Help me decide. Do we have the ability to make strategic decisions?

This is a totally off-the-cuff notion. Do Jamaicans have a basic problem making good decisions?

I listened yesterday to some of the commentary on a girls football match, involving the Jamaican national under-17 team. Several times, I heard the observation “We have problems making the right decisions…” The commentator went on to say that it’s evident with the men’s senior team, boys teams, women’s national teams, and on.

Some have said for a long time that the Jamaican educational system does not foster good decision-making. People talk about the preponderance of rote learning. I’m not familiar enough with the whole school system to know whether that is still true. But, if it is, then there may be a systematic and systemic problem that we have bred into our society.

Casual observation suggests that in many areas, people have problems making good and quick decisions. A certain bias toward ‘safe’ decisions is also observed, especially in areas where people are wary of protecting their positions, such as a particular employment. I’m astonished sometimes when I hear “Mi don’ wan’ lose mi job, if mi let you…” It’s not something unique to Jamaica. It’s the same as “I’m not paid to make that decision…” or “You’ll need to speak to someone in authority…”

In the sports context, and looking at those performing at the highest levels, the local football players’ instincts are often questionable. Seasoned players do things that are common for elementary age players, but should have been corrected by the time they were in high school. It’s not a matter of technique in the cases I am considering. I’ve watched a few matches in person–mainly elementary and middle schoolers–and notice that many of the coaches are ‘yellers’, i.e. they scream instructions at players, berating them for their ‘mistakes’. Few, if any, coaches have shown confidence in the players to make decisions for themselves. The players respond to direction. I need to look more carefully to see if this trend continues up the ranks.

Certainly, in this limited field, there are worrying signs. I watched two top professional teams play a final match this week. The ability of players to demonstrate that they have thought through problems was lacking, even in aspects separate from playing. Team members fought amongst each other, as if they did not realise that this was a problem for the officials. They remonstrated with officials, as if they did not realise that this was an offense. They made bad decisions about what to do with the ball. In some senses, it was as if each player was in a vacuum space of his own. This may be a huge psychological issue, and I’m not competent to comment on that aspect.

Out of the sports arena, we can look at how people assess risks. Simple examples abound. Drivers are aware of the risks of accidents, and take precautions to protect themselves. But, they will be oblivious to the risks of passengers, even to the extent of endangering themselves in the case of a driver who lets a small child sit on his or her lap while driving the vehicle in traffic. A massive disconnection must be going on in the brain of the driver.

Dealing with institutions here, I’ve been interested in how people respond when given the ‘out’ to show that they are not competent, e.g. by saying “No problem, if you do not know the answer.”

I’m going to keep looking and thinking about this for a while.

Sorry, can’t help you

My daughter swam for a team in the USA, which had a nice inspirational motto: “Success before work? Only in a dictionary.”

Swimmers, like most athletes, know that it’s a grind to become good. Lots of laps. Repeating strokes. Turns. Dives. Kicking. Arms and legs working in good combination. Small margins for errors. Disqualification for small technical mistakes, some of which will be denied for ever. Attention to details.

My daughter swam at the weekend, and did very well overall, with times that showed she was at good standard for her age. She was proud, and rightly so. So were her parents and coaches. But, she had one little blemish. She was disqualified from her breaststroke event, after doing a good time. Apparently–and she denies it happened :-)–her feet were not still at the start. Breaststroke is a beast for technical details. What was galling was that one of her team mates had spoken about how the same mistake had cost him a race, and he’d come in ranked second in the overall event. Some say that the best way to learn is through mistakes”

“A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.”–George Bernard Shaw

“You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don’t try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on it. You don’t let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.”–Johnny Cash

Much as I may see merits in those sentiments, I also know that if you keep making the same mistakes, chances are you will not be successful. Much of your work will be in vain.

Jamaica is in danger of doing just that. It’s made a lot of mistakes. In economic policy management, these have been costly, literally and figuratively. WIthout belaboring the point though, we can just look at what the latest World Bank rankings are for Ease of Doing Business. Jamaica sank another three places, to #94. Going in the wrong direction, for sure, though there are signs that some things are improving. It’s not alone, because other English-speaking economies are suffering a similar or worse fate, so The Bahamas, Barbados, and Trinidad experienced worse declines in terms of number of places. They’re all doing wrong by business and not correcting it.

Is there something in the waters of the Caribbean sea that has infected us all with a certain anti-business virus? Despite all the talk, we just don’t get what needs to be done to give business what it wants and needs to succeed. I cannot get into the minds of governments and their bureaucrats, but I understand a little about how organizations and people function. There’s a lot wrong in terms of how the supposed facilitators do much to be harmful and hurtful, in pursuit of things that are as much about personal issues as they are about matters of fundamental principles. Bottom line: we have not figured out that helping businesses works to our benefits. The examples are there in bucketfuls, but they don’t matter if those who need to learn are not prepared to. We wont succeed because we wont work on what is needed to succeed.

BloodOutOfAStone-HardTasks-sisyphos

The land of look behind: Jamaica reaping what it’s sown

An area of Jamaica, The Cockpit Country, is also known as The Land of Look Behind. The well-respected Encyclopaedia  Britannica describes this area as ‘difficult and inhospitable terrain’. It’s where slaves went when running away from the British in the 17th century, and from where they waged successful guerrilla attacks. The Encyclopaedia adds that the area has ‘dense scrubby trees, rising hundreds of feet above depressions and sinkholes with sharp, precipitous sides’. Without being too unkind, all of Jamaica could be regarded as the land of look behind.

It’s almost a tautology to say you must invest in your future: it makes little sense investing in your past, except for the sharp-witted, if you invest in heritage. Jamaicans lament how things they want to achieve seem stymied at many turns. People look for someone to blame, and it’s not usually hard to find at least one ‘person’ who has let the ball drop, so to speak. One of those phrases that comes too easily to the lips of Jamaicans is “It not ready yet…” Usually, that would mean food, job that should have been completed, new outfit ordered, items ordered, etc. We get accustomed to things not being really fit and ready to go even though an event has been scheduled and is underway.

A few weeks ago, my church rector was lamenting that the finances were worse than expected because various fund-raising events had not taken place: dates had been set; venues had been booked; fees had been paid; but somehow the events did not take place. Net outcome: a bigger loss.

Jamaica’s national football team has just been dumped out of the qualification rounds for the 2014 World Cup. Observers, keen or casual, want to take to task everyone associated with the sinking ship–the Jamaica Football Federation and its president; the current coach and his predecessor (who was ditched mid-campaign); players, both local and foreign; the supporters, who were ready to hail the new conquerors after early results, but then abandoned the  boat,w when things looked doomed.

I watched the Finals of a prestigious professional football match last night, between two giants of local football–Tivoli Gardens and Waterhouse. Many things struck me about the match, and they were mostly negative. First, the field looked more set for gardening than for letting a large ball run truly. Bumpy would be a kind term. The players have very good skills and they needed them to master these rough conditions. But, you can only push a rock uphill a short way. A free kick taken by one star, Jermaine (“Tuffy”) Anderson was rolling tamely to the goalkeeper, when it suddenly took a huge hop, as if a ghost had given it an extra kick, and within a blink the ball had gone past the goalkeeper, who had been poised on his knee to pick up this ‘dolly pass’. 2-0. What? TV replays showed what had happened in horrific slow motion. water-fieldWhat to do? Tivoli pressed on. They eventually hauled back the deficit, and the game went into extra time, then penalties, after which Waterhouse won 3-1 on kicks. Victory!

In the audience were the president of the JFF, the national coach, and many dignitaries. I really wanted the broadcasters to do what they do in the US, and go with a roving microphone to get instant reactions from important figures at the event. Let’s assume, however, that the ‘think tank’ of Jamaican football felt sufficiently embarrassed by the incident and the spectacle of this top-level match played on a cow pasture. Do they expect to be putting out top-level players if this is where they have to hone their trades? If so, the success will be ‘despite’ not ‘because of’. But, honestly, it’s not good enough. It’s a disgrace. It’s a travesty. It’s Jamaican. How can you build hope in a nation this way? One of the local radio stations (Irie FM) has a jingle about “extraordinary people doing extraordinary things”. If you have to do extraordinary things all the time, you will be burnt out in no time. Years of talking about what needed to be done, what was to be done, and yet. After the World Cup debacle, I heard the JFF president talking about plans for the next campaign. All good-sounding, but talk without substance? Right now, we could see what happens if you don’t put your money where your mouth is.

Many things in any country show signs of being ‘tired and worn out’. What is often important to get a country moving forward is not just new investment, but reinvestment. What often excites and energizes people are signs that things are being renewed or improved. In a real and metaphorical sense, the football field is so much about Jamaica. All the signs are there of little investment and little or no reinvestment. Yet, the expectation is that things will improve. It can’t work!

As luck has it, today will see government measures aimed to deal with this problem as far as businesses are concerned: new tax measures that should reduce some of the costs of doing business will be introduced by the finance minister. The positive side of me says that “It’s never too late to start to do the right thing”. We’ll have to see how that measure has its impact.

We can see clearly enough what happens when you don’t make the investments at all or in good time. Simple things don’t happen–the ball takes a wicked bounce and all the hard work goes up in a whiff of dust. The field was probably in its best condition, which was terrible.

Crumbling begins and then the whole edifice falls down. Putting players in smart uniforms and nice boots, can’t compensate for playing on a junk heap. Jamaican football is now a fallen edifice, and it should be used as a very timely metaphor and clear indication of what happens when you talk too much and do too little.

Downtown revival: make the rewards outstrip the risks

Digicel organized its second annual nighttime 5k run/walk in downtown Kingston this past weekend. My daughter and I were among the 7200 participants who walked or ran, after paying our J$1000 entry fee. The number of entrants was some 2000 than the year before. The money goes towards funding 11 charities through The Digicel Foundation. People love supporting good causes.

I wrote a few weeks ago about how a major challenge for Jamaica would be to get organic change happening in downtown Kingston. Digicel is a clear leader in trying to help revitalize this part of Jamaica, and it’s part of a clear corporate strategy to help its brand be associated with positive developments, which includes athletes, musicians, sports events, and more. It’s good business and it’s good for business. It’s also a good cause that needs much support.

For many people, being in the 5k gave them a chance to see what downtown Kingston is like, without having to deal with any of the usual day-to-day issues that may seem or be unpleasant. Parade was full of people at 8pm, and many of the daytime scenes were still evident, including a busload of people from country, packed like sardines, with bags in the back of the bus, on the top of the bus, with just enough space for a few passengers on the roof too.

The run through downtown should also have given some people an idea of what this part of the capital could be like. I had a discussion with a fellow participant yesterday, and we talked about how easy it was to see that rehabilitation was a better and seemingly easier option than to tear down, with so much of the basic architecture still in place and the grid structure of the area giving a certain integrity to the space.Downtown_Kingston “Gentrification” may not yet be part of the Jamaican vocabulary in terms of what is happening in its economic and social development, and it may not be a word that inspires positive reactions. However, I believe that it has to be something that is put clearly on the agenda of things to push. My partner in conversation quickly went to the fact that tax incentives may be the answer, to help defray the heavy costs that will be involved in rehabilitating such a large area.

Companies like Digicel have clearly put their money where their mouths are. So, too, have a small number of newer enterprises which are presently closely associated with middle class life styles, leisure and pleasure, such as Cannonball Cafe.

Let’s not pretend that changing the perception and face of downtown will be easy. As I wrote before, there are many tensions at work, and one of the major obstacles will be to get those who do not have much and want to obtain some of what they see those who have enjoying to accept the changes that may start working. Jobs wont come out of thin air or suddenly be plentiful. People who are making their lives on the streets, begging, hustling, making furniture, robbing, selling, etc. may find themselves under pressure to stop those activities. But, that’s their livelihood and getting out of one set of activities into another will take more than wishing, including training and repositioning of attitudes.

Those who want to venture into downtown have many things to deal with, but one of the largest blocks to move will be fear. The image is that the area is dangerous. News reports of violent crime will dominate people’s thoughts and be hard to displace. Stories of little glimmers of change and pleasant developments will be blips and not something that will alter the overwhelmingly negative impressions.

Downtown is not ‘cool’ and certainly not ‘swanky’. It’s seedy. It smells bad. It’s dirty. It’s a mess. No critical mass of things that are the opposite of those impression exists in a large space, besides the developments along Ocean Boulevard. People with money to spend wont choose to go downtown just to ‘look good’. They have little to attract them there or make them stay there after a visit to do some errands. Let’s not paint it rosy when it’s black. If, out of thin air, downtown was awash with sidewalk cafes,fromageB20130416GT nice-looking eating places and bars, sounds of soft music, and some fashionable clothes stores, then it would be clear that it had changed. But, they wont come out of thin air. The change has to come because enough people feel the ‘risks’ are going to be outweighed by the ‘rewards’.

It will be one step at a time, but it needs to happen. It’s potentially one of the better pieces of economic and social policy the country can develop. People having hope can do a lot to ward off the dangers of hopelessness.movie_kingstonparadise

Digicel opened the eyes of at least 7000 people, and I would estimate that nearly as many were there to look on and experience without too many concerns. If their target of 20,000 participants is to be realized soon, then it could be the spur that some need to try to be part of a movement that wants to put shape and heart back into the city centre. That means positioning early.

If my supposition is right, and downtown land and rental prices are under valued, that may well be what can drive the change to happen a little faster. Would a tax break help? It probably wont hurt.

The good, the bad, and the ugly (October 27)

Good

Digicel 5k run/walk for Special Needs, in downtown Kingston, at night time. The beneficiaries from the sum of J$1000 fees will be Jamaica Association of the Deaf; Jamaica Association of Intellectual Disabilities; Jamaica Society for the Blind; Jamaica Autism Support Association; Jamaica Down’s Syndrome Foundation; The Step Centre (School for Therapy Education and Parenting of children with multiple disabilities); Mustard Seed Communities; The NAZ Children’s centre; Genesis Academy; Early Stimulation Plus; and Liberty Academy. My daughter got cramp, but she’d been in a swim meet earlier in the day.

Bad

Yet another clampdown on street windscreen washers by the Jamaica Constabulary Force. Another in a long line of ‘nine day wonders’ that seem to infect Jamaican authorities. Maybe, the thought is that people have very short memories or don’t want action, but will settle for word.

Ugly

The US government spying on its allies! U.S. National Security Agency had eavesdropped on the cell phone of German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and spied on other allies. Bring on James Taylor–“You’ve got a friend”.

A little learning may stop a dangerous thing

That Jamaica is a country with a serious crime problem is not something I want to contest. Better minds than mine have tried to come up with proposals for dealing with it, especially its most violent aspects. But, crime has crept into the society in a way that may be hard to ease out, without some cataclysmic changes.

One thing that seems to characterise criminals is lower than average intelligence. I am not going to contest those findings. It’s something for Jamaicans to ponder. We get all prickly when we read how well some of our schools and students have done–such as in yesterday’s papers, which reported Ardenne High School to have been the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) School of the Year for 2013 in the region, and also for producing the top Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) CAPE student this year — Dea Thomas (see picture from Jamaica Observer).Screen Shot 2013-10-26 at 2.29.50 PM However, we have goosebumps for other reasons when some of the failures of the educational system are caught brandishing arms or committing some horrible deed of villainy. But, they are two sides of the came coin.

I read something interesting about why criminals have lower intelligence, and it may be worth reading to ponder for yourself. Part of its argument is that much brutal behaviour reflects what was once the norm for competing for scarce resources (theft rather than full-time employment) and obtaining mating opportunities (physical domination). The ‘criminal’, in some sense, has not understood fully the consequences of criminal behavior that is imposed by modern forms of law enforcement. In a simplistic construction, they really don’t understand that they will be caught doing deeds that society now says are bad, and that being caught is much simpler than it used to be because technology can help.

I understand this argument in part, and I see it played out in many crimes that seem to beg out for someone to just say to the perpetrator: “Hello, silly, can’t you see that you are doing something wrong, in broad day light and in front of a bunch of people?” Clearly, that does not seem to register with some criminals. Look at attempted robberies in crowded places in broad day light.

I read a few of the crime cases in today’s paper and can only conclude that people who had a hard time reasoning and also could not put together an image that they were easy to observe have gone ahead with an activity and, lo and behold, they get caught and are now looking at jail time. How else can you explain people who tried to operate a ‘secret’ sand mine? (See picture from Jamaica Observer.) It’s like the story of people in Greece, who declared their properties to be lower in value to avoid tax obligations. The persons could not fathom that now it would not be hard to use aerial surveillance to see what was on the ground, clearly visible from the sky.Screen Shot 2013-10-26 at 2.16.25 PM Murders and rapes are not necessarily easy to detect, in a similar way, and often become difficult to solve because there is some intimate relation going on that is often not easy to see or detect. But, let’s not get into the forensics.

The real solution to Jamaica’s crime problem may well be something that has only a long-term chance of success, because it depends on developing much more intelligent citizens. From what I can see, little research has been undertaken into the social returns of education, and also its link to criminal activity. That may be something for our institutions to begin to redress.

Taking the easy road

I haven’t abandoned my quest for the voice of the consumer. But, another group also needs a voice. They are the people who are not on the easy road.

I wrote a few days ago about the Jamaican ‘anything goes’ approach. I also wrote about the KMT culture of our ‘daily grind’. Now, it’s a day to look at ‘easy road-ism’. You don’t have to go far in any day or place to reap the whirlwind that comes from someone living off the labour of others. If you know your Karl Marx, you should know about ‘surplus labour‘.

I live in a rented house, and the landscaper that the landlord uses is a really lovely lady: she makes me laugh whenever I see her, as we plot ways of getting more out of the little plot and imagine going into small market gardening in uptown Kingston. Yesterday, she came laden with a cloth bag. Inside were some offerings from her garden: pears and green bananas. This is Jamaica and (avocado) pear is in season. We exchanged comments about the merits of various kinds of pears–the dryish tasting ones that are great with nothing else, except perhaps a piece of bulla; the buttery kind, etc. I showed off the bunch of bananas that was growing on the one tree in our yard. We plotted putting in more bananas, and where we would place the avocado plant that is now growing in a pot. She then shared a little story.

She told me how her husband had gone to check their pear tree and found a man with a stick in their yard picking the pears. Says the pear man to the husband: “Sorry, boss. I didn’t know you were home or I would have come to ask permission. I’m hustling.”cabbages Her husband was speechless. I shared this story with some friends and got back a few better stories from my brethren.

One Trinidadian friend, who lives in the hilly areas told me the following:

Yams that she had planted in her  yard last year were nearly ready for reaping, and some men doing work next door must have been timing her schedule. So one day, after she and her husband were gone all day, they came home to find the men had dug up the yam and then proceeded to roast them. They  had made a small fire in the yard, roasted and ate the yam! Her gardener told her the next day “Dem dig and nyam up you yam, Miss. Word pon di road is dah farrin lady nah need dah yam.” The next week somebody raided the gungo peas bushes which she’d planted, again they told somebody “Dem wanted to taste her hand.” She was accepting, to a degree, saying that there was never a dull day in Jamaica. NEVER! But she was also sad…very p****d, in fact, as she had never planted yams before and tried four heads with the help of her gardener. She had felt proud and had dug  up two, and left two. Now, the s**t heads had eaten them all. But, she was still positive about living in the hills and noting that people were growing all kinds of things…some legal, some less so. Some yards needed no weeding. Some were full of weeds 🙂

Life in Jamaica is full of such things. Many people take taking from others as part of life–almost a right. Property is theft! Roll over Proudhon. Anarchy rules! Out of many…

Hill people live on the edge of properties where they can work as gardeners and do their own small farming. Many have squatted for decades. Many steal water and electricity. Many hustle all the days of their lives. Acting honestly, so that they can be dishonest. Selling flowers to customers and then taking cuttings from the plants to resell. It’s business!

In urban area, a similar culture exists. People want but don’t have means, so take, which means those who have means face higher costs. Every now and then, areas are raided, people are disconnected from illegal water or electricity. A little time passes, the cycle resumes.

One of my trusted older Jamaican heads told me that a common trick in rural areas is to dig up yam, etc. then cover the hill over to make it seem that all is ok. Of course, in short time, the vine will wither and all will be evident. We know that fox and mongoose are quick to come to raid the chicken coop. But, so too are neighbours.

One of today’s papers laments again why Jamaica has such a large food import bill, and wonders about local food production to help fill the gap. I know many people who want to try to grow a little for fun and even to feed themselves. Jamaicans don’t have a lock on this desire, though we have some things going for us in terms in land space and soil quality. Almost everyone I know has something growing, and we share the fruit and vegetables, as much for communal reasons as to ensure we don’t waste. Some urban Barbadian friends of mine have been displaying proudly the fruits of their labours, with crops of tomatoes, okra, sweet potatoes, cassava, lettuce. But, the problem that many thought was just the bane of the life of the rural farmer is hitting those little adventurers.

Last month, I read that the Caribbean Open Institute is now working with the Rural Agricultural Development Authority to utilise technology and open data to help combat Jamaica’s J$5-billion praedial larceny problem. The project is an attempt to develop better information about where thefts are occurring and converting the written police reports into more usable data. My friend’s problem probably wont feature because she wont report it to the police, for various reasons, some related to keeping ‘community spirit’.

The news has been full of stories about the ‘small man’ under the hammer. Kingston is full of young men at road junctions offering to wash car windscreens. Screen Shot 2013-10-25 at 8.59.19 AMThe police want to stop this practice and are threatening to come down hard on this corps. Part of the problem is that some become aggressive and abusive is their offers are rejected. Last week, I declined and was then asked for J$100 to buy rice, with a “You eat off wi food!” I’m not a “you”, so I told my not-to-washer that he didn’t know me and to get out of my face with his ‘r**s’ victimism. My delivery was reminiscent of Shabada and he got the message. But, many people are annoyed at the police for not having dealt with the problem after saying a few years ago that they were going to ‘crack down’ on the practice. Talk is cheap!

A rasta, who is against legalizing ganja, put himself into a hot stew by asking the paper who interviewed him to plaster his picture in the paper. They put him on the front page smoking his chillum pipe full of herbs. Within hours, he’d been raided by the police and arrested. Jamaicans are up in arms against the police, whom it seems can’t find gunmen, rapists, and other criminals so go after ‘soft’ targets like carwashers, weed growers and handcart drivers.

But, as Buju put it, “Is not an easy road“.

Consumers need a voice? Anyone listening?

You’d think that in a country where people like to raise their voices and complain about many things, that a vocal consumer organisation would be a natural thing. But, as far as I can see, it’s mute. I’m prepared to be proved wrong, but I’m just going on my own experience.

I tried to do a little exploration today to see what the Consumer Affairs Commission (CAC) of Jamaica does. I found a really good-looking website Screen Shot 2013-10-24 at 11.26.40 AMand the kind of tool that would really make life easy for many: an online price comparison survey that seemed quite comprehensive. But, it just gave me nothing when I queried. Does it work? Is it tired? Is it a work in progress? I couldn’t tell.

I thought I’d do the old-fashioned thing and call the office. I saw that the organisation had recently moved, but had 10 ready landlines to deal with customers. I soon got a reply. The lady couldn’t help me directly, but she passed me to the research department, and there I am still. Waiting for someone to reply to my message left by voice mail. I’m not going to say much more about CAC for the moment, and give them a chance to show they are not cack-handed.

I saw that CAC has a nice-looking page on Facebook.Screen Shot 2013-10-24 at 11.21.53 AM  I see that it’s been updated within the past 24 hours–that’s encouraging. I decided to ‘follow’ the page, so will see what updates roll my way. I’m trying to be open-minded.

Maybe, it’s a case of what you don’t have you don’t miss, but surely in this modern age, where aggregating information and having feedback from users, a vibrant consumer advocacy body would be easier to develop and stronger.

Maybe, I’m mistaken to think that Jamaicans actually want their voices heard, as opposed to hearing themselves talk.

I’m going to tackle this simple little hill and see where it leads. CAC, I’m waiting…

In a stew over what?

Earlier this year, Britain was in a food crisis: horsemeat was found in burgers and kebabs. England had gone to the dogs! Well, criticism of people and their morals was falling on our ears like cats and dogs. Comedians, who thought their careers were over, looked through all of their old material about horses and horsing around, and all of the sick jokes about eating cats in certain restaurants. But, the British are so civilized, my dear. How could they? It’s exotic, dear. Chic meat. The French have been loving horse meat for years and everyone knows that French cooking is the best. Case closed.

The Japanese eat raw fish, and sushi restaurants have taken over the world without having the name McDonald’s associated with it. Steak tartare is RAW meat (beef or HORSE), and is also sought after like gold dust by the world ‘cultured’ diners.

Jamaica often comes up on the radar when people think of exotic foods. “We so loved your escoveitch fish,” “Bammy should be on sale everywhere,” “Oxtail and butter beans, where have you been all my life?”

It’s a land where people still eat whole fish: we don’t do fillet. Jamaicans eat most animals from nose to tail. A typical meat shop will have on offer: pig tails, pig feet, cow heel, oxtail, cowskin, chicken head, tripe, liver, kidneys, goat head, fish head, and more. Our favourite dishes are renowned for having everything in them. Mannish water tastes great, despite what’s in it.Mannish_WaterRat soup was supposed to be good for curing whooping cough, and a good number of Jamaicans have had to drink that and are still living to tell the tail. Curried iguana is reported to be a delicacy in Trinidad. Armadillo is also known as ‘Texas turkey’, and is favoured in some other southern US states, especially by Cajuns. Agouti (aka guinea pig) was a go on the menu in Guyana. Dominica has its annual rabbit festival, where you can cuddle bunnies, but you can also have them curried, fricassee, jerked, stewed and a whole variety of ways. So, why are we croaking about people thinking that eating crocodiles and mongoose may not be so bad? In a country where people hold their heads thinking of the horror of people having to buy bread by the slice, these things may indeed be nice. By the way, bread by the slice used to be the norm until people got so rich that they could buy whole loaves and waste much of it. But, let’s be grateful for bread pudding.SONY DSC

I’m not going to fall into the trap that says some things are off the menu because they look cute. Every lamb looks delightful, but once that cuddly little fur ball has been roasted and had a dollop of mint sauce touched on the side, it’s not cuddly any more. WIll we cry “Foul” over birds like quails or Cornish hens. When a Chinese banquet is festooned with roast and barbequed pigeons are we going to say to the great host with the most money “I’ll pass, thanks,”? Chow down!

I can find information that tells me that crocodile meat has major health benefits, for the heart, lungs, and other vital organs. I also know that those who like organic food would be thrilled because it can be good for some other organs 🙂 Jamaicans are keen on anything that will big them up, especially in some areas where small is not considered beautiful. So, many of us will say “Bring on the crocodile!”jamaica-croc_2258

Now, I know that some Jamaicans may not be all ready to latch onto their African heritage, but hear me out. One of the most famous eating places in the world is a restaurant in Nairobi, named ‘Carnivore’. It specialises in game meat, all-you-can-eat, grilled and roasted: giraffe, wildebeest, ostrich and crocodile, most of which is reared on a nearby reserve. Real ‘farm-to-table’ stuff. People flock there from all over the world. It’s a roaring success. It once made the world’s top 50 restaurants. Jamaican artistes, such as Shaggy and Sean Paul have performed there. Maybe, what we should focus on is exploiting the desire for the exotic and getting ourselves on the map as somewhere that can offer these delicacies with rum, jerk sauce, some skimpily-dressed damsels, and herbs 🙂 and seasoning that will make your eyes and mouth water.Meat_roasting_at_Carnivore_restaurant_in_Nairobi If you are a vegetarian, I will accept that you have issues with crocodiles and mongoose. But, then meat and fish are not on your plate, anyway. Anyone else, who’s a carnivore, should just accept that the fad, but, possibly, more than that, for things like not-before-eaten reptiles, is a matter of taste and opportunity.

I’d rather think that we have a way to harness such tastes–accepting that we may have to rear the stock rather than plundering them from the wild. I recall, from a few years ago, when Barbados was going through a plague of giant snails and locals sneered at the notion of having such things on their plates. My friends in west Africa, who already loved these gastropods, wondered how they could get to Barbados to start shipping the gastronomic delights of snails east across the Atlantic. In Florida, where the snails have also begun their invasion, eating them has also come up as an option.

Yes, there are health risks, but give me a break, there are health risks with everything: salmonella, foot and mouth disease, worms, germs, insecticides… We take care. Wash in bleach and move on! Not that simple? Then wash in tap water and all will be well.

Non-traditional exports may well be what saves Jamaica from going down the proverbial toilet and it’s too much to just huff and puff about how terrible it is to go after a different kind of food. Think carefully and look at how the options can be made to work in our favor. If we really don’t want to eat it ourselves, dress it up well and put our flag on it. It’s a dog eat dog world out there, we’re told, and Jamaicans have too often not had a dog in the right fights. Eat or be eaten!

The king is dead. Long live the king!

Jamaican law makers are piloting through Parliament legislation to limit cash transactions. Under the amended Proceeds of Crime Act, it will be illegal for a person to pay or receive cash in excess of J$1 million in a transaction for the purchase of goods or services, or for the reduction of any indebtedness, accounts payable, or other financial obligation. That’s near par for the course when it comes to measures to thwart money laundering, and many countries have similar restrictions and they revolve around the US$10,000 equivalent mark. It will also be illegal to artificially separate a single activity or course of activity into a set of transactions, so that each transaction involves a payment and receipt of cash of less than J$1 million, if the activity or course of activity involves payment and receipt of cash that exceeds J$1 million. Persons convicted of either offence face up to 10 years’ imprisonment if convicted in the circuit court, and may also be fined. If convicted in a resident magistrate’s court, the fine is up to J$3 million and/or three years’ imprisonment. Banks and other financial institutions will be allowed to collect cash above J$1 million.

I understand the logic in trying to deal with money laundering. Jamaica’s need to comply with the money laundering and combating of the financing of terrorism framework advocated by the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF), of which Jamaica is a member and which requires compliance with international standards. But in Jamaica it’s going to lead to a raft of problems, mainly for merchants (many of whom work on small margins and try to curb banking costs). Many parliamentarians were quick to point out that it will be banks who will get the biggest benefit from this measure. Banks charge fees for almost every transaction customers make, and for many it’s a real burden, and customers (once the kings) have to bow to the blows that fees impose.

In Jamaica, cash is king. I’ve learned this quickly. I used to be able to walk around with about US$100 in my wallet and it would still be there from the start of the month till the end. I was smart, I thought, in setting up most bill payments electronically, and using credit (or sometimes debit) cards for most transactions. Fast forward to Jamaica, since June. If I go to a bank ATM, I am limited to withdrawals of J$15,000 (about US$150); I can get more if I actually go to a bank branch. That can be gone in a day. Many places will allow transactions with debit cards, so if I fill my car with petrol, at J$130 a litre (about J$7800), I don’t have to dip into my cash and can pay with that card. Likewise, for supermarkets and many stores. However, many transactions are with street vendors, and there’s no way that anything but cash can be used.

However, it’s the case that some large companies do NOT take debit or credit cards and must have cash or checks. That may not seem so hard, except not all current accounts have checking facilities associated with them. I had to get some medicine for my father, recently, and was sent by the hospital to a pharmaceutical company. The bill was more than could be paid with an ATM cash withdrawal, and they would not take credit cards. So, I had to drive around to find a bank, line up, take out a bundle of cash, then head back to the company and try to complete my transactions. Now, admitted, my needs were far from J$1million, but the point is that without the facility to make large cash payments you’re often stuck in this country.

Some politicians pointed out that the system has not kept up with inflation, and that bail bonds, for instance can only be settled in cash, and could easily run above J$1million. I hope that anyone convicted under the Act will be able to pay the fine in a form other than cash.

People understand that the financial system in Jamaica is biased towards cash and that makes some business people into sitting ducks for criminals. So, while the limits may be a problem, the larger issue is that non-cash transactions are not as easy as they need to be in order to reduce the dependence on cash.