Feeling listless

Santa-listSomething about the human condition is improved by listing things. Lists help us organize, and humans like to do that–even if they are not very good at it. As the year-end approaches, the lists appear with greater speed. “The best…”, “The worst…”, “The most…”, “The least…”. If you want to annoy someone, put out a list with a superlative: each us will have our preferences and they become more important when someone thinks they can trump your choices. I think they also tell me about a certain desire to be superior, on the part of the lister–sort of, “I know better than you…”, which really can wrankle. So, what, if you’ve been to some places that you think are the best? If it doesn’t include my favourites, then I’m not going to be impressed. I had such a feeling yesterday, when I read a list of ‘best food found abroad’: it included nothing Jamaican or Caribbean. “Blasted American parochialism” was the expression that went through my head as I took out my hatchet hand. What about jerk food, or escoveitch? What about guava duff? Enough of them. I moved on. I yanked the Yankee.

So, can we resist that listing feeling? I think so. If I didn’t object to lists, I’d suggest making a resolution.

Listing, like forecasting, runs the big risk of being wrong very soon. I’ve done away with forecasting as a serious exercise, and I am doing all I can to avoid that listing feeling.

I don’t need post-it notes reminding me of things ‘to do’. If they are important enough, they will be done. If they’re not done, I don’t want to feel angst about things on the list that were not done. Listing them wont raise their priority in my mind. I don’t need to craft out my day in lines to tell me what the hours mean in terms of actions: that would ruin the fun of just drifting off and doing something different. That feeling may be stronger now that I live somewhere that nature has blessed with great weather most days. I don’t need to tie a knot in my hankie to remember to pick up my daughter from school–she’s so precious, that I can’t imagine forgetting her 🙂 If I were prone to hanging around coffee shops and yacking endlessly on my phone, I might need a reminder to get off the blower and attend to something important. But, I’ve not fallen into that way of life yet.

Lists are the front end of anal-retention. I can visualise that rear-end tightening and loosening as the items are piled onto the paper. Everything all neat and proper. I think of The twelve days of Christmas12days differently when I see it as a list. Similarly, the story of Noah: two turtle doves, check; two hairy elephants, check…

I understand that lists can be comforting, and the anal aspect of that may be less. But, what is comforting for some can also be enraging for others. When someone publishes a list of people murdered in Jamaica, it evokes both sympathy and rage. The same feeling comes when I read a list of casualties from another road accident on Jamaica’s roads. But, the big “Why?” has not been removed by the list; it’s become bigger.

I wonder if my feeling about lists would change if I knew or suspected that they were active. Imagine, seeing a list of corrupt public officials, and somehow having the list constantly updated, like the NASDAQ board in Times Square, New York. I think I would feel different if I could see names rolling in front of me as another bribe was handed over. 0421-nasdaq_full_600

But, if that were possible, then the problem is hardly likely to persist. Or, am I being naive? Think about it (names are random and imaginary):

  1. Cedric Palmer, J$5000; road project, May Pen.
  2. Hyacinth McPherson, J$18,000; school supplies, Yallahs.
  3. Walter Perkins, J$90,000; Customs, Port of Kingston.

You could only wonder what reception they would get when they got home or back to their offices, and the phone was ringing like it wanted to jump off the hook. Walking into the house for dinner would be a very interesting experience: “Why no kiss, honey?” would be met with “Honey? You mean money!”

I remember working on tax evasion problems in a Baltic country, while at the IMF. The head of tax administration in the country had the idea of publishing the names and amounts of those who were guilty of the offense. Well, whereas he used to be greeted at some premises with treats and actual phyical violence when trying to serve notices about delinquent payments, he now found his office awash with people who couldn’t pay fast enough. I know that publishing lists of delinquent tax payers has been tried in Jamaica, and wonder what effect it is having. It’s one thing to have a list of ‘good and great’, and something else to have lists of reprobates: most wanted for scofflaw.

Lists can be self-serving, feel goodie things, even though this can simply be implicit. Jamaica’s prime minister has been feeling the wrath of lists–though, she says that she does not follow news media (”I listen to positive criticism and I don’t listen to the negative ones , I don’t even watch the television, I let my husband watch and he tells me what is going on.”…”I have a minister in charge, he will respond to your query.”) Her listing of her style opened her up to a wave of understandable criticism. Since, a good number of people have made it known that they feel that she travels too much–they’ve listed her foreign trips and found them excessive in some sense–their frequency, the size of the entourage, etc. (lists within lists). Some have no real issue with the number of trips but want an accounting of what was achieved–a list, if ever there was one. Why would such a thing be difficult? Well, it isn’t, so when it’s not done, people start to list reasons why the information is not shared–and the reasons don’t come out looking good. What is wrong with transparency? Write your list of reasons and send them to the prime minister’s office.

Humans feel that lists somehow lessen problems. I’ve never seen an animal make a list, though, having said that I will now look more carefully at the antics of my wife’s and daughter’s Shitzu. Is he really making lists while he’s asleep at my feet? That might explain the constant grunting and whimpering that I hear. “How many times can I chase that golf ball? How many socks can I take from the laundry room?” Clearly, he’s troubled that he has so much to do and so little time on his paws. I don’t mind being different, so hear me when I say “The lists make me more worried, if they suggest that they somehow represent an end in themselves.” I think I will assume the sleeping dog lies contentedly because he’s not got a single list in his mind.

On that note, I’m going to head off to the gym and do some exercise. That’s one thing to check off a list that I’ve not made today.

Have a blessed New Year.

Family valued

My wife’s family pride themselves on having something they think many of their compatriots have lost–close family ties. When Christmas rolls around each year, they get the chance to show well that they are closely knit. They try to organize several events for all the family who are around at this time of year. Many of the younger members are away studying, but come back to The Bahamas for Christmas. Those who live and work abroad, like my wife, ‘come home’ for Christmas–she has never spent Christmas any where besides Nassau. Those who live on New Providence are happy to have their usual numbers raised by the returning flock. Marriages have drawn in some extras. Children come onto the scene through marriages, and swell the numbers a little more each year; deaths in recent years have been few. Girlfriends, boyfriends–if they are serious contenders–get introduced, and there is a ‘vetting process’ that may ensure that they stay or never return. Fiancés and fiancées–those who have passed ‘the test’–come along too.

The Christmas season is a religious festival and church-going is an important part of that. The family want to go and be seen to have gone to church for all the major services during the season. You have to get used to be quizzed if you’ve not been to church for one of those services. The services are long, but the bonding is important. These islands are small and many people really do know each other and are proud of who they can call friends or family.

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No snow to dash through, walking to the start of ‘dine and dash’

Meals together play a very important part in making the family glue. Dinner on Christmas Day is the main event. I did not do a head count, but I think about 100 people were at dinner this past Wednesday. The location is not that important–though the family has had a special venue for the past few years. It is held usually at the home of one of the family members. It’s not a pot luck, but all of the food is homemade. Over the years, various parts of the family have been assigned dishes to prepare–they become the keepers of certain secrets–and dinner brings all of those dishes together. All the traditional favourites are there–roast turkey, stuffing, baked ham, baked sweet potatoes, baked beans (made from an old family recipe), cole slaw (Bahamians love their slaw); desserts–rum cake, fruit cake, other baked goods. Wines and soft drinks add to the festivities, but it’s not a carousing time. The family eats heartily, but commune well at the same time. Children are not served first; that privilege is for the seniors, who also have a special table set up for them.

That dinner is when many people can catch up on stories from the past year, but it’s also time just to mingle. Outsiders are not usually invited, but a few do get through the door, and are welcomed generously–their contribution, if any, will often be drinks. They are often amazed that so many people gather together for a meal. I’ve never seen the meal dissolve into a squabble, and that is not always the case with large family gatherings. The dinner can be the time for some ‘serious talking’: where I sat, all we discussed was the looming imposition of VAT, and my wife was getting it in the neck 🙂 I tucked into my meal and offered my words, but we never reached any resolution.

Other events that help reinforce the family are meant to draw together as many as possible. A ‘dine and dash’–progressive meal–is now a must: it nearly got cancelled this year, and that would have been a tragedy. We had it yesterday, and as usual, headed to five different homes, most of us in a bus and others coming in cars–just over 40 people came. Each of the designated ‘stops’ offers a course: drinks, soup, salad, main course, desserts. We arranged to start at 3pm, and in un-Caribbean fashion most people were ready to go then. A few had other ‘commitments’–Miami Dolphins were playing for their playoff spot and some of their diehard fans would have to miss a few courses and get picked up en route.

The ‘dash’ is often loads of fun. Those on the bus tell jokes and sing carols; children sit at the back and learn ‘from their grandma’s knees’, as she’s a good story-teller and knows all the Christmas carols. Her joke about ‘selling Bibles’ is an oldie but goodie and cracks us up every time, even though most of us know it. We should have made a video of one of the bus rides. I don’t know what the car riders do–solve the political problems, I’ve heard. We are not bad singers and like to ‘raise a tune’. A few of the carols end up as “la-la-la-la-la” but most of them we know well. The bus driver joins in if he can without turning us over. We pile into the bus as if we are headed off to the seaside, and trail off as if we are visiting a museum.

We enjoy our hosts’ offerings and find somewhere to sit or stand and are not fussed about that, except for the soup, which is a bit hot. At the end of each course, we launch ourselves into a couple of verses of The twelve days of Christmas–holding onto the “FIve golden rings” as well as any choir. We then pile back in and get on with more caroling. New Providence is small, but it’s still a journey to go from end to end. We start in the east, head west, then come back east. We end with dessert at the home of the cake-making family. Where else? We fill ourselves with trifle, coconut tarts and more cake, washing it down with tea and coffee, and our voices are raised for the final verses of The twelve days.

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Natter, natter, yackety yacking. “All aboard!”

After giving thanks to the driver and the hosts, we’re free to go. This year, the dash seemed slower–“We’re not in any hurry” the main organizer said at one stage–and with a general designated driver, it’s the right approach. We finished at about 9pm this year, totally sung out.

During the family dinner, one of the husbands of a family ‘sister’ thanked the family for keeping together. No one cheered his words, not out of disrespect, but more because it was a thank you well understood and a sentiment deeply understood. No one said “the country has gone to the dogs and it’s all because they don’t have family like this”, but I know many believe that to be true.

Everyone touched by the family feels blessed to have had the experience and tries to hold onto it. We know that families are not all love and kisses. We should know that Christmastime can be when strains and stresses raise their heads and bit many. They don’t get much showing at the group events, though, and I’ll live with the illusion that they are also on vacation.

Economic hardships and health problems have meant that a few family events were dropped this year; I hope that they will resume next year. It’s costly to feed and water the hordes and the family has to address how to share costs. People also need to step up with their time and commitment to prepare things if others cannot this time or any other.

Tonight, the family will go bowling. It’s the only time most of us will set foot in a bowling alley all year. We are not a group of great bowlers–unless soup is in a bowl–but this is fun. Older folks don’t usually play, but love to watch the ‘younger ones’ having fun; occasionally, one of them may swing a ball and not end up being dragged along or slip on the floor. It’s not really about the score or bragging rights, though they may loom large for a few. The time and spirit together are what’s important.

All the best (December 29)

I’m not going to slice and dice about how to grade the things I liked this week. I wish I had more things like this bombarding my emotions all the time.

A cab driver in Las Vegas, Gerardo Gamboa, was named Yellow Checker Star’s Driver of the Year for his honesty. Why? Mr. Gamboa found US$300,000 in his cab after a gambler left the dosh in a paper bag (in stacks of ‘Benjamins’) in the cab. For his honesty, Mr. G. got some Gs of his own–$10,000, to be precise.

Pope Francis reached out to atheists and people of other religions in his first Christmas message.Vatican Pope Christmas That’s a marked contrast to his predecessor. He also preached important concilatory messages to the world, stressing that “Peace is a daily commitment…Wars shatter and hurt so many lives!” Hear, hear!

Russian President, Vladimir Putin, showed that Christmas is indeed the season of goodwill, with more pardons for political opponents. This week, he pardoned two members of the all-girl punk band, Pussy Riot, who were imprisoned after publicly protesting against Putin with a performance. What a riot! He also pardoned a group of 30 Greenpeace activists who had been arrested for protesting Russian drilling activities in the Arctic. Kermit, it just easier to be green. Reason? Russia’s image ahead of next year’s winter Olympics in Sochi is really a bit shredded, and this may help mend a bit of the fraying. Other reasonsScreen Shot 2013-12-28 at 6.32.25 PM? Who knows, with politicians?

So this is Christmas, and what have you done? Flooding in Eastern Caribbean

If the Christmas season does little else, it tends to get people to focus on the needs of others. Often, that focus is nothing more than a fleeting reference, but many also stretch out their hands or open their doors or put out a plate for those seen to be less fortunate. But, over the past few days, I’m not sure if we’ve really seen the need right on our doorsteps.

The latest reports I’ve seen state that 18 people have been confirmed dead in floods that have hit the Eastern Caribbean a few days ago. Several people are also missing in the three islands, St Vincent & the Grenadines, St Lucia and Dominica. It’s early days yet, and the needs for assistance are not clear, according to political leaders in those countries. However, keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities to help.st_lucia_floods_366989872

I’m not going to say much that is shocking to pose the question about what climate change may be doing. But, the seemingly bizarre extreme weather conditions that have hit much of Europe, especially the UK, should make us all think a little more.

The Caribbean is especially vulnerable to climate change in many forms, e.g., rising sea levels and impact on fresh water. The region’s livelihood is under threat. We’ve been blessed with so many natural things that it’s quite normal for many in the region and outside to equate the conditions in ‘Paradise’ to last forever. That’s naive. But, acting in ways that can deal effectively to the climate threats is as big a problem as dealing with pressing economic and social issues.

The region does not have a history of acting quickly to address issues, so I’m less than optimistic about what will happen in this area. We’re also good at wailing and putting up our hands and crying “Lord, what happened?” So, maybe, the flooding will make that attitude change. Maybe…

Hand me that ball! Caribbean sport myopia

When I started work as a central banker, my first boss said “We didn’t hire you because you have the answers; we expect you to ask the right questions.” I was watching an NBA game on Christmas Day with a group of young men. The ball flew around the court. The men soared and dunked. They dribbled the ball and passed. Most of the players were black. Nothing really special about that. I thought about young people I knew and sports they play. Why don’t they play handball? I asked myself.Olympics Day 15 - Handball

Tradition is at the root of many things that help and hinder. Here is a game that is all about athleticism. It’s fast, furious, full of aggression: I think of it as being like rugby in a hall. It’s not a game for those who cannot take knocks: handball players are allowed an unlimited number of ‘fouls’ (faults). Good to watch. Fun to play. Sure, the sport is very popular in Europe, where it’s played usually in indoor halls.That poses a few problems for Caribbean countries because we do not have many such facilities. But, guess what? It doesn’t have to be a real constraint. The sport can be played outdoors, in grass fields or on beaches. Hello! We have some outdoor spaces that could work? I think so. What holds us back from getting involved with sports that are not part of our tradition, other than ignorance? We let our ‘love’ of our traditional sports to just trundle along.

Cricket? Goodness, am I tired of the backward-looking of that sport! ‘The good old days’ are gone. Want them back? If we really admire the heroes who made the region feared and respected, then DO SOMETHING ABOUT MAKING THE PLAYERS BETTER. Make some genuine changes in how the sport is played and administered or get it off my newspapers and my television. Cheesh!

Netball? I love it that Jamaica has some great players, but I would love to see some of those athletic women try their hands at basketball or something like handball. Oh, yes. It fits a social ‘stay in your place’ to have women and girls going daintily around in skirts and not having too much contact. But, we have lots of strong and aggressive women, and while soccer has been an outlet for some, they have few real alternatives that defy the standard images of ‘girls’ sports’. Whenever I’ve coached girls, they have never been short of aggressiveness and desire to get down and dirty, even downright scary once they realised that hitting people is part of the normal activity.

We have young people who need and want activities, who are not interested in these sports, or don’t want to be another sprinter. Maybe, they have some of the skills that are easy to translate to a sport like handball.

I can understand why we don’t produce great swimmers, even though I think that is a generational problem that is in the process of changing. But, I don’t understand why we do not produce great handball players, or volleyball players, either. We have a regional mind shift to deal with, but that shouldn’t be a real constraint.

Why can’t we get some coaches to come and start to sow the seeds? I’d love it if the smaller Caribbean islands were like Cuba and putting athletes in almost any and all international sports.

We talk a lot about what we want, but don’t back it up with actions that suggest that we want to do something about it.

Junkanoo rushing from itself?

I am not going to venture deep into the waters of Bahamian Junkanoo. JunkanooThat is a minefield best entered with enough protection to thwart all forms of attack.

It’s just about noon on Boxing Day (December 26). The first parade of the Christmas season has just come towards its end as far as a public spectacle is concerned. The last ‘A group’ has left the main show area, Bay Street and Rawson Square. The crowd has left the temporary bleacher stands faster than hot bread leaves shelves. The tired fans are rushing towards their beds. Many have been out watching this annual spectacle for the better part of 10 or more hours. That’s a long time for any event, let alone one that is put on hours after the main dinner of the year for most people, on Christmas Day, and after a night when many were in church way past midnight. My young daughter and her mother went gleefully from our lodgings at about 1.30am. They returned home at about 8am. My wife did not make it past the sofa and hit it with a thud. She’s still pole-axed. My daughter told me she slept during the parade. She’s hanging in there. I’d decided to give the live parade a pass this year.

In the recent past, I’ve not felt the same fun as in earlier years. The groups came out late. Gaps between groups were long. The performances did not compensate for the sense of frustration that I felt. Instead, I decided to try watching it on local TV. It was not bad. It started on time–3am, later than usual because of a risk of rain earlier and to give the groups a better chance to get their pieces in position. The first group always suffer, and Saxons did. But, I was impressed by the promptness and settled in for a good show. Then,  problems with the next major group emerged soon. Two hours after the parade had begun that second group was still not on the road. The ‘reasons’ started to trickle in. Maybe, BEC, the national electricity company had an outage, so the groups were having to work in the dark. Anyway, we were backing up. I forwarded myself to my bed at 5.30am.

Two hours later, I awoke and found that I’d missed only two of the remaining five major groups. The delays have become perennial.

For a change, as I was watching from home, I went online and sent out a stream of commentary about the events. I encouraged people to watch the broadcast online–it was good.

I found myself getting into the commentary, as the groups’ performances hit my ears and eyes. Most left me flat. Thankfully, the best was saved for last. The Valley Boys, often called ‘the premier group’ of Nassau’s Junkanoo, came out with a spectacular show, under the theme of ‘From China to The Bahamas’. It was a simple theme, that lent itself to a consistent approach: everything Chinese. Fabulous costumes, flouting reds and yellows. Black faces whitened to look Asiatic. Lanterns. Buddha. Chinese national flag. Ladies with fans. Wide-brimmed hats. Images of Bruce Lee and Enter the Dragon. A bonus was the Prime Minister, Perry Christie, a well-known avid Valley fan, out of the streets in FULL REGALIA, rushing, dressed as a Chinese Emperor. He even immortalized his dance, the ‘Perry Shuffle’. All in good fun.

Junkanoo is a national treasure or artistic and musical inventiveness and Bahamians are fiercely proud of it. But, it looks like it’s about to outlive its current form.

The major groups are now very large (around 1,000) persons. Many costumes are very large and heavy: that’s one reason why the prospect of rain and strong winds sent ripples of fear through the organizers. The delays seem to be a constant. What to do about the parade will be a topic of conversation, at least during the Christmas Season. Many acknowledged that the ‘fun groups’ (sometimes just a handful of people, having fun, especially with a few drinks) may need to be dropped, though they have the benefit of filling gaps when bigger groups are tardy. The ‘B groups’ are not really competitive with the larger ‘A groups’, which are larger and better funded. Even the A groups are not all equally blessed. Should new funding options be considered? Should a change of format and venue be considered? The National Stadium. The PM and some of his Cabinet aired that view when interviewed during the parade. Traditionalists may bridle at ‘taking Junkanoo away from its roots’. But, things change. One Bahamian friend, who was a traditionalist, but got bored and tired of the delays, and is convinced that a stadium style could work, having seen how Brazil’s carnival now works.

I can sense the fears of the traditionalists. I’ve seen the same process at work with things that have much longer and deeper roots, for instance, the relocation of a sports stadium that has been part of a community for decades. There’s a lot of emotion invested in the location of events. Just this week, we saw the last NFL game played at Candlestick Park–a ‘baby’, built in 1960. The English soccer team I support, Queens Park Rangers, are now going forward with plans for a new stadium. I grew up in the shadows of the current stadium; I can’t visualize home games being played anywhere else but at Loftus Road (the team’s home since 1917). All of my childhood football memories from the early-1960s–glories and despair–are enshrined in that place. I have a friend who’s apartment abutted Arsenal’s former home, Highbury Stadium, and remember her anguish at plans to build a new stadium after plans had been rejected to expand Highbury. She was not even a fan, but her life had been deeply touched by where she lived and what she experienced with the football stadium and its activities just outside her kitchen window. So, I know any word about changing Junkanoo wont be taken just so.

The Junkanoo format needs to change. The groups need to accept a different kind of discipline. Spectators wont keep putting up with the current situation. If they don’t then the event will die. I wont presume the discussion, but it needs to happen. Recent history suggests that the ‘conversation’ will be painful. Some say, “let the groups decide”. But, just because that’s how many things are in the Caribbean, those who really have the power to make decision, may decide and changes go ahead anyway, and then there will be recriminations about lack of consultation and betrayal of traditions, etc.

At least, The Bahamas have their Junkanoo as a vibrant part of their national life. Jamaica is barely holding on to its version of Junkanoo–more in keeping with the earlier base of the  festival: a holiday for slaves, with many trappings of African traditions and aspects of colonial experience mixed. A rump, not even matching the horse’s head that is part of the tradition. I’d get into a fight about trying to boost that tradition much sooner that mix it up with Bahamians about where they will hold their parade.

The heart beat of Caribbean Christmas: joy and pain

A Caribbean Christmas presents some problems that don’t exist everywhere.

Many people head to church on Christmas Eve, late at night, knowing that they are going to be up way past the time when Santa comes calling at their homes. They go to what’s called ‘midnight mass’, starting at 10.30 pm, with the service just getting going when Christmas Day starts. This is the season of ‘The Sermon to end all sermons’. The theme has to be big, and bring them all to the knees begging forgiveness before they head home to see what The Bearded One has dropped under the tree. “Slackness” was a familiar theme some years ago–girls in skirts up to their necks; boys in pants down around their ankles; rude people doing bad things and thinking that a day on their knees would atone; stealing; lying; sweethearting. Bring on the Seven Deadly Sins and let’s add a few.pieter_bruegel_the_elder-_the_seven_deadly_sins_or_the_seven_vices_-_avarice

Then, people head home in the deep of night, and have to wake up on Christmas morning to a houseful of screaming children.

“What did Santa bring?” Rip, tear, shred.

“Oooh!”

‘Yeah!”

“Is that all I get?”

“That’s not what I wanted?”

“I got that last year!”

The mixed feelings that are Christmas are beginning to show early in the day. Happiness is only a smile away from fearful rows.

“Why did they have to use so much incense? Think about the asthmatics.”

“It’s time you all cut down on these services. Tooooo looooong!”

“You leave our services alone. We’re the only godly ones left.”

“I blame it on the government.”

“At least we got a government now. Your lot, took all the money and left us all with nothing to show. Bunch o’ crooks.”

The families sit and eat a hearty breakfast and love each other long enough to not bite off each other’s ears. I always like Christmas breakfast. It’s seasonally traditional: ham and eggs; coconut bread; raisin bread; special Christmas brews of teas and coffees; sorrel. Some like a little liquor early. “Boy, bring me that rum!” Grandpa needs to be kept happy.

The energy used up opening gifts is not much but it goes fast if you’ve had little sleep. Tuck in!

Men often get saddled with chores soon after if not before.

“Honey, can you assemble the bike, Robbie got? You know, I’m no good with those instructions…”

Hours later, Honey is still looking for grommet A to fit onto spindle 2. Robbie has gone back to playing with the empty box in which a new train came.

“Dearest, the kids want to try out their new i-whatevers. Just set up the modem and router for them. I can’t figure out those electronic doohickeys.”

Hours later…

“I get three green lights, and I see the connection, but still no Internet…Am I connected at your end?”

The kids have gone outside to play with rocks and just broke the neighbour’s window.

“Sorry, Mr. McFarlane. Daddy will come to fix it in a minute. Merry Christmas!”

We’re not yet at noon and moods are beginning to fray. We have three hours to go till dinner with the family. How many people will be there? “I hear about a hundred.”

Time to head to beds and take a nap. The day is hard in the land of the baking midday sun. The cool breeze of the morning has already given way to a rising heat. “It’s so hot!” Soon, silence reigns. For a few hours, calm will prevail. Energies restored and ready for the real fray. The arguments over Christmas dinner can be fierce. In The Bahamas, a peculiar ritual starts to shape up as people pre-position themselves for the coming Junkanoo parade.

“Who’s going to win?”

“Only one group in it, man.” Saxons. Valley. One Family. Roots.

“What’s the best theme?”

“What song Sting got out this year?”

Why they start Junkanoo so late? [After midnight.]

“The weather’s looking inclement. Better put the parade back a few hours. Start at 3 in the morning. Makes sense.”

“Those judges. All of them crooked, eh. They’re going to rob us, again.”

“Ain’t crooked. You-all don’t have any music; can’t dance. When you start practice? Last night? Cha!”

Dinner hasn’t even been served yet and the ripples are beginning. Blood won’t flow and voice will only rise a few decibels. Blows won’t be struck, but tongues will lash. But, the focus shifts as the smells become stronger from the kitchen and the clatter of dishes and trays start to compete with the voices.

“Oooh! Look at the turkey! Wow! That ham has a glaze, eh!”

“Where’s the peas and rice? Macaroni coming?”

“Baked beans coming? I hope so.”

Let your meat stop your mouth!

Putting life into a cliché: children are our future

My youngest daughter, all 10 years of her, sometimes encapsulates good sentiments in a way that is so pleasingly simple.

This child is a great blend of a certain kind of diversity. Her parents are from different countries. Her half-sisters were born in different countries; they look very different. She has  spent most of her life living outside the country of her birth, but also living in countries to which she can claim some strong ancestral links. She speaks one language fluently, and two others reasonably well. She embraces all aspects of her family history, as far as she can capture it.

She’s lucky enough to be living in Jamaica, the country where her father was born–not that of her birth, which he left for half a century and to which he returned a few months ago. Due to sad circumstances, she has her paternal grandfather living in her house, convalescing. Nice to be living near grandpa, whatever. She gets to see the wonderful landscape of that island, and sample some of the family and cultural connections that surround her.grandparents2

Last year, she went to a family reunion to Grand Bahama, where her maternal grandfather’s family gathered. She spent days enjoying cousins she had never met before. It was a first reunion for her.

She spent the past summer on a small island in The Bahamas archipelago–Greater Inagua–from where her maternal grandmother comes; it was a family reunion on her mother’s side, the first she’d attended with them. She had a ball, seeing an island of about 1,000 people, whose economy is based on salt extraction. Apart from those on the reunion, most people seemed to be cousins or connected. The island has ruggedness throught its heart, supporting some vegetation that like dry climates. Fish abound off its coast as do conch, and we went to catch our fair share. It also hosts flamingoes, arguably the most beautiful birds on Earth. They are preserved in a national park established by one of her maternal great grand uncles.

She admires her grandmother as the matriarch of her mother’s family. The patriarch of that family, her grand uncle, born on the same island, is now an important political figure and she loves to let the world know that she is his relative. Her grandmother and grand uncle are half-brother and -sister, with the same mother (born in Haiti), but one having a Bahamian father, and the other having a Jamaican father.

“Where will the next family reunion be next year?” she asked her mother on Christmas Eve. Her mother explained that there’s no reunion every year. “Whatever. Why don’t we go to Haiti,haiti_time_z_01 to honour your grandmother and her family roots?” she asked. My wife nodded and agreed that was a good suggestion.

I am not sure if my daughter has a good idea about the recent earthquakes in Haiti. However, her mind has no barrier to the place.

She spent the afternoon of Christmas Eve looking at photo albums in her grandmother’s house. “She looks just like me,” was a common comment as she saw pictures of her mother and her aunts. She was the centre and they were the edges. Welcome to her world! She binds her present with their past seamlessly.

I hope that she can continue to embrace the small and big differences that come into her world.

If Santa was a Jamaican

I don’t think most children in Jamaica understand how lucky they are that the man in the white beard, red cap, flying through the air with a sleigh full of gifts for them, is reportedly from one of those cold places near the Arctic Circle, where moving fast is necessary to stop icicles forming on you. He comes on time, no fail, each year. Don’t it? No slouching under the banana tree for Santa. Imagine if the man was a Yardie.santa_claus_jamaican_by_3onic-d5pcjsp

Christmas Eve has arrived. “Rudolph!… Rudolph! Where is that blasted reindeer when you need him?”

“Right here, Santa. You know how it is. I was waiting to bathe, man. But, no water coming through the pipe. I had to go down to the well to fill a bucket. Sorry, sir.”

“Boy, you’re just full of excuses. Hitch up the sleigh and get those packages loaded. I asked you from last week to start that and up till now I don’t see you move an inch. Soon come. Soon come. That’s all I hear. When you going to be ready?”

They start loading presents into the sleigh. Rudolph is still muttering under his breath. “Eediot! Wants me to load up from last week? He forget where we live? You want to see everything chewed up and all over the yard, after the goats come and tear up the boxes? You mad as shad, Santa! Last year, they steal the runners off the sled. Not again!”

Packages piled high, the pair are ready to go. “Where the other reindeer? They still sleeping?”

“Old man, you really losing it, eh. Remember, you laid off the reindeer last year. IMF squeezing everyone hard. Said, you had no need for idle hooves 11 months of the year. Now, it’s just me and you.” Rudolph could barely hide his grin. Goat christmas

“I knew I should have upgraded to a hybrid sleigh,” old Santa chuntered to himself. “Hitch up some of those goats, then, Rude Boy, and let’s see if we can hit the road.”

Midnight bells were just chiming, and the sleigh, laden, was ready to go. Church bells began to chime to signal to start of Christmas Day. Santa looked at his watch and rubbed his beard. “For once, could we leave on time? Why do we always have to be late?” The sleigh rumbled off the hill and picked up speed, with Rudolph huffing, and the goats pulling every which way as they tried to eat some trash blowing past them. Gradually, the craft lifted off the ground. “Where we headed first?” Santa asked Rudolph. “New Zealand. Just follow my nose.” Santa rolled his eyes at the deer. How many times had they done this? Rudoplh’s red nose pointed up and started the glow. Maybe, next year, Santa would make a present to himself of a GPS; this old-fashioned technology was not really the way to go.

The old man leaned back. Behind him, the large loudspeakers began to vibrate and the sounds of the first carols began to boom out. “Joy to the world!” he bellowed.

“Christmas is here!”

Reality check: Jamaica is not the world

It took only a few hours in another CARICOM country to realize that we’d been living in a bright bubble. I hit the shores of The Bahamas. Jamaicans are treated to a little social ostracism: planes coming laden with all manner of folk from Jamaica are given extra treatment as bags get the extreme check over. We get it traveling to the USA but it chafes when we get it within CARICOM. Even when the flight is at least half filled with Bahamian students headed home for Christmas.

The man dressed as a pirate covered all the bases with his greeting, seeking to hail all and upset none. I glared at his stubbly face. “Enjoy your visit!” He ordered.

On exiting the airport, I got a sense of distraction as the waiting greeters grinned and waved at arriving passengers. Clumps of American and Canadian tourists were wheeled away into cars and vans. The little chatter I could hear was about the weather: “No risk of snow here…”

Soon, I was in the bosom of my in-laws, and the focus was on birthday celebration. We admired how a new home was sprouting grass clumps and small fruit trees. No mango tree yet, but avocado and sea grapes. A little garden showed off beets, tomatoes, basil and peppers. A little bowl of baby jalapeño peppers was waved proudly. Three months can produce wonders in the sun.

We started to catch up on recent events. That’s when we got the bombshell. “I saw a lady on the plane reading a Jamaican paper and say ‘That’s my girl!'” said one of the just-returned children. “Who is this Tessanne Chin?” Well, you could knock me down with a feather. This was a true “Rahtid!” moment. We started babbling excitedly about our obsessive interest of the past few weeks. Faces were blank.
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The Voice? You know: Adam, Christina, Blake, Cee Lo… Voting on iTunes… Phoning… Magic Jack… Vote early and often… More blank stares.

Could it really be that just a few hundred miles from us, people we thought had similar interests were unaware of what had been driving Jamaican daily life? Yes.

I felt the air ooze out of my bubble. I’d thought that a tidal wave of interest had overtaken the region, but signs were that it was a solely Jamaican thing? The massive that had started in the land of wood and water was barely a ripple.

All the yelling and pot beating seemed trivial. I didn’t like the feeling. I had no way to put the past few days in front of people as a huge hologram and say “Look! Listen! ‘Like a bridge over chubbled wata…’ Go, Tess!” Blasted CARICOM! Waste of time!

I know I have it in me to change, but for the moment, I have to regroup and ponder that ‘No man is an island unto himself’ thingy. We’re not all one global village, just a click away. We’re alone in the sea and our shore–even stretched by our migrants–is still just ours. Many rivers to cross? Try getting over an air bridge!