose administration just agreed on a deal with Iran and is warming things up with Cuba. The one who is on his way to a historic Summit of the Americas in Panama City, where he will meet with President Castro on the sidelines I understand. Yes, that awesome President. (OK. Unabashed fan here).

The Obamas' Easter photo, shared on social media. Aren't they adorable? (White House pic)
The Obamas’ Easter photo, shared on social media. Aren’t they perfectly adorable? (White House pic)

And now to the parochial stuff… We are a small island, you know. Indulge us.

The past couple of days on social media and broadcast radio/TV have veered wildly from the sublimely funny to the intense to the perfectly ridiculous. We started off with the furious roadworks – daily (sometimes into the night) for the past week or so. Ashphalt is being thrown around in ever-increasing quantities, and there are questions about where the money is coming from to pay for all this. We thought we were broke! “Lack of resources” is the cry of our government officials. Did the U.S. State Department slip the Jamaican Government a little subsidy, one wonders? I hope the asphalt has cooled by the time the President’s “Beast” drives on it.

Yesterday evening in my neck of the woods - frenzied road works...
Yesterday evening in my neck of the woods – frenzied road works…
Dream City: "Kingston by the time President Obama arrives" - circulated on Twitter.
#ObamaCity: “Kingston by the time President Obama arrives” – circulated on Twitter…What a fantasy…

The traffic arrangements. From tomorrow evening until Thursday evening, the city will slowly grind to a halt – mostly uptown New Kingston. As I write, my friends on Twitter are busy poring over maps, trying to figure out if they can get to or from the office. As our street is not on the list of roads to be closed, I have a bad feeling that it will be used as a detour by the entire uptown traffic and we will pass out from the traffic fumes. “I’m glad to be in Portland” said one country-dwelling friend.

We will just huddle indoors on Thursday and watch the President’s Town Hall meeting with Young Leaders live streaming on the Jamaica Information Service website (they’d better do it properly). A bunch of people will be taking a day off and others are holding their invitations to the Town Hall close to their chests and feeling very special…

#ObamaWelcome on airport road.
#ObamaWelcome on airport road.

One “young leader” unfortunately used his invite from the White House as an opportunity to brag, and to diss the (also still young) Opposition Leader Andrew Holness. First-time member of Parliament Dr. Dayton Campbell – a medical doctor in St. Ann, whom I have often congratulated for his hard work in his constituency – went and put his foot in it, and quite unashamedly, too. He migrated from Facebook to Twitter, and continued his nonsense there. I am deeply disappointed in Dr. Campbell, and told him so – whereupon he promptly unfollowed me. Such is life on social media. Some people just give themselves away!

The Mayor of Kingston Angela Brown Burke has also waded into the murkier swamp that social media can easily become. She posted a nice official photo of Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller with President Obama and the First Lady, with the caption: Bad mind aguh kill some a oonnu (Jealousy will kill some of you). Like Dr. Campbell’s boasting, this is childish, petty and divisive at a time which should be historic and a lovely occasion for the whole of Jamaica.

Journalists and others are asking the Mayor questions about the sudden eviction of vendors who have plied their delicious wares (in the form of crab and corn) near the gate of National Heroes Park for several decades now. Their stalls were smashed up and thrown into a truck. There was considerable outrage. The Mayor responded by telling us the vendors had been informed last week that they had to move for security reasons. Then she spent a lot of time talking about the lack of hygiene, no toilets etc in the complex (issues which have not been addressed in the past forty-odd years, but are now suddenly issues). We are told the vendors will soon be returned to the same spot. These vendors are quite famous, having been featured on “foodie” and travel channels overseas in the past. 

The stalls removed. (Photo: Bryan Cummings/Jamaica Observer)
#ObamaVendors The stalls removed. (Photo: Bryan Cummings/Jamaica Observer)

My thought was: Instead of alienating “ordinary Jamaicans” (mostly women bread-winners for their families) – why not turn the vending area into an attraction? Quickly spruce it up with some bright paint, vending women in their Sunday best, offering the President a taste? Awesome photo-op for the President and for Jamaica (yes, “Brand Jamaica”!) But no. No imagination. Just get those vendors out of the way quick, and then say they are unhygienic (although the Mayor herself said she had eaten the crab and never got sick, but hey…)

In defense of her strategy, the Mayor posted online (The final sentence took my breath away – I highlighted in bold):

The KSAC from last week has been talking to vendors in some specific areas that were identified to be temporarily re-located. I know that this is an inconvenience to all of them. Whether they have been there since the last twenty years, the last five or the last two. the only group who insisted that they would not cooperate because they “were labourites and nobody caan move them” was the group of crab vendors. these stalls as we know are built taking up the entire sidewalk and are unsanitary and unhygienic. However i understand that many persons still buy there. They and their representatives are aware that this is a temporary move …SMDH. oh for the day when the arguments are based on the merits and not their politics

Let’s not forget the homeless, many of them mentally ill, who are being rounded up and carted away by Kingston & St Andrew Corporation officials. I believe the mentally ill have been taken to Bellevue Hospital. And the others? This brings back painful memories of the “Montego Bay Street People” scandal, when the homeless were similarly carted away from and dumped near a toxic red mud lake in the middle of nowhere. Simply dumped out of the back of pickup trucks, sixteen years ago.

Another embarrassing #fail: Just today, the Information Minister Sandrea Falconer (sounding more than usually prickly) admitted that this was not in fact a “State visit” – but just a “visit.” When our journalists quizzed her on this at the post-Cabinet press briefing, she could barely conceal her irritation, suggesting they should stop dealing in “trivialities.” Trivialities? I think not.  Anyway, the Office of the Prime Minister put this out (italics are mine). Make of it what you will:

The visit to Jamaica by the President of the United States of America, The Hon. Barack Obama on April 8 and 9 is no longer being designated a State Visit, which had previously been agreed [with whom?] and communicated. The change takes into account the time constraints of the short duration of the visit [didn’t we always know it was short?] and the established nature of a State Visit in the Jamaican context.

Oh, I really wish I could share more of the incredibly witty and crazy jokes circulating about The Visit on social media, but most of them are in broad patois and include local references that would be lost on many of my readers, I fear! It’s one thing I love about Jamaicans – the humor is devastating, often taking one step too far over the line! There have been so many “LMAO” and “LOOOOOOOL”s on my timeline…


By the way, a lot of my younger online friends in particular would simply love a visit from the First Lady. The recent BET program #BlackGirlsRock really resonated with many young women here. I wonder if Mrs. Obama might come and see us one day? Our girls and young women need all the support they can get…

FLOTUS' message to her dear husband - a Twitter meme today.
FLOTUS’ message to her dear husband – a Twitter meme today.

And please – can we put the partisan politics on one side, just for once? This will be an exciting event for Jamaica and Jamaicans – not for the Green and Orange Ones. This is Jamaica’s time!

Meanwhile, I am waiting to exhale come Friday morning!

Not everyone is impressed by the President's visit. My favorite Jamaican protest singer Kabaka Pyramid has some sharp words on how the Jamaican Government has handled it. He wrote the sharp social commentary "Well Done."
This man is also not impressed by the Government’s handling of the President’s visit, accusing them of being “ashamed of our culture” by banishing the crab vendors. My favorite Jamaican protest singer Kabaka Pyramid wrote the sharp social commentary “Well Done.”



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