Sunday Storms

I am waiting for the daily thunderstorm, that has generally announced its arrival with much rumbling every lunchtime.

The week’s news has been a little stormy indeed in Jamaica – although some of the storms were certainly of the kind that you serve tea in.  Like the weather, there has been a lot of ominous rumbling, and very little to refresh the soul at the end of it all.

The rumblings continue – especially in the Sunday newspapers and one or two letters and opinion columns – on issues related to sexual abuse and sexual health.  Today’s front pages reflect this – the Sunday Observer trumpets “Perverts Stalk Schools,” while the Sunday Gleaner, not to be undone, shrieks “Abortion for Sale!”  What concerns me somewhat is that both newspapers give such stories the sensational tabloid treatment.  One should skip over the lurid graphics and headlines and try to get to the meat of the issues; but both reports are a little short on facts.  One learns from the Sunday front pages that 1) reports of teachers – and maybe other school staff – sexually abusing high school students are on the increase; and that 2) some health workers are illegally selling an ulcer treatment drug as an abortion pill (abortion is still illegal in Jamaica, for some reason).  A television station reported the second story earlier in the week, even visiting an establishment where this practice was allegedly taking place.  What is to be done about these matters – or rather, what will be done?  That remains to be seen.

And then, last Monday, a nasty little squall skipped over the waters of the warm Caribbean Sea.  It was up at the illustrious University of the West Indies (where, I hear, there have been several violent incidents among students over the past year, which have not been reported by the local media).   A group of students protested violently at being banned from sitting examinations because they had not paid their fees to the university where they had been attending classes.  Note that it is now the end of the academic year, and they still owe money.  So, the students descended on the hall where hundreds of students had just begun writing their examinations, pencils sharpened, trying to settle their nerves.  The aggressors banged on desks, kicked over the desks of some of the students sitting examinations and shouted about how “unfair” it all was, forcing the invigilators to cancel the examinations.  What’s more, the university has to re-set the examination papers and reschedule the tests.  As is so often said in our island – “the good (those who actually paid their fees, or whose parents struggled and saved to pay them) had to suffer for the bad (those wanting something for nothing).”  As Professor Carolyn Cooper notes in her weekly Sunday Gleaner column, the offending students (some of whom masked their faces) were suffering from a delusional and selfish sense of “entitlement.”  They don’t pay their fees, and yet somehow feel that the world owes them an education.

According to another video posted on a local blog, this is all evidence of the class/race war on campus.  One of the examinees regrettably referred to the protesters as “uneducated ghetto people,” prompting the video’s rant about – yes, race and class, which has no relevance to this particular issue, in my view.  There were no doubt “ghetto people” who had struggled to pay the fees sitting those examinations on Monday – and the disrupters included several “brown” middle-class students, for sure.  To me, the issue is education, and the funding of it: As Martin Henry comments in his excellent op-ed on the topic today (Sunday Gleaner) it is successive political administrations that are to blame, not the mean old university that is just trying to make ends meet.  Oh yes, poor people must have access to education, all Jamaicans must, the politicians say; but hey, we, the government, are not going to fund it.  The new Education Minister, as I pointed out in an earlier post, makes wonderful and fine-sounding speeches; but in recent weeks he has been telling struggling independent schools on the verge of closure and other despairing educators that there will be no additional funds for education in the much-delayed Budget, so they will have to make do with what they have got.  So there.  (In his Education Week message, Minister Thwaites says Jamaica has “achieved the Millennium Goals set for education.”  Could he elaborate on what these are?  Somehow I wasn’t aware of this).

Mr. Gavin Myers

Mr. Gavin Myers hides his face while recuperating in hospital.

A few bolts of lightning this week too, amid the storm clouds glowering over our educational landscape: A Dean of Discipline at a rural high school was stabbed twice and had his leg broken by a group of students who had been told to stay home for a few days because of their disruptive behavior.  Five students have been charged with the attack on Mr. Gavin Myers, who, lying in his hospital bed, said he hoped for “redemption” for the students.  One suspects that karma may be more likely to kick in.  By the way, there were two other stabbings at high schools reported late in the week.  It goes on.  May I ask whether the JCF School Resource Officers program is still functioning, and has it made an impact?  It seemed like a good idea when it was launched some ten years ago.  And can each student/visitor be searched on entering school compounds?  It sounds drastic, but what do you think, dear readers?  “Bring back flogging,” commented one member of the public.  But violence begets violence.

Concerns: Things are not looking so good on the crime front.  Although major crimes have declined, murder has slightly increased in the first quarter of this year, compared to last year.  The Minister of National Security, accompanied by a gaggle of police officers, is on television almost every night in his baseball cap, bravely tramping through the byways of various depressed communities, occasionally comforting a grieving woman, trying to understand the complexities of each little neighborhood where gunfire rings out.  This week, gunmen fired on a group of domino players outside a little shop in a place called Rejoin, Hanover, killing a father, son and two others.  The smallest parish in Jamaica has experienced a startling increase in homicides this year.  There were other depressing little stories: a fruit vendor’s body was found in downtown Kingston, by the Jamaica Stock Exchange.  A woman was found in the sewage pit at the elaborate home of her “baby-father.”  And the residents of a rural community knew exactly where to find the body of a taxi driver and policeman’s son, trooping down to the deep, swirling river ironically called Sweet River – where bodies are often dumped, they said.  And there was the usual television footage of women – mothers, babymothers, sisters, aunts – collapsing at the roadside, or sitting on their cramped verandahs, numb with grief.  I don’t know what I am going to do, they say.

Community at Sweet River

Down by the River: A community (and parents, right, of the deceased) in mourning.

I was not impressed, either, by circular conversations in the print and broadcast media about the “impasse” between the Transport Minister and Contractor General over the former’s plan to apparently override the CG’s surveillance of three big investment projects.  Comments made by the Opposition, including Senator Christopher Tufton on “All Angles” this week, suggest that the Jamaica Labour Party is also being “mealy-mouthed” on this issue.  And can we hear a bit more from civil society on this?  It reminds me of a former People’s National Party slogan: “Don’t Stop the Progress!”  This one is going to rumble around in the background for some time yet, one feels.  And once again, as Mr. Henry noted on the issue of education funding, the Government is attempting to ride two horses running in opposite directions: Yes, we must “strengthen” the office of the Contractor General and it is very important; but No, we are not going to let him stand in our way when it suits us.  Meanwhile, the Jamaican people have made it pretty clear in all the vox pops - they trust Mr. Greg Christie more than the Honorable Minister and his comrades.  Sorry.

When are we going to hear any details at all about the Finance Minister’s visit to Washington?  Or is he still there with his “technical team”?

And why bother?  Crime, corruption and the economy are all burning issues for the Jamaica public.  Don’t we know that?  Then why, oh why, are we still regaled with bickerings and pettiness from both the Lower and Upper Houses?  This past week, the Senate erupted in one of those storms in a teacup I mentioned earlier.  An Opposition Senator and spokesman for foreign affairs raised the issue of the appointment of diplomats when there is a change of administration.  Hardly a burning issue.  It is quite normal for both political parties to recall key diplomats when they come to power, so that their envoy will be more in tune with the government of the day’s priorities and policies.  Jamaica has had some excellent representation, and some fairly mediocre, overseas.  But Senator Tufton,  the fact that the previous administration you were a part of kept on one Ambassador appointed by the previous regime is neither here nor there.  One swallow does not a summer make.  I would like to know, however, who will be Jamaica’s next Ambassador to the United States?  Has the media enquired into this?

Why did the Jamaica 50 logo need to be re-designed (and at what cost)?  And by the way, do we have any details of what the Jamaica 50 celebrations will consist of?  There have been many media announcements, but I for one am still not clear…

Congratulations and warm fuzzy feelings are also accorded this week, to the following:

Mr. Brandon Allwood and his young team of volunteers and supporters, who successfully staged a hot and noisy march and rally last Tuesday on behalf of “Help JA Children,” a movement to try and shake things up on the issue of child abuse.  May is Child Month in Jamaica.  I have posted several comments and blogged on this before, but yes – I was one of the few people over the age of thirty who participated.  UNICEF was there; Susan Goffe and Carolyn Gomes of Jamaicans for Justice were there; and a group of non-governmental organizations that work with women and children – the indomitable ladies of Eve for Life, the Women’s Resource and Outreach Centre among them.  More projects are planned for the month – I will keep you up to date.  Meanwhile, please visit the  Help JA Children Facebook page, and you can find them on Twitter, too.  An excellent turnout and good media coverage, too.  Keep up the pressure!

Help JA Children March

Stop Child Abuse! Militant ladies at Kingston’s Emancipation Park.

For the second consecutive week, I wish to congratulate Technology Minister Phillip Paulwell, who on Tuesday was responsible for some amendments of the eleven-year-old Telecoms Act that will not only make a monopoly in the market much less possible, but will also mean a reduction in local and international telephone rates.  Once again, a big clap on the back for Minister Paulwell – one of the few who is properly focused on his portfolio, not distracted by photo-ops or sideshows.  The gentleman is working – and the Jamaican consumer will benefit!

I am also heartened to hear that by this September the topic of climate change should be on the primary school curriculum, as announced by our Minister for Climate Change (and other things) Robert Pickersgill.  Meanwhile, I hope the Honorable Minister will address the “Disaster in Waiting” described by the Gleaner’s Erica Virtue on Tuesday, the possible re-ignition of a fire at the Riverton City dump – or is that the Local Government Minister’s purview?  (And by the way, Minister Arscott, a smile would be nice occasionally…It goes a long way).

And a word of commendation for Corporal Karen Austin (I hope I spelt her name right) of the Santa Cruz Police.  A series of TVJ reports this week focused on the plight of a woman with two children, who were found to be living in the most awful conditions.  The police were inclined to take the children and put them into care, but the mother begged for them to stay with her.  Kind-hearted citizens – thanks to them also – have since contributed food and clothing and it is hoped that a home will be provided (by Food for the Poor, perhaps?)  It was Corporal Austin’s calm face and comforting demeanor that impressed me though.  The footage of her carefully cleaning between one of the children’s toes was somehow so touching.  Corporal Austin embodied real compassion – something that is so lacking in our society.  Thank you, you made my week.

“Big ups” also to Yaneek Page, CEO of Future Services International, Ethnie Miller-Simpson of Brandz Avenue and Ingrid Riley, CEO of Connectimass, who helped launch – and will lead – the Women’s Entrepreneurship Network Caribbean.  22 Caribbean dynamos participated in a forum supported by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Global Women’s Issues Initiative.  These three Jamaican women are working on building the network, along with fellow entrepreneurs from St. Lucia, Barbados and Trinidad.  I wish you all much luck!

I am really sorry I missed it, but the three-day “Kingston Pon Di River” arts festival was a delight and a big success, I hear.  Congratulations to the organizers – Janet Silvera, Dollis Campbell and Millicent Lynch.  Wish I had made it for the drumming session, especially – and of course, Tomlin Ellis’ passionate poetry.

Janet Silvera, Millicent Lynch and Dollis Campbell

A happy event down by the river: Janet Silvera, Millicent Lynch and Dollis Campbell

 

And to the Alpha Primary School, celebrating its 120th anniversary this year.  It began when Miss Jessie Ripoll (later Sister Mary Claver) opened the Alpha Cottage to accommodate a little orphan girl on May 1, 1880.  Let’s remember our history, and support education in whatever way we can.

Condolences to the afore-mentioned Mr. Greg Christie, Contractor General, who buried his father Rupert last week; and especially, to the widow and family of Mr. Lloyd Brevett, who died on Thursday morning.  Mr. Brevett was the upright bass player with the Skatalites, the revered and wonderful ska band – of whom there is now only one surviving member.  Although he had been ill for some time, the painful part is that Mr. Brevett took a turn for the worse after his son Okeene was murdered in February, just after collecting an award on behalf of his father from the band’s former manager and former Prime Minister PJ Patterson.  So sad that a man who helped bring that driving, jumping beat that brought so much happiness and sheer enjoyment to the Jamaican and world music scene passed under such sad circumstances.

P.S.  A definition of “mealy-mouthed” (one of my father’s favorite expressions):  “Hesitant to state facts or opinions simply and directly because of timidity or hypocrisy.”

 

 

 

Related articles:

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Perverts-stalk-schools_11411832

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120506/lead/lead2.html: Abortion For Sale

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120506/focus/focus1.html: Samfie Government – Broke Pockets and Broken Education (Martin Henry op-ed)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120506/cleisure/cleisure3.html#disqus_thread:  Student Rights and Wrongs (Carolyn Cooper op-ed)

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Injured-dean-of-discipline-recuperating_11378445

http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads-1/30471: Education Week Message from Minister Ronald Thwaites

Op-Ed: Fighting Injustice in Jamaica (petchary.wordpress.com)

The Ghetto strikes back…and Satan Deconstructed… (anniepaul.net)

http://spicewriter.wordpress.com/2012/05/01/uwi-statement-on-student-protest-re-non-payment-of-tuition-fees/:  Statement on Student Protest

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/editorial/Politics-of-appointing-and-recalling-our-diplomats_11413702

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Review-of-issues-arising-from-appointment-of-oversight-panel_11376366: Ken Chaplin op-ed

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120502/lead/lead1.html: Call rates to drop

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Development-and-accountability-are-not-alternatives_11409453: Claude Robinson op-ed

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120502/lead/lead2.html:  Jamaica’s Children March for Help

http://74.54.30.150/news/list/30468: Jamaica 50 to Provide Opportunity for Small Producers

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120504/ent/ent3.html:  Skatalites lose another member

Sunday Showers (petchary.wordpress.com)

Sunday Sparkle (petchary.wordpress.com)

Sunday Steam (petchary.wordpress.com)

New Book: Something to write home about (repeatingislands.com)

Mr. Lloyd Brevett of the Skatalites

A musician from happier times: Mr. Lloyd Brevett of the Skatalites