Strawberry Fields

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the seemingly seedy and decaying side of Jamaica’s tourism. This week, I found one of those places that can lift the spirit by offering nothing much to visitors other than what nature provides. I discovered Robin’s Bay, St. Mary, in particular, Strawberry Fields Together!
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On Jamaica’s north coast, and only about 50 kilometers from the outskirts of Kingston, you’re in a relatively unspoilt rural setting that does not suggest that sea and sand are nearby. Passing through lush, rolling hills from Stony Hill toward Junction Halt, you could easily meander for miles without much concern about where you’ll end up. You reach an area where banana plantations and coconut groves sprout. When you reach the bay area, you see rugged, rocky coast line and rough sea. Very little to attract in terms of amenities. Perfect!
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I took some American visitors to Strawberry Fields Together and they loved just being able to get to the sea so quickly. Ocho Rios had seemed like a reasonable option. I then brought my 10-year-old and her friend for the day, while their school was closed. As I write, the little ones are on the beach making sand castles and playing, after having a good hour and more in the sea. We’d called ahead for breakfast and were given a plate of fresh fruit to start. The kids were offered eggs, bacon and coconut pancakes. Big people got cornmeal porridge, ackee and salt fish, and fried dumplings (gourmet-style, made into bows :-)). All of that washed down with mint tea and orange juice.

The kids some went off to hunt some puppies they had seen near the eating area. Then, they went with me to explore the little vegetable gardens that were nearby, with pumpkin, sweet potato, Irish potatoes, okra, tomatoes, and aloe growing. Fifth graders are into potty activity: “Look! They have poo growing.” Their eyes fixed on the lumps of horse manure that were in the plots.

We soon ventured down to the cove and the sea. I showed the girls the hermit crabs and they tried to find some that they could keep as pets. We looked at coral on the sand. We tiptoed over the rocks and out onto some sandy, flat area.  Large waves rolled in and seemed ready to cover us, but were all breaking well before they reached us. We loved the only sound we heard–the waves crashing on the rocks. The girls played and sang and were buffeted by the sea. I bathed and thought. Jamaica has a tourism product that is very special, with its unspoiled landscape, in this case, by the coast. It would have been my preference to see the country develop along the lines of the niche of small resorts, but alas, big hotels and activities bring in many more people and much more foreign exchange.

After my bath, I walked up to the headland over the bay and looked down. I got into conversation with another family, who so happened to have children at my daughter’s school. They were about to head off and go further along the coast and into Portland. They had been loving the quiet time they spent. Their 12-year-old daughter, colored hair over one eye, munched on a sumptous-looking pizza. “I want that!” I said to myself.

Lunch was going to be lion fish, steamed with Irish potatoes and garden vegetables, with steamed balmy. The little café has a brick oven and bakes a mean pizza. The girls wanted pepperoni; I tried vegetarian–ackee, pineapple, green peppers, onions, cheese. Verdict: really very good. The pizzas were huge and each would feed easily three people.
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I was struck with the food, all prepared to order, where the cooks tried to use local ingredients, but also to use whole grains (such as whole wheat flour for dumplings, pancakes and pizza). A good move ahead would be for the café to start to source vegetables from their own land–ideal, if difficult.

A young man, tending the gardens and “making the place look pretty after the storms” saw me writing and said “You seem like a professor…” I explained that I was just enjoying the peace and quiet.

As noon approached, some other visitors arrived, looking ready to relax for the weekend. The place seemed to get ‘full’ in a short space of time, as our group of four was soon joined by about six more people. Negotiations were going on about meals, for which I was glad that we had settled all that earlier. Everyone looked set to just chill. One couple were poised comfortably on a porch just by the brick oven, and were talking to the office staff. The other group had moved from lounging on the lawn to lounging in the pounding waves. Seemed like a good routine.

The girls were ready to go after their lunch and we were happy to set off at about 2.30pm, having arrived at about 9am. It was a blessing that the trip only takes about an hour.

We left behind the almond  and Cacarina trees and began our roll back to Kingston. Tired little people were soon quiet in the back of the car.

A Black Day Descends

When did ‘Black Friday’ (BF) darken the doors of Jamaica? I demand to know. I also want to know who was careless enough to leave the door open for this very unwelcome intruder. I met BF in the USA several years ago, when my in-laws descended on our home in the guise of ‘spending Thanksgiving’ with us. I understand English well and should have focused on the ‘spend’ part. No sooner had we ended our stuffing of ourselves with jerked turkey and an array of Caribbean trimmings, than plans were being made to get to bed and rise early to be able to ‘hit the shops’. I wanted no part of it. I had seen videos of frenzied persons, clambering over each other, assaulting each other, even shooting each other to get their sweaty hands on ‘bargains’. Little men, walking out of electronic stores with huge flat screen TVs, only to find that the little Fiat in which they had driven could not hold the blessed object. “Does anyone have a number for U-Haul?” I’m not sure how much the rental truck cost, but that TV started to look a bit more expensive very soon.

Within my household, the overseas BF invasion forces were a hardy bunch. Many of them were females, hand-picked, and bred specially for the task, it seemed. They sometimes came with their trainees, some as young as three years old, learning the art from the safety of a push chair. They were muscular and had hands that could rip tags off bought items with a ferocity that made a grown man like me weep. I remember the first time I saw what they had ‘hunted and gathered’. They were strewn on the floor, all manner of garments and shoes. “Guess how much this one cost? 40 percent off the original 50 percent off. $8.99. I had to have it!” I remembered that she had to have it last year too, but in another colour. Show-and-tell time, and women cavorting around on the wooden floors with their wares. I could see them around a huge log fire in another era. Woolen pelts on their shoulders. It was never men who were the warriors, but women. I think the history books mistranslated ‘warrior’ for ‘worrier’.

That’s part of the image of Black Friday that I have. After the triptophan-induced torpor of American Thanksgiving–the cold morning 5k run or walk; some touch football; some hoops; some prep. for THE meal; the NFL game; some charitable work to serve lunches to other needy folks; eating THE meal–the thought of burning energy in the malls, going head-to-head with people and their pocket books might have some warped logic behind it. But, how does that even make its way into the Jamaican social psyche?

The simplest explanation would be that the many conversations with relatives in America, or the many visits–like my own experiences with the ‘invaders’–would have exposed right-thinking Jamaicans to this evilest of evils. Jamaican retailers are savvy at least in knowing that Jamaicans are great ‘followers of fashion’ and love ‘things American’. Voila! Put on some Black Friday sales at the end of November and, who knows, maybe snow will come for Christmas. But, I am one Jamaican who is not going to see my country swarmed and swamped by this piece of foreign nonsense. We are already in the debtors prison because we could not keep our sticky fingers out of cookie jars. Our great boogieman–the IMF–keeps waking us out of our sleeps and scaring the living bejeebers out of us. What would make us want to start spending more money on things we don’t need for a holiday we don’t celebrate? We wont have anything left to spend for Christmas. There’s sorrel to buy, Christmas cakes to buy, presents for Christmas, and more for that season–a true holiday for us. The Pilgrim Fathers did not land here. We don’t have this kind of faux shopping frenzy after holidays we really should cherish, such as Emancipation or Heroes Days. Why would we rush to do it for what Americans are celebrating. I can just about understand the frenzy that happens when Jamaicans watch English Premier League matches–as if they are born and bred fans of teams  of which many have little real knowledge. I can also get it that we have our favourite NFL or NBA teams–we at least play some basketball, although not much grid iron football. But, the post-turkey thing? No, sah!
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Jamaicans–some, at least–have readily jumped on the bandwagon of those wishing to boycott things Trinidadian. Humbly, I beseech all right-thinking Jamaicans: “Boycott this Black Friday madness!” I really wonder if some people think that the prospect of being trampled by someone wanting to get a jumbotron is a thrill. But, look, you still have time. It’s Thursday, and your soul can still be saved. Go to bed as usual, and cuddle up to your Snookums. Watch re-runs of Tessanne on The Voice. Watch Scandal. Do your normal thing. Don’t leave your house at midnight to go in search of ‘bargains’. I could be a scare monger and say, “Remember, this is Jamaica. We freyd fi duppy!” Do you want to be mistaken for a hottie who is headed out to a street party? Do you want to be thought of the Pimpster? Think of your children. Think of your church. Think of your mortgage. Think! It’s not too late.

Trinidad, the convenient scapegoat

A Trinidadian friend of mine sent me a series of messages this morning about the ongoing spat between Jamaica and Trinidad. She made a very interesting remark, when dealing with Jamaican accusations that Trinis are ‘buying up’ Jamaica. “What’s not for sale, cannot be bought.” Good point, I thought. Where were Jamaican investors when the opportunities came to buy local companies? Jamaicans sold their assets; they were not stolen!

My friend represents something very simple and real: she’s married to a Jamaican and they are a happy couple, from all I can tell. They have reached agreement on many things. Trinidad and Jamaica are not a happy couple and have been that way for decades. Resentment between the two countries has been barely hidden below the surface for decades. Each country, almost at opposite ends of the Caribbean Sea, has been trying to stand as the premier island amongst the English-speaking group. The mutual annoyance comes out easily: it could be over sport, or what we eat, how we party, anything.

That competition comes out in many ways. I was interested that the recent proximate problem between the two islands would morph. Trinidadian Immigration officers took exception to 13 Jamaicans trying to enter the twin isles, and denied them entry and later deported them. Jamaican public opinion started to get inflamed, and soon turned to talk of ‘retaliation’. However, the prime weapon chosen was what was seen as Trinidadian pocketbooks, by looking to boycott Trini goods. Jamaica has a huge trade deficit, and a large part of it is the deficit with Trinidad, of some US$1 billion. Stop them earning those dollars and they will soon start to ‘treat us right’. I don’t see it, but each man to his own choice.

The core disagreement between the two countries comes down to what the trade deficit represents: Trinidad can make and sell goods and services that people want more cheaply and sometimes with better quality than Jamaica can. It’s almost emblematic of the fortunes of the two places. Trinidad has certain benefits that are now key to economic success: it has oil and gas aplenty. It has cheap energy, which can fuel its economy. Jamaica has a painful energy bill, with oil imports making up a large part of our deficit to the rest of the world. The fact that Trinidad can offer its companies cheaper fuel is a huge boost, no doubting it. Maybe, somewhere in the Jamaican psyche, resentments is lurking and already ready to snarl when Trinidad and Tobabo step on our corns.

But, here’s the funny part. If Trinidadian goods were not desired and attractive to Jamaicans how could they come to penetrate our shores? They were not forced on the people. Jamaican companies and Jamaican consumers chose to support these goods and services. Admitted, importers could have tried to get their items from Outer Mongolia–though not known for catering to Jamaican tastes. You get my point. Trini companies meet the needs of many in the region. The same way that the US and UK do. We’ve been seduced by the taste for foreign things.

Now, try boycotting all you want, many are not ready to go ‘cold turkey’ and throw away the corn flakes from Trinidad that they already have in their larders. I suspect that any move to stay away from the Trini items, people will revert to what they did before. Where are the choices? I noted that the Facebook page that was opened by one boycotter listed items that were from Trinidad–shockingly, for some, including Jamaicans’ much-loved Excelsior water crackers. Having done that, the page did not list the alternatives that people could go for. Why? Some do not exist, because they are not produced here. Some can only come from another foreign country.

Jamaicans have put themselves into a trap and the ‘Trinidad affair’ only allows it to stand in clear light.

If we sense that Trinis are arrogant towards us, they may have good reason: they feel that they have done better than we have, and many things show that to be the case, as far as economic statistics go. Trinidad is quickly going the way of Jamaica as regards crime, but we wont hold that up as a major detraction at this stage.

If we really want to ‘hurt’ Trinidad we better move to stop playing tit-for-tat and ‘beggar my neighbour’. We need to work to overcome our own deficiencies. If we cannot do that, then as rain falls from the sky not come from the ground, we will have to accept what has been our lot: we have to take what others give us. The problem, however, is that we really cannot just do that because we do not earn enough to have real choice. That’s been the problem for decades and Trinidad is a convenient scapegoat to throw stones at, rather than be honest with ourselves as having a bit of an economic disaster.

Boycott! But, who will feel the pain? Jamaica, I fear.

Jamaicans are getting upset about their treatment by fellow CARICOM member, Trinidad and Tobago, over reports of the recent denial of entry to 13 Jamaicans. Some people have decided that the right reaction is to try to hurt T&T financially. “Boycott!” some have cried and some notable efforts have been started by consumers in this direction. But, will boycotting ‘Trinidad’ really hurt that country? It may sound easy to stop buying a particular country’s goods in the supermarkets, but do people really know or understand the impact that a true boycott of that country would mean? It has to go much wider to work and there lies the problem.

Trinidad & Tobago has had the manufacturing edge over Jamaica for many years, and, not surprisingly hold a clear edge in trade, with Jamaica importing many goods from the twin isles. Trinidad has also had the edge in many services, with its companies taking over several Jamaican providers.

Many ‘Jamaican’ goods and services are actually owned by Trinidadian entities or have Trinidad connections. For example, Air Jamaica, until recently, our national carrier, is now folded into Caribbean Airlines. Would the boycotters stop using the ‘regional’ carrier? If so, at what cost?

Jamaica Beverages Limited pushes Trinidad-made soft drinks in the local market: it distributes Chubby, Fruta, Busta and Viva beverages for its parent manufacturing company, SM Jaleel Limited, based in Trinidad. Anyone, thirsty?

In 1999, Trinidad Cement Ltd (TCL) took a majority stake in Jamaica’s Caribbean Cement Company. Anyone thinking of doing some building work?

For instance, the Trinidadian Neal & Massy conglomerate acquired Jamaican business such as H.D. Hopwood (a 70-year-old Jamaican-based manufacturer and distributor of pharmaceuticals and consumer goods), Gas Products Ltd and a 40 per cent stake in Cool Petroleum Ltd. In 1999  Trinidad’s Guardian Holdings Limited acquired the insurance trio of Dyoll Life, Crown Eagle and Jamaica Mutual who were all ‘Finsaced’ and merged them under the banner Guardian Life. Insurance, anyone?  In 2000, Trinidadian banking giant, RBTT, acquired FINSAC’s 99.9 per cent shareholding in Union Bank of Jamaica and changed its name to RBTT Bank (Jamaica). Union Bank was the result of a merger of the business of four FINSAC-controlled commercial banks and their three allied merchant banks, all seven of which sought Government intervention when faced with insolvency: Citizens Bank; Eagle Commercial Bank; Island Victoria Bank; Workers Savings & Loan Bank; Citizens Merchant Bank; Corporate Merchant Bank; and Island Life Merchant Bank. Where will people put their money or find other banking services.

Trinidad leads Jamaica in many key areas: in petroleum products, mixed juices, detergents, baby diapers, prepared foods, bread and cakes, copper wire, urea, and sweet biscuits. Consumers may well be able to source some items from in Jamaica but are still likely to need to import. We will still be paying another piper.trini-flag

But, if Jamaicans stop buying Trinidadian goods, the first pain will be felt by Jamaican retailers and importers–Trinidadian companies may well already have the money for the goods–who may well be left with stocks unsold? The negative impact will be on Jamaicans. In the short run, what will happen to them and who will be under threat? My eyes turn to Jamaican workers in those retailers and importing groups.

Alternatively, Jamaicans will be without certain goods and services, at least temporarily. The items people want to buy that are not from Trinidad cannot be provided from elsewhere in an instant. So, will shoppers decide to do without certain items? What goods will they turn to, instead? The importers may need to go to US, UK, China and other major producing countries to fill the gap, or maybe other countries in the Americas, say Brazil, or Caribbean countries, before they turn to Jamaican providers–if they exist.

The impact on Jamaican workers and their incomes may be large. I’m not sure how consumers will react when they realise that neighbours and friends are in the firing line of what may seem to be well-intended actions. It’s not necessarily the case, either, that the impacts would be reversible, if sustained and successful.

The links that bind Jamaica and Trinidad are many but often not clear, and if the boycott is to be successful it will need to be complete. Jamaica has to hurt itself in order to try to hurt Trinidad.

It’s something to think about–and might not have been considered much, if at all. For a country already in dire economic straits, and just showing the first signs of turning a stagnant economy towards growth, I wonder how ready people will be to mash down the seedlings that are starting to sprout in terms of upward moving economic activity.

The term is ‘no pain, no gain’. Are we ready to inflict wounds on ourself?

Police presence

I understand the need–the great need–for the Jamaican police force to improve its image in the eyes of the nation’s population. But, something about ‘Police Week’ is not sitting well with me. Yesterday, policemen and women were all over the place, in groups of four and five. They were not ‘at the scene of the crime’. They were doing a social promotion: about 450 student constables and instructors, in addition to the regular officers, were deployed across the Corporate Area during the day as the Force rolled out ‘Police High Visibility’ and ‘Police Interaction Day’.Screen Shot 2013-11-26 at 9.19.22 AM With all of the talk recently about the escalation of violent crime, there’s a huge tension in wanting to be seen and also needing to deal with crime. Did so many police officers need to be ‘visible’ for public relations reasons? How did the Force think they would deal with solving crimes with this display?

I know this is a little churlish, but I feel that the visibility of the police is something that needs to be a constant, not an occasional, occurrence. People have so little confidence in the police’s ability to deal with crime. The police have such a bad record of solving crimes. How, then, can the Force feel it right to detract so much from their core activities?

The Force has about 10,000 officers. They have a crime clear-up rate that is abysmal–closer to only one-quarter or one-third. Unacceptable! Perhaps, the presence will be good, but it’s also one of those things that is perhaps later than it should have been. The presence of officers, or sense that they wanted to be present to help and assist, is something that does not seem to be really there. If reports are to be believed, people have good reason to fear the police rather than respect them–beatings, abusive language, mishandling of evidence, slow response rate, more.

I’m sympathetic to organizstions like the Force, but I wonder if they have a clear vision of what they need to do to address what is the problem they are facing. Standing on corners in large groups is great for photo opportunities, but I don’t see how it helps address the basic problem.

 

Escalation clause

If you ever walk around Jamaica, you will probably have seen a scene similar to this.

“Why you don’ do your work?”

“I do my work. You can manage your own work, you fool!”

“Who’re you calling a fool? You, fool!”

“Me, fool? I’ll show you who’s a fool!”

Pushing follows and maybe some cursing, and then the next thing is that the two people are wrestling with each other, perhaps clawing to find some object with which the hit each other.

Huffing and puffing, they are separated by some onlookers.

“Mr. Rodney, you’re so old, time forgot you. Why are you fighting with Mr. Everton?” says a bystander.

Mr. Rodney, takes a breath. “Because, Everton is a fool!” A silence descends. Everton looks up and sees Rodney’s heaving chest and sweated brow. “Who’re you calling fool, you fool!” You get to watch round two.

The language is usually a lot coarser and the actions quite animated. But, it often reminds me of stags fighting, with each locking horns, literally and proverbially. Things can easily ramp up and weapons get used. Someone gets stabbed, or hit, or chopped. Another violent incident statistic.

Jamaicans sometimes find it hard to resolve differences without getting into a spat. Yelling or very loud voices are par for the course.

I’ve watched the JLP the past two weeks, since the leadership race was officially ended. Why am I not surprised that after the mud-slinging of the campaign, it would end and then there would be many more barbs traded? Some groups just need a pretext to be cantankerous. When the word ‘unity’ was uttered after the results were declared, we should have focused immediately on the possible negative part of the word–un…–rather than the seeming bind that was implied by ‘unit’.

At each stage, the growling and snarling looks like it will subside, only for more head butting to begin. Maybe, it the Jamaican in Labour Party that makes them be that way. It started with a diss. The latest episode has the Supreme Court dismissing call to impose an injuction on Mr. Holness filling now vacant Senate positions, after he used resignation letters, allegedly signed and undated, and allegedly for another purpose. What other result could there be? Who would sign an undated resignation letter and think that it was not a smoking ember waiting to erupt into an uncontrolled fire? Surely, not intelligent politicians.

The good, the bad, and the ugly (November 24)

Good

Resignation of the Board of JADCO. They’ve shown many ways to present themselves and Jamaican athletes in a bad light.

The Planning Institute of Jamaica reported that, after six consecutive quarterly declines, the economy rebounded showing a marginal increase in real GDP of 0.6 per cent; “primarily due to improved weather conditions and the strengthening of productive activities within most industries”. The rebound has to start somewhere.

Bad

The Statistical Institute of Jamaica repoted that the rate of inflation (Consumer Price Index, All Jamaica) was 0.8 per cent for the month of October 2013.This gives an annual point-to-point rate of 10.3 per cent. This increase was mainly due to 20 percent upward movement in the cost of water and sewerage. Electricity, gas and other fuels also rose by 2.9 per cent.

Ugly

Pride of place goes to the little tempest that brewed when an RJR reporter and the PM’s security detail could not see eye to eye about questions to the PM, after a project dedication ceremony. The problem between the two sides are not hard to fix. If the PM and her Office want to engage the media, then it would be easy to set up some general rules that both find acceptable. After all, politics is the art of the possible.

A piece of the action

You never know what life will throw your way. Yesterday, I took my car to be serviced–a new expierience in Jamaica. I arrived an hour early for my appointment (8.30am), and was glad that I did: it meant my car was early in line. “Half a day,” I was told was the amount of time that would be needed. Would that be half a work day or twelve hours? Either way, I had plans.

I’d arranged with a friend to meet her at a little ‘breakfast club’. The car dealer took me to another part of New Kingston and I settled into my healthy breakfast (herb and fruit tea, aloe drink and shake). It was hard to feel anything but virtuous. I decided to settle into the lounge room and do my daily writing. It was going to be a challenge. The conversation going on around me seemed innocent enough, at first. Then I detected a little touch of innuendo creeping in. People were talking about sex and sexual relations and sexual needs. I tried to focus on the intriguing topic of the PM and the media. Like a child caught between tidying its room or going to play with friends, my mind wandered.

I wont betray anyone by going into too much detail, but the conversations that were going on were really amusing. The double-entendres started to flow–aided and abetted by a writer not directly involved in the chatter 🙂 One of the ladies mentioned that this was supposed to be ‘no panties day’ and wondered who else had remembered. “I didn’t get that memo!” another lady said, with a clear tone of disappointment. “Is it every Friday?” I held back a snigger. In a room of six women and three men, I wondered if this was being too risqué. The other men didn’t seem to be bothered. The ladies joked about how young men needed to “do their thing”, and how it was better to send them out well-protected, so that they didn’t get themselves into too much trouble. “Send him off with a three months supply, sister!” I held my head and tried to focus on the image of security men pushing young reporters.

One of the women noted that I was dangerous and how I was “looking with his ears”. One, younger man, became the focus of the ladies, as they teased him about how he was being so quiet. The ladies started to joke about who was really his favourite. I wondered what this place was going to turn into. Suddenly, one of the women jumped up and plonked herself onto the young man’s lap. “You think he like you better now?” The man smiled. The other women laughed. “Cedric, can I have lunch on you today?” another asked. I suggested that she think again about the preposition she used, or whether she meant it to have the proposition implied. She smiled back knowingly. “‘On him’ is fine!” We all understood that all was understood. By, with, or alongside, were not going to replace ‘on’.

I let the rest of the group get on with their tales of relationships and who needed to be less insecure about their men. I should have had a tape recorder running. I tried to keep writing.

A Jamaican friend of mine had shared with me once his theory about the problem of the Jamaican economy and its low productivity: it’s all because people were too busy having sexual encounters or arranging them.

Fast forward…

I eventually got my car at about 2pm and was due to head home. I decided to try to find an organization, with whom I’d been trying to register for weeks but had been stymied because I could not complete a form online and I did not have opportunity to print it and send it in. Their office was now on my route. I turned into the street and looked for a sign. I forgot. In Jamaica, many businesses don’t have signs. You know the street number or location and then have to look. I got to the gate of a commercial compound, that looked like it housed a restaurant, too. The guard told me to “go round the back”. I drove on slowly and saw men rebuilding the compound and relaying tarmac. I was uneasy and backed out. A man told me that I was in the right place, though. “Just go to the back and up the stairs.” I looked through some small trees and saw another building ahead. I strolled on warily and up the stairs. No sign on the building. I saw four doors in front of me, when I got inside the building. No signs on any of them. I peered through a glass door, behind which I saw a lady working. “Is this the JGA?” I asked. “Next door,” she told me. I went through the adjacent wooden door and found the ‘staff’ hard at work–two ladies, surrounded by paper and cards, and a computer on each desk. They were the JGA. I asked them about a sign. I got a look. I dropped the topic. In no time, I had completed my form and was ready to head out.

I dallied a little in the courtyard, where a picturesque array of buildings made up a little ‘village’ of bars and eating places. I asked whether the place was open and was told that it had been refurbished and reopened a few nights ago. “It’s an adult night spot. We open at 4pm.” I thought back to my friend’s hypothesis. Partying from 4? Well, not everyone works 9-to-5, I thought. I logged the place in my mind to think about exploring sometime. I then headed back to the car and drove out of the compound. My eyes stopped on something I’d noticed before but not really registered.

I’d noticed a few women standing on the street. Not really that odd, except that the area was semi-industrial looking and they were dressed as if they were headed to a night club. The light bulb came on in my head. A few weeks ago, I’d gone to the theatre to see a play–Patrick Brown’s Ladies of the night.

I was now seeing ‘ladies of the day’. One lady, dressed is a very short skirt, then stepped to the kerbside as a car pulled up. I really should have had my video recorder on. I could see her lean down toward the passenger side window and start to talk. She nodded, then shook her head. She then stepped back on the kerb, like a sentry back to position. The car pulled off. No panky for Hanky, today, I thought. My eyes then took in a couple of other ladies, each dressed in neon colours–one wearing several shades of pink, even her hair. The heels were very high; the skirts very tight.  Shades of grey would need to be Shades of pink, if a Jamaican adaptation were written.

Sexual activity is also affected by economic conditions. The Economist produced a piece some months ago, on how sex doesn’t sell in recessionary times. Was Jamaica any different, given that it has been in near permanent recession for decades? A comical article about ‘the trade’ appeared in one of the local papers a few weeks ago, which had me laughing. But, I couldn’t help but wonder if people were really ‘transacting’ for as little as J$50 (that 50 US cents!). Supply and demand working in unison.t-rob-sun-20-oct Some local businessmen in the western part of Jamaica recently proposed that prostitution be legalised and regulated. Was that going to help reduce the government’s financial deficit? Did I want to do a scholarly study on how this particular economic activity had survived in a stagnant economy? People talk about economic conditions remaining soft. Were the ‘value’ shoppers finding things harder to come by? Were the sellers having to come up with bargain offers–buy one, get one free? Some big issues to ponder.

My mind went back a few hours. Those who wanted or needed to ‘pay to play’ are often intriguing when you think that there is plenty of action available for free.

Press into submission

Relations between politicians and the media are often stormy. In so-called democratic countries, the public have an expectation that elected officials will be willing and available to provide information on a regular basis, and even frequently. The media are often the vehicle through which that information flows. Most people do not want to hear about and see what politicians are doing based on government information services. Justified or not, the feeling is that such presentations tend to be sanitized or simply favourable to the politician. The public know that part of the task of the media should be to probe and assess what politicians are doing, and even ask very awkward questions and press for good answers. We may not agree with the tone of questioning or we may not like the slant of particular reporters or interviewers, but we generally see that the questioning is part of what we would like to call good governance.

Yesterday, Jamaica’s prime minister, Mrs. Portia Simpson Miller, became part of a little fire storm with a member of the media. Screen Shot 2013-11-22 at 10.55.34 AMA young reporter from RJR was present at the the PM’s dedication of a water and sewer project in Rose Town, St. Andrew. He posed questions to her about the project, then moved on to pose questions about what is accepted as a sensitive issue–the reinstatement of a minister of state, Richard Azan, following his resignation over involvement in the so-called “Spalding market affair”. The Contractor General’s report claimed that Mr. Azan played a key role in the decision to construct the shops and that he also helped to facilitate the collection of rental fees for the shops by his constituency secretary at his constituency office. The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) subsequently ruled that no criminal charges be laid against him. The PM’s initial reaction was to resist answering questions on Mr. Azan, because she felt that that would be what the media would focus on rather than the project. However, she answered a question on Mr. Azan simply by citing the DPP ruling. The journalist persisted with his line of questioning, and it was clear that the PM did not want to go further on the matter, and was getting angry. One of her security detail stepped in to bar the journalist, and things got messy. It looks like the guard pushed the reporter and the reporter tried to continue posing his questions, putting his microphone toward the PM. That action can be interpreted many ways. Simply, the sound recording needs the microphone to go close to the speaker. Given that the PM indicated she did not want to answer any more questions, the reporter’s continued pressing could be seen as provocative. The PM called him “rude”. He could claim he was just trying to do his job. The guard could claim the same. No doubt, a confrontation took place. Why? That’s not clear.

Several issues arise from this incident. The PM has long been criticized by the media for her unwillingness to engage them formally on any regular basis. Many in the media see this latest fracas as an aspect of that unwillingness. With journalists starved of opportunities to get the PM’s views, are they over-eager to press her on any occasion where she presents herself? From what I have observed, she has not been willing to hold press conferences or briefings with local media for a very long time. She famously stated that she does not listen to radio or watch television, suggesting that she has no time for what the media are doing.

Is that a reasonable position for the nation’s political leader? She also indicated that when she’s not talking, talking, she’s working, working. Again, suggesting that communicating with the public is not what she sees as necessary. That’s my interpretation.

So, the nation is starved of her voice on many issues that the population find important. She is known to be an eloquent speaker, so her reticence does not seem in-character. She’s indicated that her preference is for her ministers to do their jobs and for her to ‘not interfere’ by commenting on their areas. That sounds good, but generally, people like their leaders to lead by more than just their title, showing clearly by public statements that the person is in charge and on top of issues. People like their leaders to give clear direction. Can such direction be clear without public expression?

What does she feel she needs to do to keep the nation abreast of how she sees things? Is Jamaica Information Service the only public presence that the PM and her office want to offer the people? An intelligent nation can handle much more than that. Jamaica has a good press and limiting its diet of news by not communicating is likely to lead to friction and unavoidable misunderstanding.

Many media practioners see her attitude as disrespectful to them and to the nation. Reports indicate that the PM has generally refused requests from the media for interviews. That’s a recipe for a bad relationship.

Politicians are somewhat schizophrenic. They usually like to get good press. They like to control messages. If the media are not present, we are back to the politicians and their handlers deciding what is issued.

The PM has put herself into a difficult position. After returning from her many visits abroad, her office does not routinely issue statements about what happened during the visit. That, naturally, leads to speculation about what happened. Media will try to find out somehow so that they can run a story.

Her office now demands that questions be submitted to her beforehand for “on-location” interviews; however, the Press Association of Jamaica never accepted that position. That seems like the PM and her office wanting a lot of control over the process. Maybe, that is the problem. But, if you want to control the media, that runs counter to what many people in a democracy want to see. Speak your mind. Hear other views. Is there a problem with dealing with divergent views?

A bad relationship is now in the process of turning very sour. It need not be that way.

Jamaica: Kings of Procrastination?

I have an impression about Jamaica, partly based on what I have been reading, hearing, and seeing on news programmes, partly based on what I have seen myself, and partly based on what I have heard others say. Jamaica is a procrastinator. Webster’s defines that as ‘to be slow or late about doing something that should be done : to delay doing something until a later time because you do not want to do it, because you are lazy, etc.’ Does that seem to fit the bill? I will try to be fair. Perhaps, good reasons exist that can explain, even justify why that is.

A social commentator gave his views about the troubling and persistent violent crime problem in Jamaica and wondered when the government would ‘do something’ about it. I asked why a government, that has a history of failing to do things, would be expected to do something now? It’s not the way that things happen in Jamaica.

I am trying to prepare myself to coach in a sports event this coming weekend. Up to the middle of this week, I had not heard details of the competition in which the children I coach will participate. This is typical. The venue has been chosen, but those who own the venue have only just been informed. Other logistical things that need to happen, if the venue is to be used, have not yet been put in train.

Things are often not done when they should be. Things are often rushed because people did not act when there was time to prepare. The results are often bad. It does not seem to matter if what is involved in major or minor, the country tends to look like the proverbial locker of stable doors after the horse has bolted. Perhaps, more than for his speed, that’s why Jamaica’s premier athlete is named “Bolt”.

This problem shows itself up in big and small issues. I’m just going to touch a few that came to mind randomly. They are systematic of a bigger problem and you can look and think of any issue that needs to be addressed in this country and the pattern will be largely the same.

I glanced quickly at the papers this morning and saw evidence of the door lockers gladly putting on the padlocks when the stallion is cavorting in the field. The public bus company is perhaps embarrassed by the media reporting of school children’s shenanigans in the Half Way Tree Transportation Centre. The Managing Director of the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC), Colin Campbell, announced that the bus company ‘has joined with the police, student organisations, principals, and other stakeholders in an attempt to curtail the unruly behaviour of students at the Half-Way-Tree Transportation Centre’. According to Mr. Campbell, marshals comprising former and current teachers have already been posted at the Centre to control students. He now starts to talk about how things are a ‘success’. 
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I have to ask whether JUTC had not seen the problems themselves and felt the need to act earlier. It would be hard to imagine that the hordes of children in that bus terminus had not been keenly observed, and their misdeeds noted. Many adult passengers had been complaining about the bad behaviour. Doing something was clearly not a part of the solution. Why act now? Let’s not be too churlish, though, and run JUTC down for being a bit late to the party. Let’s see how successful they will be.

Although Jamaica is not a rich country, its people have certain values. Many would be shocked to read that ‘The Government is to inject J$1.2 billion in its programme to eliminate pit latrines from 158 Jamaican schools…those schools are to have flush systems by the 2015/2016 school year’. stmarys2Why be shocked? Last year, the number of schools with such facilities was 200, so we are seeing progress. Let’s not poo-poo what the government is doing. But, note that this progress is two years away. So, children, be ready for more of the same for a while yet. Economic times are hard and fiscal resources are short. It would be too easy to point to money spent on seemingly less important things as being a waste compared to what could have been done. But, let’s point.

Last week, the national men’s football team played a match against regional rivals, Trinidad. Jamaica lost. I went to the match. I noticed that ‘the team’ did not look very cohesive. I wondered how much time they had had preparing together. reggae_boyz_trainingSurprise! Not much. Let’s not get fixated on every minute and hour and say that they had about two days working together. That’s not a lot. The coach (relatively new, I admit) and administrators (long in the tooth) clearly had no idea that they were due to play this match and had to bus in the players at short notice so couldn’t do anything else but try to get a few hours of practice in? The team played the away leg of the match two evenings ago, and lost again. No real surprise. The coach talks about “team building” and that it’s not easy. May I suggest that he get a calendar and start planning better to get his team at least in the frame of mind that suggests things could be improved, if a little more time and attention are given to getting the players together earlier. I can’t see that situation of ill-preparedness lasting while Jamaica has a German coach. I have a feeling that the legendary love of orderliness that is Germanic will shine through soon, or he will be on a jet plane out. He’s indicated that he’s not happy with what he’s seen from some of his players, e.g. on their fitness and willingness to be ‘team players’. But, then again, maybe not. His temporary contract ended yesterday and its renewal, though talked about, has not yet happened. More of the same…

Look around and see the grass growing in the gutters, both literally and figuratively. Ask yourself if anyone else might have seen it. Ask yourself if anyone who may be responsible for dealing with it might have seen it. Then ask yourself why there is still grass growing in the gutters. Look up and see the rain clouds forming. Listen to the thunder and watch the lightning. Feel the first drops of rain, then listen to the pounding as larger drops hit some zinc nearby. Look at the rain gushing over the gutters. Watch as the rain starts to not run away from the house and pool up near its walls. The house owner looks puzzled and scratches his head. “What’s going on?” he cries. “My house is getting flooded! What should I do? Honey, go get me a bucket…” Remember the song “There’s a hole in the bucket”?

Jamaica’s fire service recently advertised for new recruits. They were inundated with applicants. Why am I not surprised that many would want to become putter outers of fires? We let these situations develop because we feel we can get away with that. It’s mutual: we expect little and demand too little.

We have to get away from the mentality that says it’s alright to leave things to be done until tomorrow. “Soon come!” does not work with most things. Putting off gets to be very expensive in terms of people’s lives. As much as we love proverbs you’d think that we’d understand “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.