ICYMI in Jamaica, January 5, 2021: The Back to School Edition

What a week. After the relative peace and quiet of the holidays (apart from an intrusively loud motorbike rider – we need to do something about the “enhanced” mufflers they put on their bikes) we were thrown straight into 2021 with a great deal of agonizing over “back to school” (a dilemma shared by other countries, of course). The end of the year also seemed to bring an upswing in crime, especially in western Jamaica – where COVID-19 is also seeing quite an increase. Meanwhile, the weather is balmy, and illegal parties are taking place here, there and everywhere. And then, there was the startling news, arriving late last night, that Jamaican tourism mogul and founder of the Sandals chain Gordon “Butch” Stewart had died.

Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Floyd Green (centre), makes a point to owner of the Longville Park Farms, Donovan Bunting, during a tour of the facility in Clarendon on December 28. Looking on is Chief Technical Director in the Ministry, Michael Pryce. (Photo: Dave Reid/JIS)

Agriculture: Minister Floyd Green has started an initiative to boost fish farming (tilapia). Jamaica is terribly over-fished, so perhaps this is the best alternative – we have to find ways of feeding ourselves. Food security remains a big issue going into 2021 and I particularly like the partnership with the UN Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) to support farmers by buying back their excess produce, for the benefit of children via UNICEF Jamaica.

A new dome has formed following an effusive eruption at the La Soufrière volcano in St Vincent. Persons living close to the volcano have been asked to make all necessary preparations to evacuate in case an order is given – Contributed photo/Gleaner

Caribbean: The La Soufrière volcano in Saint Vincent is still, apparently, quite restless. However, residents are being told NOT to panic and no evacuation orders have been issued. Also a curious video circulated on social media showing hundreds of dragonflies that suddenly showed up in the skies over Barbados – which some superstitious ones took as a “sign.” It’s suggested they may have been disturbed by the volcano.

Antigua/Barbuda and Barbados had a bit of a tiff recently over Barbados’ travel ranking of their neighbors as “medium tier” risk for COVID-19. Now, as Barbados struggles with a big increase in COVID numbers (caused by a “bus crawl”), Antigua says it will not ban travel to and from the island. Meanwhile Barbadian Prime Minister Mia Mottley is urging citizens to work from home if possible.

Children: The Children’s Advocate seems to spend vast amounts of time trying to untangle legal knots and conundrums. Now there is a “religious” compound called Qahal Yahweh in Norwood, St. James, where children are living and where there are rumors of child marriages, etc. Some children were apparently removed in November by law enforcement (!) but there remain major, unspecified legal challenges. Children’s Advocate Diahann Gordon Harrison is trying to overcome these, working with the Child Protection and Family Services Agency.

King Tubby, who is considered the inventor of the concept of the remix.

Culture and Tradition: One of the classic music producers/engineers of yesteryear, Osbourne ‘King Tubby’ Ruddock, was shot and killed outside his gate in Duhaney Park in 1989 after returning home from his studio. I absolutely did not remember he was murdered! A virtual show will be streamed live from the King Jammy’s studio in Waterhouse, Kingston, on March 27 and will see performances from The Firehouse Crew, the band that boasts that its career started with King Tubby, and other performers.

Minister of Education Fayval Williams addressing the nation on Sunday regarding “back to school.”

Education: Minister of Education Fayval Williams announced that 129 schools were cleared for face-to-face teaching/learning on Monday, January 4, 2021. “Attending school, whether virtual, remote, or face-to-face, is still a requirement,” she added. Some schools, apparently, are still not quite ready but preparing to re-open. Concerns are numerous: for example (in the case of Glenmuir High School, and Seaforth High School which had a high turnout of students on Day One) poor Internet connectivity is an issue. In an address to the nation Minister Williams said that Grade Six primary and preparatory students will sit the first of two components of the Primary Exit Profile (PEP) tests on February 23. It’s a very tricky balancing act for her, and there are so many unknowns to contend with.

The National Parent Teacher Association (NPTAJ) is quite adamant in its opposition to face-to-face learning, contending that it is hugely risky as COVID-19 numbers are seeing an increase this week. The NPTAJ recommends that 70 percent of the total school population should be tested.

Opposition Spokesperson on Education Dr. Angela Brown-Burke. (Photo: RJR)

There are also worrying suggestions that fewer students are signing up for the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) examinations, because they fear they have fallen too far behind with their learning. Linvern Wright, President of the Jamaica Association of Principals of Secondary Schools, (among others) says the Ministry of Education should seriously consider a repeat of the 2020/2021 academic year. Opposition Spokesperson on Education Dr. Angela Brown-Burke feels that there should be a “reset” in light of the loss of learning.

Health: The COVID-19 curfew in Westmoreland (7 pm to 5 am) has been extended until January 15. The Office of the Prime Minister said on Wednesday that the Savannah-la-Mar Hospital is now beyond isolation capacity and the hospital itself is almost completely full.

Medical practitioner and Hanover Custos Dr David Stair is also concerned about a possible collapse in the health sector if there is any kind of post-holiday spike.

But the parties are not done yet! The Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) have been incredibly challenged in shutting down illegal parties over the holidays. Partygoers and promoters are figuring out ingenious ways of avoiding detection. After Lime Cay and Maiden Cay were closed (somewhat belatedly) by the Ministry of Local Government, the party promoters simply redirected their yachts to Pigeon Cay, a lovely little island a bit further out – now also closed. So the Marine Police had their work cut out, chasing yachts.

Dancehall entertainer Beenie Man at the Black River Police Station in St Elizabeth on New Year’s Eve. Looking thoughtful… (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

So the JCF issued a series of stern tweets about dancehall deejay Beenie Man (Moses Davis) – who was allegedly promoting a New Year’s Eve party in St. Elizabeth called “12 to 7” on social media. He has now been charged with breaches of COVID regulations in relation to another party he held in St. Elizabeth last year. All I can say is: “How stupid.” The JCF says that anyone seen out after curfew hours (10 p.m.) will be arrested.

A middle-aged woman was charged in connection with a party in Portland, which apparently attracted 150 patrons after curfew hours in Berrydale. The parish’s COVID-19 numbers have been comparitively low, but that might change soon.

Meanwhile, on New Year’s Eve the ban on flights coming in from the UK was extended to January 31. The number of COVID-19 cases has sky-rocketed in the UK.

Human Rights: There seem to be problems at the St. Catherine Adult Correctional Centre in Spanish Town, with inmates allegedly going on hunger strike in protest at physical abuse from prison warders. The Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) has started making enquiries into the matter. Lawyers for Stand Up for Jamaica, the NGO that works on prisoners’ rehabilitation, visited the prison and took statements on Wednesday.

INDECOM is also investigating the shooting death of a 14-year-old boy, Yuhembi Bryson, during a joint police/military patrol on Dexter Street, Savannah-la-Mar, Westmoreland. The boy was captain of the Petersfield High School football team, and his mother said the family was holding New Year prayers when they were fired on. Bryson’s 15-year-old cousin was also injured. There is an early curfew (7 pm) in Westmoreland due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Another joint police/military patrol had an alleged confrontation on King Street, Montego Bay on Sunday, which resulted in the death of 29-year-old Mikhail Cunningham.

And an unidentified man was shot and killed during an alleged confrontation with officers in Crescent district, Spanish Town in St Catherine yesterday. A sub-machine gun was reportedly seized.

During a recent visit to a rural community the Police saw this young man carrying water and decided to help. He was so surprised that he asked “Unno a real police?” The officers assisted him home and also helped to pour the water into a drum. #AForce4Good (TWEET FROM JCF).

Meanwhile, the Jamaica Constabulary Force’s (JCF) efforts to improve their image – at least through tweets – have met with a mixed response among many on my timeline. There is something jarring about the image of a little boy in a toy police car, flanked by two heavily armed policemen in inner-city Kingston, with the message: “Did someone call for back up? #AForce4Good is on the way to Rose Gardens in Central Kingston. Help us keep you safe.” The PR efforts look a little forced to me.

Infrastructure: In the wake of the seemingly endless rains in October and into November, everything seems to be collapsing. I don’t know the community, but the people of Harbour Heights are clearly suffering. It’s a former Operation PRIDE settlement (a big housing project from a previous administration that was not exactly a glorious success).

Meanwhile, Gordon Town residents are taking garbage over the breakaway road in wheelbarrows for collection on the other side. Youth in the community are doing the collections. With no hope of the road being fixed any time soon (is it actually fixable?) the very long and high alternative route through Silver Hill Gap is under pressure, according to a local resident. I was there a year ago with BirdLife Jamaica, and the road was certainly not wonderful then. Now with increased traffic it is deteriorating fast.

People: Tyrone Wilson is making another bold business move, and going into commercial real estate! He is going to build a six-storey “iCreate campus” in New Kingston, plus a music studio, Reggae Sunsplash museum, and more.

Dia C. Forrester-Gellineau of Grenada.

Grenada has its first woman Attorney General: Dia C Forrester-Gellineau, an experienced attorney. (Of course, we have our own woman AG, Marlene Malahoo Forte, Q.C., a Yale World Fellow). Ms. Forrester-Gellineau first served as Solicitor General, and was only appointed in that position in 2019.

The Caribbean Community of Retired Persons (CCRP) is mourning the passing of Avrill Crawford, one of their Directors and a kind and generous volunteer. She will be greatly missed by her family, colleagues, and many friends!

A few years back, a Gleaner writer used to do some nice pieces from “off the beaten track” places around the island, meeting local “characters” – with more than a touch of humor. Similarly, I enjoyed this article by Kareem La Touche, who pottered off to White River in St. Ann to meet a lady named Babs. I hope there will be more of these articles this year.

Tourism: Well, optimism for the tourism sector is ramping up now, as Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett reports that December 22 – 26 saw the highest level of tourist arrivals since the pandemic began. Now the Minister has declared: “Falmouth is booked to welcome two Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines in March, unless something drastic happens to change this.” I suppose the ongoing pandemic isn’t drastic enough.

Meanwhile, Jamaicans flocked to hotels on the island for the New Year holiday – taking advantage of the cheap deals being offered by all-inclusives. Hotel managers seemed a little nervous about this. I thought we were all supposed to stay home?

Jamaica is quietly in so much pain. Murders, disputes, shootings and violent attacks cause so much stress and suffering daily. These are not statistics, these are people. My heart goes out to all those who are grieving, at a time when we all should be looking forward to the New Year…which has not begun in a peaceful way, at all.

In rural Jamaica, disputes (often family disputes) frequently seem to turn into tragedies. Three young farmers in Trelawny have been charged with wounding and arson as a result of a disagreement.

In Tank Lane, Oracabessa, St. Mary, two brothers who had an argument ended up dead. It’s a gruesome tale. Jerome Forrester, 26, was found dead – unfortunately parts of his body are still missing. His older brother, Alfred, was found dead in a hut in the area by residents with chop wounds. Residents had accused him of murdering his brother on Monday. Now the mother and sister of Jerome have been arrested and charged with conspiracy to murder and murder.

In another family dispute on Sunday, 48-year-old Ragrick Queensborough of St Faith’s district, Browns Hall was stabbed to death. His son has been charged with his murder.

On Thursday morning, neighbors found the bodies of 44-year-old Ricardo Blackstock and 49-year-old Juliet Watson in their yard in Agronomy District near Ryhmesbury, Clarendon.

31-year-old Jermain Cardoza was shot dead in a store on Barnett Street, Montego Bay on Monday afternoon.

Two men were shot dead in Dam Road, St. James. 24-year-old Kenroy Sinclair, and 44-year-old Dean Reid were killed and two others injured. The year ended with 128 murders in St. James, which has seen a spike recently.

Three people were shot dead in an attack in Johns Hall, St. James, on Sunday.

Debbie Eaton was shot and killed in downtown Kingston. So sad.

In downtown Kingston, a disabled woman was shot dead. Debbie Eaton was an amputee and this happened in the market district early on the morning of Monday, December 28. What a tragedy.

In downtown Kingston, a man who tried to steal a phone from a woman on the street near Coronation Market was shot dead by her (she was apparently a licensed firearm holder).

Also in Kingston, Kageem Hutchinson, 23, was shot dead at a recreation centre on Mountain View Avenue on Saturday morning. Two others were injured, including a 16-year-old boy.

In Accompong, St. Elizabeth, the Maroon community is getting ready to host its first virtual celebration in 283 years, but under a bit of a cloud. The annual recognition takes place on January 6. Firstly there was an altercation and the threat of a law suit by deejay L.A. Lewis, who is extremely angry with Maroon Chief Colonel Ferron Williams. Now there is the tragic murder of 40-year-old Dorcie Higgins, described as an “outspoken” but caring community activist, at her home in Accompong over the New Year weekend.

55-year-old Denzil Stewart was shot dead at a shop in Spanish Town, St. Catherine.

39-year-old Oshane Fletcher of Dam Head in Steer Town was shot dead on New Year’s Day in the St. Ann community. Two others were injured.

Book note: I am enjoying reading this memoir by Ambassador Sue M. Cobb, who served in Jamaica from 2001 to 2005, published by Ian Randle Publishers. It was a huge pleasure and honor serving with Ambassador Cobb while working in the Office of Public Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Kingston during those vibrant years. Book review coming up soon!

One thought on “ICYMI in Jamaica, January 5, 2021: The Back to School Edition

  1. I did not expect them to blame the parents for the kids being behind in thier lessons after all the talk about the benefits of online learning and tablets etc.


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