It’s that sad anniversary again (why does 9/11 always seem to come round so fast?) That clear blue day when tragedy and horror struck, and nothing was ever the same again. We were in New York City at the time…But that’s another story. It’s also 29 years today since reggae star Peter Tosh was murdered. Time flies along. Meanwhile, it has been a rather heavy week in a lot of ways. But we did escape to the relative peace of the country for a few days, which is why this bulletin is arriving rather late. I may have missed some items, but bear with me…
“Rules are rules”: There has been a huge fuss in social media over a young boy, who was going into his first year at the uptown, upper class Hopefield Preparatory School. He has a cute, curly hairstyle that is against school rules and has been excluded. His mother learned in June, when she enrolled the little boy, that his hair was unacceptable. She had decided not to back down, deeming the rule discriminatory. Tweeters and Facebookers embraced this with a vengeance, creating the hashtag #unkemptJA. Traditional media jumped on the bandwagon (nowadays, social media often leads with what it considers the “big stories”). While quite a few Jamaicans stuck to the “rules are rules” mantra (but whose rules, and for whom?) many others saw this as a much bigger issue of identity, colonial values and so on. This rumbled on for the whole week, with young people on social media posting selfies with their “unkempt” hair to underscore their anger and concern. Minister of Education Ruel Reid intervened. He thought the school’s action seemed “harsh.” He promised that his Ministry will have a policy in place by the start of the next school year on “grooming” after island wide stakeholder consultations. Wow. Background: this is not a state school, but private – with students from diverse national and ethnic backgrounds. In 2014 it was the island’s top-performing school in the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT). Despite all the furore, the school is standing firm (their original concern was that the hair might encourage lice; well, I am sure children with short hair can have lice). The boy’s sister, whose hair was the same length, was told to tie her hair back. A storm in a teacup? Well, I’d say yes – but no.
There is an obsession with “dress rules” in Jamaica in public places. This needs to be revisited, too. Why can’t a Jamaican citizen wearing spaghetti straps or flip flops conduct his/her business in a Government office? How is this going to be a problem?
UK deportees are nothing new: Immigration issues related to the “mother country” (United Kingdom) have been sensitive for some time – in particular since the uncomfortable visit of former Prime Minister David Cameron to Jamaica last year. Family members and supporters protested outside the Jamaican High Commission in London about the most recent deportations. Zita Holbourne, co-founder of Barac UK, and community activist wrote in the UK Guardian that the Jamaicans were “snatched” from their families and deported on a private charter plane. 42 deportees duly arrived in Kingston this week. Well, both the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade and the Ministry of National Security have confirmed that this has been happening for several years, under an agreement signed with the UK in 2007. 963 Jamaicans were deported from various countries in the first six months of 2016, the National Security Ministry noted. Wow, that’s quite a few. The largest number is always from the United States (342 for this period), the UK sent back 149 and Canada 82 Jamaicans. Several Caribbean countries between them deported hundreds of Jamaicans (130 from Trinidad alone). Oh, and by the way, Jamaica deports people too. Jamaicans who have lived overseas since they were babies – and never regularized their status – are liable to be deported if they commit an offense. They are not UK citizens. But there are issues regarding procedures, etc. that need to be worked on (have these procedures changed?) and that is a matter between the two governments. The National Security Ministry has made some vague noises on this.
Noah’s Ark scenario: Then we had the Great Flood of Marcus Garvey Drive! As I have noted many times in this blog, the problem of garbage thrown into our gullies – which are only intended to carry water when it rains – has persisted for many years. It’s “out of sight, out of mind.” Residents of the under-served and poor communities that live alongside or near the gullies toss their garbage in and forget about it, while those driving past or over the gullies simply look the other way. The garbage festers for a while, with rats, mosquitoes etc., and then the rain carries it “away” – out of sight, but just causing problems further downtown.
So, during a huge downpour on Friday afternoon (it’s the tropics, that is how our rain is) the Marcus Garvey Drive area was inundated as the nearby Shoemaker Gully was blocked with garbage – made worse, it appears, by some construction work there. It’s a commercial area, and workers had to scramble while many business places were flooded with filthy black water, plastic bottles etc bobbing around on top. Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica is an important public education program on littering that the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) has worked extremely hard at, with support from the Tourism Ministry. Will that support continue? If you ask me, it needs to be stepped up considerably and environmental laws must be enforced! I wrote about this last August here after viewing the state of gullies with JET (and the year before during a tour of Kingston Harbour, which is festooned with garbage after heavy rain!) And then there were the garbage-induced floods in Montego Bay, just last month! We have short memories, perhaps.
Why do we just dump stuff illegally? Because we can get away with it, I suppose. Well, a lot owned by the Ministry of Justice downtown has been a persistent nuisance because of illegal dumping of garbage and associated fires, creating a major health hazard for schools nearby. Do something about this please!
The PNP scandal: I’m not sure if I’d call it a “scandal” but anyway, the Office of the Contractor General is now investigating the “agent’s fee” issue and has conducted interviews with People’s National Party (PNP) General Secretary Paul Burke and former Transport Minister Omar Davies. We shall see where this leads.
Back to school challenges: The first day back at school seems to have got off to a slightly rocky start, in some areas. With greatly increased traffic in Kingston, the National Works Agency has apparently not completed road works in some parts of the city, causing extreme inconvenience. Moreover, our friends China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) are about to start widening the Mandela Highway (an extra lane on each side) between Kingston and Spanish Town. Great timing, lads! Further downtown, the ongoing violence in West Kingston has obviously been affecting children very badly. The Principal of Denham Town Primary School says her students are safer at school than at home. When she hears gunfire, she just gathers them all into the building. Then down in eastern St. Thomas, where the erstwhile Health Minister Fenton Ferguson is MP, taxi drivers (upon whom rural residents heavily depend) carefully chose the first day of school to block roads in protest at…bad roads. It seems irresponsible and unfair to residents, who are anxious to get their children off to a good start. In Portland, residents (presumably those who did not have kids to get to school) joined the taxi drivers and blocked the main road. Isn’t rural life hard enough (particularly transportation) without making it extra miserable?
And right on cue, there was a school bus crash in Clarendon, in which 23 students were injured (one very seriously). The driver ran away, but finally turned himself in today. UGH.
Talking of the Mandela Highway… Does this mean CHEC will be going on another environmental destruction venture? There are many large and old trees along the road, and on one side is what’s left of wetlands. With CHEC in charge, I fear the worst.
At a University of the West Indies forum this week, U.S. Ambassador to Jamaica Luis Moreno announced that the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) will set up offices at the U.S. Embassy. This sent quivers of concern among some Jamaicans. Why would the FBI and ATF want to be here? Well, in the case of the former, organized crime (in particular scamming, which has affected many U.S. citizens) would be a major focus I would say. For the latter, the issue of imported guns has long been a major problem. If they can help trace the weapons, this would be a plus. Ambassador Moreno, whose posting in Jamaica is nearing its end, has always been very much focused on security – that’s his background. More joint law enforcement operations, training, equipment, “and yes, more extraditions” are in the offing, he says.
Kudos to the Health Ministry for setting up a J$50 million fund to provide support services for families and babies who might be affected by microcephaly as a result of the Zika virus. Thirty-five pregnant women have tested positive for Zika, with 501 cases suspected Zika cases in pregnancy. Soon these babies will be born (our first Zika case was January 29, 2016).
And major kudos to our Prime Minister Andrew Holness, who toured the Portland Bight Protected Area (including the area around Goat Islands) yesterday with the Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation’s (C-CAM) CEO Ingrid Parchment and marine scientist Dr. Dayne Buddo. I am delighted, because there is nothing like seeing a place for yourself. This is when the value and richness of the area, as well as its potential for ecotourism and heritage tourism (which C-CAM has been working on) can be seen and understood. I am really hoping that the importance of this area is now recognized by our Prime Minister. I hope. I hope.
Also cheers, Red Stripe! After major upgrades to its Kingston plant and taking on more staff, Red Stripe was ready to resume exports to the United States, which it has now done. It is also seeking to double its exports to other countries. I don’t drink but I know Red Stripe is a really special Jamaican product.
Reggae Boyz flop – and the coach, too: Initially I had thought our national football team was doing quite well with German coach Winfried Schaefer. Now he has been dropped from appearing at a match against Haiti in Kingston on Tuesday evening, because he allegedly pulled the plug (literally) on a Television Jamaica interview. But this week we were only playing for “pride” anyway, as we were unceremoniously kicked out of the World Cup qualifiers last week. Panama beat the Boyz 2-0, so that was that. Jamaicans are still feeling good about the Olympics, so maybe aren’t that upset. I feel really disappointed that we can’t do better, though.
Another infant was murdered this week. Two teenage brothers were also murdered. Yes, I told you this week was heavy going. Each story is heartbreaking, lives shattered and families left to mourn their dead. My condolences go out to them. I don’t know how they manage to pick up the pieces and carry on with their lives…
Leroy Newman, Blount Street/Denham Town, Kingston
Kayon Clarke, Coronation Market, Kingston
Kirt Saddler, Golden Spring, St. Andrew
Conrad Townsend, 39, Golden Spring, St. Andrew
Romario Lawrence, 18, Havana Heights, May Pen, Clarendon
Javelle Lawrence, 19, Havana Heights, May Pen, Clarendon
Shawn Sewell, 18, Top Hill, Clarendon
Jamay Marsh, 22, Farm District, Clarendon
Howard Hewitt, 53, Clarendon Gardens, Clarendon
Shane Hibbert, 31, Barnett Bush/Spring Mount, St. James
Rory Johns, 30, Barnett Bush/Spring Mount, St. James
“Tallest,” Barnett Bush/Spring Mount, St. James
Aian Allen, 36, Water Lane, Montego Bay, St. James
Unidentified man, Montego Bay, St. James
Albert Pryce, 62, Annotto Bay, St. Mary
Rochelle Williams, 25, Annotto Bay, St. Mary
Aleir Sewell, nine months, Annotto Bay, St. Mary
Byron Edwards, 23, Mansfield Heights, Ocho Rios, St. Ann
Alrick Kitchener, 54, Clark’s Town, Trelawny